by Susan Derby
The stuff of dreams, Hollywood — or where, to the world’s eye, the place where movies have always been made — holds up its end of the entertaining bargain in Universal City, which isn’t technically part of Hollywood but exudes its reputed aura. With Universal Studios and CityWalk as its brightly lit hub, facades pass as real, and cinematic adventures come to life.
Just a stone’s throw from it all, the Sheraton Universal — one of two hotels at the feet of Universal Studios — is a comfortable stomping grounds for accommodations. Just a short walk (partly uphill) from the park’s entrance, the hotel, nicknamed “Hotel of the Stars,” provides a relatively peaceful place to rest your head before and after you’ve seen the sights, and, being just a five-minute walk from a Metro Red Line stop, it’s convenient for those who want to get around by rail to sights like the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
This 21-story, 451-room hotel isn’t a destination unto itself, but it offers a good-value stay that should keep kids as happy as the business-folk who come through. In the lobby, you’ll be greeted by a life-size Madame Tussauds waxwork of an old Hollywood movie star (it was Lucille Ball during my family’s stay). Black-and-white photos of stars of yore line the lobby, and indeed, that classic old Hollywood theme is one that the hotel is consistently trying to weave through the new-ish version of itself (in 2009, a $30 million renovation was completed).
And if sunny Los Angeles is a city of stories, this hotel boasts a few of its own. For instance, superstition prevented the original planners of this hotel from including a room number 13, or even a 13th floor. There are tales of famous folk who book the exact same room for themselves every single visit, for fear of jinxing their success if they deviate from their norm.
It’s a pet-friendly hotel (with no fees charged) — and in fact, just about any animal is welcome. The hotel has hosted all kinds, from orangutans to penguins. The latter required several air-conditioning units in their room to keep comfy.
To learn more about Sheraton, please visit Sheraton.
Our Editor Loves
- Easy access to Universal Studios
- Pool and Jacuzzi
- Good value
Rooms & Rates
Sheraton Universal offers 451 rooms, 31 of which are suites, and they come in a few different varieties. Traditional guest rooms are 325 square feet and are equipped with two queen beds, two double beds, or a king.
Our north-facing standard room had one king bed and enough space for the three of us. The room was equipped with a desk, a 32-inch LCD TV (with pay-per-view movies and Nintendo video games), and an iHome clock radio. Amenities-wise, we were happy with our lot, though the lack of fridge was an inconvenience. However, our in-room Starbucks one-cup brewer and Tazo tea helped get our heads on straight after rising.
Views of urban L.A. freeways, hills, etc., are impressive from the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows. Unfortunately, in our room and the others we saw, the windows were in desperate need of a wash, leaving those cool views a little spotty.
We were situated on a Club Floor, which costs $40 more and is no larger or different from a traditional room, except that you get a few convenient, cost-saving perks: a Continental breakfast, evening hors d'oeuvres, free bottled water, free local calls, and daily newspaper. If you're a breakfast-eating family, the breakfast component may be worthwhile for a family of four (but perhaps not for any less than four). Internet access is had only with a fee ($9.95/day), whether you've paid for Club Floor perks or not.
Pack n' Plays and cribs are available for no extra charge. In the traditional rooms, whatever floor you're on, rollaways cannot be requested due to space constrictions. Fortunately, there are over 175 connecting rooms in this hotel -- these include one room with a king bed next to a room with two queen beds. And, in the off-season, you may find specials like buy one room get the second at half off.
Executive suites, of which there are 18 altogether, have one king or two queen beds, and, at 600 square feet, they are almost twice the size of a traditional room. Though the layout is similar to the traditional rooms, the space feels far more open and includes an elegant, though non-extravagant, sitting area. Rollaways are available upon request in executive suites for $25 per night.
In addition, there are 12 ADA room in the hotel. One that I saw was a corner room that, once upon a time, functioned as a parlor -- just another hint of the hotel's intriguing past.
The only rooms with balconies in this hotel are to be found on the second and third floors. The Shrek Tower is popular with families, as it was reputedly created to be the honeymoon suite for Shrek and Princess Fiona.
Those staying more than one night can decline housekeeping (except on departure day) and be rewarded with a $5 voucher valid onsite or 500 Starwood Starpoints. Children, under the age of 18, stay here free.
