I’ve told you guys before about how my family and I like to celebrate milestones and life events in our family with trips. Graduations, birthdays, promotions, holidays… we long ago discovered that we preferred to commemorate these big life events with a trip. Trips to Orlando are one of our favorite ways to celebrate. You may remember we celebrated my sisters’ birthdays with a trip to Universal and Disney in February. We stayed at the amazing Loews Royal Pacific… a truly one-of-a-kind experience!
To celebrate my sister Megan’s graduation from FSU, we felt that it was only right to celebrate with another Orlando trip– this time to check out Universal’s Volcano Bay for the first time! We’d never been before and figured that the summer was the perfect time to experience it for the first time.
I had been dying dying DYING to stay at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel after seeing it on Instagram… it’s truly an IG-dream come true! Having visited Italy a few years ago and falling completely in love, I was blown away by how much I felt like I was back in Italia the second I stepped out of the car and into the lobby! Just walking in felt like strolling into a straight up palazzo. (TOTAL Florence flashbacks for me!)
Like, how stunning is the entryway?? Come on.
All About the Staff, Early Check-In, and the Universal Express Pass
The entire staff at all of the Universal Hotels are truly outstanding. They’re all just so accommodating, helpful and friendly. The Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is the third Universal Orlando Resort Hotel I’ve stayed at, and I honestly have never had anything less than phenomenal customer service. (Check out my reviews on the Loews Royal Pacific here and Universal’s Aventura Hotel here!) Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, but we were able to leave our bags with the front desk and pick up our Universal Express passes… one of the BEST perks of staying at the Universal Orlando Resort Hotels! (If you don’t know– the Universal Express Pass lets you skip the line at EVERY SINGLE RIDE AT UNIVERSAL. IT IS SO, SO WORTH IT!!)
Checking in early is super easy at the Universal Orlando Resort Hotels. Basically, you go through the whole process of checking in, pick up your room keys and park passes, and then you can head out to have some fun. Someone from the front desk texted me when our room was ready with our room number so we were able to head straight to the room when we were done at the parks… no need to visit the front desk again, which is nice if you’re coming from out of town and don’t want to waste a whole day waiting for your room. (This is key for us… since we’re from Florida, we typically plan shorter trips to Orlando, so want to make sure that we aren’t wasting any time!)
OK, so a little about the hotel. Like… first of all, we totally felt like we were in Portofino. I didn’t even know what to take photos of first! The entire property just has the feel of a seaside Italian town. Three themed swimming pools, a gorgeous spa, tons of fantastic dining options, and the coolest part– nightly Musica della Notte– a musical performance in the courtyard by some insanely talented singers! We could watch from our balcony or enjoy in the courtyard as so many people did. (We grabbed a gelate and enjoyed the show!)
All About the Property, Perks + Benefits of the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
Seriously, the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed at in Orlando, hands down. I can’t even tell you how many people messaged me asking WHERE I WAS because they thought I was going to Orlando yet it seemed like I was in Italy lol!! I had to tell them that YES, I was in Orlando!
Let’s get into perks and benefits of staying at a Universal Orlando Resort Hotel. First of all– I already mentioned the Universal Express Passes that you get for free. (These babies are $129 per person, per day if you buy them on your own!!) I can not sing the praises of these passes enough. I highly, HIGHLY recommend them if you’re planning a trip to Universal Orlando. We literally walked onto EVERY ride, including the major attractions like The Hulk and Rip Ride Rock-It.
You also get free shuttles to the parks, complimentary merchandise delivery to your hotel from Universal shops, complimentary Universal CityWalk access, priority seating at select Universal Orlando restaurants, and Early Park Admission to Universal’s Volcano Bay and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The Loews Portofino Bay Hotel also offers free WiFi, on-site car rental, a business center, and more.
How We Got From Park-to-Park
We self-parked our cars in the garage and basically only used the Universal shuttle service. I loved that to get to Universal CityWalk and to Universal Orlando, we took the sweetest little boat. YEP, Portofino Bay is not just decorative, it’s functional! We hopped on the ferry and a short and sweet ride later were dropped off at the entrance to Universal Orlando! To get to Universal’s Volcano Bay we just hopped on a bus at the front of the hotel, easy peasy.
All About Our Room
Our room was GORGEOUS!! The decor was absolutely beautiful, the beds super comfy, we were definitely living la dolce vita! The room was very spacious and had everything we needed– two double beds, a massive bathroom that had a huge tub AND seperate shower, a big TV, even a desk/table if you’re planning on ordering in-room dining. We were four people and never felt cramped in the slightest. We had the sweetest balcony outside with a stunning view of the entire courtyard and bay! Talk about VIEW GOALS!
