Stay and Play at Universal: Options Abound, On-Site and Off

With its ever-expanding roster of rides, events, restaurants, resorts and more, it's simply impossible to take in all that Universal Orlando Resort has to offer in a day, which is why so many Orlando visitors can plan an entire vacation around its attractions. If you're considering such a trip, research is key. Guests at Universal's three deluxe, on-site properties – Loews Portofino Bay, the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando and Loews Royal Pacific – will pay a premium, but with the price comes benefits in the form of early-park admission and coveted Universal Express Unlimited ride access. That's a value of up to $89 per person, per day and will ensure you maximize the number of rides you can hit, or the number of times you can hit a given favorite ride. They also enjoy water taxi service to CityWalk and the other deluxe on-sites, a nice feature. Stays at Universal's newest hotel addition, the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, don't come with the unlimited ride pass, but its price point (and lovely brand-new pool, lazy river, bowling alley, etc.) make it an alluring choice for visitors looking to pack more value into their visit. Universal also partners with many nearby properties which offer some great benefits, too. Be aware: full benefits – like that all-important early-park admission or and other inclusions which can add up quickly – are generally only available when you book as part of a Universal Orlando vacation. Each of the off-site properties on this list is a Universal partner hotel.

10 Drury Inn & Suites Orlando
Free is this property's middle name -- free hot "Quickstart" breakfast, free "5:30 Kickback" with hot food and cold drinks, free soda and popcorn in the lobby. Sure, Drury offers other freebies, like wireless Internet, but with so many free eats available, you may not even have room for the area's many fine restaurants. You'll have space to swim them off, though, in the hotel's neat indoor/outdoor swimming pool, which means random Florida rains need not send you scrambling for your room. Nearby, attractions like SeaWorld, Aquatica, and the range of Disney's theme parks -- not to mention the near round-the-clock excitement of Universal Orlando -- delight vacationers, but the Drury Inn & Suites Orlando is convenient for business travelers, as well.

9 Rosen Inn at Pointe Orlando
Located on International Drive, the Rosen Inn at Pointe Orlando offers easy access to theme parks, restaurants, shops and movie theaters. Complimentary shuttle services are offered to an array of theme park attractions, as well as the Rosen Shingle Creek Golf Course. The 1,020 rooms at the Rosen Inn at Pointe Orlando provide standard amenities like a high-speed Internet access, mini fridge, microwave, coffeemaker, alarm clock, hair dryer and 32-inch television. Late-night snackers will find the Little-Bite Mini-Market and Deli's 24-7 hours an especially nice convenience. Travelers with pets will be happy to know Fido can tag along, as well, for a small, additional fee.

8 Floridays Resort Orlando
This all-suite luxury condominium-style property is world's away from the bustle of the busiest tourist corridors and serves up Mediterranean style in the form of two- and three-bedroom suites. Lie by the pool in style and let the kids splash the day away at its unique "playscape" area. Daily poolside planned activities mean that when you're not exploring Universal you can still keep the family entertained while you sneak in a little sun and maybe a refreshment or two from the pool bar. Floridays' expansive property encompasses some 20 well-appointed acres and complimentary shuttle service to all the area parks is super-convenient.

7 Westin Orlando Universal Boulevard
Art deco sensibility and convenient proximity make the Westin Orlando Universal Boulevard a great choice for stylish business travelers looking for easy access to the Orange County Convention Center. But folks in town for a Universal Orlando vacation (or perhaps the many business travelers who allow for some theme-park play amid their work) will love coming back to updated rooms, workout facilities, an expansive pool (and perhaps its on-site Italian restaurant if they haven't filled up at CityWalk). Fancy a jog or walk? Take advantage of the RunWESTIN program and grab a self-guided three- or five-mile route to explore the area around Universal.

6 Rosen Shingle Creek
With its AAA Four Diamond Designation, the Rosen Shingle Creek is the most upscale of Universal's partner hotels and one of the largest full-service convention hotels in the region. That doesn't mean that couples and families vacationing here can expect less than a world-class vacation. Especially if they're sports-focused. With its 18-hole, par 72 championship golf course, four outdoor swimming pools, two lighted tennis courts, basketball, nature trail and more, that's a ton of space to walk off the huge doughnuts and beer they'll be downing at Springfield inside Universal Studios Florida. In fact, you may even get in extra walks bringing Fido along for the fun; the Rosen Shingle Creek has a number of pet friendly rooms available for its guests.

5 The Point Orlando Resort
Like other Universal Partner Hotels, the Point Orlando Resort offers free scheduled transport to the parks -- all of them, not just Universal. If you like, you can even walk there (it's an easy stroll, between 20-30 minutes; depending on the time of year that could be quite enjoyable). This is an all-suite property with an expansive pool and a more upscale feel than many of the other moderately priced venues in the same area. Tropical ambience -- the resort's d?┬ęcor has a South American theme -- helps visitors get in the vacationing mood. The lobby Barista (buffet breakfast served daily) and poolside Cabana Bar & Grill mean you don't need to leave for meals if you don't want to.

4 Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando
The Royal Pacific Resort Universal is in close proximity to some of the nation's most exciting attractions, including Universal Studios, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom, Sea World, and Silver Springs. Guests of the hotel will enjoy many amenities, including special benefits at Universal Studios, such as priority seating at restaurants and the ability to bypass long lines. The hotel also features an outdoor swimming pool, a poolside bar and grill, a restaurant, a children's club, and a weekly luau. A very pet friendly hotel, the Royal Pacific charges a simple fee of US$ 25 per stay for guests with furry family members.

3 Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando
Universal's Hard Rock Hotel is located close to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Wet N' Wild. A four star facility, the hotel has a variety of options for the discerning guest, and offers free theme park shuttle services. The Hard Rock Hotel complex has multiple dining and lounge options, including a poolside bar. After a long day at the parks, the Hard Rock's recreational amenities can be just the thing to relax. The hotel offers an outdoor pool, a children's pool, a health club, and full service spa. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in public areas. Guests with pets are welcome, fees are US$ 25 per stay.

2 Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando
Universal's Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is located in the Universal Orlando neighborhood, close to all the major Universal attractions. In addition to 5 restaurants, Universal's Loews Portofino Bay Hotel offers a snack bar/deli and a coffee shop/cafe. 2 bars/lounges, a poolside bar, and a bar/lounge are open for drinks. Recreational amenities include 3 outdoor swimming pools, children's pool, health club, spa tub, sauna, and a fitness facility. The property's full-service health spa has body treatments, massage rooms, facials, and beauty services. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in public areas, and all rooms include separate sitting areas. Pet fee: US$ 25 per stay.

1 Cabana Bay Beach Resort
This colorful, cheery on-site Universal property boasts funky '50s-'60s kitsch. Its expansive pool and fabulous lazy river are alluring -- especially for families -- and its sleek, mod suites are convenient and stylish. And perhaps most importantly, its moderate price point allows so many more people to experience the joys of staying close by. In addition to all the water-based fun, Cabana Bay guests enjoy an on-site bowling alley and a Jack LaLanne fitness center. Offering early park admission, a walking-distance location to CityWalk and more, Cabana Bay is an ideal option for families seeking "Universal" entertainment in Orlando.


A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum. A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city. Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.  

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