Universal Orlando Resort Hotels 101
Universal has four resort hotels. The 750-room Portofino Bay Hotel is a gorgeous property set on an artificial bay and themed like an Italian coastal town. The 650-room Hard Rock Hotel is an ultracool “Hotel California” replica, and the 1,000-room, Polynesian-themed Royal Pacific Resort is sumptuously decorated and richly appointed. All three are on the pricey side. The retro-style Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal’s newest and largest hotel, has 1,800 moderate- and value-priced rooms, plus amenities (bowling alley, lazy river) not seen at comparable Disney resorts. A fifth hotel, the Caribbean-styled Sapphire Falls Resort, opens in 2016 with 1000 rooms priced between Royal Pacific and Cabana Bay. Before you make any decisions, understand these basics regarding Universal Orlando Resort hotels.
The Tax Man Cometh
Sales and lodging taxes can add a chunk of change to the cost of your hotel room. Cumulative tax in Orange County is 12.5% which includes the Universal Orlando area and International Drive.
Universal Orlando Resort Hotel Policies
While Disney loves to categorize, and has developed a 5-level hierarchy of resort classifications, Universal's hotels fall into just three categories. The original three on-site hotels – Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Royal Pacific Resort – are all Deluxe resorts. Portofino is the swankiest, and Royal Pacific the least pricey, but all are AAA Four Diamond-awarded hotels.
The Cabana Bay Beach Resort currently represents both the Moderate resort category and Value resorts, with the family suites falling into the former classification, and the standard rooms in the later. Sapphire Falls Resort will be classified a moderate resort when it opens in 2016. Despite the classification, all Cabana Bay guests receive amenities that surpass any Disney moderate or value resort, and compete with some Disney deluxe hotels.
Universal (like Disney) uses so many adjectives – “Value,” Regular,” “Summer,” “Holiday,” and “Peak” – to describe its seasonal calendar that it's hard to keep up. Plus, Universal also changes the price of its hotel rooms with the day of the week, charging more for the same room on Friday and Saturday nights. Visit www.universalorlando.com/Hotels/Onsite-Hotel-Rates-and-Offers/Seasonal-Rates.aspx for a current breakdown of Universal's hotel seasons and their corresponding “rack” (or non-discounted) rates. These prices are for a weeknight stay in a basic room with a standard view, usually of a “garden” or parking lot; upgrades to pool or bay views start at $25 to $50. Rack rates do not include taxes or parking, but no hidden “resort fees” are tacked on at Universal's hotels.
Universal hotel rack rates are just the starting point, and most clever visitors can save substantially on their stay with a little legwork. Unlike Disney, which prefers to use inducements like “free dining” rather than discounts per se, Universal frequently offers sizable percentage-off deals to fill their rooms. Start by reviewing our resort discount information page, then visit https://www.universalorlando.com/Hotels/Onsite-Hotel-Rates-and-Offers.aspx to view the latest deals. Use the booking tool on the right side of that page to select your dates, and enter “APH” in the Promotion Code box to see Annual Passholder discounts, or “FLO” for Florida Resident discounts. You don't have to prove eligibility to book with these codes, but you will need to show appropriate ID upon check-in.
If you are staying for multiple nights, Universal's “Stay More, Save More” pricing structure kicks in. Stays in a value or moderate room of 4 to 7 nights save 10% to 20% during holiday, peak, and summer seasons; and stays of 3 to 7 nights save 15% to 25% during regular and value seasons. At the deluxe hotels, 4 to 7 nights save 10% to 25% during holiday, peak, and summer seasons; and 3 to 7 nights save 10% to 30% during regular and value seasons.
The easiest way to book a room at Universal Orlando is online through uo.loewshotels.com, or by telephone at 1-888-273-1311. If you are attending a meeting or event, call 1-866-360-7395 for your group block room.
A credit card deposit equal to one night's room rate (plus tax) is required when booking. Cancellations made 6 or more days prior to check-in receive a full refund. Cancellations 5 or fewer days before check-in forfeit the deposit. However, Universal's "No Questions Asked" severe weather policy says that if you are not able to travel to Orlando due to an “active named storm impacting your travel,” you can reschedule your vacation or receive a full refund.
Check-In and Check Out
Check-in time at all Universal hotels is 4 p.m., and check-out is 11 a.m.; if you ask nicely, you can usually get a noon check-out for free. Remember that all on-site hotel benefits – including early park admission and unlimited Express passes for deluxe guests – begin the first morning of your stay, and last until midnight after you check out. So even if you can't get into your room you can pre-register as early as you like, leave your luggage, grab your Express passes (at deluxe hotels), and hit the parks at rope drop. Check-out can be done at the front desk, through the interactive television system, or via Express with your bill emailed to you.
The minimum age to book a hotel room at Universal Orlando is 21, and valid ID is required at check-in. At least one guest staying in the room must be 21 or older.
All Universal Orlando hotels have wheelchair-accessible public areas, and offer designated accessible rooms for both mobility impaired and sight/hearing impaired guests. Accessibility features include 36" wide entry doors; peepholes at 3'6" from the floor; closets with rods at 48" high; toilets with hand bar; and roll-in shower stalls or combination shower/tubs with adjustable shower heads. Sight & hearing-impaired features include Braille room numbers; closed-caption televisions; smoke detectors with lights; and Hearing Impaired Kits including a TDD relay service that may be used in any guest room.
Universal charges a $20-per-night self-parking fee ($27 for valet) at its luxury resorts for registered guests; day guests pay $22 for self-parking and $32 for valet. Cabana Bay charges $12 for overnight guests (self-parking only), and $20 for day visitors. Several of the hotel restaurants (including Tchoup Chop at Royal Pacific and The Palm at Hard Rock) will validate diners for free valet parking. There are no annual pass discounts on parking at the hotels.
Loews “loves pets,” and is one of the few luxury chains to allow cats and dogs in their rooms. They even have a special (and expensive) room service menu for four-legged guests. There are some restrictions, starting with a $50 fee per night for a maximum of two pets per guestroom. Guests will be assigned to a “pet friendly room category” upon arrival, which includes garden & bay view rooms at the Portofino Bay, garden view rooms at the Hard Rock, and standard rooms at the Royal Pacific. Club rooms don't participate in the pet program, nor does Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
Dogs may only be walked in designated areas, and are not allowed in the pool/lounge or restaurant areas. Arrangements must be made with housekeeping for daily room cleaning, and there is a $10 per hour fee if they find your pet left unattended. If other guests complain about your pet's behavior, you may be asked to board it outside. You must provide current vaccination records from a licensed veterinarian upon request.
All Universal Orlando resort hotels are smoke-free. Smoking is only permitted outdoors in designated locations. If you light up in your room, you'll be burned with a $200 cleaning fee.
YouFirst and Hard Rock Rewards
The Loews-branded hotels participate in the YouFirst loyalty reward program, which offers complimentary upgrades and fitness room access to return guests. Hard Rock Hotel accepts the similar Hard Rock Rewards card. Be warned that discounted room bookings may not qualify for reward program benefits, and YouFirst is not valid at Cabana Bay. Ask about the programs at check-in, or call 1-800-563-9712 for Loews YouFirst; visit www.hardrock.com/rewards for Hard Rock Rewards.
Universal Orlando Resort Hotel Services and Amenities
To keep you fed, every Universal on-site hotel has multiple restaurants, a spot for coffee and grab-and-go snacks, and at least three bars. The deluxe properties each have several sit-down restaurants, including one fine-dining venue and one family-friendly eatery, while Cabana Bay has a counter-service food court, and table-service munchies in the bowling alley. The deluxe hotels also offer extensive room service menus, while Cabana Bay has pizza delivery to the rooms, and occasionally hosts local food trucks in the north pool courtyard.
The primary downside to staying on-site at Universal is the cost of food at the deluxe hotels' restaurants, which seems priced as if everyone staying at the hotels was on a corporate expense account. Fortunately, many good, cheaper restaurant choices are within a few minutes’ drive of the hotels on International Drive and Sand Lake Road – much more so than at Disney's hotels. Hotel guests also have easy access to CityWalk, which has some cheaper choices for dining.
Pools and Recreation
Swimming is many guests' number 1 priority (after the theme parks, of course), so you'll find some of Orlando's best pools at Universal's hotels. Each resort has at least one themed swimming facility for guests. The main pool is the more active, family-centric one where you'll find playground equipment and organized activities, both for kids (water-based games and contests) and adults (free smoothies and cool towels). Each resort (except for Royal Pacific) has a water slide, and Cabana Bay has a lazy river. On most nights (weather permitting) a PG-rated “dive-in movie” is projected on an outdoor screen.
The secondary pools at Portofino and Cabana Bay are usually slightly more sedate and attract a more adult clientele. All pools are staffed with trained lifeguards during operating hours (which vary seasonally, typically 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.), and have adjacent whirlpools, changing facilities, and drink services. Towels are free with resort ID, and hotel guests are free to pool-hop from one resort to another; ask an attendant for access if your room key won't open another hotel's security gate.
Each hotel's main pool has private cabanas for rent, which start around $100 per day. Aside from providing shade and cushioned lounge chairs, cabanas come with ceiling fans, TVs, a refrigerator, free soft drinks, food and drink delivery, and a personal safe. Reserve a cabana by calling 407-503-4175 at Cabana Bay, 407-503-3235 at Royal Pacific, 407-503-2236 at Hard Rock, or 407-503-1200 at Portofino Bay. Same-day cancellations incur a 50% penalty fee. You'll also find a variety of recreational activities around the pools, from a bocce court at Portofino Bay to a croquet lawn at the Royal Pacific; free equipment can be checked out to play.
Kids Activities and Kids Suites
The “Loews Loves Kids” program means that there's always something at the hotel to keep the rugrats occupied when your family isn't in the parks. Free lending libraries of games and sports equipment are available at every hotel., and a schedule of supervised activities is offered at each main pool (or indoors on rainy days). Universal's characters make regular meet & greet appearances at each hotel on a weekly schedule. In addition, the kids clubs at the three deluxe hotels offer evening child care for a fee, and every hotel has an arcade with redemption and video games.
If you want to go all out and amaze the kids (at the expense of you bank account) check into one of the deluxe resorts' elaborately decorated kids suites. Portofino Bay's Despicable Me suites look like Gru's laboratory, with missile-shaped beds and vault-like doors. Royal Pacific's Jurassic Park suites has appropriately dinosaurish décor, with high-tech headboards and jungle graphics. The Hard Rock's kid suites have a separate kids' room with TV and child-sized furniture, but no whimsical theming. All the kids suites have separate bedrooms for the children that only open on the parents' room (not the hallway). You'll get some extra privacy, but pay a hefty price with the resort's highest room rates (outside the outrageous presidential suites). Still, these rooms are almost always booked up, so someone is willing to pay for them.
All Universal Orlando hotels offer free Wi-Fi internet in their public areas and guest rooms for up to 4 devices. The service is somewhat spotty but good enough for email and social media. If you plan to stream videos or upload large photos, you may want to pay $14.95 per 24 hours of “Premium Plus” internet, which affords higher bandwidth (we've achieved over 30mbps downloads) on up to 8 devices.
Each of the three deluxe hotels has a business center offering internet-connected computers with printers, copy and fax services, and mail facilities through FedEx and UPS. Portofino Bay's business center is open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday (closed Sunday). Royal Pacific's center is open 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday (closed Saturday & Sunday. Hard Rock Hotel's business center is open 24/7, and the others may be accessed during off hours by contacting the front desk. Fees apply for certain services like copying and faxing.
Cribs & Rollaways
Complimentary cribs are available in all rooms. Rollaway beds can be requested on a first come/first served basis for $25 per day, plus 12.5% sales tax. Only one rollaway per room is allowed.
All the hotels except Portofino Bay offer self-service laundromats. Machines take quarters or credit cards, and cost $3 per load to wash, and the same to dry. At all the deluxe hotels you can also avail yourself of valet laundry, dry cleaning, quick pressing, and shoe shines, with express same-day service available daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; pricing and instructions can be found inside your closet.
Microwaves & Refrigerators
Rooms in the Portofino Bay Hotel and Royal Pacific Resort come with a small refrigerator pre-stocked with expensive drinks and snacks. Microwaves and empty refrigerators are available on a first come/first served basis for $15 each per day, plus 12.5% sales tax. Let the hotel know if you require a refrigerator to store medicine. The newly renovated rooms at the Hard Rock Hotel include small refrigerators that can be used by guests for no extra fee. All rooms at Cabana Bay include a mini-fridge, and the family suites have kitchenettes with a microwave and sink.
Transportation and Car Rental
All four Universal hotels offer free transportation via bus and/or water taxi to CityWalk and the theme parks, as well as well-lit landscaped walking paths connecting the resort. Water taxis depart from each of the deluxe hotels every 15 to 20 minutes, while the bus from Cabana Bay runs even more frequently. Either transportation method takes about 15 minutes to reach the park entrances, while walking takes between less than 5 minutes from Hard Rock Hotel, to 15 or 20 minutes from Cabana Bay and Portofino Bay.
Free daily transportation for hotel guests to Wet 'n Wild, SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, and Aquatica is available on the Super Star Shuttle (see our Transporation page). There are a limited number of departures and returns; check with the ticket desk for the schedule and to book a seat. For a fee, the concierge desk will also arrange for Mears Transportation to take you to Walt Disney World or the airport. If you want to rent a car, Hertz rental car service desks operate inside each hotel.
If you want to stay in shape while vacationing, every Universal hotel has a well-appointed fitness center filled with the latest in exercise equipment. The expansive Jack LaLanne-themed workout room at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, as well as the somewhat smaller workout rooms in the other hotels, are free for all hotel guets to use.
Whether you are staying at a Universal hotel or not, you may book services at Portofino Bay's Mandara Spa, which is attached to the hotel's fitness center. Access to the spa's facilities shower and sauna facilities cost $10 per day for guests of the resort, and is free for club level guests, loyalty club members, Premier annual passholders, or anyone purchasing spa services. If you aren't staying on-site, you can get access to the spa (though not the nearby Beach Pool) with a $25 day pass, which also includes free self-parking or $5 valet parking at the hotel entrance.
Universal Orlando's Mandara Spa was renovated in 2013, retaining its Asian ambiance despite its location in an Italy-themed resort. We like the contrast, though, and find it slightly exotic. Waiting areas are decorated in comforting earth tones; treatment rooms feature silk-draped ceilings. Changing and bathroom areas are spacious and clean, but they also include less-than-subtle advertisements for products sold on premises. The remodeled treatment rooms feature additional decorative lighting and accessories.
The emphasis on tranquility extends to the stellar spa services, which included free self-heating oil for our massages. Men and women enjoy separate steam and sauna facilities; the whirlpool is unisex. The Portofino’s sand-bottom pool is conveniently located near the entrance to the spa, as are nail services. The fitness center is still on the other side of the glass wall, however, so you may feel a bit like that doggy in the window.
We rate the Mandara Spa at Portofino Bay as 4 ½ stars, just behind the spas at Disney's Grand Floridian and the Waldorf Astoria, and equivalent to the spas at the Ritz-Carlton, Saratoga Springs, and Gaylord Palms. Prices range from $70 for a 25 minute reflexology massage, to $595 for a 6+ hour “Day of Bliss” package. Hair salon and makeup services are also on the menu. A 20% automatic gratuity applies to all services, and annual passholders can save 10%-20%. Groupon often offer half-price Mandara spa packages, but you'll be charged gratuity based on the full value. Purchase of most massages and treatments also includes access to the fitness center for the day. Call 407-503-1244 for reservations, or visit mandaraspa.com/spa/Orlando-Loews-Portofino-Bay-Hotel-at-Universal-Orlando.aspx to preview the price list.
All the hotels except Cabana Bay offer a “club level” rooms or suites that allow access to an exclusive lounge, where you'll find complimentary continental breakfast, afternoon snacks, hot and cold evening hors d’oeuvers with free beer and wine, and after-dinner desserts. Club level guests also get free fitness center access, discounted poolside cabana rentals, personal concierge service, evening turndown, and other luxurious touches. Hard Rock Hotel's “Rock Royalty” and Royal Pacific's “Royal Club” lounges are on the 7th floor, while Portofino Bay's “Portofino Club Lounge” is in the lobby; all are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Most of our readers who stay in a club level room seem happy with their choice, like this family from Kansas City:
We stayed on the club level of the Royal Pacific. Absolutely worth the money. It not only includes breakfast every morning, which saved us $, but also includes sodas all day, cocktails in the evening with heavy appetizers. We usually made meal out of the heavy appetizers. There was always a salad and then something hot. One night it was beef stew, then fried rice, and then chicken pot pie. And if you weren't full, they put out dessert from 8-9. This ended up saving us money and we were usually tired from the day, so just walking down the hall, was fabulous.
Seeing how successful the nuptial business has been for Disney, it was only a matter of time before Universal got into the matrimony game. There is no dedicated wedding pavilion at Universal (yet), but each hotel has facilities for staging fairytale ceremonies large or small. “Intimate” weddings with 50 or fewer guests start at $1,000 for a simple ceremony, plus $250 for a cake and $70 per guest for a one-hour cocktail reception. A “Signature” wedding for over 50 guests starts at $2,500 to $3,000 for the ceremony, and $150+ per per plate for a dinner reception. To Universal's credit, they don't quote an hourly rate for having Minions attend your bachelorette party, but this is Orlando: money talks. Visit www.universalorlando.com/Hotels/Weddings.aspx to download brochures with pricing and menus, and start planning your Universal union today.
Last updated by Seth Kubersky on April 28, 2015