My family and I recently treated ourselves to a night at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at The Universal Orlando Resort. This AAA Four Diamond Award Winning Hotel is Universal’s deluxe resort and it is very nice. We have not had the privilege of visiting the real Portofino in Italy but we did a Google image search and – as near as we can tell – this resort does a good job of capturing the essence. Some nice touches are Italian employees, directional signs in both English and Italian, and even a cute little European car parked out front.
I have four children so we do not usually stay in “Deluxe” accommodations but I have stayed at the Disney deluxe resorts and some non-theme park luxery hotels like the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. On the whole, Portofino Bay was better than the Disney deluxe resorts but not quite on par with the Broadmoor.
Our Arrival – We pulled up in our rental mini-van and immediately had several attendants dressed like characters from “Gidget Goes to Rome” rush over to welcome us and to help with luggage. They directed us to a temporary parking spot and we went inside to the peaceful and elegantly appointed lobby. Although we arrived several hours before check-in but we were able to leave our luggage in their luggage services area. We were given room keys that serve as the “Express Pass” at the Universal theme parks and were told that we would receive a call to our cell phone giving us our room numbers once the rooms were ready. We needed connecting rooms which have a limited availability. If we had been in standard rooms, they would have upgraded us to water-view rooms at no extra cost.
Express Pass – The great thing about staying at an official Universal Orlando resort hotel is that you receive “Express Pass” privileges at no extra cost. “Express Pass” is Universal’s answer to Disney’s “Fastpass” but, unlike Disney, it is not free. A limited number of “Express Passes” are available for purchase in addition to the cost of your admission ticket. This privilege will cost an extra $15 - $45 per person, per day. The lower the cost, the less you need it. I misplaced my notes but it seems that Express Passes were running about $30 per day while we were there. For a family of four, the Express Pass would’ve been an extra $120 per day. Since you receive express pass privileges for your arrival day and your departure day, the Express Pass feature was a $240 value. That makes the cost of the room seem pretty reasonable. Generally, the “Express Pass” is only good for one “front of the line” privilege per Express Pass enabled attraction when purchased separately but there is not a limit to “front of the line” privileges for hotel guests – this is a huge advantage. This benefit is also available to guests at Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel and Royal Pacific Hotel. The accommodations aren’t cheap but, if you are visiting Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure during peak vacation times, it may be worth spending at least one night at one of the resorts just to maximize your theme park touring plans – especially if you are primarily interested in the roller coasters and headliner attractions. If you are going during a lower crowd season, use our custom Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure theme park touring plans and you will not need “Express Passes” for your family. If you are going during the holidays or peak vacation season, have us book your room for the Express Pass benefits and we will still help with touring plans because not every attraction is Express Pass eligible.
Our room – We had a garden view room with two beds. You can see from the photos that the room was great even though it was a standard room. The mattresses were comfortable, the linens were nice, and the room had a luxurious look and feel. I would venture a guess that the bathroom was much bigger than most bathrooms in Portofino, Italy. One advantage this hotel has over most of the Disney deluxe accommodations is that these rooms can accommodate up to five people.
The Pools – Portofino Bay has three swimming pools with the Beach Pool featuring a Roman Aqueduct water-slide and a sandy beach-like area; two Jacuzzis and a children’s pool are also available. Two other pools – The Villa Pool and the Hillside Pool – are a bit less likely to draw crowds of kids.
Dining – We were hitting the theme parks pretty hard so we did not have time to try a lot of the resort dining. There are three sit-down restaurants on the premises:
• Mama Della’s Ristorante – Dinner only with Italian favorites and strolling musicians.
• Bice Ristorante – Dinner only with a more chic feel to the décor and menu.
• Trattoria del Porto – Breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a family friendly atmosphere. Closed for dinner on Tuesday & Wednesday nights. Breakfast and dinner buffets available on certain days of the week. Thursday through Saturday nights feature some form of entertainment – magicians, characters, or clown balloonists - geared towards children.
My son tried the 24-hour Room Service and was quite pleased with it. Of course, he is thrilled anytime he is fed so you cannot consider that an entirely objective evaluation.
My daughter and her friends loved the Splendido Pizzeria, which features quick service options by the pool. The prices were a little high and I will never forgive this location for teaching my girls that they can charge things to the room key.
The grown-ups in our party were very happy with the selections of pizzas, salads, antipasto etc. available at Sal’s Market Deli. We were in the midst of a nine-day theme park research trip that was beginning to feel like a bit of a death march but my wife was happily munching away at this casual eatery.
The Thirsty Fish and Bar American offer a selection of drinks but we did not have time to try either.
Things We Didn’t Have Time To Try –
The Portofino Bay hotel offers the Mandara Spa & Fitness Center with an amazing array of Salon and Spa service at prices ranging from $25 (child’s haircut) - $350 (Elemis Absolute Spa Ritual). The fitness center is $12 daily with a bit of discount when you purchase a multi-day pass of three or more days.
Musica della Notte – nightly musical performances in the Harbor Piazza at sunset.
Shopping, Bocce Ball Courts, Dive-In Movies, Game Room, and Jogging Paths. We love Dive-In movies – movies shown at night on a screen beside the pool. Just out of curiosity, who are these people who feel the need to go jogging when you’re spending all day, every day walking in the theme parks?
Campo Portofino – When the family vacation has just a little too much family togetherness, this supervised children’s program is available for $12 per hour, per child so Mom & Dad can slip away for a little grown-up time.
Happiest Surprise – we are very easily amused so it brought no end of delight to find a special room-service menu for pets. The best part is that there are hot and cold selections available for your precious pooch. I am dreading the day our border collie (a.k.a. “the criminal genius”) learns to charge pool-side doggie biscuits to the room card.
Biggest disappointment – self-service parking is an extra $12 per day and it does not apply to the theme park parking lots. You can take the free boat transportation from the hotel but - if you do need to take your car - you’ll pay $11 for the privilege. The Disney hotels offer free hotel and theme-park parking privileges to their guests. Also, getting from the parking garage to our room was a long, confusing trek.
The Portofino Bay Hotel at the Universal Orlando Resort and Theme Park is a beautiful and luxurious option for couples, families, or anyone needing a peaceful retreat from all the sensory input the theme parks throw your way. Perfect for those traveling with pampered pets. The proximity to the Universal Theme parks is a nice plus and the Express Pass benefits are wonderful. The boat transportation to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk is certainly a nice touch. These deluxe accommodations do come with a deluxe price tag but may be a surprisingly good value if you were considering paying extra for “Express Passes”.
All of the travel agents at Build A Better Mouse Trip are Universal Parks & Resort Vacations Specialists. Contact us for a free, no-obligation quote. We offer custom Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure touring plans and will always work to help you get the best value – whether you purchase a vacation package or book the hotel reservation and tickets separately. We can also put together an itinerary that includes Disney, Busch Gardens, and/or SeaWorld theme parks as well as beach days, cruises, or anything important to you.
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