Part luxury, all rock ‘n’ roll: What it’s like at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando
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As I took my first step onto the marble floor in the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando, I started to think I might be underdressed in my jeans and tank top.
Surrounded by music memorabilia and portraits of the most famous faces in rock and roll as music videos played on a large screen in the distance, I felt like a leather jacket and sunglasses that hid my face from the paparazzi would have been more appropriate.
The Hard Rock is one of eight on-site hotels at Universal Orlando and one of three in the resort’s top-tier “Premier” category. Premier resorts have larger rooms, exclusive theme park benefits and more dining options and amenities than Universal’s lower-tier resorts.
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There isn’t a pair of sunglasses in the world large enough to fool anyone into thinking I’m a rock star, but I certainly felt like one at the Hard Rock Hotel. Here’s how my stay made me feel like I fit right in with the music industry elite.
For simplicity, I booked my room directly through Universal Orlando’s website at a rate of $699 per night for a deluxe two-queen room. On less in-demand dates, I’ve seen rates as low as $519 for the same room type (or $434 for a standard room), but spring break crowds meant spring break prices for my stay.
Booking directly gave me access to Universal’s mobile check-in feature; a colleague who booked a Universal hotel room through the Capital One travel portal was told mobile check-in is only available when you book directly.
He received 5 points per dollar on his booking but also spent 15 minutes waiting in line at check-in. I was able to complete the check-in process online the day before my visit, and my keys were ready and waiting for me when I arrived (though my room wasn’t, which I’ll explain in a moment).
All Universal Hotels are available for booking with points through major travel portals. When I did the math via the American Express travel portal, the 95,571 point redemption hardly seemed worth it. According to TPG’s current valuations, Amex Membership Rewards points are worth 2 cents each and this redemption would have only been worth .73 cents per point.
The Hard Rock Hotel is the closest on-site hotel to Universal Orlando‘s theme parks and you can even see the parks from some pool-view rooms on the higher floors. I was able to travel between the hotel and the theme parks via a garden-lined walking path in about five minutes, but complimentary bus and water taxi transportation are also available.
One thing I appreciate about Universal hotels is that all but the two Endless Summer Resorts (the furthest from the parks and least expensive) have walking paths that lead to the parks — but the more you pay, the shorter (and more scenic) your walk will be.
There are dedicated security entrances for guests who take the walking path or water taxi and the lines are much shorter than the general security screening area at the main entrance for guests who arrive by car or resort bus.
As I mentioned, I was able to check in the day before I arrived at the hotel. I received an email from the hotel instructing me to check in online in order to “expedite the arrival process.” I confirmed my personal information and credit card number and was directed to visit the “mobile check-in” desk to pick up my keys upon arrival.
My flight arrived before noon and check-in didn’t begin until 4 p.m., so I knew there was a chance my room wouldn’t be ready when I approached the mobile check-in desk. There was only one group in front of me, so my wait was short.
While I waited, I picked up on some of the other musical “notes” in the lobby. A Crosley turntable with a small keycard cutout served as the express check out drop box. A sign near a Fender guitar and amp directed me to see a front desk agent if I wanted to borrow a guitar during my stay (if you play as well as I do, you can borrow a turntable instead). The open-air lobby bar — with its furniture of various textures and jewel-toned colors — was set up for a live show later that evening (and every evening).
When it was my turn to check in, I was told my room was still being cleaned. The front desk agent handed me my keycards and said that I would receive a text with my room number when it was ready. The keys I was given would let me into my room without returning to the front desk — and, for now, I could use them to gain entry to the gated pool area.
The agent spent a few minutes explaining the layout of the hotel, which I appreciated because the lobby is technically on the third floor, while the pool, coffee shop and theme park transportation are on the first floor.
I wandered the grounds and even popped over to Universal Studios Florida for a quick lap around the park before receiving the text that my room was ready.
The hallway leading to my room was adorned with a large Kiss poster surrounded by smaller photos of the band.
Upon entry, the first thing I noticed was how inviting the room felt. I expected a room at the Hard Rock Hotel to be all purple velour comforters and red accent walls. Instead, I was greeted by muted gray walls, light furniture and subdued pops of color via throw pillows, accent lamps, the desk chair and artwork.
The room opened to a small entryway that housed a bench and closet that contained an iron, ironing board, luggage rack, safe and a hair dryer (which I found after first thoroughly searching the bathroom with no luck). There was also a Keurig coffee maker with the necessary accouterments, two $7.50 bottles of Fiji water and an ice bucket on top of a cabinet that contained the minifridge.
Outside the closet was a mirror that listed the heights of various celebrities. Turns out I’m the same height as Beyonce, Alicia Keyes and Ringo Starr.
To the left of the entry there was a vanity area with a single sink, large mirror and lighted magnifying mirror. The wall was decorated with a row of colorful drum sticks. A door separated the toilet and shower from the vanity area and I found a selection of sweetgrass-scented bath amenities in the shower, which had a surprisingly high-set shower head for a theme park hotel.
