Opened in 2001, the Hard Rock Hotel is both Universal Orlandos least expensive onsite resort and the closest resort to Universal's theme parks. The Hard Rock features an exterior theme in the California Mission style, with white stucco walls, arched entryways and rust colored roof tiles. Inside, the lobby is a tribute to rock and roll style, with a mass of marble, chrome and stage lighting. The lobby's walls are decorated with enough concert posters, costumes and musical instruments to start another wing of Cleveland's Rock and Roll Museum.

The Rooms

The Hard Rock's 8 floors hold 650 rooms and 29 suites, with the rooms categorized into standard, deluxe and club-level tiers. Standard rooms are 375 square feet, slightly larger than rooms at Disney's moderate resorts and a bit smaller than most Disney deluxe rooms. Standard rooms are furnished in with two queen beds with smooth, plush and comfortable linens and more pillows than you'll know what to do with. Rooms also include a flat screen LCD television, refrigerator, coffee machine, and an alarm clock with a 30-pin iPhone docking port.

A six-drawer dresser and separate closet with sliding doors ensures enough there's storage space. In addition, most rooms have a reading chair and a small desk with two chairs. An optional roll-away bed, available at an extra charge, allows the standard rooms to sleep up to 5 people. Each room's dressing area features a sink and hairdryer. A separate door leads to the bathroom, which includes a shower, toilet and small sink. The bathroom is probably large enough for most adults to get ready in the morning while another person gets ready in the dressing area. Water pressure was above average in the rooms we tested, and the toiletries were good.

Guests staying in standard rooms can choose from one of three views: standard, which can include anything from walkways and parking lots to lawns and trees; garden view, which includes the lawn, trees and (in some rooms) the waterway around the resort, and pool view, which includes the Hard Rock's expansive pool. Pet-friendly rooms are available, too.

A step up from standard rooms are deluxe rooms. Deluxe rooms with king beds are around 500 square feet and can accommodate up with 3 people with an optional roll-away bed rental. These rooms feature a U-shaped sitting area in place of the second bed, and the rest of the amenities are the same as in standard rooms. Deluxe queen rooms are also 500 square feet and can hold up to 5 people using a pullout sofa, located in a small cubby just off the room's entrance.

The Hard Rock is a pet-friendly hotel. Two pets can stay in each room. A $25 cleaning fee is added to each room with pets.

Pool, Gym and Recreation

The Hard Rock's pool is an attraction all by itself and is the place to see and be seen. Situated in the middle of the resort's C-shaped main building, the 12,000-square foot pool includes a 250-foot water slide, sand beach, and underwater speakers so you can hear the music while you swim. Adjacent to the pool are a fountain play area for small children, sand volleyball court, hot tubs and a poolside bar. The entire pool area is lined with tall palm trees, but if they don't provide enough shade (or you just want to make an impression), private cabanas are available for rent. If this Hard Rock had a casino (something found at other Hard Rocks across the US), you'd get even money odds on your kids preferring the pool to the theme parks.

The Hard Rock also has a small, functional fitness center. Universal's nearby Portofino Bay hotel has a full-service Mandara spa.

A supervised activity center, Camp Lil Rock, serves kids 4 from 5 pm until 11:30 pm (Sunday through Thursday) or midnight (Friday and Saturday). Cost is $15 per hour per child, plus $15 per meal. Call (407) 503-2200 for reservations.

On-Site Dining

On-site dining includes The Kitchen, a full-service, casual restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and featuring American food such as burgers, steaks and salads. Brave and/or crazy souls can take part in theKitchen Sink Challenge, which consists of eating The Kitchen burger, a side of fries, a fried pickle, and the humongous Kitchen Sink cake within a 30 minute time limit. The Palm Restaurant is an upscale steakhouse available for dinner only. And, of course, there's a Hard Rock Cafe restaurant just a short distance away at CityWalk. The stylish Velvet Bar is the place for drinks after dark.

2013 Rack Rates and Resort Fees

2013 rack rates for standard rooms at the Hard Rock range from a low of $229 per night in mid-January to $399 per night during the last week of December, plus tax. It's difficult to justify those costs based on the guest rooms or the hallways which lead to them, both of which need new paint, carpet and lighting. Further, the Hard Rock charges a $17 daily fee for self-parking and $10 for in-room internet usage, which is out of line with most comparable hotels and also their biggest competitor Disney down the road. The cost of on-site dining also competes with Disney for seeing who can charge the highest prices, but we think the average Disney resort restaurant is better than the average Hard Rock restaurant. What you're paying for at the Hard Rock is a short walk to the theme parks and unlimited Universal Express first, and the room second.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths: Shortest walk to Universal Studios; pool; on-site dining options, glitzy lobby

Weaknesses: Expensive dining, hallways and rooms need paint, carpet and better lighting; extra charges for parking and internet

Hard Rock Hotel Dining

Commuting Times to the Parks
Park Commuting Times
Resort Transportation
Islands of Adventure 10 min
Univ. Studios Florida 10 min