Like Walt Disney World, the Universal Orlando Resort also boasts onsite resort hotels, though not as many as Disney.
The Loews group are unusual in that they are a ‘pet-friendly’ hotel chain, so all the Loews hotels at Universal Orlando offer a number of pet-friendly rooms.
Universal Studios originally entered into an agreement with Loews Hotels to build five resort hotels at Universal Orlando. With the opening of Sapphire Falls in 2016, Loews and Universal had built all five of them but they have since started an expansion of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort and started another new hotel, the Aventura.
With the additional land recently purchased, more hotels are to be built. In May 2017, Universal announced their plans for the site of the now demolished Wet ’n Wild water park at the intersection of International Drive and Universal Boulevard.
They plan to build two hotels with about 4,000 rooms, split across either side of Universal Boulevard. A shuttle service will transport guests to and from the Universal Orlando Resort parks.
The new hotels will be themed to complement the existing Universal hotels with landscaping, pool, retail and food outlets.
Universal classify their hotels into three price bands (Disney equivalents in brackets):
- Premier (deluxe) - Hard Rock Hotel and Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel
- Preferred (moderate) - Loews Royal Pacific Resort and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
- Prime Value (value) - Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Universal’s Aventura Hotel
Each resort hotel has a very distinctive style:
- Loews Portofino Bay Hotel - an almost exact replica of the fishing village, Portofino Bay in Italy, the Portofino Bay Hotel looks out onto an artificial harbour with a large central piazza
- Hard Rock Hotel - themed on a Beverley Hills mansion in the Californian Spanish Mission style with a liberal dose of rock memorabilia
- Loews Royal Pacific Resort - images of the South Seas complete with lake and flying boat, the Royal Pacific Resort takes its inspiration from Indonesia and Fiji
- Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort - retro 1950/60s styling complete with a bowling alley
- Loews Sapphire Falls Resort - a tropical island themed resort featuring waterfalls and a resort-style pool
- Universal’s Aventura Hotel - a value priced option scheduled to open in Summer 2018
As you would expect of any luxury hotel, all the premier hotels also have a club level similar to the concierge levels at many business hotels.
Actual privileges differ by resort but typically include access to a special exclusive club lounge with complimentary continental breakfast, refreshments and snacks throughout the day and hors d’oeuvres and desserts in the evening. You may also get free access to the fitness centre, free CD or DVD rental and free internet access.
Advantages of staying at one the Universal Orlando Resort Hotels
By staying at one the Universal Orlando Resort Hotels, you get a number of benefits though they vary by hotel.
One of the biggest benefits is the free Universal Express Priority Access Pass for each guest, just by showing your room key. It gives you quicker access to rides and shows by allowing you to join a faster line so typically your wait times are much reduced.
It is similar to the Universal Express Pass with one important difference, it can be used as many times as you like.
The standard Universal Express Pass can only be used once on each applicable ride or attraction and not all during the first hour after the park opens. However the Universal Express Priority Access Pass for hotel guests can be used all day and again and again on the same ride though it is at the attendant’s discretion if the ride is very busy.
Also bear in mind that a Universal Express Unlimited Pass costs from $64.99 per day for one park and from $84.99 per day for both parks.
Other benefits include:
- priority seating at some shows and restaurants. On some nights of the week (typically excluding Friday and Saturday evening) you can get priority reservations at many theme park and CityWalk restaurants
- package delivery to your room. Instead of carrying your shopping around with you (or collect it from the front gate), you can have it delivered to your room
- priority reservations at character dining. All resort hotels offer character dining experiences several times a week and as a hotel guest you can get priority seating
- charge items to your room. You can use your room card to pay for items in shops and restaurants and then you just pay the total bill when you checkout
Note Universal Express and priority seating is not available for guests staying at the Prime Value Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
Universal Resort Seasons
Like most Florida resorts, Universal change their room rates depending upon the season. In Universal’s case, they have five seasons:
- Value season - the cheapest rates from early January to mid February, mid August to late October and after Thanksgiving to just before Christmas
- Regular season - from around Spring Break to early June
- Summer season - from early June to mid August
- Peak season - from mid February (President’s Day) to mid March and from late March to mid April (Spring Break), depending where Easter falls
- Holiday season, the most expensive rates for the two weeks around Easter and the holiday period around Christmas and New Year
Getting to the Universal Orlando Resort Hotels
All the existing Universal resort hotels can be reached by complimentary water launch from the dock at Universal CityWalk, by shuttle bus or by car. It is also possible to walk from CityWalk or the theme parks to each of hotels.
If you are not staying onsite at a Universal Orlando Resort hotel, there are a number of other local hotels within easy reach of Universal Orlando. Several of them are within walking distance, though you may not want to walk particularly during the hot summer months. Alternatively you can catch the free Super Star Shuttle which operate a number of routes amongst the local hotels or the I-Ride Trolley which travels up and down International Drive.