Monday, December 9, 2013

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel...a True Destination Hotel

Who says that Universal Orlando can't be an actual destination in and of itself?  I am discovering that too many travelers don't give Universal Orlando and one it's onsite resorts enough credit for being its own stand-alone vacation destination.   I must confess that I was one of those travelers a few years back...ok, maybe only a couple of years back.  But I am no longer one of those people.  I am a true fan of Universal and what it offers when it comes to a full vacation package.

Did their rides and attractions change my mind?  Not completely, although The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has aided a bit.  Their resorts are what has sold me.  Universal Orlando has made a smart move in teaming up with Loews and Hard Rock.  Both Loews and Hard Rock know how to run hotels and resorts.  They know what makes their hotels something that travelers will stay at even if a theme park is not adjacent to them.  That to me sets them apart from Disney.

Show of many of us Disney fans (if we are really honest) would stay at one of Disney's resorts if there were no theme parks to visit?  How many of us would pay the prices at a Disney resort if there were no theme parks, would be a better question to ask.  I am thinking not many of us would including myself.  But in comparison, I would for sure stay at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel even if a theme park visit was not planned.  It is a true resort hotel and a destination hotel.

What makes it a good destination hotel you ask?  Here is my criteria for a great hotel to be a destination hotel:

1) Great pools with attentive staff and good ambience
2) A good variety of food options ranging from grab-and-go to fine dining
3) Lot's of shopping options that cover a lot of different things from art to clothes to souvenirs
4) Great eye appeal in the design and lots of areas of interest (best way I can describe that)
5) Evening lounges for entertainment
6) Large, comfortable rooms preferably with a separate tub and shower
7) A first class spa

The Portofino Bay Hotel offers all of these and does a great job keeping your interest at the resort itself.  You could wake up, go grab a nice buffet breakfast at Trattoria del Porto, enjoy the paper and cup of coffee before putting on your swim wear and heading down to one of their great pools.  You could then eat lunch at the Splendido pool side grill before you head off to your mid-afternoon spa treatment at the Mandera Spa.

Then go back to your comfortable room, relax before getting ready for pre-dinner drinks at either Bar American or the Thirsty Fish.  Let your appetite build there before heading off to a fine dining experience at either Bice or Mama Della's.  Then cap the evening off again with an aperitif and some live music and take in the evening serenade out on the promenade.  That is what I call a vacation!

That is how a stay at the Portofino Bay Hotel can go.  I am speaking from experience and am writing this post as a review of just the property itself, not the parks.  Did we visit the 2 Universal Orlando theme parks during our stay?  Sure we did, but we found ourselves gravitating back to our resort during the day.

Our stay consisted of 2 nights in one of the hotel's club level rooms which gave us access to the private lounge downstairs where we enjoyed our included continental breakfast, afternoon snacks and beverages, evening snacks and beverages and our nightly cookie run before heading back to our room.  We enjoyed the evening snacks well enough that we considered them a meal. Beverages included at the evening snack time were choices of red or white wine, domestic and imported beers, sodas, water and teas.  And the continental breakfast was plentiful each morning.

We enjoyed a pool side lunch at Splendido and utilized their pool servers often for some fun afternoon treats.  One of our dinners was at the wonderful Mama Della's.  The food and atmosphere were wonderful if you enjoy Italian cuisine and being serenaded table side.  The Italian theming of the hotel is well done.  Great theming means you transport the guest from where they really are to somewhere else (mentally) just by good design, architecture and ambience.  As you walk around the hotel's grounds, you do get the sense that you may have taken a longer flight than you had planned and have actually stepped into a nice seaside Italian town.

So here again is where I think Universal has done well by forming this partnership with Loews.  When you are at a Disney resort hotel, you are constantly being reminded that you are at Disney.  Their dining is built around their dining plans.  Their shops are mainly focussed on selling their name and merchandise.  The Disney deluxe resorts have smaller rooms overall.  Disney's argument in return would come to Disney because you want all things Disney and because you will most likely be heading into one or more of the 4 main parks so the room sizes are overlooked.  True! But for those who don't want Mickey staring at them every time they turn around, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is a great Orlando vacation option.  I think it is time to quit thinking of Universal Orlando as just an add-on to a Disney World vacation.  I think it is time to start considering one of their resort hotels as an actual destination and then you can decide what you want to add to the trip as far as theme park visits or some other Orlando area attraction.  Bravo Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, bravo!

For more photos of the can click on this link, Portofino Bay Hotel