The excitement had been building from the moment our shuttle whisked us from the Orlando International Airport.
"I can't believe it's finally here!" my 8-year-old daughter Caitlin said.
Who could blame her for being excited? Caitlin had been pumped up about this father-daughter excursion to Orlando's Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn since the trip was planned months ago.
After doing research on the property, I concluded that the Nick Hotel seemed to be a glorified Holiday Inn dedicated to popular cartoon characters. To Caitlin, though, this was a dream about to come true.
After our 10-mile ride on the shuttle, there it was. On the building, the word "Nickelodeon" was flanked by the likes of SpongeBob SquarePants, Jimmy Neutron and other characters. While I was thinking it looked like the ultimate in commercial cheese, Caitlin couldn't contain her excitement.
Suppressing my cynicism, I realized this moment was priceless. The smile on my daughter's face was like no other.
Arriving at the hotel
When we arrived in the lobby, Caitlin joined fellow SpongeBob devotees on bean bags in front of a flat-screen television that played an endless loop of the show. As I was checking in, I was greeted by a fully costumed "Blue" from the show "Blue's Clues." This instant entertainment made the sign-in process less painful.
"Welcome to the Nick Hotel," the cheerful hotel clerk said. "Here is your 'script,' which is a rundown of all the events happening here. And here are your wristbands."
"Wristbands?" I asked. "What did I get myself into?"
I was told that I needed to wear the wristband and keep it on during my entire stay. "If you lose them, it is a $25 replacement fee," the hotel employee said.
I felt better about the wristbands as I noticed excited kids proudly wearing them. "A rite of passage," I told myself as I gazed up at the lobby's ceiling, as Wanda from "The Fairly Odd Parents" looked down upon me.
As it turned out, the wristbands are a good idea. Without them, stragglers from other hotels might come in and take advantage of the hotel's amenities. Even in the off-season, this hotel has plenty of visitors. It can be tough to tell who is a guest and who isn't.
The SpongeBob suite
At first, the hotel's layout seemed confusing, but with a quick study of the provided map, Caitlin and I found our room - a SpongeBob suite - in no time. Other suites at the hotel feature characters from "Jimmy Neutron" and "The Fairly Odd Parents."
After fumbling with the room key, we entered our suite. Caitlin was mesmerized. The SpongeBob characters were plastered throughout the two-bedroom suite.
"This is awesome," Caitlin exclaimed. "Patrick, Sandy, Plankton and Squidward are here."
She could be convinced to leave the room only because she wanted to go to the pool, an aquatic area known as the Lagoon. It includes pools, water slides, water jets and climbing nets. Children can spend hours, perhaps even days, in this area without getting bored.
As I was standing in front of the water slides, a fellow wristband-wearing dad approached me. "I wish we had this when I was a kid," he said.
"I agree. I'm still in shock from this," I replied, as I watched Caitlin disappear into this massive water maze.
Back on dry land
While young guests love the Lagoon, kids are equally attracted to the hotel's Mall area. This space contains a food court offering fast food, a gift shop and Studio Nick. Guests can watch the "Nick Live Family Style" shows at Studio Nick. Modeled after a typical Nickelodeon game show, "Nick Live Family Style" offers a mix of competition and audience participation. The best moment in the show was when a participant got "slimed."
Just before we entered Studio Nick, a photographer offered to take our picture - for a price. Artists creating balloon creatures, painting faces and drawing caricatures also competed for our dollars.
Of course, Orlando offers tons to do for visiting families. If you can find the time to visit Walt Disney World, then hop on one of the Nick Hotel's free shuttles. During our stay, Caitlin and I took a free shuttle to Epcot at Disney World.
While we had fun there, leaving the hotel was a mistake - we missed out on craft time in the Nick Workshop and a color-your-own-Nickelodeon-T-shirt activity at the pool.
- Editor's Note: Accomodations for this trip were provided by Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn.
•Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn
•Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau
Did you know?
n The Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn in Orlando is a kid-friendly resort with more than 700 suites.
•Studio Nick is a million-dollar, state-of-the-art theater that provides nightly entertainment to hotel guests at the Nick Hotel.
•A 3,000-square-foot game room, with both classic and new video games, is a popular attraction at the Nick Hotel.
•The Nick Hotel provides free shuttles to many Orlando attractions, including four Disney theme parks.
Source: The Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn