Picking the Perfect Universal Orlando Hotel
This comprehensive guide is going to help you choose the perfect hotel for your vacation. Whether you’re traveling with your family, your partner, your friends, or flying solo, this guide will give you highlights for each of the Universal hotels and its amenities so you can pick the right fit for you and your group. We start off by going over the perks of staying at Universal hotels and then dive into a review of the specific Universal Orlando Resorts. The chart below provides a quick comparison of all the Universal hotels. We’ve also included a list of hotels near Universal Studios Orlando for families who want to stay close to the park but not on-site.
Most Universal hotels have two options: the Standard Room and the Family Suite. Standard Rooms comfortably sleep four people while the family suite usually fits up to six. Depending on the hotel, the Family Suites may include two rooms so the parents can get some quiet time away from the kiddos. Keep in mind that this guide doesn’t include extra expenses like parking passes or restaurant fees.
Perks of Staying at a Universal Resort Hotel
- Early Park Admission: Enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal’s Volcano Bay an hour earlier than regular guests.
- FREE Express Ride Access*: Guests who stay at premier Universal hotels can skip the regular lines with Express Ride Access at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. (*Note: this perk only applies to premier Universal hotels.)
- Free Transportation to the Park: All Universal hotels feature a shuttle, a water taxi, and/or a walking path that will take you directly to the park.
- Hotel Amenities: Enjoy on-site restaurants, character meet-and-greets, pools, and more.
- Delivery of Purchased Merchandise to Hotel Room: Shop at Universal Park stores with your room key and have all purchases delivered directly to your room. You won’t have to worry about carrying your purchases inside the park.
- Best Club Access: Show your room key at select Universal CityWalk venues for complimentary club access.
- Resort Kids Camps: Some Universal hotels feature Resort Kids Camps. These kid camps are great for parents who want to enjoy a date night, but keep in mind that the camp is based on availability and can cost $15/hour per child. Anyone staying at a Universal hotel can use the Kids Camps, even if the camp is not located in their hotel.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter & Universal Express Pass
The real advantage of staying at a Universal hotel is the perks, such as free transportation to the park and early park access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There are also the added bonuses of a free Universal Express Unlimited Pass, but only if you stay at a premier hotel such as Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.
Express Passes allow you to skip long lines by entering the Express queue rather than the normal line. Express Passes are similar to a FASTPASS used at Walt Disney theme parks. Express Passes work at all attractions in both parks except Ollivander’s Wand Shop and Pteranodon Flyers. A Universal Express Pass costs $70 per person while the Universal Express Unlimited Pass costs $90 per person, so staying at a premier hotel is a great idea for families looking for Universal Studio ticket deals or a Universal Studios Orlando package deals. A family of six could save up to $540 a day on Express Passes.
Is purchasing an Express Pass worth it?
Purchasing an express pass depends on what matters most to you. If you pick a day when the crowds are small, or if you are willing to use the single-rider lines, you might not need an Express Pass to get through lines quickly. Otherwise, you’ll be grateful you have an Express Pass to skip the long lines, especially if you only have one day in the park.
Can you enjoy Universal without an Express Pass?
Absolutely! The Express Pass gets you through lines quicker, but the park is still fun without one.
Universal Theme Park Safety Regulations During COVID-19
Since the Universal Orlando theme parks reopened, Universal Orlando Resorts have been opening in phases. As of October 2020, Universal has opened four of its hotels: Universal’s Endless Summer Resort—Surfside Inn and Suites, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and the Hard Rock Hotel. Keep an eye out for COVID discounts; many hotels encourage families to return to the parks and are offering discounts.
Universal is following CDC guidelines and has precautions in place to make sure guests feel safe during their visit. As part of these safety measures, all guests are asked to have their temperature taken during check-in and are given a wristband to show they are healthy. The staff regularly cleans public areas, taking safety precautions seriously. There are also sanitization stations throughout most Universal hotels and all employees are wearing masks.
