I have been staying at Disney World hotels my whole life, but this year we finally decided to give Universal hotels a try! We recently got Universal tickets, but did not have anyone to watch our dog, Kiwi. When we found out that Sapphire Falls in Orlando is dog friendly and walking distance to the parks, we figured it would be the perfect place to stay!
This review will share our experience of staying in Sapphire Falls with our dog for three nights. Though I will review the whole resort, I also want to share tips for pet owners that you might not find elsewhere. We tried to experience everything there is to do during our brief stay. My hope is that this guide will help you decide whether or not to stay at Universal’s Sapphire Falls in Orlando.
Where is Sapphire Falls Resort located?
As stated above, Sapphire Falls in Orlando is one of the on-site Universal hotels. By staying at a Universal hotel, you can receive benefits like early park admission and room key charging. However, the best perk is the close proximity to the theme parks.
Sapphire Falls is just across the street from Islands of Adventure and only a ten-minute walk from your room to the park entrance. There are also boats and buses that take you to the parks as well. This eliminates the hassle with having to deal with the parking garage.
In our case, it also made it much easier to check on our dog! We took at least a couple breaks from the parks per day to take him out and play with him. This would have been a much bigger inconvenience if we had to drive and deal with traffic each break.
Resort Layout and Atmosphere
Upon arriving at the resort, you will find that it is quite sprawling. Everyone parks in the resort parking garage for a fee of $26 per night, unless you took an Uber or some ride share service. From here, you enter the massive lobby that is made to look like an island ceremonial hall.
I immediately loved the Caribbean vibe, with whimsical beach touches alongside natural textures. The waterfalls outside especially added a vacation touch. My favorite part was the stone turret spiral staircase leading down to the main restaurant.
The lobby is in the middle of the towers and every room can be reached from here. This is a big difference from Disney hotels, where rooms are usually in separate buildings. The ease of access getting around the resort was a big benefit. The pool and boat ramp are both off the lobby and in the center of the resort. The only inconvenience we found was our room being pretty far from the boat dock, to the point where it was quicker just to walk to the parks than take a boat.
Guest Rooms at Sapphire Falls
After we booked our hotel, I received instructions to call and let them know we would need a dog friendly room. They were very accommodating and have plenty of pet friendly rooms near a walking area. I was so happy to see they were all on the first floor, as I hate when we stay in hotels and have to wait for the elevator every time Kiwi has to go out.
The rooms were on par with modern, upscale Hyatt hotels we usually stay at. We got a two-queen room, and it seems most rooms feature this, as opposed to one king. The bed was very comfortable and I liked the island touches.
The bathroom was a bit on the small side. It wasn’t an issue with only two of us getting ready in the morning, but I could see it being cramped for a family of four. The shower had plenty of hot water thankfully, but it was the newer style where there is no shower curtain, just a half wall. Many hotels are doing this and while I like the look, I find the water gets everywhere! Overall, though, the rooms was similar to those at Deluxe Disney World hotels and has everything you need.
The Sapphire Falls Pool and Amenities
The weekend we visited Universal was a rare cold front and because of this we did not use many amenities. Sapphire Falls in Orlando is known to have one of the best pool areas of the Universal resorts, but unfortunately it was closed all weekend. This was a bummer because there is also a hot tub at Sapphire Falls that we wanted to use. If you do visit in the winter months or during the stormy season, keep in mind that the pool closes for inclement weather.
Other amenities at the resort include a huge fitness center with all the equipment you could need and an arcade. There are fire pits throughout the resort as well, which was a nice touch on this chilly weekend. It definitely has that resort feel to it with a big gift shop, lots of lounge areas and walking and jogging paths.
Obviously, the main perks are the proximity to the Universal parks. There is also one-hour early admission to the theme parks and half hour early admission to Volcano Bay. Some of the Universal hotels offer free express passes with your stay, but this is not included for Sapphire Falls in Orlando.
