Hard Rock Hotel, Universal Orlando Resort – Review

I stayed at the Hard Rock Orlando in January this year (2010) and had an amazing two week holiday in the wonderfully luxurious resort. So great infact I feel it’s my civic duty to write a review of this magical place and urge the travelling public to spend some time there in the Florida Sun.

Check in: From the moment that we checked in we really did feel like rock stars! My two sons (2 and 4 at the time) were both given small inflatable guitars, which they proceeded to use as swords for the rest of the holiday, but the thought was appreciated.

When you first check in you need to give the receptionist the names of all the members of your party, this took me aback a bit at first but i’d forgotten about the Hotel’s keycards which acts as your Universal Express pass for getting to the front of line at the theme parks.

Each card acts as your hotel room key and Universal Express pass, and you can also add the  resort wide room charging facility. I passed when offered to add these on the kids card’s though, if my son found out we would have a huge bill from the Spider man merchandise shop at IOA.

The room charging facility is very handy, you can charge gifts and snacks from the theme parks and even get them delivered back to your room. You can also charge back meals in any of the Universal CityWalk Restaurants. We found this handy as we were running short of funds towards the end of our stay, and being able to charge back the cost of large meals to the room meant we didn’t have to withdraw any more cash.

Our Room: We stayed in a Deluxe Queen Room because there was 3 adults and 2 children, and the Standard rooms have a maximum occupancy of 3.

Our room was very spacious, we had two Queen bed’s and a sofa bed which my four year old slept in. The Queen bed’s were lovely and very comfy, I’m not sure I could have slept on the sofa bed for two weeks but my son always slept soundly and never complained (and believe me if he wasn’t happy, he would have said so! he’s at that age).

As you walk into the room, directly to the left was our mini bar and coffee machine set up. We didn’t have any thing from the mini bar but the prices were to be expected, not astronomical as I thought they would be. The only over the top price was for a 1.5 litre bottle of some special water called Fuji Water, which was around $10 a bottle.

The coffee machine was a Keurig, which took pods. The machine was easy to use and the room was supplied daily with fresh pods of coffee, English Tea, and Green Tea. My mother took her own decaffeinated tea bags with her and we managed to brew them fine in the Keurig, by turning it on but not adding a pod to just get the boiled water out.

Next to the Mini Bar was a dressing table type area with a large mirror. We used this space for snacks and drinks we bought, and for putting our handbags and rucksacks at the end of the day, so they were ready at hand for the next day. Underneath the table was a great place for hiding everyday shoes to keep the place tidy.

Right in the corner was another small bench built into an alcove. This little area was perfect for storing the suitcases out of the way. Next to this across from the mini bar and dresser was a large two door wardrobe, with loads of hanging space and a good amount of hangers provided too. Inside the wardrobe was the electronic safe, and a ironing board and iron.

To the right of the room door was the bathroom with bath, overhead shower, toilet obviously and sink. Outside was another large sink area with plenty of room for spreading out your toothpaste, toothbrushes and various others lotions and potions you need to bring with you.

In the main bedroom was a huge chest of drawers which had the Television (a 32inch HD screen) sat on top of it. With it’s six deep and wide drawers we had a drawer each for t-shirts and underwear and a drawer spare for general nick knacks.

We really needed all of these cleverly thought out storage spaces as we had a full two weeks of gear for a family of 5, and we inevitably added to that amount over the course of the holiday. We often came back to the room to find our sons ever expanding range of soft toys had been skilfully arranged on the sofa or bed by the maid’s. My sons loved this, they thought the toys were having a party whilst we were gone.

Our room overlooked the grounds outside, the full length windows gave us a beautiful view to wake up to every morning. Next to the windows was a round table with two chairs. On the table was telephone, room service menu and brochures and the rooms wired internet connection which you had to pay around $10 a day for.

We found the table quite useful with the kids, although we didn’t use it ourselves for anything. The kids used it for colouring and drawing, playing on, eating breakfast on (we always bought cereal from the store downstairs and ate it for a cheap and quick breakfast), so all in all the table was handy to have.

Between the two beds was a bedside cabinet with telephone, and a iHome clock radio. We didn’t use the alarm clock as we had two small children to wake us up early every morning, but I think it also acted as an iPod dock.

Other Room Types:  Apart from the Deluxe Queen room that we stayed in, there are a few other room types worth mentioning. There are four types of Suites available, King, Hospitality, Kids Suite and the Graceland Suite.

Obviously all the suites are amazing, but the Graceland is the grandest of them all. This nearly 3000 ft hotel room features a 65″ tv screen in the living room, 42″ TV in the bedroom, Walk in closet, whirlpool bath, baby grand piano and a glass encased double sided fireplace, and of course there’s a few Elvis photos dotted around the walls as well.

