Saturday SixUniversal Orlando Resort

The SATURDAY SIX Checks out the Perks of Staying Club Level at Universal’s HARD ROCK HOTEL

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Over the years readers of this fine blog series have seen many articles written about the onsite hotels at the Universal Orlando Resort. Why? Because they are all pretty amazing in their own way. When going to Universal we always stay onsite. From the incredible price points you can get at Dockside Inn & Suites, to the pet friendly Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, to what I consider the best pound-for-pound hotel in all Florida – Cabana Bay Beach Resort – I have a hard time deciding where to stay on each trip to Orlando. However, looking back at my room key collection, the onsite resort I’ve stayed at the most over the years at Universal is actually the HARD ROCK HOTEL.

A selection of Hard Rock Hotel room keys from the past 20 years showing the design evolution.

Why the Hard Rock Hotel? For several reasons, but one of the biggest is…

# 6 – Location, Location, Location

When I’m looking to book a room at either Universal or Disney, one of the biggest factors in my personal decision making process is how close the hotels are to the parks. It is why I’m drawn to places like The Contemporary (with its proximity to Disney’s Magic Kingdom), Aventura Hotel (Volcano Bay), and Loews Royal Pacific Resort (Islands of Adventure.) Despite being pretty much hidden from view, the Hard Rock Hotel is only a hop skip and a jump away from Universal Studios Florida.

Hard Rock Hotel with USF in the background. (aerial photo by @bioreconstruct)

When staying at the Hard Rock Hotel, rooms facing the theme parks can be quite a thrill for the kiddos as they look and see various roller coasters, Hogwarts Castle, and other elements of the Universal Orlando skyline.

Watching Rip Ride Rockit from a previous stay at the Hard Rock.

Let’s check out another birds-eye look at the Hard Rock Hotel from the blogger-in-the-sky @bioreconstruct. In this orientation of the resort, the park entrance for Universal Studios Florida would be located near the bottom of the photo, closest to the pool area. If you look closely at the bottom right of the photo you can see a small pathway leading out from the pool area. This is a walking path to the parks exclusively for guests staying at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Hard Rock Hotel. (aerial photo by @bioreconstruct)

Here’s a ground level photo showing this walking path. When you are in the pool area there is signage letting guests know where to go.

When leaving the Hard Rock Hotel to walk to the parks, you just need to press that green button on the right hand side of this photo to unlock the gate. When returning from the parks you need your room key to unlock the gate. From this gate to the Universal security checkpoint outside Universal Studios Florida is 0.2 miles. To put that number into context, it is .4 miles from the lobby of Disney’s Boardwalk Resort to EPCOT’s World Showcase, .4 miles from Loews Royal Pacific Resort to Islands of Adventure, and .5 miles from The Contemporary to Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The process going through the satellite security checkpoints for Universal’s onsite guests is generally speaking much faster than the congested lines you can encounter at the parking garages and the main CityWalk hub. Anything that speeds up my time getting to and from the parks is worth its weight in gold in my book.

In about 30 seconds you will have gone from the Hard Rock Hotel pool to the Universal Orlando Garden Walk and on your way to the parks. You can also take the scenic route from the front door of the Hard Rock Hotel and pass by the beautiful and serene Butterfly Garden. This will add about 5 minutes to your walk.

While you can’t see it, the security for Universal CityWalk is right past the end of this walkway.

For those who don’t want to take that 5-10 minute walk, don’t worry, Universal offers complimentary water taxi service from the Hard Rock Hotel to Universal CityWalk and back.

Boats from Hard Rock Hotel and Portofino Bay. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 5 – Club Level King Suite

For the last 20 years I have been going to the Hard Rock Hotel, I have been staying in a standard guest room. Some times the room is facing the pool, while other times it is facing the Hard Rock’s gorgeous Garden View, but it has always been a standard room. For this trip I wanted to do something different. Not only was I going to stay Club Level for the first time, but I was going to get a King Suite.

