All You Need to Know About Staying at the Hard Rock Hotel® at Universal Orlando®
I’ve been fortunate to have visited Florida and the Orlando area in particular, on a fair number of occasions over the years; each time finding something new to experience and enjoy.
The most recent visit, a family holiday with my wife and two sons (aged 11 & 13) over the Easter break, afforded us the very great pleasure of a four nights at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort. A new experience – and most certainly something new to enjoy.
The rest of this article is going to gush enthusiastically about the hotel and resort as a whole. Without wishing to give the game away, this is one of the very best hotel resorts we’ve had the pleasure of staying at as a family.
From location, to good eating, entertainment and attractions for all, beautiful rooms and the added Universal bonuses (See below) Hard Rock ticked every box.
Read on to get the full low down on this amazing holiday destination.
In the past we’ve stayed at a variety of different accommodation types around the Orlando area – from motels to hotels, villas to apartments.
Different rooms, different resorts, different budgets.
From the moment we stepped into the cool (in both senses of the word) lobby, taking in the plush seating area, the stylish dark stone floor and the accompanying rock and roll soundtrack from the video wall, we knew that we had landed upon something a bit special.
The Key Attractions
The Hard Rock Hotel plays hard on the rock’n’roll theme, from the constant backdrop of music (although never overbearing) and the live music at poolside, to the memorabilia adorning the walls and the little touches in your rooms – our kids particularly liked the mirror with height markers so you can compare yourself to famous rock stars.
My eldest son is currently as tall as Madonna!
However, this is not some cheesy theme hotel.
Hard Rock is upper 4 star class and, while the vibe is laid back cool, there’s a distinct and altogether appealing sense of refinement to the venue.
And nowhere is this more heavily felt than at poolside.
Set out in lagoon style, the pool itself is a favourite for adults and kids alike. Big enough for the large volume of guests, it’s perfect for dipping into after a day (or even a few hours) in the theme parks.
One note, which might be a small negative for some, is that the pool is fairly shallow. Those who want to take the plunge and go for a good swim might be out of luck as the pool doesn’t go much higher than waist height.
However, don’t let this very minor issue put you off. The pool and the surrounding area is really quite beautiful. And for the kids there’s a flume style slide that brings additional interest.
The main reason most, ourselves included, stay at a resort hotel at Universal is because of the theme parks. But some down time by the pool really ought to be built into your time at the resort – it makes for a much more relaxing way to enjoy and experience the parks.
Along one side of the zero entry pool there’s a beach area, replete with soft white sand that brushes up to waterside. Overall, the area is stylishly laid out around the pool, with the tropical vibe aided by tall palm trees that offer some gratefully received natural shade.
Our first couple of days at the resort coincided with the end of the Easter / Spring Break period. And, as such, the hotel was busy. This meant that there were a lot of guests poolside throughout the day.
However, although crowded we did find that there was just about enough sun beds to go around. That said, it was the early birds who tended to get hold of the best located beds.
Overall though, the pool is well tended to try and accommodate everyone and to ensure as best as possible that all guests get to luxuriate in the surroundings. And for those who adopt the classic old tactic of draping towels over beds at the crack of dawn to ‘reserve’ their spot for later in the day, the hotel has a sign up indicating that any bed (or group of beds) left unattended for more than 30 mins MAY have the towels removed – putting them back into open play.
For the full pampered experience at pool side, there are a range of cabanas available to hire for the day. Dependent on when you visit the prices can range from around $90 to, more typically, around $200 for a day.
If you do feel like splashing out on a bit of luxury for the day then you’ll get:
- Your very own shaded cabana, which you can enclose for further seclusion if required
- A ceiling fan to keep you cool
- A refrigerator
- Flat screen TV
- Your own sun loungers, table and chairs
- Personal waiter for the day
It might be a bit of a generalisation to say so, but the staff all appeared to be pretty young. BUT THAT’S NOT A BAD THING.
To a person we found them extremely helpful, friendly and fun – all with that laid back, ever so slightly cool vibe the resort constantly strives for. Whether on reception, concierge, in the Kitchen Bar & Grill, the store or a pool side, everyone seemed happy to help and made for a very positive attitude throughout.
At pool side, there was waiter service from your sun loungers, with food and drink from the Beach Bar available throughout the day.
Now, as anyone who’s visited the States before will know, US service culture is very much geared around tipping. So it’s worth noting that the waiter service at pool side actually adds a service charge to the bill (18%) meaning you don’t have to add any more gratuity when the check arrives. Your take on this, I suppose, will depend on your overall view when it comes to tipping. All I’ll say is that tipping is very much a way of life in the US service industry and fairly standard in these types of holiday resorts.
Your Room Key
When you check in, each guest staying in the room is issued with their own room key. It’s a smart card and can be used across the entire Universal Orlando resort.
You’ll need your room key to claim your Universal Express® Pass (see below) when you arrive at the hotel and you’ll also need to have it with you when using the early morning entry to the parks. NOTE: Each guest should have their own room key with them for early entry, although we found as a family that, as long as the family had at least one between them then that sufficed – but might be worth having them all together just to be on the safe side.
