If you have not heard the news, Universal Orlando is giving Disney World a run for its money! What used to be considered a “one-day” experience, now visitors can easily spend a week enjoying the two (soon to be three) theme parks, water park, and CityWalk. Because of this, it makes sense to stay close by! For all the travelers planning an upcoming trip, I wanted to share the best places to stay at Universal Orlando.
This guide contains twelve excellent hotel options for staying at or near Universal Orlando. I have included hotels at a variety of price points and what the ideal audience for each is. These hotels are all within a ten-minute drive of Universal Orlando, so you can maximize your time here. Read on to find out the best places to stay at Universal Orlando, so you can plan your amazing vacation!
Luxury Onsite Hotels
The first thing I need to clarify is the difference between onsite and offsite hotels. Onsite Universal Orlando hotels are closer to the parks and offer complimentary transportation, such as buses or boats. They also allow early admission to the park on some days. Three of these places to stay even include a free Universal Express pass, which lets you skip ALL the lines!
These first four options are the more upscale places to stay at Universal Orlando. If you plan to spend much time at the hotel pool or dining area, you may want to look into splurging for one of these hotels. These are also the only hotels that allow pets at Universal Orlando. In order, here are my preferences for the luxurious places to stay at Universal.
Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
Everyone’s dream Universal Orlando hotel is the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, a gorgeous resort inspired by the Italian Seaside. Everything is top of the line here with beautiful rooms, themed pools, and even a harbor to stroll along that looks straight out of Portofino! This is the prettiest place to stay and has some excellent restaurants as well.
This is also the most expensive place to stay at Universal Orlando, with rooms starting at $388 per night. Because of that, I only recommend it if you are splurging for a honeymoon or a special occasion. You do get an Express pass which helps justify the cost a little. For transportation, the parks are just a quick stroll or free water taxi away and there is a bus to Volcano Bay.
If you want to stay at the best of the best hotels, Portofino Bay is that choice. However, for more budget-conscious travelers, there are some great options as well that I will get to below.
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
My favorite place to stay at Universal Orlando is Sapphire Falls Resort. Though this is one of the hotels that does not get a free express pass, I still find its design and amenities to meet the mark. This Caribbean-themed resort is situated on the water with a relaxing vibe and colorful touches all around.
This hotel is much cheaper than the other three options on this luxury side of the list. Rooms start at $210 per night and we have been able to redeem Chase points to stay here. They also are dog friendly, which is so convenient for bringing Kiwi!
In addition to the island-themed rooms, I love the large pool area, water slide and dining options. Our absolute favorite place to eat at Universal Orlando is the Strong Water Tavern restaurant here, which has live music on weekends. I also find the walk to the parks to be super convenient and appreciate the option to boat to and from the parks as well.
If you want to feel like you are staying at a luxurious hotel without breaking the bank, I recommend Sapphire Falls! You can enjoy the island vibes here amidst the hustle and bustle of a theme park vacation.
Loews Royal Pacific Resort
Another place to stay in Universal Orlando for those who enjoy the tropics is Loews Royal Pacific Resort. This is a great option for couples or families that want to spend a lot of time at the pool.
I enjoy the theming of Loews Royal Pacific Resort, although, with Disney’s Polynesian Villas so close by, it does draw a lot of comparisons. The rooms are similar in size and style to Sapphire Falls with a blend of modern amenities and islandy design. Because of that, I usually end up staying at Sapphire Falls instead.
This hotel is more expensive than Sapphire Falls and less expensive than Portofino with rooms starting from $325 per night. If Sapphire Falls is comparable, you may want to choose Royal Pacific instead as you can a free express unlimited pass with your stay. The walking/boating distance to the park is also pretty comparable.
Royal Pacific is a top-notch hotel, especially with its zero-entry beach-style pool and weekly luaus. For those wanting a taste of the Hawaiian Islands, this resort will fit the bill.
Hard Rock Hotel
The last of the luxury Universal Orlando hotel options is the Hard Rock Hotel. This is the second most expensive onsite option with rooms starting at $372. It does include an express pass, as well s the other onsite benefits. Though it is the closest to both theme parks and CityWalk, it is my least favorite of the luxury options.
This is mainly to do with theming. I am sure most people are familiar with the Hard Rock brand and the touristy music theme that comes with it. This one is nicer than most around the country, though it does not have a casino if that is what you are after.
You will find multiple pools, a music hall of fame, an arcade, and a sort of Hollywood theming. It is definitely not an in-your-face theme, but I find most people also prefer the tropical or Mediterranean theme of the other options.
If you want a quick walk to the theme parks or are seeing a concert or show at the Hard Rock, this hotel is a great option. However, it does not have much in the way of restaurants or theming to make it stand out above the other premium hotels.
