Robert H. (Bob) Jackson, Jr.
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  Bob's Vacation Destination Tips



Bob's Universal Orlando Visits

  1. Spring, 2004 - 4 nights at Portofino Bay Resort
  2. Spring 2005, 2 nights at Royal Pacific Resort
  3. October, 2005 - 2 nights at Portofino Bay
  4. May 2006, 3 nights at Royal Pacific Resort
  5. August, 2006 - 4 Nights at Portofino Bay
  6. October 2007 - 3 nights at Hard Rock Hotel.
  7. October 2008 - 3 nights at Portofino Bay
  8. April 2009 - 3 nights at Portofino Bay
  9. September 2009 - 5 nights at Portofino Bay
  10. December 2011 - 3 nights at Portofino Bay
  11. July 2012 - 3 nights at Portofino Bay
  12. October  2012 - 2 nights at Portofino Bay
  13. December 2012, 4 nights offsite
  14. October 2013, 4 nights at Portofino Bay
  15. June 2014, 5 nights at Royal Pacific Resort
  16. September 2014, 3 nights at Royal Pacific
  17. October 2014, 4 nights at Cabana Bay
  18. December 2014, 2 days offsite
  19. January, 2015 1 day offsite
  20. March 2015, 2 days offsite
  21. April, 2015 - 2 nights Portofino Bay
  22. December, 2015 – 3 nights, Portofino Bay
  23. August, 2016 – 4 Nights, Sapphire Falls
  24. October, 2016 – 4 nights, Portofino Bay
  25. August, 2017 – 4 nights, Offsite hotel
  26. October 2017, 4 nights Portofino Bay
  27. December 2017, 3 nights Sapphire Falls
  28. August 2018 – 5 nights at Portofino Bay
  29. September 2018 -  5 Night at Aventura Hotel
  30. October, 2018 – 4 nights at Portofino Bay
  31. December 2018, 4 nights at Sapphire Falls

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando is a complex of 5 on-site hotels, an open-to-the-public shopping/dining/entertainment complex called Citywalk, and two separate theme parks: Universal Studios® and Universal’s Islands of Adventure®

Universal Orlando: When to Go


Universal Orlando has two traditional "low seasons" (i.e. times when crowds are lowest): 

·         Jan 5 through 2nd week of February

·         After Labor Day (early September) through 2nd week of December (except for the week of Thanksgiving)


These "low times" correspond to the best times to get discounts on hotel accommodations both within the Universal Orlando complex and off-site in the Orlando area.


Weather in Orlando rarely gets very cold, but often gets both warm and humid. Check out season highs and lows here.


Your family situation may dictate other travel times, of course, but I strongly suggest these low seasons if at all possible. Midsummer in hot, rainy, humid Orlando is not pleasant and the Christmas Holiday week is absolutely packed.

Universal Orlando: How to Get There


By Plane: Book your flight to the Orlando/Sanford Airport (airport abbreviation SFB)  or the much larger (and closer to Universal) Orlando International Airport (MCO)


SFB is a small but clean airport served by a number of discount airlines (including Allegiant Air)  and is sometimes worth the extra time, occasional heavy traffic and premium car rental charges it tends to incur.


MCO is one of the nicest airports I have ever visited. Fast glass-enclosed robotic shuttles whisk you between departure gates and main terminal. Don’t bother with rental cars if you are staying “on-property” at Universal and are staying for 3 days or less, you simply won’t use it. But of course you DO need to get the rather substantial distance from the airport to Universal.... so....


If you are a single traveler: take the Mears Shuttlebus service (get tickets across from most Orlando Baggage Claim Areas) for drop off directly at your Universal hotel. Mears is one of Orlando's largest transportation services. My primary gripe with Mears is occasional crowded buses which makes the trip uncomfortable or a few too many intermediate stops in a big crowd. Mears guarantees your on-time pickup back to the airport or they'll pick up personal taxi fare (which can get pricey).


If you’ve got two or more traveling with you, I recommend the Tiffany Towncar Service, a chauffeured limo service that will meet you at the foot of the baggage claim escalators and help load you and your travel companions into a very nice, late model limo (or bus, if you’ve got a large group) and quickly take you directly to Universal at a very reasonable price. They often have a coupon on their web site good for a round trip discount.

Universal Orlando: Where to Stay

Universal Orlando's on-site hotels mean convenience and make the most efficient use of your precious vacation time. As of summer 2016, Universal Orlando (UO) has five on-site hotels run by the Loews hotel chain. These hotels are classified into three value/price categories with different benefits:

Prime Value Resorts – Cabana Bay

·         Comparable to Disney’s Value Resorts (All Star, Pop Century) in room size, resort amenities and pricing

·         Early Admission to Harry Potter: Allows admission one hour before the general public to the Harry Potter section in one of Universal Orlando’s theme parks on most days. Ask the concierge or check Universal Orlando’s web site or smartphone app for times and requirements.

