Trying to find the best hotel near Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure? This ranks & reviews all resorts at Universal Orlando, with pros & cons, and a rundown of the ideal accommodations for families, honeymooners, solo, adults, and other travelers so you can choose the right hotel for your vacation!
As Universal Orlando jockeys to become a vacation destination unto itself, rather than just a diversion from Walt Disney World, it has seen a hotel explosion in the last few years. Several of the resorts reviewed here are recent additions, with more on the horizon as Universal develops its third Florida theme park, Epic Universe.
With so many new properties and thousands of rooms added, Universal Orlando is building for future demand. The good news today is that you can often find great deals, especially during the off-season. In fact, outside of summer and peak holiday weeks, Universal often offers aggressive discounts to Floridians and Annual Passholders–so good that it often makes sense for one person in your party to buy an AP for your trip.
The rankings here are based upon our firsthand experience through actual stays at all of the hotels at Universal Orlando. Most other guide or list is inconsistent due to being crowd-sourced, cobbled together from indirect experience, or reliant upon several different reviewers. For better or worse, at least these rankings and reviews are from a singular and consistent viewpoint.
With that said, they’re also entirely subjective. There’s no pretense of objectivity here, and we’re not using any sort of quantitative metrics like room size, average bus or boat frequency, or time in minutes to walk from the hotel to the resort. All of that is taken into account, but so too are personal preferences when it comes to theme, atmosphere, pool quality, and more.
Also, we are pretty much disregarding the Unlimited Express Pass offered by Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel, and Royal Pacific. This is a seemingly arbitrary move, and we debated whether to do it. After all, it is far and away the biggest perk offered not just by this trio of Universal Orlando hotels, but by ANY theme park adjacent resorts in Orlando.
Which is why we’re disregarding it. If taken into consideration, those Premier Hotels would make up the top 3–and by a wide margin. However, that assumes you want and need Unlimited Express Pass, which won’t be the case for some parties. (That’s going to sound like heresy to some, but there have been times we didn’t need it–split stays work at Universal, too.) The point is that you should weigh these rankings differently if Unlimited Express Pass is essential to you.
With those caveats out of the way, let’s get on with the Universal Orlando resort rankings! Clicking on any hotel name (that’s clickable) or links to the reviews will open the detailed review containing additional photos, info, and thoughts on that hotel in a new window…
8.Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn & Suites(Value Hotel) – This ranking is a bit deceiving. The rooms at Dockside Inn 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.
The reason we don’t recommend Dockside Inn & Suites–and why it ranks dead last here–is only as a practicality. Dockside Inn is one half of Universal’s Endless Summer Resort, and the simple fact that a better version of the same thing exists next door at Surfside Inn for the same price. That’s because the biggest downside of this resort is its size and scale, which can result in massive crowds. Surfside Inn has significantly fewer rooms, thus at least partially negating that issue.
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. If Surfside Inn isn’t an option or is more expensive for some reason, don’t hesitate to book Dockside Inn. That such a solid offering ranks last is a testament to the strength of Universal Orlando’s hotel game. Click here to read our full review and see room photos.
7.Universal’s Aventura Hotel(Prime Value Hotel) – A modern and streamlined hotel with no theme that caters to solo business travelers and some couples. Aventura is ideal for those who primarily view the hotel as a place to shower and sleep, prefer a condensed layout, and want quieter or less crowded accommodations. It’s also great for fans of complicated television remotes.
Universal’s Aventura Hotel will have limited appeal to most other travelers. Visitors on a budget are arguably might be better suited by one of the Endless Summer resorts, and families should instead opt for Cabana Bay or one of the Premier Hotels. Those alternatives are either more economical or offer significantly more perks.
With that in mind, Aventura’s strengths are a rooftop bar with breathtaking views of Universal Orlando, functional and efficient rooms with “smart” features, and convenient (and underutilized) amenities. It checks all of the boxes, but ultimately underwhelms anyone wanting an actual resort experience. Click here to read our full review and see room photos.
6. Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn & Suites(Value Hotel) — The cheapest hotel at Universal Orlando Resort with starting rates below $100/night, Endless Summer delivers solid but basic accommodations. The hotel has a surf or beach stylization, and while not heavily themed, it evokes the feeling of an endless summer.
Unsurprisingly, price is the biggest selling point. Everything else favors function over form, from the pools to the food court to the rooms. Speaking of which, guest rooms have enough details and little touches that it feels inviting rather than sterile, it has a lot of smart functional design choices, and the color scheme coupled with the large (usable!) window made it light, airy, and welcoming. The biggest downside beyond those compromises is that the Endless Summer Resorts are the only two hotels that are not easily walkable to the parks (you can walk, it’s just not a great or straightforward route).
If you’re comfortable with a hotel that’s light on theme and amenities, it’s a great option with nice rooms, interior hallways, a compact footprint, efficient bus transportation, and convenient access to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. It’s perfect for rope drop to park close theme park ‘touring commandos.’ Click here to read our full review and see room photos.
5. Loews Royal Pacific Resort(Premier Hotel) – Themed to the South Seas, Royal Pacific has a sense of adventure, and evokes a bygone era of exotic and luxurious world travel. Contrary to some misguided comparisons, it is not analogous to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, which is themed to tiki culture and Americana.
Far and away the biggest selling point is that Loews Royal Pacific Resort is typically the least expensive Premier Hotel, making it the sweet spot for families on somewhat of a budget, but recognizing the value of Unlimited Express Pass and not needing as much from their hotel. Beyond that, the other advantages of Royal Pacific are its walking distance proximity to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, efficient transportation, robust amenities, and a mix of luxuriousness and depth of theme.
Downsides are that it has weaker and smaller rooms than the other Premier Hotels and a more underwhelming pool by comparison. In general, Royal Pacific ranks 3/3 among the Premier Hotels in every regard, which is why it’s also the cheapest of the trio. Book here if price is the determining factor or you really love the exotic theme. Click here to read our full review and see room photos.
4. Hard Rock Hotel(Premier Hotel) — Anyone who lived through the 90s is likely familiar with Hard Rock Cafe. For those who didn’t, this is essentially that in hotel form–a tribute to rock & roll, with a style and attitude to match. Which isn’t to say it’s edgy or taste-specific. While I love the tributes to the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and other classic rockers, contemporary musicians like Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, and other names I don’t recognize are also featured.
Hard Rock Hotel is also the closest resort to Universal Studios Florida & Islands of Adventure–only a 10 minute walk to the parks. Other than that, Hard Rock Hotel’s selling points are Unlimited Express Pass at both theme parks, a formidable slate of amenities, spacious rooms, fun dining, and free music equipment rentals. Hard Rock Hotel also has an enormous pool encompassing that’s 12,000 square feet in size and offers a sand beach, hot tubs, sand volleyball court, interactive fountains, play area for kids, and a 260-foot pool slide.
Hard Rock Hotel’s rockin’ style isn’t going to be for everyone, but it’s relatively mild and appropriate for families. Still, Hard Rock Hotel will be most appreciated by couples, particularly those old enough to recognize its tributes (or anyone with good taste in music). Beyond that, the biggest weakness is probably the guest rooms, which are a tad older (but still well-maintained and perfectly comfortable). Additionally, dining is only so-so, with solid table service options but lacking on the food court front. Those are really minor quibbles for an otherwise fantastic hotel. Click here to read our full review and see room photos.
3. Loews Sapphire Falls Resort(Preferred Hotel) – Themed as an island paradise, from the stone turret in the lobby to the bright blue accents to flowing waterfalls that cascade over lush grounds. However, Sapphire Falls toes the line between form and function, with enough style and details to convey its goals, but also with a strong focus on convenience, amenities, and comfort. The hotel never lets theme “get in the way” of that.
