Photo by Emily Goldfischer
Want to make kids feel like “one in a Minion?” Book one of the 18 incredible “Despicable Me” suites at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (www.loewshotels.com/en/Portofino-Bay-Hotel). Travel Agent was among the first to try the new suites themed after the popular movies and our two experts, Marcy (age 9) and Lucas (age 7) went bananas for the décor which feels like stepping into the mayhem of Despicable Me 2. The door to the kid’s room (which connects to an adult king freshly redone in soothing greens and beige) has an industrial red wheel and a sign reading “AUTHORIZED MINIONS ONLY.” Inside there are two custom beds shaped like—wait for it— missiles, a big red chair just like Gru’s and walls completely covered with images of yellow minions with eyeballs everywhere. Even the yellow curtains have a pair of eyeballs on the valance. Beyond the “you’ve walked into the movie” feel, everything is comfortable and functional. The beds are oversized-singles (I fell asleep tucking in Lucas), there are plenty of drawers, there's space for playing and, most importantly, kids have their own TV! There is no direct access from the kids' room to the hallway, which also is a comfort. Hot tip: for $100 a night you can upgrade to Villa Club access, which includes daily continental breakfast and cocktail hour in a lounge off the lobby.
The Portofino Bay Hotel connects to the Universal Parks and City Walk by a delightful, free 10-minute ferry ride. All hotel guests receive free “Universal Express” passes that enable skipping the regular lines (and sell for up to $90 per person, making staying onsite a particularly good value for families) and early morning entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We made the most of this by taking the first ferry and arriving to Islands of Adventure promptly at 8:00 am. Boom! On to Harry Potter where we toured Hogsmeade castle and enjoyed the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, not once, but TWICE. You feel like you are playing Quidditch (those who’ve not read the books: imagine hockey on a broom stick), shushing through some exciting dips and drops shown on a 3D screen that surrounds your seat. The whole Harry Potter area is loads of fun, and looks just like Hogwarts from the movies. Next year, Universal will be unveiling the second Harry Potter attraction, Diagon Alley in Universal Studios, which will feature a replica of the Hogwarts Express train and take visitors from one park to the other.
A short video showing the creation of the Despicable Me suites
Armed with our Express Passes, we handily managed to do both parks—Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios—in one day. Favorite attractions: the 3D Spiderman, the massive, triple loop HULK coaster (confession: I did that without my kids) and the entire Dr. Seuss area at Islands of Adventure; and Men In Black (this was my Mom’s favorite, you get to shoot aliens) and the new Despicable Me ride at Universal. Though we were in Orlando during a busy period, thanks to the Express Pass we were able to enjoy our favorite rides multiple times with minimal waiting. For VIP clientele, Universal also offers seven-hour guided tours where you can completely skip lines on eight attractions plus go to some restricted behind the scenes areas, and get discounts on merchandise and dining.
Exhausted from our full day of parks, we headed over to The Kitchen at Hard Rock Hotel (also a Loews), which is less than a five-minute walk. The restaurant has a fun vibe, with a mix of kitchen and rocker gear on the walls and energetic music, but the food is the real star of the show. An expansive menu of good American classics – ribs, fish, chicken – whatever you like they have it, and it’s done right. The highlight for the kids was a seven layer cake called “The Kitchen Sink” layer upon layer of everything from Red Velvet to cheesecake, with lots of chocolate in between. Yum!
The following day we spent relaxing by the resort pool, where the kids enjoyed the waterslide over and over. At check-out Marcy and Lucas pronounced the visit “the best ever” and I have to agree. Universal has a dedicated line for travel agents for booking hotels and VIP tours: 1-888-544-8821.
The General Manager of the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is Diane Petit ( [email protected] ).