Resort Restaurants and Bars
For dining at Sapphire Falls, there are four different places to eat. The main restaurant is Amatista Cookhouse, which is a full-service restaurant open all day with Caribbean inspired cuisine. Though the menu looked good, we did not make it there. Instead, we ended up going to Strong Water Tavern every night!
This is also a full-service spot that opens at 4 PM daily. The drinks here are amazing and they specialize in vintage rums! There is also a big menu of different small plates and we tried so many. Not a single option was disappointing, but our favorites were definitely the seafood tostada and jerk chicken.
For grab and go food, New Dutch Trading Co. is open all day. This is where we got coffee and breakfast one morning and it is just your typical overpriced hotel fare. They do have gelato if you want a treat! If you want Starbucks, you will have to go across the street to Cabana Bay for that.
There is also a pool bar, but it was not open. Keep in mind the Sapphire Falls restaurants get pretty busy at night and in the morning. You can make reservations for Amatista, but the rest are first come first serve.
Tips for Bringing your Dog to Sapphire Falls
There are multiple dog friendly hotels at Universal Orlando, but Sapphire Falls is the most affordable option. Because of this, you will see a lot of pups here! Sapphire Falls in Orlando is part of the Loews Loves Pets program that this hotel chain offers. For a $100 fee, up to two pets can stay in your room.
When you check in, they give you a brochure with all the pet rules. Dogs are not allowed at the Sapphire Falls pool or inside restaurants and shops. However, the person checking us in said the outdoor areas of Amatista and New Dutch Trading Co. usually allow pets.
Another benefit of bringing your dog to Sapphire Falls is that you get a little goodie bag with treats and dog bowls. Mainly, I really liked that we were on the first floor, as all pet friendly rooms are. This part of the resort has plenty of exits leading to a big grassy area. We have stayed at a lot of hotels with Kiwi and truly this one of the most accommodating places we have been for dogs!
Know Before You Go: Universal’s Sapphire Falls in Orlando
Whether you are taking a week long vacation to Orlando or weekend visit to the Universal parks, staying at Sapphire Falls is a great way to make your time more carefree. I was surprised to see that it had the theming and quality of a Disney resort, but at a much lower price and with more convenience!
I would recommend Sapphire Falls in Orlando to families or couples with a fur child like us. I will have to stay at more Universal hotels and see how they compare, but in the meantime, keeps these tips in mind for your visit:
- The Sapphire Falls resort ranges from $150 to $400 per night depending on the time of year. You can redeem Chase or Capital One points for stays here through the respective portals.
- Parking in the garage costs $26 per night, or you can pay $33 for valet.
- There is no resort fee at the Sapphire Falls in Orlando.
- Amenities include a large pool, gym and arcade. You can also do laundry and rent microwaves and rollaway beds here.
- Rooms sleep a maximum of five guests with two queen beds and a rollaway. Suites are also available that sleep up to ten
- A maximum of two dogs can stay in one room for $100. There are no weight restrictions and dogs are given treats and two bowls.
- The hotel is in walking distance to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, City Walk and Volcano Bay. There are also shuttle buses and a boat that takes you to City Walk as well.
- You do not get a complimentary express pass at Sapphire Falls, as that is only for higher tier hotels. However, you do get one hour early entry to theme parks and half an hour early entry to the water park.
- Sapphire Falls Check In is at 4PM and Check Out is at 11 AM. You can cancel up to 6 days in advance and get a full refund.
Have you stayed at Sapphire Falls in Orlando before? If you have, or have stayed at other Universal hotels, let me know how you liked them! If you are planning a trip to Universal, make sure to check out my Orlando guide and my ranking of the local theme parks here!
If you are looking for a travel agent to help you plan your Orlando vacation, I highly recommend working with Kelly’s Magical Vacations! She can help book your hotel, park tickets, ground transportation and more for no added cost. Click here to learn more about booking a universal vacation with Kelly!