What is the best hotel at Universal Studios Orlando?
By Helen Wright
Going to Universal Orlando is such a big part of your Florida holiday. Since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in 2010, Universal is more popular than ever. As well as having two main theme parks and a water park, there are now seven hotels at the Universal Resort Orlando to choose from, with another coming in 2020. Endless Summer Surfside Inn and Suites doesn’t open until August 2019 but over my 20+ visits to Orlando I have been lucky enough to stay at every other resort hotel. So, what is the best hotel at Universal Studios Orlando for your trip? Follow my guide below to compare Universal Orlando hotels and find out.
HOW TO FIND THE BEST HOTEL AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO FOR YOUR TRIP
For Universal’s on-site resorts, the brand worked with Loews hotels and I think this is a great partnership. Loews have a quality reputation and the hotels for Universal Studios Orlando are modern and comfortable, using fun themes that aren’t too ‘theme park’. This means that whether you decide to go for a luxury or a budget hotel at Universal Studios, you’re guaranteed a quality stay (and don’t have to worry about sleeping in a Minion-shaped bed or anything*).
Read our full review of the new Aventura Hotel
Read our full review of the family-friendly Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Read our full review of the refreshing Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
Read our full review of the Premier tier Loews Portofino Bay Resort,
Our passportstamps.uk full reviews of Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific are coming SOON, but first I will explain the different hotel tiers and help you work out what the best hotel at Universal Orlando is for you and your party.
Why stay at a Universal Resort hotel?
If you are planning your trip and are looking for hotels nearest Universal Studios Orlando, you can’t get any closer than the hotels that are actually at the resort. When Universal Studios opened in 1990, it was just a stand alone theme park with no hint of the metropolis that greets you now. Down the road, we saw Walt Disney World’s first hotel open (actually the Contemporary Resort Hotel and Polynesian Village both opened at the same time) in 1971. But Universal didn’t expand their resort to a hotel and entertainment complex until 1999 when the brand launched their sister theme park Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The first hotel at Universal Orlando was Loews Portofino Bay, joined the following year by Hard Rock Hotel. Both of these hotels now make up Universal Orlando’s Premier hotel bracket, along with Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
Cheeky Harry Potter Hotel perks
I really love the Universal resort hotels, which are refreshingly modern and spacious (I’ve actually stayed at Sapphire Falls even when I am not even going to the parks! Find out why other Florida residents did too). But if experiencing the theme parks, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, is top of your priority list, staying at a close-to-Harry Potter hotel has some definite perks. Of course, the best perk of staying at a Universal Resort Hotel is the privilege of Early Park Admission. It works in the same way as Disney’s Extra Magic Hours, but the Harry Potter hotel magic gives Universal resort hotel guests access to a selected park up to an hour earlier than regular guests. This will be at either Universal Studios, Universal Islands of Adventure or Volcano Bay Water Theme Park (but not all three at once). Your hotel will give you an Early Park Admission schedule when you check in and it is usually displayed on boards in the lobby. Early Park Admission feels like being a real VIP at Universal and, trust me, if you want to get an Instagram pic on Diagon Alley with no other people there – this is the only time to do it!
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Could do with some of this fire and sunshine right about now! Come on holiday – hurry up! #throwbacktuesday to the Ukrainian Ironbelly Dragon… #universalorlando #universal #universalmoments #diagonalley #wizardingworldofharrypotter #travel #travels #traveler #traveling #traveller #travelling #travelers #travelgram #travelingram #instatravel #travelawesome #travelpics #lgbttravel #gaytravel #gaytraveler #gaylife #explore #wanderlust #gaygeek #gaygeeks #gaynerd #gaynerds #harrypotterforever #orlandotravel
Of course, if you are coming to Orlando from the UK, us Brits also like beer without the butter… so you can party on Universal CityWalk until 2am and get back to your hotel easily by bus, boat or by walking – all free of charge. Staying at the resorts also means you save on parking fees at the theme parks (as you don’t have to take your car). It’s something to consider if you are working to a budget for your Orlando holiday, as 2018 theme park parking at Universal is $25 a day. I explain more about this and alternative accommodation options in my Ultimate Guide to Orlando. Another very cool perk of staying at at Universal hotel is that guests who choose a Premier resort get FREE Universal Express Unlimited passes to Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure for the duration of their stay. If you aren’t staying at a Premier resort, these passes can be purchased in the parks and prices start from $100 a day, so if you plan on hitting the theme parks hard, consider this a perk worth upgrading for when choosing the best hotel at Universal Studios Orlando for you. We can help you work out how much time you will need at each theme park with our recommended two-week Orlando itinerary.
