The Best Onsite Vs Offsite Hotels At Universal Studios Orlando


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Which is the best onsite hotel at Universal Studios Orlando vs. the best offsite hotel? Loews Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific hotels are your best options onsite. The Ritz-Carlton Orlando and the adjoining JW Marriott, next door to the Ritz-Carlton, are probably your best offsite choices at Universal Orlando. We have also outlined some cheaper options if the deal you are looking for requires a more moderate budget.

Portofino Bay wins hands down for us not only for the lounge but also the pools and the slides and pool activities, but we also love the Ritz-Carlton, which is also one of the closest hotels to Universal Orlando and is even more luxurious than Portofino Bay (although he Bay does include the Universal magic). The JW Marriott next to the Ritz-Carlton is another good choice.

Below, I have outlined each hotel’s pros and cons, but I have also focused on these hotels’ club floor and lounge sections. When considering food and drink costs across the resort, it usually works out better to book a club room (even though the upfront price is more) than booking a standard room at these resorts.

When you consider all your expenses, food, drink, and fast pass costs (park entry ticket must be purchased separately). The inconvenience and time wasted getting to and from the parks, a $400 USD or $500 USD per night club room might be less expensive than a $200 USD per night standard hotel outside the park, particularly if you have one, two, or three kids.

I have already compared Loews Portofino Bay vs. Hard Rock vs. Royal Pacific. These are the best three Universal hotels and offer a brilliant location along with Club Level Rooms that provide free food, drinks, and snacks throughout the day.

If you were to stay at the club level of any of these hotels, you could enjoy breakfast in the Lounge before you head over to your first park for early admission and then return to the hotel in the evening to eat out on the varied hors d’oeuvres accompanied by beer, wine, and soda and a sweet dessert. There is usually enough food to fill you up, so you and your family don’t need to eat or drink out.

These three hotels also come with Fastpass tickets, but you still need to pay for the park entrance. We advise guests to check in to the hotel as early as possible and any time after 6:00 am on your check-in day. You will immediately be given a hotel key card that serves as your Universal Express Unlimited throughout your stay (a park entry ticket must be purchased separately). They will hold your bags and issue you a room when it is ready. By checking in early, you will have access to all the Universal Express Unlimited privileges, preferred restaurant seating, pool access, etc., from as early as 6:00 am.

1. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando

Our top choice is the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal, followed by the Hard Rock and the Royal Pacific, which both come in second for different reasons.

Crucially, the rooms at the Loews Portofino Bay are 335 ft² and are the largest of the three hotels, with the Hard Rock coming in at the middle. The rooms at the Lowes Royal Pacific are almost 120 square feet smaller.

Nestled along the picturesque bay at Universal Orlando Resort, this luxurious hotel recreates the charm and romance of the famed seaside village of Portofino, Italy, right down to the cobblestone streets and outdoor cafes.

This AAA Four Diamond Award-winning hotel features 750 guest rooms, including 45 spacious suites. Each room offers elegance with authentic Italian furnishings and marble accents. The rooms at all the hotels aren’t noteworthy. You get what you pay for, so the ones at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel have the edge over the other two hotels, being significantly larger and nicer with a double sink and larger bathroom (those at the Royal Pacific only have a single sink).

Expect all the usual amenities: flat-screen TV, Wi-Fi, coffee maker, fridge, and a safe. The rooms at all three hotels are decent but not amazing. Staying here is all about the parks. That said, the beds are comfortable, although, be warned, adjoining doors aren’t very well soundproofed at any of these three hotels, so bring your earplugs.

Hotel guests enjoy impeccable and attentive service, an opulent spa, three themed swimming pools, and exceptional dining… plus an exclusive package of theme park benefits, including:

Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ one hour before the theme park opens (valid theme park admission required).

Free Universal Express℠ Unlimited ride access to skip the regular lines in both theme parks all day, a benefit worth up to $125.00 USD per person, per day (valid theme park admission required)”.

We really like this hotel. It is your best luxury hotel choice at Universal Orlando. It is also the most expensive, with the Hard Rock and the Royal Pacific coming in cheaper. All three hotels are on-site at Universal, and the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is an easy 20-minute stroll to City Walk and the park entrances.

The Portofino Bay has the best onsite hotel pools at Universal, and there are three. One is very peaceful, and another has a slide and daily activities with prizes. It is not usually difficult to find a lounger around these pools, which is a blessing compared to your other options, making this an oasis of peace in the otherwise frenetic Universal Orlando.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is probably the furthest of the three premium hotels from the parks. The landscaping around the whole Universal complex is fantastic, so the walk is delightful. If you can’t face walking, complimentary water taxis are also available.

