The Hard Rock Hotel is located on Universal Boulevard, just south of Vineland Road. Its huge front gates face the entrance to the Portofino Bay Hotel, just across the boulevard. For guests with hotel keys, there is also a side entrance near the dock where water taxis arrive from CityWalk.
The elegant main approach, an oval lawn flanked by stately palms, suggests pure luxury. The fountain out front, with its sculpture of spiraling guitars, adds a touch of whimsy. The pulsing rock music that subtly envelops guests as they walk over the marble-mosaic Hard Rock logo into the expansive lobby signals that a stay here is literally going to be an upbeat experience. The marble lobby gives way to a spacious sunken carpeted lounge overlooking the palm-dotted pool area out back.
The lobby lounge is decorated with the furniture and souvenirs that the unnamed rock star of our backstory has collected during his world tours. They range from the lavish to the funky, the tasteful to the bizarre, with coffee tables doubling as showcases for rare guitars once owned by rock masters. The effect is at once edgy and elegant and even the oddest looking furniture proves to be quite comfortable. Elaborate floral arrangements that are abstract art in their own right add the perfect finishing touch.
The public areas of the lobby level are dominated by large-scale art paying homage to some of rock’s greatest stars. My favorite is the massive blowup of the cover photo from the Stones’ Beggars’ Banquet album. This is a Hard Rock property, of course, so as you might expect, the ample collection of rock memorabilia spills out into the public areas and down the hallways. In fact, more than $1 million worth of rock memorabilia is scattered throughout the hotel, but judiciously so.
The lobby level, on the hotel’s third floor, features the Palm Restaurant, the Velvet Bar, the Rock Shop, and the hotel’s small meetings areas. Two floors below, at ground level, is The Kitchen, the hotel’s main restaurant, and the extensive pool area. Also on this level are the fitness center and Camp L’il Rock for kids. A single bank of elevators gives access to all the hotel’s floors.
The hotel wraps itself around the pool area out back, so the hallways of the upper floors, beautifully carpeted in blue and tan, curve gracefully. Where wings meet, the halls are punctuated by circular mini-lobbies with carpet medallions on the floor and rock memorabilia or rock portraits on the wall. The overall effect is quite classy; the rocker who owned this place obviously had exquisite taste — or hired a decorator who did.
For most people, the Hard Rock Hotel’s best feature is likely to be its “ground-zero” location, next to Universal Studios Florida. As noted above, the actual front entrance to the hotel faces Universal Boulevard, looking across to the Portofino Bay Hotel, but the hotel grounds nestle up against the theme park. A side entrance on the ground level leads to a boat dock where you can pick up a motor launch for the short ride to CityWalk. If you prefer to walk, out back, past the pool, is a path that will take you directly to the front gates of Universal Studios Florida. You can leave the hotel on foot and, walking at a leisurely pace, be inside Universal Studios Florida in less than six minutes. It’s the next best thing to actually staying inside the park.
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