Lastly, Universal resort guests can also charge purchases at the park (such as food and drink or gift shop transactions) back to their room, using the room key. This might seem like a small thing but if you are coming from the UK, credit and debit cards often charge an International transaction fee and so this way, every purchase you make at Universal can be itemised and paid one in one transaction when you check out. Speaking of gift shops, guests can also request complimentary delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the resort to their hotel. No carrying bags around all day for us hotel VIPs!
What is the difference between Prime Value, Preferred and Premier at Universal Orlando?
The Universal Orlando hotels are currently broken down into three categories; Prime Value, Preferred and Premier. When the new hotel at Universal, Surfside Inn and Suites, opens in August 2019, there will be a forth tier. This will become the new entry level budget option, named Value. Until then, a Prime Value is the cheapest hotel at Universal Studios Orlando.
What to expect from the new Universal Value Hotel
Even though Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites hasn’t opened yet, you can already make bookings for the hotel starting from Summer 2019. Click here for more details. When it opens, Surfside Inn and Suites will be the most budget-friendly hotel option at Universal Orlando Resort. With rates starting at less than $73 (£57) for a seven-night stay and $85 (£66) per night for a four-night stay in a standard room, it’s a very attractive option for families planning a Florida holiday from the UK on a budget. The hotel also has 390 two-bedroom Suites that sleep six people, so may also be a great option for friends visiting Orlando as a group. The two-bedroom suites start from $111 per night and, like the family suites at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, feature a kitchenette and separate bathroom and vanity areas making good use of space.
Despite being the cheapest hotel at Universal Orlando, guests at Surfside Inn and Suites will still get Early Park Admission perks, which is brilliant. Complimentary shuttle bus transportation to and from the theme parks and Universal CityWalk is also included, along with room-charging privileges from the parks and merchandise delivery to the hotel. Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn has 750 rooms and suites.
What to expect from Universal Prime Value Hotels
Universal Prime Value resorts are three-star hotels (US standards) with room prices starting from $116 (£82). When trying to work out the best hotel at Universal Studios Orlando for your trip, it’s likely budget will play a big part in your decision. There are some great deals available in the UK when you combine your hotel and park ticket booking. For more detailed information, I explain how this works in my full post on how to buy Orlando theme park tickets. The Universal Orlando Prime Value Hotels are called Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Universal’s Aventura Hotel. Aventura is currently the newest hotel at Universal having opened in August 2018.
Like hotels in the Value category, Prime Value Hotels also come with free transportation to the parks, room charging privileges, free WIFI and complimentary entry into some CityWalk venues by presenting your room key. These two hotels, originally the entry-level budget hotels at Universal Studios Orlando, offer guests quite a lot more than your average three-star hotel. Both hotels are bright and welcoming, spotlessly clean and have impressive pool and common areas.
Cabana Bay Beach Resort is very much aimed at families with two huge pools, a lazy river, water slides and a bowling alley. There is also a choice of family suites that come with extra space, a sofa bed and have small kitchenettes. You can read our detailed review of Universal’s Cabana Bay here. Rooms have large flat screen TVs and bath/shower options. The hotel is 50s summer themed with ‘Grease’ style décor and fun colours and shapes which are very attractive to kids. The garden areas also have games such as table tennis, corn throw and hula hoops. There is a small bar in the lobby but most of the restaurants and common areas are geared up for a family atmosphere.