Guests are allowed to remove their masks while eating or while at a pool area. These circumstances are the only exceptions to mask-wearing at Universal hotels. Maid services are also limited to reduce contact with employees.
The downside of staying at a Universal hotel right now is you may be paying for amenities you won’t be able to use. All Resort Kids Camps are closed at the moment. Call your hotel to see which pools, restaurants, and amenities are available before booking. Even if a restaurant is open, double check the hours before going; select restaurants have limited hours of operation.
Something else to keep in mind is that the crowds in the Universal Theme Parks have been much smaller since the beginning of the pandemic. We still recommend staying at the Universal hotels for early access and free transportation, but make sure to do some additional research prior to book. Spending money on a premier hotel or a Universal Express Pass might not be as necessary while ride lines may be shorter than normal.
The Complete Guide to Universal Value Hotels
Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites
- Price Range: $79–$120/night
- Most affordable of the Universal hotels
- Early park access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Walls are known to be thin
- WiFi can be spotty
Proximity to the Park
With the lowest prices, Surfside Inn and Suites is the most affordable of the Universal Resorts. The hotel has a laid-back beach vibe, but you don’t stay here for the atmosphere. Staying here is all about the low price, the short distance to the park, and the early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you’re planning on spending all day everyday at the park and just need an affordable place to sleep, this is your hotel.
Great for Family and Large Groups
Surfside Inn and Suites is great for large families or groups. The Standard Room comfortably sleeps four while the Two-Bedroom Suites are great for a group of six. If possible, ask for a room close to the lobby to avoid a long walk to your car, the park, or your nightly restaurant.
Some downsides to the Surfside Inn and Suites hotel are that the walls are known to be thin, the wifi can be spotty, and the towels are low-quality. However, the free shuttle to the park and the affordable price can’t be beat.
Surfside Inn and Suites, like most Universal hotels, features restaurants, a pool, and a game room. The Beach Break Cafe offers a delicious breakfast for guests, but be prepared to spend between $8-$12 for each adult and $5 for each child. The cafe is also open for lunch and dinner.
The Complete Guide to Universal Prime Value Hotels
Universal’s Aventura Hotel
- Price range: $116–$230/night
- Good balance of affordable and bang-for-your-buck
- Our preferred hotel for families
- Tech savvy hotel
- Kids’ Splash Zone and Resort Kids Camps
- Bar 17 Bistro has a gorgeous view of Islands of Adventure
This might just be our favorite hotel for families, with a good balance of affordability and bang for your buck. Besides the Standard Room, this hotel also offers a Kids Suite with two twin beds separated from the king size bed; this is the perfect room for parents who want to enjoy some quiet time together away from the kids.
Proximity to Universal’s Volcano Bay
If you came to Universal Studios for the water park, this may be the hotel for you; this is a great location for families who want to spend multiple days at Universal’s Volcano Bay. The Aventura Hotel is a short walk to Universal’s Volcano Bay which is open year round. The hotel also offers a walking path to the Universal parks, as well as the standard shuttle buses.
Kids’ Splash Zone and Resort Kids Camps
The Kids’ Splash Zone and Resort Kids Camps make this a great place for families with younger children. Let your kids enjoy activities in the Resort Kids Camp while you enjoy some alone time with your partner.
Restaurants at Aventura Hotel
The restaurants here are more affordable than restaurants at other Universal hotels. Bar 17 Bistro at the top of the hotel offers a killer cocktail as well as a phenomenal view of adventure island. Seriously, go check out this view.
Urban Pantry is more kid-friendly with a menu ranging from pizza to stir fry. We recommend trying the wok station. Menu items range from $10 for kids to between $12-$16 for adults.
Technology in the Rooms
The hotel is also tech-savvy, with each room equipped with an iPad that controls the TV and lights, answers commonly asked questions about the park, and is used to make requests to hotel staff. Make sure to also check out the hotel robot if you stay here. Relay is a hotel delivery robot that can deliver candy to your room. It’s a fun experience for the kids.
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
- Price range: $116–$154/night
- 1950s-60s themed
- The galaxy bowl
- Short walk to Volcano Bay
- Two pools and a Lazy River
The Cabana Bay Resort feels like stepping back in time to 1960’s Florida. The hotel is a good fit for families who might want to take a day-long break in between park visits. Friday night is character night; keep your eyes open for characters milling around the lobby. Parents can rent a cabana while kids zoom down the large water slide, and the two pools, lazy river, arcade, and bowling alley are great for keeping kids entertained. The lazy river and bowling alley are not included in the cost of the hotel. Bowling is $15 for each adult and $9 for kids 12 and under, while the lazy river costs money to rent an inner-tube.
Restaurants at Cabana Bay Beach Resort
With four restaurants to choose from, you won’t run out of dining options at the Cabana Bay Resort. We recommend the Bayliner Diner for its 1950s diner vibes. It has every imaginable classic American comfort food at an affordable price: $6-$14 for adults and $6-$7 for children. If you visit Galaxy Bowl, make sure to eat at the bowling alley restaurant. The burgers are delicious.
Proximity to Universal’s Volcano Bay
This is the other hotel that is a short walk away from Universal’s Volcano Bay. There is also a walking path to the Universal Parks.
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
- Price range: $165–$243/night
- Pet-friendly hotel
- Variety of luxury sweets
- Sand beach pool, waterslides, and hot tubs
- Resort kids camp
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort’s theme and decor is inspired by the islands, but our favorite thing about it is the pet-friendly environment for those traveling with a furry friend. The hotel offers a variety of luxury suites from Kid Suites to a Presidential Suite. There are lots of room options for families who are willing to spend more on a hotel. Many rooms have a beautiful view of the lagoon, however, a Lagoon View Room isn’t the only way to have great views as some hotel rooms have better views than others depending on the foliage and the floor.
The Most Expansive Pool Area
This hotel features one of the most expansive pool areas with sand beaches, hot tubs, cabanas, and a water slide. This is a great hotel for relaxing by the pool. This is also one of the few Universal hotels that offers rides to the park via water taxi. Make sure to take advantage of this fun boat ride if you stay at Sapphire Falls. If your kids want a break from the parents or vice versa, there’s also a Resort Kids Camp which hosts fun games and activities.
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort Restaurants
As far as restaurants go, Amatista Cookhouse is on the more expensive side with dishes ranging from $12-$30. We recommend making a reservation at Amatista Cookhouse before getting into town.
The Strong Water Tavern is a great place to grab a drink. Make sure to try the vintage rums. For a quicker, less expensive option, visit New Dutch Trading Co.
The Ultimate Guide to Universal Premier Hotels
These hotels are called “premier” for a reason. While more expensive, they come with extra amenities not included at the other Universal hotels. The biggest benefit is obvious; families who stay at a premier hotel will receive a free Universal Express Unlimited Pass.
A helpful tip for families who book at a premier hotel is to look into Club Level Rooms. While more expensive, these rooms offer free breakfast, snacks, and drinks, saving large families money on food. Some guests think it’s worth it, while others don’t. If you’re looking for a fast breakfast so you can arrive at the park early, we recommend using the club. If you’d rather sit down at a nice breakfast, don’t pay the extra money for a Club Level Room and plan on having breakfast at a restaurant. Do the math to see how much you could save on meals to see if staying in a Club Level Room is worth it.
The premier hotels have onsite child care centers in the evenings for children 4-14. These services cost $15 per child per hour. These child care centers also offer dinner for kids for $15. These kids’ clubs are open between Sunday–Thursday from 5pm-11:30pm and Friday–Saturday from 5pm-12am. This service is available for onsite hotel guests only. The kids’ clubs have activities including crafts, movies, and computer games. For more information or to make a reservation, call 407-503-1200. While these Kids Camps are open to anyone staying within the Universal hotels, it’s nice having a Kids Camp a short walk from your suite.
