We’ll take a moment away from the joy that is Disney World Value resorts to take a look at Universal Studios’ most expensive Deluxe resort, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Rates start at $285 per night. Disney World’s least expensive Deluxe is Animal Kingdom Lodge, where Standard rooms with a view of the parking lot start at $319 per night. Universal’s Value Resort, Cabana Bay, officially comes online in June and will offer rooms for as little as $119 per night. Unlike the three Deluxe resorts, Cabana Bay will not offer complimentary Express Pass.
One of the nice things about the Universal Orlando complex is that once you’re there…you’re there…more or less. Once you set foot inside a resort, theme park, or CityWalk, all other resort destinations are a short walk or convenient boat ride away. In between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, you’ll see the boat dock pictured above that transports guests to the three on-site resorts – Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific.
Or you can walk. The walkway to Hard Rock and Portofino Bay is located just outside the entrance to Universal Studios. Royal Pacific’s walkways is near Islands of Adventure.
Hard Rock is only a five to seven minute walk away. Portofino Bay is closer to 15 or 20.
Fortunately it’s a pleasant walk surrounded by trees, plants, and waterways.
There’s even a butterfly garden.
Complete with visual aid.
The back side of Hard Rock.
Walking from the theme parks, you don’t see Portofino until you pass under a stone bridge.
I don’t think these pictures capture how it “feels” turning the corner, passing underneath a bridge, and happening upon this quaint little Italian village with boats floating in the water. It’s really neat.
Larger: https://www.easywdw.com/reports10/portofino.jpg. We happened to be walking in the evening just as the sun was beginning to set and heard opera in the distance. I mentioned to Lisa that it sounded live, but couldn’t possibly be.
Lousy crop, but Portofino Bay does indeed feature a live opera singer singing on the balcony every night as the sun sets (weather permitting). Guests dine below and there are benches and chairs nearby for anyone to grab. If you’re interested in catching the show on a particular date, call the resort at 407-503–3463 and ask about the Musica Della Notte (Music of the Night) opera performance. It’s pretty magical.
The Thirsty Fish Bar offers outside patio seating in addition to the indoor bar on the left side of the piazza.
Quaint. Portofino is a convention resort and bar/restaurant crowds can vary wildly from night to night depending on what the conventioneers are up to. On this particular night, the convention had rented out the theme park and virtually nobody was around.
Cocktails looked expensive. $12 is my upper limit. I get a lot of use out of my Tables in Wonderland card at Disney, which includes 20% off alcohol, but no such discount is available here. With tax and 20% tip, your Gentleman’s Manhattan comes out to $20.24.
Wine pricing isn’t much more favorable. Mark West is a decent budget pinot noir and a bottle here runs $44. Total Wine would sell you the same bottle for $8 – $10. Zonin Prossecco costs $48 here or $12 in store.
Cigars, something you won’t find on many Disney menus.
Bice (pronounced Bee-chay) is the signature restaurant here. The menu is available here.
The only entree under $20 is a vegetarian-sounding pasta.
Other entrees are in the same range as Disney signature restaurants like California Grill or Flying Fish.
Mama Della’s is located on the ground floor with outdoor piazza seating in addition to the restaurant inside.
Dinner here isn’t a whole lot less than Bice, but it’s decidedly more casual.
$12 Kids’ Meals.
Rosa Regale is $53 at Disney, $52 here. Dom is $285 here, $290 at Disney. Cakebread Chardonnay is $96 here, $80 at Disney. Benzinger Sauvignon Blanc is $38 here, $45 at Disney. Opus One is $275 here, $295 at Disney. So it’s pretty comparable.
This meal was back on October 28th, so we have some early fall beer featured. It’s an impressive list with Duvel on draft and world class Ommegang bottles at relatively reasonable prices. If you think my plugging of Unibroue at Food/Wine was annoying, just wait to see what happens if dazney brings these to the U.S. Pavilion.
The day I pay 15 bucks for Malibu and orange juice is the day you can stop reading this site. Which is never so you’re stuck. At least they tell you how much they cost. Disney doesn’t list prices, but their cocktails are $9.50 to $11.50. House liquor, a mixer, and ice is $6.50.
About three rooms make up the restaurant, which is on the small side.
“Mama” invites you to dine in her home, where each room offers a warmth and a personality all its own. Enjoy Italian specialties from Tuscany, Naples and Piemonte while strolling musicians serenade you tableside for a taste of ‘La Dolce Vita’ The Sweet Life.
During our meal, from 6:30pm to 8:20pm, we saw maybe four other parties in total. Just about everybody staying at the resort was at the theme parks for the private party. You’ll see a lot more families in the summer.
