When we’ve gone to Universal Orlando, we park our car on the first day and usually don’t need it until vacation is over.
With the transportation that’s available to the parks plus all that is available on the City Walk, there’s really no need to drive anywhere else. It’s super convenient to stay on property at Universal Orlando. There are currently 5 hotels to choose from, with the 6th opening in summer of 2018.
For all of the hotels at Universal Orlando, there is transportation to the parks. Some have water taxis and buses and others just have buses. At all of them, you get Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ and Universal’s Volcano Bay one hour before the park opens(watch the Universal Orlando site for which parks and what times each opens early for you). Since the Wizarding World and Volcano Bay get very crowded later in the day, it’s great to take advantage of early admission. You also get resort-wide charging privileges with room key and complimentary delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the resort to your hotel. You can use your hotel key to get into the pools at any of the hotels on property, if you want to check out the others.
But there are some differences between the Universal Orlando hotels. I’ll break these down for you and give you my personal recommendations for where to stay.
Hotels that Include Free Universal Express Unlimited
To me, this is the biggest advantage to staying on property. If you stay at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel, or Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, each person in your room gets free Universal Express Unlimited Passes. These allow you to go into the much shorter Express Line at the parks. “Unlimited” means you can use the Express line to go on the same ride as many times as you want. This is not your park ticket- those you have to purchase separately- the Express Pass from the hotel only works on the days you purchase admission into the parks. But since Universal Express Unlimited Passes can cost $99+ per person, per day, this is a huge savings for you, especially if you’re traveling with a large family, like my family of 5.
In addition, these hotels have a water taxi that takes you to the parks as well as a walking path if you choose that route (I’d only recommend walking from Hard Rock or Royal Pacific. Portofino Bay is doable, but it’s a longer walk). You also get priority seating at select restaurants throughout the resort- show your room key when you’re putting your name down for a table.
I’ve stayed at both Loews Portofino Bay and Loews Royal Pacific. In my experience, the rooms at Portofino Bay were a little larger and the hotel gave off a fancier, more upscale vibe. They have Minion Suites that look absolutely amazing that I hope to stay in one sometime soon. But the rooms at Royal Pacific still comfortably fit the rollaway bed for the 5th person in our room. The kids liked the waterslide at the Portofino Bay pool and the ship at the Royal Pacific. There are quite a few restaurants at each of these, if you want to eat at your hotel instead of in the parks or on the City Walk.
I’d recommend both of these hotels, with my personal favorite being Loews Royal Pacific simply because it’s a closer walk to the parks and I like having the option of not having to wait for a water taxi, especially at peak times when there can be long lines. My husband prefers Portofino Bay, seeing it as more luxurious. You really can’t go wrong with either of these hotels.
I have not stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, though they have similar offerings to the two mentioned in this section. A friend who stayed there recently said the vibe is close to the more upscale Portofino Bay.
Other Universal Orlando Hotels
In these hotels, you’ll get early admission to the parks, but not the Free Universal Express Passes. For this reason, I highly recommend the first three I talked about. If budget isn’t allowing those hotels, these are a good option, since you do get early admission and they are conveniently located.
On my most recent trip to Universal Orlando, I stayed at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. It’s currently their newest hotel. And it feels and looks new. There were a few restaurants to choose from and it’s just beyond Loews Royal Pacific, so it’s not a bad walk to the parks, though there is a water taxi available. The staff was super friendly and the hotel had a nice, family-friendly laid-back vibe. Our room was definitely smaller though and it was a challenge to find somewhere to place our rollaway bed for our 5th person. We made do and it’s not a huge issue since we don’t spend a ton of time in our rooms while we’re at Universal anyway. They do offer suites (as do all of the hotels, so be sure to check out that option). We might have been better off in one of these, but we’ve always stayed in a standard room when we stay at Universal Orlando.
I didn’t stay at Cabana Bay, but I did go to a dinner there and check out their pool, which features a lazy river. There’s a bowling alley here as well. It’s extremely family friendly(casual) and located right next to Universal Volcano Bay. There is no water taxi service from this hotel, but you can take the shuttle. There are family suites available, which will give you more space if needed.
This one and Universal’s Aventura Motel(opening summer 2018) are considered “Prime Value” resorts.
Since we do travel as a family of 5 and find the value of the Unlimited Express Passes to be worth it, we prefer the first three Universal Orlando hotels I mentioned, but these last three are a more budget-friendly way to stay close to the parks and to enjoy early admission.
I highly recommend signing up for Universal Orlando Emails because you’ll get notified of deals. For details about restaurants and other amenities at the hotels, check out the Universal Orlando On-Site Resort Hotels.
Let me know if you have any questions about the hotels at Universal Orlando.
I visited Universal Orlando Resort as part of a Family Forward Retreat. Retreat sponsors allowed me to pay a reduced rate for my vacation. All hotel images are courtesy of Universal Orlando.
More Universal Orlando Tips:
- Universal Studios Orlando with Kids includes a free printable of rides listed by height restriction
- Universal Studios with a Kindergartener what there is to do when you’re traveling with a child under 44″
- 12 Universal Orlando Insider Facts some park trivia for you
- More Universal Fun more of what you’ll find in the parks
- What You Need to Know Before You Go to Volcano Bay general planning info
- Volcano Bay Water Slides and TapuTapu what the slides are like and how the wait system works