Over the last year or so, I have seen and heard many people ask questions about Universal Orlando/Loews on-site hotels. Most of the questions asked demand merely two clicks of a computer mouse performing a basic web search. However, some questions require more effort for answers. A common example of this involves the value resort hotels at Universal Orlando. The difference between these two sister hotels can be confusing when deciding which one is right for you.
When Universal Orlando implemented its control over the former Wet-N-Wild waterpark, many things happened to reorganize the Orlando area theme park culture. Universal Orlando built Volcano Bay waterpark near one of the Universal Orlando prime value level hotels, Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Volcano Bay filled the gap in water parks so that Universal Orlando could build the Endless Summer Resorts.
So, in the former Wet-N-Wild location, the Endless Summer Resort was built. The Endless Summer Resort is separated on opposite sides of Universal Blvd. Many guests, including Universal Orlando veterans, are confused by this branding with one side called Surfside Inn and Suites with the other side called Dockside Inn and Suites. These are sister-value hotels, but they are not identical twins. In terms of price points for an official theme park hotel, it is hard to beat the value of these two. For example, a standard room will most likely cost around $100/night.
Having stayed at both hotels on numerous occasions, the differences between them qualify as subtle. The theming of the two looks similar with one predictably featuring surfboards and one with images of being at a dock.
Surfside is a much smaller resort with only 750 rooms compared to Dockside with over 2000. Surfside is easier to get around due to its smaller size. However, Surfside only has one pool, and Dockside has two pools and guests give a slight preference to the overall amenities at the Dockside pools. Dockside has a larger lobby and food court. However, as with most larger hotels, it can seem busy when many guests are checking out or checking in.
Though Surfside is less likely to feel crowded, the amenities are not as abundant. Due to the size of the lobby Starbucks at Dockside, it is easier to order from than at Surfside. Still, you should expect a queue, especially in the morning hours. This is the standard pattern for the food court, merchandise store, bars, and hotel operations desk with slightly more options at Dockside versus Surfside.
Do bear in mind that both hotels have a larger number of suites that sleep six compared to an average hotel. This could mean more people than normally expected in the hotel’s common spaces. Also, Dockside has developed a reputation for having slow elevator service. Some of that is exaggerated from the height of the virus time. Yet, some truth still exists with that criticism. Staying on a high floor at Dockside during a busy time of year can lead to frustration with the elevators.
Each of the two hotels has a Starbucks in its lobby. Each serves the same menu so there is no real difference there. Though menus do change, most, if not all, the items at Beach Break Café at Surfside are also served at Pier 8 Market at Dockside in some form. Pier 8 Market had several additional items, like their fried chicken/waffles at their more spacious food court. It is worth noting that Pier 8 at Dockside will have more variety but also slightly more expensive items. The prices are lower at Surfside but generally, the quality is a bit lower. Yet, the difference between the two food courts has diminished in recent years.
In terms of room design, both look similar. In the first year at Surfside, the bathroom towels were of very low quality. This issue changed after that so there is no real difference between Surfside and Dockside now. However, a likely exasperation with Dockside rooms is the “energy saving” key card slot beside the main door for lights to work. You will need to put your room card inside the slot, or a similar size item like a business card, to enable the lights to work fully.
If you bring a car, both have the same $15/night parking fee. During the busy season or late at night, parking spots can be tough to find at each hotel. Dockside seems to be slightly better regarding this due to the larger property.
Both sister hotels reside in the International Drive area. There are shops, restaurants, and a Walgreens within reasonable walking distance. I found it far easier to get to those places while staying at Surfside. If planning to walk to nearby restaurants and/or Walgreens, that becomes far easier at Surfside.
One last thing, I hope you never find yourself stuck indoors at a resort hotel during a hurricane. If you do, we learned during Hurricane Ian, that Surfside makes a far better hotel to stay at during a hurricane than Dockside. The reasons range from more indoor walkways to fewer people hanging out in common areas during a storm.
Finally, my theme park writing well documents my preference for the prime value hotels over the value ones at Universal Orlando. Yet, I enjoy Surfside for short stays or an overnight stay before moving to another hotel. Your preference may differ based on your group. I hope this updated article helps in your planning. Feel free to leave a comment about your preference. Whichever you select, enjoy your time at Universal Orlando.
Pirates & Princesses (PNP) is an independent, opinionated fan-powered news blog that covers Disney and Universal Theme Parks, Themed Entertainment and related Pop Culture from a consumer's point of view. Opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of PNP, its editors, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. PNP is an unofficial news source and has no connection to The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal or any other company that we may cover.