Our family of four travels to Universal in Orlando often. We've stayed at every on-site hotel and know the landscape well.
Are Club Rooms Worth the Extra Cost?
This article will look at the three hotels on the Universal Orlando property where you can get a club room. It will then examine which one offers the best experience and whether or not the cost justifies the expense.
Club rooms are worth the cost depending on your group size. Another factor is convenience. Club rooms increase convenience and maximize your ability to enjoy the resort.
Randomly picking a couple of days, the cost for a normal room at Portofino Bay hotel in Universal's Orlando resort is $429.00 per night. The cost of a club room during the same stay is $494.00. Keep in mind, this differential changes all the time. So, pay attention.
Aside from what probably seems like an extraordinarily expensive nightly rate to most people, the differential between a regular room and a club room is $65.00. So what do you get for that $65 and is it worth the extra cost? Is a club room worth the cost in general? I believe it is. Read on to find out why.
What Is My Experience and How Does It Compare to Your Needs?
My family discovered the club room experience after staying at various Orlando hotels and Universal properties. We stayed both on-site and at independently-owned hotels off-site several times.
I have a family of four, including my wife and two, small children, who are both under the age of ten. Thus, it's still possible for all of us to sleep in the same room and keep our costs down.
We transitioned to a club room over the course of several stays. After a few stays, we realized that there was a significant cost savings. Ever tried to order full meals for a kid at a restaurant? You usually end up with a lot of wasted food. You end up wondering why you just spent the money to have your child pick at the food and ultimately refuse to eat it.
Staying at one of these three hotels: Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay, or Hard Rock, already offers certain amenities. There are free express passes (a value of up to $85/day per person). There's easy access to the two theme parks via water taxis or walking. Alone, this saves significant amounts of time and improves enjoyment of the parks. Also, it saves on things like rental cars.
Taking the benefit of the express pass alone (which allows one to bypass long lines), the value to a family of four per day can be up to $340. So even when one considers the $500 nightly room rate, that is cut down to $160/night if the value of the express passes is considered. On a busy day, that value can be substantial. Would you rather wait in a two hour line or a twenty minute line?
Still, $500/night is nothing to sneeze at. But given the rather small differential between a regular room and a club room, is there even more value that can be had?
Each hotel offers approximately the same type of club room amenities: a club room lounge accessible only by club room guests, a continental breakfast, a snack time around lunch, hors d'oeuvr/dinner with free wine and beer, and dessert. Water bottles are available upon request for taking to the parks along with granola bars. However, the quality and quantity of each of these amenities do vary by hotel and this is where choosing wisely comes into play.
Our experience shows that there is a difference between the three hotel and a definite winner in terms of value. No matter what hotel you choose though, the club room option can reap substantial rewards.
Assessing Value in a Universal Orlando Club Room for 4 People
|Service||Value for 4||Club Amenities Value|
Loews Royal Pacific Hotel: On-Site Value
Although Loews Royal Pacific was our least favorite of the three hotels, it is still a nice hotel and generally less expensive than the other two, which are considered premium hotels, while Royal Pacific is considered a preferred hotel.
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That said, the rooms are updated and very modern, although they are also the smallest rooms of the three hotels at only 335 square feet. Considering that you get almost 120 square feet more at Portofino Bay, paying the extra costs is worth considering. There's almost nothing you can do in the room except for sleep. The bathroom also only has one sink. Rooms at both the Hard Rock and Portofino Bay have two sinks.
The club room at the Royal Pacific, which is on the 7th floor of tower 3, is very nice. It's a very pleasant, comfortable space with a lot of seating. It is larger than the club room at the Hard Rock, but smaller than the one at Portofino. Of the three, I would say it's the second nicest. In terms of the total number of club rooms though, Royal Pacific has the least. Because they are the least expensive, they fill up fast.
Breakfasts are continental style and include fresh fruit, oatmeal, yogurt (although they only offered Yoplait light while I was there, which has Sucralose to cut calories), assorted pastries, bagels, apple juice, orange juice, and coffee. One thing that Royal Pacific has that nobody else has is an automatic pancake maker. You just push a button and it spits out two pancakes.
Snack time consists of trail mix and a spicy cracker mix. Royal Pacific does offer a pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which is nice for taking to the parks.
Royal Pacific's dinners have the advantage of being the most diverse in terms of menu rotation. Their menu rotated every week - so a different meal every day of the week, which is better than the other hotels, which usually repeat every four days. However, the variety of each dinner is very limited. Each dinner includes a salad and a main entree, so there's not a lot of choices. If you don't like something that is being served, you likely aren't eating at all and it's more likely you will have to get dinner elsewhere.
Each night has a theme. So there was a Caribbean night, an American night, an Italian night, and so on. The food quality was generally quite high, though meals emphasized meat and salt and heavy sauces.
A definite highlight at Royal Pacific were the desserts. Although they were small portions, the desserts were high quality and had a lot of variety.
Outside of the benefits of the club room, the hotel itself is very nice and the service, like the other hotels, is outstanding. Depending on your perspective, you may find the pool lacking as it does not have a slide. However, it does have a really nice atmosphere and a big boat water feature where the kids can play.
Of the three hotels, it is the second-longest walk, but probably closer to the parks from a noise perspective. The hotel sits across from the Islands of Adventure and one can hear the Hulk coaster roaring all the time. I found this to be something of a distraction - the inability to feel away from the theme park.