Universal’s Aventura Hotel is a very different concept and much more aimed at adults traveling without kids or families with teenagers and older. That’s not to say families aren’t welcome, it is a Universal theme park hotel after all! There is just much more on offer for families at the equivalent-priced Cabana Bay, hence why that feels more of a family-oriented resort. Rooms at Aventura are brand new and have a slick, New York loft, design. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer views over Volcano Bay or the parks and walking around the common areas of the hotel feels much cooler and trendy. The rooms are less spacious than at Cabana Bay but designed very well for the adult guest. Everything in the room is controlled by a modern iPad – from lights, to climate control, room service, music and TV controls. The pool at Aventura is designed to wrap around the hotel and is far more suitable for posing, swimming or just sunbathing next to than splashing about with an inflatable unicorn. From Aventura, you can walk to Volcano Bay Waterpark, which is right next door.
The other very cool thing about Aventura is the rooftop bar and café, a first for a Universal resort hotel. From here you can see the incredible Orlando sunsets, enjoy cool cocktails and tapas with panoramic views of Islands of Adventure and Unversal Studios, which is brilliant at night when rides like Hulk and Hollywood’s Rip Ride Rocket are all illuminated. And if you are looking for a Harry Potter hotel, this is also a fantastic vantage point to see Hogwarts Castle. By the way, have you seen our post on the amazing Night Time Lights At Hogwarts?
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What to expect from a Universal Preferred Hotel
The only hotel in the Universal Preferred category is the four-star Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. To give you a comparison, the starting prices for standard rooms at the Universal Preferred Hotel, Loews Sapphire Falls start from $160 (£123) per night for a four-night stay. This is around $40 (£31) per night more than hotels in the Prime Value Category.
In my posts about finding accommodation in Orlando and in my Universal hotel reviews, I make no secret that I think Sapphire Falls is the best hotel at Universal Studios Orlando. The hotel itself is large, with an expansive lobby and an impressive high ceiling. The resort has an island theme vibe without being too in-your-face. The beds are incredibly comfortable. In fact, they even received our highly uncommon 10/10 bed comfiness rating review – so you’re going to get a good night’s sleep that’s for sure. Rooms are very spacious and I found the colour palate of blue, white and pink relaxing and uplifting. Even standard rooms have a lot of floor space so if you are visiting with a baby and need to request a crib, you aren’t going to be tripping over it every time you get up for the toilet etc. We’ve also stayed in a family suite here and the little room add-on made a huge difference. Kids will love the fun nautical theme and having that extra space means parents can actually have some adult time once the kids have fallen asleep.
The large pool also has a slide, a beach style set up, pool bar and splash area for kids so it is very family friendly too. Having said that, there are lots of more quiet areas and the pool is huge, so if you are visiting Orlando without kids, there is plenty of room to relax on a lilo without a six-year-old doing cannonballs next to your head. I also love the bars and restaurants at Sapphire Falls, especially Strong Water Tavern which had a really good atmosphere and over 50 different types of rum!
From this hotel, guests can also take the water taxi to the Universal theme parks. This is a free transfer and so much faster (and more glamorous) than the bus! The great thing about going on the water taxi is that you and your bags are security checked at the resort, meaning no need to join the (sometimes) lengthy queues to go through security scanners with guests entering from the car park and bus station. This saves you a lot of time and waiting in the morning, meaning more time in the park! Of course, early park admission and CityWalk room key venue entry is also included.
Sapphire Falls guests can also charge purchases from the parks and CityWalk back to their rooms and these items are actually delivered directly to your room. At Prime Value resorts, purchases need to be collected from reception. These are the reasons I consider Sapphire Falls to be the best hotel at Universal Orlando – it’s definitely my favourite anyway! If there is room in the budget to opt for this Preferred Hotel option, I would certainly recommend it.
