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Though it feels like a less-loved stepsister to Disney’s Polynesian-themed hotel, this hotel has an ace up its sleeve. Pros: included unlimited express passes worth their weight in gold, great location, good pool for kids. Cons: parts needing a refresh, no pool slide, lackluster A/C.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available –  Citi Prestige Card

My family has been visiting the Walt Disney World Resort at least annually since before our first daughter was born. But despite it being just a few miles away from Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando wasn’t really on our radar until recently. This is largely because Universal Studios generally has a greater appeal for the teen and tween crowd rather than the little-kid category that we had been squarely occupying until the last year or so.

My oldest in full Harry Potter mode
My oldest daughter in full Harry Potter mode

We now have a third grader who is very into Harry Potter and no longer as interested in princesses and Mickey Mouse as her younger sister. So on our summer trip to Orlando this year, we added time at Universal Studios to our agenda for our tween traveler. It’s safe to say we are now a two theme-park family, as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was everything we hoped for and then some.

The success of this trip was in part due to staying at the on-property Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, which included Universal Express Unlimited Passes to attractions within the World of Harry Potter and beyond.

Booking

Universal Studios has six on-property hotels that are somewhat divided into tiers similar to the Disney World deluxe, moderate and value properties. At Universal, the designations are known as Value, Prime Value, Preferred and Premier. These designations can be very important, as the hotels in the Premier category include express unlimited passes for every registered occupant of the room. These passes are worth their weight in gold.

Express unlimited passes for Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida start at $89 per person per day each. The price can easily come close to double that figure on peak days. For a family of four, that could mean $356-plus per day just in passes.

Welcome to Universal Studios, say goodbye to your money
Welcome to Universal Studios, say goodbye to your money.

Heck, on the day I visited Universal Studios in August by myself to check out the new Universal Aventura Hotel, the unlimited express pass cost a staggering $149 per person — just for the pass. If you want Universal Express Unlimited Passes, it can be much more cost-effective to simply book your stay at a pricier hotel that includes them rather than buying them outright.

Universal Express Pass sticker shock - those prices are per person
Universal Express Pass sticker shock: Those prices are per person.

During the Daily Getaways sale earlier this year, there were two-night stays at Loews Hotels available at a variety of their properties, including the Loews Royal Pacific at Universal Studios. The package for a two-night stay was $325, and the fine print said there were blackout dates but did not list them. Since they weren’t listed, I crossed my fingers in hopes would be a small number of excluded dates and purchased the package the second it went on sale. Within a few more seconds, it was completely sold out, as there were only 20 available.

Fast forward a few weeks to receiving the certificate and, unfortunately, the blackout date list was much longer than I hoped. In fact, everything from June 30 to Aug. 5 was blacked out, as were lots of other dates, including Nov. 21 through Nov. 25, Dec. 25 through Jan. 3 and April 13 through April 27.

That was a really big problem, as July was our window to travel. Thankfully, I pleaded my case to Loews, offered to co-pay to use the certificates during July and ultimately was given assistance in using the certificate on our desired weekend. In other words, I got really lucky. That said, if blackout dates include entire chunks of the year rather than a few dates here and there, I would recommend including that information on the purchase page to avoid confusion and disappointment.

Regardless, thanks to the annual Daily Getaways sale, we scored two nights at the Universal Loews Royal Pacific and up to three days of unlimited express passes for our family of four all for just $325 total. This was significantly under half the usual selling price for a two-night stay at this property during the summer.

If you can’t get your hands on a Loews Daily Getaways deal next year and you’re staying for four nights, an easy way to save money would be to book with your Citi Prestige card to get the fourth night free. If you’re paying with cash, you might want to use your Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points for the stay. If you want to use Chase Ultimate Reward points to book a Universal Resort, you can go that route.

Loews Royal Pacific is typically available via Hotels.com. This means you could earn 10x miles by booking via Hotels.com/Venture and paying with your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Location

The Loews Royal Pacific was on Universal Orlando property within walking distance to the Universal Studios theme park, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal CityWalk. That said, when you go, your feet may thank you for saving those steps and hopping on the free boat right outside of the hotel. This boat took guests right to CityWalk, as close as you could be dropped off to the park entrance. In other words, this was a Five Star Universal Studios location.

Entering the Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, we crossed a substantial bridge over tropical foliage and blue-dyed water. Immediately, we were transported to the South Pacific. It was a dramatic entrance that set the stage for the theming that was to come inside.

Loews Royal Pacific Entrance

Check-in

The 1,000-room hotel had a distinct South Seas theme, which made it sort of like Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. We arrived at check-in around 4:30pm, and our room was ready, as were artificial leis for each of us.

