When visiting Universal Orlando, there are many hotel options, but only the official Universal hotels provide the inside benefits for getting the most out of your park visit. There are five official hotel options to meet every budget. Each hotel offers free transportation to and from the park and early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. As I wrote about in my tips for visiting Harry Potter World, if you are a true fan that early admission is a huge benefit! But ONLY the Cabana Bay Beach Resort offers a special guest-only access to the new Universal Orlando Volcano Bay waterpark (separate ticket required.)
Some of the preferred and premier hotels, like the Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Portofino Bay, and the Hard Rock Hotel also include free Universal Express passes — giving you skip the line access to many rides, along with priority seating a certain restaurants. Despite these added benefits, given how much money this quick trip to Universal was going to cost us, we opted for the “prime value” option of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The rooms at the Cabana Bay start around $180 a night for a standard room and the hotel works hard to deliver the value for the price.
Universal’s Cabana Bay Review
As soon as we pulled up, we were drawn into the 1950’s retro theme. From the classic cars parked out front to the styling throughout the resort — and even the classic cartoons playing in the lounge — the decor is retro cool. Since we were visiting on the weekend after Thanksgiving, the lobby was adorned with a giant Christmas tree and holiday decorations. That evening, the Friday after Thanksgiving, the hotel hosted a tree lighting ceremony with free hot chocolate for guests and character appearances, just one part of their special holiday events. (See more about visiting Universal for Thanksgiving.)
We had splurged on a Tower Family Suite, for about $289 a night. The only problem with the Tower room is that we had to drive all the way around the resort to get to our building, through multiple electronic gates that only opened with your hotel key card. Once there, we were able to find parking close to the entrance nearest our room so it wasn’t too far to drag the bags.
Cabana Bay Family Suite Review
I’m glad we spent the extra on the Family Suite, because it provided room to spread out a bit — always a plus on a family vacation. Walking into the suite, you are first greeted by a small kitchenette, definitely helpful for families staying a few days. We saw quite a few people bringing in coolers or groceries to take advantage of the kitchen and minimize the food budget. Adjoining the kitchenette was a small sitting area with a pullout sofa and a couple of chairs, in a style reminiscent of the Jetsons.
The sitting area was separated from the sleeping area by screen and sliding door. So you get privacy, but not complete light or noise blocking. The sleeping area had two queen beds and a huge walk in closet area for stowing bags out of the way. I wasn’t a fan of the bathroom set up, but I see the advantages for multiple people getting ready in the morning. Basically there was a water closet on one side and a shower room on the other, with a sink and vanity in the middle. Strangely, there was another sink in with the shower — but not in with the toilet. I don’t like when the bathroom sink is in the room because when I have to get up and go during the night, which as a women in my 40s I often need to do, I don’t like turning on the lights or water and disturbing anyone’s sleep. I don’t see why they couldn’t put the extra sink in the room with the toilet and not the shower.
The size of the room and the amenities were fine, but my main complaint about the Cabana Bay was the housekeeping. There were dust bunnies in the corners and I found a bandaid in the bathroom (gross!). Plus, when we came back from dinner and pulled out the couch for Hannah to sleep, we found that it had sheets on it, but there was no blanket on the bed or in the closet. We called housekeeping and were told it would take 30 minutes for them to bring a blanket. But it was late and we were planning on getting up early to take advantage of our early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter so after waiting for a while, I took the blanket off one of the other beds and gave it to her. Good thing because housekeeping never showed up. And, the next day when they cleaned the room they took the blanket back off of the bed and folded it up — but never gave us another one.
Cabana Bay Hotel Amenities
Despite these obvious drawbacks, we still enjoyed our stay at the Cabana Bay Resort. The hotel is very well outfitted for families. They don’t have any high end dining, but the giant cafeteria style Byliner Diner is very family-friendly. There is also a Starbucks for a quick snack or coffee, two poolside bars, a lounge, and food at the on-site bowling alley, Galaxy Bowl. That’s right, the hotel hosts its own bowling alley, the Game-O-Rama arcade, and a large Jack LaLanne fitness center. The bonus of the fitness area is that you can use the locker room and showers even after you have checked out. This was HUGE for us as we went to the park all day on Sunday and then really wanted to clean up before our evening flight since we weren’t getting home until 11 pm.
Cabana Bay Resort Pools
The best part about the Cabana Bay were the grounds. We stuck to the pool and lazy river just outside of our tower, but the hotel offers two main pool areas. The Cabana Courtyard has a zero-entry pool with a waterslide, a kids play area, the Atomic Tonic pool bar and cabanas for rent. On our side of the resort was the Lazy River courtyard, with a zero-entry pool with a sand beach, a lazy river with waterfalls and cannons, The Hideaway Bar & Grill, and a nice big hot tub.
Since we were there in late November, after a few trips around the lazy river, I was ready to warm up with a soak in the hot tub and then to wrap up in a towel or two. Hannah loved swimming in the pool, especially because of the underwater speakers.
There was also a bathhouse in this area but since you need a keycard to get into the pool area, you can’t use the pools or these facilities after you have checked out and your card has been deactivated.
In the evenings, you can gather around the fire pit and toast marshmallows or just relax in the courtyard.
Overall, the hotel definitely delivers on value, far exceeding my expectations for a budget hotel when it comes to the resort amenities. I was disappointed by housekeeping and the quality of the linens and comfort of the bed. While none of this would be surprising in a true budget hotel, you really can’t call a hotel where you spend nearly $300 a night budget.
It was worth it for us to pay this rate for the early admission into Universal Islands of Adventure, the free shuttle bus to the park, and the pool amenities. Since this wasn’t our big vacation of the year, I wasn’t prepared to spend more on the Loews, but now that I know about the free Express passes that are also offered with that property, I would be tempted to upgrade.
Bottom line: You aren’t spending a lot of time in the room and the pros (early admission, free shuttle, pools, kitchenette and extra space) outweigh the cons.
PIN THIS FOR LATER
- Book a room at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort
- Get my insider tips on visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Learn my top Universal Orlando tips
- Find out what you need to know before you go to Volcano Bay
- See what it is like to visit Universal Thanksgiving
- Download my Harry Potter scavenger hunt for Universal Orlando
- Get my tips for dining at Universal