What to expect from Universal Premier Hotels
The Universal Premier Hotels at Universal are classed as five star resorts and include Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific resort. These luxury hotels offer a little bit extra in terms of room amenities, services (such as a crèche and resort entertainment) and golf facilities. The biggest perk of going for a Universal Premier Hotel is that all guests receive an Unlimited Universal Express pass, which gives each registered guest complimentary unlimited Express access each day of your visit, including your check-in and check-out dates. These passes can be purchased separately if you’re not staying at a Universal Premier Hotel, but are priced from $100 per day. If you plan on spending a lot of time at the resort and want to skip the lines, staying at a Premier Hotel could actually be making you a significant saving.
It’s worth noting here that Universal Express Passes issued to guests at the on-site hotels do not cover Volcano Bay Water Theme Park or special events, such as Halloween Horror Nights. Express Passes for Halloween Horror Nights are available, but even if you are staying at a Premier Hotel, you will need to purchase these separately.
Complimentary transportation to the parks is included with your stay. Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay and Royal Pacific Resort are all served by the water taxi as well as the bus. It’s often said that Hard Rock Hotel is the best hotel for Universal Orlando and the best Harry Potter hotel because it is so close that guests can walk to the entrance (through a private gate) in less than five minutes. Guests staying at Premium Hotels are also given priority seating at selected Universal restaurants, including Emeril’s and Vivo Italian Kitchen at Universal CityWalk, Lombard’s Seafood Grille at Universal Studios and Mythos at Islands of Adventure. There are also extra golf benefits such as priority tee-off times and complimentary transfers to the course. If you’re visiting Universal Orlando with a pet, the Premier resorts, along with Sapphire Falls, are among the best pet friendly hotels near Universal Studios in Orlando. The resorts offer room service meals from a special pet menu ($7 for a bottle of minimal water mind…), pet walking and pet sitting services.
Room prices in the Universal Premier Hotel Category vary depending on resort. The cheapest Universal Premier hotel is Loews Royal Pacific Resort, with rooms starting from $220 (£169) per night based on a four-night stay. This hotel has a Hawaiian / Polynesian theme with flame torches burning on the beach and around the pool, rich wooden outbuildings and a grass skirt luau vibe. Rooms are spacious, with large, super comfortable beds, a small sofa, flat screen TV, iPod dock and a rich colour scheme which feels luxurious without being too heavy. The pool is set in lush gardens and has two hot tubs; a beach volleyball court and a cool interactive water play area for children. Guests can take part in a torch lighting ceremony each evening which is fun and kids love this.
Loews Portofino Hotel has rooms starting from $264 (£202) per night, based on a four-night stay. This hotel is themed around Italy and has its own (huge) piazza, complete with boats, shop fronts and a port where you can pick up the water taxi. The hotel is enormous with 750 rooms that are spaced out and over three floors, so it can feel quite overwhelming. There are two huge pools, one which is family-oriented with water features, a floating cinema and poolside music and one more sophisticated pool with cushioned loungers and room to swim lengths if you want to exercise. The hotel is also surrounded by gardens making views from any room very pleasant. Beds here were also incredibly comfortable and huge fluffy pillows to make them extra cloud like. Portofino Bay is a nice hotel for couples. I liked that you could open shutters from the bathroom and look into the room or have a soak in the huge bathtub while watching TV. Separate bath and walk-in showers are a huge plus, especially if you are visiting with family. Families that have a bit more budget may also want to opt for the extremely fun yet luxurious Despicable Me, Minion Suites, but they don’t come cheap as suites at Portofino Bay start from $524 (£402) per night based on a four night stay. *But, here is one place you actually can sleep in a Minion bed!
