The Ritz-Carlton Orlando is situated on the 500-acre Grande Lakes Orlando development, with protected wetlands and a bird sanctuary.

Courtesy of Grande Lakes Orlando

Attracting a staggering 75 million visitors per year, Orlando swims in superlatives: the most visited destination in the United States. The world’s largest and most over-the-top theme parks—Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort among them. The planet’s biggest McDonald’s. At first glance, Orlando’s tourism mania does not appear to scream “green.” But could the city—and its hotels—be venturing toward a greener future?

Look closer, and the answer may be yes. In 2022, the U.N. called Orlando a “model city” for its sustainability goals; in 2020, it achieved Gold-level certification under LEED for Cities. The city government and tourism offices highlight local environmental responsibility efforts, touting active campaigns around efforts like clean energy transitions, transportation overhauls, green building development, and waste reduction. Orlando International Airport has won awards for its sustainability measures and is home to three LEED-certified facilities, and Orlando’s electric bike and scooter share program that rolled out between 2018 and 2020 has already seen more than 2 million trips. Meanwhile, Walt Disney World, which aims to be net-zero emissions by 2030, has launched such initiatives as a Mickey-shaped solar array near Epcot and an ambitious composting program. Universal, which has a carbon neutral target of 2035, has a floating solar energy installation and plans to electrify its fleet of 21 tourist trams by 2025.

Other Orlando hotels and resorts are upping their green cred, too. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection launched the voluntary Green Lodging Program in 2004. More than 60 Orlando-area hotels have been certified in the program’s four-tiered “palms” designation (the highest rank being four palms). The ranking system outlines best sustainable practices around waste reduction and recycling, water conservation, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and communication and education.

According to the city of Orlando’s director of sustainability, Michael Hess, eco-conscious travelers making a pilgrimage to this slice of Americana have more options than ever when it comes to choosing an environmentally responsible hotel or resort. “I do believe this [hotel] sector is moving in the right direction,” says Hess. He attributes this to effective certification programs like Green Lodging and LEED, along with various city programs and incentives around greening buildings and reducing waste.

All of these five Orlando resorts—all within a 20-minute ride of attractions like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios—have taken significant steps toward more responsible hospitality, with everything from solar-powered shuttles to on-site farms and nature preserves.

Aloft Hotel Orlando

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This hip downtown Orlando property stands out for its LEED gold certification, awarded in 2015 by the U.S. Green Building Council, and it’s the only hotel in the city to date to have earned the accolade. The eight-story Aloft Hotel Orlando—housed in a modernist-style building dating back to 1968 that’s on the National Register of Historic Places—was overhauled as an adaptive reuse project in 2013 with eco-friendly construction materials. It also installed energy-efficient systems, including a solar field on the roof that is expected to generate 15 percent of the hotel’s energy needs when it’s activated next year.

The property’s 118 sleek rooms feature high ceilings and large picture windows. Guests can use the hotel’s own EV charging stations and have easy access to nearby electric bike and scooter share stations. They’re within walking distance of attractions like the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, featuring everything from ballet to Broadway-style shows; the Amway Center, a sports and concert arena (and home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic); and downtown Orlando’s lively nightlife scene.

At Grande Lakes Orlando, guests can sign up for kayak eco-tours.

Courtesy of Don Riddle/Grande Lakes Orlando

Grande Lakes Orlando

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On more than 500 lake-speckled acres, the Grande Lakes Orlando resort development is home to two luxury hotels—the 582-room Ritz-Carlton Orlando and 1,010-room JW Marriott Orlando. The guest rooms of both hotels have recently finished a $110 million renovation that refreshed the design with soothing white and earth tones, while making water and energy efficiency upgrades.

Thirty-three of the property’s acres, which include unique wetland terrain, remain undeveloped and protected; the 18-hole golf course attracts more than 100 species of birds and has been certified as a sanctuary by Audubon International thanks to its practices regarding water conservation, wildlife and habitat management, and more. A half-dozen naturalists bring guests out see resident deer, bald eagles, and alligators.

