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Warning: Why You Should Avoid One Universal Hotel for Now

Warning: Why You Should Avoid One Universal Hotel for Now


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Universal Orlando has a hotel for every budget to offer. However, right now, the truth is that it is best to avoid one of the most popular resorts! Here are all the details including how Universal made it right.

Universal Orlando Hotels

Universal Hogwarts Castle
Credit: Kate

Universal Orlando is home to 8 hotels for every budget. And, soon there will be two more hotels joining the line-up!

You can read our complete guide for selecting the best hotel for you RIGHT HERE.

But, for now, it is best to avoid one of Universal Orlando’s very BEST hotels. There is very little way to justify the high rates, especially when comparable options are available.

UPDATE: Universal did reach out to us about these concerns.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

Universal Portofino Bay Common Area
Credit: Kate

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando is one of Universal’s Premier Hotels. Premier hotels are the most elite of Universal’s hotels.

One of the very best perks of staying at one of these Premier hotels is that Guests receive free Universal Express Unlimited! This pass allows you to skip the regular lines at Universal. It is free for everyone in your room, and it is good for every day of your stay. This adds a GREAT value to the room given the price of Express Pass.

You can read everything you need to know about Universal Express HERE. And you can see a review of whether paying for it out of pocket is worth it HERE.

The Resort

Universal Portofino Bay lobby
Credit: Kate

Part of the reason people typically love Lowes Portofino Bay Resort is that it is located bayside, right on the grounds of Universal Orlando. Nestled along the water, and with details like cobblestone streets and towering Italian cypress trees, the hotel is themed to the seaside town of Portofino, Italy.

Guests can travel by bus if they wish, or they can walk to the parks. But, I recommend traveling by water taxi or instead.

This is especially nice because guests can go through security at the boat docks. Then they are dropped off right outside the theme parks, inside City Walk.

Universal Water Taxi
Credit: Kate

Those who travel by bus will have to enter at the entrance and the moving sidewalks to City Walk. They will need to go through security screening there and walk the rest of the way to the parks. It is far quicker and easier to take the water taxis, weather permitting.

The Hotel Rooms

Universal Portofino Bay Room 2
Credit: Kate

The rooms are comfortable. Although the decor could us a refresh, they are spacious and well-appointed, especially considering so much time will be spent away from them.

Guests can choose standard rooms, club-level rooms, suites, specially-themed rooms, and more! The themed rooms are fun for children who like Minions.

Moreover, since the hotel is nestled along the waterway, the views are normally beautiful. However, right now, what you will find is a bit shocking!

Massive Amounts of Construction

Portofino Bay Scafolding
Credit: Kate

The hotel is currently undergoing massive amounts of construction. It is a large-scale project, and it interferes with the typical experience guests would normally receive when they visit.

Please know that I (Kate) have stayed at numerous hotels under construction: Disney’s Boardwalk and Disney’s Grand Floridian come to mind. And, truly, construction and renovation are an important part of keeping hotels well-maintained for guests. However, I have never experienced anything of this extent or level of exposure.

Insufficient Construction Warnings

Portofino Bay Hotel Renovation construction Notice
Credit: Universal

Before I go on, you should know that the booking site for Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel does have a notice of construction listed. But, you should also know what it says and why it doesn’t align well with reality.

Currently, the website has a “renovation notice” that reads: Please pardon occasional bustling activity as we refresh our Italian village and make updates to the façade of Loews Portofino Bay Hotel from now through December 2024. We will make every effort to limit guest impact to ensure you have a delightful stay. We look forward to welcoming you to La Dolce Vita!

That is as many details as it provides. To say the least, the verbiage downplays the construction. “Occasional bustling activity” is an extremely conservative way to describe it.

Reality

Universal Construction Portofino Bay Walkway
Credit: Kate

As of early April, the current state of the hotel is not a matter of “occasional bustling activity.” There was continual active construction during the day.

It was honestly disappointing even at a glance upon arrival. We were prepared to see Universal’s nicest luxury resort and encounter some construction work and some noise. But, as you approach, it appears as if nearly the entire exterior is covered in a mix of scaffolding and screens and of course the faux facades.