Mama herself greets diners at the door. We were guided to this table next to the ceramic rooster.
The guitarist and singer(s) travel around the restaurant taking requests and playing music for anyone so inclined. They’ll ask if there’s a song or style you like and go from there.
They’ll play anything from “Thriller” to “I Dreamed A Dream.” It’s a charming addition and unlike anything offered at Disney restaurants.
Dinner begins with bread and breadsticks.
Oil, garlic, and butter. Very nice.
Lisa ordered the Spaghetti con Polpette – Ground Beef Brisket, Pork Shoulder, Ricotta Meatballs, Marinara Sauce – $23. A larger portion than it might look in the picture, the three meatballs were a delicious, tender, and light mixture of meat and cheese topped with freshly grated parmesan. Pasta here is cooked decidedly al dente – you’ll want to ask for the pasta to be cooked for an extra minute if you prefer a more tender noodle. Spaghetti is fairly straightforward, but the authentic, handmade meatballs and attention to detail elevated the dish above anything Italian I’ve tried on Disney property.
Having recently sampled the more expensive meat options at California Grill ($50 Filet Mignon), Artist Point ($49 Trio of Buffalo Strip, Venison Loin, Wild Game Sausage), and Le Cellier ($56 Ribeye), I thought I’d try Mama’s for a better comparison of quality. This is the $38 Bistecca Con Pecorino Al Tartufo – Filet Mignon, truffled pecorino cheese polenta, organic egg, hen of the wood mushrooms.
Beef quality was better than any non-signature restaurant I’ve tried on Disney property and perhaps just a slight step down from the signatures . It was tender and cooked to a perfect medium rare.
The mushroom and onion side would not have ordinarily been my first choice, but the mushrooms weren’t your typical gummy mass. Instead, they were slightly chewy and had a subtle mushroom-y flavor.
The carefully placed sunny side up egg over a creamy polenta.
Overall, our entrees were both excellent – as good or better than any non-signature restaurant on Disney property. The ambiance is different too, particularly on a night like this one when the restaurant is almost entirely empty and our server only had two tables. Fast forward to July and your experience would most likely be less intimate and potentially more hurried. We felt like we had all the time in the world and it was a nice, intimate meal far removed from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks or CityWalk restaurants. Highly recommended.
One bite missing from these complimentary cookies served up with the bill. A nice finishing touch.
Mama Della’s was a terrific experience from start to finish. The back side of the resort is beautiful and we lucked into the opera performance. Dinner saw excellent food and better service.
Sal’s Market Deli is the resort’s main quick service, located just a few doors down to the right:
Quick breakfasts, pizzas, salads.
A “Gelateria” is attached.
Geltato most likely from the same source as Disney in Orlando.
Trattoria del Porto Restaurant is open daily for breakfast from 7am – 11am and dinner from 5:30pm – 10:30pm from Thursday – Monday. It doesn’t appear to be the most inspired space, but it’s a good choice if you’re not in the mood for spaghetti. Or if you’re in the mood for spaghetti as the case may be.
Breakfast. Larger: https://www.easywdw.com/reports10/portobreakfast.jpg
Dinner. Larger: https://www.easywdw.com/reports10/portodinner.jpg
Inside, the resort has its moments, but we agreed it was less impressive than the piazza.
The fountain inside the main entrance.
Seating area across from main desk.
The gift shop, concierge, meeting rooms, and other things are located down alleys.
These convenient screens located around the resort are sort of Universal’s version of FP+ kiosks – you can make dining reservations and pull up other information.
The resort store:
Mostly generic, but it’s something.
Like the convention areas at Disney resorts like Coronado Springs and the Contemporary, they’re removed as much as possible from the rest of the resort.
The main areas retain the resort theme.
Stairwells, chandeliers, and a piano.
Bar American is located near the main desk. Menu: https://www.universalorlando.com/Images/bar%20american_tcm13-29043.pdf with more $15 cocktails and some additional food items. This lounge in particular felt fancier than most and probably attracts conventioneers much more than families. Two cocktails and a cheese plate would set you back $55.60 with tax and tip.
The boat ride back to CityWalk.
Portofino Bay is definitely worth checking out if you have some extra time. Universal theme parks tend to close early. Here in January 2k14, Islands of Adventure only closes after 7pm one day after the 4th. Universal Studios closes at 6pm four times and 7pm 22 times in January. Scheduling an 8pm dinner here at Portofino would be an excellent way to stretch a fun day into a pleasant, relaxing evening. It’s likely that the theme parks are rented out for a private party if you see the 6pm close, which means the resorts should be less crowded with all the conventioneers and party goers headed out. You may want to target one of those dates.