Loews Sapphire Falls Review – Caribbean-Themed Universal Resort Hotel

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View of Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando Resort as seen from boat dock across the water

Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is Universal Orlando’s lone Preferred-hotel, meaning it sits one level below it’s Premier level. This means it does not come with bundled Express Pass or high-end amenities that accompany some of those other hotels. But is it still a good hotel to say at?

In May 2023, Universal Orlando announced that Poseidon’s Fury at Islands of Adventure would be permanently closing. Wanting to experience the attraction one last time and knowing I was planning on visiting the resort at least one more time in the year, I purchased an Annual Pass.

What surprised me was how great the discounts were on Universal Orlando’s own resort hotels. Upon checking availability and pricing, I booked a one-night stay at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, one which I had never been to.

I hadn’t stayed at a theme park hotel or resort that was this level before, so I was super excited to check it out. Read this Loews Sapphire Falls review to see what I thought!

Location

The placement of Sapphire Falls is, in my opinion, one of the selling points of the resort. While it isn’t as close to Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure as Hard Rock Hotel Orlando or Portofino Bay, it is a bit closer than Cabana Bay and much closer than the duel Endless Summer resorts. Sapphire Falls is located right next to Aventura Hotel, but is a bit closer to the parks.

This comes with a few perks. First, staying at Sapphire Falls means you get access to boat transportation to and from CityWalk. Before boarding the boats at the resort, you go through security, meaning you won’t have to go through security again when you get to CityWalk. This saves a lot of time, as going through the regular entrance to CityWalk can take some time between security and then walking to the parks themselves. The boat ride itself is nice and relaxing, giving you a picturesque ride to the parks if you’re looking to give your feet a rest.

Second, it’s walking distance to CityWalk. The walking path is relatively easy with minimal hills (and plenty of shade as you walk. It took me a little less than 15 minutes to get from the resort to the private resort entrance to CityWalk next to Islands of Adventure. Again, staying at an on-site resort gives you the perk of not having to wait and walk to the main CityWalk entrance and security – you get a much smaller, quicker security gate to walk through.

Just as a reminder, Universal Orlando Resort does not currently offer any free transportation to or from the Orlando Airport to its resorts. You can, however, book a Mears shuttle bus through their website for a fee, as well as choose a ride share service on your own like Uber or Lyft. I took the Mears shuttle, and between the time it took to wait for the bus, drive to the resorts, and wait for the shuttle to drop people off at other resorts, it took me about one hour. Be sure to budget time if you’re planning on using this service.

Sapphire Falls Rooms & Accommodations

The hotel lobby is absolutely beautiful. There’s a great chandelier/hanging artwork that really fits the Caribbean-style vibe the resort is going for. This lobby has a lot of room in it as well, partially because this resort holds conferences. There’s plenty of space to relax, sit, and work if you choose to.

Something I need to talk about in this review – this is the best smelling hotel I’ve ever been to. Every area, from the lobby to even the bathrooms, smelled absolutely phenomenal. It wasn’t a scent that you would immediately think of when you think “beach”, like coconut or sunscreen. I couldn’t quite place it, but it smelled fantastic.

So far, I have yet to be disappointed with any of the rooms at a Universal Orlando Resort hotel, and Sapphire Falls was no exception. The rooms, just like the rest of the hotel, smelled absolutely amazing. The colors and theme of the room had a beachy vibe, but didn’t feel too in-your-face. The room felt fine for just one or two people, but if you have a family with a bunch of stuff, I could understand feeling a little crammed. The bathroom I found to be very spacious and well-decorated.

The beds I found to be very comfortable with plenty of pillows. I’m not the kind of person who needs a ton of pillows on a bed, but if you prefer that, you’ll love the number of pillows they give you.

The TV was playing a reel of shots from across the Universal Orlando Resort with custom music, which I don’t remember seeing or hearing at some of the other resort hotels I’ve been to – is this a new feature? It felt very “Disney World” to me, which I’m not complaining about. It’s a great way to get excited for the trip when you’re checking in to your room.

Walking around the hotel, you really got to admire the theming and care that went into it. Even the little areas to relax seemed to fit with the theme well, and provided great views of the pool and surrounding area.

Sapphire Falls Restaurants & Dining

My first dining stop at Sapphire Falls was Strong Water Tavern. This sit-down restaurant specializes in rum (hello, thank you) and small plates focused on different areas of the Caribbean. Since my first time going was at the end of a long park day, I passed on getting any alcohol and just got some small plates before bed.

The service and vibes in this restaurant were wonderful. It was dimly lit, but not too dark, which I appreciated having spent an entire day in the sun at Islands of Adventure. Behind the bar sat a huge wall of rum, with so many different kinds and varieties present. The waiter I had was super friendly and easy to ask questions to. They even have experts that will answer questions about the rum if you decide you want to try one of their signature rum flights. Sadly, I did not partake in one of those this time, but as a rum-lover, I hope to in the future.

The small plates I got were particularly delicious. I got the Arroz Con Pollo and Beefsteak Empanadas. Both were flavored very well and were enough food for me to leave full, but not too stuffed. I just want to reiterate again that this restaurant does not serve huge entree meals – it serves small plates, so if you’re coming with a family, be prepared to order quite a few of those.

The next day, I stopped by New Dutch Trading Co. to grab a quick to-go breakfast. This is the quick service location at Sapphire Falls, and the sandwich I got was pretty tasty. It wasn’t too crowded, but they still kept the line moving.