If you have never stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel before, the entire resort is decorated with memorabilia from musicians over the past 100 years. From The Beatles, to K.I.S.S., to Britney Spears and pretty much everyone in-between, everywhere you go at the Hard Rock Hotel you will see nods to influential musicians. The Club Level at the Hard Rock Hotel is known as the Rock Royalty Level and it is located on the 7th floor of the resort, and the only way you can access that floor is with a Rock Royalty room key. On this trip I was able to discover that the 7th floor has several tributes to the one and only Frank Sinatra.

This picture below shows two hallways leading to guest rooms. When looking for my room, I was confused for a moment because my room # wasn’t listed on the room list for either hallway.  It took longer than I care to admit before I realized that the door to my room was actually in the center of this area and on the far right hand side of the photo.

With 650 square feet of space, the floor plan of a King Suite is like a big semi-circle. Upon first walking in, you have the coffee maker and fridge to your right.

Here is a photo taken from the middle of the room looking back at the door. Have to say, LOVE having this much space when in a hotel room.

The living space area of the King Suite has a sectional couch and a table.

The couch unfolds into a bed.

The bedroom area of the King Suite has its own TV. The mattress was extremely comfortable and Babydoll was impressed by the amount of pillows on the bed in relation to overall mattress space. I believe in our bedroom at home we are approaching 90% overall bed space volume of decorative pillows, which is apparently the recommended threshold recommended by Home Sense, Pottery Barn, Target and other agents of Big Pillow.

One thing I discovered on this fact sheet was that you can text any questions or requests, including asking for extra towels, toiletries, or blankets. After I texted I got an immediate response and the items were brought to our room within 15 minutes.

Always loved when theme park hotel rooms have branded notepads and pens.

The bathroom area had two doors leading to it, one coming directly off the main bedroom area.

The magnifying mirror was a nice touch.

Various toiletries are included, all branded. It blows my mind that Disney wouldn’t even consider a great little touch like this even for their high end Deluxe or DVC resorts.

Throughout our stay at the Hard Rock Hotel, from our hotel room, to the pool area, to the rest of the entire resort, there were various guest friendly “little things” that cost the hotel little but end up making a big impression on the overall experience.

Love that the faucet handle for the shower is in the shape of a musical note. ::chef’s kiss::

A closet near the front door had the in-room safe, a hair dryer, and two cotton bathrobes.

Rocked this while watching The Ride Guys on the TV.

The biggest added amenity for staying at a Universal or Disney Club Level is access to the lounge, so let’s check that area out next.

# 4 – Rock Royalty Level Lounge

The lounge itself is open from 7am-9pm and has complimentary food offerings throughout the day.

There is plenty of seating in the lounge, and a cooler loaded with bottled water along with cans of Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, and Sprite. These are available to grab throughout the day. Coffee is also available all day long. I am not a coffee drinker, but the lounge has one of the better coffee machines I have come across at any hotels and has options including Espresso, Regular Coffee, Bold Coffee, Coffee w/Cream, Cafe Mocha, Cappuccino, French Vanilla, Cafe Latte, Chocolate Espresso and Hot Chocolate.

Food is offered at four points during the day. The daily menu is posted at the front of the lounge.

The biggest question for many of course is, “is it worth it?” The up-charge from a standard guest room to one with Rock Royalty access is approximately $150. Now, if you’re like me you can make that back in Coke Zero and bottled water alone. Below is a sampling of what we saw offered during our trip for you to decide if there is enough for your family.

First up is the Continental Breakfast (7am-10am). For many, this is the most important “meal” of the day at the lounge because its something you can grab on your way to the theme parks without having to sit through a long experience. Remember, those staying at the Hard Rock Hotel also get one hour early admission to the Universal Orlando theme parks and 30 minutes early admission to Volcano Bay. As we wrote about in our recent stay at Cabana Bay, that extra park time can be invaluable when it comes to attractions like Volcano Bay’s Krakatau Water Coaster or Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and the VelociCoaster at Islands of Adventure. My advice? Have a quick bite to eat in the lounge, grab some snacks and water bottles for the parks, and get to the parks as early as possible.

Scrambled Eggs. There were also hard boiled eggs available.
Assorted meats. There were also assorted cheeses.
Assorted Pastries (oh you  better believe I grabbed a couple donuts.)
Bagels and bread. There were toasters available along with butter, cream cheese, peanut butter, jelly, and jams.

