The Best Hotels at Universal Orlando

All of the Hotels Are Great. But Which One Is the Best for You?

Long before Harry Potter and his pals set up shop in Florida and transformed Universal Orlando, there was just the single theme park, Universal Studios Florida. Sister park, Islands of Adventure, opened in 1999. That same year, Universal also introduced the CityWalk dining/shopping/entertainment district and its first hotel, the Portofino Bay, thereby elevating the property to a full destination theme park resort and giving Walt Disney World a run for its money.

Now, Universal Orlando offers five hotels at its resort (with a sixth on the way in 2018). With two wildly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands, Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure, as well as a slew of other compelling attractions, visitors need at least two full days to enjoy all that Universal has to offer. That has created demand among guests to stay at the resort. But which hotel should they choose?

All of them are operated in partnership with Loews Hotels, and all of them...MORE are wonderful. You really couldn't go wrong by picking any one of the hotels. But there are differences among them. Let's review some of the features they each offer to help you determine which hotel might be best for you.

Before we get to a hotel-by-hotel rundown, keep in mind that you could probably get comparable accommodations outside the resort for lower rates. But there are many benefits to staying at a Universal Orlando hotel. Three of the properties, for example, offer the Universal Express skip-to-the-front-of-the-lines pass to all guests as part of the room rate. You can read more about how to skip the lines at Universal Orlando. And all of them allow guests to enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the general public. Depending on the time of year, that can be a great benefit.

OK, on to the hotels.

  • 01 of 05
    Cabana-Bay-Universal-Orlando-Pool.jpg
    ••• © Arthur Levine.

    The Cabana Bay is the first in what Universal and Loews call its "Prime Value" category. It compares quite favorably with other value hotels, however. It is well appointed and has a great retro 50s and 60s vibe. You can read more in my article, "11 Cool Features at Universal's Cabana Bay Resort."

    Best for:

    • Families and other visitors on a budget since Cabana Bay offers lower rates than Universal's other hotels.
    • Larger families and groups seeking good value. In addition to standard rooms, the hotel offers family suites that can accommodate up to six guests and include kitchenettes.
    • Beating the crowds by getting into the Harry Potter lands with early admission.
    • Two great pools that include a lazy river and a water slide.
    • On-site bowling lanes.
    • Enormous fitness center.

    Not as great for:

    • Does not include complimentary Universal Express line-skipping pass. (But you can purchase it separately.)
    • As you might expect, it is not as luxurious as Universal's deluxe-level hotels...MORE with fewer amenities and a lower level of service.
    • Cabana Bay is located the farthest away from the parks. (But since Universal Orlando is relatively compact, especially compared to the sprawling Disney World, it's only about a 15 to 20 minute walk).
    • No water shuttle to the parks available. (But complimentary bus shuttles operate frequently.)
    • No table-service restaurants, and the food court is just OK. (But you could eat anywhere throughout the resort, including at other hotels. Read my Best Universal Orlando Dining feature.)
  • 02 of 05

    Hard Rock Hotel

    Hard-Rock-Hotel-Pool.jpg
    ••• Universal Orlando. Used with permission.

    The massive guitar fountain out front gives visitors a sense of the playfulness and rock attitude that pervades the hotel. Like the chain of cafes that inspired it, there is memorabilia and music everywhere. But the deluxe "Premier" hotel also offers comfortable rooms and great service.

    Best for:

    • Visitors who love music and would get a kick out of immersing themselves in a rock shrine for a few days.
    • Vacationers seeking a high-end hotel with a hint of an edge.
    • Eliminating most ride lines with complimentary Universal Express.
    • Wonderful on-site table-service restaurants (which, interestingly, does not include a Hard Rock Cafe -- although there is an enormous one at Universal's CityWalk).
    • Its fairly short walk to the parks.

    Not as great for:

    • People seeking a quiet, relaxing hotel. There is amped-up music everywhere -- even under the water in the hotel's pool.
    • Visitors who are not rock fans.
  • 03 of 05
    Loews-Portofino-Bay-Hotel.jpg
    ••• Universal Orlando. Used with permission.

    Perhaps the loveliest of Universal's hotels, the deluxe "Premier" Portofino Bay re-imagines an Italian seaside town. Nestled in a far corner of the property, it is relatively isolated which, depending on what you are seeking, could be a good or not-so-good thing. Read more in my overview of the Portofino Bay Hotel.

    Best for:

    • Visitors seeking a quiet and restful hotel experience.
    • Vacationers seeking a high-end hotel experience. This is Universal's most exclusive and priciest hotel.
    • Exceptionally spacious and comfortable rooms.
    • Eliminating most ride lines with complimentary Universal Express.
    • Wonderful on-site table-service Italian restaurants, including the renowned gourmet eatery, Bice Ristorante.
    • On-site spa.

    Not as great for:

    • Its relatively long walk to the parks (although the walk is lovely and water taxis and shuttle vans are available).
    • People who want to be in the middle of all the action.
    • Vacationers seeking bargain accommodations.
  • 04 of 05
    Loews-Royal-Pacific-Resort.jpg
    ••• Universal Orlando. Used with permission.

    As a Universal "Preferred" hotel, Royal Pacific strikes a good balance. It's more laid back than the Hard Rock Park but a bit livelier (and less expensive) than the Portofino Bay. It features an agreeable South Pacific theme. Read more in my overview of the Royal Pacific Resort.

    Best for:

    • Visitors seeking a comfortable, moderate hotel at a relatively reasonable rate.
    • Eliminating most ride lines with complimentary Universal Express.
    • Wonderful on-site table-service restaurants, including Emeril's Tchoup Chop and the Islands Dining Room, which offers a nice breakfast buffet.
    • Lovely orchid garden.
    • Its fairly short walk to the parks.

    Not as great for:

    • Its comparatively smaller standard guest rooms (compared to the Portofino Bay).
    • Its slightly noisier atmosphere. Islands of Adventure and its screaming riders aren't too far away.
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Sapphire Falls Resort

    Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando
    ••• Universal Orlando

    The resort's second "Preferred" hotel, Sapphire Falls occupies the same middle ground as the Royal Pacific, but its rates do not include Universal Express passes. It has a lovely Caribbean theme.

    Search for the best Sapphire Falls Resort rates at TripAdvisor.

    Best for:

    • Visitors seeking a moderate, comfortable hotel at a relatively reasonable rate.
    • Great on-site table-service restaurant, Amatista Cookhouse, which offers Caribbean fare and a nice breakfast buffet.
    • Wonderful pub, the Strong Water Tavern, which offers a dizzying variety of rums and rum drinks as well as tapas-style small plates.

    Not as great for:

    • Its comparatively smaller standard guest rooms (compared to the Premier hotels).
    • Its relatively long walk to the parks, although the garden path is lovely, and water taxis and shuttle vans are available.
    • Rates do not include complimentary Universal Express line-skipping pass. (But you can purchase it separately.)