With decor harkening back to Flordia’s roadside motels of Florida in the 1950-60s, the Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a step back in time with retro-style rooms and family-friendly prices. The wings have evocative names like Castaways, Starlight (where I stayed), and Castaways, and are built in a motel style, with outdoor entry. The entire hotel has a retro vibe, I think officially referred to as mid-century modern, with a consistent look and feel throughout the grounds. As a Prime Value (budget) property among the five offerings of Universal Orlando Resort, it features many – but not all – of the amenities and perks of staying at an onsite hotel.
The rooms are designed for families, with two queen beds and vivid colors of turquoise, orange, and spring green. A coffee maker and refrigerator are available, along with free wifi. Family suites (which I stayed in) offer additional space and value with a sitting area, eating bar, and a microwave, which came in handy for warming up leftovers. The couch makes into a bed, providing sleeping room for up to six people. The bedroom is separated by a pocket privacy door, with televisions in the bedroom and sitting room. Bathrooms provide a compartmentalized shower, toilet, and dressing area, which means that there’s room for a lot of people to be getting ready at the same time, and the amenities were retro too, Zest soap and VO5 shampoo and conditioner.
The rooms were spacious and well laid out, but a few things were annoyances – albeit petty ones. The hair dryer, perhaps by design, was one of the old-style versions built into the wall. I find these annoying as it restricts where you can be while drying your hair and if you have a room full of people that’s going to be limiting. I also thought the towels were a little smaller and rough. Call me spoiled, but I like my big, soft fluffy towels.
While your primary reason for staying here is to take advantage of the theme park amenities, Cabana Bay offers lots of resort activities for when you’re not at the parks. It’s likely you’ll be spending at least the good portion of one day enjoying the pool. There is a lot of activity and options for enjoying the pools. There are two pool areas, the Cabana Courtyard and Pool and the Lazy River Courtyard and Pool. The Cabana Courtyard has a dive tower-themed water slide, the Atomic Tonic bar, picnic tables, fire pit, and cabanas available for rent. Cabanas are available for up to six people and feature chairs, loungers, refrigerator stocked with water, television, and phone. The Lazy River Courtyard has, of course, the namesake winding river, a and beach, fire pits, outdoor seating, and Hideaway Bar & Grill for outdoor dining. Activities are offered poolside including lively contests and movies (shown at sunset).
If inclement weather hit, head upstairs to Galaxy Bowl, a 10 lane bowling alley on the second floor of the lobby building. Fees are per person and include shoes, and are reasonably priced. Table side restaurant service is offered, along with a full bar. It’s open til midnight daily, just in case you have any extra energy after a long day of theme park attractions. And if you’re looking for a more structured workout, the Jack LaLanne Physical Fitness Studio is right there as well, combining state of the art equipment interspersed with memorabilia from the pioneer of television fitness. The studio is complimentary for hotel guests and is open daily, 5 am till midnight. The second floor is also home to Game-O-Rama featuring a fun combination of retro arcade games mixed with modern video games; you can show the kids how games were played back when you were a kid.
Although there are food options inside the park, and CityWalk offers diverse restaurants for every palate and budget, chances are you’re going to have a least a couple meals at the hotel. Restaurants and menus are all family-friendly, and I think that’s where it suffers. It all seems the same menu and food choices in all the locations. It must work for most families because the restaurants were full, but I would sure have appreciated a real, sit-down restaurant with a good steak and table service.
Here are the restaurants on property:
- Bayliner Diner is a food court style restaurant with themed stations and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s one-step up for the usual food court fare (burgers, deli food, pizza, et.), and also has grab-and-go meals to take to the room or poolside. Everyone can pick up their fave menu items and then take their trays to a large dining area. I had breakfast here and grabbed a sandwich for dinner in my room. The food was freshly made and tasty but lacked the WOW factor I’ve come to expect from Universal.
- Hideaway Bar & Grill is by the lazy river and has poolside snacks, meals, and cocktails. I thought about having dinner here one evening, but the menu seemed uninspired.
- Atomic Tonic serves cocktails at the Cabana Courtyard and provides a shady respite from the sun at the pool.
- Galaxy Bowl Restaurant features Americana fare like burgers, pizza, wings, etc. If the bowling alley is busy, this is a noisy spot.
- Swizzle Lounge is in the lobby and is the retro version of a traditional lobby bar. It’s closed during much of the day but was lively come evening.
- Starbucks has more of a cafe menu than just coffee and pastries and though busy is often quieter than the other areas.
For better food offerings, better being a function of my judgment, the hotel offers a shuttle that provides free transportation to restaurants at the other resorts. It runs on a 30-minute schedule during prime dinner time, 6-10 pm. Another option is to take the complimentary shuttle to the theme parks and choose from the many options at CityWalk. Reservations are always recommended, but I’ve had good luck walking up with only a short wait.
One of the compelling reasons to stay at Cabana Bay Resort, or any of the other Universal Orlando Resort properties, is the park perks that accompany the stay. Guests at Cabana Bay get Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and, when it opens in late May, to the new Volcano Bay water theme park. Regular admissions tickets still required. Guests also have charge privileges at all the theme parks and other hotels and restaurants by using the keycard, as well access to select venues at CityWalk. Select shopping venues throughout the resort offer room delivery, allowing you to shop and go, rather than shop and lug around.
Cabana Bay is not my favorite of the Universal Resort properties; I much prefer the luxury of the Hard Rock Orlando or the Portofino Bay. Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s a great hotel, I’m just the wrong demographic to love it. The vibe is funky and fun and is a hands-down winner with families. This price point delivers serious value, a critical consideration when looking at your vacation budget. It is also the closest resort to Volcano Bay, and that’s going to make Cabana Bay a very popular choice.
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Disclosure: The author received a complimentary stay at Cabana Bay Resort.