At Universal Orlando Resort, there eight fabulous themed hotels with different amenities and perks to meet any budget. You'll often hear people refer to the hotels by one of four groups: premier, prime, preferred, or value resorts. Premier hotels have the most amenities and perks and value hotels are the most budget friendly. Every Universal hotel comes with early park admission (EPA) allowing guests to enter Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida one hour early; be sure to check the Universal Orlando app to see which park has EPA because it can vary depending on the assigned schedule.
Each hotel has it's own unique theme and amenities that makes your trip even more special. So, how do you choose which hotel is right for you and your friends or family? Here is a quick breakdown of each hotel to help you decide!
1. Premier Hotels
There are three premier hotels at Universal that offer the most perks and amenities at a higher cost. These hotels are Loews Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific. By staying at a Premier resort, guests get Early Park Admission and unlimited express passes for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure for everyday of their stay. You heard that right: unlimited express passes for both of those parks throughout your stay at these three resorts. Guests at a Premier resort also have free transportation with the water taxi to the parks and back to their hotel; there are also accessible walking paths at these hotels.
These three hotels also have very different themes to appeal to a wide variety of guests. At Loews Portofino Bay, guests are immersed by the charm of a seaside Italian village. There are three pools at Portofino Bay, which is great for different groups. The Beach Pool features a slide and activities hosted by the hotel. If you're looking for a quieter spot, the Villa Pool is a great spot to relax where you can rent cabanas! The third pool—known as the Hillside Pool—is significantly smaller than the other two and tucked away across the hotel's property on the east wing. There are a few dining options at Portofino Bay, ranging from casual sit-down dining to grab-and-go sandwiches to more formal dining.
Guests at the Hard Rock Hotel can live like a rock star! At Hard Rock, there is one large pool with a slide and speakers inside the pool so guests can enjoy the music under the water. There is a formal steak restaurant there for guests seeking a more upscale meal, but there is also a casual sit-down restaurant called "The Kitchen" that provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Both are very tasty! Guests can also grab snacks or pizza to go at the Marketplace downstairs. Many guests (21 or older) also enjoy drinks at the Velvet Lounge in the lobby. Hard Rock is great for music lovers!
The third Premier hotel is Loews Royal Pacific, which is inspired by a Polynesian paradise! This resort has a lagoon-style pool with sand and palm trees to help you relax in between time spent at the parks. Like the previous two Premier resorts, there are several dining options for guests ranging from grab-and-go to sit-down restaurants. A popular spot is the Orchid Court Lounge & Sushi Bar; I haven't been (yet!), but it looks very beautiful inside. Typically, the Royal Pacific is the cheapest and Portofino Bay is most expensive; however, the cost of the three premier hotels can vary throughout the year so keep a close eye on it when you're booking!
2. Preferred Hotels
A Preferred resort is cheaper than the three Premier resorts, but it still comes with a lot of the same amenities and dining options. When you stay at a Preferred resort, you have access to walking paths to the parks and the water taxi; you also get EPA to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the general public. This hotel does not include unlimited express passes with your stay.
There is only one hotel that's classified as a Preferred hotel: Loews Sapphire Falls. This resort is a Caribbean escape with a beautiful pool and water fall! There is one large pool with a slide, children's play air, fire pit to enjoy in the evening, and cabanas available to rent during the day. There is a send area with palm trees to help you escape and relax during your vacation. Sapphire Falls several dining options, ranging from grab-and-go to sit-down restaurants. This is a great resort if you're looking for a really nice hotel with lots of amenities for a lesser cost compared to the Premier hotel.
3. Prime Hotels
A Prime hotel is cheaper than the previously mentioned hotels with fewer—but still great!—amenities. Prime hotels have walking paths to the parks and bus shuttles that come every 10-15 minutes; the bus ride is usually 10 minutes or less in my experience. Prime hotels offer guests Early Park Admission to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure; unlimited express passes are not included with your stay at a Prime hotel. At both Prime hotels, there is not a typical sit-down restaurant; instead, the resorts offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a casual food court style with grab-and-go options for snacks in between meals as well.
There are two Prime hotels: Aventura and Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Both resorts have select rooms with a view of Volcano Bay; Aventura has rooms with a view of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida as well. Aventura is a modern and stylish hotel that some guests might say is more adult oriented. I haven't stayed at or visited Aventura yet, but I've heard some children enjoy it. There is one pool with a slide and splash area for kids; they often have movie nights at the pool. There is an incredible rooftop bar that many guests (21+ years old) enjoy. On August 16, Aventura celebrated it's sixth birthday!
Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a blast from the past! This is a vibrant and retro hotel inspired by the 1950s and 1960s. Cabana Bay is a popular resort, and I loved it during my stay in December 2021. This hotel has two pools; one with a slide and one with a lazy river. I love the pool and theming; this hotel decorates so much for Christmas! At Cabana Bay, there are standard king and queen bed rooms as well as family suites that come with a kitchenette and can fit up to six people. The family suite is great for larger groups and/or anyone wanting to have groceries in their room. Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the largest Universal with 2,200 rooms.
4. Value Hotels
There are two sister hotels at Endless Summer Resort that are classified as value resorts: Dockside Inn & Suites and Surfside Inn & Suites. Commonly referred to as simply Dockside and Surfside, these hotels are the newest hotels on-site. When you stay at a Value Resort, you get EPA to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the general public. Guests at Dockside and Surfside also have access to free bus shuttles to all Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.
With one pool shaped like a surfboard, Surfside is slightly smaller than Dockside and some guests find it easier to navigate for that reason. Both have very similar beach themed décor. Dockside is bigger with two towers and two pools for more access to fun! Similar to Aventura and Cabana Bay, there is not a typical sit-down restaurant; instead, the resorts offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a casual food court style with grab-and-go options for snacks in between meals as well.
To recap, all eight Universal hotels offer some guests form of free transportation to the parks as well as Early Park Admission. Dining options vary slightly, giving each guest a chance to choose what fits their lifestyle or budget. Each Universal hotel is themed different and targeted for different budgets to make it possible for different families or groups to enjoy staying on-site. For more detailed information, please visit the official Universal Orlando Resort website.