This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Universal’s AVENTURA HOTEL! This summer Universal opened its sixth onsite hotel, joining Hard Rock Hotel, Portofino Bay, Royal Pacific Resort, Sapphire Falls, and Cabana Bay Beach Resort. With just 600 rooms, Aventura is the smallest of the Universal resorts but offers some unique amenities not available at any other onsite hotel. Shortly after Aventura opened, TouringPlans’ own Brian McNichols was dragged away from Walt Disney World to make a rare appearance at Universal to experience the new hotel. You can read Brian’s review of Aventura by CLICKING HERE, and you may want to watch the short video he made touring the hotel.
Now it’s time for what WE liked at Aventura, and let’s start off the countdown with…
# 6 – Floor To Ceiling Windows
The sleek and modern aesthetic of Aventura extends throughout the hotel. The floor to ceiling windows throughout the entire building allow for some fantastic views, especially from each of the guest’s rooms. Aventura is only Universal hotel which gives you a great look at all the parks on property, including Volcano Bay. Not only can you see Hogwarts Castle and coasters such as The Incredible Hulk and Rip Ride Rockit, but the upper floors and rooftop bar allow you to see much of Orlando’s tourist district, including the ICON Orlando observation wheel and the new Orlando Starflyer, as well as downtown Orlando and its skyscrapers like the SunTrust Center.
# 5 – Starbucks in Lobby
While I’m not a huge coffee drinker myself, I think just about every single one of my friends and family are. For them, finding out there is a Starbucks in a hotel lobby is almost like the heavens opening up with sunshine as a choir sings beautiful music. Aventura has a full service Starbucks, complete with a large selection of snacks, sandwiches, and merchandise. Hot coffee, iced coffee, frappuccino, Pumpkin Spice latte…you name it, they got it. As a Prime Value hotel, Aventura guests don’t get the Unlimited Express passes that Universal’s premier hotels offer, however they do get early access to the Wizarding World. So you just may need that caffeine pick-me-up early in the morning on the way to the parks.
# 4 – VR Game Room
Instead of a traditional video game arcade found in most theme park hotels, Aventura has a VIRTUAL REALITY Game Room. I had never experienced VR until this year, and until recently always found it to be a cute gimmick that will probably never catch on, like 3D movies at home. However, this Spring I was at LEGOLAND Florida and rode a coaster which was equipped with VR and found it much more enjoyable than doing the exact same ride without VR. During the Summer I experienced The Void: Star Wars – Secrets of the Empire at Disney Springs, and consider it to be the single greatest thing I’ve ever done at Walt Disney World. So it’s safe to say I’m “all in” on VR now, and was super excited to find out they had VR games at Aventura
The VR Game Room is open 2-10PM daily, and located on the second floor of Aventura next to the fitness center. The cost is $10 per person for 6 minutes of game time (compared to The Void’s $30 for 7-10 minutes.) There are several different games you can choose to play, including the popular Fruit Ninja. I was going to choose a game based on killing zombies based on my love for The Walking Dead, but ended up choosing one called Space Pirate: Trainer because the preview for the game looked really cool. My girlfriend, who is not a huge fan of video games, loved her Fruit Ninja experience and I found Space Pirate Trainer to be AWESOME. It was like being in the world of Tron mixed with the constant shooting that I loved in the old pirate game at DisneyQuest. As soon as someone gets this technology cheap enough for home use and replicates this level of immersion, I fear that we as a society will never leave our houses. I know I won’t!
# 3 – Urban Pantry
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort deserves credit for changing the game when it comes to value resort food courts. Until then, value resort food courts were basically punishment for not spending more money on your hotel room. When Universal introduced Cabana Bay, the Bayliner Diner food court followed Disney’s lead with unique food options, an actual salad bar and all the “little things” which guests appreciate, such as real silverware instead of plastic and branded pizza boxes. Aventura’s Urban Pantry food court takes it up a notch when looking for food options outside of the standard hamburgers and chicken nuggets.
First let’s look at the seating area.
Any food that needs to be prepared is brought to your table.
Okay, let’s talk food. Urban Pantry is broken up into several stations: Sushi/Noodle, Burgers, Pizza, and Roast Kitchen.Longtime readers of the SATURDAY SIX know that one of my favorite dining experiences in all of Orlando, let along Universal, is the fabled Wok Experience at the Royal Pacific Resort. The Sushi/Noodle station has the ability for guests to have a small scale version of that experience and its wonderful.
In general, if there is pizza available at a resort, that is where you will find me. Unlike some theme park hotels going to those cheap pre-made flatbread pizzas, Urban Pantry makes each pie to order. There are even Aventura branded pizza boxes to fill my heart with joy.
The burger station offers black angus burgers, turkey burgers, and even The Impossible burger for vegetarians and vegans. The fries were some of my favorite at any theme park hotel. There’s also an “all day breakfast burger” that is topped with a fried egg, bacon, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese. We only got vegetables at the Roast Kitchen (brussels sprouts and cauliflower,) but the main draw there is the rotisserie chicken, beef rib, and baked salmon.
Like Cabana Bay and Sapphire Falls, Aventura has multiple Coke Freestyle machines and offers a themed refillable mug. If you just want to get a “single serve” soda instead of a refillable mug, you have use of the Freestyle machine for one hour.
