Universal Orlando Resort Hotels

Portofino Bay Hotel Universal Orlando

Portofino Bay Hotel - Review

La Dolce Vita - Indeed!
By Pete Werner
DIS Founder/Webmaster

[email protected]

  • Review Date: 2009
  • Review Summary - 3 1/2 out of 4 stars
  • Pro's - Large, well appointed rooms, outstanding service, better than average club level amenities, Mama Della's Restaurant
  • Con's - Consistently poor service and food quality at Trattoria del Porto, cigarette butts around the outside patio area.

In Italian, La Dolce Vita translates to 'the sweet life', and that's an excellent way of describing the experience at the Portofino Bay Hotel. While we found the service at all three Universal resorts to be above average, the service at Portofino was truly exceptional. This hotel richly deserves the myriad awards that have been bestowed upon it over the last 5 years, including it's well justified place on the Conde Nast gold list as one of the "World's Best Places to Stay" and Travel and Leisure Magazine's Top 100 hotels in North America.

As with our two other reviews, this review is based on three visits to the Portofino Bay over the last year. Two of those visits were during peak periods, when the service level of lesser hotels seem to strain under the weight of full occupancy. Not so with Portofino. As we've noticed at the other two Loews properties on site, consistency is a hallmark of this experience. The Portofino Bay is Universal's flagship resort, and it shows at every turn.

Check In: The check in process for us was without issue on each visit. Knowledgeable and friendly staff answered all our questions and took no longer than 15 minutes to issue our keys and direct us to our room. Of particular note here are the very friendly valet and bell service staff. On each of our recent visits, the bellman assisting us with our luggage provided a wealth of information about the resort, special events, and what was happening in the parks (including the park hours that week). The first time we thought it was a fluke that a bellman would be that knowledgeable. After the third time it happened, we realized it was policy. A very nice introduction to the hotel.

Dining: Portofino Bay is home to (arguably) Orlando's finest Italian restaurant in Orlando - Mama Della's. A dinner here is a relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable experience without pretense. The menu is diverse, the food quality outstanding, and the service is always excellent. (Read the full review of Mama Della's) .

Bice (pronounced bee-chay), another well received Italian restaurant is located here. While we have not tried Bice, local food critics have generally been kind to the restaurant, but it is known as an expensive night out.

For quick service food, Sal's Market Deli offers a nice selection of sandwiches, soft drinks and some of the best pizza you'll ever eat. While the food here is tasty, the prices are high for 'quick serve'. The only real disappointment with the food came at the Trattoria del Porto. It seems this restaurant exists in a kind of service vacuum from the rest of the hotel. Even when we were having the breakfast buffet, trying to get the attention of a server for coffee or juice was nearly impossible (we've experienced this a few times here). Also, the food is not nearly up to par with the rest of the resort. This is the only 'family' oriented dining venue at Portofino, and in our opinion, it could use an overhaul.

Rooms: The rooms at Portofino are the largest of the three hotels at Universal. The smallest among them is 460 sq. ft., which is unusual in Orlando (the town that made shoe-box hotel rooms famous.) The beds are very comfortable (don't lie down, you WILL fall asleep), and the large, elegant bathrooms are a very nice departure from the norm.

As with the Hard Rock Hotel, the rooms at Portofino recently underwent a $5 million refurbishment. While the rooms were very clean and well maintained, there was one glaring issue. The club level room that we stayed in was on the ground floor, just off the villa pool. These rooms have small patios, and the area surrounding our patio was strewn with cigarette butts. Obviously people were smoking out there, but the lack of ash trays compelled them to use the garden. It was clear that the housekeepers never even looked at this area.

Entertainment and Recreation: For families, the Beach pool is excellent, if not a bit crowded at times. The kids pool and play area is a decent size, and the kids we saw there seemed as though they would much rather be there than at a theme park - a good sign. The Villa pool is outstanding if you want more of a quiet experience, and the 16 cabanas that surround the pool are quite nice. While perhaps a bit indulgent, having lunch served to you in your private poolside cabana is something everyone should try at least once.

Each night around 8pm, the outstanding musicians that perform inside Mama Della's and across the way at the Thirsty Fish put on a performance from the balconies overlooking the piazza. Entitled "Musica della Notte" (or Music of the Night), the singers perform a variety of music from opera to more familiar selections. This is a really enjoyable experience. If you're dining at Mama Della's, request a table on the piazza and time your reservation so that you're sitting outside when the show starts. It's an incredibly romantic way to spend an evening.

Unique to the Portofino Bay are two events - the Winemaker Dinner series (usually held monthly) which features a six course meal and wine pairing. We can highly recommend this experience. While it may seem expensive at $100 a plate (and it is), it is worth every penny (read our review). Another event held here for wine aficionado's (or those wanting to learn) is Harbor nights - a wine tasting event held quarterly around the piazza. The event features live jazz music, more than a dozen wines, hors d'oeuvres, and hand rolled cigars. $35 per person / 21 and over only. This is a very popular event with locals, and it's not unusual to have more than 1,000 people show up to participate. For more info on these events, check our Special Events page.

Our Impression: We're hesitant to say that we prefer one Universal hotel over another, as we consider them all to be above average. If forced to choose, the Portofino Bay is our first choice among the three properties. The elegance of the hotel itself, the size and quality of the rooms, the well trained and friendly staff and (for the most part) the excellent dining options make this resort hard to beat. Also, there is usually good availability of annual passholder rates at this hotel which can make it a downright bargain (we've been able to find AP rates as low as $230 per night here). Our only suggestions to the resort, however, is that housekeeping pay more attention to the grounds outside rooms with ground level patios, and that the entirety of the Trattoria del Porto be reconsidered. With those two exceptions, this is a flawless resort and an outstanding vacation experience.

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