It’s important to remember the following with any review you read: It’s always subjective. For us, we like to base our reviews on multiple experiences at the same place – basically, we’re looking to see how consistent a particular resort is. This review represents 3 experiences over the course of 2 years.
First, a comment about the staff. If you’ve ever stayed at a Loews resort, you know that the standard of service is above that which you would expect from most other chains. I venture to say that Loews has a Disney standard of service – that would mean more these days if Disney themselves actually had a Disney standard of service, but that’s a topic for another article.
The first thing we have to mention here is the consistency of service. From the Valet, to front desk, restaurants, lounges, housekeeping – this is among the friendliest staff we’ve ever encountered. There didn’t seem to be any request too large or too small not to warrant their full attention. It’s the details like this that make the difference between a good resort and a great resort, and we can say with confidence that this is a GREAT resort.
Location: The Hard Rock Hotel has the closest proximity to the theme parks of the three Universal resorts. It is literally a five minute walk to the front gate of Universal Studios. Technically, all three Universal resorts are within walking distance of the parks, but this resort is by far the most convenient.
Check in: The check in process was quick, efficient and straightforward. The front desk agent who assisted us was both friendly and knowledgeable, and the entire process took less than 15 minutes, however, our room would not be ready until later in the day. This is a common complaint among many of our visitors, especially during peak periods. When they say check in is at 4pm, you should be prepared not to have access to your room before then. If you’re arriving early, we recommend you plan out your day accordingly, and have whatever you will need readily available (bathing suits if you plan to hit the pool, walking shoes/sun block if you’re going to the parks, etc.). As with most resorts, Bell services will store your luggage until your room is ready. Your room key is very important - it acts not only as a resort-wide charge card (including the theme parks and CityWalk), but also as your Express pass to gain preferred access to the attractions. One unique feature of the Universal resorts is the ability to set individual charge limits on each room key. For instance, Mom and Dad can have a $1000 limit on their room key, while junior has a more reasonable $50.
Dining: We found the food at the Hard Rock to be above average in quality and consistent in price with other 4 star resorts both inside and outside the Orlando tourist corridor. That’s a nice way of saying that the food is on the expensive side, but you absolutely get what you pay for. A breakfast for two at the Kitchen, for example, ran $40. A suggestion for eating breakfast: stick with the breakfast buffet - all the items on the menu are available on the buffet (including omelet's and eggs Benedict), and the orange juice is bottomless (as opposed to $4 per glass when ordering off the menu). Room service is provided by the Kitchen, and you should expect the quality of that food to be equally as good (just a bit more expensive after factoring in the 18% service charge, and $3.00 delivery fee). Again, these charges are consistent with most up-scale resorts, but that doesn't lessen the sticker shock you see when you sign the bill. If you’re interested in experiencing one of the best meals in Orlando bar none, then a visit to the Palms is in order. Located just off the lobby of the Hard Rock, the Palms honors its impressive legacy by providing a level of service rarely found and a quality of food that is sure to impress even the most jaded of palates (mine included). Responding to complaints that there was no "quick service" food venues at the Hard Rock, they added Emack and Bolios (as well as a Starbucks). Emack and Bolios serves light snacks, quick breakfast food, and some very creative ice cream combinations.
Rooms: The rooms at the Hard Rock recently underwent a $6.8M renovation, addressing some of the complaints that you might find when researching the resort on our discussion boards, or on some other travel sites. On our most recent stay (March 2007), we found the rooms to be well decorated and very clean. In fact, one of our reviewers commented that the bathrooms looked as if they had never been used before (we check the grout around the bathroom, inside the toilets - literally, around the perimeter of the bathroom, and rub together the bottom of the shower curtains to check for residual soap scum – we could find NOTHING). While some might consider the base rate of $250 p/night a bit steep, I would suggest that you first compare this resort (amenity to amenity) to other deluxe resorts in the Orlando area. Housekeeping was our only complaint about the room. They did a very thorough job, but their presence was inconsistent. One day they arrived to clean our room at 8am, the next day the room wasn't cleaned until 7pm, and yet another day they didn't show up at all, and we needed to call to have the room serviced. In fairness, a housekeeper was at our room within 7 minutes of calling.
Entertainment: You're entertained at the Hard Rock pretty much from the minute you walk in the door. Especially if you're a 30-something or 40-something, it's hard not to walk the resort without singing along to the songs you grew up listening to. Of particular note is the quality of the bands they have playing at the pool (yes, they have live rock bands playing on select nights thru the summer). On one Saturday evening during our stay, we listened to the music of the house band, 12 Stone Drive, and enjoyed the music so much that we skipped dinner, and just ordered from the bar. The pool area is also used for "Dive In" movies on select nights during the week, where movies are shown while you swim. If you happen to be staying at the Hard Rock on the last Thursday of the month, we highly recommend attending the "Velvet Sessions" concerts that take place in the lobby. There is an additional fee of $25 per person, and attendance is limited to guests 21 and older. The evening features a rock band from the 70's or the 80's, and is a VERY popular event with Orlando locals. While there is no dress code for the event, you'd probably feel out of place in shorts and sandals. Business casual attire is a good idea.
Pets: Loews Hotels are pet friendly, this includes all three of the Universal Resorts. A one time pet cleaning fee of $25 is charged at check in. You must also provide a cell phone number where you can be reached in case there are issues with your pet while you're out of the room. Also, it should be noted that housekeeping (understandably) will not enter your room if your pet is present and you're not. The hotel provides a welcome package for your pet, which includes a water and food bowl (and a mat to place them on), as well as some pet treats. There is a room service menu that has specific items for cats and dogs as well. A bowl of "Bow Wow Beef" was $10.95 (and was a heaping dish of mixed beef). Dry snacks are also available for $3.00/lb. For cats, they offer "Kitty Salmon Supreme" at $10.95, and dry cat treats for $3.00/lb. The hotel also requires that you provide proof of vaccination for your pet (provided by your veterinarian) and dated within 10 days of your arrival. This is not an organization that takes service lightly. They also provide an outside service that will pet-sit for you at a rate between $10 and $12 per hour.
When we stayed at the Hard Rock, we did bring a dog with us, but he was less than happy about it. Fortunately, since we live close by, we were able to bring him back home....not a luxury most visitors to the hotel will have. We suggest STRONGLY that you make sure your pet is comfortable being in a strange environment without you present in the room before you travel.
Overall Impression: We have consistently been impressed with the Hard Rock, from the quality of the room, the excellent (if expensive) food, great entertainment, and outstanding service. You are staying in a deluxe resort here, and you should feel comfortable to set your expectations accordingly. As with the two other resorts at Universal Orlando, we enthusiastically add the Hard Rock Hotel to our DIS Recommended list.