by Carrie Calzaretta
As we pulled up to the entrance of the Hard Rock Hotel it was just getting dark, and a florescent guitar fountain sprung to life as we stepped out of the taxi. The kids bounded inside to investigate, and we checked in while the kids were entertained with a mini drum kit, conveniently located right next to the front desk. This was just the first of many cool little surprises to be found everywhere you look here, on every wall, in every corner. Music-loving families will be on cloud nine.
The Hard Rock Hotel at Orlando Universal Resort is one of three Loews hotels on the Universal property; and this booming AAA Four Diamond property is just as welcoming to families as its two counterparts, being perhaps best suited to teens. It’s definitely the hippest option of the three, and its 12,000-square-foot pool area, complete with sandy beach and 12 underwater speakers, is Orlando’s largest heated outdoor pool. If it’s location your family is after, Hard Rock is the closest to the theme parks, just a 5-minute walk to Universal Studios.
We love Hard Rock because it really is unique in the way that it caters to kids and adults. There’s definitely a family-friendly atmosphere here — you’ll find a kids’ club and plenty of activities for children of all ages — but there are also clubs, lounges and music venues that are perfect for a night out without the kids. The rock-and-roll theme is omnipresent, with music piped into the elevators and even the bathrooms. You feel like you’re hob-knobbing with celebrities, a vibe which is aided by the cool displays of music memorabilia, such as a jumpsuit worn by Elvis, Mick Jagger’s boots and pictures of every rock star you could imagine donning the walls and halls of the place.
Our Editor Loves
- Universal Orlando Resort hotel
- Free transportation to theme parks
- Giant pool with a sandy beach area
- Theme Park
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Hard Rock Hotel has 650 rooms and 29 suites, which come in various configurations. Standard rooms are 375 square feet and have either a garden or pool view; the pool view is an upgrade. Deluxe rooms come in either king (400 square feet) or two queens (500 square feet), with the king sleeping three and the queen sleeping five.
Our deluxe room had two double beds and plenty of space. The decor was predictably modern, but understatedly so, with neutral tones of cream and brown, and black-and-white artwork. There was a pullout sofa, a small table and chairs, as well as a small bench-style seating area out by the door. There was plenty of space and storage for two adults and two kids. The bathroom was somewhat cramped and slightly dated with a temperamental shower. A separate sink area outside of the bathroom offered an extra large vanity area, and much-appreciated extra storage for toiletries.
All rooms have a Keurig coffee makers, an iron and ironing board, hairdryer, in-room safe, mini-bar, a 32-inch flat-screen television, and true to the hotel's rock roots, a great entertainment system with CD player. Suites have iPod docking stations. While Wi-Fi is free in the lobby, you'll pay to access it in your room. Rollaways are $25 per day, which always annoys us.
Suites range from 650- to 2,000-square feet, giving families a bit more room to spread out. There are also special Kids' Suites, which have a separate sleeping area with two twin beds, a second bathroom, a brightly- colored storage unit, and a small table with cushioned stools. Club-level rooms give you access to a seventh-floor lounge, which serves a daily continental breakfast, evening sweets, afternoon hors d'oeuvres and beer and wine.
If you are staying in a pool view room, be aware that the pool and Beach Club are open well into the evening, and it can get a bit noisy.
Stayed here in queen club garden view room, when we got to our room WOW pool & park view absolutely amazing.Stayed 3 nights and I must say one of the nicest hotel experiences I’ve had I loved it, I must say club level was ok not patch on a Disney hotel club level but just ok don’t know if I’d do club level again but would definitely recommend this hotel brilliant service,brilliant room, brilliant view,brilliant staff doesn’t get much better thanks Hard Rock ????????????????
We are still here at the resort for another 2 nights on a family trip to universal. I was expecting a high end, more luxury hotel (given that this is a universal “premier property”, the high price tag, and category of hotel)... however, I was unfortunately very wrong!
We arrived to find a room that at first sight appeared clean, but after looking further, we saw there were toenail clippings scattered all over the rug, chairs, sheets, and dark stains all over the rugs and even on bed blanket... gross!! We were so disgusted, we requested a new room... however, they could not get us 2 adjoining rooms (which we needed to accommodate our family), and said they could not upgrade us from our garden view room, so we had no choice but to remain here. They had someone vacuum the room, but we find that the rooms are still run down, with stains everywhere. Our sheets have gross dark stains in many spots, some that are red! (Blood?). The rugs are so filthy, I don’t even want to walk on them without shoes.
Furthermore, they don’t even provide water in the rooms. Just $7.50 bottles of Fiji, or 5-7$ bottles in their shop. I have never heard of a high end hotel not offering free bottled water in the rooms.
Water pressure is horrible, can’t even wash shampoo out of my hair or my kids. Bathrooms are so dingy, tiny and dated.
We have a Lamp that doesn’t work....
When I requested bed rails, they were dropped off at the door for us to install??!
The pool area is packed with rows of low end lounge chairs, so close together you can’t even access them from the sides, or have any privacy. There is limited shade, so good luck getting a chair that doesn’t bake you in the sun. They have a DJ that blasts the most awful rap music every day from 1-4 by the pool, so relaxing is impossible during that time!!!
