Honest and Outspoken Advice from the Unofficial Experts
The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando 2021 by Seth Kubersky is packed with detailed, specific information on every ride, show, and restaurant in the resort. The guide includes info on where to find the cheapest Universal Orlando admission tickets, how to save big on Universal on-site hotel rooms and skip the regular lines in the parks, when to visit Universal Orlando for the lightest crowds, and everything else you need to know for a stress-free Universal Orlando experience.
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Whats NEW in The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando 2021
What’s NEW in The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando 2021
Seth Kubersky has worked for more than 20 years as a theatrical artist, culture critic, and travel journalist. Seth is the author of “The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando” and coauthor of “The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland” and “The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas,” as well as a collaborator on “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.” Seth is nationally recognized as an authority on theme parks and amusement attractions, and he contributes to “Attractions Magazine” and the “Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast.” Named Best Arts Writer in The Daily City’s 2013 readers’ poll, Kubersky writes an arts and entertainment column, “Live Active Cultures,” that appears in every issue of the “Orlando Weekly,” central Florida’s leading alternative newspaper. A native of Livingston, New Jersey, Kubersky earned a B.A. in theater from The College of William and Mary in Virginia. He has produced and directed dozens of plays through his award-winning Empty Spaces Theatre Co. and at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival. As a stage technician and entertainment supervisor at Universal Orlando from 1996 to 2000, he worked on the Ghostbusters Spooktacular and Terminator 2: 3-D attractions, Mardi Gras parades, and Halloween mazes. Seth lives in Orlando with his wife, Genevieve, and their cats Sol and Kipper.
PART 2: ACCOMMODATIONS
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort (4 stars)
SAPPHIRE FALLS RESORT brings a sunny Caribbean island vibe to the moderate market with its 1,000 rooms (including 77 suites), which opened in summer 2016. Sandwiched between Royal Pacific and Cabana Bay―both physically and price-wise―Sapphire Falls sports most of the amenities of Universal’s three fanciest hotels, including water taxi transportation to the parks, with the crucial exception of complimentary Express Passes.
Rather than replicating the stereotypical pastel palette seen at Disney’s Caribbean-themed hotel, Sapphire Falls’s designers went with a cooler blue-and-white color scheme for the exterior. The lobby continues the modern reinterpretation of island aesthetics with a playful hanging sculpture of wicker beach balls and a massive floor-to-ceiling window providing a postcard-perfect view of the rear lagoon, with the towers of Doctor Doom’s Fearfall posing in the background. Public spaces fuse seemingly ancient structures―such as a stunning stone silo, complete with authentic-looking mill equipment―with starkly minimalist architecture and contemporary artwork. The mix can prove somewhat jarring; we sometimes emerged from a richly detailed space into a barren white hallway and wondered if we’d taken a wrong turn into an employee-only area. But we’ve come to appreciate the Sapphire Falls Resort’s casually sophisticated vibe, which hits a sweet spot between the family-friendly freneticism of Cabana Bay and the elegance of Universal’s more upscale hotels.
Water figures heavily at Sapphire Falls, whose namesake waterfalls form the scenic centerpiece of the resort. The 16,000-square-foot main pool boasts 3,500 square feet of white sand on which to set your lounger, as well as a 100-foot waterslide, children’s play areas, fire pits, a hot tub, and cabanas for rent. There are two zero-entry points near the middle of the pool on opposite sides, which allow you to pretend to walk across the water.
A fitness room holds a sauna. Table tennis (free to use) and a pool table (nominal fee per game) are available outside near the small arcade.
On the lower level, Amatista Cookhouse offers a la carte or buffet American breakfast, followed by table-service Caribbean food for lunch and dinner. Drhum Club Kantine serves tapas-style small plates, sandwiches, and massive bowls of alcohol near the pool bar’s fire pit. New Dutch Trading Co., an island-inspired grab-and-go marketplace, has ice cream, coffee, hot entrees and sandwiches, refillable Coke Freestyle cups, and packaged snacks. Strong Water Tavern in the lobby offers rum tastings and freshly made ceviche, and a Universal Studios Store in the lobby sells sundries and resort souvenirs.
The rooms range from 322 square feet in a standard queen or king to 529 square feet in the 36 Kids Suites, up to 1,353 square feet in the 15 Hospitality Suites, which are appointed with charming rustic light fixtures and are sizable enough to live in long-term. All rooms include a 49-inch TV, an alarm clock with iPhone dock, in-wall USB charging ports, a mini-fridge, and a coffee maker. The rooms are aesthetically acceptable but a bit antiseptic, aside from a garishly colored mirror frame and metallized photos above the beds, and they are barely bigger than the standard Cabana Bay rooms. We like these rooms a bit better than those at Aventura, but they’re more expensive too. The layout is perfectly functional, but there are some odd design quirks, such as a sliding door to the toilet that doesn’t latch; don’t plan on doing your business in private if you have inquisitive kids.
Sapphire Falls also contains nearly 115,000 square feet of meeting space and a business center. Covered walkways connect to a parking structure, which in turn connects to the meeting facilities at Royal Pacific, making the sister properties ideal for conventions. That also leads us to our main critique of Sapphire Falls: outside of the lobby and pool, the public areas feel a little like a standard convention hotel.
Water taxi transportation to Sapphire Falls takes only a few minutes longer than sailing to Royal Pacific, though boats may be delayed by traffic congestion under the bridge between the hotels and CityWalk. A pedestrian pathway to the parks starts near the boat dock, joining up with the Royal Pacific garden path near that hotel’s convention center entrance. If you want to walk from Sapphire Falls to Cabana Bay, note that there’s no pedestrian crosswalk at the heavily trafficked intersection that separates the two hotels; instead, walk to the corner of Hollywood Way and use the garden bridge to cross over Adventure Way, or use the path between Aventura and Volcano Bay to walk beneath the busy road.
Sapphire Falls occupies an interesting spot in Universal’s hotel spectrum, appealing to people turned off both by the mid-century aesthetics of Cabana Bay (or Aventura’s ultramodernism) and the higher price tags of the resort’s other properties. If water taxi transportation is important to you, but Express Unlimited access is not, Sapphire Falls is your spot. Otherwise, search for photos online to see if you like the resort’s look, and carefully compare the rates to both Cabana Bay and Aventura Hotel for the time of your planned visit.