Review: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando – The Points Guy

There aren’t many theme park hotels that can truly make you forget you are at a theme park, but Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando looks and feels as much like an Italian seaside village as the name implies. As you stroll along the cobblestone grounds, you’ll encounter a lively piazza filled with shops and eateries and a harbor filled with gently bobbing boats.

Related: How to use points to save money at Universal Orlando

Despite being within walking distance of Universal, the hotel is secluded enough that you won’t see (or hear) any roller coasters from the property. Even if you love theme parks, you might want a respite from the action at the end of the day. That is exactly what you’ll find at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.

What is Loews Portofino Bay hotel

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Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is one of the most upscale hotels located at Universal Orlando Resort. You’ll find spacious rooms and a full slate of amenities, including multiple pool areas, table-service restaurants and immersive theming. It’s also one of the closest hotels to Universal’s theme parks, only a 10- to 15-minute walk from the park’s entrance.

For these reasons, the hotel is pretty pricey relative to the other accommodations in the area. Rates start at just less than $500 per night, but there are ways to squeeze a lot of value out of that nightly rate, which we’ll touch on below.

There are plenty of budget-friendly hotels at Universal, but Loews Portofino Bay Hotel offers luxury accommodations and full-service amenities for theme park visitors who want their vacation to feel indulgent. Here’s what my recent stay at the hotel was like.

How to book Loews Portofino Bay hotel

There are three main ways to book a room at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel: directly through the hotel’s website, through Capital One Travel or through the American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts program.

The prices are typically the same regardless of how you book, but The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express cardholders can take advantage of additional benefits by booking through Amex FHR. If you book through Capital One Travel, you can earn 10 points per dollar on cash bookings or redeem Capital One Miles.

AMERICAN EXPRESS

Although this hotel is not part of any major hotel rewards program, you can still maximize your stay by using a card that earns points for travel purchases, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which earns two points per dollar on travel purchases. (For that reason, it’s among our favorite credit cards for booking hotel stays.)

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Cash prices for a standard room average between $500 and $600 per night. You could pay as little as $400 if Universal is offering a hotel discount — or as much as $900 per night if you visit during a busy time of year.

If you are an eligible Amex cardholder and book through the Amex FHR program, you can pay with cash, Amex Membership Rewards points or a combination of the two. You’ll earn five points per dollar spent on any portion of your booking paid in cash. Amex Travel hotel reservations are prepaid, but most properties have flexible cancellation policies. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, for example, typically allows cancellations until five days before your arrival date.

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Theme park benefits at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

All guests of Loews Portofino Bay Hotel receive generous theme park benefits. The first is Early Park Admission to one of Universal’s parks up to an hour before the official opening time. You can check this page to see which of Universal’s two parks (and which attractions at that park) will be open for early admission on a given day.

Early Park Admission is open to all guests staying at one of Universal’s on-site hotels, along with complimentary theme park transportation and resort-wide charging privileges using your hotel key.

Related: Is Universal’s Express Pass worth it? TPG tested how much time it really saves you in line

Guests at the hotel also receive complimentary Universal Express Unlimited for everyone staying in the room. Universal Express allows you to skip the regular line at most attractions. It can save hours waiting in line and starts at $119.99 per person per day, which can be a huge savings.

If you plan on buying Express anyway, you can break even or come out ahead by staying at Portofino Bay or another of Universal’s Premier hotels (Loews Royal Pacific Resort or Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando) over a less-expensive hotel.

Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts benefits at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

AMERICAN EXPRESS TRAVEL

Guests who book through the Amex FHR program receive additional benefits on top of those mentioned above.

You can receive a room upgrade when available (we were upgraded from a garden-view room to a bay-view room), complimentary Wi-Fi, noon check-in and 4 p.m. checkout. You also receive a daily breakfast buffet for two at Mama Della’s Ristorante and a $100 food and beverage credit that can be used at most dining locations around the hotel. We used our credit to cover our children’s breakfast buffets during our stay.

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We also received a lovely welcome amenity in our room: a fruit and cheese platter, two bottles of water and chocolates.

Guests enjoy easy access to Universal’s theme parks

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Universal Orlando and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel are both only about 15 minutes from Orlando International Airport (MCO). One of the top reasons for choosing this hotel is its proximity to Universal’s theme parks. If you travel to the hotel by car, you must pay a $31 fee for self-parking or a $40 valet parking fee per night.

Related: These are the 10 best rides at Universal Orlando

From the resort, you can reach Universal Studios, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal CityWalk by bus, water taxi or a garden walkway. A shuttle bus will also take you to Universal’s Volcano Bay water park.

I prefer the walking path or water taxi when staying here. The wait for the water taxi is usually around five minutes, and you go through security before boarding the water taxi. This saves you from waiting in line at the main security screening area, which you’ll undergo if you arrive by car or bus.

