I visit a lot of hotels that are more than 50 miles from home. After all, living in Florida, why stay in a hotel when it is cheaper to drive home, right?
Since I broadcast and record conferences, I had to drive to Ocala (a 45 minute drive when traffic is heavy) Thursday through Saturday for a conference I was filming for a product I am creating. Upon first glance, the Ocala Inn – a Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites Conference Center, was just another big boxy looking hotel in an area crowded with hotels for a town so far from a major airport.
Surprise! Looks Are Deceiving!
During the filming of the conference and the preparations prior to the event, I had an opportunity to spend time with the staff and management of the Ocala Inn, and every time I asked for something, I would wince in anticipation of the inevitable “it is an additional $ 175 for that” or “that was not part of the package.” Instead, I would be greeted with a flurry of activity and it would be done. An extension cord? “Here you are, sir!” How about a screen, projector and table? “Want it plugged in?”
I was amazed! Especially after having spent some time in the Disney Dolphin Resort where they wanted $ 1k per day for using their sound system, another $ 1k for a screen and $ 1k per day for internet access (which they blocked the signal from the rooms so you could not use the room internet that you paid $ 10 a night for). The Ocala Inn included Internet with the price of the rooms, the event halls allowed free Internet access and they supplied everything you could have asked for. I have been to hotels where they charged $ 50 a day for extension cords, they offered theirs to us for no charge.
Rooms With A View!
The lobby was spectacularly decorated with pottery and a swamp-like area had the outlines of a gator in among the lily pads where ceramic frogs sat waiting for clay flies…
A huge ceramic vase as tall as I am had an endless flow of water coming out of the top and running smoothly down the outside of it in a relaxing, quiet stream to a pond surrounded by more ceramic frogs on ceramic lily pads.
The lighting was just low enough to allow you to see the two flat screen TV’s in a large wall mounted entertainment center between the four conference rooms on the far end of the lobby. The two glass elevators seem to come up out of the swamp, among the cat-o-nine-tails sprouting from it. You could see them going up and down in an erratic dance as guests went to their rooms or to the Sky Asian Fusion Restaurant on the top floor.
Hope You Are Hungry!
My appetite was pretty huge by the time we took a break for lunch and went to eat at the Sky Asian Fusion Restaurant in the top floor of the Ocala Inn. The place was decorated in a shogun gone futuristic, with shiny black leather chairs surrounded by statues of dragons, warriors and various artifacts. The waitress immediately asked if we were familiar with the restaurant, and when we told her no, proceeded to explain what everything was and how the restaurant served the food.
The Sky is a fusion of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino and Japanese cuisine served in a family style with a progressive kitchen that brings out food as it is ready, instead of waiting until everything on your order is ready. The huge bowls that we ordered came out in succession and we each tasted each other’s food as the waitress brought them. By the time the last bowl had arrived, we were getting pretty close to full, and were ready for “to go” boxes.
What About The Rooms?
The rooms in the Ocala Inn are rather large and very well furnished with a large television and a lounge chair and ottoman to relax in after a tough day in a conference. Wireless Internet is included, which really made my day, because I get irritated by hotels who overcharge for their rooms and then ask you to pay another $ 10 a night for an Internet connection. But then, when you lay down on the bed, that is when you feel the tension slip away like the water in the clay vase in the lobby!
Every bed in the Ocala Inn has a Tempurpedic mattress, not just a mattress topper, but a genuine Tempurpedic brand mattress that just sucks your body in and holds it in a warm embrace until you wake up in the morning. This is worth the price of a suite, yet even the regular rooms (if you want to call them that) have these boxes of pure sleeping heaven). I was sort of miffed at myself for not having brought my queen size suitcase along with me, because I ended up having to leave the mattress at the hotel when I went home on Saturday afternoon!
When the event was over, I had to tell my new friends Tirsa Haynes, Melinda Tobin and Alden Dickson (the people who made sure we never had any problems with the conference) goodbye, but that I would most likely come back just to get another good night’s sleep on those mattresses! The banquet supervisor, Alden, had a crew of 3 people who did everything from set up a ballroom for a conference to serve food and iced tea for a banquet, and they did so without losing their great attitudes.
If you are looking for a location for an event in the center of beautiful horse country, Ocala Inn is the place to hold it. They even have an entire room devoted to weddings and receptions, you can look through their catalog of different options and if they are even half as good with weddings as they were with our conference, you will be delighted with the outcome!
I usually find a few things to complain about when I visit a hotel, but it was really hard for me to come up with any in this location. First, the restrooms are located out of the way, although not as far away from the conference rooms as the Tampa Airport Hilton Westshore. But inside the handicapped accessible stall, it appeared that the sinks were not very well anchored to the wall, because they were leaning enough to cause the caulking to crack open – almost as if someone had climbed on the sink to change a light bulb. This was also evident in the family restroom, although both restrooms were very clean and had some amazing features. It just seemed like the contractor used the wrong type of anchors to secure the sinks.
Ocala is closer to the Gainesville airport, if you are planning on flying in, but you might want to check on the pricing of a shuttle from Orlando airport, because the flights are definitely cheaper flying into Orlando than Gainesville. If the long shuttle drive doesn’t turn you off, Ocala Inn is the place to stay in the heart of Florida!
Micheal Savoie is the chief editor of Florida Vacation Review where you can write your own reviews of your Florida Vacations! Come visit and tell us how you liked your stay at some of Florida’s Resorts! You will also find amazing travel deals and a chance to join Micheal and his friends on the FV Review Cruise.