Free, five-minute water taxi to Universal Orlando; VIP treatment at the parks
Three great pools: two quiet, one with a huge waterslide
Mandara Spa; top-notch fitness center
Quaint piazza with nightly entertainment
Great Italian dining; 24-hour room service
Free basic Wi-Fi
Lack of dining variety -- most restaurants serve Italian
Sprawling property can be difficult to navigate
Modeled after the real Portofino Bay on the Italian Riviera, this 750-room Loews hotel has nightly singers in the piazza, great Italian restaurants, and a waterslide that resembles a Roman aqueduct. It's the most expensive of Universal's three resorts, but that's because of its bigger, more beautiful rooms, gorgeous spa, and three pools, including two quieter ones for couples.
Luxurious rooms, features, and services -- it's the finest hotel in Universal (but not quite an extraordinary luxury experience).
First, the essentials: This 750-room hotel is the best choice for travelers who want three things: 1) To visit Universal Orlando (all Universal hotel guests get preferential treatment at the parks); 2) Large, very comfortable guest rooms that rival the best in Orlando; 3) Lots of on-site features to keep the hectic family-resort atmosphere to a minimum.
Of the three Loews hotels in the Universal complex -- the other two are the Hard Rock Hotel and the Royal Pacific Resort -- this is decidedly the most beautiful, even romantic, resort. Multicolored "villas" overlook a bayside piazza, where every evening a singer belts out classic ballads and Broadway tunes from a spotlighted balcony. Dining is limited to Italian cuisine, but it's an easy and scenic commute to nearby restaurants at the other Universal Resorts or on City Walk via free water taxi.
Among the hotels in Universal Studios, this is certainly the most expensive, but I'm hard-pressed to call the Portofino a true luxury hotel. It has luxe elements, to be sure, such as 24-hour room service, lovely and spacious rooms, three great pools, and the prestigious Mandara Spa. But in aspiring to recreate the eponymous seaside town in the Italian Riviera, the hotel falls a little flat in terms of its design efforts, at least in the public spaces. The prevalence of painted-on details instead of actual fixtures, like the "brick" walls in the lobby and "moldings" throughout the resort, plus the bolted-down Vespas in the piazza, take away from the grander luxury elements. Of course, such is also the case at most theme park resorts (including those at Disney). In Orlando, for a more authentic luxury resort experience and all its gilded and marble trappings, you'll have to head outside the theme parks and into the Ritz-Carlton or (to a lesser extent) the JW Marriott in Grande Lakes.
A wide range of services, including special treatment at Universal's theme parks
Staying at a hotel in Universal Studios has its perks. Guests get special privileges at Universal's parks, and a free water taxi makes the commute from theme park to hotel scenic and hassle free. The quality of service at Portofino is average, with occasional slip-ups -- I called room service to pick up my dinner tray twice, but no one came either time. Restaurant servers, porters, and front desk staff are all friendly and attentive, though.
Poolside drink service available at the main pool, and guests can take out pizzas and burgers from Splendido Bar & Grill, right outside the pool gates.
Evening turndown service is available upon request.
24-hour room service
Free water taxi to and preferential treatment at the Universal Studios theme parks -- bypass the regular lines at most rides and attractions; priority seating at all table-service restaurants (no waiting in line); free package delivery for purchases at the parks; guests can charge all purchases at the parks to their hotel rooms.
Concierge can arrange tickets, transportation, and tours.
Express and video checkout
Weather information at the touch of a button on the phone
Business services include equipment rental and contacting a notary public.
Safe deposit boxes available at front desk at no charge, in case the in-room safe is not enough security.
Guests can wake up to a phone greeting from their favorite Universal character (like Spider-Man or the Cat in the Hat).
Golfers get complimentary transportation to nearby courses and preferred tee times.
Loews Portofino is one of three hotels located inside the Universal Studios Resort complex in Orlando. The three hotels -- Portofino, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific -- connect to the two theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, and to a shopping and dining strip called City Walk.
10-minute walk or a five-minute, free water taxi ride to the theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
10-minute walk or a five-minute water-taxi ride to City Walk, a strip with shops, bars, restaurants and nightclubs
Five-minute drive to SeaWorld and Wet 'n Wild parks; the hotel provides a free shuttle
Five-minute drive to International Drive, a 14.5 mile road parallel to Interstate 4 that's chock-full of hotels, strip malls, outlet shops, and restaurants. In the middle of this stretch is the Orange County Convention Center.
20-minute drive to downtown Orlando; there's not much to see downtown, though Orange Avenue has a notable dining and nightlife scene, and non-theme-park attractions like the Orlando Science Center and Harry P. Leu Gardens are popular with tourists.
25-minute drive to Walt Disney World
One-hour-and-25-minute drive to Kennedy Space Center
20-minute drive to the Orlando International Airport
Large and elegant rooms with plush beds and modern technology
It's easy to see why rooms at this hotel are the most expensive of the three Loews resorts at Universal Studios. Rooms were completely renovated in 2013, introducing a sophisticated color palette modeled after the hotel's namesake: Portofino, Italy. Soft cream colors are paired with aquas and rich terra cotta marble. Furniture is stylish but comfortable, creating a relaxing atmosphere amidst the general bustle of Orlando.
