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The Best of Universal Orlando

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So youíve done Walt Disney World and now youíre ready to discover Universal Orlando. But where to start? Universal Orlando is a whopper of a destination composed of exceptional resorts, first-rate restaurants, and two theme parks offering a certain brand of high-speed intensity certain to please. Here are some of Universalís best experiences:

Best Deluxe Resort

For the height of luxury in a Mediterranean seaside setting head straight for this exclusive hotel designed to resemble Italyís idyllic seaside town of Portofino. The scenery is pure postcard with colorful fishing boats bobbing in the seductively curving bay, sun-bleached stucco buildings with shuttered windows and trompe líoeil decorative facades, and a charming, waterside piazza loaded with appetizing restaurants. Guestrooms are large and luxurious with four-poster beds, luxe linens, down pillows, and a pile of other amenities that canít be beat.

Best Resort For the Utterly Cool

Hard Rockís motto is ďlove all, serve allĒ and serve they certainly do at the single coolest place in Florida to hang out in California hip style. Itís a mix of pure luxury and star worship where an ultra slick marble lobby, a marvelous pool complex, and stylish guestrooms are interspersed with over one million dollars worth of rock and roll memorabilia and rock music blasting away in every public space; over 900 speakers are scattered throughout the property, all running seven days a week, 24 hours a day. But rest assured, from the moment you enter the hallways leading to your trendy guestroom, only beautiful silence is heard.

Best Resort Pool

Hard Rockís 12,000 foot zero-entry pool is almost too hip to handle. It comes with an underwater sound system and a 250-foot slide (the longest at any U.S. hotel), all surrounded by a sand beach and swaying palm trees. For the ultimate in luxury, rent a poolside cabana equipped with lounge chairs, TV, telephone, fax line, refrigerator, and ceiling fan. You can even order up your own private masseuse.

Best Resort Lounge

It depends. The hip crowd should head to Velvet, Hard Rock Hotelís so cool cocktail lounge offering a huge list of specialty martinis and premium cigars along with rock and roll, chic seating, and a great outdoor terrace with a view of the resortís pool. Those with a more sophisticated inclination will love Bar America at Portofino Bay Hotel where a pianist entertains a fashionable crowd feasting on Beluga caviar and fine wine in an elegant setting.

Best Attractions For Thrill Seekers

Universal Orlando is the perfect place for those who crave a rush of adrenaline. And the best park for thrills is Universalís newest, Islands of Adventure. Head first to the Incredible Hulk Coaster where youíre launched from a near standstill to 40 mph in 2 seconds, then immediately into a zero-G dive roll looping through inversion after inversion and twice underground before coming to a halt. Then take a ride on Dueling Dragons, the worldís first inverted, dueling (thereís two of them), near-miss coasters. At certain points during the ride youíll swear your dangling feet almost touch those of the opposite dragon as it goes roaring by.

Best Way to Spend an Evening Without the Kids

First check the children into one of the Universal resortís excellent child care centers. Then head to either Emerils at Citywalk, a classy spot reminiscent of the New Orleans warehouse district with intoxicating Creole/Cajun food or Tchuop Chop at Universalís Royal Pacific Resort, one of the most beautiful restaurants in Orlando serving innovative Asian/Polynesian fare. Afterward dance the night away at Universalís Citywalk. Buy a Party Pass for unlimited admission to all the nightclubs and enjoy!

Best Resort Restaurant

Itís a toss up. Tchoup Chop at the Royal Pacific Resort for itís breathtakingly beautiful dining room and imaginative cuisine or Delfino Riviera, Portofino Bay Hotelís stylish and sophisticated Italian restaurant perched above the piazza overlooking the bay.

Best Way to Spend an Afternoon Away From the Parks

Immerse yourself in luxury with one or two soothing spa treatments at Portofino Bayís Mandara Spa. Choose from a variety of massage, face, anti-aging, and body treatments including Indonesian four hands massage and Javanese Lulur. Follow this with an afternoon lazing beside one of the resortís three luxurious pools.

Cara Goldsbury is the author of The Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World: How to Get the Most Out of the Best Disney Has to Offer available at 800-247-6553, www.luxurydisneyguide.com, Amazon.com, or your local bookstore. Visit her at www.luxurydisneyguide.com.



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