The club at Portofino Bay has better quality food in the lounges than the other two hotels. Breakfast includes warm eggs and bacon or sausage, so it is not continental like the breakfast at the other hotels. Snacks also include vegetables and hummus. Dinner in the club always includes a salad and then an entree with two sides. The food quality and quantity are excellent, as are the desserts, and their cookies are usually a hit with the kids. Crucially, there is plenty of room, plenty of seating, and no queues out of the door at mealtimes like at the Hard Rock! You can also enjoy free beer, wine, spirits, and prosecco in the lounges, making a significant saving to your drinks bill.

The Portofino Bay is undoubtedly the best of these three onsite hotels. Still, they do not have the level of luxury offered by the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, which is one of our offsite hotels, which we have reviewed below and is also our top choice and the best hotel with a club lounge in Orlando.

The best deal at onsite Universal Orlando’s hotels is Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, even though this is the most expensive option. Why? By booking via our luxury travel concierge, you’ll have all our complementary benefits at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at no extra cost.

And don’t forget, you already get an early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ one hour before the theme park opens (valid theme park admission required). Free Universal Express℠ Unlimited ride access to SKIP THE REGULAR LINES in both theme parks all day for all guests of your room, a benefit worth up to $125.00 USD per person per day (valid theme park admission required).

Choosing the Portofino is particularly worth doing if you can cram your whole family into a room (rooms can accept 4-5 people max) and want to stay over Christmas or Thanksgiving when a pass can cost as much as $150 USD per person. The holiday seasons are also when the lines are longest, so it is well worth having these passes.

2. The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando, Grande Lakes

The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Orlando is a great luxury hotel choice and is, in fact, probably the most luxurious hotel base for Universal Orlando Parks. It is located in the Grande Lakes part of the city, within a short free shuttle ride to Disney and Universal (included with the resort fee of $35 USD per day). The resort fee also includes Wi-Fi, phone calls, the driving range, some kids’ activities, access to and floaties at the JW Marriott lazy river, and shuttle transport to Disney and SeaWorld (reservation required at least 24 hours in advance) and one-hour bike rental.

The hotel is next door to the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes. It’s about a 20-minute drive from Orlando Airport (MCO), and parking fees are around $40 USD per night if you have driven to the hotel.

I would choose this hotel because it offers luxury near the theme parks and an excellent club lounge. It also has three wonderful pools, a Ritz-Carlton Spa, a Greg Norman-designed golf course, and 11 dining options. You can also use the lazy river next door at the JW Marriott, which kids and the young at heart will love. The Ritz-Carlton Spa is also not to be missed, with its 40 treatment rooms, salon, private heated lap pool, and healthy spa café. Of note, the JW Marriott does not have a club lounge, so you do better booking into a Club Room at the Ritz-Carlton and then taking advantage of the magnificent lazy river at the JW Marriott during your stay whilst retaining access to the RC club lounge.

The foyer is a mass of marble, and the rooms have been recently refurbished and are spacious and stylish. The rooms, including the club level, feature balconies with spectacular views of the resort’s gardens, lakes, or golf course.

The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes is ideal for families, providing convenient access to nearby Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios attractions; plus, the Ritz Kids program is a favorite and offers special excursions like kayaking, fishing instruction, and eco-tours allow for adventures while remaining in this 500-acre resort.

The highlight for me here is the pool, both here and next door at the JW Marriott, with its lazy river and the incredible views of the resort holiday fireworks from the club lounge balcony.

The club lounge is on the 14th floor and is classic in design with orange and cream tones, mainly orange soft furnishings, and creamy marbles. The long, thin room is shuttered to one side with windows. The buffet here is delicious and filling. You can take a tour via the video on the Ritz-Carlton website.

The club lounge’s veranda overlooks the pool and connects to the main club, offering a great view of the Disney fireworks in the distance, a huge highlight, and great outdoor seating if you want to enjoy a bite and a drink alfresco as the sun goes down.

There is also a complimentary Ritz Kids Day Time Programming for children (ages 4-12), up to three per room, as well as a media room with movies and classic family games.

Rates might be lower at the cheaper hotels outside the parks. But you need to consider the Express passes, early park admission, the ease of getting to the resort, and the magic of the Universal Resorts and their fantasy worlds when making your final choice. You may also want to read my in-depth look at the best hotel club lounges in Orlando.

The express passes’ value to a family of four per day can be up to around $300 USD. So even a $500 USD nightly room rate looks like a great deal when it actually comes in closer to $200 USD. On a busy day, these passes turn a two-hour line into a twenty-minute line.

