Benefits of Staying at a Universal Hotel
Before we dive into our list of the best Universal Orlando hotels, let’s discuss the benefits of staying onsite at Universal property.
Early Park Admission
One of the greatest advantages of staying on property is Early Park Admission for select attractions during your stay. Early entry is available up to one hour before the park opens for the rides that tend to have the longest waits at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You can also enter Volcano Bay, Universal’s water park, up to 30 minutes before the general public. Early Park Admission attractions rotate every few weeks (view a current list of what’s offered here) but generally include popular attractions within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, including Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™, Flight of the Hippogriff™, and even Ollivanders™ wand shop. Other popular attractions that may be included with Early Park Admission are Despicable Me Minion Mayhem™, VelociCoaster, and The Incredible Hulk Coaster®.
Another benefit of staying onsite at a Universal resort hotel is free transportation between each hotel, the Universal theme parks, and CityWalk. Every resort includes shuttle service or a water taxi. In addition, most hotels (except for Endless Summer Resort) have walking paths that connect the hotel to the theme parks. Since most hotels are close to the theme parks, utilizing the provided transportation is the quickest way to get around Universal property.
Complimentary Universal Express Passes
Guests staying at a “Premier” level resort (the most expensive pricing tier) enjoy the added benefit of free Universal Express Unlimited Passes included with each night of your stay. The express pass allows you to skip the regular lines at many attractions at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
Now that we’ve covered why it’s beneficial to stay at a Universal Resort, here are our top picks for the best Universal Orlando hotels for any type of vacation:
Best Universal Orlando Hotel for Adults
The best Universal Orlando hotel for adults is the Hard Rock Hotel®. This resort is a dream come true for any classic rock lover. Themed after a California mission like the one profiled in the classic Eagles hit, “Hotel California,” the Hard Rock Hotel pays homage to the greatest musicians of all time. The walls are filled with autographed photos and musical artifacts from the most incredible acts of the 20th century and beyond. Get inspired for your own songs when you sit in John Lennon’s love seat, catch a glimpse of Elvis’ pajamas, or spot a guitar signed by Jon Bon Jovi. You can even arrange for a free tour of the resort’s music memorabilia in the front lobby.
For the ultimate, immersive musical experience, you’ll want to check out the free Sound of Your Stay® program (teens will love it too). This program allows hotel guests to rent free musical equipment like Fender guitars, Crosley turntables (with a collection of curated records), and download exclusive playlists through Spotify. For those worried about noise complaints, headphones are also included with the rentals.
Adults will also enjoy the musical events that occur throughout the year, like Velvet Unplugged, featuring new and well-known artists playing acoustic sets in a cabaret setting.
Don’t forget to check out the world’s largest Hard Rock Cafe, located a short walk from the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal CityWalk.
Best Universal Hotels for Families
Cabana Bay Beach Resort is one of the best Universal Orlando Hotels for families. Cabana Bay is Universal’s largest resort, offering plenty of space for groups traveling together. Its bright and bold retro-theming is reminiscent of Florida’s family-friendly motels of the 50s and 60s.
There are plenty of things for the entire family to do, from the lively pool area that features two pools and a lazy river to the on-site bowling alley. Universal characters may also appear from time to time on Friday nights. Adults will love the nostalgia of the resort, right down to retro touches like the Zest and VO5 brand toiletries in the bathrooms.
Another added benefit for families is Cabana Bay’s proximity to Volcano Bay. Some rooms offer views of the waterpark—and what kid wouldn’t love looking out their window and seeing a volcano?! For parents with young children, you’ll enjoy the walking trail that connects Cabana Bay to Volcano Bay. That way, you don’t have to load all your water gear onto a cold shuttle to get back to your resort after visiting the water park.
For extra space, check out Cabana Bay’s family suites. These suites sleep up to six guests and include two queen beds and a pull-out sofa. The bathroom is also designed so that three people can get ready at one time.
Honorable mention for families: If Cabana Bay doesn’t have you jumping, jiving, and wailing, we recommend checking out the themed family suites at Universal’s Preferred and Premier hotels. These include Despicable Me rooms at Loews Portofino Bay, Jurassic World suites at Royal Pacific, and Future Rock Star rooms at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Best Universal Hotel for Couples
The best Universal hotel for couples is Royal Pacific Resort. This resort offers guests the ultimate tropical getaway while being close to the fun and thrills of the Universal theme parks. The resort whisks you away with cool palm breezes, a lagoon-style pool with a white-sand beach, and plenty of places to enjoy a tropical cocktail, like the Orchid Court Lounge and Sushi Bar or Jake’s American Bar. Take a water taxi to CityWalk for added ambiance to your South Pacific retreat. Book a garden or water view room for more tranquility and stunning tropical views.
