SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Portofino Bay Hotel

by on June 11, 2016 12 Comments

Filed under: Adults, Beyond the Parks, Resorts, Saturday Six, Universal Orlando Resort

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s Portofino Bay HotelCurrently, the Universal Orlando Resort has four on-site hotels, with a fifth (Sapphire Falls) opening later this summer. Disney has three classifications for their resorts: Value (including Pop Century), Moderate (Port Orleans Riverside), and Deluxe (Contemporary). Universal also has three levels: Preferred (including Royal Pacific Resort), Prime Value (Cabana Bay Beach Resort), and Premier, which is where the Portofino Bay Hotel resides.

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Portofino Bay Punch – Bacardi superior, Bacardi ‘O’, banana liqueur, blackberry brandy, orange juice, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, and a splash of Bacardi 151.

First, a little backstory. Steven Spielberg can be considered one of the main “architects” of the entire Universal Orlando Resort. Universal Studios Florida, the park which started it all, was built on the back of films that Spielberg either directed (Jaws, E.T.) or was a producer on (Back to the Future, An American TaleTwister, Transformers). While the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the current draw to Islands of Adventure, it’s Spielberg’s Jurassic Park that sits directly in the middle, and the iconic Jurassic Park visitor center is the first thing you see in the park when coming out of the Port of Entry. It’s only natural that when Universal was putting together Islands of Adventure back in the 1990s that they would pick Spielberg’s brain about ideas for the new onsite hotel they would also be developing.

Spielberg’s suggestion was for the new hotel to be inspired by the classic feel of Portofino, Italy. Loews took that idea and ran with it, faithfully recreating a classic Mediterranean fishing village by the lagoon, as well as representing the luxury of many high end Italian hotels on the inside of the resort. Portofino Bay and its 750 rooms can be considered the flagship resort of Loews at Universal. Today we are going to look at several of the reasons we absolutely love Portofino, including what may be the best themed room in all of Orlando. So sit back, put on The Three Tenors as background music, and let’s begin our list with…

# 6 – The Pools

A little while back we took a trip to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and fell in love with their Fuentes del Morro Pool. The Beach Pool at Portofino blows away the one at Caribbean Beach and joins the elite of Orlando pools including  Stormalong Bay at the Yacht & Beach Club, and the Nanea Volcano Pool at the Poly. There are a lot of activities surrounding the main pool, including a children’s water play area (complete with pirate ship), pool tables, ping pong, a giant checker board, a fantastic pool bar (with tons of seating and a great menu), two hot tubs, a sandy beach and more, The pool itself is an impressive fort-like structure you can walk around in, a grotto you can swim through, and a great slide. 

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The Beach Pool at Portofino Bay.

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The grotto.

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Lounge chairs are everywhere.

There are two other pools at Portofino, including the impressive Villa Pool. Located near the Beach Pool, this area includes even more lounge chairs, 16 cabanas, a hot tub and a plunge pool. Just a gorgeous area with maybe the best pool bathroom area in the entire state of Florida. The third pool is a true quiet pool and located on the other side of the resort.

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The Villa Pool, straight out of a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous magazine.

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Hot tub and plunge pool

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Zero entry at the Beach Pool.

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Kid’s play area.

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Little pirates are going to love this ship.

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E-Ticket hot tub.

For the first time ever, we rented a cabana at the Beach Pool during our stay and actually will rent again in the future. I always used to assume a cabana would be a waste of money, but it ended up being incredible. We rented it on our check in day and arrived at 11AM. Our room wasn’t ready so we just brought all of our bags over to the cabana and had plenty of room (you can also drop off your bags at Bell Service.) The cabana had several seats inside, a ceiling fan, and a flat screen TV along with a DVD player (about 50 movies were available to watch, all included with the price of the cabana.) The cabana came with a fruit and cheese plate along with your choice of six drinks. A cabana attendant also came by many times throughout the day to see if we needed anything or wanted to order from the pool bar. The cabanas start at $150 and will now be a staple of our Universal vacations on the first or last day of the trip as it made life so much easier.

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Fruit plate and six drinks of your choice come with the cabana rental.

# 5 – Portofino is Pet Friendly

For those of you. like us, that have a four legged member of the family, Portofino Bay (along with the Hard Rock Hotel and the Royal Pacific) is pet friendly. Surrounding the resort are long walkways (and we mean long. runDisney people may want to check out the Portofino for relaxing runs) along with a large spaces for your pets to play in.

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Waste bags are available.

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Walking area.

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Walking area.

# 4 – BiCE

Like Victoria & Albert’s at the Grand Flo, BiCE at the Portofino is more of a dining experience than a mealService across the board at Portofino is among the best you’ll find at any theme park resort, but the service at BiCE takes it up a notch. The servers are knowledgable, friendly, and are there before you know you need them. While Portofino is a great destination for families, it also is one of the best places for couples, with BiCE being the ultimate date night dinner. With an exquisite menu and an extensive wine list, you’re going to search long and hard to find a better place for a romantic meal. While the attire for BiCE is technically “business casual,” you’re not going to be run out of town wearing your theme park attire (unlike Victoria & Albert’s, where if you wear a t-shirt you’re immediately brought to the stockades in Liberty Square.) We’ve tried almost everything on the menu and there is almost nothing we wouldn’t recommend. Even the penne pasta with spicy tomato sauce was probably the best pasta dish I’ve had at any restaurant in the theme park corridor.