When on site you can use your room key to charge items to your room. And, by on site, I mean, across the whole Universal Orlando Resort. Obviously, for this facility to be active you need to put a credit card onto the system at reception upon check-in. And you can control which of the room keys can be used (For example, if you don’t want the kids charging things to the room you can exclude their key cards from the facility).
Once set up you can charge food and drink from the hotel bars, restaurants and shops. In addition, you can use your key to charge any food, drink, memorabilia or other shop purchase within each theme park to your room – meaning you don’t need to carry cash around with you if you don’t want to.
Furthermore, you can also charge any meal or bar bill you have within Universal City Walk® area to your room as well.
TIP: If you are going to use this facility, and it can be really convenient to do so – it pays to keep a record of what you are spending so you’re not hit with a surprise at the end of your stay.
Complimentary Delivery Service
One service we found particularly useful was the delivery service from shops to room.
Basically, if you buy gifts or other merchandise at a shop within the theme parks, as a guest of the hotel you can have your purchases delivered direct to your room, at no extra charge. Which saves carrying things around when you’re hitting the rides.
We used this service a few times throughout our stay and it worked perfectly.
My son, a huge Marvel fan, made a dent in his birthday money on books and comics at the Marvel store in Universal’s Islands of Adventure®, having them sent to the room so he didn’t risk ruining them as we went on the next great rollercoaster. Similarly, both of my sons were keen to buy some treats from Honeydukes sweet shop in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ with temptation to eat them all at once removed by the delivery service.
When you buy in a shop, present your room key and provide your details and the items will be delivered the next day to your room.
If you’re renting a car during your stay, there is ample car parking space at the hotel. HOWEVER, please note that there is a daily charge for parking which you need to factor into your costings.
Car Parking is $25 per day (plus tax).
If you are staying at Hard Rock Hotel for the duration of your holiday consider whether a car is needed (or at least whether it is needed for the entire duration). There are bus services that run to other attractions such as Wet’n’Wild and SeaWorld.
On the other side of the coin, you may feel that you are a little more restricted if you don’t have a car and would like to venture off site for a while. Our personal choice was to have a car, bite the bullet on cost and have the freedom to drive off when we wanted. Just factor it in when booking.
Entry and exit from the car park is controlled by your room key – swiped at the barrier.
New to driving in the USA? You can find out some basic tips for getting around by car in Florida, with our drivers guide here.
There are a few options for food and drink on site when staying at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Palm Restaurant – fine dining in a cool, modern setting. It’s a mix of different dining styles from classic American to Italian and offers a range of dining choices to meet most palettes, including signature lobster and steak dishes.
Kitchen Bar & Grill – a laid back family friendly restaurant offering some really good quality food and drink. Burgers, flatbreads, pizzas and salads are all on the menu, as well as a choice of breakfast options in the morning.
Beach Bar – a range of food and drinks for a poolside indulgence. Bar meals, snacks, soft drinks, beers and cocktails all available at a pool side table or ordered directly to your sun lounger.
Emack & Bolio’s Marketplace – Convenience store | Coffee Shop | Snack Bar | Ice Cream Parlour | Cake Shop. This is a cool little store area to grab a pre-theme park snack or something to keep you going through the day. From Starbuck’s Coffee to award-winning ice cream and even a bowl of cornflakes or fresh croissant for breakfast. This was a very useful and well used part of the hotel on our stay.
Velvet Bar – For a slightly more over-21s vibe, the velvet bar is a cool hangout for cocktails, wine and music.
Universal’s City Walk® – Don’t forget, you’re also only a 5 minute walk from the multitude of bars, restaurants, clubs and venues of the City Walk, with a range of different places to eat, drink and be merry. Family themed and adult oriented are on the doorstep including Jimmy Buffet’s Margarittaville and the iconic Hard Rock Cafe (the largest of its kind in the world). Don’t forget, you can charge bills to your room from City Walk venues. This place tends to get busy at night.
To The Theme Parks
Of course, if you’re staying at the Hard Rock Hotel (or any of the other Universal resort hotels) then you’re going to be wanting to visit the parks themselves.
Now I love Disney and will always have a soft spot for the place. But Universal Orlando is absolutely spectacular and one of those places that, as a family or couple, should simply rank as a MUST VISIT.
And when you’re staying at Hard Rock then you are right on the doorstep of all the action. The hotel resort is a 5 minute walk from pool area to the entrance of Universal Studios®.
Frankly, it doesn’t get any closer, or easier to gain access to the parks.
This is particularly useful when taking advantage of the early entry to the theme parks – 1 hour before the general public – as you only have a short walk to the gate.
It also means that you can easily leave the park for a rest and a swim back at the hotel during the day before returning for more shows and rides.
I would strongly recommend that you sort out your Universal tickets before you leave the UK. Without doubt in my opinion, you need a multi-access ticket such as the Universal 2 or 3 Park Bonus Ticket.
