Universal Orlando’s Portofino Bay Resort–A Glowing Review

I shall begin by making a rather bold statement: Portofino Bay Resort is the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed in. In fact, it may well be the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen.

Don’t get me wrong, the hotels we’ve stayed in in Las Vegas have been amazing. MGM Grand has a fantastic pool complex and great restaurants. Paris Las Vegas has a great theme, and Mon Ami Gabi is one of my favorite Vegas lunch spots. While we’ve not stayed there, we’ve visited the Belaggio and yes, it is stunning–but it is filled with, well, slot machines (obviously!) I’ve also had the pleasure of staying at The Sutton Place Hotel in Vancover, British Columbia, and at Atlantis, Paradise Island (the lack of links for any of these places belies the fact that I visited pre-blog!) But none of those locations hold a candle to Portofino Bay, a hotel located within an amusement park. I was floored.

The first thing that strikes you as you enter Portofino Bay is how quiet it is. Perhaps this was because I was arriving from Walt Disney World, and the contrast made it seem even quieter. It was blissfully quiet and blessedly empty. I arrived before 1:00 in the afternoon and was able to check in. At first I was a little concerned when I learned that I had to go downstairs, then outside, then up again to get to my room. This all seemed a bit to convoluted and Disney-ish to me. But the way Portofino Bay is set up makes so much sense–when I left the lobby after check in, I never returned. Everything I needed–shops, restaurants, bars, even the boat launch, was all surrounding the central plaza around which the two different wings were built. To get from my room anywhere, I had to walk down a short hallway, take an elevator down, and walk out the door. Presto–I was in the middle of everything. It was extremely convenient.

But my glowing review isn’t based soley on convenience (though convenience is a huge happiness factor for me when it comes to lodging.) It is based on beauty. Everything, from the counter service deli-style restaurant to the waiting area for the park boats was clean, beautiful, and fabulously–and tastefully–themed.

When I got to my room, I resisted ballroom dancing. It was HUGE! The bathroom alone was almost as big as our entire room in NYC, and more than half the size of our room at Animal Kingdom Lodge. There were bathrobes and real wine glasses and a Keurig coffee maker, a real chair for lounging complete with ottoman, and two crazy high beds. It was huge, it was clean, it was beautiful…it had a well-stocked (if expensive) mini bar. It was a REAL hotel room. I was thrilled.

And then I ventured outside.

The grounds of Portofino Bay do not look like ‘the grounds of a hotel’. It really, truly does look like a little village. I don’t know that it looks like a little Italian village–as I’ve never been to Italy–but it definitely looks like a village of some sort.

For example, here’s the pathway to the pool…

Isn’t that lovely? But wait until you see the pool…I mean pools, plural. Here’s the main pool…

I spent the better part of my first day here at the main pool, enjoying the quiet, chatting with a woman who was staying there for a conference, and enjoying the amazing poolside service.  Note the lack of ANYONE ELSE THERE.  All empty chairs…ahh!  The waitresses were all lovely–just as friendly as any Disney cast member–and I was able to charge things to my room with just my room number and signature; no need to carry around a room card. The icing on the cake were the trays of frozen grapes on a stick and rolled up iced wash cloths that were brought around by the wait staff. How great is a frozen grape skewer and a chilled cloth on a hot Florida day? Pretty darn great, let me tell you.

But the main pool was only that–the main pool. There are two other pools on site, and my favorite was the Villa Pool (the third pool, the Hillside Pool, was completely empty so I wasn’t sure if it was even open). Here’s the Villa Pool:

It is the most beautiful pool I’ve ever seen–and the most quiet. As a middle school teacher, I cannot tell you how important quiet is when on vacation. I spend 40+ hours per week listening to kids scream–there’s nothing worse than showing up to a resort pool, blender drink and book in hand, only to find hordes of screaming children. I am happy to report that I did not encounter even one screaming child during my entire stay at Portofino Bay.

While we were there, I tried almost every restaurant on-site, as well as the harborside bar, The Tasty Fish. In fact, one of the first things I did upon arrival was find lunch, which I purchased from the on site ‘Italian Deli’. The Toscana panini was more than enough for two people–though I attempted to eat it on my own–and came with a giant helping of surprisingly good pasta salad. Just look out–they have entire cloves of roasted garlic in there!

We had dinner at Mama Della’s on our first night, and shared three appetizers. The appetizers, like everything else at Portofino Bay, were large, beautiful, and better than we’d hoped.

While we dined on our calamari and brushettta, roving opera singers wielding accordians and violins serenaded us. When they got to our table and asked what we wanted to hear we were stumped–after all, we aren’t exactly up on Italian Opera music. The man playing the accordian asked my husband for his favorite band, and we were treated to an impromptu performance of The Beatles’ Yesterday.

It was lovely.

We spent our last night dining at Bice, the more upscale of the onsite restaurants. I promise an in-depth review of Bice, along with the other flagship restaurants at the other two resorts. Yes, we dined at each of them.

The decision to stay at Portofino Bay was a last minute decision. I was clicking around on the internet one week before our trip, and found that the price for a room at Portofino was only $20 per night more than the rate we’d locked in at Royal Pacific. Making the switch was the best decision ever.

We will return to Portofino Bay–hopefully sooner rather than later.

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