Kid Suites are perfect for families with older children that require a bit more space than our Deluxe Queen, and could do with a bit more privacy too.

With the kids suite you get a main bedroom for the parents with a lovely king size bed and TV, and the kids get a side room to themselves too with twin beds, their own TV and a child sized table and chairs.

Club level rooms are up on the 7th floor. You need to insert your room card into the hotel lift to get up there, so make sure you’ve always got your card with you. I saw a few kids try to get back upstairs after being in the pool and getting a bit stuck as they didn’t have the room card.

The club level rooms look a lot like the room that we had, you can either have a king or two queen beds, and a garden or pool view room.

The main reason to stay up there on club level is access to the lounge Club 7. The lounge offers a free continental breakfast, evening dinner hors d’oeuvers and sweet treats before bed. The continental breakfast consists of pots of cereals, muffins, pastries,fruit’s,  juice and coffee, which is served from 07:30 – 10:00am. Be sure to pop by between 08:30 and 09:30pm for the gorgeous cakes, cookies, doughnuts and muffins on offer for a sweet snack before bedtime (or going out night-time depending on how old you are, and how many kids you have!)

I think that’s about everything to do with the rooms, let’s move on to the rest of the hotel.

Lobby:The Hard Rock Hotel Lobby is huge, to the right is the reception desk and walkway to the Business Centre, some payphones and a restroom. Straight ahead is the seating area with lots of space to lounge around.

With regards to the previously mentioned internet connection, the wireless internet is free in this area. Great for a quick check of the email, news back home or weather reports before hitting the parks. We didn’t ever pay for the in room internet and always went for a quiet half hour down sit down at the lobby for our surfing needs.

To the Left is the concierge desk, where you can purchase attraction tickets and also leave your luggage if your room is not yet ready,  or if you want to hit the parks again for those last few hours after check out on your last day.

Also to the left is the Hard Rock Store. The store has tons of Hard Rock Merchandise ready for you to splash your hard earned cash on, like the ubiquitous t-shirts, pins and some jewellery.

There are also a few more practical items such as emergency sundries like nappies and sun cream, also snacks, ice cream and drinks. UK newspapers were on sale there too, which was a bonus as my husband likes to keep up to date with the footy.

Outside of the lobby through the main hotel doors you can see just how gorgeous this hotel really is. Across from the hotel front usually filled with taxi’s and transports is a beautiful fountain made of guitars, you really must go and see this. We arrived at night so never really took it all in, that was until we ventured out to Disney and were in need of a taxi. Come outside the hotel front and you’ll have to admit, It’s a stunning, stunning looking hotel both inside and out.

Dining : On the Ground Floor of the hotel you will find all of the dining and drinking opportunities. The Kitchen is the Hard Rock’s main family restaurant. A bountiful buffet breakfast is served here everyday for $16.95 and adult, $8.50 children. There are also al a carte breakfast classics like Pancakes, Steak and Cake and Eggs Benedict if you’d prefer. The Kitchen is open too for lunch and dinner, serving classic comforting american dishes like mac and cheese, pizza’s and burgers.

For the kids the Kitchen has a special area called the Kids Crib which has special kid friendly sized furniture, tv’s so they can watch their favourite cartoons whilst they eat, and maybe even a few Universal Characters will come and visit them whilst they chow down.

If you fancy something a bit more adult, the Palm restaurant is probably more your thing. Only open for Dinner, the Palm features dishes such as Lobster Bisque, Several different New York Strip steaks, Veal and Crab Cakes. Trying to recreate the atmosphere of a New York eatery, celebrity caricature cartoons decorate the walls.

The Velvet Bar is the Hard Rocks coolest place for chilling out. Enjoy cocktails devised by real Rock Stars and on the last Thursday of every month get to see a famous band play and give one of there “Velvet Sessions” in an exclusive intimate gig.

Other than the two main restaurants you’ll also find a handy convenience store called Emack and Bolios Marketplace.

In this tiny store they have managed to cram in a lot of stuff. Apart from the great Emack and Bolios ice cream bar, they serve your favourite Starbucks lattes and espressos. You can also pick up single serving bowls of cereal, milk, chocolate bars, crisps, and some delicious muffins, bagels and doughnuts.

Pool Area: The Hard Rock Pool area is definitely one of the hotels biggest selling points, possibly just behind proximity to the parks and the Front of Line Express pass. Even having the parks on their doorstep and as many rides on Spider Man and Cat in the Hat that they wanted, the pool was both of my boys favourite part of the holiday, they still talk about it all the time!

The whole pool area is huge. You have the main pool, 2 whirlpool’s (one which was exclusively for adults) a tiny splashing pool for the very little ones, Poolside bar and  snacks, sand volleyball court and a huge 260 ft pool slide.