·         Offers complimentary shuttle bus transportation to both Universal theme parks and Universal Citywalk

·         Allows resort-wide charging privileges with resort room key

·         Complimentary delivery of merchandise purchase in Universals Theme parks or Citywalk to your resort

·         Complimentary scheduled transportation to Universals waterpark, and to Seaworld and its Aquatica waterpark. Note: No complimentary transportation to Disney parks.

·         Quick service restaurants within the hotel

·         Character appearances at the resort at selected times

·         Reasonable walking distance from the resorts to Universal’s theme parks

Preferred Resorts – Royal Pacific and Sapphire Falls

·         Comparable to Disney’s Moderate Resorts (Coronado Springs, Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans/Riverside) in room size, resort amenities and pricing

·         All the benefits of the Prime Value Resorts, plus water taxi to the park

·         Sit down restaurants within the hotel

·         In a bizarre inconsistency, Royal Pacific offers two additional benefits:

1.    Universal Express Unlimited passes to skip the lines at select rides (not including Harry Potter rides) for the length of your stay. This perk allows you to show a specially printed ticket with your picture on it available at your Lowe's hotel at Islands of Adventure and Studios' most popular attractions and use the Express entrance, which allows you to wait in special, shorter ride lines all day, with no limit. Your theme park admission is extra (you can buy park tickets for several durations at the hotel desk or at park entrances). In my opinion, your UO's Deluxe Hotels' automatic Universal Express Ride Access Pass feature is the most important benefit of "staying deluxe" on-site at Universal, because it allows you to get through more important attractions in significantly less time, especially useful during UO's peak visitation seasons.

2.    Priority seating/reservations at select Universal Resort restaurants. Ask your hotel concierge for details.

Premier Resorts – Portofino Bay and Hard Rock Hotel

·         Comparable to Disney’s Deluxe Resort hotels (Polynesian, Contemporary, Grand Floridian) in room size, resort amenities, and pricing

·         Includes all the benefits of Prime Value and Preferred resorts, including the Express Unlimited passes and Priority seating at select Universal Restaurants

·         Note: Hard Rock is adjacent to the Universal Studios theme park – closest of the 5 hotels to Universal’s theme parks and Universal Citywalk.

All UO on-site hotels charge for self-parking (fees vary for registered guests with in/out privilege). This fee seems high given the relatively premium price for room rates, but the lots are full most weekends and the policy successfully discourages locals from using the hotel parking lots to avoid Universal’s standard for-pay on-site parking.

More detailed information on differences between Universal’s on-site resorts can be found on the Universal Orlando Web Site

(1) Portofino Bay Resort - Universal’s Premier Resort Category - UO's high-end, on-site hotel, it features the resort's largest guest rooms, UO's only full service spa, and 3 large pools in an Italian-themed hotel. This property creates a mood and ambience not enjoyed by its sister UO resorts. Elegant public spaces, a richly themed harbor area, and opulent rooms in a rambling lushly landscaped complex make it an ideal romantic retreat for a weekend or a week. A variety of both kid-friendly and adult catering dining opportunities make it the most comprehensive - and most expensive - of the Universal property resorts. Room sizes start at 450 sqft. Portofino Bay offers an optional, extra cost “Club Level” upgrade with complimentary continental breakfast and evening snacks.

(2) Hard Rock Hotel - Universal’s Premier Resort Category - Positioned as a trendy alternative to Universal’s other Premier Category resort (Portofino Bay), the Hard Rock is a better than average, though not stellar, middle child.

Architecturally, Orlando’s Hard Rock Hotel (HRH) reproduces the previously imaginary hotel pictured on the Eagle’s Hotel California album cover. A rambling pool complex with multiple hot tubs, the requisite waterslide, and a larger-than-average poolside bar with performance area makes poolside a place to see and be seen. HRH’s target audience seems to include young professionals, aging but well-heeled baby boomers, a niche market of the proudly but not always tastefully tattooed (temporary tattoos offered poolside seem quite popular with teens and twenty-somethings), and relatively fewer small-child-equipped families than its sister Preferred and Prime Value properties. Room sizes start at 375 sqft. Hard Rock offers an optional, extra cost “Club Level” upgrade with complimentary continental breakfast and evening snacks.

On-Site Dining at the Hard Rock Hotel includes four options.

1.    HRH’s quick service Starbucks/ice cream parlor/packaged snacks and cold drinks store has a nice variety and selection and is open early and stays open late.

