Come here often?
If you do, then you already know how much I love a weekend getaway at any one of Universal Orlando Resort’s onsite hotels. Located on the manicured grounds of Universal Orlando, just a stroll away from the front gates of the resort’s world-famous theme parks, onsite hotels are the perfect place to relax, indulge, and escape from the stresses of everyday life. The Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and the Hard Rock Hotel have been the backdrop to some of my favorite memories while living in Orlando, from girls’ weekends to romantic getaways. A fourth hotel, the Loews Cabana Bay Beach Resort, is the one onsite hotel I have yet to experience, but seems like the ideal place for families to settle in and enjoy their vacations. Tucked away from the excitement of the theme parks, Universal Orlando’s hotels really are the perfect place to relax, enjoy a drink or two, and just be in the moment.
So you can imagine my delight when the resort opened up its fifth and newest hotel, the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, in the summer of 2016. With its bright, airy color scheme and laid back tropical feel, a visit to the brand new resort one month after it opened seemed the perfect way to cure my post-Europe blues. I booked a weekend getaway ASAP, and looked forward to a weekend of zero obligations with my boyfriend (now fiancé!) Dan.
As the sliding doors of the hotel lobby whoosh open, it’s hard not to be impressed by the casual chic appeal of the reception area. Fresh white walls rise high on either side of the lobby, accented by exposed dark wood beams and sleek, brightly colored lounge furniture.
A stunning installation of paper lanterns floats up and out of sight, disappearing into the vaulted ceiling, but it’s the view on the far end of the lobby that really takes my breath away. Through towering floor-to-ceiling windows, I can catch a glimpse of cool blue waters and lazy palm trees shimmering in the late summer heat.
The space is flooded with natural light, giving it an airy and refreshing feel, and I begin to relax before we’ve even reached the reception desk. As we make our way through the lobby and up to our room, I make a mental note to visit Strong Water Tavern, a chic rum bar off to one side of the lobby.
Endless panels of spacious windows line the freshly-carpeted halls, providing a sneak preview of the gorgeous pool deck, complete with brightly colored umbrellas, lazy palm trees, and a shaded poolside cantina.
So far, Sapphire Falls is delivering on its promise of ” a paradise in the heart of the tropics,” and I’m eager to settle in and explore all that the resort has to offer.
Sapphire Falls boasts a a wide variety of room types to accommodate any visiting guest, from standard King and Double Queen guest rooms to a tempting array of luxury suites. Each room is beautifully decorated in neutral blues and whites, which call to mind the clear blue waves of the sea against a white sand beach. Accent pieces in lime green, pebble grey, and vibrant pink help to cement the room’s laid-back tropical vibe.
Dan and I are in a standard double Queen room, which offers plenty of room to lounge about, separate bath and vanity spaces, and all the amenities needed for a relaxing, carefree getaway. Soft, fluffy white towels and crisp bed linens? Check. Complimentary toiletries and access to hundreds of cable channels? Check. Luxury hairdryer, coffee bar, and flat-screen TV? Check.
Our room even has a cool behind the scenes view of Islands of Adventure, one of Universal Orlando’s three theme parks. For those looking to escape the parks and just indulge in their tropical surroundings, standard rooms with a pool or lagoon view are also available at the time of booking.
Pro tip: If you stay at Loews hotels often, be sure to sign up for their loyalty program! The perks of signing up for YouFirst include free room upgrades and late checkout privileges whenever available, with more perks available upon subsequent visits. Our Sapphire Falls getaway marked our first YouFirst check in, and when we stayed at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel the following month, we were automatically upgraded to a garden view villa room with a luxurious soaking tub! Score! Sign up for YouFirst here.
Our standard room at Sapphire Falls is the perfect place to refresh and relax in style, with two comfortable Queen beds, a lounge chair, a charmingly appointed desk area, and one of the coolest hotel bathrooms I have ever seen. I love the brightly-colored mirror frame in the separate vanity area, and the fact that there is plenty of counter space for me to stash all of my makeup and skin care products. After unpacking and spending some time lounging around, it’s time to go out and explore the resort and maybe even spend some time at the theme parks!
All of the Loews hotels at Universal have an impressive range of bars and restaurants for any occasion. While the Loews Royal Pacific Resort is home to my favorite onsite restaurant (looking at you, Tchoup Chop!), the wide variety of dining options at Sapphire Falls makes it the most well-rounded of all the Universal Orlando Resort hotels.
The New Dutch Trading Company, located just off the main lobby, is a trendy-looking grab-and-go spot providing ready-made meals, fresh beverages, tasty pastries and more. Adding to the convenience of staying onsite, there is also a small section offering chips, bottled beverages, refrigerated goods, and a seriously stylish range of resort-branded cooking spices, coffee and more.
Drhum Club Kantine, located alongside the beautifully landscaped pool area, provides a temporary escape from the sun’s rays while still maintaining the fun tropical feel of a day spent at the beach. The extensive menu includes Caribbean-inspired appetizers, salads, burgers and fresh seafood, along with a collection of creative drinks to help ease the mind into a true tropical island escape.