Later on, I went to Amatista Cookhouse for lunch. Again, the service was great – my waitress was striking up conversation with me and just being super friendly. I got the Ancho Chilli BBQ Chicken Sandwich with fries – it was good, but a bit runny for my liking. On sandwiches that have sauce that sometimes happens, and this sandwich definitely got a bit messy. For a drink, I got the Bahama Bourbon Splash. This was pretty tasty – a good combination of kick from the bourbon and ginger beer and some sweetness from the blackberries.

Then I had a poolside drink at Drhum Club Kantine. I honestly don’t remember which specific drink I got, but I want to say it was the Island Breeze. Did I mention that I love rum? I got it in the souvenir cup to take home, and the drink itself was pretty tasty, especially for being poolside.

I couldn’t leave without trying something from Strong Water Tavern, so I swung by there again before catching my flight home. I got Carole’s Punch and this was my favorite drink of the whole trip. All the rum and fruit flavors came together beautifully and didn’t swing too far sweet or overly alcohol-forward.

I was very impressed by the food options at Sapphire Falls. I’m not normally one to look forward to hotel food, especially when I’m going to a theme park and plan on spending most of my time at the parks themselves. But I wouldn’t complain about catching a meal at Sapphire Falls again. Everything was great, but Strong Water Tavern was the real stand-out for me. I need to go again and try a rum flight!

Sapphire Falls Pool & Amenities

Sapphire Falls has the largest pool on Universal Orlando property, complete with water slide. It was heated and even included a fun waterslide! What I really liked about it were its sand beaches and the ability to cross it easily – one section of the pool was only ankle deep, so rather than having to walk the whole way around the pool area, you could easily cross without getting too wet.

There was a gift shop that sold the usual merchandise at a Universal Orlando hotel, so mostly stuff you could find in the parks (Harry Potter merchandise, Jurassic Park merchandise, etc). I do wish these gift shops had more merchandise themed to the resort itself, as I would have loved to pick up a magnet or another smaller souvenir with Sapphire Falls on it.

The resort has a fitness center right next to the pool that seemed pretty spacious. I’m not expert on gyms, especially ones that would normally be used on vacation, but it looked like it would do the job just fine. I’m sure it’s nice for guests staying in the hotel for a conference.

Staying on Universal Orlando property comes with the usual perks, including free transportation to all the parks and CityWalk. As mentioned above, Sapphire Falls also has a free water taxi to CityWalk as well. You also get package delivery service for free: if you buy something in one of the parks, you get it delivered to your hotel for free. It’s super convenient since you don’t have to worry about carrying merchandise bags around a theme park all day.

Don’t forget about theme park early entry as well – get a head start on your day and get to the parks earlier than other guests staying off-property. Make sure to check ahead of time what park and rides are open for early entry. I highly recommend hitting up Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure if it’s an option, as that roller coaster does not have Express Pass yet and the lines tend to be very long – usually 90 minutes minimum once the park opens to everyone.

Loews Sapphire Falls Review – Overall Impressions

I was genuinely impressed by Sapphire Falls, and at the time of writing this, it’s not only one of my favorites at Universal Orlando Resort, but one of my favorite hotels I’ve stayed at ever. The combination of amenities, great places to eat, stylish decor, and comfortable rooms made it very worth the price.

If you’re a Universal Orlando Annual Pass holder like me, I definitely recommend checking for deals on this hotel. I stayed one night for about $160 in May – and it was the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Normal pricing is more expensive of course, but for theme park resort pricing, I think this is definitely worth it. If I had to stay in this hotel again, I wouldn’t be upset at all.

Have you stayed at Sapphire Falls Resort? What were your thoughts? Tell me your favorite thing about it and let me know if you often miss the sweet smells that were being pumped throughout the resort!

FAQs about Sapphire Falls

Does Loews Sapphire Falls include Express Pass?

No – as a Preferred hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, Sapphire Falls does not include Express Pass for each guest. Only Premier hotels receive this benefit.

Do you have to pay for parking at Sapphire Falls?

Yes – you can pay to park at Sapphire Falls all day or by the hour. Valet is also offered. Overnight guests receive a discount on daily parking and valet. Be sure to check the official site for up-to-date parking rates.

Does Loews Sapphire Falls resort have free breakfast?

No – there is no free breakfast offered at this resort. However, Sapphire Falls has several dining options, including a quick service location that serves different sandwiches and other items to go.

What category is Sapphire Falls?

Sapphire Falls is Universal Orlando Resort’s only Preferred hotel.

How do I get from Sapphire Falls to Volcano Bay?

If you are a guest at Sapphire Falls, Universal offers a free bus shuttle to Volcano Bay. Walking would take about a half hour.

What time is check-in at Sapphire Falls?

Check-in begins at 4pm.

What time do water taxis start at Sapphire Falls?

Currently, water taxis begin to run 30 minutes before Early Park admission starts.

How old is Sapphire Falls?

Sapphire Falls opened in 2016.

How big is Sapphire Falls’ pool?

The pool at Sapphire Falls is 16,000 square feet, the largest at any Universal Orlando hotel.

Christian McIlwain

Christian has been a fan of theme parks since he was a child. He has over twenty years of experience both researching and working in the industry. He grew up visiting Kennywood Park throughout his childhood. Currently, he lives in Atlanta, GA where he frequently visits Six Flags Over Georgia and Orlando area theme parks.

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