Planning a day at Universal Orlando? Sure, you could drive your rental car to the theme park, pay for parking, and start your day with a trek from the parking lot to the entrance gates that’s almost guaranteed to make at least one of your kids grumpy.
Or you could stay at one of these Orlando hotels that offer free shuttle service to Universal Orlando and leave the driving (and parking) to someone else. If that sounds like a good option, read on for some hotels you should check out.
1. Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando – International Drive/Convention Center
The Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando – International Drive / Convention Center already starts out a winner since every booking here is a two-room suite that gives the whole family more room to spread out. There’s a private bedroom, separate living room with a sofa bed, wet bar area with a refrigerator and microwave, and two TVs if no one can agree what to watch. Free breakfast is offered each morning, and a complimentary reception takes place in the lobby during the evening. The hotel is in the middle of all the dining and entertainment action on International Drive, has a heated outdoor pool and kids’ splash area, and offers a free shuttle to Universal Orlando Resort, with early and late morning departures from the hotel and two evening return-time options from the park.
2. Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites
Universal Orlando’s new Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites isn’t within walking distance of Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, or Volcano Bay. But free shuttle service is offered regularly between the hotel and the theme parks. Guests also benefit from early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay one hour before the parks officially open (with a valid admission ticket, of course). The value-level hotel offers standard guestrooms and two-bedroom suites done up in beachy style and features a surfboard-shaped pool and a Southern California–inspired food court.
3. Margaritaville Resort Orlando
If you opt for this new resort in Kissimmee, make sure to include a non-theme park day in your stay to enjoy everything the Jimmy Buffett–inspired property has to offer. Families can choose to stay in one of the 184 traditional hotel rooms or rent a bigger pad in the Margaritaville Cottages section of the resort. Margaritaville Resort Orlando‘s Island H2O Live! water park offers 20 different wet and wild experiences, including a lazy river and several waterslides. And the resort’s Sunset Walk area features restaurants and stores, plus a high-end dine-in movie theater. Free shuttles (reservations required) are offered to Universal twice each morning, with one scheduled return shuttle each evening.
4. DoubleTree by Hilton at the Entrance to Universal
The hotel’s name tells you its proximity to Universal Orlando. And while you could make the long walk to the park if you really wanted to, you don’t have to. The DoubleTree by Hilton at the Entrance to Universal is an official Universal Partner Hotel, which means a free shuttle heading to Universal makes seven stops each morning at the hotel (reservations required) and three stops each evening, with several return shuttle options from which to choose. Renovated in 2017, the hotel features standard guestrooms, plus 19 suites for more space. Amenities include a heated outdoor pool, onsite dining options and those signature warm chocolate chip cookies handed out at check-in.
5. Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Head to Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort to enjoy a blast from the past. Done up to look like a retro, mid-century Florida beach resort, Cabana Bay offers colorfully decorated guestrooms and family suites, plus two pools, a waterslide, a lazy river, and a 10-lane bowling alley onsite. The vibe is relaxed and your journey to Universal’s theme parks will be too, thanks to the free and frequent shuttle that runs between the resort and City Walk, Universal Studios Florida, and Islands of Adventure. Guests here also get early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay (which is within walking distance of the hotel), one hour before the parks open to the public.
6. Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
With its lagoon-style pool area (which includes a waterslide and rope bridge), tennis courts, and private lake, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress offers an escape amid all the Orlando hustle and bustle. Its Camp Hyatt kids program leads organized hikes, scavenger hunts, crafts, and evening marshmallow roasting for the 3 to 12 set, and some guestrooms even offer views of nightly theme park fireworks. When you want to leave the property, the hotel offers complimentary twice-daily shuttle service to and from Universal Orlando. Reservations must be made in advance, and the shuttle leaves from the lobby area.
7. Universal’s Aventura Hotel
This stylish, 17-story, 600-room hotel offers sweeping views of the entire Universal Orlando Resort from some rooms, as well as from its rooftop bar and grill. There’s a pool, kids’ splash zone, fire pit, and virtual reality game room when you’re not riding rides at the theme parks. You can walk to Volcano Bay from Universal’s Aventura Hotel; complimentary shuttle bus service runs frequently between the hotel and City Walk, Universal Studios Florida, and Islands of Adventure. Guests can also get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay one hour before the parks open to the general public.
8. Homewood Suites by Hilton Nearest Universal Orlando
Spacious suites here can fit up to six people, a big plus for families. Each suite includes separate living and sleeping spaces, two TVs, and a kitchen with full-sized appliances, handy for longer stays. But if you don’t feel like cooking, the Homewood Suites by Hilton Nearest Universal Orlando offers a free hot breakfast each morning, serving up options like eggs and waffles. There’s also an outdoor pool and basketball court when the kids need to burn off some energy. When you’re ready to head to Universal Orlando, the Universal Partner Hotel benefits from regularly scheduled, free shuttle service to and from the park. Reservations are suggested and hours change seasonally, so be sure to check in at the hotel’s Universal desk for more information.
9. CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort
If your kids could design their dream hotel, it might look something like CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort. This 391-room hotel is filled with options for family fun, including a 6,500-square-foot arcade where kids can play air hockey, bowl, or try their hand at all kinds of video games. A colorful, 54,000-square-foot water park features 14 slides and rides like Boomerango, which shoots riders up a nearly vertical wall. There are also areas for little ones such as Minnows Lagoon, which has a zero-entry pool and smaller-sized slides. Free scheduled transportation to Universal Orlando is offered from the hotel; check with its Universal Partner Hotel Vacation Planning Center for more info and the current shuttle schedule.
10. Hyatt Place Orlando/Universal
This pet-friendly hotel close to the Universal theme parks offers 150 rooms that include a “Cozy Corner” with a sofa-sleeper that provides more room for sleeping kiddos. There’s also a heated outdoor pool, gym, and breakfast available for purchase each morning. (Breakfast is free with a World of Hyatt membership). The Hyatt Place Orlando/Universal is a Universal Partner Hotel, which means free shuttle service is available to and from Universal Orlando Resort each day.
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and tween-age daughter. Visit her website at bethluberecki.comor find her on Instagram at @bethluberecki