Loews Hotels made quite a splash with the opening of the 1,000-room Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando this past summer. Travel Agent correspondent Emily Goldfischer went with her family to get the insiders look.
Sapphire Falls is the fifth on-site hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, bringing the total number of rooms to 5,200, and it is a stunner. We loved the Caribbean feel and the open lobby -- you can see straight through to the sparkling lagoon, where everything is in shades of blues and greens and a bubbly chandelier of large white globes floats overhead. It all just puts you in a good mood.
The rooms are equally cheerful, incorporating more blues with tropical accents to give an upscale Caribbean vibe. We liked the Pool View Double Queen (room #2405), a well-designed room with two queen beds and some interesting touches: a large stall shower with a seat, a high credenza so luggage can be tucked underneath, and a mini- fridge. (There are no mini-bars in the hotel. Instead, there is a grab-and-go market and coffee shop off the lobby). Many rooms offer pool or lagoon views, and Water View Rooms are equally lovely. Like Loews' other hotels at Universal Orlando Resort, Sapphire Falls offers Kid’s Suites (we saw #3524). These are configured as a King Bedroom which connects to a room with two twin beds that has no door to the hallway so the kids can’t escape. It's an excellent choice for families, as there is ample space, privacy, cute nautical furniture and two TVs. Tub tip: 30 percent of Sapphire’s guest rooms offer bathtubs -- if you have a client wanting a tub for small children, request this upfront.
The resort surrounds a massive 16,000 square foot pool (the largest at Universal Orlando Resort), cleverly configured with a fun waterslide, shallow sand beaches, kiddie play areas. There is also a more grown up area with a fire pit, bar, and restaurant, Drhum Club Kantine, where we ate lunch one day (we highly recommend the fish tacos.) We had breakfast at Amatista Cookhouse, the hotel’s three meal restaurant with a Caribbean slant, which offers an extensive morning buffet (the pecan cinnamon buns are not to be missed). We ended up eating dinner two nights in a row at the Strong Water Tavern, a rum bar with 75 different kinds. Yes, it was that good, and we were tired from the parks so the location off the lobby was key. There are “Rum Captains” to guide you; Rhasouan was ours and he suggested a flight of three, which was fascinating as some taste similar to bourbon and others are like whisky, and yet are all rum! Of course, they offer a full bar, as well as wines, hand-crafted mixed drinks and a varied menu of sharing style tapas. There is ample table and sofa style seating, and though it's a bar, it’s in Orlando, so kids are very welcome.
For special requests or more information, travel agents can reach out to Mike McGovern, sales manager, resort travel industry sales at [email protected].
Thanks to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando Resort shows no signs of slowing down -- by far the Potter areas are the most popular attractions at both parks. One reason the Loews properties are in such high demand is that guests at all of the on-site hotels get Early Park Admission, which allows them to enjoy both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure one hour before the parks open. It works; we zipped in at opening and hardly waited for Potter rides. Later in the day lines ran about an hour and the Universal Express is not valid on Wizarding World attractions.
Since our visit nearly two years ago, Skull Island: Reign of Kong has opened, a fun mix of 3D animation and a “live” King Kong; they’ve revamped the Hulk coaster, which definitely felt faster; and a new Jimmy Fallon experience is set to open in the spring, which will have the world’s first flying theater in a race against Jimmy. We’re most excited about Volcano Bay, the new 30-acre water theme park set to open this summer. The signature ride will be the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, where guests will board canoes that will travel up and down a 200 foot volcano.
Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando: Quick Guide
Now that Loews Hotels operates five (soon to be six) hotels onsite, here’s a quick explanation of the variety of accommodation to best guide your clients. All resorts are within walking distance of the parks and offer either free water taxis or shuttles or both to Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal CityWalk and Universal’s Volcano Bay. Universal has also just launched a Travel Professionals Facebook Group which has the latest info.
Loews offers three levels:
Prime Value – Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort is an 1,800 room, fun retro-themed property that takes guests back to the iconic beach resorts of the 1950s and 60s with accommodations in either a Standard Room that sleeps four or a Family Room that sleeps six. Guest rooms surround two massive pools with a waterslide and lazy river, and there’s also a 10-lane bowling alley and a food court. This property is adding 400 more rooms this summer and is the most affordable onsite option. Benefits include early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and free shuttle service to parks.
Loews sixth property, Universal’s Aventura Hotel, will also fit the prime value category, adding a further 600 guest rooms in a gleaming 16-story glass tower opening summer 2018.
Preferred – Loews Sapphire Falls Resort and Loews Royal Pacific Resort are the next level up in terms of accommodation. Both are island themed, with Royal Pacific having a Polynesian feel and rooms of similar size and quality to Sapphire. The main difference is that staying at Royal Pacific also includes free Universal Express Unlimited ride access to skip the regular lines in Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure all day, a benefit worth up to $89 per person, per day (valid theme park admission required). So, if your clients plan on spending most of their time in the Universal parks, the increased room rate at Royal Pacific is worth the expense.
Premier – The top end hotels have two very different feels. The Hard Rock Hotel is all rock and roll, while Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is a refined, elegant replica of Portofino, Italy. Both of these hotels have a range of accommodations from double rooms to plush suites, club lounges, pools (even a spa at Portofino), and 4- and 5-star levels of service. While they are the most expensive, room rates at both include early park admission to Harry Potter and free Universal Express Unlimited ride access.
We found the Universal Express to be a huge benefit during our visits. Lines are shorter and move quickly; however, if your clients are staying on for several days and the Universal parks are only part of the itinerary, an option would be to stay at Sapphire or Cabana and just upgrade to Express on one day. Park benefits of all the hotels are explained clearly at https://www.universalorlando.com/Hotels/Hotel-Guest-Benefits.aspx.