Review: Universal’s Under $100 Family Suite

Dockside Inn & Suites offers budget accommodations and 2-bedroom units, and is half of Universal’s Endless Summer Resort in Orlando at Universal Studios Florida & Islands of Adventure. This review shares room photos, amenities info, pros & cons, and how these budget accommodations stack up to Walt Disney World Value Resorts.

In particular, we’re going to focus on the bang for buck component of Dockside Inn & Suites. This is something seeing renewed emphasis, as we stayed here at a time when there were virtually no discounts available at Walt Disney World resorts…and our 2-bedroom family suite at Dockside Inn cost $89 per night.

That’s the selling point for Universal’s Endless Summer Resort–that it’s a true value hotel, with standard room rates starting under $100 per night. This puts it well below all Walt Disney World resorts, and that’s before any discounts that Universal offers…

We paid $89 per night for a 2-bedroom family suite at Dockside Inn during the off-season, and that’s about as low as discounted rates go for Florida residents or Annual Passholders. Normal nightly rates for the family suites start at $135 per night and can exceed $200 during peak season.

However, there are pretty much always deals to be found. You may not be able to score a rate under $100 per night, but you probably won’t be stuck paying $200 per night, either. If there are no general public room deals during your travel dates, it might even make sense for one person in your party to buy a Universal Orlando Annual Pass to take advantage of those discounts.

Unlike the other resorts, Universal’s Endless Summer Resort is not within walking distance of the parks or CityWalk. It’s a short bus ride, but it’s located across Interstate 4, so you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) walk to the parks.

Nevertheless, we found the shuttle buses to be incredibly efficient. In the morning when guests were heading to the parks, there was almost always a line of buses waiting to go. Even coming back late at night, we never waited on a bus–but they were always pretty close to full. The commute time is around 7 minutes.

The biggest perk for Universal’s Endless Summer Resort on-site guests is early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Park.

The downside is that Endless Summer Resort guests do not receive unlimited Express Pass. If you’d purchase that line-skipping option, you’ll likely want to move up in resort tiers, as the value/cost of that is tremendous.

Endless Summer Resort — Dockside Inn and Suites has two pools, one located in the courtyard of each hotel wing. These pools are incredibly basic and lacking in features and amenities of other Universal hotels, like food service, waterslides, cabanas, or simply style.

They do have zero-entry access and sand beaches, but if you’re going to be spending a lot of time poolside, we’d strongly recommend upgrading. Some of Universal’s resorts have exceptional pools–Dockside Inn isn’t one of them.

Dockside Inn has a fairly robust slate of amenities for a value hotel: there’s a lobby Starbucks, bar & lounge, game room, fitness center, and massive food court. Like the pools, this huge food court can get crowded. On the plus side, it’s open early and late.

Moving along, let’s take a look inside our 2-bedroom suite at Universal’s Dockside Inn & Suites:

Here’s a wide view of the whole room from the doorway.

On the left is the dining area; directly behind that is the bathroom. To the right of the bathroom is the second bedroom, and on the other side of that wall is the main bedroom.

Above is a video that Sarah shot to give you a better idea of the layout or whatever else you might want to know.

As is probably clear, there is no separate living or entertaining space in addition to the two bedrooms.

Like the recently-redone Value Resorts at Walt Disney World, the rooms at Dockside Inn are on the more utilitarian side.

There’s just enough to give the 2-bedroom suite at Dockside Inn some personality, though.

The rug, light blue bedspread, artwork, light fixtures, art, throw pillows, and other details all give off a shabby chic beach cottage vibe.

The blue and orange color choices also work well at evoking the ocean, sand, and sunset. It’s all relatively simple, but it works.

The bedding is comfortable and the pillows are plush.

My only real complaint about this bedroom is that I would’ve preferred one of the beds to be a pull-down Murphy bed that doubles as a couch. Since this is also the de facto living area, having more non-bed seating and space would be nice. Minor quibble, especially considering the constraints caused by pricing.

While we didn’t need it, the family suite also offers plenty of storage space, from elevated beds with room for suitcases underneath to drawers, shelves, and closets.

I wouldn’t want to cram 6 people with 2 weeks worth of luggage in here, but it should provide some breathing room for a family of 4.

The dining area, I guess you’d call it, is pretty basic.

There’s a picnic table, mini-fridge, microwave, and single-serving coffee maker. Having something more robust where families could actually prepare meals would’ve made this a real gamechanger, but also probably would’ve made the average price point significantly more expensive.

The bathroom likewise gets the job done, but isn’t going to win any hotel bathroom design achievement awards.

As with most of the family suite, it favors function over form, and fulfills its role. Having the toilet and shower in separate rooms would’ve been nice for large parties, but as with a more functional kitchen, that probably would’ve increased the cost.

The second bedroom is pretty simple and straightforward. It reminds me a bit of a dorm room, from the size to the curtain covering the closet.

