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We've got a new place to dwell

No, not Heartbreak Hotel; try the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando. The music never stops, the amenities are cool, and the message is: Rock 'n' roll will never die.

Staying at the new Hard Rock Hotel is like living the Sonny and Cher song The Beat Goes On: Drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain.

There's music in the lobby. There's music in the elevator. There's even music in the pool.

If you don't like the tune that's playing now, give it a minute: You're bound to like the next one, or at least the one after that.

If Sinatra's more your style, you've come to the wrong hotel.

Go ahead, shake your groove thing while you wait to check in. That sort of behavior is expected around here _ just ask the reception clerk with the neon purple hair.

"Guests like the attitude; it's really hang loose," said Jim Hampton, director of publicity and public relations at Universal Orlando, site of the hotel and the name given to the attraction that includes Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and CityWalk.

The property staged its "soft" opening (when the staff gets to practice with a small number of guests) Jan. 19. The grand opening was Feb. 26, and in true Hard Rock fashion the red carpet was literally laid out for musical guests such as Kid Rock, Creed and some of the 'N Sync guys. Star-struck fans flanked the carpet to catch a glance or snap a photo of the musicians.

The hotel is an extension of the world famous Hard Rock Cafe, a chain of 83 rock 'n' roll themed restaurants located throughout the world. The Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Orlando is in the CityWalk entertainment complex and includes Hard Rock Live, the company's first dedicated live concert venue.

The Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando is only the third of its kind. The first opened in Las Vegas in 1995, and a second, smaller one opened in Bali in 1998. Many more are on the way.

The hotel at Universal Orlando has 650 rooms and architecturally looks a little like the place on the cover of the Eagles' Hotel California album.

In many ways, this hotel has all the trappings of your average, midlevel lodging: Guest rooms have queen-size beds, a minibar and in-room coffee service. There is a pool, restaurants and all that jazz. But it's the extra touches that make it worth a stay even for those who live only an hour or so away in the Tampa Bay area.

Decorating the front grounds is a fountain composed of 42 bronze guitars. In the lobby, it is hard for a guest to know where to look first: Over there is an ostrich feather costume and Ibanez guitar that belonged to Kiss' Paul Stanley. Over here is an Elvis jumpsuit circa 1972, and displayed there are outfits worn by Ricky Martin and Mariah Carey.

Off to the side of the lobby, hung in decorative frames, are a pair of Elton John's platform boots, June Pointer's orange and rhinestone boots, Mick Jagger's silver glitter boots and Baby Spice's (of Spice Girls fame) leopard-print boots.

In a hallway on the way to the Palm Restaurant are a brown slip dress and wrought iron votive candle holder used in Madonna's Like a Prayer video. Near the elevator are duds once donned by Lenny Kravitz.

The memorabilia hangs on most of the walls but is spaced far enough apart to look decorative, not museumlike.

After checking in, guests are given a "tour guide" _ a packet that includes the room key card, a hotel information booklet and a free CD with songs by both new and established performers.

Before reaching their rooms, guests pass the Hard Rock Hotel gift shop. Actually, "shop" is misleading. It is a full-blown retail outlet, largely stocked with Hard Rock Hotel logo items: martini glasses, guitar-shaped cookie jars, zebra print bathrobes, leather jackets and drum sticks for those who got caught up in the moment and tossed theirs into the crowd.

Those who need forgotten sundries, a snack or the daily newspaper _ the stuff most of us visit a hotel gift shop to buy _ have to make their way to the back of the store to a corner where those items are stashed.

There's still more memorabilia to check out as you enter the store, such as Nancy Wilson's heart-shaped guitar and Eric Clapton's electric sitar.

Recorded music follows guests from lobby to gift shop to elevator. And on each guest-room floor, there's more memorabilia. On the fifth floor, for example, is a jacket worn by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder.

With all that paraphernalia and music as an introduction, you might expect some wild room decor, but there are no animal prints or black walls.

Instead, the typical guest room has an Art Deco meets the 21st century feel. Comfort is the real winner, from the soft white duvet cover (still looking good after about two months of use, but who knows how a white cover will hold up long term?) to cozy, ecru leather chairs.

Unusual shapes do accent the room, from the squiggly silver handles on the bureau to the wavy base of the floor lamp to the star-shaped ottoman.

And each room has three black-and-white photographs of musicians on the walls. My room, for example, was decorated with pics of Frank Zappa, Mick Jagger and the Dave Clark Five. The hotel mixes things up, using 37 different combinations of its photography collection so that returning guests may get a different set on their next visit.

The guest room's only shortcoming is its lack of a balcony _ with garden and pool views available, it is a shame there's nowhere to sit outside your room to enjoy them. But the rooms do provide guests amenities such as a magnified mirror for applying makeup or for shaving, a bathroom scale, wine glasses near the minibar, a CD player and an in-room safe.

Even in your room, with radio and CD player turned off, the rhythm is going get you. The Hard Rock's subtle touches include the no-smoking placard on the table that reads:

A traffic jam when you're already late, a no-smoking sign on your cigarette break _ Alanis Morissette

A card placed on the room service tray reads:

Just call out my name and I'll come running _ James Taylor

And the envelope in which your bill is slipped under your door reads:

You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave _ the Eagles

Beyond the bedrooms

Decorated with caricatures of celebrities and local notables on its walls, the Palm Restaurant is the Hard Rock Hotel's main eatery. The Sunset Grill and the Beach Club offer super casual dining, while the Velvet Bar caters to the lounge crowd.

For most guests, the real perk of staying at the Hard Rock is not eating in the Palm or seeing the cool Jimi Hendrix threads hanging in the lobby or buying Hard Rock T-shirts, which seem ubiquitous.

What guests like the most, said Universal Orlando's spokesman Hampton, is Universal Express. Guests at either the Hard Rock or the Portofino Bay Hotel next door receive no-line, no-wait priority access to rides and attractions at Universal Studios. On some days, hotel guests get early theme park admission. Courtesy water taxis make continuous runs between the hotels and the parks, which are a short walk away.

Though the Hard Rock Hotel has a fitness center, it does not offer a spa. But Hard Rock guests can use the Greenhouse Spa at the nearby Portofino Bay Hotel.

Like the Hard Rock Hotel, Portofino Bay (which opened in September 1999) is owned by Loews Hotels, a company that owns and/or operates 15 hotels and resorts in the United States, Canada and Monaco. It is a larger hotel, designed to look like the Italian Riviera village of Portofino.

A third Loews-managed, on-site hotel, the Royal Pacific Resort, is scheduled to open next year, with 1,000 rooms.

If you go

Rates at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando vary according to room type and season. Prices range from $185 to $299. Club level, suites and rooms with parlors cost more. To make a reservation, call toll free 1-888-322-5541 or visit http://www.universalorlando.com.

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