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BiCE.

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Located on the second floor, BiCE has a great view over the harbor.

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BiCE outdoor patio. (photo by Laurel Stewart)

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A walk past a selection of wines and into the main dining room of BiCE. (photo by Laurel Stewart)

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A Peroni sitting in front of theme park icon Len Testa. (photo by Laurel Stewart)

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Strip steak.

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Lamb or “Carre’ di Agnello all’ Olio di Tartufo arrosto servito con Funghi Misti salltati allo Speck e Purea di Patate” in BiCE speak. (photo by Laurel Stewart)

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This is why you don’t let vegans take pictures of food. Sitting behind this salad, which is only on the plate for decorative purposes, is a perfectly cooked piece of veal. (photo by Laurel Stewart)

Don’t Forget Sal’s Market Deli or Mama Della’s Ristorante!

Two other dining areas at Portofino are also worth checking out during your stay. Sal’s Market Deli is a quick service venue with one of the best pizzas on Universal property (and that includes the great tasting pies you’ll find at Red Oven Pizza Bakery and Vivo.) Mama Della’s Ristorante is a table service restaurant with solid Italian dishes and strolling musicians performing as you eat.

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Sal’s.

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Mama Della’s Ristorante. Note the different style of chairs at each table. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 3 – Location, Location, Location

Like all the Universal Orlando resorts, Portofino is steps away – or a leisurely boat ride – from CityWalk, Islands of Adventure, and Universal Studios Florida. While both the Royal Pacific and Hard Rock hotels are closer to the parks, being set back a little farther also makes Portofino much more immersive. When you are at the resort you don’t see or hear the parks at all (outside of Cinematic Spectacular fireworks.)

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Boat to adventure!

# 2 – Ambiance

With only 750 rooms, Portofino isn’t a sprawling resort, but when walking around the grounds it seems gigantic. Because it’s so large, guests are spread out and it never feels crowded. There are so many fantastic photo ops throughout the entire resort, but you’ll probably be drawn the wonderful harbor area where several of the restaurants are located (along with a Universal gift store, Starbucks, and other miscellaneous shops.) In a word, it’s beautiful and like my favorite WDW resorts like Animal Kingdom Lodge or Wilderness Lodge, it always feels like you’re someplace special and not just a hotel.

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Vespa photo op sitting alongside the harbor.

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Pool fountain. While not confirmed, rumor is those four statues are paying tribute to four legendary theme park bloggers. Messers. Hill, Testa, Roseboom, and Kubersky.

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Piazza fountain.

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It’s just like being in Italy, just without all the smoking.

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Inside the main check in building at Portofino.

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Million dollar view.

# 1 – Despicable Me Kid’s Suite

In general, at 450 sq feet and up, the guest rooms at Portofino Bay are even larger than your average room at a Disney Deluxe Resort. Many rooms have an outstanding view of the harbor, a few with balconies. But we’re here to talk about THE room. As a family who loves Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, we’ve been looking forward to checking out the Despicable Me Kid’s Suite at Portofino Bay from the day it was announced. Would it deliver? Well, let’s check it out.

One of the only negatives we have with the Lion King, Cars, and Finding Nemo suites at AOA is that the master bedroom – where the adults sleep – is seperated from the rest of the room, giving kid’s access to the hotel door. Universal’s kid’s suites are the complete opposite, with the adult bedroom having the only access to the room’s entrance. The door to the kid’s area only opens into the adult’s room. The adult’s bedroom is gorgeous, with a king size bed, a love seat, a sitting area, and a bathroom that may be larger than my first apartment. “Look at all this floor space. So many activities!

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Adult’s room.

The door to the children’s area is themed so well that the kids loved slamming the door and pretending they were Gru from Despicable Me. There is even a spinning wheel like you would see on some old timey bank vault. When we opened the door, the pictures just do not prepare you for how large everything is. The bomb beds are much bigger than a regular twin, and the kids loved playing in, around, and on top of them. Gru’s scarf as an accent on the bed was a great touch, with the chair and lighting fixtures in the room seemingly straight from the movie. You know you’ve hit a home run when the kids need to say goodbye to the room when we checked out and added, “we love you.”

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Door opens to reveal..

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Bomb bed.

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Gru’s scarf at the bottom of the bed.

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The Minion “mat” at the front of the door is another great touch.

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Despicable Me chair.

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Edison bulb lighting fixture.

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Despicable Me Kid’s Suite.

HONORABLE MENTION – Bocce Ball Court

I have absolutely no idea what Bocce Ball is, and after reading the rules for the game I think I may actually understand it  less than I did before. However, thanks to Portofino’s blessing of size (© Walt Disney) they have a Bocce Ball area near the Villa Pool.

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Portofino Bocce Ball court.

