Since 2014, Universal Orlando Resort has blossomed from three onsite hotels to seven (soon to be eight), with the opening of Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites in 2019. All seven of the onsite properties are operated in partnership with Loews Hotels, and families can easily find a style that suits their vacation needs and budget. Before ranking the individual Universal Orlando Resort Hotels, let’s discuss what they all have in common.
Similar to the Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, all Universal Orlando Resort Hotels have exclusive theme park benefits for staying on-property. One of the biggest perks is getting early theme park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and select attractions at Volcano Bay water park one hour before the crowds arrive. In addition, Universal hotel guests get free transportation to the parks, complimentary merchandise delivery of purchased items back to your hotel, club-to-club access at Universal CityWalk, resort-wide charging privileges with room key cards, character appearances and wake-up calls, and access to the Golf Universal Orlando program.
- First, you get FREE Universal Express Unlimited ride access to skip the regular lines (at participating attractions) at both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks (not at Universal’s Volcano Bay). This Express Pass typically costs up to $90 per person, per day (above the theme park ticket cost), and could result in a big savings of time and money for a family.
- Second, you also receive priority seating at select restaurants throughout the theme parks, and enjoy first available seating at select Universal Orlando and Universal CityWalk restaurants.
With all of these benefits in mind, here’s a ranking of our favorite Universal Orlando Resort Hotels.
1. Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
We love the retro theming of this prime value hotel. Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is reminiscent of family vacations in the 1950’s/1960’s, right down to the Zest soap and Alberto VO5 bathroom amenities, as well as the Jack LaLanne physical fitness studio. But Cabana Bay Beach doesn’t exchange comfort and features for style. The resort includes two-room family suites with kitchenettes that sleep up to six, as well as two huge pools, a lazy river, bowling alley, the Bayliner Diner food court, Starbucks, and the Swizzle Lounge lobby bar. Cabana Bay Beach does not offer water taxi service to the theme parks, but does have its own separate entrance to Volcano Bay Water Park. A shuttle bus connects the hotel with Universal Studios and Islands of Adventur, or a walking path is also available (15 to 20 minute walk).
2. Loews Royal Pacific Resort
Universal Orlando’s South Seas paradise resort hearkens back to the late 30’s romantic age of exploration when turboprop engine planes brought travelers to the Polynesian Isles. Loews Royal Pacific Resort has a stunning lagoon-style, zero-entry feature pool that makes for a fabulous place to while away an afternoon on a chaise lounge in the sun. Families can easily entertain themselves all day at the resort pool, and there’s even “dive-in” movies projected on a screen at night. There is also a full workout center at the resort. Of course, the main resort activity is the adjacent Universal Orlando theme parks, just a quick walk or leisurely water taxi ride away. For a hotel with views of the coasters and attractions of both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks, you may be surprised at its luxurious and upscale guestrooms. At over 300 square feet, the room offers plenty of space. All rooms include the free Unlimited Express Pass.
3. Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
The Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is an island-themed resort complete with blue cascading waterfalls that opened in 2016. The relaxed feel of the wide-open lobby transports families away from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. The expansive tropical pool area with gardens, rocks, slides, and cabanas beckons families to sit and stay a while. Priced as a preferred onsite hotel, Sapphire Falls includes a dedicated water taxi to and from the resort and more dining options than a prime value hotel. Options include the Caribbean Carnaval Dinner Show, Strong Water Tavern, and Amatista Cookhouse.
4. Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando
It’s all about the rock and roll lifestyle at the Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando, and that attitude is perfect for teens and tweens. This California mission-themed rock hotel (think Hotel California by The Eagles) is filled with music memorabilia including a love seat where John Lennon wrote many tunes; bricks from the Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles got their start; the actual booth Elvis Presley recorded his first song; and much more. The oversized pool includes an underwater sound system so you don’t miss a beat, and each month the hotel hosts a “Velvet Sessions” rock concert. At 375 square feet, the standard room is slightly larger than those at the Royal Pacific Resort. All rooms include the free Unlimited Express pass.
5. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
The original hotel and Lowes flagship property at Universal Orlando Resort is the Portofino Bay Hotel, themed for the Italian Riviera seaside village. It’s an incredibly well-themed, luxury resort further removed from Universal CityWalk and the theme parks, giving it a secluded feel. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel has fewer rooms than the Royal Pacific Resort, but a larger footprint to the property. Families will find three different pools—Beach, Villa, and Hillside—which range from sandy bottom to quiet and secluded. In addition, there is a full-service Mandara Spa at the resort. Of course, it wouldn’t be Italy without fine dining, and Portofino Bay has nine different dining locations from a signature experience at Bice Ristorante to the Gelateria bakery serving Italian pastries and gelato. Standard rooms have pillowtop beds, and at 450 square feet, are some of the largest at Universal Orlando Resort. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is suited for families looking for an upscale, luxury resort experience, and is priced accordingly. All rooms include the free Unlimited Express pass.
6. Universal’s Aventura Hotel
The second hotel in Universal/Loews “prime value” category opened in 2018. Universal’s Aventura Hotel is the smallest of all the current onsite hotels and is billed as having a “simplified style.” The shining tower is meant to be sleek, modern, and stylish, and is a little light on theming. One advantage of Universal’s Aventura Hotel’s compact, high-rise design means no long hallways to navigate—a particular plus for those with mobility issues. Aventura offers a smaller pool and splash zone for kids, but nowhere near the massive pools of Universal’s other “prime value” hotel, Cabana Bay Beach Resort. One of the best features is Bar 17 Bistro located on the top (17th) floor of the hotel, with commanding views of Volcano Bay and Orlando. There is also a food court-style Urban Pantry restaurant and Starbucks on the lobby level. Universal’s Aventura Hotel is a quick five-minute walk to Volcano Bay, and families can walk or hop on the Sapphire Falls water taxi to the other theme parks.
7. Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn & Suites
Universal’s Endless Summer Resort is the first of a new value level resort with standard rooms starting as low as $85 per night and two-bedroom family suites for $131. Surfside Inn and Suites is actually Phase 1 of the new resort; Phase 2, Dockside Inn and Suites, was scheduled to open March 17, 2020, but will open on a yet-to-be determined date due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Universal’s Endless Summer Resort is located on the other side of Interstate 4, across from the theme parks. While there isn’t a water taxi option, a shuttle bus takes families to the hub at Universal CityWalk for access to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. An additional dedicated bus route connects this value hotel to Universal’s Volcano Bay water park. Surf-inspired rooms have a beach vibe, and the resort features three pools, poolside bars, two food courts, coffee bars and fitness centers.
Dave Parfitt lives in Rochester, New York, with his wife and two daughters. A runner with a PhD in neuroscience, he lived in numerous Northeastern and Midwestern U.S. cities before taking a college job in the Finger Lakes. He’s traveled worldwide, but a Walt Disney World trip with two budding princesses is the trip that elicited the family travel wanderlust. He shares his vacation tips and tricks on AdventuresbyDaddy.com.
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