Sapphire Falls — From Skull Island to Island Time
Sapphire Falls is a different kind of island time. My home for two nights recently was at Sapphire Falls Resort, Loews fifth on-site hotel and the second resort aimed at the moderate market. My room offered a great view of the eight Universal Orlando rides, and the décor was everything I could have wished for.
I love the colors of the Caribbean, and Sapphire Falls delivers just that! The rooms have all the amenities you could possibly need, from the 49-inch flat-panel HDTV to plenty of electrical outlets, a mini-fridge, and a Cuisinart single-coffee-pod brewer. Wi-Fi is free for up to four devices per room. Complimentary package delivery is available, and you can link your room key for resort-wide charging privileges. Not free are pets and parking. Pets will cost you $50 per night with a maximum of $150 per stay. Self-parking is $20 per night.
The rooms are spacious and convey the island vibe without going overboard. The theme of the resort is carried throughout the décor of the rooms and all the public areas of the hotel. A gigantic chandelier and an abundance of orchids dominate the lobby.
The 16,000-square-foot, zero-entry main pool of Sapphire Falls features white-sand beaches, a fire pit, cabanas for rent, a hot tub, a waterslide, and a children’s play area. This is the largest pool of any of the Universal Orlando Loews hotels. Wading in an inch of water, you reach the Drhum Club Kantine pool bar and the pool bar’s fire pit.
Drhum Club Kantine is one of the best pool bars I have ever visited, with a friendly staff, above-average food, and most of all, quality drinks. Signature drinks ($15) come with a souvenir glass, and refills are only $10. And yes, you can use the souvenir glass at any of the Universal resort pool bars and obtain your drinks at the refill price. What is even niftier is that you can also enjoy all the pools just by flashing your room key.
The hotel has an island-inspired grab-and-go marketplace. New Dutch Trading Co. offers ready-to-go meals, sandwiches, soups, beverages, and packaged snacks. Table service is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Amatista Cookhouse. For a less casual experience, check out Strong Water Tavern. Located in the lobby, the tavern offers a one-of-a-kind cocktail journey with a rum captain and amazing tapas-styled dishes.
A stay at Sapphire Falls starts at $179, plus tax, per night. Check out the seasonal rates here.
If the longest ride at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure seems short to you, then it can only mean one thing: It’s amazing! I have experienced Skull Island: The Reign of Kong four times, and I still think that I need many more run-throughs to fully absorb all the details.
First off, keep in mind that the ride experience is different depending on where you sit in the 72-seat, open-sided expedition vehicle. If possible, avoid the first rows; if the wait is not too long, then be sure to ride at least twice. Try to experience the ride once on each side of the vehicle.
At night, driving the outside loop before the doors to the Skull Island temple open is simply amazing. Note that during inclement weather this part of the ride is bypassed. If you only have one chance, and if you want to experience King Kong up close and personal, the best seats are on the right side in the back half of the vehicle.
The ride takes you into a 1930s expedition inside Skull Island where you are caught in a clash between prehistoric beasts, only to be saved by the King himself! The 3D screens are sharper and have more depth than Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or even the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. And, when the vehicle comes to a halt in front of a screen, the effect is absolutely breathtaking. Shrouded in real mist—and in the mist of legend—I thought, at times, that I even smelled the jungle. When you add the water and wind effects, the ride is really immersive. Once the larger-than-life, three-stories-tall Kong appears, be prepared for his roar to rock your vehicle.
He is massive, he is colossal, and if you think that this is your only worry, think again. The fright fest starts the moment you enter the skeleton-strewn queue. All details are meant to give you an eerie feeling from the get-go. I was scared out of my wits before I even reached my ride vehicle. While walking through dungeons, expect that, at any moment, hostile Kong-worshipping natives might jump out at you. Lifelike animatronic figures and live Halloween Horror Night-style actors scared the heck out of me. However, I did enjoy the animatronic witch standing in front of a giant skull. Her chants still resonate in my head.
It would be sacrilegious not to mention the enhancements to the Incredible Hulk Coaster. Scientist Bruce Banner did not find the cure for the gamma radiation that contaminated his cells and turned him into The Hulk, but the big green giant is rebuilt, revamped, equipped with flashing lights, a synchronized sound track, and roaring again.
For in-depth coverage on all the rides and shows at Universal Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando by Seth Kubersky.