Check-in was swift and uneventful, but most importantly, we were handed our personalized passes, similar to Disney FastPasses but usable over and over again to wait in much shorter lines than if you didn’t have express passes. These passes were good the day of check-in, during our stay and on the day we checked out. The Loews Royal Pacific property was generally the least expensive of the three Universal Studios hotels that included the passes at no additional charge.

The Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel round out the other two resort options with the passes included.

Room

Our base-level room with two queen beds was around 335 square feet and decorated in grays, whites and reds, just like the rest of the hotel.

The Loews Royal Pacific originally opened in 2002 but was renovated from 2015 to 2016. It still appeared fresh and modern when we went.

The bathroom had a separate vanity area separated from the toilet and bathtub by a pocket door, always a plus when traveling with multiple people.

You could tell that the bathroom had been renovated relatively recently, and it served its purpose for the four of us just fine.

All in all, the standard room was comfortable for a family’s theme-park vacation. It wasn’t anything extraordinarily special, especially factoring rates that are usually north of $300 per night, but the room itself isn’t supposed to be the main attraction of a theme-park stay.

My only complaint about our room was that the air conditioning didn’t get as cool as I would have liked. I was obsessed with how cool the air conditioner made the room at the (newer) nearby Universal Studios Loews Sapphire Falls on a stay a few months earlier, and had been looking forward to the same nighttime chill after a hot day in the park.

There were club-level rooms and suites, but I didn’t experience them firsthand, though I do have my eye on the Jurassic World Kids’ Suite for a future trip. You can find a more affordable family suite at Universal’s Aventura, but without the theming or Express Passes.

Universal Studios Florida, USF, Universal Orlando Resort. (Photo courtesy of Loews Royal Pacific Resort)
Universal Studios Loews Royal Pacific Jurassic Park Kids’ Suite. (Photo courtesy of Loews Royal Pacific Resort)

Food and Beverage

The Loews Royal Pacific had a weekly luau, a pan-Asian dining room, character dining on Sunday mornings, a sushi bar and more. I must confess that, aside from grabbing coffee and juice from the grab-and-go morning set-up, we didn’t eat or drink anything at this property, as we were busy enjoying the Harry Potter restaurants at Universal Studios and a dinner at a nearby CityWalk restaurant.

Sorry Royal Pacific, we ate with Harry Potter
Sorry Royal Pacific, we ate with Harry Potter.

I was not impressed by the grab-and-go breakfast selections or prices I saw at Loews Royal Pacific, but I think we missed out a little by not eating dinner at the property. They had a children’s buffet and Bali-style play area in their Islands Dining Room that sounded pretty cool. We’ll add that to our to-do list for our next trip to the area.

Amenities

The best amenity (other than passes) was the large lagoon-style pool, which had a zero-entry section, a separate baby pool, a Royal Bali Sea interactive water play area, lifeguards, life vests, cabanas for rent and organized poolside activities.

Loews Royal Pacific Pool  Loews Royal Pacific Pool   Loews Royal Pacific Baby Pool

Loews Royal Pacific Life Vests

This was truly a great pool for families, especially those with younger kids. Disappointingly, there was no waterslide at this pool. On a positive note, the unique “ship” at the Royal Bali Sea pool made up for the lack of waterslide.

Loews Royal Pacific Pool

Loews Royal Pacific Pool

While we did not make use of it, there was a kids camp available in the evenings for potty-trained children from 4 to 14 for $15 per hour, per child. If you didn’t get all your steps in while exploring the theme parks, there was a 5,000-square-foot gym.

Overall Impression

For family visits to the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures theme parks, the location of the Loews Royal Pacific can’t be beat. The parks are an easy walk or boat ride from the hotel, the rooms are renovated and more than adequate, the pool is great for young families, there are several on-site dining choices and most importantly, it is often the least expensive of the three Universal Studios hotels that provide included express unlimited passes. This is a key point for all Universal Studios visitors interested in the passes, but even more so for families who need multiple passes.

At the risk of sounding spoiled, while I loved the location and benefits of staying at the Loews Royal Pacific, I didn’t completely love the hotel overall. This may be because I’m simply obsessed with Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, but Royal Pacific felt like a distant stepsister to Disney’s version. The service at Royal Pacific was neither bad nor great, some areas of the hotel felt dark and older than they should have, and I found myself wishing I were at the brighter, newer and cheaper Universal Studios Loews Sapphire Falls nearby.

However, we scored a tremendous deal for a summer weekend at Royal Pacific thanks to the Daily Getaways sale and the included exclusive unlimited passes (which are not included with a stay at Sapphire Falls). If the passes aren’t important to you, I recommend Loews Sapphire Falls over Royal Pacific. But if you’re one of the many families that wants those passes for a relative bargain, staying at Royal Pacific is likely the best way to get them, especially at Daily Getaways prices.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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