This post was written in partnership with the Hilton Ocala, but all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
The sun sparkled across the crystal clear water of the swimming pool, the reflection of lights dancing in the green canopy overhead. I picked up the frosted tall glass in front of me. Ice swirled together with mint leaves through the light lime liquid. Fresh mint. I knew this, as the bartender (they call them ‘mixologists’ here) ran out to the little garden behind the hotel to pick some just for this drink.
A Family Weekend Getaway Revised
It’s been years since we went to a single hotel and just stayed- you know, swam in the pool and didn’t run around for sightseeing or business meetings. The thought of staying in one place for our itchy-footed explorer family sounded daunting, but our weekend getaway in Florida’s resort-style Hilton Ocala proved a pleasant surprise.
The moment you walk into the lobby, you might think you’ve accidentally stumbled into a modern art museum with birds circling a light rising towards the sky in their 3-dimensional centerpiece. Vivid reds and oranges burst out from the pictures behind the check-in desk. If they were shooting for impressing first-time visitors, it worked!
Check-in with Norma at the front desk was quick and soon we were on our way upstairs to our room at Club on Nine.
6 Reasons Why Families Should Up-Grade to Club on Nine
I whinge at paying extra for things (yes, we are a frugal family)- and Club on Nine is a $40 a-day upgrade. But as a family one-stop vacation, the value in this upgrade is far greater than the price. Besides that delicious fruit infused water (check the video out), this is why:
- As a mom, I think twice about keeping the kids safe- and security is important. Club on Nine floors are only accessible to the Club on Nine guests. And you need that special key to get into their Club on Nine lounge too- making it one of the most exclusive clubs in Ocala (and definitely the one with the best skyline view!)
- Sure, I could pop down to Starbucks and grab a venti (it’s only a 5 minute drive away), but the whole point of this weekend was to take a break from driving- and traffic-and the world. Every room has a fancy Keurig coffee machine- you know, the pod ones. No more potluck hotel coffee! Woohoo!
The Hotel Room Snacks
- Again- check out the video. Sparkling water. Chocolate. Pretzels. Did I say chocolate? Chill with a movie and in-room snacks.
- Shampoo & conditioner are de rigeuer in nice hotels, so this was not unexpected, but this is Elemis- it’s British luxury skincare & body care products that you can’t find just anywhere. And besides the shampoo & conditioner- there’s a body wash too- a bonus for those (like me), who usually bring their own body wash because they don’t like bar soap.
- The luxury robes- in my favorite color-blue! They have slippers too- but we are more of a barefoot kind of Florida family. I was able to don my beautiful robe and slip over the the lounge to grab some breakfast before the kids woke up- and in the evenings hang out in my new fave chair – (it’s not because that’s the closest to the snacks- honest!) and read while the kids watched a movie. Comfy cozy robes. And if you happen to fall in love with your robe, you can take it home- for an added fee of $75. Hmmm……
The Club on Nine Lounge
- Okay, this was the deal clincher- and if you are bringing your kids on your weekend getaway, probably a no-brainer. The lounge- accessible only to Club on Nine guests (8th & 9th floor) is located on the 9th floor. And it has food! Free food. Good food. In the mornings they have a continental breakfast from 6:30 to 10 am. Get a coffee- really nice coffee, a bagel & cream cheese, muffins, fruit, juice- and take it back to your room or stay there and ask George (he tends the morning breakfast) about the area. Did you just tally up the cost of 4 breakfasts in your head? And that’s not all….
- In the evening, the Club on Nine reopens with yummy appetizer-like foods from 5 to 7 pm. And drinks. Yes, grab a soda or juice for the kids, a beer for yourself or get Maxi to pour you a glass of wine or a handcrafted cocktail and hang out with the cool crowds. Food until 7 pm and drinks until 8 pm (Alcoholic drinks cost extra). Now if you go out and have lunch – this serves as the perfect light dinner and you are set. If you have little kids, this may be all they need 😉 There’s a balcony on this lounge too, but with closed patio doors- and that’s the perfect place to catch a sunset while sipping that handcrafted cocktail. Ginger Mule Fizz anyone?
