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By Samantha Chapnick

If I could have designed an Orlando hotel purely for children, this would be it.

My daughter was so excited about staying at the Nick Hotel (a.ka. the Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn), it served as leverage for the entire week before we left.

After all that eat-your-vegetables-brush-your-teeth-or-else
coercion, my fingers were tightly crossed it would live up to her

It did. And far exceeded mine.

It started on a great note and just got better. The popular Nick
characters popping out against the white backdrop delighted her.

"Mommy look! There’s Jimmy Neutron (on the elevator door)! Wanda (on
the lobby rotunda)! Timmy! What’s Vicki doing there??? (each building’s
lattice work roof had a character)!"

And then when we got to our room, a two-bedroom Kids’ Suite with a
bunk bed and TV already playing Nickelodeon: "MOM!!!!! Spongebob is on
my wall!" Followed by the overwhelming hug and excited thank you that
makes every parent wish it was ethical to keep kids on vacation forever
and never give them baths or vegetables.

Thanks to very creative use of color, character placement, the
overwhelmingly genuine enthusiasm and quality of ALL the staff, the
resort’s zeitgeist was genuine whimsy.

Thought had clearly been put into ensuring parents would never hearthe words "I’m bored" no matter the quantity or age of their kids.

The air and water temperatures were too cold for us, but most
people’s days were spent in one of the two courtyards. Ours, the
"lagoon," was anchored by a giant interactive four-story water tower and
pool.Nicksuiteslagoon The orange and green tower was a well-engineered mix of slides,
flumes, climbing nets, aim-ablewater jets and a 400-gallon dunk tank.

The pool was divided by a rope into two, a regular pool for swimmers
and an interactive shallow soft-surface play area for non-swimmers (and
non-walkers) generally with parents.

The fully enclosed basketball court with multiple-height baskets and
pool table were very popular with teen-agers. Toddlers had their own
soft-surface area with a small slide.

What all ages (except the very youngest) eagerly anticipated were
the two brilliantly formulaic daily "poolside entertainment" game
sessions. The audience was divided into the red and blue teams. Kids
and a few adults volunteered to play silly games like "Spongebob
Soakpants" where kids put on bright yellow shorts filled with sponges,
put their tush in a huge bucket to soak up as much water as possible,
then ran to another empty bucket to squeeze out as much as possible.
The first person to reach the half-fill line was the winner for his or
her team.

The winning team’s volunteers got the honor of being "slimed": a
huge bucket of green something was dumped on top of them. How it eluded
me up to now, I shall never know. But apparently Nickelodeon’s big
brand identity is sliming — and the kids just can’t get enough.

Near the other courtyard is a workshop for kids to make arts and crafts.

Our evening’s activities were centered in "The Mall," particularly
the Studio Nick and the arcade. The studio was a professional TV-style
studio with impressive lighting and a real stage. It was a nice
contrast to most of the slapstick theaters put together by other

My daughter beat me at air hockey twice and was thrilled to get enough prize tickets to buy a Spongebob beach ball. Aside from that, the arcade was just what you’d expect.

All this is nice, but what really truly, honestly set this Orlando hotel experience apart was the exceptional and ample staff.

Usually what separates a fine (read: expensive) hotel from others is quantity and quality of the staff. You pay extra at fine hotels largely because of the labor costs.

While the Nick hotel certainly didn’t have bath butlers or private concierges, it was overstaffed where it counted: in safety — the priority for all parents.

There were very attentive and vigilant lifeguards stationed at every important water spot: three for the pool alone and one at each water slide, with a few to spare.

Staff constantly seemed to materialize out of nowhere to make sure children were safe, but in a non-intimidating and non-intrusive way. For example, the "security" people wore white uniforms with the same orange splashes and name tags — no guns, sticks, badges or dark colors that would scare children. And big smiles — they were always happy to help when we got a bit lost or wanted to know what time something was happening.

The genuine care and enthusiasm of all the staff was pleasantly surprising. From the housekeepers who smiled as I passed, to the emcees who never tired of building up the kids’ self-esteem — no matter what the outcome, no one was ever made to feel like a loser and the air was one of collaboration far more than competition.

This incident sums up my impression:

There was an elevator door emblazoned with Timmy and a perfect small space for her to stand next the decal, making a great shot. Next to the elevator was a garbage can I didn’t want in the photo. My daughter insisted on standing in front of it because she was scared the door would open. While we were negotiating with her, a staffer simply came and moved the garbage can — we hadn’t even known he was there! It clearly was not in his job description to take initiative and move furniture when people wanted photos, but like many of the other staff members, he seemed genuinely motivated by courtesy and kindness. He simply wanted to help us without any anticipated tip or reimbursement.

Related Orbitz resources:

Samantha Chapnick travels the globe with her family, exploring life outside her home in New York City.

Tagged: Family time, Florida

Note: Orbitz compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

MaryJo Lipman

MaryJo Lipman

MaryJo Lipman

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