Past the bathroom was a large sleeping and living area with two queen beds, a sofa bed, a long desk with a TV, two chairs and a small sitting area with a table, cushy chair and floor lamp. There was a TV channel dedicated to in-room guitar lessons, but it wasn’t working during my stay.
Some may consider the cheeky sayings — like “Quiet, Please” and “Be Nice” on the pillows and the “Everyone Has Baggage” tag that bell services placed on my luggage — to be too on the nose, but they all put a smile on my face. I love when a hotel – especially a theme park hotel – commits fully to its theme.
My room was situated on the first floor with a view of the aforementioned walking path between the hotel and the parks. With the blackout curtains open, I lacked privacy with so many guests passing right outside my window. With the blackout curtains closed, though, the room was fairly dark. I don’t know if it was by design, but the darkened room definitely felt a little rock ‘n’ roll.
My room was not an accessible room, but accessible rooms are available and most public areas of the hotel, including the pool and fitness center are accessible via wheelchair. Accessible theme park transportation is also available with advance notice.
Food and beverage
One of the biggest benefits of staying in one of Universal’s Premier hotels is that you have much more to choose from than just a food court, poolside bar and lobby coffee shop. The Hard Rock Hotel has two full-service restaurants. The Kitchen is an all-day spot for casual comfort food and The Palm is a steakhouse designed after the chain’s original location in Manhattan.
I didn’t have time to stop at either of those (so many coasters, so little time), but I did pay a visit to the poolside lounge for a quick drink and snack while I waited for my room. The “beachclub” cocktails had rock-themed names like Hendrick’s Experience ($16) and an impressive selection of beer, including a few local brews (something I always seek out when I travel).
I made (too) many trips to Emack & Bolio’s Marketplace for coffee. Like all Universal hotels, it serves Starbucks, but it also sells snacks, sandwiches, beverages, breakfast items and ice cream.
I didn’t grab a drink there, but I did pass through the Velvet Bar, the lobby lounge, after my day at the parks — and, true to the signage, there was a musician singing and strumming a guitar. If I hadn’t been so tired, it would have been a great spot to wind down after a long day of doing theme park things.
24-hour room service is also available.
Hard Rock’s star really shines when it comes to on-site amenities and perks.
All Universal Orlando hotel guests get Early Park Admission one hour before the parks officially open for the day, but guests at Premier hotels can get on even more attractions with complimentary Universal Express Unlimited skip-the-line access.
This lets you skip the standby line on most attractions (currently only Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Jurassic World VelociCoaster are excluded) and it can save you hours in line during your visit.
When purchased separately, Universal Express Unlimited starts at $109.99 per person, per day. At Universal’s Premier hotels, it’s included for every guest in your room for the entirety of your stay.
The pool area was huge, with one main pool (with underwater speakers), a kiddie pool, two hot tubs, a sand volleyball court and a waterslide. There were also poolside games like ping pong and a giant Connect 4, and a DJ was conducting a scavenger hunt while I was there.
The public areas of the hotel double as a rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame, with memorabilia like instruments, photos and outfits most music fans would immediately recognize from concerts and awards shows.
There’s also a 24-hour fitness center, arcade and, if you turn left at Lady Gaga’s leather fringe dress, a business center.
If you are in need of a massage after your time at the parks, Hard Rock guests can access the Mandara Spa next door at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.
Along the walking path to the park there is a beautiful butterfly garden. When you enter the garden through the greenery-lined archway, the theme park feels a million miles away. If you are looking for a little peace and quiet, you’ll find it here.
I’ve stayed at almost all of Universal’s on-site hotels and the service has been warm and friendly at each one, the Hard Rock included. The agent who checked me in provided all the hotel information I could want and, when I needed additional shower amenities, a goodie bag with four of each showed up at my door.
Universal utilizes a text program for service requests and staff members are always helpful and quick to respond. You can request more towels or even ask what time the parks close.
Because I was switching hotels, I planned to leave my luggage with bell services while I was at the parks. When I got to the desk, I learned that they will actually transfer your luggage to your new hotel, though it may be late in the afternoon before it arrives. When you arrive at your new hotel, you can either pick it up at the front desk or, if it hasn’t arrived yet, have it brought to your room upon arrival.
The only issue I encountered during my stay was that I never received a folio. In the past, I’ve received one automatically via email after check out, but it never came. I’ve called and emailed, but I’m still waiting to receive a copy of my bill. My advice would be to request one before you check out just in case.
It’s tough to compare luxury hotels within a theme park to other luxury hotels, but Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando feels less like a theme park hotel than any I’ve stayed in before.
If you couldn’t see the park from the hotel, you wouldn’t even know it was there. Even the gift shop only sells Hard Rock merchandise. There was nary a Minions shirt or Harry Potter wand in sight.
For the price, I’d be more inclined to stay here for a longer trip when I could take advantage of the larger room and additional amenities, or if I was traveling with family or friends and wanted to make use of the Universal Express pass benefit.
Before I left, the hotel front desk staff turned my key card into a guitar pick. Maybe I’ll finally learn to play my guitar — then borrow a Fender from the hotel next time to show off my skills.
Featured photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy.
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