Over the past 10 years, Universal Orlando has been growing its footprint in Central Florida as the success of its theme parks - primarily driven by the popularity of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - has spurred expansion of the resort. In addition to a new water park (Volcano Bay), Universal has added five new hotels supplementing the original three on-site resorts (Hard Rock Hotel, Portofino Bay, and Royal Pacific), with more anticipated when Epic Universe debuts in 2025.
On our recent trip to Central Florida, we spent a night in one of Universal Orlando’s newest hotels, Dockside Inn and Suites. Opening at the end of 2020, Dockside marks the completion of the Endless Summer Resorts (Surfside Inn and Suites opened in the summer of 2019), located across I-4 from the rest of the current hotels and theme parks, which is a similar distance from the future location of Epic Universe.
Like the other hotels at Universal Orlando, Dockside Inn and Suites is managed by Loews. Universal’s Endless Summer Resorts represent the company’s biggest investment into more reasonably priced lodging, with rates that are competitive with nearby chain hotels such as Hampton Inn, Doubletree, and Hyatt Place/House. The introduction of these new hotels gives Universal three tiers of hotels that are somewhat analogous to the Value/Moderate/Deluxe resort levels offered at Walk Disney World with Dockside/Surfside comparable to Disney’s “Value” resorts (Pop Century, Art of Animation, and All-Star Resorts). While all of Universal Orlando’s resorts are typically priced lower than their Disney counterparts (with the unmatched perk of Unlimited Universal Express given to guests staying in the deluxe resorts – Hard Rock, Portofino Bay, and Royal Pacific), Dockside and Surfside are the first Orlando theme park resorts that are priced in line with (and sometimes cheaper than) value-priced off-site chain hotels.
So, how does Universal’s most competitive foray in the Orlando hotel market measure up?
Universal’s Dockside Inn and Suites is divided into two massive three-winged towers featuring more than 2,000 rooms. Each tower has its own pool and adjacent parking garage ($15/night) and share a central lobby/reception building with a sizable gift shop, Starbucks, and quick serve restaurant (Pier 8 Market).
The design of the resort is generally compact given the number of rooms (unlike expansive properties like Caribbean Beach or Coronado Springs), but guests could still find themselves taking long walks getting to and from different parts of the resort - like to the park buses, parking areas, and Pier 8 Market - depending on where your room is located. However, unlike WDW’s value and moderate resorts, all the rooms at Dockside (and Surfside) have interior carpeted hallways with covered exterior hallways linking buildings/wings. That gives Universal’s resorts a more luxurious feel to its Disney Value counterparts and more in line with the off-site hotels immediately around Universal Orlando.
When we booked our stay at Dockside, we reserved a standard room, which features two queen beds. However, we were surprised to find ourselves in a two-bedroom suite when we entered our room following a day at Volcano Bay.
The layout of the two different room types is pretty similar, with just with a small kitchenette (with sink, microwave, and dining table) and second bedroom added to the suite.
The styling of the rooms feature generic beach theming (more nods to the East Coast than West Coast) with hard laminate flooring throughout.
I’m still mixed about the industry’s increasing reliance on hard floorcoverings since they can be cold and hard (both on the feet and the overall ambiance of the room), but WDW has similarly removed most carpeting in their Value resorts, and it’s certainly easier to clean and maintain a hard floorcovering over carpeting.
Being a newer hotel, Dockside rooms are equipped with plentiful USB plugs and modern flat-screen televisions (standard rooms have one TV, while suites have two), though the TVs did not have a sleep timer – a feature we commonly use. There are some clever design elements in the room, including small shelves throughout the bedroom and kitchen areas - perfect for those refillable cups, wands, cameras, and other smaller items you want to keep out, so they’re not forgotten on your way to the parks. There are also clever spaces under the ends of the bed frames to tuck away your suitcases if your stay is long enough to warrant unpacking into the dresser drawers and wardrobe. We did not notice any excessive noise from neighboring rooms over our one-night stay, but with the hard floors, ample hard surfaces, and vaulted ceilings, the room did have a bit of an echo.
The generic surf theme extends to the rest of the resort, but it’s relatively subdued compared to WDW’s Value resorts, which I would describe as loud and borderline gaudy. The pools are very nice with a more natural curvy shape than you find in the generally rectangular pools found at WDW Value and Moderate resorts. Like other theme park hotels, the pools have a daily schedule of activities, plenty of lounge chairs, and poolside bars for guests wanting to spend time relaxing away from the theme parks.
Dockside’s main lobby is cozy with lots of different seating areas around a super-sized Starbucks.
While we didn’t dine at Pier 8 Market, the cafeteria-style eatery looked pretty similar to counter service options you can find at WDW Value and Moderate resorts. However, if Pier 8 doesn’t meet your needs, there are a number of restaurants within a reasonable walking/driving distance, most located along International Drive, with CityWalk a short bus ride away.
Universal’s Endless Summer Resorts might not have the proximity to the parks and CityWalk of the other on-site resorts at UOR, but they offer a value unmatched in the market. Rates at Dockside and Surfside are typically 25-30% less than WDW Value Resorts, and sometimes even cheaper than nearby off-site chain hotels. When you consider the free on-site transportation and early entry to the parks, Universal’s newest hotels are an incredible deal in a saturated market.
When Epic Universe opens, Dockside and Surfside will actually be closer to the new theme park than any other current Universal hotel, and the resorts’ proximity to I-4 make them convenient for other Orlando-area attractions, including WDW. While we ended up moving to Royal Pacific Resort the following night to take advantage of that resort’s Unlimited Universal Express, we absolutely would stay here again and highly recommend Dockside Inn and Suites to others looking for inexpensive lodging while visiting Universal Orlando and even other Orlando-area attractions.
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For links to discounted rates to Universal Orlando's on-site hotels, including the Endless Summer Resorts, please visit Theme Park Insider's Hotel Guide.
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