REVIEW: Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando is a near-perfect theme park hotel

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I don’t have a clever turn of phrase to open this review, so I’ll just say it: I love Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort.

Many other guests feel the same way since the resort opened in March 2014 as Universal Orlando’s first premium hotel — and the first on-site hotel Universal has opened since 2002.

It took less than 18 months for Universal and its hotel partner Loews to announce the expansion of the resort with two towers, offering 400 additional rooms, to meet demand. “It was so popular that we couldn’t build it fast enough,” Loews senior vice president Tom Roditus said as the rounds opened. in 2017.

Classic cars outside the Cabana Bay lobby (Theme Park Tribune)

The expansion wasn’t just because Universal’s theme parks were becoming more popular.

Cabana Bay is an attraction in itself, from its mid-century modern aesthetic to amenities that surpass those offered at much more expensive Disney World resorts. Even in comparable value categories between the two destinations, Cabana Bay is significantly better than the likes of Disney. century of pop and All-Star Resorts while dramatically reducing the price of the mouse.

The rooms

I have stayed at Cabana Bay several times, although my previous experiences have been before I review hotels professionally. I had stayed in one of the newer towers of the complex, in a standard room slightly larger than similar rooms in other buildings.

A room in the tower overlooking Volcano Bay (Universal)

For my 2021 visit, I stayed in one of the resort’s family suites. Although not spacious enough to comfortably accommodate six people as advertised, it is more than enough for a party of four. Considering the discounts offered to Universal Annual Passholders often bring Family Suite prices down to $120 per night, that’s a bargain.

The front area in one of the Cabana Bay family suites (Theme Park Tribune)

Keep in mind that “Family Suites” do not offer the same type of separation as Disney’s Art of Animation suites, Disney Vacation Club small villas, or other hotel accommodations called “suites.” The sliding partition won’t block noise or light from the opposite side, so it always feels like the whole family is sharing one room.

If your group needs more personal space, you’ll need to upgrade to Two-Bedroom Suites, which offer two bathrooms and an additional 342 square feet of space, but often cost $200 or more per night than Family Suites – beyond the price point, I would personally consider a “value” resort.

Check out my video tour of the room to take a closer look at the family suites:

Due to the size of the resort, room location matters a lot.

Station map (Universal)

The towers provide convenient entry into Volcano Bay, but allow for a much longer walk to the theme park bus stop and some amenities, such as the Starbucks location. I would recommend rooms in any of the other buildings for that reason alone, but if you’re assigned to the towers anyway, that won’t be a major inconvenience.

Approvals

Cabana Bay’s pool amenities are arguably the best at the Universal property. To the north, surrounded by the exterior entry rooms, you’ll find the Cabana Pool, which features a waterslide that ends under a faux diving tower.

The Pool Cabana (Theme Park Grandstand)

The south end of the resort features the Lazy River Courtyard Pool, which, as you might have guessed, features a lazy river – something only rivaled by a Disney hotel pool. , Stormalong Bay at the Yacht and Beach Club.

The Lazy River Courtyard Pool (Theme Park Grandstand)

There’s no waterslide on this side, but the two pools share other features. Both have pool bars (Atomic Tonic at the Cabana Pool and The Hideaway at the Lazy River Courtyard), as well as hot tubs, sandy areas, and plenty of lounge chairs. Personally, I’d spend more time in a lazy river than on a waterslide these days, but having two high-quality pools makes it all the more tempting for families to dedicate an entire day to enjoying the hotel.

And there’s more to entertain guests than just a pool on the second lobby level. A feature unmatched by any Disney World resort is the Cabana Bay bowling alley, Galaxy Bowl, located on the second level of the lobby.

Galaxy Bowl (Theme Park Grandstand)

Galaxy Bowl Lane Reservation Info (Theme Park Tribune)

Supposedly inspired by Hollywood Star Lanes from “The Big Lebowski,” the driveway is a bit pricey ($17 for adults and $11 for kids 9 and under, shoe rental included), but offers the perfect activity for a day at the hotel. Be warned, though, its 10 lanes aren’t enough to meet demand for its limited 3-10:30 p.m. hours, so go near opening to minimize your wait.

