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Universal Orlando opens its most budget-friendly hotel yet ahead of planned massive expansion and new theme park


Universal Orlando Resort’s seventh hotel, Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites, opened its doors to guests as the destination’s first Value Category hotel. (James Kilby)

Surf’s up at this new Central Florida hotel — even though it’s far from the shore.

Surfside Inn and Suites, Universal Orlando’s beach-themed and most budget-friendly hotel yet, recently opened as part of the brand’s Endless Summer Resort.

And it’s not the only newbie at the theme park paradise.

New attractions like “Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure” and restaurants like Bigfire and the Today Cafe have also sprung up in recent months, ensuring there’s plenty of fresh spots for repeat visitors ahead of the recently announced fourth theme park Universal Orlando is building.

Universal Orlando Resort has created its most life-like animated figure yet for its immersive coaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which opened in June.
Universal Orlando Resort has created its most life-like animated figure yet for its immersive coaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which opened in June. (Universal Orlando Resort)

The upcoming park will be called Universal’s Epic Universe and will double the size of the brand’s property in Florida. It will follow already-existing theme parks Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, and water park Volcano Bay.

An opening date for Epic Universe has yet to be announced, but it’ll sit on a 750-acre site that will also pack in a new entertainment center, hotels, shops and restaurants.

Until then, there are plenty of other options to choose from. At Surfside Inn and Suites, Universal Orlando’s first “Value Category” hotel, rooms start as low as $73 per night for a seven-night stay. There are also two-bedroom suites that sleep up to six that begin as low as $111 for a seven-night stay.

The hotel boasts a beach and surf vibe, complete with a surfboard-shaped pool. In March of next year, Surfside will be joined by a sister hotel, Dockside Inn and Suites, that will complete the value-driven Endless Summer Resort.

Those looking for a more luxurious stay can book at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, where rooms start at $168 per night for a four-night stay. Sapphire Falls lives up to its name, with its on-site man-made waterfalls and lush grounds.

The property has an enormous pool with a built-in water slide, and family-friendly movies play on a screen that can be viewed from the water. There are plenty of dining options at the hotel, from grab-and-go spots to full service restaurants and buffets.

And many more eateries await for hotel guests who take free transportation to CityWalk, Universal’s dining and entertainment center.

Bigfire, an open-fire cooking concept, opened here in June. The two-story restaurant is inspired by a lakeside summer house and specializes in campfire treats like s’mores that guests can prepare at their table.

Mains and sides include Beer Glazed Scallops ($25), a Signature Bison Burger ($16), and Campire Chili ($7). And an “Off the Embers” menu section includes Colorado Lamb Chops ($39) and Wild Salmon (23).

For those craving Italian food, try Vivo, which offers classic apps like antipasto and calamari ($14), and mains like wood stove pizzas and Cacio e Pepe ($18), a pasta dish of bucatini, shrimp, pancetta, black pepper and pecorino cheese.

But the real reason most visit Universal Orlando is of course the rides. Visitors can choose between the main theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, or go to both.

The hottest new attraction to open there this year is the Harry Potter-themed “Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure,” a “freewheeling coaster flight” centered around the lovable half-giant character, Hagrid.

The ride, located in Islands of Adventure, zips through the book and movie series’ Forbidden Forest, which is packed with the magical creatures featured in the boy wizard franchise.

Because of high demand to board the ride, arrive early and expect long lines and potentially being shut out. Universal suggests using its Virtual Line system on the Universal Orlando Resort App to reserve a spot.

And if you don’t make it on, there are plenty of other attractions to enjoy, from “The Simpsons Ride,” to “Fast & Furious - Supercharged” and “Shrek 4-D.” There are also entire lands based on Harry Potter.

When you need a break, grab a bite at the Today Cafe, which opened this past spring at Universal Studios and is designed to look like the set of the NBC morning show, “Today.”

Bites here include The Big Apple Cheese Platter ($11.99), Egg White Florentine ($8.99) and an Acai Bowl ($9.99).

One-day park tickets for either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure start at $115 per person, while tickets to Volcano Bay start at $70. There are discounts for those buying tickets for multiple dates or bundling park tickets with hotels.

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