The Market Kitchen & Bar Gastropub
The minimalist modern design of the lobby overflows into the sunken lounge area, or Market Kitchen & Bar. It’s bistro style seating, so if you are bringing smaller kids, snag one of the two tables with the cozy booth. Their lunch & dinner menu includes some oddities that will garner great table conversation for the whole family, like the Beanie Weenie Panini and the Cajun Gator Swamp Tacos, and a Cheetos-encrusted grilled cheese sandwich that may make you rethink that snack food.
The small-plates on the menu are ideal for kids and those with smaller appetites, but they also offer entrees like filet mignon, seared herb chicken, and for those comfort foodies: a Ma’s Meatloaf and a Florida Crawfish-Belly Mac- which is pork belly on a seafood macaroni and cheese – and really good! On our first night, we had a bunch of starters and the Crawfish Mac.
Besides unusual eats, the Market Kitchen & Bar also pride themselves on their handcrafted cocktails, and the mixologists at the bar in the center of the gastropub are always busy stirring up some beautiful creations. They have a menu with their signature drinks like the Black Jack Bourbon Smash and the Florida Sunshine (rum with pineapple, lime & honey). They also included some non-alcoholic creatives for the kids and non-drinkers. Our daughter loved the Orange Mango Spritz.
In the evenings (Thursday-Saturday), there’s music here too. We had the opportunity to meet local singer & songwriter Jordan Mae during our stay, one of the many musicians who play at the Hilton Ocala.
Although the Market Kitchen & Bar is only open for lunch & dinner, there is a breakfast area with a la carte & buffet open in the mornings, 7 days a week with a brunch on Sundays- but we stayed on Club on Nine and had breakfast in the private lounge upstairs.
Homesteading at a Hilton?
The Market Kitchen & Bar uses locally sourced ingredients in their dishes and drinks, Some come from local farms (and distilleries), and others right from their herb and vegetable garden in the back of the hotel. And if you have kids or are just garden-curious, you should definitely check this garden out! It’s always a good idea to let your kids know where their food comes from, and it’s pretty neat to be able to taste a mint leaf and smell the rosemary and lavender too.
The Chef’s Garden is always in flux at the Hilton. They had just harvested a bunch of kale ( you’ll see it in the Bistro Flatwoods Chopped Salad) and were planting tomatoes, so each visit is a different experience.
Playing in the Reserve
Though located just next to the I-75 Hwy 200 exit, the hotel is set back in a hidden little farmland area. There are 6 acres of open green space behind the hotel known as ‘The Reserve’. Around the perimeter of The Reserve is a 1/4 mile exercise track, complete with little workout stations- bars to do pull ups, rowing & sit ups. This is all behind the pool patio deck, and if I had thought ahead, I would have brought a Frisbee or soccer ball, as there’s plenty of space to play and let your kids run free. The gazebo makes a great ‘home-base’ for an impromptu game of freeze tag 😉
Also behind the hotel lives “Buddy” the horse, a Clydesdale with purpose. He’s usually in the field behind the barn (yes- there’s a barn too!), but comes out on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons to give guests a ride in a gorgeous white carriage.
Our little family escape at this Hilton resort-style hotel in the heart of north-central Florida was the perfect break. And there was enough to do onsite that we didn’t even have to leave the hotel. We spent our time at the pool and hot tub, hanging in the Market Kitchen & Bar, and in our little private Club on Nine lounge upstairs. Weekend R & R vacations may just become our new ‘thing’!
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Florida’s Hilton Ocala is located at 3600 SW 36th Avenue, Ocala, Florida 34474.
- Contact number: 352-854-1400
- You can book directly from their website or just call direct.
- You can up-grade your room to Club on Nine on arrival (if available), or call in person in advance (recommended). Check their website for other deals and packages as well.
- Insider tip for family travelers- if you’re upgrading to Club on Nine, ask for a room on the 9th floor, where you will be near the lounge, but be sure to state you need a Queen suite (2 beds), as a lot of the rooms are King.
Worried there won’t be enough to keep you occupied?
Ocala and the surrounding area is full of outdoor and indoor fun, from award-winning golf courses, state parks, paddling adventures, hiking trails, shopping, movie theaters, and more. Check out the Ocala Marion County Visitor’s Center website for things to do in the area and read these posts for some more cool ideas: