For years I have been a frequent patron of the Universal Orlando Resort. Actually, let me adjust that. For years I have been a frequent patron of the Universal Orlando theme parks. I had never been to one of the resorts as a child or even since I’ve been an annual passholder. Then our team decided it was time we experienced a Universal/Royal Caribbean Land & Sea package and I had the privilege of getting a completely new view on the Universal Orlando Resort as a whole.
For the land portion of our Land & Sea experience I had the pleasure of staying at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. If I could sum up my impressions, feelings, experiences, etc with this hotel into one word, it would be elegance.
First, a little background on the hotel itself. The Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is Universal Orlando’s first ever resort. The hotel was opened simultaneously with CityWalk and Universal’s Islands of Adventure in 1999 and is considered the flagship resort for Universal Orlando. The hotel is beautifully themed as an Italian sea-side fishing village and modeled after Italy’s very own village of Portofino, located in the the province of Genoa along the Italian Riviera. If you’ve never seen a photo of Portofino, stop reading this and Google it immediately! Go ahead. I’ll wait…
Amazing, right?! Well I had to sort through several photos to make sure Portofino was an actual place and I wasn’t just pulling up concept art for the hotel. That’s how spot on the theming is at Portofino.
Any entrance you chose, whether it be the walking trail from the parks, a relaxing boat ride in from CityWalk or the entrance off the main road, Portofino Bay delivers a stunning first impression. As I rounded the bend on the main roadway, I had to do a double take. From the main road you are greeted with a picturesque view of the hotel’s harbor. The bay itself is populated with small fisherman boats, anchored down, as if the owners had hopped out and come ashore for some time in the village.
Now, at this point I had assumed that I had just witnessed the hotel’s ‘good side’. I figured the view of the harbor was the selling point and it would all be kind of bland from there. As I pulled up to the main entrance, or Porte Cochere, I learned how mistaken I was. This main entrance area has a beautiful roundabout complete with Italian scooters parked everywhere for theming or your picture taking needs.
This is the point where I began to feel as though I had been plucked from Orlando and dropped into a little pocket Italian world. I was like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” only with much less fashionable shoes. As I stepped into the main lobby, I could tell this hotel was not messing around. I used the word elegance earlier. I want to use it again here. The lobby was a work of art with Italian marble everywhere. The lounge area was extremely inviting and had a wonderful view of the Harbor Piazza.
As I walked up to the desk to check-in wearing my very best shorts and Power Rangers t-shirt, I began to feel a little anxious and started to think that perhaps I should have been set up in a different hotel. I don’t consider myself an elegant person by any means. I’m not all that fancy. I thought maybe this place was just for ‘fancy’ people. Mistaken, yet again. The staff was incredibly friendly and professional. They were so welcoming and seemed genuinely excited to be assisting me with the process. Never did I feel rushed or looked down upon. It seems as though the hotel and its staff were giving me a metaphorical hug as I began my stay. I have to say, their smiles and attitude and the entire experience of arrival were rubbing off on me. I turned from the front desk with a giant smile on my face, giddy with excitement to see my room.
The hotel itself has 750 guest rooms with 45 luxury suites. The standard rooms are 450 square feet and offer views of the bay or garden area. The deluxe rooms offer 490 square feet, a bathroom equipped with a separate shower and tub as well as a view of the Villa Pool and the surrounding gardens. For even more room, suites offer anywhere from 900 square feet of space up to just over 1,800 square feet. The Portofino also has Despicable Me suites for your very own little minions to enjoy.
My room was a Bay View 2 Queen Room and I loved it. When I opened the door for the first time, I immediately felt comfortable and relaxed. The rooms show a lot restraint in the theming to give it that comfortable feel. There are a lot of cool colors used on the walls and in the furniture and the beds…oh the beds! How wonderful and comfortable they were. The bathroom was gigantic. I’ve stayed in other hotel rooms that were smaller than my bathroom at the Portofino.
The view from my room was also spectacular. As I said before, I had a bay view. The window was floor to ceiling and it looked right out into the piazza. Looking out to the piazza I thought I was hearing music beautiful Italian opera music and it turns out I was! “Music della Notte” happens at sunset at Portofino and celebrates classic opera as well as some other types of music. It’s a thing of beauty to be able to just look out your window and see an Opera singer serenading a crowd at sunset.