I wish we could leave and go to Loews Portofino, but unfortunately we booked through Expedia to get the better rate, so we are stuck!
Lastly, on a positive note, I must say the staff so far has been very accommodating and professional and I give them 5 stars for their attentiveness and service. They listened to our concerns and tried to remedy whatever they could, but unfortunately we remain disappointed with the condition and quality of our room.
The Hard Rock Hotel has plenty of kid-friendly entertainment. The main attraction is the pool -- which is enormous at 12,000 square feet, and has a small sandy beach, an underwater sound system, interactive fountains, a zero-entry pool for toddlers, and the highlight for our kids, a 260-foot water slide. We were the last ones in the pool the evening we arrived, and the first ones in the following morning. Truly, the pool alone is reason enough to stay, the kids enjoyed it as much as the park itself. There is always music playing at the pool, a touch we appreciated -- but if you aren't a fan of rock music (why are you staying here?) it could get tiresome.
Our kids love hotels that offer dive-in movies, and Hard Rock does them four nights a week. You feel like you're breaking the rules, watching a movie outside in the dark in your bathing suit. During the day there's pool basketball, water balloon tosses, rock and pop culture trivia contests, and tie-dyeing. We also love the fact that the pool is open late, until at least 10 p.m. most nights. There is also an arcade by the pool that's open until midnight.
Camp 'Lil Rock
Camp 'Lil Rock, located in a quiet corner on the first floor, is the hotel's supervised evening children's activity center for kids ages 4 to 14, which has arts and crafts, computers, and board games. It's only open in the evening, designed as a place for parents to drop off the kids and enjoy a night out on their own. The cost is $15/hour and children can eat dinner for $15 a meal, no more than you'd pay in any of the restaurants. It's open from 5 to 11:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and from 5 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. The concierge can arrange for area babysitting services.
There is no separate teen club at Hard Rock, but if they are looking for something to do on their own, there are booze-free "teen nights" held a couple nights a week at The Groove, a nightclub in the CityWalk complex. It's $10 to $15/teen and a photo ID is required.
The Y-Spa program is geared to teens, including the "heavenly massage," the "fake bake" self-tanning treatment and "surfers scrub" body exfoliation. If it's a celeb sighting they're after, at Hard Rock it's a very real possibility!
Universal Theme Parks
The two Universal theme parks, Universal Studios and Island of Adventure are both within a few minutes' walking distance from the Hard Rock Hotel; but the free water taxi is the way to go. Those who have been there, done that at Disney (like us) will love experiencing cool attractions like Shrek 4-D, and Simpsons ride, and the Revenge of the Mummy coaster. We were a little concerned there might not be enough to do for our 4-year-old, but between Feivel's Playground, Barney and the E.T. Adventure, we had no reason to worry.
Universal's other park, Island of Adventure, is home to the much anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with the towering Hogwart's Castle, Dragon Challenge, and buildings draped in the realest fake snow and icicles we've ever seen. But be warned, if you are planning to visit Wizarding World, be prepared for shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and long lines everywhere. Our 8-year-old loved Marvel Super Hero Island, Spider-man in particular, while our youngest could have stayed in Seuss Landing all day.
Just around the corner from the hotel is the Hard Rock Cafe itself, as well as Hard Rock Live Orlando, a 3,000-person concert venue where big-name artists come to perform, both must-sees if you have teenage kids.
If you're looking for relaxed family dining and good food right at the hotel, try The Kitchen, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has a diverse enough menu to appeal to any palate. It's got a laidback scene, and in keeping with the rest of the hotel the walls are adorned with memorabilia from celebrity guests. The seared Ahi tuna and calamari for dinner was good, and the goat cheese and beet salad was excellent. The kids' menus come on red oven-mitts, another fun little touch, and include typical items like burgers, mini-hot dogs and pasta for dinner, pancakes and French toast in the morning. There's a small area for kids to chill on their own, which has beanbag chairs, tables and a television, crayons, coloring books and toys. While a terrific idea in theory, this particular night there were a couple troublemakers in there throwing toys, with no supervision. It's secluded in a corner for good reason, but that makes it difficult to keep an eye on the kids if you're eating on the opposite side of the restaurant like we were. Occasionally, you'll find famous musicians preparing meals at the Chef's Table in the middle of the restaurant. Cool!
The Palm Restaurant
A steakhouse with a New York City vibe is open nightly for dinner. While it's still kid-friendly, it's more formal with fewer kid-friendly options than The Kitchen. The upside is that the food and service are top-notch. You'll find prime steaks and chops, fish and lobster, salads, as well as a few Italian specialties like veal parmigiana. The walls are covered in really funny caricatures of celebrities and old newspaper clippings, in keeping with The Palm's original Manhattan location.
The Beach Club
Located right next to the pool, the Beach Club offers some healthy options like salads, sandwiches and wraps, as well as burgers. We liked Beach Club best for lunch because it's relatively inexpensive and convenient -- from the outdoor tables here you have an unobstructed view of the entire pool. We sat out here and had drinks while the kids swam. In the evening it's a popular spot for cocktails.