We did expect noise. And there was a good deal of noticeable machinery noise during the day. I will say, there was no noise in the evenings.

Portofino Bay Faux Facades Construction
Credit: Kate

What we saw upon arrival was just the beginning. The most invasive work is being done on the facade surrounding the famous piazza.

This outdoor area is normally a place where people can have a meal or a gelato, shop, or enjoy live music. It is an attraction in itself.

Universal Construction Screens Vespa
Credit: Kate

Alas, it was nothing like its usual state. The whole thing was unusable other than a few tables situated in direct sunlight.

This area is not something that can be avoided if you wish to use the water taxis. The pathways bring you right through it all. You might encounter standing water, drips, mud, dust, or dirt, to avoid on your path, so be careful, especially if it is wet outside.

Guest Exposure

Universal Portofino Bay Construction Window picture
Credit: Kate

The website does promise that every effort will be made to limit guest impact. At check-in, the team member assisting us reminded us that there was a bit of construction happening. She said our room location was removed from it.

I will say we did not have the worst of it by any means in terms of room location. Some guests reported that since their rooms were so close to the construction that the windows to their rooms were covered in screens or plastic.

We were a little better off since the part of the hotel we were in was a bit less exposed. At least our windows were uncovered. However, we could still easily see construction from our hallway and from our room. It seems unavoidable at this point.

Credit: Kate

Not only that, but there were frequently construction workers in the hallways and the landing areas outside of the elevators. We even had active painters working in our hall outside our room one morning. There was no warning of this other than a “wet paint” note printed on a piece of computer paper taped to a wall.

And, outdoors, the separation between Guests and working machinery the aforementioned translucent facades or screens if anything at all. I know those who frequent Disney are probably used to construction walls. This place gave me a new-found appreciation for those walls.

Overall

Portofino Bay Water View
Credit: Kate

We did appreciate that the majority of the hotel’s staff members were friendly. The interior common areas were nice and often pretty.

We also liked the proximity to the parks and the transportation options, especially the water taxis. And, of course, we loved the Universal Express benefit. After all, the parks are the main draw, not the hotels.

Lastly, the amenities like the feature pool are nice. We did enjoy the comfortable pool furniture and the fluffy oversized towels that fitted the chair cushions.

Universal Portofino Bay Pool
Credit: Kate

However, the bay area is certainly a mess. While it will not ruin your time in the parks, it is disappointing. The high rates are not justifiable given the current state of the resort, even if you plan to spend most of the time in the parks.

I was actually surprised to hear that guests were even booked in some of the more heavily affected rooms. From what other guests reported, there is a low bar for which rooms are being used to receive guests.

UPDATE: Universal DID reach out about concerns with our stay. They worked with us to make it right, and we are ever so appreciative! It is lovely that they are concerned with Guest satisfaction.

Where to Stay Instead to Avoid Construction

Loews Royal Pacific Resort is the Best Resort at Universal
Credit: Maggie

Perhaps some people are not bothered by paying premium prices for less than stellar experience. But for my part, I cannot in good consciousness advise anyone to stay at Portofino Bay right now, not until at least the bulk of the construction. And, right now it is scheduled to run through December 2024.

Of course, IF you find yourself being offered rates consistent with the Value or Prime Value hotels, then it could be worth considering since it comes with so many benefits. However, if you have a Premier hotel budget, stay at one of the other Premier hotels for now.

Hard Rock Hotel Universal
Credit: Kate

Your other options are Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort. Both would make better options for the time being. For a review of Loews Royal Pacific Resort, head over HERE.

As stated, I am certain Portofino Bay will make for a lovely trip once the construction wraps up and has been restored to its former beauty, and we would certainly like to return and experience it that way. However, for now, if you can stay somewhere else, you might consider it.

Using a Travel Agent can help you navigate the ins and outs of planning! I am here to help! Please fill out this form and put my name (Kate) in the Special Request box.

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