Opened as a single theme park in 1990, Universal Orlando today encompasses two gated theme parks and a shopping, dining and entertainment complex known as Citywalk. Although the complex is located in a largely residential section of Orlando called Dr. Phillips, dozens of hotels line major highways nearby. Universal also offers guests the chance to stay on site at one of three upscale hotels.
Universal Orlando’s on-site hotels are managed by Loews, a well-known hotel chain with properties around the world. The Loews Portofino Bay is themed as an Italian villa, while the Loews Royal Pacific is reminiscent of a tropical island hideaway. As you might expect, the Hard Rock Hotel has a heavy rock-and-roll theme. All three hotels offer spacious guest rooms, kids’ clubs with special activities, multiple restaurants and character dining opportunities. Universal allows guests of any on-site hotel to use the shorter Express lines at its theme parks free of charge, and all three hotels are within walking distance of the theme parks. These hotels are generally pricier than comparable accommodations nearby.
The neighborhoods surrounding Universal Orlando are dotted with deluxe hotels designed to appeal to the discriminating traveler. Located just 10 minutes’ drive from Universal Orlando across from the Orange County Convention Center, the Peabody Orlando was one of only two Orlando hotels to receive four stars from Forbes Travel in 2010. It has been an area landmark since 1986, and is perhaps best known for its duck procession. At precisely 11:00 each morning, the Peabody’s collection of ducks descends a special elevator accompanied by the hotel’s Duck Master for a short march to the lobby fountain. At 5:00 each evening, the ducks march back to the elevator for the return trip to their $100,000 penthouse suite. Orlando’s other four-star property is the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. Modeled after the grand palazzos of Italy, the hotel offers such details as private balconies, marble bathtubs and sinks, and plush bathrobes. Poolside cabanas, 11 restaurants and a signature golf course are among the available amenities. The hotel provides shuttle service to Universal Orlando and other area attractions.
International Drive, colloquially known as I-Drive, is just five minutes from Universal Orlando. The I-Ride Trolley provides convenient service throughout the area, including a stop near Universal. Many area hotels also offer free or low-cost shuttle bus service to the parks. Most major hotel chains have properties on or near I-Drive, and budget choices are abundant. Previously a Best Western, the now privately owned Monumental Movieland Hotel offers a no-frills but comfortable stay, with a heated pool, fitness center and free wireless Internet access. The hotel is just off I-Drive, less than a mile from Universal, and many guests choose to walk rather than taking the trolley or the free hotel shuttle. Another I-Drive highlight is the Red Roof Inn Orlando Convention Center. Located just steps from the deluxe Peabody Orlando, the Red Roof is a clean and comfortable budget alternative. Rooms offer easy chairs and granite bathroom countertops along with free wireless Internet, refrigerators and microwaves. The hotel has an outdoor pool and hot tub, and a surprisingly expansive room service menu is available. A free shuttle takes guests to Universal Orlando and other area attractions.
As a top family tourist destination, virtually all hotels in Orlando are designed with kids in mind. One of the best is the Nickelodeon Suites Resort, located just 11 miles from Universal. The hotel is a destination in its own right, with heavily themed KidSuites, a teen lounge, nightly interactive shows, two small water parks and even an improv comedy dinner. If your kids are fans of Dora, Spongebob or other Nickelodeon characters, this one is worth looking into.