They represent far and away the best value and complete versatility as you can come and go from the parks as often as you please during opening hours. If you want to add parks such as SeaWorld or Busch Gardens to your plans then the Orlando FlexiTicket might be the way to go, offering the same come and go as you please deal across all the parks.
As a Hard Rock Hotel guest you have the opportunity to enter the parks 1 hour earlier than the general public. This can be a big PLUS when it comes to enjoying the Harry Potter rides.
Because these rides are NOT part of the Universal Express pass, meaning you have to join the regular line.
At present Universal control entry to the early hour in a fairly specific way.
ALL entry is via Universal Studios.
Islands of Adventure do not open their turnstiles early. Once in Universal you will need to show your room key to prove you are allowed entry and then everyone is directed in the same direction – towards Diagon Alley™.
If you want to get over the ‘other’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ at Islands of Adventure then you need to do so by catching the Howarts Express™ from King’s Cross Station (platform 9 3/4, naturally!).
I would advise everyone to do this, at least once. It’s really rather wonderful.
BIG TIP: If you plan to arrive in the early hour for the Escape from Gringott’s Ride, then I would advise that you get to the park at least 15 minutes before the opening time – you might hear this referred to as the ‘rope drop’. This ride is pretty much the only thing open at Universal Studios in the early hour and everyone is heading for it, meaning if you aren’t there at opening, then you can expect a hefty queue.
Universal Express Pass
The Universal Express pass is the resort’s fast track / queue-busting service on the rides.
And it is is a complimentary offering to ALL guests staying at Hard Rock Hotel (as well as Loews Royal Pacific Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel).
In my view, this is just about the MOST VALUABLE incentives for staying at the resort.
At the height of the season, the theme parks can get extremely crowded. Which means some very long waiting times for the best rides. Add into the mix high temperatures and humidity and queuing can be long, tiring and a real time-eater on your holiday.
This is where the Express Pass can dramatically help.
Express Passes can significantly reduce your queuing time – which enormously enhances your enjoyment of the parks.
How it works
On the rides you will see 2 lines (possibly 3 as some have a single rider lane as well). One is the regular lane, the other is the Express Pass lane. Each guest will have a personalised Express Pass (with photo ID on the back) which is bar coded. At the entry point, a park attendant will scan your pass and let you through.
PLEASE NOTE: Universal Express does not eliminate queues completely. BUT, it does dramatically reduce the time. On our visit, we worked out that a ride with a 60 minute wait time in the regular line was meant a wait of no more than 15 minutes on the Express line. Of course, it’s not an exact science and waits will vary from time to time. But the Express line is always a huge saver in comparison – in our experience.
Remember, there are a few rides which do not accept Universal Express:
- Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey™
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™
- Pteranodon Flyers®
TIP: on the Harry Potter rides which do NOT use Universal Express, if you don’t mind splitting up your party to experience the rides (i.e. not necessarily ride all in same carriage) then you can join the single rider lane which is often a shorter queue. As a rule we did not do this as we liked being on the ride all together.
The Hard Rock Club Rooms
As with most resorts of similar standard there are a wide range of room standards from which to choose. At lead in level you have your standard Garden View Room (2 Queen Beds) followed by a Pool View Room.
There’s also a range of suites you can go for if you want to splash out on some real rock’n’roll style; with 2 bedroom deluxue and family suites available.
And then we have Level 7 – the Hard Rock Club Level.
You can upgrade your room to the 7th floor of the hotel (the top floor) and take advantage of one of the 95 exclusive club rooms.
What does this mean?
- Double or King-Sized Rooms with garden or pool view
- Option of Connecting Rooms which can be good for families.
- Unlimited Use of the Fitness
- Access to the Exclusive ‘Club 7’ Lounge
And, while this might sound like a level of opulence too far, the reality is that often, for families – particularly with older kids and teenagers – the club room option can represent excellent value.
Because your club lounge access provides you with:
- Complimentary continental breakfast – selection of fruits, cereals, pastries, juices, tea and coffee etc.
- Afternoon snacks – crisps, doritos etc
- Evening hors d’oeuvres – anything from cheese and biscuits, chicken wings, satays, cheese balls etc
- Sweets and other treats at nights – from cakes, ice-creams, cookies etc
- Complimentary coffee, tea, and soft drinks – all day
- Complimentary beer and wine in the evening
- Discount on Cabanas
Given that much of the day will be used in the parks, these perks can be terrific value when compared to paying for snacks, food and beverages throughout the day.
Staying at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando is one of the highlights of our numerous trips to the region. With its close proximity to the theme parks, the super cool style of the hotel itself and the numerous added value bonuses that come with staying on-site, it’s an amazing way to experience the best of Universal if you’re a family, couple or group of friends.
From the fantastic pool area to the complimentary Universal Express, this is a holiday that perfectly blends the excitement of the parks and the amazing rides, with comfort, quality and pure laid back rock’n’roll.
Based on my own personal experience, and the smiles of glee from kids, wife and me, this is a hotel I’d urge anyone to sample if they can.