When planning a holiday to Universal Orlando® Resort a major consideration for many is whether or not to stay at an on-site resort hotel for all or part of their visit.
For those uninitiated into the ways of Universal, there are currently 4 official on-site resort hotels, divided into 3 categories:
Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
Hard Rock Hotel® at Universal Orlando®
Loews Royal Pacific Hotel
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
In addition, from Spring 2016 there’s going to be further choice with the opening of a 5th Resort site with the sumptuous looking Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, which will fall into the Preferred category.
Each hotel will have its attractions and benefits, according to taste, wishes and, of course, budget. But if you are looking to attain the most benefit from a stay on-site at Universal then it is to the Hard Rock, Pacific Royal and Portofino Bay resorts which I would heartily recommend; offering as they do, some features which can bring added joy to your holiday and indeed, offer some real value alongside the stunning locations.
On my last visit to Orlando my family and I opted to stay, for a small portion of the holiday, at the Loews Royal Pacific hotel. It was a wonderful experience and has tempted us back to Universal this year – albeit this time to stay at Hard Rock.
And here are a few of the reasons why:
Early Entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™
The facility for guests to enter the theme parks an hour earlier than the general (off-site) visitors to Universal can be a major benefit when it comes to the enjoyment to be had on the rides and attractions.
This is particularly so during peak seasons – typically the school holidays, Easter and any time from mid-June to early-September.
Universal is one of the premier destinations for family holidays anywhere in the world so logic tell you that, more often than not, when you are visiting, so will lots and lots of other people. Having that extra hour to get to the rides in advance of the masses, therefore, can be huge.
This is no more evident than when experiencing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™. As you might expect, this is just about the most popular (and as a result, crowded) part of the 2 main theme parks (in fact, it links both parks together). And, with no Universal Express™ (more about this below) facility available for this part of Universal, it means everyone has to join the main queues. And they can get long – very long.
However, as a hotel guest at Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay or Hard Rock Hotel means you can get the jump on everyone by arriving an hour earlier than the majority. Get there as the gate opens and make your way to the Harry Potter attraction you most want to experience and you can enjoy the ride with minimal queue time, giving you the rest of the day to experience the remainder of the park.
Which can be painless and fun because of:
Complimentary Universal Express™ Passes For All Guests
Guests staying at Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Portofino Bay or Hard Rock Hotel are all entitled to complimentary Universal Express™ Passes for the entire duration of their stay at the resort. And by entire duration I mean: from the moment you arrive until the end of the day in which you’re scheduled to leave.
I cannot stress enough how much of a benefit this facility can be.
For those who don’t know, the Express Pass allows you to skip the main queues on most of the rides and attractions within both Universal’s Islands of Adventure® and Universal Studios®. With this pass you join your own special queue for Express Pass holders which will be considerably shorter than the main line. Considerably shorter – think 5-10 mins instead of 45-60 as a rule of thumb.
But surely everyone would get a Universal Express™ Ticket?
You’d think so, but no. For 2 very good reasons.
First, unlike with Disney’s Fastpass+ system, this is NOT A FREE SERVICE. Universal charge for Express passes and the price of a pass for 1 day at the park can be as much as $89 per person (NOT INCLUDING THE TICKET REQUIRED TO ENTER UNIVERSAL ITSELF).
Second, the number of Express passes issued each day is limited to ensure that they retain their time-saving value.
To re-iterate the point: if you stay on-site you all have complimentary Universal Express passes for the entirety of your stay. Off-Site residents would need to pay up to $89 per day for the same benefit.
And believe me, when the crowds are building on all those big rides you want to experience, this is a mighty big benefit indeed.
NOTE: The Universal Express passes are NOT entry tickets to the parks themselves. You still have to purchase Universal Orlando tickets to get into the parks. For UK holidaymakers, I’d recommend the 2 or 3 Park Bonus Tickets or, if you are adding SeaWorld to the holiday plans, the Orlando Flex Ticket as best value and most versatile options.
Location, Location, Location
It’s an obvious point, I suppose, but if you are staying on-site, you cannot be better located to enjoy all the attractions, entertainment, rides and facilities.
As a guest at Loews Portofio Bay, Royal Pacific or the Hard Rock Hotel you are no more than a short, and pleasant, walk from the two main theme parks – Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. This means, if you have purchased a Universal ticket such as the 2 or 3 park bonus ticket or the Orlando Flex ticket, you can come and go from the rides as often as you wish each and every day, with the ability to head back to your hotel for a chill out, swim or afternoon nap, as it suits.
Additionally, you are within an easy walk of Universal’s CityWalk® – the delightful entertainment area which offers a range of attractions, eating and drinking venues and is a great way to spend an evening.
Staying at a Universal resort hotel puts you in the heart of the action, a combination of easy access to all that you wish to experience while offering peaceful havens in the hotels themselves to relax, unwind and bring the pace down a few notches, when required.
The one thing Orlando doesn’t lack when it comes to accommodation, is choice. From the villas around Kissimmee and Davenport to the hotels, apartments and resorts of International, there is a huge variety of top class accommodation to suit styles, tastes, needs and budget.
But if all or part of your holiday is going to be based around Universal Orlando Resort, then I can only suggest that you give due consideration to the benefits of staying at a resort hotel. From convenience, comfort and all-round fun, they are really hard to beat. .
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