This year has been more on-the-go for usual for the two of us; in part, now that we’re running a business as a pair, I don’t feel guilty traveling on so many back-to-back trips. On the flip side, we’re fortunate enough to work with so many brands and destinations that we love, and many of the projects just seem to fall one after another.
So we’d barely unpacked our bags from Grenada when it was time to head to Orlando for four blissful days of sunshine. Given that we planned our trip for late February through early March to beat the Spring Break rush, it was the perfect opportunity to squeeze in some prime tanning time while the rest of our Tennessee friends were pallid from the winter months.
Growing up, my parents had a timeshare down in Lake Buena Vista (they actually still do), so we always stayed off-property when going to the Orlando theme parks. It wasn’t actually until I attended the opening of Diagon Alley three years ago that I first stayed on-site. And what a difference it makes!
For one, we flew in from Nashville on the first direct flight out in the morning—which is both cheap and convenient, thanks to Southwest—arrived before noon, took a Lyft straight to our hotel, dropped our bags at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, picked up our park passes and went straight into the park.
Did you know that those who stay at one of three Universal Orlando Resort hotels (Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel) receive complimentary Express passes? It’s one of the many perks of staying on-property.
For those of you keeping tabs at home, that’s an $89 value per person. And it definitely adds up!
Another thing I love about staying in the parks is that I don’t have to do my standard arrive-when-they-open-and-leave-when-they-close routine. SVV and I were very much lazy park-goers this past trip. We’d get up, exercise our extra hour of access to the parks in the morning before the regular folk arrived, then leave for lunch and spend the rest of the day here, in a state of bliss, beer in hand.
When we were deciding where to stay on this trip, I’ll admit: I was stumped. Did I go for the shiny newness of Sapphire Falls? The vintage retro vibe of Cabana Bay? The islander scene at the Royal Pacific? So few days, too many choices.
In other words, some peace and quiet at the more adult-y resort, followed by some rock ‘n roll glam at the Millennial favorite.
Portofino Bay is meant to transport you to Italy, and it does a pretty solid job of just that. As you pull up to the front by water taxi, you’ll see candy-colored houses lining the waterfront, canoes dotting the lake, and a piazza brimming with live music, food and beverage options.
For those who have never been to Europe, you’ll feel as if you’re abroad. For those like me who have spent a lot of time there, you’ll get nostalgic for Naples, Rome, Cinque Terra, Burano.
I’ll confess: During our two days at Portofino Bay, we spent far more time kicking it at the resort than we did in the parks.
Why? Well, this pool, for starters.
Tell me you’d ever leave this spot, particularly with the temperature topping out at 90 (and in February, at that!).
The parks were pretty uncrowded given that we were there in shoulder season, so we were able to tackle many of our favorite attractions in the morning hours. We also made use of the hotel’s various food and beverage options. We dined on fine Italian at Mama Della’s Ristorante.
And cooled off with gelato from the resident gelateria.
We ordered lunch and poolside drinks from the Beach Pool—and took them to the adults-only pool, which was much quieter than the kid-friendly one.
The hotel has a Mandara Spa that I took advantage of, as well, after a pretty bad fall doing acro two days prior. And while I didn’t use the fitness facility (oops), I did make use of all that manicured lawn space and got some arm balances and inversion practice in.
And, of course, there was some park time, too. The free water taxi leaves every 20 minutes or so from the main piazza to Universal CityWalk, so you never have to wait long.
In summary, Portofino Bay is, in my opinion, the chillest of the Universal resorts. Looking for a romantic, yet low-key couples getaway? This property is the one for you.
This post is in partnership with Universal Orlando Resort as part of the #UORBlogSquad ambassador program. All thoughts, photos and opinions are my own.