There was an incredible amount of vegan and vegetarian friendly snacks, including fresh fruit and a large variety of prepackaged goods such as the Enjoy Life brand of cookies.
# 2 – THE TABLET
Each room at Aventura comes with an iPad that allows you to control features of the room such as the television, lighting and temperature, but the tablet is also all you need to order things for the room (from room service pizza to more towels,) stream Netflix, and even have direct contact with the hotel staff!
We were going to head to Volcano Bay the following morning, and I knew there was an access door to a walkway leading to Volcano Bay inside the Aventura pool area. We were going to “rope drop” Volcano Bay at 9AM, but I didn’t know what time the pool opened. So I decided this was a good time to use the Chat With Us feature…
Just like when receiving messages on my iPhone, the “…” bubble comes up when Aventura was typing their response. They responded IMMEDIATELY.
Now, when we stay onsite at Walt Disney World, I’m pretty sure all my calls to the “front desk” are routed to a third party who is not even on the hotel grounds. This can be an incredibly frustrating experience as often they can’t solve the particular problem and have to reach out to someone actually at the hotel. I have absolutely no idea if the person(s) on the other end of the Chat With Us feature was actually at Aventura, but we used the chat several times and it certainly appeared that they were onsite and ready to help with anything.
The “services” section of the tablet gave us the ability to set an alarm, but also the ability to request things for the room. This included items such as towels, shampoo, toilet paper, pillows, and even a crib.
For our family, one of the best features that the tablet offered was the ability to sign into Netflix.
One thing that always drove me crazy watching TV at both Universal and Disney hotels was that I had no idea what channel was what. I generally had to scroll through all of them as I would always forget which channel was where. At Aventura, the tablet allows you to just choose whatever channel you want, making TV watching approximately 1000 times easier.
# 1 – Bar 17 Bistro
How can a hotel top a life changing tablet? By offering a rooftop bar that has incredible views along with a food menu worth going out of your way to experience! Bar 17 Bistro is located on the top floor of the hotel, and has its own dedicated express elevator. There is a large bar, many tables, high tops, and a whole bunch of unique seating areas including couches. From Bar 17 you have a wonderful look at the entirety of the Universal Orlando Resort, but also International Drive and beyond. Because of the nature of the parks and I-Drive, the viewing experience during the day is very different than at night. For example, the Krakatau volcano at Volcano Bay looks stunning during the day, but it completely transforms at night with all the various lighting features.
The “bar food” at Bar 17 Bistro is shockingly good, with the Bao Buns becoming an instant hit with guests. Guests can choose 3 different types of filling for $12, with options including braised pork belly, grilled grouper, chicken schwarma, duck confit, Mongolian beef, lamb satay, and more! There are also items including Wagyu beef sliders, grilled Spanish octopus, shiitake mushroom bruschetta, and several types of noodle dishes.
Of course there is also a full bar, and you can’t beat the view!
One nice feature on Aventura’s roof is the ability to walk around a nearby area to take in the various sights and get some terrific photos.
Here’s a fun comic drawn by @bioreconstruct (is there anything he can’t do?!) channeling the Burgan Fine Art style. Here, Bio is correctly drawing how I feel seeing guests take photos in portrait while at Bar 17 Bistro.
Honorable Mention: The Walk to VOLCANO BAY
There’s nothing better in the theme park world than short walks from hotels to the parks. It’s one of the reasons I love Royal Pacific Resort and it’s quick walk to Islands of Adventure, The Contemporary‘s close proximity to Magic Kingdom, and the Beach Club‘s hop, skip, and jump away to Epcot. There may actually be a new sheriff in town for this area, as the “walk” from Aventura to Volcano Bay is about 10 steps. We gave ourselves 15 minutes to get from our room to Volcano Bay to hit rope drop, and we were surprised to find out that we were at Volcano Bay’s security checkpoint in under two minutes.
If the pool is closed, there is another Garden Walk that leads to the front of Aventura and continues on to Sapphire Falls, the Royal Pacific Resort, and all the way to CityWalk.
Double Secret Honorable Mention: Aventura’s Lighting Fixtures Are Next Level Bananas
Sapphire Falls had some unique lighting features in the resort. From the beach ball chandelier in the lobby to some completely bonkers looking ones in some of the guest rooms.
“Hold my beer.”
Throughout Aventura there are some really cool looking lighting features that help add to the modern feel of the whole resort.
Triple Threat Honorable Mention: Bluetooth Speaker
Now Brian McNichols made a second video just on the Aventura hotel room. Let’s watch that now.
As you can see, there was one part of the room Brian couldn’t quite figure out. On the desk there is an item that is clearly a speaker, but I played around with the tablet and couldn’t find anything on it. So I sent a note using the Chat With Us feature…
A #Millenial probably would have figured this out earlier, but it was good even for an Old Person like myself to get an answer and be able to use the speaker!
So there you have it: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s AVENTURA HOTEL! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to our spirit animal Brandon Glover, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, the Sommelier of Tonys Town Square @ViewsAndQueues, Mr. ‘Ohana Tim Grassey, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2018 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now!