Most Luxurious Hotel at Universal Studios Orlando
Portofino Bay is the most luxurious hotel at Universal Studios. Themed after the small waterfront village on the Italian Riviera, Portofino Bay combines beauty, romance, and elegance. Portofino Bay is Universal’s original and most expensive on-site hotel. There are other ways this resort takes “big” to a new level: the rooms are the largest on property (averaging 450 square feet each), it has the most suite categories (five), and the largest amount of on-site dining locations (nine). It is also the only Universal hotel to include a full-service salon and spa. Guests of all ages will enjoy the three themed pool areas, including a family pool with a waterslide, a pool with cabanas (available for rent), and a secluded, private pool. For the most luxurious experience available at Universal, check out the Governatore or Presidente Suites, which are 2,265 and 2,725 square feet, respectively.
Most Affordable Hotel at Universal Studios
The most affordable hotel at Universal Studios is the Endless Summer Resort. Endless Summer consists of two sister hotels: Surfside Inn and Suites and Dockside Inn and Suites. These two resorts make up Universal’s “value” category, with room rates starting at $91 per night in 2022. Both Surfside and Dockside feature beach theming and pools. The resort shares a food court, cocktail bar, and two Starbucks locations. A pizza delivery service is also available. The accommodation savings come with a price: this resort is furthest from Universal property and is not within walking distance of Universal. The hotel offers a complimentary shuttle to take guests between the hotel and the theme parks.
Best Pool at Universal Orlando Resort
The best pool at Universal Orlando is at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. Why? It is the largest pool out of any Universal hotel(coming in at a gigantic 16,000 square feet) and includes several play areas, whether you want to splish and splash or dip your toes in the sand. For the family, there’s a water splash area, a waterslide, and poolside games like water balloon tosses and a pool table. For teens and adults looking to relax, there are two sand beaches and private cabanas available for rent.
Common Questions About Staying at a Universal Hotel
What Hotel Can You Walk to Universal Studios Florida?
You can walk to Universal Studios from most on-site hotels, except for Endless Summer. The walk time between resorts can vary from 10 minutes to nearly 30 minutes. Walking trails to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure can be found at:
- Cabana Bay
- Portofino Bay
- Sapphire Falls
- Hard Rock Hotel
- Royal Pacific
There is also a walking trail from Cabana Bay to Volcano Bay water park.
Which Universal Hotels Offer Complimentary Breakfast?
Complimentary breakfast is offered to guests who stay in Club Level rooms at one of Universal’s Premier resorts. Club Level rooms are available at Hard Rock Hotel, Royal Pacific, and Portofino Bay. In addition to breakfast, Club Level guests enjoy other perks like snacks, beer, wine, and access to a private Club Level lounge.
Can You Pool Hop at Universal Hotels?
Yes! If you stay at a Universal hotel, you can use and explore the amenities at the other nearby hotels (except for Endless Summer). It’s one more perk of staying at a Universal Resort hotel. We suggest trying the lazy river at Cabana Bay or taking a dip on the white-sand beach at Sapphire Falls.
Where Should I Stay When visiting Harry Potter World?
The best Universal Orlando hotels for visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter World are within walking distance to Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios. This includes any on-site hotel except for Endless Summer resort. These hotels include:
- Royal Pacific
- Portofino Bay
- Cabana Bay
- Sapphire Falls
- Hard Rock Hotel
Can You Stay at a Universal Hotel and Go to Disney?
Yes, you can stay at a Universal hotel and go to Disney. However, you’ll need your own transportation to get there. We recommend bringing a car or renting one during your trip if you do this. Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay daily parking fees at your Universal resort and the Disney theme parks when budgeting for your trip. You’ll also want to factor in travel time from Universal to Disney, which could take 15 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on the time of day and traffic.
How Much Does it Cost to Stay at Universal Studios?
There are several pricing tiers for Universal Resort hotels. Hotel rates vary based on room type and the time of year. Here are the starting rates for each hotel tier:
- Value – starting at $91 per night
- Prime value – starting at $132 per night
- Preferred – starting at $184 per night
- Premier – starting at $272 per night
We discuss the overall cost of a Universal vacation, including hotel pricing, in our guide: How Much Does it Cost to go to Universal?
Which Universal Hotels include Express Passes?
Universal Express Unlimited Passes are included when you stay at a Universal Premier hotel. These passes allow you to skip the regular lines at many Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure attractions. The hotels that include Universal Express Unlimited Passes are
- Hard Rock Hotel
- Portifino Bay
- Royal Pacific
Recap: Our Rundown of the Best Universal Orlando Hotels
Thanks for sticking with us to the end of this guide! To recap, here are our top picks for the best Universal Orlando hotels:
- For adults – Hard Rock Hotel
- For families – Cabana Bay
- For couples – Royal Pacific
- For luxury – Portifino Bay
- Most affordable – Endless Summer
- Best pool – Sapphire Falls