Why you should stay on-site at the Universal Orlando Resort

Sign at entryway

We had the pleasure of staying at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort for our recent Family Forward Orlando vacation, and whenever I dream about going back, I can't imagine staying anywhere else.  Not only is the Royal Pacific an amazing resort, we also enjoyed benefits only available to Universal Resort's on-site hotels (Loews Portofino Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort).  These benefits are so great, they're well worth the price of staying there (I know, I've checked!). Here's a list of reasons you should stay on-site when you visit the Universal Orlando Resort:

Early Park Admission
On-site hotel guests get early park admission (1 hour before regular opening) to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure.  That extra hour lets you enjoy Hogsmeade with far less people, which means far shorter lines.  That's crucial for Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey and Ollivander's Wand Shop, where wait times often exceed 1 hour (neither has an Express Pass line).  Thanks to that extra hour, we were able to ride the Dragon Challenge roller coaster four times in succession, in the front row!

Hogwarts Castle

Universal Express Unlimited ride access
The Universal Express Pass lets users skip regular ride lines and use a special line only for Express Pass holders.  The Express line is never more than 5-10 minutes long, so this can really save you a lot of wait time on popular rides, which can have wait time of over an hour during peak periods. Having experienced the benefits of the Express pass first-hand, I don't think I could visit Universal theme parks without it.

What's more, you get an Unlimited Express Pass, which means you can use the Express line unlimited times!  Regular Express Pass tickets only let you use the Express Pass line once per ride.  This benefit pays for itself -- staying on-site can actually be cheaper than staying at an off-site hotel and purchasing the Unlimited Express pass (yes, I've checked -- my calculations are on this post).

Complimentary shuttles between hotels and theme parks
The on-site hotels are the closest hotels to the theme parks, but they are still a 15-minute walk away (20-25 minutes if you have a toddler who likes to stop for ladybugs and weird-looking leaves).  Each hotel has complimentary water taxi service that takes you to Universal Citywalk, so all you have to do is cross a bridge and you're at the entrance to Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure.  Boats leave every 20 minutes, so if you've just missed a boat it is faster to walk, but it's a godsend at the end of the day when your feet are tired and sore and you would rather wait for 30 minutes than walk another step.
hotel boat to theme parks

Souvenir Room Keys with charging privileges
Each guest, kids included, receives a personalized room key card with their name and dates of stay. These do more than just let you into your room: you can also use your room key to charge expenses to your hotel bill, like room service or restaurant charges.  This even works inside both Universal theme parks for both restaurants and shops!  This feature is disabled on kids' key cards, but you can activate it for your teenagers.  Don't throw your 3 year-old's card away, though, you'll need it to get your Express Passes!

Complimentary package delivery
The golden rule of theme park shopping is Wait Until the End of the Day, so you're not burdened with plastic bags.  But it's not always practical to leave the shopping till the end, because not all the merchandise is available at the stores near the entrance/exit.  On-site guests don't have this restriction, because they get complimentary delivery of merchandise they've purchased anywhere in the resort, so no-one has to rush all the way to the back of the park to buy a Quaffle Ball at Dervish & Banges or Exploding Bonbons at Honeydukes.

Beautiful surroundings and great service
Loews Royal Pacific is an amazing resort, one of the nicest we've been to. The setting is gorgeous -- with the Orlando humidity, it's so easy to imagine that you're left the US and landed on a tropical island! Here are a few photos to illustrate, starting with the elephant fountain in the lobby's central courtyard:
Outdoor fountain

Our standard room had two comfy queen beds, and enough room for a rollaway bed ($15 per night). Fridges are available to rent at $15 per night.
Guest room interior

The pool area is phenomenal.  There's a water volleyball area, a white sand beach area, a hot tub, and a kids' water play area with water jets and fountains.
Pool area

The attention to detail is astounding, both in decor and in service.  From afternoon juice in the lobby to turndown service to friendly smiles, we really felt like pampered guests.  For more photos, check out my Royal Pacific Resort photo set on Flickr:

 I haven't been to either the Hard Rock Hotel or the Loews Portofino, but I imagine they're just as nice (some might say better, but being an island girl myself, I'm partial to the tropical theme!).   Universal has taken a lot of care to ensure that each hotel gives guests a real "get away from the everyday" experience.

Other benefits
Other benefits include priority seating at restaurants, Universal Orlando character dining, character wake-up calls and complimentary shuttles to nearby theme parks.

Disclosure: I did not receive a sample or monetary compensation for this post. . The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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