Everyone's probably heard of Defunctland's wildly popular video of the history regarding the late Nickelodeon Hotel and a subsequent interview about the rise and fall of the hotel, specifically how the hotel was neglected before the contract ended, which also sheds some light on the history of the actual contract. The original video seems to imply the Holiday Inn was too downscale a partner (I guess Kevin didn't know that Holiday Inn was part of a larger company that owned more expensive brands?) but the reality is the hotel actually broke off with Holiday Inn by 2010, especially as Holiday Inn was going through rebranding during that time, and it was a coincidence that they did open as Holiday Inn again.
If you watch the Defunctland video (still, despite the flaws, highly recommended), the hotel (pre-Nick) gets about 20 seconds of discussion. What about that hotel? The hotel (from 1999 to present day) sits on a block bounded by Interstate 4 to the west, World Center Drive to the north (Florida State Road 536), Continental Gateway Drive to the east, and International Drive South to the south. There was some large greenspace between it and I-4, as I-4 had ramps to World Center Drive. Going west on World Center Drive led directly to Epcot Center Drive, where Disney's four theme parks could be found, as well as their waterparks, some resort hotels, and what was then known as Downtown Disney.
For starters, the hotel was essentially a brand new spinoff of Holiday Inn, which was established as a new brand between the 2002 and 2003 hotel directories, and seemed to be aimed to make it another brand like Holiday Inn SunSpree Resorts and Holiday Inn Select (a Holiday Inn spinoff for business travelers) and officially opened July 7, 1999. It didn't have a fancy separate logo yet, but establishing it as a separate brand never got far along before the deal with Viacom, Nickelodeon's owner, was made. (For the purposes of better understanding, all references to this party will be referred to Nickelodeon, whether the Nick subsidiary specifically or the parent company). Additionally, all pictures here are taken from the hotel's archived website but re-uploaded here.
One other change that was made between the 2002 and 2003 directories was that in the 2002 guide, swim pants (swim diapers) for infants, but the 2003 guide requires them for those under four. The Yesterland interview with a former hotel manager during the last year of the Nickelodeon branding (which by that time was somewhat in a state of disrepair) describes a few of the waterpark horror stories and the time the waterpark was closed cleaning up the mess.
In many ways, the hotel was essentially the same as the Nick Hotel, just before the 2005 Nick branding, but in many ways it wasn't. The first thing to note is that the iconic facade of the Nickelodeon hotel at the northeast corner of World Center Drive and Continental Gateway Drive was not the main lobby of the original hotel. What the Nick Hotel referred to as "The Mall" was the original lobby, and, as is standard to most hotels, had a covered drive-up. The other thing to note was that the waterpark wasn't quite as built up as it had been in the Nick days, though I can't find any clear pictures of what it looked like.
The hotel lobby had a railroad theme, with a mascot, JJ the Telephone Repair Bear. The hotel had two main restaurants. The first one was the standardized Holiday Inn restaurant, here, named "The Club Car". The restaurant, decorated "in charming old style train station decor", served a free breakfast buffet, and table service for lunch and dinner. Like other Holiday Inn restaurants (at the time at least), kids ate free for all three meals. The second "restaurant" was the "fast food" option, which was extremely rare in Holiday Inn hotels (if you wanted pizza or fast food, there were the usual options within a mile of the hotel). I guess that part of the reason was it was relatively isolated from fast foods, as opposed to the freeway-exit Holiday Inns that have such restaurants in abundance. The Club Car is pictured below.
Foodland Express, the "fast food" option, did something very unique for the time: it was arguably the first combo Pizza Hut/A&W restaurant. By 2003, Yum! Brands owned both A&W and Pizza Hut, but when Foodland Express opened, that wasn't the case. Foodland Express also offered Edy's Ice Cream and Java Coast Specialty Coffee. It's unknown why those choices were specifically made. Paging through my Holiday Inn directory, another Holiday Inn (a "normal" Holiday Inn to the north (at 6515 International Drive) had a small food court anchored by a Little Caesars, but from what I could tell glancing through the directories, fast food was few and far between in Holiday Inn hotels. A few of the full-service hotel restaurants were actual branded operations (Black-eyed Pea, TGI Friday's), but again, those were rare.
There was a hotel bar not part of the main restaurant, the Cabooze. This bar was gotten rid of entirely under Nickelodeon presumably to make the hotel more kid-friendly (but a lack of adult options was ultimately detrimental to the 2005 renovation).
Finally, Diesel & Steam was a hotel convenience store, selling frozen foods, snacks, alcohol, and sundries (at an outrageous markup, no doubt).
One of the things that separated the SunSpree Resorts (and by extension, Family Suites) from the regular Holiday Inn hotels were additional activities for children. At this hotel, "J.J.'s Recreation Center" had a supervised play area, a kids activity program, and a lending library with books and board games. There was also Locomotion, a game room, inside the hotel.
The hotel had several floorplans across its 800 rooms (which all opened to an outside pool area), including the SweetHeart (which had a jacuzzi and heart-shaped bed), CinemaSuites (which featured a large television with viewing area), Residential Suites (extended-stay suites with a kitchenette), and Classic 2-Bedroom Suites (the typical hotel suite design), and the KidSuites, which had semi-open bedrooms with bunkbeds and unique designs.
The "KidSuites" had an array of commercial and generic designs (the commercial ones probably had a hand in sponsoring the hotel somehow, like Kellogg's products served at breakfast). It should be noted that several of the Holiday Inn-branded hotels in the Orlando/WDW area (and beyond) had these sorts of room-within-a-room but none of them had the other types of rooms that the Holiday Inn Family Suites Resort had. The Nick-era rooms have all been fairly well-documented, from shows that were popular when the hotel opened (Danny Phantom, Jimmy Neutron, etc.) to themes that were added later in the hotel's lifespan, like the latest incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Here are the themes that were at the hotel pre-renovation. It's possible even more were part of the mix, though not necessarily at the same time.
As mentioned in the Defunctland video and subsequent podcast, the "Sweetheart" suites (also known as the "Nick @ Nite Suites") disappeared soon after the conversion. This suggests that corners were cut in the renovation, and the Sweetheart suites weren't able to be renovated out before the hotel opened, and Nickelodeon did not want the hotel rooms to still be under renovation when it opened, and an early warning sign that the hotel would eventually go under deferred maintenance leading to its run-down state a decade later.
One of the things that I've gathered is that the hotel actually worked. It was almost as close to Walt Disney World as the Disney-owned resorts were, provided all of the basic hotel amenities and with a few little resort extras that made it unique. When the Nickelodeon partnership came aboard with the attempt to make it an all-inclusive resort, its Disney-adjacent location worked against the hotel. Perhaps if Nickelodeon made the park a bit more budget-friendly, keeping the Nick theme but not trying to make it too expensive, it might have performed better. After all, if families were staying at the Holiday Inn, they came to spend time at the theme parks, not at the hotel. JJ and whatever else had the hotel had to offer was basically a footnote.