Universal Orlando Hotel Rankings & Reviews
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.
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!
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!
I scored a Portofino club level room for a crazy deal for April 2023. 1/2 price then Polynesian standard room…I am more of a Disney fan so I am glad I seemed to have picked the correct Resort. Did you ever end up reviewing the club level lounge?
Glad to see the Universal posts on this blog! I’d stopped reading your blog (sorry!) because after all the price hikes at Disney, we’re over Disney. I didn’t realize you posted about Universal until I Googled something regarding Universal and your blog came up in the search results.
Anyway, thanks for the ranking. We’re in the planning stage for our trip later this year and have it narrowed down to three resorts. And while Unlimited Express is enticing, it’s also not necessarily cost effective. After crunching the numbers, we can stay at Sapphire Falls or Cabana Bay and pay for the Express Pass and still save money. That works for us because I don’t need the Express Pass. The rides I’ll go on won’t have the long lines. And the kiddo doesn’t need it for every day we’re there. Even five of seven still makes it cheaper than a stay at Hard Rock, Portofino, or even Royal Pacific (which was tentatively on our list but isn’t anymore after reading this).
Keep the Universal reviews coming! There’s a lot of us who are fed up with Disney and switching loyalties, the military community especially!
Hello! Your description of Royal Pacific was spot on. We went to UO for the first time last summer and found the rooms small and the pool underwhelming. My hubby also had to wait in a crazy long line to get regular coffee the morning we were checking in and it was pretty expensive ($9 for the two plain coffees – yikes!) The express pass for my family of 4 made it worth it though. We finished the vacation with 5 days at WDW’s Beach Club Resort which we liked way more than Royal Pacific.
Not mentioned… You can get 5 UExP for a premier hotel stay, but you get it for both check in day and check out day. This is one night premium hotel pay ($300-$500), but you get up to 10 UExp (2 X 5). So, we’ve stayed one night on three separate trips, checking in between 0530 and 0630, leaving our bags with hotel staff, and gone to the parks for 2 days with UExp. We stayed at all three premier hotels in 2021, really appreciating how close HRH is for walking. Combining this ‘deal’ with the the deal for military veterans ($200 for an annual pass with park hopping) you can save a good amount of money at Universal. We’re typically able to do everything at both parks in 1.5 or 1.75 days with the 2 days of UExP we get from one night of a premier hotel stay.
We stayed at Hard Rock during Pop Warner for three days. The convenience of having the Unlimited Express pass included more than paid for itself by staying at a hotel that was more expensive than what we were originally looking for. We were able to do all of the rides that we wanted; some more than once. If we didn’t have the express passes, we probably wouldn’t have been able to do everything during our short stay. The hotel was pretty cool as a fan of rock music. My 8-year old son loved the mirror in our room that had the heights of different musicians. We liked being able to walk to the parks as well. My husband has said that we will never stay anywhere else because of the location and the express passes. We’ve been “spoiled” by those passes!
IF you are planning a trip to Universal, you need to look at the cost of the Premier hotels like Portifino Bay, hard Rock, and Royal Pacific and compare the stay to that of purchasing a stand alone Express Pass. You get up to five free Express Passes with a stay in one of the three deluxe resorts. In may instances, the savings you get from the Express passes will pay for the cost of your Hotel Stay.
We found this to be the case when we purchase one Annual Pass and used the Annual Pass discount for a week long Hard Rock Hotel stay. The package with the Annual Pass discount for the entire week was cheaper than the purchase of four express passes for the week had we been staying anywhere else.
It pays to run the numbers some times and find good deals.
If anyone is planning a vacation where you will have park days at both Disney & Universal and you haven’t been to Universal yet, I would highly recommend you go to Disney first if possible. We really enjoy the thrill rides at Disney (Space Mt, Expedition Everest, RnR, etc), but some of the thrill rides at Universal are on another level (Velocicoaster, Hagard’s, Hulk, Rocket). If you go on those first and then go to Disney, it makes some of the Disney thrill rides feel really slow.
Our family has gone from die-hard Disney fans to die-hard Universal fans over the last six years, and we’ve really enjoyed our time at Universal over Disney for a variety of reasons – the hotels being right up there. We’ve done two Portofino stays over the last year and haven’t found that one managed/run as well as the others, which is a shame given the price point. I think Portofino struggles with the sprawling footprint and is having difficulty maintaining a higher level of service compared to some of the others – but perhaps this has been an effect from other factors. That’s just been our experience, though.
Our family just returned from a 3-night stay at Universal last night. We stayed at Dockside I&S in a 2 bedroom suite which had 3 queen beds, picnic table and small kitchenette. For the price you can’t really beat it, especially when compared to WDW’s prices. The room is very functional and thought out. We opted for Dockside over Surfside as it seemed to have a bit more amenity-wise being the much larger of the 2 hotels, but we made that decision only because it was off-peak season. I wouldn’t dare stay there during peak season as I can only imagine the crowds. Also, Surfside shares the same bus transportation and seems to be the first pick-up & drop-off from City Walk (probably a big plus over Dockside). I would agree with Tom in that Surfside would be the choice over Dockside for any other time of year… off season it really is a wash. Similarly, we have chosen French Quarter over Riverside when staying at WDW Port Orleans. We also did not feel the need for Express Pass for our trip based on the lower crowd level and feel we made the right decision. We had friends stay at a Premier hotel which includes that perk, but they paid several hundreds more. If you are figuring to include that on your park passes (I’d strongly consider it for busier times), strong consideration to staying at a Premier hotel is warranted as it really bridges the gap in the hotel cost, and then you also have closer and nicer accommodations.
