If you’re anything like us, one of the biggest considerations when you’re planning a holiday (along with: ‘will there be enough to do?’ and ‘what’s the pool like?’) is ‘are there loads of great places to eat?’. Food is a huge part of our family holiday budget – it’s a big part of our family life at home, so that naturally carries through when we go away together – we want to enjoy gorgeous food in beautiful places. I’ve been thinking for a while now that I really should create a little (well, quite large, actually) guide to dining at Universal Orlando Resort, so if you’re considering a Universal family holiday, you can do a little advanced planning (plus, you know I like taking photos of my food). This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’ve tried to include everywhere I’d dined in and enjoyed as well as a couple on my still to do list.
So wait, why should we book a holiday at Universal Orlando Resort, Florida?
Well, where do I start? There’s all the fun of Universal Studios: a real, working TV and film studio where you can become part of some of your favourite films and TV shows with spectacular locations like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, and incredible rides like Revenge of the Mummy and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, plus the very clever new Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. Plus, there are great events like Grinchmas, Mardi Gras and Halloween Horror Nights to enjoy.
Then of course, right next door, there’s Universal’s Islands of Adventure, where you can come face to face with Marvel’s Super Heroes on rides like The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk Coaster as well as wandering around beautiful Hogsmeade village (don’t forget to try a Butterbeer).
Plus, there’s brand new Universal’s Volcano Bay, the spectacular new water theme park, where brilliant new technology enables you to whizz down incredible water coasters and plummet down water slides without all the standing in long queues.
Add to that beautiful resort hotels right next to the parks like the gorgeous Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, and the fabulous, twinkling Universal CityWalk, packed with restaurants, bars, live shows and entertainment, clubs and more, and it’s a no-brainer. Now, about that guide to dining. Let’s start with Universal CityWalk, shall we?
The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen
This frankly incredible looking, Steampunk-themed venue is more of an immersive dining experience than just a restaurant. Inside, the building is huge with an 19th century industrial feel, and the attention to detail is phenomenal (we love the staff uniforms that look like they’ve stepped off the set of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the moving, mechanical wall art). With everything from a great ‘all day brunch’ menu to clever twists on everything from steak and seafood, pasta and burgers, the menu is huge (the wine list is excellent too). My advice? Skip the starter, stick to the lighter mains – the salads are delicious – and save room for the dessert selection that includes ridiculously huge artisan milkshakes, sundaes and epic pies. I highly recommend the ‘May Contain Nuts’ sundae. Oh, and don’t forget to look out for Penelope. She’s a sweetie.
The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar
I’ll be honest. The first time I dined at The Cowfish, I chose badly and didn’t really ‘get’ the whole concept (it’s an odd one: there’s sushi, ‘burgushi’: a fusion of burgers and sushi, and there are sandwiches using sushi ingredients). This time, we took the time to chat to the staff and really explore the menu and we really enjoyed our meal. The spicy togarashi shrimp starter is a must (but share, it’s huge). Another great wine list here, plus some great cocktails. Ooh and sit outside on the small terrace and you can watch the sun going down over the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium too.
NBC Sports Grill & Brew
I LOVE this place. When we were visiting for Halloween Horror Nights I think we ate here at least three times. Halloween Horror Nights start early, so it’s a great place to pop in for beers and nibbles before it starts. The staff are lovely and if you’re travelling with sports-mad boys, like me, they can watch any one of about 15 screens showing everything from NFL to tennis to Aussie Rules football. The food is classic American: wings, salads, steaks, burgers, ribs, nachos, sandwiches and great desserts. The portions are huge, and there are loads of great beers, apparently.
VIVO Italian Kitchen
This huge Italian restaurant gets really busy but I urge you to make a reservation as it’s a must visit. Fun and buzzy with an open kitchen and a lively, noisy atmosphere, VIVO serves great artisan pizzas, delicious pasta and the best chicken fettuccine alfredo I’ve ever tasted, plus a very good selection of Italian wines. The signature dessert is The Big Cannoli – literally as big as your head, a huge, crispy cannoli shell filled with about a ton of cannoli cream. It serves at least four, generally six. Here I am with the cannoli. I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing. Possibly attempting to eat it all myself.
In the parks: Universal Studios
Of course, if you just want to grab a sweet treat or an ice cream, there are plenty of options (we love Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley for the incredible range of flavours – I like Butterbeer flavour, but I’ve heard great things about the sticky toffee pudding variety). Plus of course there are a range of little snack and drink kiosks dotted about all around the parks.