Affordable Onsite Hotels
This next section goes through the more affordable Universal Orlando hotel options. Universal calls these “Value” and “Premier Value”. None of these four options include Express Passes or offer dog-friendly rooms. However, they do offer Early Park Admission and have free transportation to the parks.
If you are spending more than two days at Universal, I would choose one of these options over a cheaper offsite hotel. The benefits alone are worth it and it adds to the experience! I will walk through the differences between each so you can figure out if any of these hotels are right for you.
Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites
Universal’s newest and cheapest hotel is the Dockside Inn and Suites. This is the sister hotel of Surfside Inn and Suites, which together make up the Endless Summer Resort. Both are themed to be in coastal areas, with Dockside having a slight boardwalk vibe. This is the larger resort of the two with two pools and a larger food court.
These hotels are the furthest from the main theme park area (though they will be slightly closer to Universal’s upcoming Epic Universe Park) and you cannot walk to any of the theme parks. There are buses to transport you and it is close to lots of businesses on I-Drive.
With rates starting at $96, it’s a very affordable option for people who want to get the most out of their theme park days. Families especially love it, as there are 2-bedroom suites with a kitchenette starting at $144 per night. I find these hotels to be a lot nicer than your average Holiday Inn and prices like this make it a no-brainer!
Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites
Very similar to Dockside Inn and Suites, Surfside is across the street and one-half of the Endless Summer Resort. As far as amenities and prices go, there is not much of a difference between the two. Surfside Inn and Suites are more beach-themed and has a surfboard-shaped pool.
Room rates are the same with regular rooms starting at $96 per night and two-bedroom suites starting at $144 per night. Most people just go for whatever is cheaper. This hotel is a little smaller with a smaller food court and lobby, but overall, it doesn’t make much of a difference to guests. I do think people with young kids tend to prefer Surfside over Dockside for the more relaxed vibe. Either of these Universal Value Hotels will enhance your trip for not much more of a price.
Universal’s Aventura Hotel
Moving on to the “Premier Value” hotels, I think these are some of the best places to stay at Universal Orlando and they are a bargain! First up is the Aventura Hotel, located between City Walk and Volcano Bay. If you are not bringing a dog and do not plan to spend much time at the pool, THIS is the hotel to go with!
There’s not much of a theme but you can expect a modern look to this trendy hotel. In addition to early admission, and walking and bus access to the parks, it also has an insane rooftop bar. You absolutely have to check it out at sunset if you stay here.
I feel like the pool is the least exciting compared to most of the resorts, but that is the only downside. You can usually find rooms for around $150, which makes it a convenient and affordable place to stay. Of the two Premier Value hotels, I would recommend this one more for adults than families, although they do have kids’ suites in some of the rooms. However, its style and amenities, make it ideal for those wanting a stylish escape.
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
I have saved the best for last with Cabana Bay Resort. This is hard to beat for the best place to stay at Universal on a budget. The hotel has a super fun retro beach theme and all sorts of exciting amenities that others do not have.
Cabana Bay has two huge pools, a lazy river, a bowling alley, and a game room. It is a paradise for families! However, childfree couples love the vibe as well, in addition to the easy access to Volcano Bay. Bus transportation is provided to the theme parks or you can take the mile-long walk.
For such a nice, themed resort, the prices are excellent. Rooms that sleep four start at $140 per night and family suites with a kitchenette start at $180. The Endless Summer two-bedroom suites do have more room for families of six, but Cabana Bay has a more convenient location and better pools. This is the main decision factor between the two for families, so figure out how often you will use the amenities before deciding.
This resort screams vacation and is probably the best option for an affordable Universal Orlando vacation. If you want a lot of pool and water park time, I would go with Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
Best Offsite Places to Stay at Universal Orlando
Now that I have gone through all the onsite places to stay at Universal Orlando, I want to offer a few off-site options as well. The difference with these is they do not have reliable transportation to Universal parks, do not offer early entrance to theme parks and they are not themed.
On the plus side though, offsite hotels are cheaper and you can earn or use hotel points during your stay. They also can be more convenient for visiting non-Universal restaurants and activities, which often ends up saving money. If you are loyal to a particular hotel brand, these options may be ideal for you.
Hyatt House across from Universal Orlando Resort
First up, is my favorite offsite place to stay, the Hyatt House across from Universal Orlando Resort. Yes, that is its full name. Of the Hyatt hotels in the area, this is the closest to Universal Orlando and the best Hyatt hotel to stay at for a Universal trip. The design is modern, there is a great pool and hot tub and the rooms are spacious.
This hotel is very new and has a variety of room layouts, including suites and rooms with kitchenettes. Rooms range from $100 to $300 (or 9,000 to 15,000 Hyatt points) depending on the season. Though it is not much cheaper than many of the Universal Hotels, you do get free breakfast daily and the parking fee is $18 per night, versus $15-$28 at Universal Hotels.