I love your hotel reviews, Tom! For us, Express Pass is essential because my husband is a teacher so we can only go when it is crowded but I appreciate you considering everyone, and off season, when it may not be as essential. Spot on with your remarks and always love the non-Disney articles!
Thanks for posting the rankings. We have a reservation for Hard Rock next December. Unlimited Express mattered to us, so glad to see it come in second of the premier resorts.
I imagine this would be a super frustrating post to write/not sure if it’s something highlighting for readers but I’ve noticed that the pricing/room availability for Universals packages to vary much more than Disneys on a week to week basis. Their site is also weird in that depending on how to get to the search screen, I’ve seen dramatically different results. Long story short: I would recommend those interested not give up if they don’t see what they want on first pass. Come back a week/several days later and you might find what you are looking for.
You’re definitely right about pricing fluctuating–I’ve noticed the same when we’ve booked (and subsequently, rebooked) rooms there. Definitely something people should keep in mind when pricing out packages and booking.
Thank you for posting more on Universal! I love Disney, but with all the stupid changes made by Chapek … for the first time in my life I have NO DESIRE to go to Disney. This makes me sad. My husband and I work so hard to save and I just don’t see a value it in anymore. I am waiting for Disney to charge fees for using the bathrooms.
This year my family will be going to Universal. We are super excited about our up coming trip. As we are huge fans of Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss. I hope some smart person at Disney is paying attention to what is really going on. I think Disney (Chaoek) is marching this company into the wrong direction. It also pains me that all the Disney Stores are gone. My parents took me when I was young and I took my kids too. It was just fun and magical to have a small part of Disney close to home. My kids enjoyed the visits. With the Disney Stores closed, will the future generations have that same connection to Disney. The cast members made the store and made the experience. So many stupid and greedy changes to this company. I believe Walt would be shocked and sadden.
I wonder the same about Disney Stores. It’s not something I’ve seen discussed much anywhere, but those stores served such an important brand goodwill/awareness purpose beyond just the sale of merchandise. When I was a kid, even a trip to the Disney Store was something special and got me excited about future visits to the parks. Of course, that was when the Disney Stores had character–literally.
Wife and I stayed at the Portofino last month and could not agree more with it being ranked first. And when you throw in the Unlimited Express Pass, which we used for four days, it is a fantastic place to stay.
My mom and I stayed at Aventura during our first trip to Universal in September 2019. We found the hotel clean, uncrowded, and the beds insanely comfortable. We aren’t tech people and I understand the lack of ‘theme’ as compared to many of the other resorts. But we were in the parks for many hours and the buses to and from Aventura were quick and easy and the food court was good. I guess it depends what you’re looking for in a hotel but if it’s just comfort and a casual and clean vibe, I am a fan of Aventura.
Glad to hear you enjoyed it! Aventura definitely serves a purpose and is great for some guests.
I love when the articles you post are super relevant and informative to my situation.
We are still debating a stay at Universal during a week this spring. Floor plan wise with three kids, two of which are teens, a Surfside 2 bed suite wins hands down because we prefer actual beds. But having never been to Universal, express pass is desirable to us. Therefore we have a placeholder reservation for Portofino. Did I make the right choice for our 4 park day trip?
Are you planning on keeping that reservation regardless for the sake of Express Pass, or are you still debating which to use?
I think the Surfside 2BR will definitely be your better room option.
We stayed at Surfside in December 2020 and absolutely loved the suites since they have an actual separate bedroom. Our college age daughter loved a room to herself. I don’t care for suites that require someone to sleep on a pull out sofa. Also having a picnic table in the room was wonderful. A very good value!
This was excellent! Thank you!! We went on our first trip to Universal this past December with Pop Warner and they booked us at the Dockside. Overall, we thought it was nice and I agree wholeheartedly with your review. We can’t wait to go again on our own and we’ll stay at one of the resorts that includes the Unlimited Express Lane passes. We purchased the Express Lane for one of park days for the Pop Warner trip and it was great.
Great summary! However Portofino has 3 pool areas not two.
Only two of those are excellent pool areas, though. 🙂
Hi Tom, really appreciate your summary. It is definitely good for thought. What I would love to see it’s what you recommend anything off site, particularly suites or timeshare rentals that are convenient to Universal. Also if any of Universal’s version of good neighbor hotels that offer the early entry are worth considering? Thanks for all you do.
We have a post about vacation home rentals: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/vacation-home-rentals-near-disney-world/
It’s really difficult to stay current on that, as there’s a ton of development and changes in the vacation home rental companies in Central Florida.