REVIEW: Loews Sapphire Falls Universal Orlando Resort
By Helen Wright
- Location Walking distance to Universal Orlando Resort
- Bed comfiness 10/10
- Pool Huge pool with a slide
- WIFI Free wifi, some rooms had low strength
- Parking Self parking available at $22 per night
- Best thing? Beds
- Worst thing? Parking fees
- The all-important plug by the bed? Yes!
Whether or not to stay at the resort hotels in Orlando is one of the most commonly asked questions for anyone planning a trip to Florida. By this, I mean the hotels that are inside the Universal Orlando or the Walt Disney World resort and linked to the theme parks themselves. It goes without saying there are likely to be cheaper deals outside the resorts, but staying at a theme park hotel can offer something extra special, as well as some unique guest perks. My review of the Loews Sapphire Falls hotel at Universal Orlando covers our stay at the resort and touches on the definite benefits of staying on site at Universal. For a more detailed guide of the pros and cons of staying at a theme park resort hotel, click here for our ultimate guide to Orlando.
LOEWS SAPPHIRE FALLS UNIVERSAL ORLANDO REVIEW
Universal Orlando partner with popular hotel empire Loews for their resorts in Orlando and Sapphire Falls is the fifth hotel to open at Universal after Portofino Bay, Royal Pacific, Hard Rock Hotel, and Cabana Bay. I have been lucky enough stay at all but the Royal Pacific Resort on my frequent visits to Orlando and I’m going to let you into a secret… this one is my favourite. The new Aventura Hotel opens in August 2018 and I can’t wait to see what they pull out of the bag for that one. I really like the fact that the Universal hotels aren’t decorated with character references and other theme park branding because after a full-on day at the parks it’s nice to retire to a neutral environment.
The hotel tiers at Universal Orlando are split into three brackets; value, preferred and premier. The four-star Sapphire ‘falls’ into the preferred resort category (see what I did there?). Arriving at the hotel and its enormous buzzing lobby, I was immediately excited for our stay. There seemed to be a mix of families, business people and a younger well-heeled clientele, most heading to the Strong Water Tavern, a bar that offers a choice of 200 rums and a terrace overlooking the park. I was in Florida with my partner Simon and our eight-month-old son, Finn, and after a long flight from the UK we were ready to check in and chill out.
EASY BREEZY CHECK-IN
Despite arriving at a busy time, check-in was speedy and we were told about our own ‘digital butler’, a text service (free messaging on wifi) that we could use at any time to ask questions, solve problems or seek advice.
Since Finn was only small, we had booked a standard double room for our stay but knowing we had a child in tow, the hotel kindly upgraded us to a Kids Suite for our stay. Finn would still be in his cot (which we had pre-reserved and was already waiting in our room) but we had the option of putting him down in his own quarters, linked to ours. This meant our time in the room didn’t have to be spent tiptoeing around, whispering and listening to the TV on the lowest volume possible when he was asleep, so it was perfect.
I have since stayed at Sapphire Falls Universal Orlando a second time and the double room is exactly the same, without the door to the adjoining room. If you do have kids in tow and have the extra cash to upgrade to the kids suite, I highly recommend it. Having said that, the regular room had a huge entranceway, and so if you had a crib-sleeping baby, you could easily place them there and they would be a decent distance away from the TV.
BED OF DREAMS
That’s the practical stuff covered, now to what’s really important – the bed – and woweeee, this one is a winner. Only one other hotel has achieved our 10/10 for bed comfiness and our review of Universal’s Sapphire Falls has shot it right to the top. The super king-sized bed is huge and SO comfortable you might want to consider a return trip to Orlando where you don’t even bother with the parks and just stay in bed all day watching TV. I’m sure a day pounding the pavement at Universal Studios helps, but the Sterns and Foster mattress is so comfortable you sink heavily into it like clay and never want to emerge. Other room highlights included a large flat screen TV with a huge choice of channels, a fridge and microwave, fresh décor with a splash of colour and a fabulous view from our window of both the pool and the Hogwarts castle in the distance.
The kids room, which also had a TV, two single beds and a decent place to play had bolder and more funky colours, making it a great area for kids to have their own space.
A splash of quirky colour
I really loved the décor of the hotel generally, which is minimalist with a Caribbean ‘island’ feel. The island in question is non-specific but the result is clean, cool colours with a few accents that offer character. This theme is best displayed in the bathroom, which has a mix of simple but elegant units, a quirky painted mirror and ornate tiles. I particularly liked the floor tiles, which make for a great Instagram pic! The shower was spacious with a generous showerhead, strong water pressure and delicious hot water. The family suite, of course, had a small bath, handy for spraying down the kids. The double room I stayed in at a later date had a luxurious walk-in shower with a bench.