Milk and Orange Juice.

Afternoon Recharge (12pm-3pm) is filled with various grab and go snacks.

Including FULL SIZE HERSHEY’S CANDY BARS. That’s right, the Hard Rock Hotel lounge is like that one cool house in the neighborhood during Trick or Treat. There were Oreo cookies, Terra Blue chips, Cheetos and more.

The bags of various chips were also of a bigger-than-you’d-expect size. These aren’t those mini-bags you find in vending machines.

Evening Reception (5pm-7pm) has a bar set-up directly outside the lounge with complimentary drinks. They even made a Shirley Temple for the kiddo.

I’m not a wine guy, but here is a look at the beer selection.

Does the food selection during this time replace a full meal at a restaurant? It may depend on the person. For our night the options certainly did with this Asian Salad…

…vegetable spring rolls (with a great sweet chili sauce)…

…and these Taiwanese Chicken Bites. This chicken looked like styrofoam and appeared like they would taste horrible but they were actually fantastic.

Club Level. Evening Reception. Tiawanese Chicken Bites

There was also a Vegetable Plate and Hummus available. Other nights of the week offered items including Chicken Tenders, Mac & Cheese, Chipotle Steak Churrasco, Beef Tenderloin Puff Pastry, Chicken Empanadas, Meatballs in Marinara Sauce and more. For us, the offerings during the Evening Reception replaced us going to CityWalk for a meal, but I can certainly see many picky eaters not seeing anything they liked (but would have loved the night with chicken tendies and mac & cheese.)

Bed Time Snacks (8PM-9PM). There were some tasty cheesecake bites…

…along with Blondies and several types of cookies.

Loved this chocolate milk.

One of the amenities of staying Rock Royalty is access to a concierge service during your stay. Before we left for Orlando, we got a welcome email from the concierge staff explaining the Rock Royalty benefits and one of them was a discount for the poolside cabanas. I’ve done poolside cabanas at Loews Portofino Hotel, Sapphire Falls, and Royal Pacific, but never at the Hard Rock Hotel. I wrote back asking how one goes about booking a poolside cabana and they replied they would do the booking for me.

On the day of our check-in, we arrived at the hotel around 11am. The room wasn’t ready yet, but we had our poolside cabana booked so we went straight to the Hard Rock pool.

# 3 – Poolside Cabana

Once you enter the Hard Rock Hotel pool area, you’ll see an area with a whole bunch of towels. This is where you check into your cabana.

An attendant will then walk you over to your cabana. Each cabana comes with a couch, a table, four chairs and a TV. There is an overhead fan inside the cabana. Unlike the cabanas at Volcano Bay, all four sides of the cabana can be closed up for privacy.

The cabanas are numbered with these cool mosaic tiles.

Each poolside cabana includes a fridge that is pre-loaded with waters, and cans of Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite.

Not just any bottles of water. Hard Rock Hotel branded bottles of water. Now THAT’s straight up E-Ticket.

Each cabana also includes a safe.

Across the walkway from our cabana were four lounge chairs. These were reserved for our cabana.

The attendant put lounge chair towels on them.

Included with the cost of the cabana was this fruit plate…

…along with this bottle of Fiji water.

The cabana itself cost $300 for the day, and you have use of the cabana from open-to-close. We got a 10% discount for staying Rock Royalty and also received a $50 Food and Beverage Credit.

This was a nice credit to have because the Beachclub pool bar at the Hard Rock Hotel is one of the best – if not THE BEST – at any Universal or Disney resort. Check out some of these dishes!

ONE POUND OF WINGS. Honey Garlic (also available in buffalo or BBQ.)
SAMPLER PLATTER – One cheese quesadilla, three cheese sticks, three chicken fingers, chips and salsa
BEACH CLUB BURGER with salad (Beyond Burger can be substituted for vegetarians and vegans.)
FISH TACOS – Flour tortillas, mango salsa, shredded cabbage, avocado crema, cilantro.