Anyone staying at a Universal hotel can use the Kids Camps, even if the camp is not located in their hotel.
Camp Portofino—Portofino Bay: Call (407) 503-1200
Camp Lil’Rock—Hard Rock Hotel: Call (407) 503-2200
The Mariner’s Club—Royal Pacific Hotel: Call (407) 503-3200
Loews Royal Pacific Resort
- Price range: $250–$326/night
- Royal club lounge offer breakfast for those in Club Level Rooms
- Lagoon-style pool and water playground
- Onsite child are center: The Mariner’s Club
The Royal Pacific Resort draws inspiration from the south seas. Staying at a Club Level Room gives you access to the Royal Club Lounge which offers a complimentary continental breakfast. The hotel also has other suite options including a Jurassic Kids Suite.
The Royal Pacific Resort Restaurant Options
The hotel features more restaurant options than seems necessary. Families on the go can grab an inexpensive breakfast from the Tuk Tuk Market. Jake’s American Bar is the place to go if you’re looking for a good burger and a good time. For a sit-down family meal, we recommend the Island Dining Room for its South Seas design and cuisine, but keep in mind its best to make a reservation at this restaurant.The dining room is also closed Monday and Tuesday nights. Prepare to spend between $10-$15 per person for breakfast and $12-$30 per person for dinner.
An All-Inclusive Pool Experience
This hotel includes one of the most all-inclusive pool experiences. The lagoon-style pool is surrounded by sand beaches and has two hot tubs. There’s even a volleyball court and the Royal Bali Sea—a water playground for kids. The hotel has a Torch Lighting Ceremony featuring fire dancers on certain days.
Other Offered Activities and Features
Game (Not) Over is the game area with lots of arcade games. This hotel includes a Resort Kids Camp, but be aware that the kid camps are based on availability and cost $15/hour per child. This hotel offers trips to the park via a water taxi, and staying here also guarantees you priority seating at (most) restaurants in the Universal Orlando Resort.
Hard Rock Hotel
- Price range: $300-$405/night
- “Velvet Session” concerts once a month
- Rock-roll aesthetic and memorabilia
- Pet-friendly hotel
- Onsite child care center: Camp Lil’Rock
The Hard Rock Hotel prides itself on its rock-n-roll vibes. If you have time, make sure to hunt down the rock-n-roll memorabilia scattered throughout the hotel like Elvis’s pajamas or Paul McCartney’s guitar. Rooms at the Hard Rock Hotel are separated into Standard Rooms, Club Level Rooms (which have access to the Rock Royalty lounge and complimentary breakfast), and Suites (which have a kids room and kitchenette). As with all premier hotels, you’ll receive a free Universal Express Unlimited Pass and priority seating at restaurants.
Hard Rock Hotel’s Velvet Sessions
One of the best parts of staying at the Hard Rock Hotel is their “Velvet Sessions.” Once a month, the hotel hosts an artist or rock group to perform for guests. The event includes food and drinks to munch on during the show. Check the hotel calendar to see if you can stay during a “Velvet Session.”
Hard Rock Hotel Restaurant Options
As far as restaurants go, The Kitchen serves American classics from chicken noodle soup to burgers to mac and cheese and has excellent breakfast options. Meals range from $12-$18. The Palm, modeled to resemble an NYC steakhouse, offers a more elevated dining experience, but plan to spend anywhere from $20-$40 per person. You can make a reservation to both of these restaurants online or through the hotel. The Beach Club is also a great place for a fun evening and a good drink if you’re by the pool. For something sweet, try the ice cream at the Emack & Bolio’s Marketplace.
Hard Rock Hotel Pool Features & Arcade
The best part of the pool is the underwater sound system. Listen to classic rock and pop music while you swim. This hotel also has a Game (Not) Over filled with arcade games and a Hotel Kids’ Camp.
Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
- Price range: $325-$517/night
- Live music every evening
- 3 pools and a water slide
- Onsite child care center: Camp Portofino
Inspired by the seaside town of Portofino, Italy, this is the most expensive of the Universal hotels for a reason. Staying at this hotel is like stepping into Italy. Loews Portofino Bay usually has fewer kids than the other Universal Orlando hotels and is one of the quieter hotels at Universal, making it a better option for couples traveling alone.
Room Options at Loews Portofino Bay
Like the other premier hotels, there are three types of rooms: Standard Rooms, Club Level Rooms (which have access to the Portofino Club Lounge and complimentary breakfast), and Suites (which have a kids room and kitchenette). As with all premier hotels, you’ll receive a free Universal Express Unlimited and priority seating at restaurants.
Waterway Access and Pool Features
This hotel includes waterway access, so make sure to catch a boat over to the Universal Parks. This hotel has not one, not two, but three pools. Our favorite part of The Beach Pool is a Roman aqueduct-themed water slide. The Villa Pool and Hillside Pool are a little more secluded for adults who’d like to relax poolside.
Loews Portofino Bay Restaurants
The hotel features three Italian restaurants. Trattoria del Porto is the most family-friendly and least expensive of the trio; it also offers breakfast. If you’re looking for a fine-dining experience, we recommend Mama Della’s Ristorante℠ for families and Bice Ristorante for date night, though a child’s menu is still offered at Bice. You can order a family-style meal or individual meals at Mama Della’s Ristorante℠, though check prices because some family-style options are more pricey per person than individual meals. The Bice Ristorante is part of a larger network of restaurants that started in Italy in 1926, so their cuisine is the most authentic of the three restaurants. Make sure to get a reservation to these restaurants online or through the hotel before going.
Loews Portofino Bay Spa & Other Amenities
This hotel features a fully immersive, relaxing spa The Mandara Spa offers spa and salon services including massages, facials, wraps, highlights, manicures, and more. There’s also live music in the Harbor Pizza every evening to emphasize the Italian theme. One of the stranger features of the hotel is Family Art Photography & Printing, a wonderful place to get a family picture taken. Like the other premier hotels, the Portofino has an onsite child-care center: Camp Portofino. There’s also a Game (Not) Over filled with fun arcade games.
Hotels Near Universal Studios Orlando
Not everyone wants to stay on-site at the park, and staying at hotels near Universal Orlando can save your family quite a bit of money. Here are some of the hotels we recommend, their distance from the Universal Park, and their price ranges. All room prices are based on a two queen bedroom or two double bedroom for a one night stay. Prices vary wildly depending on the time of year. Avoid holidays, school breaks, and weekends for the best deals.
- DoubleTree by Hilton at the Entrance to Universal Orlando
- 1.1 miles
- Holiday Inn & Suites Across from Universal Orlando
- 1.3 mile
- Hyatt House Across from Universal Orlando Resort
- 1.2 miles
- JW Marriott Grande Lakes
- 7.9 miles
- Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes
- 7.9 miles
- Clarion Inn & Suites Across from Universal Orlando Resort
- 1.4 miles
- SureStay Plus by Best Western Orlando International Drive
- 2.4 miles
New Universal Studios Orlando Hotels Coming Soon
Universal’s newest hotel, Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites, was scheduled to open on March 17, 2020, but the opening was postponed indefinitely after the COVID-19 outbreak. At the moment, Universal has not announced a new opening date. As the other half of the Universal Endless Summer Resort, this hotel will have prices and amenities similar to the Surfside Inn and Suites at around $79–$120 a night with a 5-minute bus ride to the park.
Save with Universal Studio Ticket Deals
If you’re interested in Universal Studio ticket deals and Universal Studios package deals, don’t miss a chance to find the right vacation package for your family with Park Savers. If you’re looking for more information on the best time to visit Universal Studios Orlando in Florida, the best things to do at the park, or even just trying to pick between Universal Orlando and Disney World, check out our blog for more tips and travel hacks.
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.