Around the outside you will find plenty of sun loungers, for all of you sun worshippers. The poolside bar staff even come around and take food and drink orders from you whilst your kicking back and enjoying the rays. The sun loungers are all laying upon a nice bit of sandy beach, which my little boys loved playing with. Plenty of little sandcastles were made during the holiday.

If you fancy a bit more of the rock star treatment you can rent one of the beachside cabanas. Each comes with a ceiling fan, HD TV, Fridge with 6 sodas and 2 bottles of water and wireless internet. Some are even themed like the Yellow Submarine cabana, or the Stevie Wonder Musiquarium.

The main draw is obviously the huge 12,00 sq ft pool. All the family loved this pool so much. Our 4 and 2 year olds were non swimmers who hadn’t really been in a pool that many times, so we were happy that a lifeguard was on duty at all times. You can borrow a inflatable vest for the little ones from the towel hut, which was ideal for our kids. These are free but first come first served, ok when we went in January but they might go quickly in the summer months. They also had buckets, spades, and other inflatables to borrow too.

The pool area has music playing constantly but it’s not overly loud, it didn’t overpower everything. You can even hear the music under the water as the pool has an underwater speaker system.

Me and my husband were really surprised by how much we loved the water slide, it was amazing. My four year old was hesitant but wanted to try and loved it! He went down again and again. You had to go down one at a time, so he couldn’t go down with one of us which was a bit scary, but he was happy to go on his own after the first time.

Another big draw for my boys round about the Pool Area was the games room. This mini arcade was the perfect end to our theme park day, although it took forever to get the three of them out of here (i’m counting my husband in this too). I thought that the best part was that you didn’t have to struggle to find the right amount of coins for every game as the machines use a game card.

You buy this card from a machine in the games room, it’s re- chargeable too. I think this would be a great idea for teenagers. Give each of your kids a card and they can play to their hearts content, or at least until the credits run out.

There was plenty of machines, some sit down, some freestanding. My little one loved the 18 wheeler machine as he’s nuts about trucks and cars, the motorbike game was a big hit too.

We haven’t used all the credits on the card we have, and they don’t run out either. So were keeping the card safe for our next trip.

Transportation and Access to Universal / Islands of Adventure and CityWalk: You have three options available to when you want to venture to CityWalk and the Parks, either walk around 10-15 minutes along the walkway, hitch a ride on one of the many rickshaw bikes waiting outside for you, or wait for the boat.

The walk is lovely, well paved and signposted, and even after a long day at the parks isn’t too hard going. I loved the fact you can walk from the hotel to the parks so easily, it’s such a huge benefit.

With two small children though the fascination of the boats became too much and most mornings we took the shuttle boat to CityWalk. You’ll probably be waiting for the boat longer than the journey actually is, even though the boats come regularly (around every 10 minutes)  the journey is barley started and your there. Once you arrive in CityWalk just cross over the bridge and your staring the big Universal globe in the face.

If your planning on visiting some of the other parks Orlando has to offer, The Hard Rock can help you there too. You can get a free shuttle bus from the hotel to Wet and Wild, Seaworld and Aquatica. You can also get the Busch Gardens express but that bus is run by Mears not the hotel.

The free shuttles go from the Hard Rock’s Abbey Road bus stop round the back of the hotel.

You need to make reservations at the attractions desk the day before, and they will give you the bus timetable and your tickets.

The bus stops off at the Royal Pacific and the Portofino before you head onto Wet and Wild and Seaworld, but the shuttle doesn’t take that much longer to get there. We used the shuttle one day just for a trip to the International drive shops. We got off at Seaworld had a walk around and took a taxi back to the hotel.

The only place which is not catered for (for obvious reasons) is the Disney Parks. Having two little ones we had to go and do Disney and as we weren’t driving we had to get a taxi. The hotel staff were very obliging and ordered us a taxi the night before we needed to go. As there was 5 of us they always got us a mini van, and it was always waiting for us in the morning like clockwork, ready to take us to the parks. If your planning to do Disney from Hard Rock I would budget about $100 a day. That’s $50 each way incl tip.

What was nice about having the taxi just for us was not having to wait around for the hotel shuttle when we wanted to leave the parks. You can just hop in a taxi whenever you want.

Conclusion: Me and my family absolutely loved this hotel. Primarily for the proximity to the parks and the Front of line ride passes, but also for the amazing pool, spacious hotel room, very helpful staff, and just for the general feel of the hotel. It’s very relaxed and laid back, and even though everything looks very posh and 5 star we didn’t worry about the kids making a noise or running around too much as the whole place was made for noise anyway. That’s not to say the hotel was extra noisy, but it did always have rock music playing which is kind of different to your average 5 star resort.

When we stay in Orlando again (and we definitely will) we will almost certainly stay again at the Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando Resort.

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