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Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando, Florida - Review

Living La Dolce Vita

by Kim Fay

Little Italy at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando in Florida
Little Italy

Aficionados of all things Italian will surely recognize the following scene. Rustic white fishing boats drift languidly in a small harbor, embraced by a promenade of narrow buildings that have been painted the earthy, oxidized colors of a Mediterranean landscape. This is Portofino, although it is far removed from the location where you would probably expect to find it: the lovely lower thigh of the Italian boot. Instead, this picturesque déjà vu, the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, resides in Orlando, Florida.

Tampering with geography has become big business in the 21st century travel industry. The transplanted cultures at theme parks and relocated landmarks on the Vegas strip are proof. Unfortunately, most such attempts are over the top, as if you can't be trusted to "get it." Fortunately, there are a few exceptions, and the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is one of them. It is charming and tasteful, as suitable for honeymooners as it is for families, and while it oozes la dolce vita, it isn't ashamed of its Floridian surroundings. For proof, just check out the waterways designed not to separate you from the outside world, but rather to take you directly to Universal Orlando Resort’s two theme parks — Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, featuring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Your room key works as a pass that gets you into Islands of Adventure early and lets you bypass the regular lines at both theme parks.

Palazzo-style architecture, cobblestone streets and pretty piazzas set the stage for 750 guestrooms and suites, the humblest of which is spacious enough to sleep five. The décor is subtle, done in soothing neutral tones, which are spiced up nicely in the suites. Refreshment pantries, custom duvets, Egyptian cotton sheets and remarkably big bathrooms are the kind of standard amenities you'll find. And in specialty rooms, such as Kids Suites, there are relevant niceties like pint-sized beds and beanbag chairs. On the Club Level you are greeted with a complimentary, custom CD of classic Italian music. Along with three main suite types, there are two signature suites, the Governatore and Presidente, with walk-in closets, separate study areas, dining and conference areas and big outdoor terraces. One groovy, 21st century touch in all accommodations are mini bars that employ technology rather than the intrusion of housekeeping to determine whether the stock of goodies needs replenishing.

Luxurious guest room at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando in Florida Aerial view of the pool at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando in Florida
Luxurious guest room
Aerial view of the pool

Since Italy is renowned for wining and dining, it's no surprise that food plays a prominent role here. The hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Bice Ristorante, is an exquisite voyage to the heart of Italy.  The informal Mama Della's Ristorante features strolling musicians that serenade you tableside, along with a menu of Old World favorites from Tuscany, Naples and Piemonte.  Sal's Market (for biscotti, olive oils and more) is fashioned after Peck's, the acclaimed Milanese deli dating back to 1883. Brick oven pizza is the highlight at Splendido Pizzeria (you can also get burgers here), and Gelateria Caffe Espresso serves, as its name implies, gelato and espresso. Rounding out the list is The Thirsty Fish for a waterfront experience and Trattoria del Porto offering family friendly buffets.

From the traditional (a full-service spa and preferred tee times at several local courses) to the unusual (a Bocce ball court and pagers to keep track of your teens), the extras here stand out. Among the three swimming pools is a Roman-style aqueduct beach pool, complete with poolside gazebos. Their Loews Loves Pets program means the entire family can vacation together, with four-legged family members receiving a signature pet bowl, treat and even a pet room service menu.

The overall ambiance of the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is mature, but because this is a Loews' property, and because it is associated with a popular theme park, expect to find kids, and expect to find them treated like royalty, beginning with a complimentary stay (with their folks, of course) if they're under 18. The hotel has thought of everything: a gift at check in for those ages 10 and under, supervised activities, a lending game library, special menus, and a lending program featuring Fisher Price items.

Offering a sweet tribute to Italy, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is more than just a pleasantly themed property; it brings together the best of two worlds: classic Europe with casual Florida — in one of the most entertaining destinations in the U.S.


Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando
5601 Universal Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32819


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(Updated: 09/09/10 CT)

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