When visiting a Florida theme park it can be tempting to stay offsite to save money, but the convenience and perks of an onsite hotel can often outweigh these cost savings. Especially if you place a value on your time! We recently discovered during a family trip to Universal Orlando Resort that the accessibility provided by staying at one of their onsite hotels really had a relaxing effect that really improved the enjoyability of our vacation.
We stayed at Loews Sapphire Falls which is one of five hotels located at Universal Orlando Resort to go along with three theme parks (Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, and Volcano Bay) and an entertainment plaza called Citywalk filled with restaurants, stores, theaters and one of the coolest put-put golf courses I’ve ever played. Sapphire Falls has a Caribbean vibe with its design inspired by the architecture and landscapes from that tropical region. The hotel has 1,000 guest rooms and suites that provide a variety of housing options for guests to choose from. While we ended up going with the standard guest room plus a cot for our family of four, the Kids Suite option really appealed to me. A Kids Suite features a king bed in one room and two twin beds in another bedroom that is decorated in a fun youthful décor. Maybe we’ll reserve a Kids Suite the next time our family visits.
Sapphire Falls welcomes visitors decorated in a palette of warm colors and is filled with orchids as you walk under an incredible chandelier made of woven baskets providing a wonderful festive atmosphere to the space. A giant television serves as a focal point for a gathering spot at the back of the lobby and I have to admit being thrilled that football games were often being broadcast on it throughout our stay. Off to the side is New Dutch Trading Company, a quick grab and go snack shop, Sweet Water Tavern where you can grab yourself a cold beer, glass of rum or even a fruity drink with an umbrella in it, and a Universal Studios Store filled with souvenirs and necessities.
A grand spiral staircase replicating the antiquated colonial era sugar mills that dot across the Caribbean’s islands ushers guests to areas such as the hotel’s restaurant, Amatista Cookhouse, its luxurious pool, a fitness center, and video game arcade. It also provides access to a garden walkway and water taxis that guests can use to get to Citywalk, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. While walking up and down the stairs check out the walls which are ornamented with framed pictures of real life Caribbean sites that inspired the hotels architects and interior designers.
The Caribbean motif continues on the exterior of the hotel. Exiting the building from the grand staircase people will encounter a waterfall based upon Jamaica’s treasured Dunn’s River Falls flowing into a lagoon. Walking the grounds of Sapphire Falls the architectural details of the buildings, a landscape filled with tropical plants and palm trees, and a variety of water features will provide the charm of a far away island getaway. While the setting may seem secluded you are only a few minutes away from three incredible theme parks. The proximity and ease of access to Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, and Volcano Bay from Sapphire Falls is amazing! This is really what makes an onsite stay worthwhile in my opinion.
Sapphire Falls has its own water taxi dock. Enjoy a leisurely 10 minute boat ride that has passengers pass by Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville before disembarking at Citywalk close by the admission gates to both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Rides are FREE and the boats begin operating 30 minutes before the Early Park Admission time through 2:30 am every day weather permitting. Sapphire Falls has a dedicated port so there are no extra stops as the water taxies go back and forth between the hotel and Citywalk’s dock. The boats are constantly running so getting on one can range from getting on right away to waiting no longer than 15 or 20 minutes.
Riding a water taxi allows you to bypass the general admission security check at Universal Orlando Resort’s main public entrance by the parking deck at Citywalk with is a real luxury! The main entrance’s security often times can be a frantic, headache inducing mass of people. In comparison, the Sapphire Falls water taxi dock has its own metal detector / security screening that was never very busy and with staff that were very pleasant to deal with. It was so nice not to have to fight our way through a crowded security check line every time we wanted to go over to Citywalk, Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. This made our visit so much more relaxing than previous trips when we had stayed offsite.
Don’t want to wait for a water taxi or are in the mood for some exercise. Sapphire Falls guests can take a stroll across a Garden Walkway that follows the water taxi canal over to Citywalk. It is a direct route that doesn’t make you cross over any streets and is a fairly secluded peaceful walkway. With the kids in tow it normally took us about fifteen minutes to get from Sapphire Falls to Citywalk. The Garden Walkway has its own side security entrance at Citywalk near Margaritaville also letting hotel guests bypass the more hectic general admission queues. The staff was always very friendly when we passed through and it never took very long to progress through the checkpoint.
There are also pedicabs you can hire along the Gardenwalk. There is no set fee to ride in these carts pulled behind a bike but rather the drivers are paid based upon good faith tips from passengers. One night we outraced a quickly approaching thunder storm by hiring a pedicab that got the four of us to Sapphire Falls from Citywalk just before the rain started pouring.
Universal Orlando Resort operates a FREE bus service that shuttles people between the five onsite hotels and Citywalk. Unfortunately, it takes riders to a drop-off area just outside the public parking garages and you have to go through the same busy entrance as all the offsite guests to get through security. If you are carting around a large stroller or utilize a wheel chair or electric scooter to get around this is a more accessible transportation option than the water taxi or garden walkway. I’d skip this option if you can though when going to Citywalk, Islands of Adventure, or Universal Studios.
