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All about Universal Orlando Resort Tiers

Looking to book a Universal Orlando vacation and not sure where you should stay? Are you having trouble understanding the difference between value, prime value, preferred, and premier? Not understanding what perks come with which tier?

We have you covered with all the answers to your questions about the different Universal Orlando resorts. Once you are done reading this you will have a better understanding on which one you should book or if you should just stay off site. A Universal Orlando vacation shouldn’t be difficult to book like a Walt Disney World vacation is. 

That’s the beauty of a Universal vacation. You don’t need to plan much but it does help to have a good amount of information. We are here to give you that information. So what are you waiting for? Continue reading for the most complete information on the different Universal Orlando Resort tiers.

Value Hotels

Endless Summer Dockside

This Universal Orlando resort tier is the cheapest rooms you are able to book at Universal Orlando. Just don’t get it wrong. Just because they are cheap doesn’t mean the rooms are bad or the service is terrible. The value resorts are the two newest resorts at Universal Orlando.

Those two resorts are Universal’s Endless Summer Dockside Inn and Suites and Surfside Inn and Suites. Both of these resorts are brand new. Surfside opened in 2019 and Dockside opened in 2020. These are large family oriented resorts featuring a food court, pools, game room, gym, and store. 

They are also very cheap and in line with some of the off property hotels in the area. A single room starts at just $91 a night. And yes you can find it for that price for more than just one day out of the year unlike Disney’s All Star resorts. 

A two bedroom suite starts at $135 a night. It would be hard to find a better deal anywhere else in Orlando. If you have a larger family or just want a little extra space. You can’t beat the price of a two bedroom suite even in the peak season.

Below is a table comparing the price of the different rooms at Dockside to the same tier at WDW. The dates used were 7/14-7/20/22. 

ResortRoom TypePrice
DocksideStand Room$145.75 avg per night
Dockside2 bedroom Suite$187.00 avg per night
All Star SportsStand Room$176.33 avg per night
POP CenturyStand Room$215.67 avg per night
Art of AnimationLion King family suite$538.33 avg per night

As you can see from the table above. Universal Value resorts really are a great value. So what do you get with this cheap room. What are the perks at staying at a Universal Orlando value resort?

If staying at either Endless summer resorts you get the same perks. You get early theme park access to Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios. This is normally an hour before the general public and a lot of the main attractions are open. Plus Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade is open depending on which park has early access. 

Besides the early theme park access you have access to free transportation to CityWalk. Sadly, there is only one good way for you to get to CityWalk and the theme parks and that is by bus. You COULD walk over there but it is about a half hour and a little over a mile walk. Plus you are walking along Universal Boulevard with little to no shade. 

By being a guest at Dockside or Surfside you have access to the other resorts’ pools. If you are staying at Dockside and want to check out the Surfside pool you can. This is a pretty cool perk especially if your pool happens to be very busy. There are not many places where you can pool hop like you can at a Universal Orlando Resort. 

The next two perks are good if you use these sorts of things. You can charge things back to your room by staying at either one of these wonderful value resorts. The other perk may take up to a day or two but is great if you are planning to stay a while. Of course, we are talking about merch being sent to your room instead of you lugging it around all day. 

If you are looking for a place to sit down and enjoy a nice relaxing meal you won’t find that at the Endless summer resorts. There are no table service restaurants here. However, they have a food court that has a couple of nice options and pool side bars that also sell food. 

Prime Value Resorts

Cabana bay Pool

Universal Orlando Resort is home to two Prime Value Resorts. These resorts are Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Aventura Resort. Both of these resort’s standard rooms start off at $132.00 a night. Cabana Bay Beach resort also has family suites and they start off at $172 a night. 

Universal’s Aventura resort is pretty compact while Cabana Bay is a little more spread out. They are both amazing resorts that you should consider booking if you want to be a little closer to the theme parks. Now let’s compare their prices to other area resorts. Now just like for the value resorts we are using the dates of 7/14-7/20/22. 

ResortRoomPrice
Cabana BayStandard$190.40 avg per night
Cabana BayFamily Suite$230.40 avg per night
AventuraStandard$190.40 avg per night
Disney’s Caribbean BeachStandard$278.33 avg per night
Art of AnimationLion King family suite$538.33 avg per night

As you can tell you are saving a good amount of money staying at a Universal Prime Value Resort compared to a Value or Moderate resort at Walt Disney World. But I know what you are thinking. I’m saving money but what else am I getting?

One of the greatest perks with staying at a Prime Value or above resort at Universal Orlando is the ability to pool hop. That’s right! You can check out any of the other pools at the different Universal Orlando resorts. All you need is your room key. 

Want to go swimming underwater and listen to rock music but staying at Cabana Bay? Just walk on over to Hard Rock Hotel Orlando and enjoy their pool. Plus guests at the Hard Rock could come over to Cabana Bay and use the lazy river. One of the best perks if you ask me especially if you are planning on having a resort day or two. 

Universal Garden Walk

Transportation is another perk you get while staying at a Prime Value Hotel. Just like at Endless Summer Resorts you have access to the bus. Unlike Endless Summer you have easy access to the Garden Walk. This is a shaded walkway to CityWalk. From Cabana Bay it takes around 20 minutes to walk to CityWalk. However, like we said it is nicely shaded and brings you right near the entrance to Islands of Adventure. 

If you are staying at Aventura you have easy access to the boats at Sapphire Falls Resort which is right next door. This is a great way to get back to your room if you don’t feel like walking or waiting for a bus.

Both the prime value resorts are close to Volcano Bay water park. No need to catch a bus to CityWalk. You can just walk right on over. Sadly, there is no early access to Volcano Bay. There might be one day so we will just have to wait and see. 

Speaking of early theme park access. Staying at Aventura and Cabana Bay get you into the theme parks an hour early. You get early theme park access to Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios. This is normally an hour before the general public and a lot of the main attractions are open. Plus Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade is open depending on which park has early access. 

Diagon Alley, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The next two perks are good if you use these sorts of things. You can charge things back to your room by staying at either one of these wonderful value resorts. The other perk may take up to a day or two but is great if you are planning to stay a while. Of course, we are talking about merch being sent to your room instead of you lugging it around all day. 

Just like the value resorts. The prime value resorts do not have a sit down restaurant. However, the prime value resorts have more options when it comes to food. They have a couple of different bars that sell food and nicer food courts. It is much easier to get a quick bite with more things to choose from at a prime value resort than at a Preferred or Premier resort. 

Preferred Resort

Sapphire Falls

Universal Orlando Resort is home to one preferred resort. That resort is Sapphire Falls. Sapphire Falls is a beautifully Caribbean themed resort. It also comes at a great price.

A standard room starts off at $181 per night. Now the room is priced at $237.33 on average per night for the week of 7/14-7/20/22. Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is priced at $278 for the same time period. 

Again as you can see the resorts are priced better than a comparable resort at Walt Disney World. The other good thing is Universal isn’t getting rid of perks like WDW is. If anything they are adding them.

So just like the Prime value resorts. Preferred Resort guests can pool hop. With Sapphire Falls being so close to Cabana Bay. It makes me wonder why more people don’t hit up the lazy river there. I guess most guests are unaware of this little known tip but you are aware now. This just might be the best kept secret at Universal. 

Okay, it’s not the best. However, it is the best when it comes to the resorts. If you can think of something that is better when it comes to the resorts let us know in the comments below. 

As you would guess, transportation is another perk you get with staying at the only preferred Universal Orlando resort. Here you have access to the Garden walkway, buses, and boats. Not sure if you can tell but as your resort tier goes up so does your transportation options and closeness to the theme parks. 

Sapphire Falls is the only preferred resort and it is close to Volcano Bay water park. No need to catch a bus to CityWalk. You can just walk right on over. All you have to do is walk over to Cabana Bay Beach Resorts. On your way back you should check out the lazy river. You should already have your suit with you since you were just at Volcano Bay.

Sadly, there is no early access to Volcano Bay. This doesn’t change at all. It doesn’t matter what tier resort you are staying at. There might be one day so we will just have to wait and see. 

Speaking of early theme park access. Staying at Sapphire Falls gets you into the theme parks an hour early. You get early theme park access to Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios. This is normally an hour before the general public and a lot of the main attractions are open. Plus Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade is open depending on which park has early access. 

The next two perks are good if you use these sorts of things. You can charge things back to your room by staying at either one of these wonderful value resorts. The other perk may take up to a day or two but is great if you are planning to stay a while. Of course, we are talking about merch being sent to your room instead of you lugging it around all day. 

At Sapphire Falls the only Preferred Universal Orlando Resort is where the tables turn on food. While they do have what you could consider a food court. It is really lacking in options. However, the pool bar does have some good choices and they come out fairly quick. 

Here you will also find a table service restaurant. I don’t know about you but when I come back after a long day in the parks the last thing I want to do is hope they still have available tables at the restaurant. 

Premier Resorts

Hard Rock Hotel Orlando

Universal Orlando is home to three Premier resorts. These resorts are Hard Rock Hotel, Royal Pacific, and Portofino Bay. All three resorts offer something different and unique. Plus they are not priced too high.

Royal Pacific starts off at $262. Hard Rock Hotel starts off at $298 and Portofino Bay comes in at $312 making it the most expensive Universal Orlando Resort. But considering the perks and comparing it to WDW you will see why they are some really low prices. 

Below you will find another table to compare the prices. Again we used the dates of 7/14-7/20/22. What you see might shock you. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

ResortRoomPrice
Royal PacificWater view King Room$429.81 avg per night
Hard Rock HotelGarden View 2 Queen$560.66 avg per night
Portofino BayGarden View 2 Queen$463.81 avg per night
Disney’s Contemporary Standard$560.67 avg per night
Animal Kingdom LodgeStandard$447.33  avg per night
Grand Floridian ResortStandard$704.00 avg per night

As you can see the prices are much more comparable at the premier level resorts. However, Universal Resorts are a little cheaper. Plus they are newer and offer much closer access to the theme parks than the WDW resorts do. 

So why should you spend the extra money to stay at one of these three hotels over booking a prime value or preferred resort? UNLIMITED EXPRESS PASS that’s why. When you book a stay at one of the three premier resorts, everyone in the room gets the unlimited express pass to use at both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. 

express pass Shrek 4D

If you are not familiar with the Unlimited Express Pass we will give you a short run down on what it is. It is Universal’s front of the line pass. The pass starts at $120 per person per day and the cost goes up depending on when you are going to use it. In the second week of December 2021 it was $129 per person per day. 

Now you can go to any ride that has an Express Pass lane and enter. You don’t need to reserve a return time. You don’t need to wait to use up your first couple to book more. You have complete flexibility and freedom to use it how and when you like. 

Just like the other Universal Orlando Resorts you can pool hop. Now most consider the premier pools to be the best so you might not even want to pool hop. However, you can if you want to and you should. You might find one of the other pools more to your liking.

All three premier resorts have boat transportation and the Garden Walkway. All three resorts are also very close to the theme parks. However, Hard Rock Hotel is the closest with a walk of under five minutes. 

Staying at Hard Rock Hotel, Royal Pacific, or Portofino Bay gets you into the theme parks an hour early. You get early theme park access to Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios. This is normally an hour before the general public and a lot of the main attractions are open. Plus Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade is open depending on which park has early access. 

Hogwarts, Islands of Adventure, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The next two perks are good if you use these sorts of things. You can charge things back to your room by staying at either one of these wonderful value resorts. The other perk may take up to a day or two but is great if you are planning to stay a while. Of course, we are talking about merch being sent to your room instead of you lugging it around all day. 

The Premier Resorts just like the preferred resorts have a very small food court to get something quick on the go. They really lack different options to choose from. However, the Premier resorts usually have more than one sit down restaurant too.

Now the Premier resorts are also so close to CityWalk that you have so many options to pick from that it shouldn’t matter much. I know when I stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel we did grab pizza late from Emack & Bolio’s  MarketPlace. We also got most of our food at CityWalk since it was so close. 

As you would expect, the premier resorts have the most perks. They should too. After all, you are paying all that money you should be getting something for it. There is not much difference between the rooms at Cabana Bay and Hard Rock Hotel in my opinion. 


There you have it. The differences between the different Universal Orlando Resort Tiers. We even tried to compare them to resorts you might know about at Walt Disney World. 

Below you will see yet another table. I know you are tired of seeing them but I think they help you visualize everything a little better. This table lists the different resort tiers and the perks you get with each one. Just remember at all of the resorts you can charge back to your room and get merchandise sent back to the resort. 

PerkValue ResortsPrime ValuePreferredPremier 
Pool HopJust between Endless Summer ResortsXXX
Transportation (bus)XXXX
Transportation (Garden Walk)XXX
Transportation (Boat)XX
Unlimited Express PassX

Which tier resort are you now planning on booking? Are you going to save the money and take the bus? Are you going to spend a little more and get your family Unlimited Express Passes? Let us know in the comments below. 

Are these hotels still just too small? Are you looking for a little more room instead of having to book two different rooms? Check out Fantasy World Resort and stay in a two bedroom, two story townhouse. Sure you don’t get the perks like you would staying at a Universal Orlando Resort. However, you will get more room. Check out our review on Fantasy World Resort

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