One of Orlando’s biggest attractions is the fantastic Universal Orlando, a collection of two well-known theme parks, a handful of top-notch hotels and resorts, a water park, and the iconic Citywalk shopping and dining complex. With so many hotels to choose from, how do you know which one best suits your needs? Well, I’m here to help.
Staying on Universal property is a must in my book, as transportation is included to save time and money parking at the theme parks. The Universal Orlando Resort hotels are gorgeous, reasonably priced, and have anything and everything you could want, plus plenty of property to roam around on and enjoy the amenities. You can even enjoy a hotel without visiting the parks. Either way, Universal Orlando is great for a weekend getaway or multi-generational family trip.
I’ve broken this list down into the different levels of accommodations at Universal, from least expensive to most. While I have only stayed at a few of these, I’ve been to Universal enough to know the hotels are top-notch in the service industry and have beautiful, comfortable rooms with great amenities. Here are some of my favorites and everything you need to know about the Universal Orlando Resorts.
Universal deems these two hotels “extra affordable.” They are the newest members of the Universal resort family. Endless Summer Resort features both the Dockside Inn and Suites and Surfside Inn and Suites; Dockside Inn and Suites is casual and fun, with a surfboard-shaped swimming pool, while Surfside Inn and Suites has two towers and two pools and is the bigger of the two. Based on a four-night stay, rates are under $100 currently for a standard value ($) room at both of them. Free shuttle bus transportation is provided between the hotels and the parks.
FYI: The two-bedroom suites can sleep up to six people.
Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Cabana Bay Beach Resort isn’t the fanciest or the Universal hotel with the most bells and whistles, but it is the one I like best. Cabana Bay has a nostalgic 1950s and ’60s Florida beach vibe and is a blast from the past, even down to the Zest soap and Alberto V05 shampoo and conditioner. The olive green, orange, brown, and gold colors in the building’s design will take you back to The Brady Bunch days.
You will not run out of things to do while staying at Cabana Bay. Start your day in the Jack LaLanne physical fitness studio or shop for souvenirs and park apparel in the gift shop. Enjoy the Florida sunshine in one of Cabana Bay’s two pools or the hot tub, at the kids’ splash pads, or from your own private cabana. When a fun place like Cabana Bay offers a dive tower-themed water slide, you pretend you are still a spring chicken and slide down it. Or at least that is what I did.
Spend your evenings at Cabana Bay making s’mores at the fire pit, playing games in the arcade, watching a Dive-In movie, or bowling at Galaxy Bowl.
Don’t Miss The Lazy River
Cabana Bay has a fantastic lazy river, perfect for relaxing in the picturesque pool area. You may want to consider penciling in a day for just enjoying the hotel and its amenities.
Universal’s Aventura Hotel
At first glance, Aventura’s sleek and stylish design will make you think you’ve just arrived in Las Vegas -- it has that look and feel to it. Clean and simple rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, perfect for overlooking the theme parks and Universal Orlando Resort property. Enjoy 17 Bistro’s fantastic rooftop bar, a big draw for the resort, and the Urban Pantry food hall with its various international food stations. There is a Starbucks in the Aventura Hotel lobby.
Light switches, TV, AC, and room service are all controlled by a tablet in the rooms at Aventura.
Both Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Aventura Hotel are classified as prime ($$) value hotels.
Know Before You Go
Overnight parking is $18 plus tax per night for self-parking, per vehicle. There is a $20 fee per adult when more than two are in a room. Wi-Fi is included in your stay. All resorts are 100 percent smoke-free.
Loews Royal Pacific Resort
Loews Royal Pacific Resort is a Pacific Island/Balinese-inspired paradise and Universal’s premier ($$$) property. With a thatched-style roof, the lobby is magnificent, and the glorious smell of it is either piped in or from the fragrant orchids and gorgeous flowers. Rooms are done in mostly whites and grays with accent pieces and huge hibiscus flowers on one of the walls. It is charming.
I love Royal Pacific’s lagoon-style swimming pool, complete with a white sand beach. There are many nooks and crannies to disappear in at Royal Pacific, so finding a private spot to unwind is no problem.