Hard Rock Hotel is the most expensive hotel at Universal Orlando. This is likely because it is the smallest resort, with only 650 rooms, but also has a more intimate, boutique feel. Rooms at Hard Rock Hotel start from $314 (£241) per night based on a four-night stay. This is definitely the coolest hotel at Universal Orlando (so cool, One Direction, Justin Beiber and Sean Paul, along with many other celebrities, I’m sure, were rumored to have stayed there). The hotel almost has a Californian meets Spanish feel with a strong rock n roll edge. Music memorabilia is dotted around the hotel and the massive pool even plays music underwater. Rooms aren’t huge as the hotel has a definite boutique feel about it, but they do offer understated luxury with hip touches such a ‘celebrity mirror’ and fun artwork. Dependent on availability, you can request a record player and selected vinyl to be sent to your room and I thought that was pretty awesome. Again, if you have a few extra dollars and are want a luxury hotel in Orlando for kids, Hard Rock Hotel at Universal also has some extra special suites.
For the top dollar price of $460 (£353) per night, go full-on new generation icon with a Future Rock Star suite. Family suites that feature younger music stars, such as Taylor Swift, and a very own ‘stage’ on which your young pop idols can perform. Nine-year-old me would have gone nuts at the sight of this room. I love Sapphire Falls because of the quality you get for the price point, but Hard Rock Hotel comes a very close second for me. I loved staying at this hotel and despite the Florida heat, I definitely left feeling a whole lot cooler than when I checked in.
So, which is the best hotel at Universal Orlando for you?
Still not decided?! I have narrowed down the options below in an easy cheat sheet on what I think will be the best hotel at Universal Orlando for your budget and needs. And if, after that, you STILL can’t decide – , what can I say, you’re on your own! Read our Ultimate Guide To Orlando for more detailed and honest information on how to book your dream trip to Orlando.
BEST HOTEL AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO IF BUDGET IS TOP PRIORITY
If budget is a strong factor, you might find cheaper accommodation outside the Universal Orlando resort. There is a range of hotels near Universal Orlando but they don’t offer the perks or proximity to the parks as the hotels at Universal Orlando resort. I break down some accommodation options in my Complete Guide To Orlando. With budget in mind, the best hotel at Universal Studios Florida resort would be Universal’s Endless Summer resort – Surfside Inn and Suites (if you are visiting after summer 2019) for small groups or families. Or, Aventura Hotel if you are looking for something more sophisticated.
BEST HOTEL AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO IF FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT IS YOUR TOP PRIORITY
With a family to keep happy, a resort with plenty on offer for kids and teenagers is going to be best for you. For families or groups on a budget, Cabana Bay Beach Resort is easily the best option. The resort is so much fun to explore with games, entertainment and a great swimming pool to keep kids entertained. Rooms are idea for families with children of different ages and the smell kitchenette is a bonus. If you want to take advantage of the Universal Premier hotel perks and want a hotel that offers a bit more luxury, Loews Royal Pacific Resort is a great luxury option for families. There are resort-wide events and entertainment, a fantastic and huge pool and large, spacious rooms. The general theme of this hotel has such a wonderful holiday vibe, for those with cash to upgrade it’s a top pick for families.
BEST HOTEL AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO FOR ADULT-ONLY PARTIES
For me, the best hotel at Universal Studios Orlando is Loews Sapphire Falls and this is especially true for couples or adult-only groups. The hotel offers quality and luxury for an affordable price and is ideally located for the Universal theme parks. The bar and restaurant at Sapphire Falls are ideal for socialising and the water taxi to CityWalk is a bonus. Plus, you can easily cross the road to Cabana Bay and Aventura hotel for more dining and nightlife options, such as the Galaxy Bowl bowling lane and the rooftop bar at Aventura Hotel, Bar 17 Bistro. Aventura would also be a top choice to stay, slightly cheaper than Sapphire but still sleek and comfortable for adults in Orlando without kids. If you are really looking for a five star hotel that offers luxury for guests and has a great choice of dining facilities as well as a gorgeous pool and grounds, then Loews Portofino Bay Resort would be my recommendation.
BEST HOTEL AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO FOR BIG GROUPS
If you want to stay at a Universal Orlando on-site hotel and you are visiting with extended family or a big group, Cabana Bay Beach resort would be the best option, along with Universal’s Endless Summer – Surfside Inn and Suites. Both have rooms with connecting doors, small kitchens and the option of a bigger room sleeping up to six people. There is also plenty of pool space and a huge breakfast area.