2.     The Kitchen” is an upscale; sit down service casual dining venue with both indoor and poolside tables and a better-than-average Menu. Occasional, bordering on rare, visits from celebrity cooks tease guests with the opportunity to glimpse stars.

3.    HRH’s pool side bar, BeachClub, offers various drinks and light food fare and is open most afternoons and evenings in season.  

4.    HRH’s The Palm Restaurant, Orlando’s installment of this nationally recognized upscale steak and seafood chain eatery located off the HRH lobby, is open for dinner only. Its menu, décor and style of service hail from the chain's New York City origins, and attracts business dinners, private celebrations, and frequent return guests. The Palm’s menu features a varied appetizer range, a small but fresh selection of seafood featuring large lobsters, a small selection of Italian entrees, and a featured, almost-too-much-to-eat range of broiled steaks. I recommend trying the Hearts of Palm salad (not always listed on the menu but usually available), a refreshing combination of fresh hearts of palm, tomatoes, and quality dressing over a bed of greens. Seafood quality seems to vary somewhat, but is generally above average for a restaurant known mostly for its steaks. I most often order one of their filet mignon steak cuts, which rarely disappoints. Like most high end steakhouses, The Palm offers a range of sides with some seasonal variation but frequently focused on traditional green vegetables (green beans, asparagus, broccoli) and most any form of potato capable of making your cardiologist cringe. If you decide to frequent the Palm Restaurant chain, be sure to sign up for their loyalty program, The 837 Club, which offers a range of point based rewards, occasional special event announcements, and free food coupons on your birthday.

(3) Royal Pacific Resort  – Universal’s Preferred Resort Category - UO's answer to Disney's Polynesian Resort, the Royal Pacific is a tropical style hotel with a large, kid-friendly (though often very crowded) feature pool. Nice, largish rooms, easy walking distance to Citywalk and the Universal Parks, and friendly staff. Room sizes start at 335 sqft. Royal Pacific offers an optional, extra cost “Club Level” upgrade with complimentary continental breakfast and evening snacks. Royal Pacific's "Islands Dining Room" is a large casual dining restaurant, featuring occasional themed dining and buffet specials in a tropical theme.  Also features Emeril Lagasse’s Tchoup Chop restaurant, which I recommend for dinner. Try the signature Banana Crème pie for dessert.

(4) Sapphire Falls Resort – Universal’s Preferred Resort Category - Opened summer 2016, Sapphire Falls is the Caribbean themed sister property to the adjacent Polynesian-themed Royal Pacific. It has the largest pool of the Universal hotels, and is the newest of Universal’s hotel properties. Thus far, it tends to be slightly less expensive per night than Royal Pacific, but it also suffers from not having the very valuable Universal Express unlimited passes. Room sizes start at 321 sqft.

(5) Cabana Bay Resort – Universal’s Prime Value Resort Category - Opened in 2014, this Universal on-site value-priced property targets families and economy-minded travelers. Cabana Bay is a retro-themed, mega-resort with two themed pools. Room choices are generally smaller than comparable Portofino, Hard Rock or Royal Pacific accommodations and are priced in the value to moderate range. The resort offers your choice of:


300 square foot Standard Rooms sleeping up to 4 guests

 430 square foot Family Suites sleeping up to six and including a fold-out foam bed, kitchenette, a sliding partition for privacy, two flat-screen TVs, and an extra-large bathroom with preparation spaces for three people at once. Family Suites' innovative three compartment bathroom allows a larger family to clean up with a little more privacy/efficiency. Compartment one contains the tub/shower combination containing a retractable clothesline and single, vanity sink. Compartment two contains a sink and vanity. Compartment three contains the toilet.

Compared to the Premier or Preferred UO Hotels, Cabana Bay's rooms are spartan, but comfortable (and colorful) and come equipped with USB power charging ports (a first for the UO property hotels). Half the resort (Buildings 4,5, and 6) has rooms with interior hall entrances, the other half (Buildings 1-3) has rooms entered directly from the outside. The property features a moderately priced food court, 10 lane bowling alley, and two feature pools - one with a lazy river and one with a water slide. Onsite parking is accessed via cardkey provided for a daily fee. Retro-themed shuttle bus service and (eventually) walking paths connect Cabana Bay to Universal Citywalk and from there to the Universal Orlando Theme Parks.  Cabana Bay is Universal's alternative to  Disney World's All Stars, Port Orleans, and Caribbean Beach value and moderate resorts.



Important Things to Know about Cabana Bay



Unlike UO's other Lowes properties:

·         Cabana Bay does NOT offer Universal's Express Ride Access pass. Cabana Bay guests stand in line like the rest of UO's day guests.