3. Hard Rock Universal Orlando

The Hard Rock is closest to the entrance of Universal Orlando. The rooms are larger than the cheaper Royal Pacific, and the pool has two hot tubs and a long slide. This slide is a major plus point and a reason to choose this hotel over the Lowes Royal Pacific. By contrast, Portofino Bay has three pools, so it wins on room size and number (and variety) of pools over all three onsite properties. The fact that you get all our VIP benefits by booking through our concierge means that the Lowes Portofino also comes in as the best deal even though it should be the more expensive of these three hotels, simply because our free benefits are worth more than the difference in rate between the Portofino Bay and the Hard Rock and the Royal Pacific.

The Hard Rock has the smallest club lounge of these three hotels, which means that there can be a queue stretching right out of the door during dinner! For this reason alone, this is the worst of the three Universal hotels for club lounge, although the spread of food is marginally better than the Royal Pacific with a vegetarian option; expect cheese and crackers, vegetable salad, and two entrees for your evening offering.

4. Lowes Royal Pacific, Universal Orlando

This is the cheapest of the three Universal hotels (and not the best deal, if you book via our concierge, the Portofino Bay comes out the best deal) and the second furthest when walking to the parks. The pool at the Royal Pacific has a fun boat water feature where the kids can play, but no slide, which is a disadvantage. I do, however, like the tropical Royal Pacific theme. Compared to the other two onsite hotel pools, Portofino Bay wins and is by far the best.

Club rooms here are located on the 7th Floor, which gives you access to the Royal club lounge. The lounge is attractive and has TVs in three areas showing kids’ shows. The Royal Club Lounge is larger than the club room at the Hard Rock but smaller than the Portofino and is the worst of the three.

There are free drinks throughout the day, and you can enjoy breakfast (7:00 – 10:00 am), which is continental and not particularly impressive, with dry cereal, fruit, yogurt, bagel, pastries, and bagels. The only warm dish is oatmeal. There is also apple juice, orange juice, and coffee to drink. The afternoon bite (about 4:00 – 7:00 pm) includes packaged chips and granola bars, spicy crackers, and pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Royal Pacific’s dinner menu is rotated with a different meal every day of the week. Dinner includes a salad and a warm main entree along with cheese and crackers, and vegetables, but the choice is limited, so you are stuck if you don’t like that evening’s theme. Themes include a Caribbean night, an American night, a Mexican night, etc., with meaty options and strong sauces. You can also enjoy beer and wine with your meal. Desserts are small but delicious, and there is loads of choice.

The rooms at Lowes Royal Pacific have been recently refurbished. The bathroom has one sink. Rooms at both the Hard Rock and Portofino Bay have two sinks. They feel small, but being that this is the cheapest of the three hotels, this is to be expected.

5. Sapphire Falls, Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando Resort actually has six resorts on the property. All of them offer fabulous pools, loads of family and kids’ activities, and free shuttles to the theme parks, but only the three outlined above also offer free Universal Express Unlimited Passes.

However, all onsite hotel guests (including those staying at the Sapphire Falls, Cabana Bay Beach Resort) get to enter both Wizarding Worlds an hour before the general public, so you can ride before the general public gets access. The lines become too long if you stay at one of these hotels, whether you have an express pass or not.

If you stay at Sapphire Falls, you will need to buy a Universal Express Pass. It costs extra over and above the normal theme park admission. It’s easiest to buy your passes online. You can buy these passes at the entrance gate, but there is usually a queue (ironically) to buy the fast passes.

While the Royal Pacific Resort is the cheapest of the top three Universal hotels and the cheapest hotel to include a free Universal Express℠ Unlimited ride, the passes are bundled their cost into the room rates, so rates when you remove the Express Pass, the Royal Pacific and Sapphire Falls some in at a comparable price. The Sapphire Falls only comes in cheaper as it doesn’t have the express passes included. It is very much worth having one of these passes, so `I would always choose to stay at the Royal Pacific over the Sapphire Falls, given that the rest of the hotels are so similar. And given the benefits at the Portofino Bay that we can offer via our luxury travel concierge, the Portofino Bay always comes in as the best choice.

Worth knowing: Express passes do not include theme park admission. Hotel guests still have to purchase park tickets.

6. Cabana Bay, Universal Orlando

Cabana Bay offers excellent value with lower rates than any other Universal hotel and impressive amenities such as roomy family suites, a large, complimentary fitness center, and well-appointed pool areas that include a water slide and a lazy river.

It is well-appointed and has a great retro 50s and 60s vibe. This hotel is close enough to the parks that you can easily stroll to the parks and CityWalk. Cabana Bay and Portofino Bay are the furthest away, but the pretty path that connects all of the hotels is lovely. Free water taxis also operate frequently in all hotels except Cabana Bay. In addition to standard rooms, the hotel offers family suites that can accommodate up to six guests and include kitchenettes.