Very large standard rooms (450 square feet) -- among the biggest standard rooms in Orlando; each has either a king- or two queen-size beds
The best features of any of the three Universal hotels
Besides having three great pools, Loews Portofino is the only hotel at Universal Studios with a spa, and a singer that performs nightly on a balcony above the piazza. Other features can also be accessed at the sister properties, the Hard Rock and Royal Pacific.
Mandara Spa is a reputable spa chain from Bali, with signature treatments like the Mandara Four Hands Massage. Makeup, nail treatment, and hair removal also available. In-room massages can be arranged.
Fitness center: Great gym with an extensive range of modern equipment (treadmills, bikes, stair climbers, free weights, and weight machines); plus, access to the spa's sauna and steam room.
The business center (open 24 hours) is staffed by an attendant Monday through Saturday to help with faxes, copies, overnight packages, and computer rentals.
The game room has about a dozen coin-operated machines (open 24 hours).
Shops selling resort apparel, paintings, and convenience items are located around the piazza.
Like almost every other hotel in Orlando, this one's got meeting rooms and event space.
Unlike the one-size-fits-all approach to poolside fun and relaxation at most Orlando resorts, Portofino Bay has three very distinct pools to suit each type of guest.
The main pool, the de facto children's pool, is a gargantuan stone fort with '90s pop blaring from the surrounding speakers. It includes:
A sandy shore
Shallow zero-depth access
An excellent, Roman acqueduct-style waterslide
Lifeguards on duty
Food and drink service
The other two pools are decidely more laid-back. If families flock to the main pool, then couples prefer the quiet and scenic villa pool. The lap pool is framed by palm trees, manicured lawns, and two Jacuzzis. If this is still too busy for you, there's the hillside pool, an oval pool tucked away at the edge of the property and surrounded by lush foliage. No lifeguards or drink service at either pool.
While all three Universal Orlando hotels have an extensive range of family features, Portofino has the atmosphere of, and the reputation for being, a more grown-up, almost romantic resort. Hard Rock, by comparison, has a festive, rock-'n'-roll vibe that's great for teens, and Royal Pacific's tropical theme wins over most kids, especially with its twice-weekly luau. Still, Portofino has a solid range of family-friendly features, and guests can always travel to the other two resorts via the free inter-resort boat.
Standard rooms with two queen-size beds can accommodate a family of four; five, with a rollaway (charged per night) or crib (free).
Kids' Suites available -- a 650 square-foot unit with a standard room and an adjoining, themed kids' room, with a kid-size desk and thematic designs.
The hotel's DVD lending library consists of just about 20 titles, all family friendly films produced by Universal Studios.
The kids' club, Campo Portofino, is open nightly; reservations requested 24 hours in advance.
Daily activities for kids' ages four to 14 include a treasure hunt and a water balloon toss.
Babysitting service can be arranged through the concierge.
Kid-friendly food is available at all the restaurants.
Kids can dine with their favorite character from a Universal movie at the hotel. Care to dine with Spidey or the Cat in the Hat? Make a reservation with the concierge.
Pets are allowed, with restrictions and requirements, and a daily $50 fee
As at any Loews Hotel, Portofino Bay welcomes pets, so long as guests comply with specific rules. The hotel charges a fee of $50 per night—with a maximum of $150 per stay. Two pets of any size are allowed per room, and there is a daily cleaning fee. Each pet receives a pet tag, a bowl, and a treat upon arrival.
A health certificate for each pet, obtained from a veterinarian within 10 days of the pet’s arrival, must be presented if requested.
Pets must be supervised at all times while in the hotel, and must be leashed or restrained in public spaces. Dogs may be walked in designated areas only. Pet-sitting services can be arranged through the concierge.
A per hour "time out" fee is assessed by the hotel management if a pet is left unattended and needs to be removed from a guest room.
Arrangements must be made with housekeeping for daily room cleaning.
Owners are responsible for pet waste cleanup.
If the dog’s behavior results in complaints by other guests, the owner may be asked to board the dog in an outside shelter.
Pets are not allowed in the pool/lounge, fitness center, or restaurant areas.
With five restaurants, two bars, a Starbucks, and a gelateria/espresso shop on-site, it would seem like there's a lot of dining variety at this hotel. That's true, but only if you're intent on exploring regional Italian cuisine -- pizzas, pastas, risottos, and antipasti basically make up the entire menu at Loews Portofino. This carb-heavy diet can get old really quickly, so don't forget that you can always hop on a free water taxi to get to the restaurants at City Walk or to the other two Universal Loews hotels.
Bice Ristorante is a restaurant chain from Milan, and it's the hotel's fine dining establishment. Expensive and average-tasting entrees include a rack of lamb with sauteed spinach and pesto mash; open only for dinner.
Mama Della's Ristorante serves family-style servings of dishes from Tuscany, Naples and Piemonte. "Mama" is on hand every evening to serve dinner. Open only for dinner.
Trattoria del Porto is a casual eatery open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sal's Market Deli serves brick-oven pizzas, deli items, cheeses, antipasti and salads; open for lunch and dinner.
Gelateria is next door to Sal's, serving gelato, breakfast sandwiches, and pastries.
Splendido Bar & Grill is located right outside the main pool. Guests can enjoy a brick-oven pizza, salad, or burger poolside.
Guests can get their drink on at two bars: the Thirsty Fish has a great location on the harbor; Bar American is in the lobby.
24-hour room service includes mostly Italian fare (pizzas, pastas, risottos) plus American favorites for breakfast and late-night dining. A gratuity charge and delivery fee is automatically added to the bill.
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