Visiting Universal Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights provided the perfect opportunity to stay in the new Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. Back in July, Dani included a visit to Sapphire Falls in her Best Week Ever series, and I was curious to see if the resort completed most of the last minute touches since then. Here are my first impressions and experiences of Sapphire Falls. To give you a taste of what it’s like to stay at the new resort, we’ll start with ‘great’ and work through ‘good’, ‘average’, and ‘bad’ before finally reaching ‘ugly’.
Staff: When your main competition is Walt Disney World, a company known for its friendly Cast Members, slacking off in the customer service department would be unwise. The Team Members at Sapphire Falls did not disappoint. Every single Team Member, from the luggage service staff to the managers, went out of their way to be friendly, helpful, welcoming, and engaging. Out of all the hotels I’ve visited, including many of the Disney Deluxe resorts, the staff at Sapphire Falls was by far the best I’ve experienced. They genuinely seemed happy to be there.
Pool: Universal’s on site resorts boast some of the nicest pools in Orlando, and Sapphire Falls is a welcome addition to the club. Thanks to the design and size of the pool, it didn’t feel crowded during even the busiest time of day. The pool also features a water slide, hot tubs, and a tropical vibe that is perfect for relaxation.
Cost/Value: With an Annual Pass discount, the pre-tax cost of my stay this fall was $109 per night. For a resort on par with the Disney Value Resorts in terms of cost, the quality of the hotel and level of service pleasantly surprised me.
Early Park Admission: Similar to Disney’s extra magic hours, guests staying on-site at Universal receive complimentary early entry into one or both (depending on the season) of the parks. As someone who enjoys visiting Wizarding World of Harry Potter without insane crowds, I think this is an extremely valuable perk.
Transportation/Proximity to Parks: While boat transportation to CityWalk is an option, I absolutely loved having the ability to walk to the parks. It took about ten minutes to walk to Islands of Adventure and just a bit longer to Universal Studios. The best part about walking is that you don’t have to worry about waiting for transportation or cramming on board with 100 of your closest strangers.
Room: Modern and tropical meld together perfectly in the beautiful rooms at Sapphire Falls. Blues and whites dominate the color scheme, but there are pops of bright colors as well. While I loved how clean and airy the room felt, I am curious to see how it holds up over time. White flooring and tile work can start to look dirty and dingy quickly, especially with the high turnover in hotel rooms.
Theme: The tropical island atmosphere is beautiful, but in my opinion, it’s not quite as immersive as Portofino Bay or the Grand Floridian. For example, the giant island mural behind the front desk felt a little tacky to me even though it obviously fit the theme. The landscaping and water features are hard to beat though and overall the resort mimics an island escape with both historical and modern amenities. I would easily put the theming on the same level as the Disney moderates and even some deluxe resorts.
Fitness Center: The complimentary fitness center features state of the art equipment as well as locker rooms for your convenience. While I didn’t use any of the equipment, I did stop by and everything seemed to be in good shape. They even had towels and complimentary ear buds for listening to music. On a longer trip, I would definitely enjoy using the facilities.
Additional Activities: If you’re looking to spend some down time at the resort, Sapphire Falls has you covered. From table tennis and billiards to corn hole and other pool activities, they provide plenty of entertainment for kids and adults alike.
Food: I did not get to try as much as I would like, but the food and drinks I did taste were great. I certainly won’t complain about nachos and margaritas poolside. Yum!
View: The view from my room was nothing special, but I didn’t pay for an upgraded view. Even with an upgraded view though, I don’t think any of the room views would be anything spectacular given the lack of nearby focal points.
Game room: Calypso Game Zone offers your standard arcade games, but it felt a bit small and awkwardly shaped.
Parking Fee: On-site guests pay $22+tax for overnight self-parking. Valet parking is available for an additional fee.
Bathroom Privacy: I get it. Rolling barn doors are the ‘in’ thing right now. They save space and look great. But when that door, which sits off the wall by a couple inches due to the track, is the only thing dividing the person in the bathroom from the other guests in the room, things can get uncomfortable fast. Don’t share a room here unless you’re incredibly close to the other guests.
Resort Layout: If I had to pick one word to describe the layout of ANY of the Universal on-site hotels, that word would be disorienting. All of them, including Sapphire Falls, are confusing. Lobbies and pools aren’t always on the first floor, certain elevators and stairways only go to certain floors, and hallways dead end where you least expect. Hopefully it becomes easier to navigate when all signage is installed. For now, you might look like this on the elevator.
Lack of Universal Express Passes: Unfortunately, similar to Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Sapphire Falls doesn’t participate in the unlimited Express Pass program that Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific include free of charge. The benefit, which lets guests use a shorter line for many of the attractions, cuts wait times significantly depending on the crowds during your visit. Express Pass can be purchased separately, but keep in mind, it can’t be used on most of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions.
Wi-Fi and cell reception: Maybe it was just the room or section of the hotel I was in, but I rarely had cell reception and couldn’t connect to the Wi-Fi. I’d be curious to hear if others experienced this as well, and I’ll definitely be testing this out on additional trips.
Broken Glass: Broken glass and some other construction materials covered both the vanity and bathroom floor in the first room assigned to me. The staff at the front desk reacted quickly and offered to either switch my room or send someone to clean it. Although my stay was months after the opening, I would bet that the issue was tied to how new the resort still is. Many guests staying at the resort shortly after the grand opening experienced similar issues with the rooms. Realistically, these should be short-term issues with the resort that work out for the better eventually. Personally, I would not let it deter me from staying there again. It was quite an unfortunate way to begin the vacation though, and I’m sure it would have been worse if I had kids running around the room before I discovered it.
Well ladies and gents, that pretty much sums up the good, the bad, and the ugly of my first stay at Sapphire Falls. Overall, I really enjoyed the resort, and I’m already planning a second visit before the year ends. I’d love to hear what your experiences were or if you’re planning a stay here in the future. Let me know in the comments below!