Planning a trip to Universal Orlando and not sure which hotel to stay at? Looking for and deciding on a hotel can be a tough decision – there are so many variables to be considered, especially in relation to visiting a theme park, and you don’t want to leave a vacation feeling like you wish you had done your research better and stayed somewhere else. We recently stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando, which was fabulous. I would recommend it to anyone considering planning a trip to Universal Orlando.
Why we chose the Hard Rock
We chose the Hard Rock because it’s an on-site hotel and the closest of the hotels to the Universal parks. We had grandparents with us and figured this would be the best option. But of course I loved the location just as much for us as I did for them. So, for starters, this was a big selling point for my family. Each morning we would walk out of the hotel and hop on a path that took us through bamboo trees and up to the entrance. It’s no more than a 10 minute walk and a calm, nice way of entering – no parking lot madness!
There is also a complimentary water taxi, which in theory is a great idea, but in reality (at least in our experience), usually includes a wait for the next taxi. Every time we went it was a 10/15 minute wait. But if you don’t mind that, then go for it – it did look fun if we were willing to wait.
In my Guide to Planning a Trip to Universal Studios, I discuss why I think it’s best to stay at an on-site hotel, due to their many benefits. There are 5 main on-site hotels in Universal in three different categories -Premier, Preferred, and Prime Value (the Hard Rock is Premier) – and the benefits they all have in common are: they all offer Early Park Admission, including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, before the parks open to the public (this is very key! The Harry Potter lines are no joke!); they are all within walking distance to the parks (though some much closer than others hint hint!); they all offer Complimentary Transportation to the parks and CityWalk, should you need it; and they all offer Room Key resort-wide charging privileges (no credit card necessary).
Key Benefits of staying at the Hard Rock
The Hard Rock, being a Premier hotel, has some additional key benefits: the most important one being, it gives you a free Universal Express Unlimited Ride pass so you can skip the regular lines. A serious bonus! This is huge, and the most key benefit of them all, and what sets it apart from most other hotels. These days lines at Universal and Disney are so out of control that your experience is truly compromised. Who wants to wait in line for 1-2 hours for 1 ride? You can spend half the day waiting in line for just a couple of the really popular rides. It’s not worth it in my opinion. So I loved that this pass came with staying at the Hard Rock.
The other perk the hotel offers is priority seating at select restaurants throughout the resort, including CityWalk. Some of these restaurants happen to be some of the most popular, like Antojitos, a delicious Mexican restaurant with killer guacamole. Having the ability to sit down with not much wait is a great perk – especially with a margarita after a long day on your feet all day!
The Pool at the Hard Rock Rocks, no Pun Intended!
What was it about the Hard Rock specifically that we liked so much? Well, apart from it being the closet hotel to the parks, we loved the pool. The pool ROCKS. It’s big and fabulous (12,000 square feet) with a sand beach and surrounded by lush green vegetation, and most noticeably it has an underwater sound system. The music never stops! My kids loved this feature. Their favorite part, though, was the awesome water slide. They went down it for hours (as if the theme park wasn’t enough). I couldn’t write this review without mentioning how phenomenal the life guards were. They were ON it. At one point there was an incident in the pool and before I knew it the life guard was in the pool at the rescue. They were very present and vigilant which made it all the more relaxing.
Other features of the pool include a kids play section, water fountains and two hot tubs, one which is kid-friendly, and one for adults only. And of course it goes without saying the Hard Rock pool has a bar with chair and bench service. There was nothing we needed more after an exhausting day than a beer poolside while the kids were entertained by the slide and underground music. I really loved the pool at the Hard Rock – it was so relaxing to come back to and felt like a little slice of the Caribbean.
Additional Perks to Note
If you want to take it to the next step and really get a break there is Camp Lil’ Rock, a kids activity center for ages 4 -14. We never used this, as it was a short stay, but good to know it’s there with late night hours for those wanting to go out for dinner sans kids. Note they do require advanced reservations. There are movies by the pool, character meals and more – you can read more about the kids’ activities here.
As for food and drink, there are a few different dining and bar options including The Palm steakhouse as well as the Velvet Bar, among others, if you don’t feel like leaving the premise. We ate at a restaurant called the Kitchen a couple of times and it was good. Not amazing but fine enough. CityWalk is nearby so there are plenty of options for eating out, and we never felt stressed by “what are we going to do for dinner?. That’s another great thing about the location of the Hard Rock – CityWalk and restaurants are just a stone’s throw away.
The Rooms at the Hard Rock
Last but not least – how were the rooms? Loved them! Modern and hip, with plush, comfortable beds, we slept like babies. Our room was medium size, not huge but not tiny either. It was quiet and cozy and exactly what we wanted to come home to after a busy day out. The rest of the hotel is very nice and spacious, with fun rock memorabilia all over the place. And contrary to what I had imagined leading up to our stay – it wasn’t noisy or chaotic!
All in all, The Hard Rock met all expectations and we were completely satisfied with our stay. It’s a very nice hotel with helpful staff, convenient, relaxing and fun. All four of us loved it.
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