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Suite Showdown: Universal vs. Disney

Loews Royal Pacific Resort

Image: Universal

Opened in 2002, this is the “newest” of the original Universal resorts. Over a three-year period, the company introduced a new deluxe hotel annually. After Royal Pacific, they didn’t build anything else for 13 years. So, it was the baby of the family for more than a decade before Cabana Bay came along. It’s also the resort that gets (possibly unfairly) criticized the most for its lack of originality. That’s because it’s unmistakably similar in nature to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Both properties celebrate the Pacific islands culture.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort introduces its theme as you approach the resort. You cross a bamboo bridge to reach the lobby. Here, you’ll feel embraced by the tropical setting as you see stylish Balinese umbrellas populated throughout the greeting space. It’s so serene that you’ll feel like you’re on vacation the moment you see the hotel up ahead.

One of the differences between the first three Universal resorts and the most recent two is the number of room types. If we only discuss suites, Royal Pacific has the King Suite, the Royal Club Level King Room, the Royal Club Level 2 Queen Room, the Royal Club King Suite, the Jurassic Park Kids’ Suite (Velociraptors not included), the Hospitality Parlor Suite, The Royal Hospitality Parlor Suite, and the Captain’s Presidential Suite. That’s…too much.

Let’s focus on the ultimate suites at Pacific Resort. Those are the Royal Hospitality Parlor Suite and the Captain’s Presidential Suite. If you’re wondering if there’s a difference between the non-royal and royal suites, there actually is. The “regular” Hospitality Parlor Suite is smaller, as it has 1,005 square feet of the space. Meanwhile, the Lorde-approved version is more than 30 percent bigger, with 1,340 square feet. More than half of that room is in the Parlor; it’s 670 square feet on its own, which is equal to or bigger than almost all the other suites listed above.

Image: Universal

Located on the Royal Club Lounge level, the seventh floor, the Royal Hospitality Parlor Suite is cleverly constructed for functionality. It has two and a half baths, one adjoining each of the bedrooms, plus a stand up shower in the common area of the suite. It also includes a dining room complete with eight-person conference table. Factoring in the work desk in the living room area, you can actually invite some co-workers up to this space and get actual work done. Of course, if you’re working while right down the street from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’re doing it wrong.

The incongruity about the Royal Hospitality Parlor Suite is that Universal lists a maximum occupancy of seven. By my count, ten is feasible, so their calculation must involve fire code laws or the like. One of the bedrooms features a king bed that Universal states can comfortably hold three guests (that sounds more fitting for the Hard Rock Hotel, right?) and a second bedroom with a pair of queen beds, so that’s five more by Universal’s own count. Then, the foldout sofa hosts two more guests. Also, with the large kitchen space, you can hold a major noshing session at your hospitality suite. It really is a wonderful option for a fun party or laid back business meeting. Hospitality Suites start at $800 per night, and the Royal version costs $1,150 on average.

Image: Universal

The Captain’s Presidential Suite is actually capable of transforming, apt for a place just down the road from Transformers the Ride. The smaller version of the suite is 1,340 square feet. Guests have the option of adding a second connecting bedroom. Should you choose to do so, that’ll expand the square footage to just over 2,000.

When you stay here, you’re technically visiting the home of Captain Jake McNally, whose backstory is the basis of the entire resort. Staying at his quarters will include a relaxing hot tub to recharge your body after a day of sailing the high seas. It also offers many of the same amenities as the Royal Hospitality Parlor Suite, including the same kitchen and dining room features plus a massive sitting area. There’s also a study where an adventurer can jot down the details of their journey before they’re forgotten. For a suite that costs $1,800 a night, it’s oddly silly in nature.

Hard Rock Hotel Orlando

Image: Universal

The Hard Rock Hotel is the momentous exception to the five-resort Universal lineup in Orlando. Unlike the other properties built exclusively as theme park accompaniments, the Hard Rock brand predates everything else by A LOT. The Universal Orlando theme park opened in 1990. Conversely, the first Hard Rock Café is more than 45 years old; the original opened Piccadilly, London, in 1971.

With an established and world-renowned brand already in existence, Universal simply had to build a hotel worthy of the Hard Rock name. What they created in 2000 is a majestic resort chock-full of musical sensibilities and an energetic atmosphere. As an infrequent guest of the hotel, my lone complaint is that the sheer volume of the music played at the Hard Rock Hotel toes the line between thematically perfect and eardrum-poppingly loud. It’s also inescapable. Speakers line the walls of the hotel lobby, the hallways, and even the rooms. For that matter, you can still hear music when you’re hanging out at the hotel’s best amenity, its 12,000 square feet pool area. The sound system even plays underwater! When they say HARD ROCK, they mean it.

Image: Universal

If money is no object for you, this is the place to stay. It’s located closest to the entry gates of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. If you’re familiar with CityWalk, you understand that it’s also the closest to all the restaurants and shops there. One of them is, fittingly, a Hard Rock Café. While walking distance from the hotel is less than 10 minutes, the way that a billionaire would handle their travel is by using one of the readily available rickshaws. Burly men will gladly pull you along to the park gates, the closest modern society can come to the days when sweaty, shirtless gladiators rode their war chariots to glory. Why these are a transportation option at Hard Rock Hotel is a bit of a mystery, though.

As far as the finest rooms go, you should only consider the concierge floor or higher. That way, you’ll get to spend time in a spacious but blissfully quiet room on one of the hotel’s highest floors. This concierge seating area, the Club 7 Lounge, was the only respite of silence I got the last time I stayed there. You’ll enjoy “free” food and drinks throughout your time in the Concierge area, albeit at a cost of about $100-$150 more per night. Note that deals are available for early planners, and I do think that the service is worth upcharge consideration.

Image: Universal

The Hard Rock Hotel Hospitality Suites are 1,250 square feet, plenty of room for you and a few friends and/or groupies. The parlor area is especially impressive, and there’s also a kitchenette, presuming you’re not too rock ‘n’ roll to microwave a burrito. The kingliest space at Hard Rock Hotel Orlando isn’t a step above this level, though. It’s the Graceland Suite, a 2,000 square feet large social space featuring a bed large enough to hold Fat Elvis himself. It also has a hot tub and walk-in closet. It’s basically nicer than your house, although you’ll have to supply your own fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches when you stay here.

Staying on the concierge floor at the Hard Rock Hotel will cost about $500 per night. The Hospitality suites are at least triple that, while a night at faux-Graceland will cost $2,500 or more.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

Image: Universal

Having opened in 1999, this was the first Universal resort, and they decided to compete with the big boys. Rather than make something modest, Universal constructed their direct response to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Their first thought was “viva l'Italia!” So, they built a credible tribute to Portofino, a seaside port on the Italian Riviera.

At the resort, you’ll discover many loving tributes to Italian culture. There’s a piazza by the artificial harbor, where you can sit and admire your surroundings. Then, you can visit the authentic bell tower. Afterward, you can enjoy a dip in the gorgeous pool, all the while appreciating the accompanying building ramparts. Universal constructed these battlements to set the tone for a swim. I find it a bit incongruous, but many people swear by it as the finest hotel pool at Universal (my pick’s Hard Rock Hotel). Independent of what you think of it, your kids will love exploring the region as you relax with a trusty boat drink.

Image: Universal

The two unique suite types at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel are Villa Parlor Suites and the Presidente Suite. The Italian theme permeates throughout the upper tier accommodations here. The Villa Parlor Suites are 1,110 square feet for the basic version. You also have the right to expand to a two-bedroom, adding more square footage while changing the potential number of guests from seven to ten. As is the case with Hospitality Suites, the Parlor comprises more than half the space in the suite. There’s also a kitchenette and a marvelous seating area. The best feature, especially if you’re staying in the west wing, is a huge balcony overlooking the surrounding landscape. Of course, you pay about a dollar per square for this suite, which generally costs at least $1,000 per night.

Image: Universal

At $1,400 as a base rack rate, the Presidente Suite is even pricier. It’s in the conversation for best room at any Universal Orlando hotel, though. With a massive 2,725 square feet, it’s a well-designed condominium more than it’s a hotel room. Amusingly, Universal lists the Presidente Suite as only sleeping three, which makes me wonder if they mean three clones of Andre the Giant. Whatever the explanation, it’s the type of Italian villa that you’d see in a romantic comedy. There’s a magnificent fireplace, a comfy couch and seating area, and a bedroom that would make Hugh Hefner envious. While Loews Portofino Bay Hotel as a whole isn’t on a par with Disney’s Grand Floridian, this suite might be. Of course, at a cost of $2,000 - $2,500 per night, it should be.

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