I live within a five-minute drive of Universal Orlando Resort, so there’s really no reason for me to stay overnight at one of their properties. But guess what? I do it anyhow. Not only are their hotels each fabulous and comfortable in their own unique ways, but they often run great off-season specials that make a night of luxurious relaxation affordable. All of the Universal hotels offer early park admission for hotel guests, and all but Cabana Bay offer another phenomenal perk: Universal Express Unlimited ride access, a skip-the-line pass worth up to $89 per person, per day. If you’re planning to hit the Universal theme parks during your vacation, this option alone makes a Universal hotel stay well worth the money, not least of all because you’ll have a big advantage over the throngs of other people flocking to the uber-popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you’re thinking of booking a Universal hotel stay, make sure to ask about special events happening on property too.
Hard Rock Hotel
Ever wondered what it feels like to live like a rock star? Find out at this upscale resort, which features 650 guest rooms, including the 2,375-square-foot Graceland suite. Home to the Velvet Bar and one of the top hotel pools in Orlando, the Hard Rock also hosts the monthly Velvet Sessions rock’n’roll cocktail party in the lobby, with performers ranging from Bret Michaels to Joan Jett.
Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
Like a scene from a postcard, this resort sits on a peaceful boat-dotted harbor, modeled after the Italian fishing village of Portofino. You’ll truly feel as if you’ve been transported to a tranquil European escape, and yet the 750-room resort is just minutes away from the theme parks. Four or five times a year, the piazza hosts Harbor Nights, a Mediterranean festival of food, wine and music.
Loews Royal Pacific Resort
A favorite among conventioneers, this sprawling 1,000-room property looks like a resort from the South Pacific; it even offers a poolside torch-lighting ceremony and a weekly musical luau dinner. Home to one of Orlando’s two Mandara Spas, it also features Emeril’s Tchoup Chop, a Pacific Seas-themed eatery that offers a great happy hour at the bar.
Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Universal’s newest resort (until Summer 2016, when the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort will open), this beach club evokes the 1950s and 1960s and offers two distinct categories of rooms: standard and suite. The 900 standard rooms are the most affordable on Universal property, with rates beginning well under $100, a spectacular value for a brand-new facility.
Family Suites at Cabana Bay Beach Resort
On the same property as the standard rooms, Cabana Bay also offers 900 spacious family suites, which sleep up to six and include a kitchenette and a large bathroom. No matter which type of room you choose, enjoy two zero-entry swimming pools, a waterslide, a fitness center and even a 10-lane bowling alley. Restaurant and bar options include a food court and the Swizzle Lounge.