·         Cabana Bay does not allow pets. Most of the other UO Lowes properties not only allow, but pamper, pets.

·         Cabana Bay does not honor Lowe's First, the frequent-guest program honored by many other Lowe's hotels.

·         No water launch service is available from Cabana Bay to the UO parks or Citywalk.

Universal Orlando: What To Do



Islands of Adventure Theme Park

Must Ride:


Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - Universal did an amazing job developing Harry Potter's Village of Hogsmeade. The entire area is richly detailed. Even its snack selection is unique within the park. Signature ride is "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey", which uses robotic arm technology to insert you into the action. Intense and sometimes nausea inducing, this innovative ride usually has a long line during peak times and does not support Express Passes to bypass these lines. But the wait might be worth it if you are either a Harry Potter Fan or like advanced ride/simulator technology.


Dragon Challenge, located in The Village of Hogsmeade area (prior to Harry Potter, this ride was called Dueling Dragons) this claims to be the world’s only dueling inverted coaster - At the end of Islands of Adventure's elaborate wait queue lies a choice: Chinese Fireball or Hungarian Horntail, two free-swinging feet-type coasters whose tracks interact with each other and (sometimes) launch simultaneously like a perverse competition. The two-and-a-half minute ride soars 125 feet into the air, reaching speeds of 55 miles per hour, and includes a zero-G roll, corkscrews and vertical loops. Originally, the dual coasters launched simultaneously and produced plus three near misses with the other dragon where riders pass within 18 inches of each other; but accidents have recently cancelled this feature. The coasters launch separately. Front of the line is often a significant wait, but might be worth it for the true adrenaline freak in you.


Universal Studios Theme Park


Must Ride: Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit - Opened in Fall, 2009, this ride features the worlds highest  vertical lift of 17 stories, six near-miss experiences, speeds of up to 65 miles per hour, and a non-inverting loop —you must try it to understand it. Once you board the coaster, choose your soundtrack (very quickly) from one of many songs in six musical genres, and secure that lap bar—you’ll shoot straight up upon launch. Your entire experience is videotaped and synchronized to your tunes. After you stumble uncertainly off the ride, choose to download or email a full-length, custom music video of your ride...if you have the bucks.


Harry Potter - Diagon Alley - the 2014 expansion of Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience features a different immersive environment with shopping, dining and two new rides:


Must Ride: Escape from Gringotts - what happens when a visit to underground bank vaults run by goblins go awry? It turns into a 3-D ride in a simulator vehicle and dramatic visual effects anchoring this new area. The wait queue features animatronics goblin bankers and a fairly convincing creaky elevator simulator taking you deep underground to storage vaults where you ride begins.


Hogwarts Express - the first park-to-park train between Orlando theme parks linking Universal Studio's Diagon Alley area with Islands of Adventure's Hogsmeade Village. You must have a two park ticket to ride this attraction, which features not only the physical transportation between parks but an intriguing view of the journey and insight into other travelers’ hallway conversations.

Universal Orlando: Where to Eat


Emeril Lagasse’s Tchoup Chop restaurant at the Royal Pacific Resort - most people will see and want to get into the main Emeril Restaurant in Universals more easily accessible CityWalk. But for a quieter, and often less crowded dinner, try Tchoup Chop.


BICE Ristorante at the Portofino Bay Hotel is open for dinner and available to anyone (not just Portofino Bay guests). Menu is authentic Italian, elegantly presented, although relatively expensive Phone: 407-503-1415.

Top Tips and Friendly Advice


Universal Express Pass - Similar to Disney's FastPass system, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure have a queuing system that allows careful planners to get through selected rides faster. On most days, you can BUY an Express Pass inside the park at selected (typically the best) attractions to gain access to an attraction's special Express entrance.   This Express Pass feature is a paid version of the Express Unlimited Access available for on-site select hotel guests.


Book a Cabana Day - Guests staying at any of Universals Orlando's on-site hotels have some great pools. But if you want to spend an entire day at a pool, consider booking the luxury of a cabana at Portofino Bay Hotel. I've found - assuming capacity is available -  that your hotel's concierge can book (for a daily fee) a nice covered cabana, with food and beverage service even if you aren't staying at Portofino Bay.




This Unofficial website is NOT affiliated with  Universal Studios in any way. For official information on Universal Studios please visit their website. All rights are reserved by the author/editor.
Universal Studios and it's theme parks, events, attractions and area names are trademarks of Universal Studios.
Universal Orlando, Islands of Adventure and its theme parks, events attractions and area names may be trade or service marks of Universal Studios.