The charm and romance of Portofino, Italy-- the destination of Europe's rich and famous--are conjured up at this lovely luxury resort, where part of the fun is exploring the waterfront village from end to end, not knowing what you'll find around a corner or down some rustic stone steps. The illusion is maintained by the details: cobblestone streets, brightly colored row houses lining the boat-dotted bay and inviting archways that lead to narrow, shop-lined alleyways, stairways, and piazzas. It's all made slightly surreal by the sounds of screams from Universal roller-coaster riders. Well-appointed rooms are decorated in cool, modern aqua and cream, with deluxe beds, and flat-screen TVs. Three pools offer aquatic fun or peaceful sunning, and guests receive all the perks of staying on property, including early park entry, no waiting in line, charging to room key and more.
YOU SHOULD KNOW While there is no resort fee here, there is a stiff parking fee.
Classic Italian styling brings these spacious guest rooms alive with the charm of Europe. Teal highlights stand out against white walls and ivory furniture. Velvet and marble accents continue the luxe vibe, along with beds (either two queens or one king) featuring 300 thread count cotton bedding. Some rooms have love seats, others have overstuffed armchairs. Additional amenities include a Keurig coffee maker and complimentary fixings, a mini-fridge, free Wi-Fi and ample charging plugs.
YOU SHOULD KNOW If classic Italianate decor is just too stuffy, youngsters might be happier in the Despicable Me suites, with Minion linens on the specially designed beds.
The la dolce vita vibe continues in the bathroom, where marble floors and walls surround you with luxury. The shower, Jacuzzi tub, and WC area are separate from a vanity with two sinks and plenty of room for toiletries. Put on the lush, cotton robe and relax, using the Julien Farel bath and body products.
European luxury permeates the spacious lobby of this property, with parquet and marble floors, columns, fountains and lush greenery. Ample seating groups are scattered throughout, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the piazza below and the boat-dotted bay.
After dark the Harbor Piazza comes alive as opera singers perform arias from a balcony.
The resort has three pools: The Beach Pool is ideal for families, with its sandy beach, children’s pool, two hot tubs and a Roman aqueduct-themed water slide. At the Villa Pool, private cabanas are available as are upgraded lounge chairs. The Hillside Pool is adults-only, for more privacy and quiet than found at the other two pools. A number of poolside activities are available, and movies are projected outdoors nightly.
Tranquility rules from the moment you enter the marble and brick Mandara spa lobby. The waiting room features Asian art, dark woods and teal accents, and the spa has 14 private treatment rooms and two couples treatment rooms, separate and co-ed relaxation lounges, saunas and steam rooms. The hydro-therapy pool resembles (appropriately) a Roman bath. Services include massage, facials, and full service hair and nail salon offerings.
Located inside the spa, the large fitness center offers treadmills, stationary bikes, stair-climbing machines, ellipticals, weight machines, free weights and fitness mats.
Bice Ristorante features a Northern Italian menu and serves fresh pasta, hand-made daily. Reservations are advised for dinner at this classic Italian restaurant, where white tablecloths and dark wood furniture set a formal tone. For a more casual Italian meal, try Mama Della’s Ristorante for dinner. Trattoria del Porto features indoor dining as well as outdoor dining overlooking the Piazza. Seaside Italian cuisine is the focus, and they are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On Friday evenings, there is a Character Breakfast featuring a variety of Universal Orlando characters. Splendido Bar and Grill offers poolside light fare and cocktails, and the Gelateria serves Italian ice cream (gelato) and breakfast daily.
The Thirsty Fish overlooks the dock and Piazza, and makes for an excellent place to admire the water while you enjoy cocktails and live jazz in the evening Thursday-Saturday. The very sophisticated Bar American, just off the lobby, focuses on classic and European cocktails and hors-d'oeuvres.
The resort offers complimentary shuttles and water taxis to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, and Universal CityWalk, but no transportation to any other theme park or shopping area. A car or ride-share service or taxi would be necessary to visit Disney, SeaWorld or International Drive.
Nearby Universal CityWalk (10-minute boat ride) is home to dozens of restaurants, from fast food at Red Oven Pizza Bakery, to a sit-down meal at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville or Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food, or an upscale evening at Emeril’s Orlando.
Universal CityWalk (10-minute boat ride) strikes a party vibe at an array of nightclubs and bars where you can sample all sorts of beers, wines and cocktails, including Margaritas at, where else, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville; tequila-based cocktails at Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food; Red Stripe beer at Bob Marley's club; an authentic Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's; or drinks at any of a dozen other watering holes.
WHY WE LIKE IT
To experience a charming and luxurious slice of La Bella Italia without crossing the Atlantic you cannot beat this lodging. This is definitely a deluxe resort and you pay the price for luxury, but proximity to the Universal Studios parks is a big plus, as are the perks you get at those parks when staying here.