Packed with families, school choirs, and cheerleading squads, Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort isn’t the hotel to book if you’re looking for a romantic getaway away from it all.
On the contrary, this sprawling 2,200-room property with two pools, a waterslide, and a lazy river, plus a bowling alley and arcade, is the place to be when traveling with kids in Central Florida and wanting want to have lots of family-friendly amenities just steps from your hotel room.
I spent three nights at Cabana Bay Resortpart of the biggest Universal Orlando Resort, during a week of school holidays in April. I did not travel with my own college-aged children, but with my brother, his 10-year-old son, and my mother, who all provided us with an action-packed family trip.
I found a lot to enjoy about this family-centric vacation destination, as well as some things to keep in mind if you’re planning a stay at this hotel on your own.
Here are five things I loved about Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort:
1. The 1950s and 1960s vintage theme is fabulous and prevalent throughout the resort
You may feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you enter Cabana Bay Beach Resort. From the tunes of Frank Sinatra in the lobby and the classic cars parked outside, to the Alberto VO5 stored in the guest bathrooms and the turquoise and orange decor of the main restaurant, the throwback to the 1950s and 1960s is everywhere. here.
The designers have done a great job with the vintage, beach-themed architecture throughout the property. Especially around the pools, with their colorful umbrellas, art deco accents, and mid-century fonts used in signage, the resort is reminiscent of a place where “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” might have vacationed.
I sat for a long time watching the decades-old news clips and commercials playing on the big screens of the Bayliner Diner, and was delighted to see pay-dial telephones on the walls. Part of the fun of walking around the grand resort town is simply noticing all the vintage references.
2. The location of the resort in the middle of all the theme park action is awesome
The Cabana Bay Beach Resort is adjacent to Universal’s Volcano Bay water park. We could see people entering the park from our 11th floor guest room in the Bayside tower. For us it was about a 7 minute walk from our tower to the special entrance for hotel guests at Volcano Bay. People staying closer to the main lobby may have a 15 minute walk – Cabana Bay is a large property, remember!
There’s also a free shuttle to other Orlando Universal theme parks like Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, as well as Universal CityWalk with its plethora of dining and shopping options. So if you plan to spend your days enjoying all that Universal Orlando Resort has to offer, Cabana Bay is a great place to base yourself as it’s close to everything.
Plus, when you stay at any of the Universal Orlando Resort hotels, you get early park admission to Volcano Bay and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, an incredibly imaginative attraction that spans both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
3. On-site dining is casual and mostly cafeteria-style
Bayliner Diner is Cabana Bay’s main dining venue, and it’s a kind of food court, with different stations serving all types of cafeteria-style food items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’ll place your order at the grill or the salad bar, for example, and prepare your take-out meals on nearby tables and chairs, or you can get take-out containers to eat your meal elsewhere. The options are quite varied at the Bayliner Diner, with something for everyone, and that goes for snacks and drinks to go, too.
Other options for casual dining include two different poolside restaurants serving dishes like sandwiches, hot dogs, quesadillas, and salads, as well as cocktails, beer, and wine. Starbucks is open all day for specialty coffee drinks, breakfast items and sandwiches. The Galaxy Bowl bowling alley restaurant offers seated table service (you don’t have to pay for bowling to eat here), and the menu includes appetizers, burgers, wings, sandwiches, and salads.
Pro Tip: These restaurants are very busy and queues can be long. Be sure to be patient if dining at peak times. You might find shorter lines when most people have left for the theme parks, so consider a late breakfast, say 10:30am, for fewer people. Also, if you want to eat somewhere more sophisticated, you can take the walking path to the upscale restaurant. Loews Portofino Bay Hotelanother Universal Orlando Resort property.
4. Guests have plenty to do without leaving the resort
I spent an entire day at Cabana Bay Beach Resort while the rest of my family did the rides at Universal Studios, and I was as happy as a clam!
First, I spent time in a huge, nearly empty fitness center. We’re talking dozens of stationary bikes, ellipticals, and treadmills, plus plenty of cardio machines, free weights, and yoga mats, all available to guests free of charge. It’s called the Jack LaLanne Physical Fitness Studio and has a bunch of memorabilia and information about the fitness guru who had his own TV show from 1951 to 1985. As a history and fitness buff, I loved this!
I also enjoyed some relaxing time by the pool with my pocket book and cold draft beer in hand – completely relaxed in a lounge chair under a shady palm tree on a sandy “beach”. Late morning and midday when most guests were off property, both pools were so quiet. The splashing kids had the lazy river and waterslide practically to themselves. After the late afternoon and evening passed, both pools were filled with families and school groups (sports teams, musical groups, and competitive cheerleading teams).
The pay-to-play arcade, dubbed Game-O-Rama, is filled with current and retro video games, basketball hoops, and electronic carnival games to keep the kids entertained. Galaxy Bowl, the 10-lane bowling alley, is open from early afternoon until late evening. Evenings also bring “dive movies” screened poolside, and you can purchase a s’mores kit at the Bayliner Diner to whip up dessert around a communal outdoor fire pit.
5. Suites and adjoining rooms accommodate families of all sizes
When we collected our keys from Cabana Bay Beach Resort, we were pleased to find that our two standard rooms were interconnected. My mother hadn’t specifically requested this, but we were conveniently placed next to each other, which we appreciated. Standard rooms come with flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges, and coffeemakers. You can upgrade to a poolside room with a view of the pool courtyard or choose a view of Volcano Bay.
For families who don’t mind sharing a large space, the suites can sleep up to six with two queen beds and a sofa bed. Suites also include flat-screen TVs and kitchenettes with mini-fridges, coffeemakers, microwaves, and sinks. Choose between an outdoor entrance with easy outdoor access to the pool courtyard or an indoor entrance from a hallway.
Pro tip: Cabana Bay is one of the cheapest places to stay at Universal Orlando Resort, so don’t expect luxury amenities here. For example, there is no body lotion in the guest bathrooms and the towels are thin like in a budget motel. Room service is not offered, but you can have pizza delivered to your room by the take-out restaurant, Delizioso Pizza. All in all, considering the price, Cabana Bay offers great value – don’t expect the Ritz!
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