You can walk the 1-mile to Universal Orlando or take the bus, although it does not come nearly as frequently as Universal hotels do. They do offer a bus to SeaWorld as well, which Universal hotels do not. If you plan to drive, keep in mind, you will have to pay to park at Universal as well.
If you are a loyal Hyatt member like me or will make use of the free breakfast and closer non-Universal restaurants, this Hyatt House is an excellent option. However, like the rest of the options on this part of the list, keep in mind, that it does not have the same full vacation experience as the Universal hotels do.
If you are loyal to Hilton and want a lot of amenities for your stay, I would recommend the Hilton Orlando. I stayed here last year and found it to be a fantastic hotel. There are so many things to do here, from the pool and lazy river, sports courts, Escape Scavenger Hunt, fitness center, and spa, that you could have a lovely vacation relaxing here and not even visit the theme parks!
The only downside to this hotel is that the rooms are a bit dated and prices can really vary depending on if there is a convention going on. A room that sleeps four can cost between $100 to $500. There are also a lot of fees, including a $40 resort fee and a $35 parking fee. However, if you have Hilton status and want to spend a lot of time at the pool it can be worth it.
The Hotel Orlando is also a great option if you want to spend time at SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, and International Drive. There are complimentary shuttles and it is a quick drive to other locations.
For a resort that is not on property, but still has the same vacation vibe, I love the Hilton Orlando. You may end up paying just as much as on-site, but it can be worth it if you like the freedom of being away from the theme parks.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Nearest Universal Orlando
If you are on a budget, this Holiday Inn Express is an excellent option for your Universal Orlando vacation. It is less than a one-mile walk to the theme parks, has no parking fee, free breakfast, and modern rooms.
This is definitely a bare-bones hotel, so do not expect luxury when staying here. Rates start at $80 per night, which is the best rate you will find for a reputable hotel this close to Orlando. This is also a heated pool, so you can still get some swimming time in if you like. There is even a free shuttle to Universal and SeaWorld, although the times for it vary.
If you do not plan to spend a lot at the hotel or want to earn or use IHG points, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Nearest Universal Orlando is an excellent option. It has everything you need out of a place to sleep and some perks as well.
Residence Inn Near Universal Orlando
Last but not least for Mariott fans, the Residence Inn Near Universal Orlando is another convenient place to stay. It’s located right across from the Holiday Inn mentioned above, but I think has slightly better amenities and style. Rooms start at $100 and can get up to $400 during Spring Break. These rooms all come with a kitchenette and are pretty roomy too.
Other perks include free breakfast daily, no parking fee and you can bring your pet! This is one of the few pet-friendly hotels in the area surprisingly. There is also a standard pool and a bus that will take you to Universal Orlando.
This one is pretty comparable to the Hyatt House in regards to style and price. I think location and whether you plan to bring a pet or not are the biggest deciders. Like all of these options, if you do not mind staying offsite, you can save a lot of money staying here.
Know Before You Go: The Best Places to Stay at Universal Orlando
With the upcoming opening of Epic Universe, Universal Orlando is a complete vacation destination, with plenty to do and see. If you want to make the most of your visit there, which hotel you choose is an important factor. If you choose any of the hotels above as a place to stay at Universal Orlando, you’re sure to have a memorable and enjoyable Universal vacation. Here are some things to consider before making your decision.
- Universal Orlando hotels often offer Florida resident deals, so make sure to look through all the options before booking.
- Theme Park hotels are the cheapest during the offseason which tends to be August, September, and Late January-Mid February. Weekdays are cheaper than weekends.
- Express Unlimited Passes bypass the lines of all the best rides in Universal Orlando. If you have the budget for one of the three Premier Hotels, this pass provides great value.
- However, the Early Access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter offered at all onsite hotels will also help beat the lines. Just be sure to look at the opening times schedule in advance!
- Hurricane season is June through October and in the event of a major hurricane, these parks will shut down. I recommend avoiding this time of year unless you are okay with this risk.
- Most hotels charge a parking fee and a resort fee, so be sure to include these rates in your budget.
- If you are looking for a pet-friendly place to stay at Universal Orlando, the Portofino, Sapphire Falls, Hard Rock Hotel, Royal Pacific Resort, and Residence Inn all allow pets for a fee.
- If you only plan to have one pool day, you could always stay at a cheaper hotel and then purchase a ResortPass to use the pool at a better one! This guide has some options for the best Orlando ResortPass options.
- I hope this guide helped you decide which Orlando theme park hotel to stay at! If you need help planning a trip to Orlando, I am partnered with Kelly’s Magical Vacations and highly recommend her services. Find out more here!
What do you think are the best places to stay at Universal Orlando? OR do you prefer Disney World hotels instead?
For more tips for having a great Orlando vacation, check out my Orlando theme park travel guide here.