Dining at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
Let’s talk FOOD.
There are 5 restaurants, 2 bars and a Starbucks on property. (Plus, a candy and gelato shop!) There’s also 24-hour room service available. I personally love Italian food, I think it’s probably my favorite genre of food, so i was psyched to check out the on-property dining options. All of the restaurants are so unique and special and the menus are 100% drool-worthy.
We had the most insane meals on-property… first of all… breakfast. My favorite meal of the day.
The Most INSANE Breakfast Buffet at Trattoria del Porto
Our first morning, we had the most amazing breakfast at Trattoria del Porto. We opted for the breakfast buffet… and let me tell you… it was INCREDIBLE! First of all… the view. We sat outside and enjoyed the gorgeous morning and views of the bay.
The breakfast buffet was out-of-this-world!! Eggs, fruit, waffles, pancakes, potatoes, sausage, bacon, pastries… basically anything you could want to eat was available at the buffet. (There was even an impressive selection of gluten-free pastries available, which I notice ALL the time now after traveling with my gal pal Savannah who has a severe gluten allergy!) We stuffed ourselves silly with EVERYTHING and honestly… way more than we should’ve lol! I’m a sucker for an all-you-can-eat buffet, so I loved this!
Dining on-property is a great option if you like to take a mid-day break and then head back to the parks in the evening. (Something we love to do!) We had dinner twice on-property and can’t recommend the restaurants enough! Our first dinner was post-Volcano Bay. We were exhausted from a day in the sun and came back to the hotel to shower and grab a bite to eat.
Pizza + More at Sal’s Market Deli
You know those days you’re just CRAVING A PIZZA? We felt that way after a full day at Universal’s Volcano Bay. We decided to pop by Sal’s Market Deli, which was literally right downstairs from our room. Everything on the menu looked incredible… we ended up deciding to order a bunch of stuff and sharing it all!
We ordered the Margherita Pizza, a Chicken Parm Sandwich, a Chicken Caesar Salad, and a Prosciutto Pizza that was the most amazing white pizza EVER! SO GOOD.
Before heading back home, we enjoyed a last evening together at Mama Della’s Ristorante, a traditional Italian ristorante with the most adorable trio of singers who walk around and serenade guests with any song of their choice!
Italian Classics + a Serenade at Mama Della’s Ristorante
The food was SO good… we ordered the Veal Piccata, Lobster Ravioli, Pollo alla Carbonara, and Pollo alla Parmigiano. Everything was delicious and so authentic… but our favorite was the Pollo alla Carbonara! The vibe is very home-y and cozy, but also upscale and elegant. We had told them we were celebrating my sister’s graduation and our table had the sweetest and most thoughtful decorations! (If you’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary, make sure you let them know!)
Obviously we didn’t get a chance to eat at EVERY restaurant on-property, but there were a ton of great options! There was also Bice Ristorante, described as an exquisite culinary voyage right to the heart of Italy. If you’re looking for a cocktail, The Thirsty Fish is called a friendly harborside Italian wine bar (sounds fun!). And if you’re just looking to grab a quick drink, Bar American serves specialty drinks.
Poolside Dining at Splendido Bar & Grill
We were hoping to grab lunch at Splendido Bar & Grill, the poolside restaurant on-property. Sadly, the day we planned to go it rained… Spendido is only open weather permitting, but is a GREAT spot to grab a burger either during a lazy pool day or just on a relaxing afternoon. The drink menu looks delish– margaritas, frozen drinks, wines, beers… you name it.
Our First Time At Universal’s Volcano Bay
We had never been to Universal’s Volcano Bay before and thought it was the perfect time to visit! (Florida is so hot in the summer!) We had so SO much fun! If you love water parks, Volcano Bay is a must-visit. Our favorite ride was the Krakatau Aqua Coaster… a supercool water roller coaster.
The best thing about the park is the Virtual Lines. When you get into the park you’re given a waterproof wearable called a TapuTapu… you just tap it at the entrance to any slide at Volcano Bay and it registers your place in line. When it’s your turn to ride, you get an alert on your bracelet and it’s time to ride! Loved that we didn’t have to waste any time in line… we just checked in at a ride and then went and enjoyed a wait-free ride in the meantime.
Overall, we had the most amazing time celebrating my sister’s graduation! It was the perfect sister trip and we had a blast! If you’re planning a trip to Orlando, you absolutely will love the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel… it’s my new favorite hotel!
Thank you to the Loews Portofino Bay for offering us a free stay in exchange for this post. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own. Thank you for supporting the brands who support A Sparkle Factor!