Entertainment and Recreation
There is plenty to see and do at Portofino Bay Hotel. There are three pools located around the property. The closest to the East Guest Wing, where I was located, was the Hillside Pool. This pool is small, but conveniently located. I recommend walking around and seeing all of the pools. The Beach Pool seems like a great place for people traveling with kids. There’s even a Roman aqueduct themed waterslide as well as a kids play area and an outdoor pool table. If you get hungry there’s Splendido’s Bar & Grille located poolside. This is the pool where you can experience the Dive-In movie as well. On select nights you can watch a classic blockbuster under the stars with the whole family.
If the Hillside Pool or the Beach Pool aren’t your speed and you’re looking for a little more peace and quite then I recommend the Villa Pool. It’s located in a beautiful courtyard and there are plenty of cabanas available for rent. There’s also a plunge pool as well as hot tubs. Located just next to this is the Bocce Ball court, which is a lot of fun and I highly recommend a game or two…or seven.
As you continue around the hotel from the Villa Pool area you’ll come upon the Villa Piazza. It’s a beautiful venue for a wedding or just a quiet stroll. Just a little further past that is the Piazza Centrale. A wonderful courtyard complete with a fountain.
Of course a trip to Italy is not complete without some shopping and of course Portofino has plenty of diverse shopping experiences. If you forgot some souvenirs in the park, don’t fret because there is a Universal Gift Shop at the hotel. If you’re in the mood for some Italian clothing there’s Alta Moda. L’Ancora is where you’ll find some Portofino merchandise to remember your stay and there’s also Family Art Photography that offers some photo opportunities with the whole family.
Restaurants and Lounges
All this walking around and shopping can get the appetite going. I’m always on the look out for a fun food option and Portofino had quite a number of them. Located just inside the lobby area of the hotel is Bar American, a great place for some martinis to get the night started.
If you’re looking for some character dining then Trattoria del Porto is for you. For classic Italian cooking, look no further than Mama Della’s Ristorante. Bice offers an elegant but casual dinning experience with an amazing view of the bay area. For all the coffee drinkers out there, have no fear as a Starbucks is here just for you. I enjoyed a taste… or two of authentic Italian gelato at the Gelateria.
If you’re looking for something fresh and flavorful but with a little less commitment then Sal’s Market Deli is your place. I enjoyed finishing the day off with a drink at The Thirsty Fish. There was something magical about finishing my Italian margarita and just meandering back to my room across the harbor area.
Spa & Fitness Center
All of the Italian food might start weighing heavy on you after awhile, but there’s plenty of running and walking paths to enjoy and keep some of that vacation weight at bay. If you enjoy a little bit more of a vigorous workout then you might want to stop in and check out the Mandara Spa Fitness Center. It’s a complimentary fitness center and comes complete with various cardio machines, free weights, as well as resistance weight machines. If you’re feeling stressed or need to up the relaxation factor then consider a day at Mandara Spa. Get pampered a little. Mandara Spa located at Portofino Bay Hotel has the distinction of being the only spa on Universal Orlando resort property. They offer a wide variety of treatments that can aid in relaxation on your vacation.
Another thing worth noting is that all of the deluxe hotels at Universal are pet friendly, which includes Portofino Bay Hotel. There is an additional charge of $50 per night and up to $150 per stay for a pet on property and all paperwork must be present with you upon check in. Do some research if you’re thinking of bringing your furry family member on vacation with you. I will say I was impressed with how pet friendly the hotel actually was. The maps had clearly laid out where the pet walking areas were and there were many. I might have to take my little guy on my next trip with me.
Whew. That is a lot to take in. And just think, this is only one of the hotels that Universal has to offer!! I really did enjoy my entire stay at Portofino Bay Hotel. The staff was very friendly and welcoming. The food was amazing. The pools were relaxing. The hotel itself is just a work of art. It was an experience all on its own and I didn’t even get to experience everything! One thing I look forward to attending in the future is Harbor Nights. It’s a wine tasting and jazz event that sets up in the Harbor Piazza on select months. Wine, music and a beautiful view of an Italian fishing town. What’s not to love? My stay at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel was certainly a memorable experience and I look forward to creating more memories there in the future.