Holiday Inn Winter Haven
is what’s called a Bed & Brick preferred partner LEGOLAND Florida hotel. That means you get free rides to the nearby LEGOLAND theme park and can save time and money buying discounted admission tickets at the hotel. But this Holiday Inn also happens to be a nice hotel with updated decor, decent food, friendly staff and a great location midway between Tampa and Orlando.

LEGOLAND Florida Hotel

Updated lobby of the Holiday Inn Winter Haven, a LEGOLAND Florida Preferred Hotel.

Updated lobby of the Holiday Inn Winter Haven, a LEGOLAND Florida Preferred Hotel. Photo by Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

LEGOLAND Florida has several “preferred” hotel partners. The free shuttle to the theme park saves visitors hassle, along with $17 a day in parking costs. When my husband and I visited, there were several families DisclosureTMOMwith eager kids rushing through breakfast to get to the park. We, however, were headed for a different sort of adventure. The central location for this hotel made it easy to get to several other central Florida attractions, including Bok Tower Gardens, Safari Wilderness Ranch and Florida Southern College with its collection of Frank Lloyd Wright creations.

What Works for Families

Free shuttle to LEGOLAND Florida. This is a big draw. It saves the hassle and cost of parking at the theme park.

Location. The hotel is centrally located, which makes it easy to get to all of the central Florida attractions (although it would be a long drive to Disney World). In addition, there are plenty of family-family restaurants nearby, including some that aren’t national chains.

The reception and dining areas of the Holiday Inn Winter Haven, a LEGOLAND Florida Preferr Hotel, are warm and welcoming.

The reception and dining areas of the Holiday Inn Winter Haven are warm and welcoming. Photo by Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

Cost. The hotel is affordable (about $140/night when I visited in September 2015) and a roll-away bed is just $10/ night. Also, this is a Holiday Inn, so kids eat free, which makes a BIG difference in the total cost of a family vacation.

Free in-room wifi.

On-site self-service laundry. Being able to toss in a load of clothes is one of those things so many hotels overlook when they try to transform into family-friendly facilities. When my kids were little, it never failed that someone would throw up or fall in a mud puddle or do something else that was easily remedied by a washing machine. Being able to wash clothes also is a key to being able to pack less on family vacation.

What Doesn’t Work for Families

During our visit, this hotel was the weekend home of a visiting college football team. While the boys from Kentucky were unfailingly polite–they were “Yes, ma’am”-ing me all over the place–but they were big eaters. The staff couldn’t keep up with demand and by the time we got to the buffet, the pickings were slim. It wasn’t a big deal for us, but it was a real challenge for a family who was traveling with a picky eater but wanted to eat quickly to catch the early shuttle to LEGOLAND.

Room Cost: $$ includes free wifi

The Hotel

Holiday Inn was the hotel of choice in my youth. On those rare occasions when we weren’t camping, we splurged on a room at the Holiday Inn, complete with green and orange décor, shag carpeting, lumpy beds and all. Those memories have colored my opinion of Holiday Inns all my life. This stay was booked by my hosts at Visit Central Florida. If they hadn’t booked us here, chances are slim I would have chosen to stay at a Holiday Inn.

That would have been a mistake. The Holiday Inn Winter Haven is not my parents’ Holiday Inn! This is a clean and shiny place with updated décor, a welcoming lobby, a full bar, and fluffy towels in the bathroom. The staff was friendly, helpful and welcoming to children. Another guest was singing the praises of the LEGOLAND shuttle driver and his willingness to make a special trip for them to save them the one hour wait for the next ride.

The Room

Updated bathrooms of the Holiday Inn Winter Haven, a LEGOLAND Florida Preferred Hotel.

Definitely nicer than the bathrooms your parents found in a Holiday Inn. Photos by Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Our room had been recently updated. It had everything we need in a hotel room—enough room that we aren’t tripping over one another, an upscale bathroom with reasonably fluffy towels, comfy beds with soft sheets and a rug that was clean enough I didn’t mind walking across it bare footed.

The hotel has some connecting rooms available as well as some accessible rooms. And it offers roll-away beds for $10/night. The rooms are big enough to accommodate the extra bed and still be able to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night without waking everyone.

Dining

There is a restaurant on site that serves dinner and a buffet breakfast. We arrived late, so had stopped on our way to the hotel and picked up carry-out tilapia subs from a nearby local joint for dinner. But we did have the buffet breakfast. It was nothing fabulous, but it did include some eggs and other protein in addition to the standard sweet rolls, muffins and cereal. Best of all for families: kids eat free. And a note for my fellow tea drinkers: You will have choices here beyond Lipton.

The Kentucky college football team got to the buffet before we did on Saturday morning so it was pretty picked over by the time we arrived. The staff simply couldn’t keep up. So if you’re planning to have breakfast at the hotel, ask whether there are any big groups of teens/young adults staying at the hotel. Then plan to allow some extra time for breakfast.

Have you stayed in a Holiday Inn? Share your experience in the comment section below.

Disclosure: My husband and I stayed at the Holiday Inn as guests of Visit Central Florida. But the opinions are all my own.

Looking for a hotel near Legoland, Florida? Get a complete review of the Holiday Inn Winter Haven, a Legoland "bed & brick" preferred partner hotel.