Unlike a dorm room, at least the Dockside Inn family suites offer some privacy for…adult activities. You know what I’m talkin’ about–balancing the checkbook and watching reruns of Matlock.

While we have effusive praise for the 2-bedroom family suite at Dockside Inn, our assessment of the hotel as a whole is not quite as glowing.

Don’t get us wrong, our stay was positive and we’d recommend Universal’s Endless Summer Resort.

However, we are much more inclined to recommend the Surfside Inn & Suites half of the resort than Dockside Inn & Suites.

The reason for this is simple: Surfside Inn is significantly smaller. It has about one-third as many rooms as Dockside Inn, and this difference is quite noticeable in a number of ways.

Although Dockside and Surfside are both tower hotels, the difference reminds me of Port Orleans Riverside v. French Quarter.

Dockside Inn is sprawling, with labyrinthine hallways with a surprisingly confusing (or perhaps I’m just awful at navigation) layout and potentially long walks to the lobby, bus stop, dining, pool, or parking.

On top of that, Dockside Inn nearly triples the size of Surfside Inn without a proportionate increase in facilities or amenities.

Dockside Inn features two pools to Surfside’s one, but everything else seems like it’s sized about the same. This means the lobby and counter service restaurant are often packed with people and lines are longer for everything. Even staying at Dockside Inn during the off-season, we were surprised at the resort complex’s crowds. Every other hotel at which we stayed around this same time had a “sleepy” or quiet vibe due to lower occupancy levels–not Dockside. It was slammed.

To be fair, these issues often exist at Walt Disney World’s Value Resorts, all of which are arguably overbuilt and don’t have sufficient common area capacity during busier seasons. That’s often the case with budget hotels, and one way of keeping costs down.

In this case, none of the aforementioned complaints would be sufficient to dissuade us from recommending Dockside Inn & Suites to families on a budget. In a vacuum, it’s still a very impressive hotel for the price and one we’d be inclined to recommend…

…If Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn & Suites weren’t literally right next door, identically priced, and offering a better version of the exact same concept.

Unlike Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter, which each have unique and different selling points and themes, this is literally two copies of the same hotel, except one is a lot smaller. There are no discernible thematic differences, just some minor stylistic ones. Unless Surfside Inn is sold out or costs more for some reason, book that instead of Dockside Inn. There’s no other reason not to do so.

As for how Dockside Inn compares to Value Resorts at Walt Disney World, I don’t want to totally rehash what we covered in our Universal’s Endless Summer – Surfside Inn Resort Review, but it’s really the same idea. There’s not much of a comparison aside from pricing–especially when comparing Disney’s standard rooms to these family suites. (Comparing Disney’s family suites to these just feels silly given the massive disparity in room rates.)

Assuming you’re visiting both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, which value resort(s) will appeal to you is largely a matter of personal preference (and presumably, budget). Dockside Inn’s decorations are clean and minimal, with a beach-inspired vibe. Even after Disney’s recent room refurbishments, Dockside Inn still has more modern and pleasant rooms that aren’t quite as sterile.

The layout of the respective resorts is radically different. The All Stars are sprawling resorts with lush grounds, oversized characters, and exterior hallways. These properties have a dingier motel vibe when it comes to the rooms, but there is something to be said for the unique grounds featuring films and characters. By contrast, even the maze-like hallways of Dockside Inn are all interior hallways, and it’s still not even as close to as spread out as any of Disney’s Value Resorts.

Ultimately, that’s where we stand with Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn & Suites. The rooms offer tremendous value for money that is great not just by theme park standards, but real world ones as well. Despite its efficient nature, it’s not overly spartan, with a decent amount of personality and sufficient amenities. It’s great for those who won’t be spending a ton of time at the resort–but still want to enjoy the occasional meal or use the pool from time to time.

We don’t recommend Dockside Inn & Suites only as a practicality–the simple fact that a better version of the same thing exists next door for the same price. Make no mistake about that–if Surfside Inn & Suites did not exist, we would be recommending Dockside Inn & Suites with enthusiasm. Universal’s Endless Summer Resort complex is a gamechanger for theme park value hotels, surpassing Walt Disney World’s incarnations of the concept while doing so for significantly lower prices.

Need trip planning tips and comprehensive advice for your visit to Central Florida? Make sure to read our Universal Orlando Planning Guide for everything about Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Also check out our Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide for everything about those parks, resorts, restaurants, and so much more. For regular updates, news & rumors, a heads up when discounts are released, and much more, sign up for our FREE email newsletter!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Have you stayed at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn & Suites? What do you think of it? Interested in staying here? What do you think of Universal’s v. Walt Disney World’s value resorts? What about on-site perks? If you’ve stayed at or even just visited both, how would you compare Dockside Inn and Surfside Inn? Do you agree or disagree with our hotel review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

11 Responses to “Review: Universal’s Under $100 Family Suite”
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