This is a beautiful hotel, the rooms are a decent size and the bathrooms are clean and well kept. The restaurant, the Californians, had very nice food options. I recommend at least two nights at the hotel to enjoy the hotel and Universal Studios and the city walk area. The walk to Universal is an easy one! I highly recommend this hotel!
Recently, my work took me to Los Angeles for two nights. I ended up staying at the Sheraton Universal Hotel right next to Universal Studios and the theme park. My plane was delayed for 6 hours, so I ended-up at the hotel at 3:15 AM. The front desk was staffed and I was able to check-in quickly. Without much looking around, I crashed for a few hours. In the daylight, the room was a good size for a single or a couple. The bed was very comfortable and the bath was very modern. A+ on cleanliness. Even though I was on a high floor, I heard a lot of road noise. At night, the room seemed very dark. There was not enough lighting for my taste. Then again, it was just me and strictly business. All in all, a pretty good stay.
It's not a family-focused hotel, but kids will no doubt find attractions of interest within the grounds, such as the pool area and even the Madame Tussauds waxwork in the lobby. And, as all parents know, it's sometimes the simple things that become memorable. My preschooler was delighted to take elevator trips to the top floor, where we were rewarded with vast views. And outside the hotel, the peppy elevator, paneled with floor-to-ceiling windows, up to the neighboring Hilton grounds, gives a thrill to the little ones (and perhaps a twinge of anxiety to the adult ones).
Pool & Jacuzzi
The 54- by 34-foot rectangular pool, fringed by palm trees, is heated year-round to 72 degrees; it goes to a depth of 9 feet. There is no separate pool or area for kids. A small Jacuzzi sits off to the side, and the whole area, bordered with deck chairs, is gated, and a pebble's throw from The California's restaurant. For lighter fare (and blended tropical drinks for mom and dad), a bar is available near the pool.
The pool area is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood and CityWalk are mere minutes from the hotel, and it is here where most families will likely spend their time. These attractions offer myriad activities and entertainment for kids of all ages and adults. The park is most appropriate, however, for children elementary-age and older. A free shuttle runs between the hotel and Universal Studios every 20 minutes daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
This area is brightly lit, boldly colored, and loud. In short, kids will be excited and delighted, or overwhelmed. The restaurants here are geared toward families, and most will have kids' options. For those parents aiming for at least a little control over their kids' sugar intake, might I suggest, avoiding at any and all costs, entry into the store called It'Sugar? It's across the way from Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and, stocked with everything from gobstoppers to gummies, it's -- depending on your child -- a potentially high-risk territory.
Nearby Griffith Park is a wonderland for families. Picnic here, ride ponies and horses and even a miniature train, check out museums, hike on trails. If you're a family that likes to hit the trail, Runyon Canyon Park in Hollywood is a popular spot with nice scenery and views.
Other of the innumerable in-city attractions that may be of interest to the kid-kind include the La Brea Tar Pits, Madame Tussauds Hollywood, the Natural History Museum, and the California Science Center.
Outside of peak traffic times, a drive to the beach, with Santa Monica and Venice being particularly family-friendly options, is just a half-hour drive away. Of particular interest for kids may be the Santa Monica Pier, home to Pacific Park, which boasts a historical carousel, a solar-powered Ferris wheel with prime ocean views, and rides from scary to mild.
One thing you might be struck by, if heading to the Sheraton's main restaurant on an evening that seems otherwise busy is that it's, well, not busy. The reason isn't the food. With CityWalk a shuttle ride away or under 10 minutes away by foot, the onsite eateries just have a whole lot of competition. But if you want a peaceful break, or you aren't staying here for the park attraction at all, then the food and ambience on-resort may just work for you.
This is the hotel's main restaurant, in a spacious room with a patio outside next to the pool. The menu is largely contemporary California cuisine with a wide enough range of standards to satisfy everyone. Dinner options include burgers, pizza and spaghetti, as well as steaks and salmon. You can construct your own salad, choosing meat, dressing, etc., for $18. My trio of shrimp tacos were fresh and tasty, while my tortilla soup was decent but far from memorable. The chicken wings were very spicy, but quite nice with a beer.
The kids' menu features no surprises: pasta, pizza, grilled cheese and turkey sandwiches, mini-burgers, and chicken nuggets. High chairs are available.