Impressively, toiletries are from luxury hairstylist Julien Farel’s Anti-Ageing Balance A2B technology haircare range. Full-size versions of the shampoo and conditioner retail at £28 a bottle in the UK and can be purchased at Selfridges. As we had contacted the Sapphire Falls in advance to request a baby crib, we also arrived to find a baby cosmetics package waiting in the bathroom too, which was a nice surprise. The Tiny Traveller package from Johnson’s contained baby shampoo, conditioner and bubble bath, which is a really thoughtful touch as some hotel cosmetics can be too harsh for baby skin.
A trip to Florida must include some pool time and the pool here is huge with plenty of space to catch some rays. The sun loungers in key places, such as around the edge of the water and by the bar, were all snapped up by midday but there was definitely enough to go around with no stress. There is a small slide, a few water features and lifeguards on duty. Beach balls are floating about in the water for people to play with. There is also a cute ‘splash’ area for young or non-swimming kids, plus a full poolside bar and food service served under your umbrella.
A taste of the islands
Sapphire Falls has three eatieries inside – two sit-down restaurants (Amatista Cookhouse and Strong Water Tavern) and a small coffee bar with takeout items (The New Dutch Trading Co). Strong Water Tavern is really popular in the evening and the Caribbean tapas-style menu is delicious. Of course, rum is the big draw here, so as well as some inventive cocktails you can also try a rum flight or take drinks away to your room or to thehe lobby lounge. We also ate at Amatista, sitting on an outside table overlooking the lake and the food there was also delicious, albeit a bit pricer but the portions were huge! Sadly, our itinerary was too jam-packed for a sit down breakfast during our stay but the lobby café, which is open 24-hours, actually served delicious coffee and pastries so it was all we needed.
The Loews Sapphire Falls at Universal Orlando is situated opposite its sister hotel, Universal’s Cabana Bay and we took advantage of our location by walking across the road to go bowling at the Galaxy Bowl diner inside the hotel. It was a really fun thing to do and an easy way to entertain the kids without going too far afield or needing to drive or take the resort transport.
Staying at a Universal Resort hotel meant we were adjacent to the three parks, Universal Studios, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and the new Volcano Bay water theme park, as well as Universal CityWalk which has restaurants, bars and a cinema. There are free shuttle buses to all three parks from the hotel and you can walk to them all in 15 minutes. The walk is a little confusing, and along a main road and so personally, I don’t recommend it. From Sapphire Falls, you can also take the water taxi to the two main theme parks and to CityWalk, which has a serene, slightly more glamorous holiday feel to it.
Guests of all the Universal Resort hotels also enjoy the ‘early park admission’ perk, meaning access inside a designated park each day, one hour before the official opening time. This was perfect for exploring The Wizarding World of Harry Potter because crowds here really build up once the park opens. We were able to go in and explore Diagon Alley as well as ride the most popular attraction (Escape from Gringotts) before anyone else. It was also really handy on Volcano Bay day as we were able to go through and secure a great spot next to the beach with an umbrella for Finn. Thrill seekers can ride the terrifying Ko’okiri Body Plunge drop slide, which is very popular with lines up to 120 minutes once the park starts to fill up.
There’s no such thing as a perfect world and certainly for this resort the positives by far outweigh the negatives. Parking charges at Sapphire Falls are a bit of a sting, starting from $22 a day, which for a two-week visit is a pretty big add-on. This is in line with all the other Loews hotels at Universal Orlando but definitely one to consider when booking a stay here if you have rented a car. The other small gripe I had – which is common at every large hotel I have ever stayed at – room service can be slow, we waited over an hour for food and so if you plan on ordering to your room, get in there quickly, especially at busy times.
Leaving an impression
I have to say, I was really impressed with Universal’s Sapphire Falls and I would consider staying here even if I wasn’t planning on visiting the parks. The ridiculously comfy beds were the highlight, but I found the whole hotel a superb place to stay. Staff were friendly, rooms delightful and spacious, and customer service top notch. Of all the resort hotels in Orlando, this one definitely makes a great case for staying at a theme park resort. Being a Loews property, Universal character branding isn’t rammed down your throat and coming back here at the end of the day felt like a luxury rather than a chore.
The Kids Suite is a great idea and perfect for two tired parents needing to unwind after a busy day of theme park fun. Sapphire Falls was much more my kind of hotel than the more expensive Portofino Bay, which was too large and impersonal and lacked character in my opinion. Despite being a huge hotel itself, with 1000 guest rooms, Sapphire Falls managed to have a boutique feel with a friendly welcome. I can’t wait to go back to Orlando and when I do this would be my top choice to stay.
Read about our trip to Universal Orlando here
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