Emack & Bolio's Marketplace
If you aren't in the mood for a sit-down meal, try Emack & Bolio's Marketplace, which has a variety of snacks and drinks to go. We got bagels and coffee here in the morning and brought them out to a table by the pool. It's quicker and cheaper than sitting for a full breakfast, which my kids rarely eat anyway.
Universal character meals take place at all three Loews Universal properties on select nights. Room service is available 24/7 and there is a kids' menu.
In addition to the restaurants at the hotel itself, Universal's CityWalk is a short stroll away and there you'll find Bob Marley's , the Hard Rock Cafe, Emeril's, Jimmy Buffett's Margarittaville, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Latin Quarter, NASCAR Sports Grille, NBA City and Pastamore. If you're staying at the Hard Rock Hotel, you'll want to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe at least once. The restaurant is a short walk from the hotel and has more pieces of rock and roll memorabilia than any other location (it's also the biggest Hard Rock Cafe anywhere) and has plenty of family fare like burgers, nachos and steaks.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
The biggest perks to staying at the Hard Rock Hotel are the close proximity to the Universal parks and the fact that you get to skip the lines. Your room key acts as an express pass, allowing you to bypass the lines on almost all of the rides in both Universal Studios and Island of Adventure. That's worth almost $90/day per person. Even though that excludes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a stay at the Hard Rock also gets you an hour of early admission into Island of Adventure; so you can bypass most of the lines there, too.
Staying on property also means you get resort-wide transportation via water taxi or shuttle bus between all the hotels and Universal Studios, Universal CityWalk and Islands of Adventure. You are also given priority seating at select Universal Orlando restaurants, free package delivery to your hotel room, and resort-wide charging privileges.
All Loews have lending libraries of games and welcome gifts. Our kids were given a selection of Hard Rock all-access pins at check-in, which we promptly set aside for grandpa. Families also have free access to cribs, nightlights, baby blankets and outlet protectors. There is free Wi-Fi in the lobby, but there is a fee of $10/day to connect in the room. The Hard Rock Hotel is also pet-friendly: you can get a pet tag and bowl, and even order special room service items for your dog.
The onsite Rock Shop sells Hard Rock memorabilia and all kinds of funky souvenirs, with a super-friendly staff and some pretty cool kids' clothing.
Need to get up early? Order a wake-up call from a selection of famous rock stars!
The fitness center has cardio and circuit training equipment, as well as steam and sauna rooms, a whirlpool, and lockers. Unfortunately, it's not free unless you are staying in a club-level room. They charge $10/day; but multi-day packages are available starting at $14 for two days. There are also jogging paths with loops of different distances, ranging from half-mile to 3-mile runs. Pick up a map at the front desk. You won't find a spa at the Hard Rock; but you get access to the Mandara Spa, located next door at Loews Portofino Bay. Hard Rock does have in-room massages, as well as poolside massages on select days.
Getting There and Around
There are no hotel shuttles from Orlando International Airport to the hotel. If you want to take a bus, try Mears, which has reasonable rates and a good safety record. A taxi will cost you about $45 each way, which is pretty reasonable considering we priced out Mears, and for the three of us (one adult, two kids) it would have been $75 round-trip by bus as opposed to $90 round-trip for the cab. For us, it was totally worth spending the extra $15 for the taxi. If you're driving, take I-4 and get off at Kirkman Rd./Highway 435 and follow the signs to Universal.
Getting around once you arrive, however, is a breeze. If you're staying at the Hard Rock Hotel, you'll get free shuttle service (either by water taxi or bus) between the resorts, theme parks and CityWalk. The water taxis are the most fun, but also take the longest. There are also free bus shuttles to SeaWorld and Wet & Wild. Self-parking fees at Hard Rock are $15 per night and valet is $22.
The Art of Smart Timing
High season in Orlando is March through April, June through mid-August, and mid-December to early January, while low season is February, late May to mid-June, mid-August, and October. Rooms will be less crowded and less expensive in low season. Holidays and school vacation times are always extremely crowded. Temperature-wise, the summer months are generally quite hot, with temps going into the mid-90s, while November through the winter months can get chilly, with temps getting down into the high-40s at night, and averaging in the 60s or low-70s during the day. Hurricane season is June through November.
For Mom and Dad
If you want to stay within the hotel, The Velvet bar in the lobby is a great place to grab a few cocktails. It's got great atmosphere, and it's one of the few places at the hotel that you won't see any kids! The Velvet bar hosts Velvet Sessions on the last Thursday of each month, where you can catch live music from various rock bands. Try The Palm for a dinner without the kids.
If you want to get out, CityWalk is a 30-acre entertainment complex with bars, clubs, restaurants and live music and even a karaoke bar. Another fun option is Blue Man Group, which plays at The Sharp AQUOS Theatre, between the Hard Rock Cafe and the main entrance to Universal Studios.
If you're a guest at the Hard Rock Hotel you'll have access to the Mandara Spa, which is not on the property, but next door at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. They do it all, from massages and facials to full-body treatments, hair and nails, and there are his and hers steam saunas.