Strong Water Tavern, easily the highlight of the resort’s dining options, is a cool tapas bar and lounge decorated in stone, sleek dark wood, and contemporary furniture and light fixtures. This Universal hotspot is known for its fresh ceviche and extensive rum menu, and even has “rum captains” on call to help personalize the perfect tasting menu just for you! With a sleek indoor bar and a beautiful outdoor patio overlooking the serene waterway, Strong Water Tavern makes for a stunning watering hole at any time of year.
Finally, the primary onsite restaurant is Amatista Cookhouse, which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and features a beautiful open-concept kitchen with plenty of comfortable banquettes and tables, both indoor and out. This is a restaurant that never takes itself too seriously, offering a menu of both casual and more upscale food options in an airy, laid back setting. Don’t forget to grab a drink at the bar while you wait for your table!
Of course, these are just the dining options available at Sapphire Falls Resort. Dozens more options are just a short walk or water taxi ride away at the neighboring hotels, Universal City Walk, or even within the theme parks themselves!
Sapphire Falls just wouldn’t live up to its name as a Loews hotel if it didn’t offer an exciting range of amenities to make the resort so much more than a place to lay your head.
In addition to its stylish, modern rooms and impressive dining options, the resort boasts one massive pool area, a fitness center, shopping options, weekly dinner shows, a business center, several meeting and event spaces, and and a jam-packed calendar of poolside activities. We made sure to spend plenty of time in the vibrant pool area, enjoying the warm water and just relaxing poolside with a book.
Theme Park Perks
Of course, the biggest reason to stay at the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is its close proximity to the Universal Orlando theme parks.
In addition to easy pedestrian and water taxi routes to the entrance of the three parks, guests of all five onsite hotels have the special opportunity to enter the parks one whole hour before regular ticket holders! This early park admission applies to one, two or all three theme parks, depending on when your visit falls, so remember to ask the front desk agent which park opens early when you check in for your stay! Further simplifying your vacation, you can also choose to have your park purchases charged to your final room bill, and can even have merchandise items delivered to your room free of charge! No more struggling to stuff shopping bags into a locker or struggling to drag them around the park all day!
After checking in for our weekend getaway, Dan and I spent some time exploring the hotel and then decided to hop on over to Islands of Adventure to ride Skull Island: Reign of Kong, the park’s latest new attraction.
We enjoyed a lazy evening strolling around CityWalk and then took the complimentary water taxi right back to our hotel to enjoy the romantic ambiance and each other’s company.
The following day, we spent some time visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and had lunch at Confisco’s Grille in Islands of Adventure, then devoted the rest of the day to enjoying our gorgeous accommodations.
We lounged at the pool, enjoyed a delicious happy hour next door at Tchoup Chop, and then it was off to dinner at Amatista!
I was impressed by the large dining space, the luxurious deep wood ceiling beams and shimmering glass chandeliers, and the friendly service we received. And of course, the menu items were fantastic as well! I had the Island Fish Sandwich, which was served well-seasoned on a toasted pineapple-coconut roll and topped with delicious and flavorful mango-papaya salsa. Dan opted for the Caribbean burger, served on a plantain-buttered cuban roll and topped with smoked pork and caramelized onions. I love how even a simple burger could be given a tropical twist, and it made the entire resort experience come together as something out of the ordinary.
We left the following morning, refreshed after two days of lounging, eating, and drinking in the beautiful sights. Somehow, two days was all we needed for a serious mental reset, and I’ve been dying to return ever since. Strong Water Tavern is calling my name, and I don’t think I can hold off too much longer!
We absolutely loved everything about our stay, from the decor to the food to the convenience of getting to and from the theme parks. With beautiful rooms and so many things to do onsite, you’d think that this stunning property would cost a pretty penny. Surprisingly, it is one of the least expensive resort hotels on the property, rivaled only by the Cabana Bay Beach Resort in terms of price. If you’re simply looking for a relaxing escape to the tropics that won’t break the bank, then the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort may be just the place for you.
However, if you are staying onsite as a convenient way to visit the Universal Orlando theme parks, it’s important to note that by booking at the Hard Rock, Royal Pacific or Portofino Bay Resorts, you will also be gifted complimentary Express access to use in the parks for the duration of your hotel stay, something not currently offered at Sapphire Falls or Cabana Bay. Express access means shorter ride lines throughout the day, and more time to spend playing, eating and shopping in the park. It’s a total game-changer for the theme park experience. While you can stay at Sapphire Falls and purchase Express passes separately if you wish, they do get pricey very quickly. If you are visiting with a group, often times the cost of a more expensive hotel room can actually save you time and money when it comes to enjoying your time in the theme parks. To learn more about the benefits of staying at the top tier of Universal Orlando’s onsite hotels, I encourage you to check out my review of the stunning Italian-themed Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.
No matter which one you choose, any one of the five onsite Loews hotels provide the perfect base from which to relax, enjoy, and just take it all in. Whether you are there for the theme parks, the food, or just simply want to get away, basing yourself onsite is one way to guarantee that your stay will be just what you needed. Sapphire Falls, welcome to the family! And readers, keep your eyes open: a sixth onsite hotel is already in the works, and will be opening next summer!
As an employee of Universal Orlando Resort, my room was booked at a discounted rate. I am a genuine fan of the onsite resort hotels, having stayed there many times in the past. This review is in no way sponsored or endorsed by Universal Orlando or Loews Hotels, and I have not received any compensation, monetary or otherwise, for my thoughts.