There is also a second bus route that goes directly back and forth from hotels to the Volcano Bay water park which I do highly recommend taking. Volcano Bay isn’t accessible by water taxi or the garden walkway. It is a 5 minute ride from Sapphire Falls via the shuttle bus but isn’t easy to walk to because of some busy streets as well as construction sites that are between the two properties. So for Volcano Bay I highly recommend taking the complimentary bus.
In addition to getting through security easier it was also nice to be staying close enough to the amusement parks that if we forgot something or wanted to take a break during the day and come back later it wasn’t that big of a deal to return to Sapphire Falls. Another perk of staying at the hotel that helped us beat the crowds was Early Park Admission. Sapphire Falls guests with tickets to the theme parks can enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal’S Volcano Bay one hour before the theme parks open to the general public.
Other onsite perks for those people staying at Sapphire Falls include:
- Utilizing your room key card to charge purchases made throughout the Resort. No need to carry cash or credit cards just bill to your room’s account with the swipe of your key card.
- Complimentary delivery of merchandise purchased anywhere at the Resort to your hotel.
- Schedule wake-up calls from your favorite Universal Orlando Resort theme park characters.
- Access to any of the pools at the five onsite hotels by flashing your room key card.
- Free transportation to and from Orlando area golf courses.
- Pets are welcome for a $50 per night fee with a maximum cost of $150 per stay and there are a variety of amenities available just for dogs and cats. There is even a designated dog walk space for people who bring their canine companions with them.
- If you are traveling with children under 10 make sure to ask for the complimentary “Loews Loves Kids” Welcome Gift when checking in during your arrival at Sapphire Falls.
Our room was cozier than I’d expected it to be but yet a standard guest room was still spacious enough for our family not to feel too cramped. You really should be spending your vacation out and about so it worked out just fine as a comfortable place to sleep for the night. The room included a mini-fridge which had plenty of room for the breakfast items, snacks and drinks we picked up at an Orlando area grocery store we stopped at for supplies before arriving at the hotel. Avoiding purchasing breakfast every morning by eating cereal in our room really saved us a lot of money during our trip.
The twin Queen bed guest room we stayed in also provided FREE wi-fi for up to four devices that was at a decent download speed which was really appreciated. There also was a plethora of electrical outlets and usb ports situated around the room so we could easily keep all our devices charged. A 49-inch flat screen high definition television kept the kids entertained watching some of their favorite cable channels during some of our down time. The only thing notably missing was a microwave which would have been nice for heating up leftovers from the resort’s restaurants.
Speaking of restaurants, Sapphire Falls’ Amatista Cookhouse offers breakfast, lunch and dinner menus with Caribbean flair. Meals are prepared in an open exhibition kitchen where you can get a good view watching the cooks in action from many of the seats within the restaurant. In addition to being able to glimpse the action in the kitchen, the restaurant also provides a great vantage point for scenic views of the lagoon behind the hotel.
Looking for more traditional American fare or have a picky eater in the family? Sapphire’s room service has a great menu where you are sure to find something that will satisfy almost anyone’s tastes and appetite. We found it provides generous portions and the price of room service was surprisingly equivalent to dining out at a restaurant at Citywalk, within one of the amusement parks, or at an offsite spot with Orlando’s tourist inflated prices.
If you want to grab a quick bite to eat New Dutch Trading Post located next to Sapphire Falls lobby has a nice selection of pastries and sweet treats to choose from. They also offer a selection of fresh brewed coffees to help perk up your day or evening. Unfortunately for us while everything looked delicious there were cross contamination issues with almost everything they baked relating to my kids peanut allergies so we passed on getting anything at New Dutch Trading Post.
The highlight of our stay at Sapphire Falls for my family was its wonderful pool. The 16,000 square foot pool is the largest of those at Universal Orlando Resort’s five onsite hotels. It is 4,000 square feet larger than the second largest pool located at Hard Rock Hotel. A really neat feature is that the pool is surrounded by sand filled areas with umbrella covered beach chairs to relax in. The Drhum Club Kantine off to the side provides excellent food for a pool bar. During our stay we were serenaded by a live performer singing a medley of reggae songs while playing steel drums while we enjoyed some snacks and drinks from the Drhum Club Kantine.
The pool is very family friendly with zero depth entry points that allow people to wade out as the depth slowly increases. Most of the pool is between 2 and 4 feet with it not getting much deeper than 5 feet in some spots making it ideal for parents to keep an eye on their kids and feel safe about them playing in the water. The pool was also well-staffed with life guards on duty whenever we were there. Plus it has a water slide that my children delighted in riding over and over again.
We really enjoyed our stay at Sapphire Falls. The convenience of the hotel being just minutes away from the amusement parks and the extra perks that helped us avoid hassles and crowds were simply put –> wonderful! For more information about staying at one of the five onsite hotels at Universal Orlando Resort please visit www.loewshotels.com/universal-orlando. Also stay tuned for news about a sixth hotel that will be opening in August 2018 – the new Aventura Hotel will be right next door to Volcano Bay water park.