The atmosphere is a far cry from the CityWalk standards, with soft music that's more elevator-esque than pounding. The staff is attentive and friendly, and the kids get crayons.
Baja Beach Club Poolside Lounge
While the mainstay of this bar next to the pool is their blended drinks and tropical cocktails, they do have a limited menu of snack foods too. For eats more substantial, you may just want to order from The California's, several yards away.
The Lobby Lounge "In the Mix"
This hip open lounge off the lobby has bold flooring and comfy chairs. Among the beverages available to imbibe are 64 different kinds of vodkas. Light snacks are available. Indoor cabanas off to the side of the room are available for groups, but you may want to reserve in advance.
Every two months or so, this bar hosts special events geared toward the 21-and-over population, such as wine-tastings.
For those staying in a Club Floor room, the Club Lounge on the hotel's ninth floor offers complimentary Continental breakfast Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The selection we experienced was great; it included cereals, pastries, breads, fresh fruit, juice, and coffee and tea. Evening hor d'oeuvres are available nightly from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and, during out stay, this spread included chicken skewers and veggies with dip.
A short walk away, this vibrant, bustling zone boasts 30-plus eateries, including Wolfgang Puck Bistro, Hard Rock Cafe Hollywood, Buca di Beppo, Saddle Ranch Chop House, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Johnny Rockets, and Samba Brazilian Steakhouse and Lounge. Whatever it is you crave, you're likely to find it here. CityWalk is bright, busy, boisterous, and loud. If you're looking for an active night with numerous entertainment options, you won't be disappointed.
Planning & Tips
All about the Extras
Though the hotel offers a comfortable stay that will meet most families' basic needs quite well, it does not go much out of its way to cater to children. The concierge can, however, arrange for childcare offsite or help with arrangements for any other activities. Plus, all the "extras" you need will probably be found at nearby Universal Studios, leaving all in your party, at day's end, to want nothing more than a quiet bed.
We found the staff in every part of the hotel to be friendly and helpful. Older children (and adults) may have use of the Link@Sheraton lounge, off of the lobby, where computers and couches are freely available. Laptops can be brought here for complimentary wireless high-speed Web access.
Laundry service is available daily except Sunday; items in by 9 a.m. are ready for you by late afternoon. An onsite gift shop (open 7 a.m.-11 p.m.), off the lobby, sells magazines and books, pain relievers, sunscreen, candy, and other items that you may need or want on short-notice.
The Art of Smart Timing
If you're looking for a deal at this hotel, consider the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as that's one of the property's quietest periods. Be warned that after Christmas gets very busy due to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, as this is one of the hotels that gets booked up by Rose Bowl bands. Summer months here are filled with tourist and leisure travelers. From Labor Day onward, expect to rub shoulders with convention-goers.
Your closest airport is Bob Hope Airport in Burbank (a.k.a. "Burbank Airport"), just five miles north of the hotel. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is 24 miles away. The hotel does not provide airport transportation. Private shuttles offering door-to-door service to/from both airports include SuperShuttle and Prime Time Shuttle. Public transportation information can be found on both airports' websites (lawa.org; burbankairport.com).
Onsite parking (in a multi-level structure) at the hotel is $18 per night for self-parking.
For Mom and Dad
On the hotel grounds, mom and dad might appreciate that the fitness center is open 24 hours.
The close proximity to a whole host of dining and entertainment options is ideal for moms and dads who can find a sitter and get out on a date night. The Gibson Ampitheatre at Universal CityWalk features concerts by top musical acts. Before or after a show, you can grab a bite and/or drink at a number of CityWalk restaurants. There's also an AMC cinema here.
Eateries, comedy clubs, theaters, and more can be accessed with just a short drive. Try Hollywood and West Hollywood for the nightlife. Plenty of wonderful dining can be had along Melrose Ave. in Hollywood and on West 3rd St. in Beverly Hills. Check local weekly newspaper L.A. Weekly for what's going on during your stay; lures might include art openings at lofts in and around downtown Los Angeles to special festivals. If going to a film is more your speed, you'll find cinemas everywhere, showing mainstream films, more indie numbers or even silent films.
One of my favorite outings in L.A. is the Hollywood Bowl, especially in summer, where one can have a picnic with wine under the stars while watching acts ranging from rock acts to classical orchestras.