The Saturday Six is a weekly look at the most interesting, most fun, and sometimes even the most outrageous things within the theme park world we all love so much. Whether it’s the top six attraction queues, the top six food options at Fast Food Blvd, or even the top six mini-golf courses, the Saturday Six will be your personal guide to experiencing the very best Orlando has to offer.
This week’s Saturday Six includes the Top Six “Secrets” of the Loews Portofino Hotel at Universal. The Portofino is one of three current onsite hotels at Universal, along with the Loews Royal Pacific Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel. If you were to compare them to the various hotels at Walt Disney World, they would all fall into the Deluxe category, but you would often be paying a price for a room that Disney would have in the Moderate level of resorts.
The perks of staying onsite at Universal far exceed anything you would receive at WDW as all hotel guests at the Portofino, Royal Pacific and Hard Rock receive complimentary Universal Express Unlimited, as well as early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure throughout the year. (This summer, hotel guests also get early access to Transformers and Despicable Me at the Universal Studios Florida park.) There is also the fact that all three hotels are within walking distance (with very lushly themed walkways) to Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Universal CityWalk.
Steven Spielberg can be considered one of the main “architects” of the entire Universal Orlando Resort. Universal Studios Florida, the park that started it all, heavily depends on films that Spielberg either directed (Jaws, E.T.) or was a producer on (Back to the Future, Twister, Transformers). While the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the current draw to Islands of Adventure, it’s Spielberg’s Jurassic Park that sits directly in the middle, and the iconic JP visitor center is the first thing you see in the park when coming out of the Port of Entry. It’s only natural that when Universal was putting together Islands of Adventure that they would pick Spielberg’s brain about ideas for the new onsite hotel they would also be developing.
Spielberg’s suggestion was for the new hotel to be inspired by the classic feel of Portofino, Italy. Loews took that idea and ran with it, faithfully recreating a classic Mediterranean fishing village by the lagoon, as well as representing the luxury of many high end Italian hotels on the inside of the resort. Portofino Bay can be considered the flagship resort of Loews at Universal.
Many people like to travel with their pets, and unfortunately not a single room at any of Walt Disney World’s 25-plus hotels is pet friendly. Each of Universal’s onsite hotels is pet friendly, including Portofino Bay. And when we say “pet friendly,” we mean all pets: dogs, cats, iguanas, or whatever member of the family you can’t bear to leave behind on your vacation. There is a separate area of the hotel dedicated to pet friendly rooms, and the fee is $50 a day with a cap of $150. So if you spend 3 days or 21 days with a pet, you’ll pay a total of $150.
While the Royal Pacific Resort on Universal property has an excellent area dedicated for pets, Portofino Bay has expansive walkways throughout the resort to take your animals on walks. There are waste pick-up stations along the way, and it’s pretty amazing how much space is around the resort in which you can take your pet (or just go for a relaxing stroll yourself). Believe it or not, there is also a section for cat and dog items in the room service menu. Now, I love Sebastian – my 13 year old Yorkshire Terrier – as much as any person has ever loved any dog, but that will be the day.
If you’re like me, you’ve only seen bocce ball on TV or in the movies. It joins other sporting events like polo and cricket that I have never come across in the real world. Portofino Bay has an actual bocce ball court for you to play a game. Located next to the Villa Pool area, this is an especially quiet and relaxing area of the resort to spend your time. While it’s rumored that the court will be changed into something different down the road (my suggestion would be to have an outdoor coffee/espresso station with seating), I like that it brings a unique flavor of Italy here to Orlando.
I have been to many hotels in my day and have spent time in a lot of jacuzzis, but it was Portofino Bay that finally showed me the “wow factor.” Now this is how you relax. There are various hot tubs around the resort, but my favorites are the elaborately themed ones near the Beach Pool. With great rock work and actual waterfalls flowing down into the tub, Portofino Bay has created an area takes hot tubbing to the next level. I’m not even sure if hot tubbing is even an actual word, but that’s how great this experience is. It actually defies the English language!
You’ve spent a day at the parks under the hot Florida sun, you’ve bought your kids all the merchandise and churros they wanted, and you’ve come back to find out your dog has ordered room service…No worries, once you spend some time in these hot tubs all your stress will melt away.
A common rule of thumb when it comes to hotels is this: the better the hotel, the better dining experience you will have. Disney’s Deluxe hotels have some of the absolute best places to eat in the WDW resort. The Grand Floridan has Victoria & Albert’s. The Polynesian has ′Ohana. The Animal Kingdom Lodge has Jiko and Boma. Portofino Bay also has some truly exceptional dining experiences, with BiCE and my personal favorite: Mama Della’s Ristorante.
Besides the wonderful food, what makes Mama Della’s so special is the entire story behind the restaurant and the theming inside. The backstory is that at one point Mama Della couldn’t afford to open her own restaurant, but she loved making food for everyone. Many people started to bring their tables and dishware so that “Mama” could fulfill her dream. It’s actually pretty interesting to walk through the restaurant (which is deceptively expansive) and see that every single room has different wall paper and that all the tables and chairs are completely different from each other.
When I go to Orlando, whether it’s at the parks themselves or at the onsite hotels, when it comes to eating I’m generally looking for good food at a good price. However, there are the rare times that the theming of a restaurant bump the entire experience to the next level. Recently I’ve had that type of feeling at Be Our Guest at the Magic Kingdom, Mythos at Islands of Adventure, Fast Food Blvd at Universal (it doesn’t have to be fine dining to be incredibly well themed), and now Mama Della’s at Portofino.
There are themed pools, and then there are themed pools; this is the latter. Joining the best pools in Orlando along with Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club and Loews’s own Royal Pacific Resort pool, the Beach Pool at Portofino Bay is the type of pool area where you can spend an entire day of your Orlando vacation. It’s insane! A sandy beach area. An elaborate castle-like themed structure that has a long water slide at the top. Tons of rock work that you get to swim around, giving many “quiet” areas like you would find at Royal Pacific’s pool.
Around the Beach Pool is a rather large area for kids to play in that has several interactive elements. There is a fully stocked pool bar with a ton of food options. Ping pong, billiards, the awesome Jacuzzis we talked about above, this is truly The One Pool To Rule Them All. If your family is anything like my family, it doesn’t matter how good Transformers: The Ride-3D and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey are, once the kids see this pool, they are going to want to stay in it as long as possible.
There are also two other pools at Portofino Bay. The Villas pool, which could be considered a “quiet” pool but is themed better than any other quiet pool you’ve ever seen (it also has a lot more cabanas to rent, along with a full changing station with lockers for people checking into the hotel early whose rooms are not ready). There is also a third even quieter pool by the east wing of the resort that is more similar to the standard quiet pools you see at most hotels.
So there you have it. The top six secrets of the Loews Portofino Bay hotel at Universal. We didn’t even get into the incredible Mandara spa, the nightly “Musica Della Notte” opera singing, the fact that Sal’s market has possibly the best pizza on property, or all the amazing quiet areas you’ll find throughout the resort if you take a walk around. Stay tuned for my full review of what has possibly become my favorite hotel in Orlando (and if you know how much I love the Royal Pacific Resort, you’ll understand what that’s saying!).
See you next weekend for the latest edition of the Saturday Six!