The lovely Alfond Inn near Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida would be worth a stay even without what makes it unique. It’s a well-designed, comfortable hotel in a town just outside Orlando that’s human-scaled and pedestrian-friendly. Neither of those attributes is common in Florida, so a stay here already feels very different than one at the mega-resorts by the Orlando theme parks.
Next though, the Alfond Inn is as much a modern art museum as a hotel. Nearly every room, meeting area, and hallway here is filled with pieces from a collection of 300+ works shared with the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College. The paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media items were donated by Barbara and Theodore Alfond, who also contributed the funds to build the hotel. The hotel’s namesake was the founder of Dexter Shoe company, an enterprise he sold in the early 1990s for hundreds of millions of dollars.
Since the benefactors funding the hotel’s construction wanted it to be a gift that kept on giving, they set up the business in a way that would keep benefiting Rollins College. The hotel’s expenses are funded by ongoing operations, which is fairly easy since occupancy is high all year, but then all profits go into the scholarship foundation. So simply by staying here and spending money, you are helping to pay for the college education of a future graduate.
The Alfond Inn, although opened in 2013, looks like it has been here for decades. It has hints of classic grandness throughout and a built-to-last aesthetic in the public rooms and grounds. All the furniture is impeccably maintained. There’s event space outside that’s great for cocktail parties and weddings, with deep green grass surrounded by manicured flower gardens. Some weeks they host live jazz shows out here as well.
The main Hamilton’s Kitchen restaurant is an indoor-outdoor affair, with air conditioning inside and shaded dining to enjoy the pleasant temperatures that draw people south in the winter. The menu is a “brunch anytime” affair, serving you eggs at 3:00 p.m. if you want or a steak in the morning if you’re craving that. There are plenty of decadent items, but also a strong focus on balanced health as well. They are open all three meals each day.
Adjoining the restaurant is an attractive lounge with bar seating in front of the TVs or lounge sitting areas under pieces of modern art for a more subdued discussion. There’s a good wine selection, some signature cocktails, and a few local craft beers. In the cooler months there are gas fire pits outside encircled by chairs to sink into.
On the second level of the building is an inviting swimming pool with cushioned lounge chairs around it and areas that are shaded or in the sun. It’s a well-designed area that’s perfect for capturing your envy-inducing vacation shots and there’s a back staircase to the restaurant area.
Near that is a gym that has enough to give your whole body a workout, plus Winter Park is definitely a town where you want to go out for a stroll, either to the lake or around the interesting shops and restaurants nearby.
Rooms here don’t try hard to impress you with a mountain’s worth of marble or over-the-top luxury touches. They simply combine clean design with an art piece or two and give you plenty of places to charge up your gadgets. Most rooms have carpeted floors that are very quiet, bedside lights joined by dedicated reading lights, comfortable bedding, desk, and a reading chair with an ottoman. All rooms have robes and slippers, a safe, wall-mounted TV with plenty of channels, and WiFi that works well. This is a pet-friendly hotel and you may see the manager walking by with her big pooch.
Some rooms have a balcony, while the Premier Parlor Room has a sleeper sofa and the Business Junior Suite has more space and a queen sleeper. The best upgrade options are two Luxury Suites that are 1,000 square feet or a slightly smaller Signature Suite.
The hotel currently has 112 rooms, but by mid-2021 that count will go up to 185. They will soon break ground next door for an addition that will have the additional rooms and suites, more meeting space, another pool, a larger fitness center, and a spa.
The Alfond Inn was voted Best Florida Hotel in the 2018 Conde Nast Traveler readers poll, so definitely plan ahead if you want to stay here. Rates run $199 to $1,200 depending on season and room type. Check the official website for more information and book there to put all your money into the scholarship fund. Otherwise if you have some kind of loyalty streak going, book at Preferred Hotels or Expedia.
Article and photos by Tim Leffel, who was hosted at the property for purposes of review.