I can not tell you how much I loved the fact that the churros came with caramel sauce. Everyone has chocolate dipping sauce, but in my book a churro pairs best with caramel. These were amazing.

CHURROS – Warm cinnamon and sugar churros with caramel and chocolate dipping sauces.
FUNNEL CAKE FRIES – Powdered sugar, strawberry and chocolate dipping sauce. (I asked for more caramel).

That is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to food options at the Beachclub. Here are some other items on the menu: Lobster Roll, Crispy Chicken Sandwich, various Flatbreads, Philly Cheesesteak, ABC Club, Grilled Mahi Sandwich, Buffalo Chicken Po’Boy, loaded nachos, and much more. There’s also a kid’s menu with pizza, grilled cheese, and hot dogs.

The cocktails are served in branded souvenir cups, including this fun Tiki one.

Along with the standard Beachclub cups.

My go to drink at any bar is an ice cold Miller Lite.

Let’s check out the Hard Rock Hotel pool area for a bit. For those on DisTwitter, the Hard Rock Hotel won the 2023 Leisure Time Resort Pool Madness tournament in a stacked field that included some main event contenders including Yacht & Beach Club’s Stormalong Bay, the Lava Pool at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort pool. For those who like a dip into a hot tub, there is one located directly next to the main pool…

…along with a more secluded adults only hot tub located away from the main pool area.

The Hard Rock Hotel has a long slide for the kiddos to enjoy.

While outside the pool area are various games including ping pong and Connect Four.

There’s several sandy beach sections at the Hard Rock Hotel pool, including this area for volleyball.

The day at the pool was absolutely FANTASTIC. There were DJs at the pool in the afternoon playing some pretty great music (had to text my friends when MC Hammer’s 2 Legit 2 Quit was playing) and there were several games for people to play that were fun to watch (including a hula hoop contest along with Simon Says.) There was a great “Lip Sync Battle” between competing teams of men versus women that was hysterical to watch and even had the DJ saying it was one of the only times ever that the crowd voted for the men’s team to win. It was a blast to watch. The pool itself at the Hard Rock Hotel is fantastic and while I was never impressed with the “Under Water Audio” that Disney hypes up for the Big Blue Pool at Art of Animation, the under water audio at the Hard Rock is legit.

One of my biggest pro-tips for anyone coming to Universal for a vacation is to spend your check-in day relaxing at the pool. I have found over the years that the cost of a cabana is more than worth it for what you get out of it, but there’s also plenty of free seating as well that won’t cost you a dime. The pool bars at Universal’s Premier Resorts can compete with any sit down restaurant and you can start your entire vacation off on the right foot.

A nearly straight down look at the Hard Rock Hotel pool. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 2 – Kids Can Cook

The Hard Rock Hotel has several great sit down restaurants, one of which I consider to be the most underrated restaurant at both Universal and Disney. Outside of a great a la carte menu, The Kitchen at the Hard Rock Hotel has one of the best breakfast buffets at any onsite resort and has THE BEST brunch buffet with The Acoustic Brunch (which, along with The Wok Experience at Loews Royal Pacific Resort, are the two best meals you can have at Universal Orlando in my book.) I hadn’t planned on eating at The Kitchen during this quick trip to Orlando, but then I saw this ad in the elevator going back and forth to our room.

We just happened to be staying at the hotel while this was going on so we decided to head on down to The Kitchen to check it out. Once seated at our table, we told the server we wanted to try the Kids Can Cook program and they brought the kiddo over to a table right in front of the actual kitchen area. One of the chefs came out and explained that the kids would be able to make their own pizza with whatever toppings they wanted. First up though, putting on nitrile gloves.

While only cheese and pepperoni were on the table, the chef explained that we could have any topping we wanted and he would go get it. The chef also explained how the amount of sauce can affect how a pizza tastes. It was up to each kid on how much or how little of every item they wanted on the pie.

After applying some pepperoni, the kiddo asked for some sausage as well.

The pizza was then given to another chef who loaded it into the oven.

It wasn’t too long before the pizza was delivered to our table. There was a family seated next to us who had a younger kid who also wanted to do the Kids Can Cook program and he also made a pie that was just all cheese. WHEN IS THE KITCHEN GOING TO DO A BLOGGERS CAN COOK PROGRAM?!!!

Here’s a look at some items the rest of us got at the table.

HEARTH BAKED FOCACCIA BREAD – Bella di Cerignola olives, extra virgin olive oil.
CHICKEN WINGS – Honey lime chipotle or classic Buffalo sauce, house-made ranch or chunky bleu cheese, carrots. (These were classic Buffalo and had some heat.)
VEGAN BOLOGNESE – Penne pasta, fresh veggies, Beyond Meat, vegan parmesan cheese, crushed San Marzano tomatoes.

After the dinner we wanted to spend a little more time at the pool, so I ordered a crème brûlée to go. I have to say, this was the best looking crème brûlée I have ever seen. Also tasted great. The Kitchen gets my highest possible recommendation when it comes to eating at the Universal Orlando Resort. Just fantastic.

# 1 –  Your Room Key is an UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED

For many theme park fans, one of the biggest advantages in staying at any of the Premier Resorts is the fact that every person staying in the room gets Universal Express Unlimited in the parks. This is an incredible deal and allows you to “skip the lines” at all your favorite Universal attractions, including those in the Wizarding World (with the exception of Hagrid’s). With it being an “Unlimited” pass, you can literally do the same attraction over, and over, and over, and over again (at least if your kids love Spider-Man as much as ours do). The pass from the day of check-in through your day of check out.

Your Hard Rock Hotel room key is also a Universal Express Unlimited. (photo by @ParkJourney)

There is nothing to compare the Universal Express Unlimited to at Disney, but it’s essentially as if you could use a Lightning Lane for any ride you wanted at any time you wanted.

No more stand by lines for you. Straight to the Universal Express line.

Now it is time to reveal quite possibly my favorite detail about staying at the Hard Rock Hotel. When you are completely done with your vacation; checked out of your room and are finished with the theme parks…there’s still something really cool for you. Take your room key to the front desk and they can convert it into a guitar pick!!

Talk about a fantastic souvenir that also becomes a talking point for friends and family back home when telling them about your stay.

Honorable Mention: The Hard Rock is Pet Friendly!

While we didn’t travel with Bacini – the official dog of DisTwitter – on this trip to the Hard Rock Hotel, it is important to know for pet lovers out there that you can take your dog, cat, gerbil, or even sugar glider on your next Universal vacation.

Bacini, about as excited as I am to check-in. (photo by Brandon Glover)

The Hard Rock Hotel has an Unleashed program (which you can read our experience by CLICKING HERE) that spoils your favorite four legged friend.

Bacini enjoys walking the gorgeously maintained grounds at the Hard Rock Hotel. (photo by Brandon Glover)

You can even get your pampered pup filet mignon at the Palm Restaurant in the Hard Rock Hotel.

That’s right, my dog eats better than me! (photo by Brandon Glover)

Every time we stay at the Hard Rock Hotel we are reminding why we have stayed here so many times over the last 20 years. From top to bottom it is an amazing experience with a great staff.

Rock on. (photo by Brandon Glover)

So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX Stays at the Hard Rock Hotel and checks out the Club Level Perks! 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 THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following: 

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SATURDAY SIX: Tribute to Josh easyWDW

SATURDAY SIX: Tribute to Ian Barritt

Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, the permit princess Alicia Stella, master cartographer Tommy Hawkins, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. 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.

Did you know you can also get married at the Hard Rock Hotel? That’s an article for another day…

Caitlin and Hunter Underwood enjoying a wedding photoshoot at the Hard Rock Hotel’s Butterfly Garden.

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2 thoughts on “The SATURDAY SIX Checks out the Perks of Staying Club Level at Universal’s HARD ROCK HOTEL

  • Great article. We love the HR (and Club Level) too! Do you know if it’s still possible to rent electric guitars during your stay?

    Reply
    • Yes, there is so much going on at the Hard Rock Hotel it’s pretty much impossible to get into one article. You can still get the guitar/amp and the record player brought to your room.

      Reply

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