Don’t Miss The Pool-Side Snacks
Royal Pacific has Bula’s Bar and Grille, an excellent poolside bar for all your snack and drink needs. Bula’s Shipwrecked Loaded Nachos ($15) are delicious and plenty big enough to share with a crowd. Add chicken to kick it up a notch. Once, my family was eating appetizers on the patio. A curious squirrel was sitting in the middle of the table next to us, holding a coffee creamer in his hands and drinking it. The pictures were priceless!
Know Before You Go
Four of Universal’s properties are pet-friendly: Royal Pacific, Hard Rock, Portofino Bay, and Sapphire Falls. There is a one-time non-refundable $100 fee for pets’ stays.
Hard Rock Hotel At Universal Orlando Resort
Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel makes me feel like I’m in the Caribbean, but with a rock and roll twist. This AAA four-diamond award-winning California mission-inspired resort features 650 contemporary rooms, perhaps the largest standard rooms (375 to 500 square feet), and underwater rock music in the 12,000-square-foot swimming pool. There is even a 260-foot waterslide -- and two hot tubs. How cool is that? And of course, you get all the incredible rock and roll memorabilia that Hard Rock is known for -- over $1 million worth of it.
The Hard Rock Hotel rooms are colorful and have stark white waffle weave coverlets and cute throw pillows with Be Nice or Quiet Please written on them. Furniture is somewhat retro but stylish, with metallics and fine fabrics. You can even borrow a Crosley turntable with ten iconic records for your listening pleasure.
Don’t Miss The Surprise Garden
The Hard Rock Hotel Orlando has a beautiful outdoor pesticide-free butterfly garden. I’ve stayed at a few Hard Rock Hotels around the country, and this is a first.
This lovely Universal Resort is one of three considered preferred ($$$$), with the other two being the Hard Rock Hotel and Portofino Bay Resort. Sapphire Falls Resort is massive, offering 1,000 rooms. The grounds are lush and tropical, with picturesque waterfalls and steel drum sounds around the enormous pool and white sand beach. Don’t miss the alluring fire pits -- grab a cocktail and sit for a spell.
Don’t Miss The Water Taxi
Staying at this Universal Preferred hotel provides free rides via water taxi to the theme parks and Universal CityWalk. Rides take about 5 to 10 minutes. The time between water taxis is generally about 15 to 20 minutes. Arriving by water taxi also gets you into the park quicker as you don’t have to go to the main entrance hub. You can also take the shuttle buses or walk, but the water taxi is fun and offers excellent photo-ops.
Know Before You Go
Sapphire Falls is huge. I stayed at the far end of one of the hotel wings and was nearly exhausted from the walk to get there. While the accommodations are comfortable and enjoyable, save your steps for the theme parks. Ask for a room near the elevators.
FYI: Operations at Sapphire Falls and Aventura Hotel are temporarily suspended due to COVID.
Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
Rounding up the top of the Universal Orlando Resort hotels is Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, the most luxurious of all the onsite offerings. Portofino Bay transports you to a dreamy seaside village in Italy with a piazza, outdoor cafes and Italian restaurants, and three swimming pools. Indulge yourself in a luxurious spa treatment from Mandara Spa or a dinner complete with strolling musicians at Mama Della’s Ristorante.
Portofino Bay Hotel has three pools, but the Hillside Pool is where you will want to go for a quiet place to relax. You’ll find it on the east wing.
Don’t Miss The Perks
As a Universal Preferred Resort guest, you will get a free Universal Express Unlimited Pass, which allows you to skip waiting in lines at participating rides and attractions at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure. Standard park admission is still required.
Other perks include priority seating at select restaurants throughout the Universal properties.
While you do not have to visit the Universal theme parks, you do get one-hour early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter if you’re staying onsite and you choose to purchase a Wizarding World ticket. Each property hotel guest also has resort-wide charging privileges with their room key and free delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the resort to their hotel room. For more Orlando inspiration, consider: