Sprinkling fountains, statues of muscular, half-clad Roman centurions, an ornate piazza, an open balcony high above from which two opera singers sang a delectable duet – ah, pure Italian passion and romance! Except it’s not Italy. It’s the middle of Florida at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando where architects and designers have spent millions of dollars creating an ambiance worthy of the famed seaside village of Portofino, after which the hotel resort is modeled. Stepping out into the sunlight from the shadows of the hotel corridor a picture postcard piazza opens up, facing a lagoon on which several small, painted wooden boats lay moored, swaying in the gentle breeze. The open-air seating at Trattoria del Porto, one of eight different eating options offered at the resort offers a well-made espresso and a creamy cappuccino to complete the sense of ‘la dolce vita.’ Two hundred meters from the café lies one of the relaxing areas, a large swimming pool in an open, sunny spot bordered by palm trees, with chaise lounges and outdoor showers nearby. An ornate fountain with life-size statues of Roman soldiers scattered around enhances the sense of being somewhere in the southern Mediterranean, rather than the Sunshine State. Tip: for quiet relaxation, avoid the Beach Pool, which is busy with children, and head for the Villa one. Many rooms overlook both the picturesque square and the swaying boats. Beyond is a short, wooden pier, where the ferryboat arrives that would bring guests to Universal Studios (the theme park is a mere ten-minute walk away). The hotel, being part of the Universal complex, not only provides free daily water taxi and shuttle bus to the park but if you are an early riser and so inclined, the first morning boat delivers you there an hour before the park officially opens. Special express passes for guests also reduce waiting times for rides. These extras are a distinct advantage, helping one avoid the extremely long line that usually develop for rides such as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. As for Universal Studios, it offers something for most tastes from shooting aliens with ‘Men in Black’ to a crazy ride with the Simpsons to the amusing live animal performances, enough diversity to occupy at least a full day. Rooms are spacious, colorful, even funky, with tones of dark turquoise, yale blue and dark grey, softened by cream colored walls, with large Italian mirrors and gold leaf framed photographs of Portofino ideally located overlooking the Harbor Piazza.
August 25, 2013