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A DVC contract has less rules.

So there you have it: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s Portofino Bay Hotel. Again, I can’t stress how amazing the service was across the board at the resort. Everyone in the pool area was attentive. Check in was fast and easy. Housekeeping was terrific. A special shout out to Amanda and Anthony as two shining stars in the Loews team. Couldn’t have had a better time. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)

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Wait, is she shooting that picture in PORTRAIT?! That is a huge Blogger Etiquette offense!

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:

Six Reasons We Love Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort

Universal Dining: Emeril’s Tchoup Chop 

Universal Dining: Wok Experience at Islands Dining Room

Our Six Favorite Jokes in Universal’s Springfield USA.

Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, crazy cat lady Laurel Stewart, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey. 

FINAL PLUG! Did you know The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now! (For every copy sold, a percentage of the profits* go towards buying a DVD of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rap video.)

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Hard to play the DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM card when they spell your name wrong.

Posted on June 11, 2016

12 Responses to “SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Portofino Bay Hotel”

  • I was debating about whether or not to stay here on my trip in October or stick to the much less expensive Cabana Bay. I think you may have convinced me to save up some extra money though!

  • You forgot to mention that the bathrooms are the size of a college dorm.

  • How many did this room sleep? We’re a family of five and while we don’t mind a kid sleeping on the floor to save money, hotels (especially Disnwy Resorts) frown upon this. I only saw two “bomb” beds. I’d hate to think a pull-out or extra bed was in the adult’s room.

    • The adult’s room had a King size bed. We did ask for a pack and play to be delivered for an under 3 and they brought up a full size crib complete with bedding. They even included a Johnson & Johnson “take along pack” which included baby powder, hand-to-toe wash, baby shampoo, baby lotion, and Destin cream. The service was beyond exceptional.
      The two bomb beds are custom made, but are basically a double, and very similar in size of beds we have had at Pop Century. E-Ticket beds and two kids could easily sleep in just one of them. Maximum occupancy is 5 and you can also have a rollaway bed delivered to the room. That is $25 a night and I’ve done it several times at the Royal Pacific. They’re great beds.

  • I’m interested in the “pet friendly” aspect. Does that mean dogs and cats are welcomed as guests and get to stay in the rooms during the day? I love animals, but don’t have any, since two of our family members are highly allergic. Just wondering how Portofino handles this. Are there designated “pet friendly” rooms? I can’t imagine that a hotel room could be cleaned well enough after an animal was in it for a while to the extent that my son wouldn’t suffer. And how about a stray flea? We ran into this at some high end mountain cabins and had to relocate. Someone’s dog left a few fleas and by the time we arrived, they were voracious. Had to pack up everything and move to another cabin. (I don’t think our budget would allow us to stay at Portofino anyway, but it is just gorgeous!!!!!!!)

    • For all of Universal’s pet friendly hotels the rooms which accept pets are all together in one area of the hotel. So there is zero chance you will be in a room that a dog or cat was in unless bringing one. As for fleas, you do pay a $50 charge each night for a pet friendly room (although it is capped at $150) because they do clean them thoroughly after your stay.
      Here’s more things to consider that are included with the rooms “Upon check-in, every dog or cat receives welcome gifts including a name tag, bowl, and special treats. A “pet in room” sign helps you relax and lets our housekeeping staff know that your furry one is in residence. To help lighten your travel load, we can loan you pet beds, litter boxes, litter, scoopers, scratching posts, and other pet accessories. At mealtime, don’t miss our gourmet room service pet menus developed by our in-house chefs in conjunction with a licensed veterinarian.

      We also provide dog-walking routes, pet-sitting or pet-walking services, as well as a list of local pet-friendly restaurants”

      • Good to know! When I was a kid, we loved summer vacation, but it was so sad to have to put our dog in a kennel! 🙁 Sounds like Loews has it all figured out!

  • Is it true that all Universal Hotels allow pool hopping between the resorts? I would love to stay at Cabana Bay for the lazy river but be able to check out the other pools too.

    • Here’s the deal on Pool Hopping. You can definitely pool hop with no problems whatsoever at the Portofino, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific. While “on the record” guests are not supposed to pool hop at Cabana Bay, in my personal experiences the staff has no problem with you doing that and will let you in without a key. The pools at HRH, PBH, and RPR do not require a key. So if you are staying at Cabana Bay and are looking to pool hop to the others it’s no problem. But, if you are staying at the other three and want to go to Cabana’s lazy river (or use the slide at the pool on the other side of the property) you will need to be let into the pool area by an employee.

  • Another honorable mention should go the Musica Della Notte nightly entertainment on the plaza at sunset. And, don’t forget the onsite Mandara spa. We also love the Thirsty Fish lounge and gelato shop both on the plaza! We agree that Sal’s has the best pizza at Universal. Love this place.

  • We are booked for a Disney/Universal trip from the UK next year and were booked into the Royal Pacific which we love. After reading your article, we have changed to the Portofino which amazingly came out cheaper! A special offer when we are going. How lucky is that. Very excited to stay at a different hotel which looks gorgeous. Thanks very much for the post.