A view inside the Game-O-Rama arcade (Theme Park Tribune)

Game-O-Rama is bigger than most arcades built at Orlando theme park hotels in the 2010s, but not as big as what you’ll find at some older Disney resorts. You’ll also find the Jack Lalanne Fitness Studio on the second level of the lobby. Even if you’re not looking to exercise while on vacation, you have to admire how well even the gym matches the theme of the resort.

Even the gym matches the theme (Theme Park Tribune)

Like other Universal hotels, Cabana Bay has a Universal Studios Store. A large resort deservedly boasts one of the largest stores, offering a handful of merchandise you may have missed in the parks, as well as plenty of Cabana Bay branded items.

Some of the Cabana Bay merchandise at the Universal Studios store (Theme Park Tribune)

If I have to quibble about Cabana Bay’s amenities, I see a few minor flaws with its transportation options.

Although you never have to wait long for the shuttle service, the bus often adds a stop at the Aventura Hotel across the street and drops you off just before the big security checkpoint. It’s a less convenient location than the water taxi system, which drops customers off in the middle of CityWalk, near the theme park entrances, and spares them the longer security lines that are also used by passing customers. through parking lots.

You might be tempted to skip the bus service and use the Sapphire Falls boat launch, but Universal obviously thought of that workaround and made it too inconvenient to be practical. The first hurdle is the lack of a crosswalk on Adventure Way at the entrance to Cabana Bay – and I wouldn’t recommend taking the risk of dodging traffic. Then there’s the Garden Walk option, which traverses the northern end of Adventure Way, but then takes such a winding route to the main building at Sapphire Falls that any time savings from using the ramp to launching is cancelled.

Unless Universal decides to create a bus stop closer to the theme park entrances for resort guests, just suck it up and take the bus. Service is still faster than most Disney buses, though extra steps through CityWalk can be a pain (literally) at the end of a long theme park day.

The food

As with other Disney and Universal resorts, the main dining option at Cabana Bay is a food court. The Bayliner Diner features food stations serving everything from made-to-order waffles and omelets for breakfast to pizzas and Hawaiian pulled pork sandwiches for lunch and dinner.

Like other universal food courts, I tend to lean towards the surprisingly excellent pizza. I don’t have a wide enough palette to be a food critic, but I’m a Chicagoan who loves pizza, so I can say with confidence that these Universal hotels do some pretty damn good pizza. Otherwise, the food at the Bayliner Diner can be summed up as good, but not great like most other hotel food courts.

Bayliner Diner’s best feature, however, has nothing to do with the food. Large screens in the cavernous cafeteria loop segments of vintage advertisements. I’ve caught more than one old person breaking into big smiles after recognizing an old ad they haven’t seen since childhood.

Bayliner Diner Seats (Theme Park Tribune)

You can find more sandwiches, salads, and kids’ menu options at the resort’s two pool bars, Atomic Tonic and The Hideaway. Galaxy Bowl actually qualifies as a table-service restaurant, serving greasy bowl-worthy fare like burgers and wings – though I’ll stick to appetizers here and only if you’re expecting a way opens.

Swizzle Lounge (Theme Park Grandstand)

Alcoholic drinks can be found at the two aforementioned pool bars and the Swizzle Lounge located in the lobby. Like other Universal hotels, there is a Starbucks in the lobby.

Morning waits can often exceed 20 minutes, so don’t assume it will be a quick stop for a coffee on the way to the bus. If you time it right, getting Starbucks at the hotel should always be faster than getting it at CityWalk or inside theme parks.

The verdict

A big part of why Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is such a hit is the fact that nothing looks like a budget hotel. The aesthetics are lovingly maintained down to the smallest detail. The pools have amenities that Disney only offers at one of its more expensive resorts. And rather than offering customers less, Cabana Bay has its own exclusive features, such as Galaxy Bowl.

The Cabana Bay Lobby at Christmas (Theme Park Tribune)

It is very easy for theme park hotels to phone these amenities when the proximity is sufficient to attract many customers. Cabana Bay offers much, much more. You simply can’t match this hotel for value in the Orlando area — and it’s telling that Disney, so far, hasn’t even tried.

Rating: A+

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