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    Universal Orlando Resort Hotel Basics

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Universal Orlando Resort Hotels 101

Universal has five 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 largest hotel, has 1,800 moderate- and value-priced rooms, plus amenities (bowling alley, lazy river) not seen at comparable Disney resorts. The Caribbean-styled Sapphire Falls Resort has 1,000 rooms and is priced between Royal Pacific and Cabana Bay and the modern Aventura tower sits between Sapphire Falls and Cabana Bay both logistically and price-wise. 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

Resort Classifications

Universal's hotels fall into four categories:

  • Premier: The original three on-site hotels – Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Royal Pacific Resort – are all Premier resorts. Portofino is the swankiest, and Royal Pacific the least pricey, but all are AAA Four Diamond-awarded hotels. These include an Express Pass for everyone in the room as well as Early Park Admission.
  • Preferred: Sapphire Falls Resort is the only one in this category. It includes Early Park Admission but no Express Pass.
  • Prime Value: This is what Universal considers their cheaper resorts that are still within walking distance of the parks. This includes the Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Aventura. Both include Early Park Admission.
  • Value: There are no hotels currently in this category, but the under-construction Endless Summer Resort will fill it in the Summer of 2019.

Making Reservations

The easiest way to book a room at Universal Orlando is online through Universal Orlando's website, or by telephone at 1-888-273-1311.

Cancellations

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 Premier hotel 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 Premier 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.

Age Requirements

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.

Accessibility

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.

Parking

Universal charges a $27-per-night self-parking fee ($36 for valet) at its luxury resorts for registered guests, $25 at Sapphire Falls, $17 at Aventura and Cabana Bay, and $14 at Endless Summer. Day guests in the hotel lots pay as much as $45 for self-parking (over 30 minutes) to discourage from avoiding the CityWalk parking garages. There are no annual pass discounts on parking at the hotels.

Pets

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 $100 one-time fee for a maximum of two pets per room. 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. Dogs may only be walked in designated areas, and are not allowed in the pool/lounge or restaurant areas.

Smoking

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 $250 cleaning fee.

Universal Orlando Resort Hotel Services and Amenities


Dining

To keep you fed, every Universal on-site hotel has multiple restaurants, a spot for coffee and grab-and-go snacks, and a few bars. Some of the resort dining is fantastic, although they are priced as you would expect for theme park hotels. The hotels are all easily accessible to each other and CityWalk, so dining outside the park is very easy and usually much better than the restaurants in the park.

Pools and Recreation

Swimming is many guests' number 1 priority (after the theme parks, of course), and you'll find some fantastic 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. Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, Cabana Bay, and Sapphire Falls all have water slides (Royal Pacific does not, despite its Premier status), and Cabana Bay has a small 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. 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.

Transportation and Car Rental

All Universal hotels offer free transportation via bus and/or water taxi to CityWalk and the theme parks. With the exception of the Endless Summer Resort, they all also have well-lit landscaped walking paths connecting the resort. Water taxis depart from each of the Premier hotels and Sapphire Falls every 15 to 20 minutes, while buses from Aventura, Cabana Bay, and Endless Summer run even more frequently. Either transportation method takes about 15 minutes to reach the park entrances, while walking takes between 10 and 25 minutes depending on the hotel and which park you are heading to.

Club Level

The Premier hotels offer “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.

Last updated on May 26, 2019

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