BEST HOTEL AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO FOR SINGLE VISITORS
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Well l can't do this pose on the Northern line can I? (Well, I could but I'd look even more of a prat on there!). Commuting to work on the @universalorlando water taxi like a boss. I have such a fun project on today but it's going to involve a lot of walking – my poor tootsies are nervous! The weather in Orlando this week is just beautiful. Not sticky and humid just sunny delightfulness and 83'. I love that from the Universal preferred and premier resorts you can get the water taxi to CityWalk and the parks – it starts your day off on such a holiday high! (We're staying at Cabana Bay but I went to Sapphire Falls for breakfast and then took the boat from there – like an IMPOSTER. So worth it. ☕☀️🌴🚤 BY THE WAY over on my site (LINK IN BIO) I have put together a COMPLETE Guide To Orlando, answering any questions you might have but if you can't find the answer just message me below and I can help! @universalorlandohotels @loewshotels @visitorlando
The best hotel at Universal if you are visiting Orlando as a solo traveller is definitely Aventura Hotel. I stayed there on a solo trip and I loved the hotel. The rooftop bar and lobby food court area is a really social space and the rooms are ideal for a single visitor. I particularly liked the bathroom which has a spacious, powerful shower. There is desk space if you are staying for business, TV, iPod dock and lights, temperature and room service are all controlled by an in-room iPad. The pool area is also more intimate and less aimed at family groups, making it relaxing and ideal if you’re visiting alone.
BEST HOTEL AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO FOR HONEYMOON OR COUPLES
There are some great options, especially in the premier category but I think the best hotel at Universal Studios for a honeymoon is Loews Royal Pacific. I just love the tropical atmosphere. When you arrive, guests are given a flower garland (lei) and there is such a warm and welcoming feel about the lobby, which is surrounded by tropical plants and water features. Rooms are also very luxurious and the hotel definitely has the most celebratory honeymoon vibe of all the resorts. Loews Portofino Bay also has luxurious rooms and the grounds are beautiful, making it ideal for a honeymoon or romantic trip. For something on a lower budget, again Loews Sapphire Falls does tick all the boxes so would also make a lovely base for a honeymoon.
BEST HOTEL AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO FOR LUXURY
Of course, all the Premier hotels at Universal offer five star luxury but, for me, Hard Rock Hotel feels the most lux. I think it’s the theme of the hotel which makes you feel like a VIP and the rooms are luxurious but cool. For a luxury resort, Hard Rock Hotel has a young atmosphere but the pool, common areas, bars and restaurants have a modern elegance. If a more classic resort better suits your taste, go for Loews Portofino Bay, which has a calmer, more mature, high-end feel.
BEST HOTEL AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO FOR CELEBRITY SPOTTING
The unconfirmed rumour is that One Direction, Kylie Jenner, Ariana Grande and Ne Yo have all stayed at Hard Rock Hotel so it’s definitely the top choice for the cool crowd. Celebrities that have families or a more low key profile, such as Uma Thurman, Kelly Clarkson and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, usually opt to stay at Loews Portofino Resort.
BEST PET-FRIENDLY HOTELS IN ORLANDO NEAR UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
If you are looking for the best pet friendly hotels near Universal Studios Orlando, great news! You can bring your pet to any of the Universal Premier hotels as well as Sapphire Falls. A pet-menu is even offered for your pampered pooch.
Sure, we’re bias, but we have so many great posts about Orlando. Check out some of our orlando blogs below:
Find out what Universal changes are happening in Orlando.
Insiders guide to secret Orlando.
Where to find the best Instagram Walls of Universal
Where to find the best Instagram walls of Walt Disney World
Looking for something different in Orlando? Have you been to Discovery Cove?
Fancy a day at the beach? We explored Daytona Beach, just one hour from Orlando.
What it’s like to be a tourist during a hurricane hurricane in Orlando.
The UK guide to buying Orlando park tickets