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Depending on your pace, you can walk to the parks in 10 to 15 minutes. It’s a beautiful walk, and I found it a relaxing way to start a busy day. There is also a separate security screening at the end of the walking path, which saves you from joining the crowds in the main security screening area.

rooms are spacious with a European flair

From the custom furnishings to the patterned drapes and carpets, the guest rooms had an upscale European feel; they kept up the illusion that I was far, far away from Central Florida. The 750 guest rooms (including 45 suites) are designed with colorful carpeting and drapery, marble counters, light-colored furniture and blue accents like the padded headboards on beds.

Our room had a coffee and tea station and an ice bucket in the entryway. The closet held two spa-style robes, a safe, an iron and an ironing board. The beds were firm but comfortable, with plush comforters that you won’t find in some of Universal’s lower-tier hotels. The nightstand between the beds had two power outlets, and the clock radio provided USB outlets for ample charging options.

The big bay-facing window provided plenty of natural light, but there were also bedside lamps, a desk lamp and a floor lamp near the seating area.

The large bathroom had a separate tub and shower and a double vanity. The bathroom was stocked with Julien Farel products, including a bar of soap, a shower cap, shampoo, conditioner and lotion. The shower was small but functional, though the large size of the tub made up for that (especially if you are traveling with kids who love to take a bath). Like the bedding, the towels were of higher quality than those at some of Universal’s lower-tier properties.

Even with two queen beds in the room, there was plenty of room for a rollaway bed, which is necessary for us as a family of five when we stay in a standard room.

BOOKING.COM

The hotel also has club-level rooms that are slightly larger and offer access to an exclusive lounge and suites; these include Despicable Me Kids Suites with custom-made missile beds and a separate sleeping area for parents.

Guests can dine in an Italian-inspired piazza

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Loews Portofino Bay Hotel has a mix of quick-service and table-service restaurants, as well as a Starbucks, a gelateria and room service.

We had breakfast at Mama Della’s Ristorante, which was included in our Amex FHR benefits. The regular price for the breakfast buffet is $30 for adults and $16 for kids ages 3 through 9 (kids under 3 are free). The buffet spread was impressive, with fresh pastries, fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, pancakes, eggs and other typical buffet items, along with an omelet station. You can also order off the regular breakfast menu.

In the past, I’ve eaten at Mama Della’s for dinner, and musicians circulated through the restaurant during the evening. (They even took requests.)

Related: Best restaurants at Universal Orlando Resort

We also frequently visited the hotel’s Starbucks coffee shop, which had a nearly identical food and drink menu to other Starbucks locations. Sal’s Market Deli inside the lobby is a good spot for on-the-go snacks and drinks or a hot, fresh pizza to bring back to your hotel room.

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We ate most of our meals inside the parks on this trip; however, I have visited The Thirsty Fish for dinner and drinks in the past and loved the experience of dining outside in the piazza. With the live music and other guests enjoying the evening, it felt reminiscent of similar nights I’ve had that were actually in Italy.

There’s plenty of family fun to be had outside the theme parks

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel has one of my favorite pool complexes at Universal. The main pool is called the Beach Pool and has a sandy beach, a gently sloping zero-entry area, two hot tubs, pool games and a waterslide fashioned after a Roman aqueduct. There is ample seating, and cabana rentals are also available. Two other pools, the Villa Pool and the Hillside Pool, are smaller and offer a quieter atmosphere.

The hotel also has a 24-hour fitness center, a well-marked outdoor jogging path, an arcade and a full-service spa. The gym had a good selection of cardio equipment, free weights and weight training machines, though the number of machines may make it feel a bit crowded if more than a few people are working out. The Mandara Spa offers hair, nail and skin treatments, massages and sauna facilities. You can view a full price list here.

Reasons Loews Portofino Bay Hotel might not be for you

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One thing that may deter some guests from checking into Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is the sheer size of this property; everything is quite spread out. Various spaces (like the gym and restaurants) are not housed in one building, and you may find yourself walking a good distance to get from your room to the lobby or other public areas.

From the elevator, you have to walk down two sets of stairs (or take another elevator) to the area where the guest rooms, pool, dining and most other hotel amenities are. This one may not be the best option if you prefer smaller hotels.

Accessibility

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel offers specially equipped, accessible guest rooms with wheelchair-friendly features like lower closet rods and peepholes, wider doors and roll-in showers. All restaurants and elevators are wheelchair accessible, along with the lobby and pools. The pools also have zero-entry areas and wheelchair lifts.

Guest rooms have Braille room numbers for visually impaired guests, as well as a visual alarm and doorbell, a flashing light on the phone and TTYs (Teletypewriters) for guests who are hearing impaired.

Checking out

This wasn’t my first stay at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, and it won’t be my last. The serene setting, large rooms, proximity to Universal’s theme parks and the perks like complimentary Universal Express skip-the-line access will keep me coming back. The potential of being serenaded while I dine alfresco overlooking the bay doesn’t hurt, either.

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