Where to Stay - Penny Pincher's Guide to IOA

The ideal resting place is, of course, any of the three amazing Loews Hotels located within Universal Orlando. Not only will you be treated to wonderful amenities, dreamy beds and a short walk or boat ride to Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida, but your room key will also allow you to bypass all the long lines with Front of the Line access at just about every attraction there.

There's just one problem with Plan A. If you pull up an online quote for the romantic Portofino Bay, the hip Hard Rock Hotel or the majestic Royal Pacific Resort you will see that room rates start somewhere around $200 a night. While that comes with some amazing front-of-the-line perks at the park (no long lines for you -- even during peak season) you may be able to find those same rooms for less -- or still have a great time staying somewhere else and saving even more money.

Let's cover the three onsite resort hotels first. In the past, Loews has released some rooms to mystery discounter Hotwire. While we haven't been able to locate any entries lately there's no mystery here if you know amenities. If you check your dates and select the Universal Orlando-Sea World area, compare the star levels, amenities and prices to see if you find a match here:

Royal Pacific Resort -- 4 stars -- usually at about $114 a night -- Resort, Restaurants, Pools, Fitness Center, Business Center, Golf Course Nearby, Tennis Court Nearby, Children's Activities.

Hard Rock Hotel -- 4 1/2 stars -- usually at about $137 a night -- Restaurants, Pools, Fitness Center, Business Center, Golf Course Nearby, Tennis Court Nearby, Children's Activities.

Portofino Bay Hotel -- 5 stars -- usually at about $149-165 a night -- Restaurants, Pools, Fitness Center, Business Center, Golf Course Nearby, Tennis Court Nearby, Children's Activities.

These exact specs have resulted in the Universal Orlando hotels, but buyer beware: Hotwire purchases are non-refundable and can't be changed (so be absolutely certain your travel dates are right and air tight) and it's always possible that new hotels -- non-Universal Orlando hotels -- may be added into the system with similar amenities. Do check it out as you may find some great deals beyond the 3 onsite hotels.

Another option is to call Loews and ask for discounts. In the past the chain has provided discounts for Florida residents, Entertainment card holders, Annual Pass holders and Fan Club members. You can always call 1-800-BE-A-STAR and ask for any -- or all -- of these rates to see if they are available to you. Let's go over them in more detail.

Florida Residents -- Yes, you have to be a Florida resident to book the Florida resident rate. These are seasonal but it never hurts to ask if you hail from the Sunshine State.

Entertainment -- This is usually the best rate when it's available. With rates as low as $110 for the Royal Pacific the rates aren't exactly the 50% off regular rates but it is usually a good 40% or so off the standard rates. The Entertainment book is a thorough coupon book that can be purchased online. You don't need the book at the time you make the reservation but they will usually request to see your Entertainment card when you check in. So, book the room and then order it for home delivery. The cards expire at the end of October, so if you have a stay for later than October (or the following year) you will need to wait until August for the new books to come out. Order any Entertainment book, from any city, the hotel discounts are good everywhere. You will also see quite a few other discounts in the book, so it may be worth the purchase anyway.

Annual Pass -- This is often an attractive rate -- roughly 25% off -- and, like the Entertainment card you do not need to have an annual pass purchased at the time the reservation is made but you will need to buy one before you check in. You can buy the passes at the park or online (check the ticket discounts for some tips further down).

Universal Fan Club -- This is a free corporate card that may be available to you through your company, union or credit union. More information can be found at the official site. These rates are typically similar to the annual passholder rates though it may sometimes fetch an even better discount. There are some really great resources over at Disboards for acquiring a Fan Club card even though they do seem to be phasing out the card.

If spending less than three figures a night in lodging is what you need you will have to stay offsite. Thankfully you're in Orlando, the tourist haven with nearly 100,000 rooms available and the discounting can get fierce. You may get what you pay for, but all you really wanted was a bed at night? Right? Here is a list of area hotels that offer free transportation to Universal Orlando. And here is a list of bargain-priced hotels -- starting as low as $40 a night. Everything else? The three major  retail travel sites are Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz. While the sites usually produce the same rates you can find booking directly through the individual chains they do sometimes land special site-specific web fares. They are also able to book vacation packages -- if you need air travel, car rentals and more -- and provide a discount on all of these things bundled together.

Hotwire and Priceline offer the potential for more substantial hotel savings. Both sites are strict about their non-cancellation policies so make sure you pay attention. Check out this page for more information.

Back to Penny Pincher's Guide -- Discounted Tickets -- Food and Shopping

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