Sapphire Falls’ execution is near-flawless, with relaxed atmosphere, strong rooms (better than Royal Pacific, which is a tier above it), water taxi transportation, and great location. Another significant selling point is that Sapphire Falls boasts the largest pool area at Universal Orlando, with a bar, hot tub, lengthy waterslide, and more. Additionally, Sapphire Falls’ dining options pack a solid punch, with the lobby bar in particular being excellent. Beyond that, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort’s greatest strength is its balance and good vibes, for lack of a better term–it’s just a pleasant place to be.
The biggest downside is bang for buck. While not expensive (it costs about as much or less than a Walt Disney World Value Resort), it’s the priciest resort at Universal Orlando that does not offer Unlimited Express Pass. If you don’t need that but want to splurge somewhat on superior accommodations, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is an excellent choice for anyone–families, couples, solo travelers, etc. Click here to read our full review and see room photos.
2. Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort(Prime Value Hotel) — We absolutely adore this romanticized and elevated 1950s-60s era motel. Cabana Bay offers unparalleled value for money among theme park adjacent resorts and features far more than you’d expect from the price-point. It’s particularly attractive to families, but anyone who appreciates mid-century modern will also love it.
Cabana Bay’s selling points are an excellent slate of amenities, including a range of dining options, bowling alley, huge pools with a lazy river, tremendous thematic integrity, and quality rooms for a budget resort. The range of the amenities is really impressive, and all of this makes Cabana Bay work a bona-fide resort where you’ll have a lot of fun without even going to the parks.
Its biggest weakness is the size. This shouldn’t come as a huge shock since a boutique hotel isn’t going to support all of the aforementioned amenities, but Cabana Bay is colossal. Beyond navigating the large property (which actually isn’t bad), this can mean crowds during busier times of year. There are times when the food courts, pool areas, and main lobby are all overwhelmed with guests, and even with as much as we love Cabana Bay, we wouldn’t book a stay here during Spring Break, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, etc. Click here to read our full review and see room photos.
1. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel Review(Premier Hotel) — Theme is Portofino Bay’s strong suit, with its own harbor, cobblestone streets, quiet courtyards, intimate walkways, and more that evoke the seaside town of Portofino. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is our favorite resort at Universal Orlando and one of our top 10 theme park hotels anywhere in the world. Moreover, Portofino Bay is the what we’d consider the Universal resort “for Walt Disney World fans.” When it comes to immersive themed design, this is on par with Imagineering’s best hotels in Florida.
Beyond that, Portofino Bay has the largest standard rooms at Universal Orlando, and a recent refresh has modernized them, too. When it comes to dining, Portofino Bay offers 9 restaurants and lounges featuring a wide range of Italian and American cuisine at pretty much every price point. Finally, there are two excellent pool areas, one of which is more laid back and the other with an array of features–both are top of class. All of this makes it appealing to a wide variety of guest demographics.
With all of that said, Portofino Bay is not perfect. For one thing, it’s typically the most expensive hotel at Universal Orlando, so budget alone will rule it out for some parties. There are some areas that feel slightly lacking in detail, or that have a 1990s style. Thematically, it shows its age in some regards, even though maintenance is generally fantastic. Additionally, it’s a colossal resort with a sprawling layout, which is a contrast to Universal’s current approach of everything under one roof. We absolutely love Portofino Bay and would give it the win by a large margin–but like everything, that’s not a one-size fits all recommendation. Click here to read our full review and see room photos.
How do Universal Orlando’s resorts rank for you? Any hotel here that’s too high–or too low–for you? Do you generally stay at Universal Orlando or Walt Disney World? What are your key considerations when determining where you stay? If you’ve previously been loyal to WDW, are you considering Universal (or other off-site) hotels for your next Florida vacation? Do you agree or disagree with our rankings and 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!