Other ways to explore the flora and fauna include sunrise safaris, mountain biking, kayak eco-tours, falconry, and catch-and-release fly-fishing excursions. An on-site 7,000-square-foot working farm, complete with a fruit and vegetable garden, working apiary, and chicken coop, generates 5,000 pounds of produce annually for the resort’s 12 restaurants, and supplies the 40,000-square-foot spa with herbs, honey, and minerals.

At Hilton Orlando, the landscaping is tended to with reclaimed water from a retention pond.

Courtesy of Sammy Todd Dyess/Hilton Orlando

Hilton Orlando

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With more than 1,400 guest rooms and a sprawling pool complex featuring a lazy river, Hilton Orlando has made efforts to mitigate its large physical footprint and operate more sustainably. The hotel has focused on energy efficiency and water conservation efforts property-wide, alongside waste reduction measures like single-bin recycling and organics collection, putting it on track to cut emissions by 75 percent and water and landfilled waste by 50 percent by the end of the decade.

The seven dining outlets, including a new Italian restaurant and sports bar, are partially supplied by local and organic farms and producers (including breweries and fishmongers), while single-use plastics have been phased out. Most of the dining areas offer coffee cups and to-go boxes made of recycled materials, while two restaurants are also certified as “ocean friendly” in partnership with the Surfrider Foundation for measures including reducing plastics and serving certified sustainable seafood. Outdoors, the Florida-native landscaping (including palms, Coontie, and Fakahatchee grass) on the 26-acre grounds is tended to with reclaimed water from a retention pond. Guests can nab an electric or an onsite hybrid car rental from Hertz (EV charging stations are available) or hop on a complimentary theme park shuttle to avoid having to drive.

Marriott’s Cypress Harbour Villas has been certified by not one, but two green lodging programs.

Courtesy of Marriott’s Cypress Harbour Villas

Marriott’s Cypress Harbour Villas

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Marriott’s Cypress Harbour Villas appeals to family travelers for the onsite amenities, including a trio of pools, mini golf, and a spa. It is also one of only six properties in Florida to get the “four palms” designation—the Green Lodging Program’s highest level of recognition. In 2010, the 510-unit property received the certification following sweeping retrofits and overhauls to improve energy efficiency, water conservation, and recycling. The contemporary-feeling, two-bedroom villa-style units have recycling bins, LED lighting, energy-efficient HVAC systems and appliances, low-flow faucets and showerheads, and sensors and timers for indoor and outdoor lighting to reduce energy consumption.

In 2013, Audubon International certified the resort through its own Green Lodging Program, which offers third-party certification to hotels that meet their environmental standards. Guests can take guided walks or use one of the free loaner bikes that showcase the property’s drought-tolerant plants and towering oaks, as well as its series of boardwalks and private lake with a boathouse.

Rosen Shingle Creek

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The 1,501-room, Spanish revival–style Rosen Shingle Creek sits on 255 acres alongside the tree-lined Shingle Creek at the northernmost headwaters of the Everglades. Spacious rooms feature wooden furnishings and oversize windows overlooking the expansive grounds. The recipient of “three palms” in the Green Lodging Program, the property has eliminated plastic straws and reduced other single-use plastics, and printed materials use recycled paper. A series of water and energy efficiency mechanisms that automate irrigation and cooling and heating systems are active behind the scenes and measured monthly for performance.

In 2022, the hotel launched a 9,500-square-foot on-site farm that turns out seasonal vegetables, herbs, and fruits for its two restaurants, including Tuscany-inspired Cala Bella that serves season- and farm-driven dishes like roasted Korean summer squash, curry leaf sweet potato puree, and braised lacinato kale. (Plans for a composting program are also in the works.) Energy-saving transport measures include Universal Studios shuttles for guests (a 10- to 15-minute ride) and solar-powered guest shuttles for on-property transportation. And if you see a way the hotel can improve its sustainability efforts, the staff is taking tips via a “green suggestions” box for guests.

Elissa Garay Elissa Garay, modern-day explorer, perpetual seeker, and diligent travel scribe, has traveled to and reported on nearly 60 countries around the globe.