Overall, if you didn't have the experience of the other hotels, Royal Pacific would seem excellent, but unfortunately it pales a little bit compared to the others, which is not something the resort tries to hide. That said, it does deliver the same level of service as the others and the people there are quite wonderful.
|Hotel||Room Size (sq. feet)||Minutes from Theme Park by Foot|
Hard Rock Hotel: Hip, Fun, and Close to the Parks
Of the three hotels offering club rooms at Universal Orlando, the Hard Rock Hotel is the only one not run by Loews, although guests will be hard-pressed to notice any particular difference between the three in terms of service or beds or things like that.
In terms of the hotel itself, the primary reasons for staying there are its hip atmosphere and proximity to the theme parks (walking takes about five minutes). The rooms are slightly larger than Royal Pacific. The pool area includes two hot tubs and a long slide.
The club lounge is on the seventh floor and requires a special key (like all the others). It's a smaller lounge than the ones in Royal Pacific or Portofino, which can cause issues when things are busy. It's not uncommon during dinner service to have a line out the door. In fact of the three club lounges, Hard Rock's seems the busiest and most often has a line to get to the food.
During breakfast, Hard Rock serves a continental breakfast similar to the one served at Royal Pacific, with the notable exception that Hard Rock offers donuts, which is a big hit with my kids. They also offer a wider variety of cereals.
The snack break offerings are also slightly nicer than Royal Pacific's because they are bagged snacks instead of snacks in a community bowl, so you can grab a bunch of them and save them for later. Usually, Hard Rock offers a variety of bagged chips and some bagged cookies. They also offer lemonade all day in addition to the canned soft drinks offered at Royal Pacific.
Dinner is where the difference in cost between Hard Rock and Royal Pacific plays out. Hard Rock offers a bigger selection of food for guests that usually includes a non-meat option. Generally, the dinner service includes a cheese and cracker plate (also at Royal Pacific), a vegetable plate (also at Royal Pacific), along with a salad and two entrees.
Although many people use the dinner service as an actual dinner, Hard Rock, more than the other two hotels, seems to intend their dinner as more of an appetizer service. Plates are small, so guests can't take too much at once. However, because of the larger selection, it's much easier to make a meal out of the food. In our case, because of young, picky kids, the food selection works out very well.
Desserts here aren't as good as Royal Pacific. They seem like kind of an afterthought. They seem to cycle through churros, cookies, and cake. Nothing is very special about it and it's certainly an area for improvement.
We have always found the club lounge staff amazing at Hard Rock. They always take the time to interact with guests and we have befriended several members.
Portofino Bay: The Clear Winner
More than any of the other resorts, Portofino Bay gives its guest the impression that it's situated far from the parks in another part of the world. Aside from the fact that it's modeled on an Italian resort, it's the farthest from the theme parks and completely away from any park noise. If you go to Universal Orlando to spend every waking moment at the parks, it's really nice to return to a hotel where it seems like you're somewhere else.
Although walking distance is perhaps a negative of Portofino, savvy guests know that walking time can be cut in half by taking a short cut through the Hard Rock parking lot, which involves crossing a street instead of meandering along a path. This cuts the average walking time in half. And, of course, like the other resorts, taking a water taxi to the parks is always an option.
The club room experience at Portofino Bay is set apart by two things: the size of the rooms and the quality of the food. Both aspects of the experience are unmatched by the other two hotels, which makes the overall value of the club room more significant. If the average value of the other club rooms is $500/day on a busy park day, then the added amenities at Portofino could be as high as $550/day, if not more.
Unlike the other hotels, breakfast at Portofino includes eggs and bacon or sausage, which makes it a more substantial and satisfying breakfast. Snack time includes vegetables and hummus, which can turn it into, depending on one's needs, a filling lunch. Dinner always includes a salad and then an entree with two sides. The food quality and quantity is outstanding and the nutrition level is much higher. Desserts are also a favorite, with very high-quality desserts. Their cookies are especially good. The service is fantastic and the club lounge includes plenty of seating. Although seating was occasionally full there, they had some additional seating to accommodate guests.
Portofino Bay is a large resort with three pools. One includes a slide and daily activities with prizes. One of our favorite lunch options is a pizza at Sal's, which is one of the least expensive lunch options in the entire park. And the pizza is fantastic.
From top to bottom, Portofino Bay is a wonderful resort whose high price probably detours some from looking deeper into the value that it offers.
|Hotel||Club Room Price/Same Day||Club Room Food Quality/Quantity||Dessert Quantity/Quality|
Depending on your budget, affording a club room at Universal Orlando may not be within your means. However, if you take into consideration all your expenses, you may find, like we have, that paying for a club room, though seemingly expensive up front, ends up saving us time and money in the end. When you consider all your costs, a $500/night club room might be less expensive than a $150/night regular hotel room depending on your food needs and family size.
By my calculations, there is an additional $160-$200/night in value staying in a club room for a family of four, so if the differential between a club room and a non-club room is less than that, it should be a consideration.
No matter which club experience you pick in which hotel, you will reap substantial rewards. Although there is a difference between each hotel in terms of value, each has its own charms. Depending on the time of year, you may find all the club rooms in one hotel taken. Don't despair. Search for a club room in one of the other hotels.
If you haven't stayed in a club room, give it a try once. You will probably be surprised by both your experience and the money you save.
Questions & Answers
Question: Hard Rock's club level is level 7. Which floor is Portfino Bay on?
Answer: Club rooms at Portofino are throughout the hotel on the main pool side. The room where they serve food is right near the ticketing counter.
© 2018 Allen Donald