Interestingly, Cabana Bay is the only Universal hotel that accepts pets, so if you have a plus one with fur legs, this is the hotel for you!

While rates might be lower at other hotels outside the park, visitors should consider the many amenities, including the Express passes, early park admission, the ease of getting around the resort, and other benefits listed below to work out the value of staying on property.

7. Avertura

This is a modern and stylish place to stay and one of the newest hotels at Universal. This new landmark offers views of all three Universal Orlando™ theme parks and embodies a vibrant, free-flowing, and calming design. Spacious open areas invite conversation and engagement, while the 600 rooms reflect a clean, modern style. Again, this hotel does not include park tickets or Express passes, so bear this in mind when you book. It may well be worth booking the Portofino Bay with our special deal instead.

8. Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites

Opening in June 2019, this hotel is the most “affordable” Universal hotel. It’s the cheapest, so accommodation will be more compact, and again, you won’t get Express passes. You do get entry to the parks an hour before everyone else and complimentary transportation. It’s a quick hop between the parks and the hotel. Sunny, beach-themed rooms and spacious, two-bedroom suites that sleep six in this Surfside Inn and Suites make this the perfect spot for families of any size to base their Universal Orlando Resort™ holiday.

Standard rooms are bright and beachy and sleep 4. This inviting 313-square-foot room offers two queen beds with separate bath and vanity areas. Pool View rooms are also available.

2-Bedroom suites are 440-square-foot and accommodate 6. The suite feels like a beach retreat and features 2 bedrooms, one room with 2 queen beds and the other with a single queen bed. There is also a kitchenette area, a cool picnic table for meals and hanging out, and a bathroom with separate bath and vanity areas. Pool View and Water View suites are also available.

9. Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites

With another superb name and theme, escape to the perfect sunset and save at this extra affordable hotel. Yep, this is even cheaper! Here, guests enjoy exclusive benefits like being able to breeze into the parks an hour before everyone else. With complimentary transportation, it’s a quick hop between the parks and the hotel.

Soak up the scenes of a cool, calm retreat with plenty of two-bedroom suites designed for families of all sizes. It’s a carefree escape inspired by sand, sea, and breathtaking sunsets. Standard Rooms offer a calm, cool, relaxing space for 4, with 313 ft², two queen beds with separate bath and vanity areas. Pool View rooms are also available.

Want the 2-Bedroom Suite? This one is a comfy 440-square-foot suite that accommodates up to 6. The suite flows with an airy charm featuring 2 bedrooms, one room with 2 queen beds and the other with a single queen bed. The kitchenette area has a cool picnic table for meals or just hanging out and a bathroom with separate bath and vanity areas. Pool View suites are also available.

Reminder, whichever of the onsite hotels you choose, guests at all Universal Orlando On-site get:

  • Early Park Admission† to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ and select attractions at Volcano Bay™ water theme park, one hour before the theme parks open (valid theme park admission required)
  • Complimentary water taxis or shuttle buses that take you directly to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure
  • Volcano Bay, and CityWalk™
  • Resort-wide charging privileges with your room key card
  • Complimentary delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the resort to your hotel
  • Complimentary access to select live entertainment venues at Universal CityWalk™ for the length of stay
  • Universal Orlando character appearances with some of your favorite theme park characters
  • Start your day with a wake-up call from one of your favorite Universal Orlando characters
  • Golf Universal Orlando™ program offers an exclusive program for golfers that enables guests to take to the links during their stay. You can reserve a perfect tee time, arrange for complimentary transportation to and from select courses, and more

Guests of Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel®, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort enjoy:
Fess Universal Express Unlimited™ ride access to SKIP THE REGULAR LINES in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure—a benefit worth up to $129 USD per person per day (valid theme park admission required. Available at select on-site hotels.)

Priority seating at select restaurants throughout both theme parks and enjoy the first available seating at select Universal Orlando and Universal CityWalk™ restaurants.

10. Hyatt House

Hyatt House is situated across from Universal Orlando Resort at just 0.7 miles from Universal Studios Florida. This is one of the closest offsite hotels to Universal Orlando and a great chain hotel if you collect loyalty points and want to earn and burn World of Hyatt points. This Hyatt House feels more like a Hyatt Regency than a Hyatt Place and is a good option if you are happy to stay in an offsite Universal hotel.

Note: Benefits & upgrades subject to availability. Benefits offered correct at the time of writing. Terms & conditions apply. Enquire for more information. Benefits offered correct at the time of writing but may be amended at discretion of the vendor. Posts may be sponsored by the proprietor or brand being appraised. All opinions remain our own & are in no way influenced.