When Anthony Bourdain rolled through Orlando on his Guts and Glory tour, I saw an opportunity that couldn't be missed. Nevermind listening to my not-so-secret man crush rant and rave about various Food Network personalities, what excited me about this event was a far geekier proposition. Between dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, his show at Hard Rock Live, and capping it off with my first visit to the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando, Mr. No Reservations played right into my strange fascination with all things Hard Rock, by hooking me up with a menage a trois of awesome.
Thanks Tony, I owe you one.
The Hard Rock Hotel is one of three properties - soon to be four - operated by Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando Resort. The location at this theme park wonderland lends itself to a slightly different atmosphere than one might typically find at a Hard Rock Hotel. In my experience at some of the brand's other hotels, most of the clientele usually have more cool molecules in their big toe than roam my entire body. At the Orlando outpost, however, you'll find families and hipsters alike enjoying the resort's edgy, rock and roll theme for which the brand is famous.
That theme is easy to find, especially in the lobby which is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from the combination of Hard Rock and hotels. From the drum set and amplifier near the front desk, to the famous memorabilia which adorns the walls, the fingerprints of this legendary brand are everywhere. Of course, no Hard Rock location would be complete without the music, which plays throughout nearly all of the public areas of the resort. Which sort of made me wonder: why don't more hotels play Nirvana's Nevermind?
|Elvis is in the lobby.|
Since summer arrived here in Florida about two weeks ago, my first stop after checking-in was a visit to the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel. There's a splash of the party-like atmosphere which has made the pool at the Vegas location legendary, mixed with an offsetting dose of family fun with various contests and activities designed for kids. My suggestion: Consider renting one of the cabanas for your own private slice of this popular oasis.
|A popular spot for good reason...|
Beyond the theme and amazing pool, when it comes to amenities at the Hard Rock Hotel it's all about location, location, location. The ability to step out of your room and after a short walk find yourself at the gates to the Universal theme parks is a convenience that can't be matched. Plus, all guests of the hotel are given Universal Express privileges which allows you to skip the lines (most of it anyway) at some of the most popular attractions in the parks. By the end of your stay there is no doubt you'll agree: trams, buses, and lines are so overrated.
|Sweet jacket dude...|
About as close as I'm ever going to get to staying like a rock star are the rooms at the Hard Rock Hotel. In addition to the stuff I usually ramble on about - read: white duvet - the room told the Hard Rock story in a clear, but subtle way. For example, the now customary "hang your towels to reuse, leave on floor to replace" sign was printed on a CD, and the clunky resort directory was humorously labeled with Beck's "Where It's At." Plus, as a fan of The Beatles, it was nice to see the traditionally boring in-room artwork replaced by a couple photos of the lads from Liverpool.
My only complaint about the rooms at Hard Rock: The lack of balcony made it a little hard for me to throw the TV into the swimming pool.
If you're concerned that a stay at the Hard Rock Hotel relegates you to a vacation filled with Pig Sandwiches and Ultimate Nachos - sounds like my kind of vacation - well, not to worry. The Kitchen is the hotel's three-meal restaurant, serving up New American cuisine in a hip but comfortable atmosphere. Instead of rock and roll memorabilia, the walls are adorned with aprons worn by stars that have performed cooking demonstrations while visiting the hotel. Around the corner from The Kitchen is Emack & Bolio's, which was where I spent most of my time as it's where Hard Rock keeps the coffee, donuts, and ice cream.
Those looking for a more upscale experience will find the Orlando outpost of the legendary Palm Steakhouse located right in the lobby. Although the bag of donut holes at The Palm is rarely something I skip, we instead paid a visit to Velvet for a nightcap and dessert. The live music and chocolate mousse shooter was a great way to end the evening, but it was the New Fashioned - Hard Rock's twist on my favorite cocktail - which really stole the show.
I will be the first to admit that combining two things that are near and dear to my heart - hotels and Hard Rock - is probably not going to lend itself to an unbiased opinion of the resort. Take away my John Lennon rose colored glasses, however, and there is plenty for the non-Hard Rock/hotel junkie to love. The Hard Rock Hotel brings together an edgy, yet family friendly atmosphere, with a location that's second to none to create one of the best theme park resorts in Orlando. But just remember....
There's no drugs or nuclear weapons allowed inside.
Enjoy Your Stay
Special thanks to the Hard Rock Hotel for hosting this edition of Check-In Florida. As always, all opinions and pontifications are my own.