Lombard’s Seafood Grille
If you’re on a tour, you’ll often stop at Lombard’s for lunch on the dockside, and it’s a lovely spot. It’s always busy, but if you’re lucky you can sit outside. It’s a full service (as in you sit down and you’re served by someone) restaurant. I highly recommend the amazing cheesy spinach and artichoke dip which is served with a ton of tortilla chips and is perfect for sharing. Mains include lots of delicious seafood, including yummy fish tacos and great salads (I love the grilled salmon salad). The chicken and noodle bowl is delicious too.
Mel’s Drive In
A proper, retro 50s diner serving great burgers, frozen milkshakes and awesome chicken fingers with fries (my favourite), Mel’s is Instagram heaven, especially during Halloween Horror Nights, when it famously becomes Mel’s Die-In. It’s a lovely, cool stop off if you’re boiling: a great place to sip a fabulous shake and watch the world go by.
If you’re looking for somewhere that’s really good fun, look no further than Moe’s Tavern. Order a Flaming Moe, then head to the little food court for chicken and waffles (I know, but it’s delicious, honestly).
Finnegan’s Bar and Grill
This Irish pub always has a great atmosphere. I’ve only ever popped in for a drink but the food looks amazing and the craic is awesome, as you can imagine. Apparently there’s a really nice beef stew with Guinness on the menu that’s pretty near the top of my Universal dining bucket list.
In the parks: Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Three Broomsticks Tavern, Hogsmeade
I love the Three Broomsticks. It’s so quirky inside – you literally feel like you’ve stepped into a Harry Potter film. You can have full service dining or choose quick service, meaning you queue to order your meal, then move over to the counter to collect it before sitting down. The fish and chips are a must order, and the freshly baked apple pie is massive, but delicious.
This award-winning restaurant looks as though it’s been carved out of solid stone and is an incredible place to eat. The menu is roughly Mediterranean with a bit of Asian too, which sounds a bit random, but the Mediterranean meatballs (a huge starter served with a falafel waffle and mango creme fraiche dressing) are to die for, as is the flatbread (which is very pizza-like and huge, so order to share) and this lamb burger with an amazing feta and olive aioli is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Croissant Moon Bakery
If you’re looking for a quick breakfast before hitting the parks, there’s a Starbucks just inside the entrance of Universal’s Island of Adventure, but I’d personally recommend the cute little Croissant Moon Bakery. It’s incredibly popular, so expect to queue, but they do delicious iced coffees, very fresh pastries and filled croissants. And for lunch, they serve some really nice toasted paninis too.
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is just my absolute favourite Universal resort hotel. Regular readers will know that I was already pretty smitten with Universal’s gorgeously retro Cabana Bay Beach Resort, but Sapphire Falls stole my heart. The whole place is just so lovely and airy and bright, and the food and drink options there are incredible good quality. For breakfast, there’s a great buffet downstairs in the Amatista Cookhouse, or if you don’t fancy a big breakfast, you can pop in to the little New Dutch Trading Co – a little shop/café that serves coffees, pastries, delicious mueslis, salads, sandwiches and hot toasted bagels. If you’re around the beautiful pool and feel like a snack, the nachos from the poolside Drhum Club Kantine are absolutely incredible (and huge – one platter will probably feel two or three of you) – they do great cocktails too.
The main social hub of the resort is the fabulous Strong Water Tavern just off the main lobby area. It’s a really cosy bar and restaurant with lots of comfy sofas, and the menu is Caribbean themed, but served tapas style, so you can order lots of delicious small plates to share, which I love. In the daytime, the huge TVs give a laid-back sports bar feel, but at night it’s a buzzy, lively place to be and there’s often live entertainment too. We loved it.
The BeachClub, Hard Rock Hotel Orlando
The thing about staying at the Hard Rock Hotel is that their famous rockstar VIP service means nothing is too much trouble. I mean nothing. Fancy chocolate peanut butter pie in bed at 10pm? You got it. A fresh juice before your run at 5am? It’s there. We loved the pretty, poolside BeachClub for just this reason – the staff are really cool and they positively encourage you to go off menu. This particular little beauty: a grilled cheese sandwich (off the kids’ menu – the portions are huge), was recommended to me by one of the staff: ‘oh, and add some bacon, it’s delicious with bacon. Oh and how about a side of guacamole?’ I love those guys.
So that’s it. If you feel I’ve missed somewhere out that warrants a mention of course I’ll add it to my list to check out next time. And as always, if you’re planning a trip and need any advice or want to ask anything at all, please feel free to ask! You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or just shoot me an email via my contact form.
Getting there – London Gatwick to Orlando
Seven nights at Universal Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled return Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick to Orlando, room only accommodation at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, car hire and a Universal Orlando three park Explorer ticket with Halloween Horror Nights combo costs from £1,610 per person. Price is per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a Lagoon View Room including all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Price is based on a departure on 26th October 2017
Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick or Manchester Airport: adults £20, kids from £12. Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected. To book visit www.virginholidays.co.uk or call 0344 557 3859.