Okay, talk of Orlando triggers images of Mickey Mouse. Trappings of the Disney empire are unavoidable in the town that Walt built, but if you look hard, you’ll find a city that can stand on its own. For a touch of style, dash off to downtown Orlando and check out the city’s art-themed hotels. You’ll find dramatic expression without having to contend with Donald Duck’s refusals to be ignored.
The Grand Bohemian Hotel sits on Orange Ave, right in the heart of downtown Orlando, a short walk from the City Arts Factory. From the moment you step inside, you’re consumed by creative expression. “Aggressive design” is the only way to describe the lobby, and clear signs point you to an on-property art gallery that features Florida artists (who don’t suck).
The guestrooms continue the theme. Sleek design does not come at the expense of comfort, and any New Yorker would describe the rooms as palatial. The logical split between the sleeping and living area (with the bed) and the work area (with the desk) will appeal to business travelers who often crave a dividing line between the two while on the road – I know I always did.
But, it’s the art on the walls, even in the guestrooms, that grabs you.
Forget shitty sailboats and “happy little trees.” The Grand Bohemian offers variety within each room and still manages to make the entire aesthetic experience cohesive. Whether you’ve just finished cranking out work (as I had) or just want to unwind after hitting the town, it’s a nice diversion to sit back and soak in the creative efforts that line the walls.
Most art-savvy hotels perform well in the lobby and the rooms, but they screw up the space in between. The hallways are easily forgotten, mere passageways from one destination to the next. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped from the elevator in the Grand Bohemian and wound my way to my home-for-a-night. Instead of blank walls – or, worse, careless choices – I was treated to a delightful jaunt through varied styles.
The Grand Bohemian is an antidote to the traditional chain hotel experiences in which you push through a consistent blandness to occupy a bed that isn’t your own. Your senses are rewarded with a care that is a rarity in any hotel … and is downright shocking in Orlando.
And, this isn’t your only option in Orlando.
Smaller and tucked away about a mile from the middle of downtown, you’ll find the EO Inn. Once a youth hostel, it is now a boutique hotel with 17 rooms and two cozy balconies. Then entrance is hidden from sight. The front of the hotel is occupied by a Panera, and you have to go around back to reach the front desk, a situation that is actually more charming than inconvenient. The artwork begins in the lobby and stretches up the stairs and into the elevator. When you arrive at your floor, the hallways are dotted with adventurous creations.
I’ve always viewed the slog from the elevator to guestroom, however short, has as an annoyance (as you’ve probably figured out by now). It just seems like the painful passing of time for no good purpose. Careful design solves this problem, and EO excels. I found myself stopping periodically to enjoy what was showcased, and I purposefully passed my door on several occasions to see what was on display farther down the hall.
The rooms are a tad small – which is fine with me, given that I live in small – but are designed for enjoyment. The bed was soft without sacrificing firmness, and the bathroom was clean and serviceable (what else do you really want?). The absence of a desk drove me out onto the balcony, which turned out to be the perfect place to write, smoke and relax (and eat the cupcakes thoughtfully provided to me by ladies from the nearby bachelorette party – alas, the UPS guy did not make a “delivery”). Since the balconies are on the same side of the building as the hotel’s front door, you are spared the noise of passing traffic and can relax unmolested while not being isolated from civilization.
This is the Orlando that few realize exists. The Grand Bohemian and the EO hotel underscore a commitment to the arts that may be hidden by theme parks and conventions, but it is quite real. Forsake the 1,000-room cookie-cutter properties for an art-themed boutique, and get to know the Orlando that will make you want to return … without any nagging from your kids.