Visiting the theme parks in Orlando can be expensive enough, but when you add in the cost of staying on property to get those special guest perks, the prices can get truly insane. Luckily, Universal Orlando has an affordable and family-friendly option in the Cabana Bay Beach Resort that has enough amenities and privileges to make it worth the price. But before you book, read this Cabana Bay Beach Resort review and make sure it is right for you!
I’ll break down the rooms, the pools, the dining, the entertainment, and the on-site perks when staying at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The first thing to know is that when visiting Universal Orlando Resort, there are four main categories of hotels: Value, Prime Value, Preferred, and Premier.
Universal Orlando Resort Hotels
The tiers are broken down as follows:
- Value: Universal’s Endless Summer Resort (both Surfside Inn & Suites and Dockside Inn & Suites)
- Prime Value: Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Universal’s Aventura Hotel
- Preferred: Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
- Premier: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and Hard Rock Hotel
Each hotel offers free transportation to and from the Universal theme parks and early park 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 access is a huge benefit!
However, only the Premier hotels include free Universal Express Unlimited, which allows you to skip the standard line at many attractions. You really need to do the math to see if the extra hotel cost is worth it compared to purchasing the Express Unlimited pass outright (if skipping the line is important to you.) Premier hotel guests also get priority seating at resort restaurants, which really makes it a value for those that love Universal but hate lines (ok, that’s me!)
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort also gets you to the City Walk for access to Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure via a shuttle boat, which is faster than waiting for the shuttle busses at Cabana Bay, Aventura, or Endless Summer. But the fun perk about staying at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the walking path to the hotel guest entrance to Universal’s Volcano Bay next door, which is an amazing waterpark (read all about Orlando’s best waterparks.) It is a quick 5-10 minute walk from the Cabana Bay Beach Resort (depending on where your room is) to the hotel guest entrance to Volcano Bay — just remember you need your room key to access this special entrance!
Despite the added benefits for Premier properties, 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. Depending on when you visit, the standard rooms start at around $250 a night and the hotel works hard to deliver value for the price. However, since we like a little more space, we opted for a family suite, which I’ll describe more later.
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort Review
As soon as we pulled up, we were drawn into the 1950s retro theme at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort. From the classic vintage cars parked out front to the styling throughout the resort — and even the classic cartoons playing in the lounge — the decor is retro-cool with mid-century modern architecture.
Since we were visiting on the weekend after Thanksgiving, the main 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. 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. Luckily from then until we leaved we were taking Universal’s public transportation, otherwise getting in and out would have been a pain. But I don’t imagine many people are paying to stay in Universal and then going out for the day to Walt Disney World or elsewhere.
Cabana Bay Family Suite Review
There are various room types and you can also pay extra for Volcano Bay view rooms or poolside rooms, but 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 with a micowave, coffee maker, small fridge, and sink — 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 living room with a pull-out sofa and a couple of chairs, in a style reminiscent of the Jetsons. The dining area was fairly small, just a couple of stools pull up to the “kitchen” island — but it was doable.
The sitting area was separated from the sleeping area by a screen and sliding door. So you get privacy, but not complete light or noise blocking. It isn’t an private as a separate room, but the price is right and it works well for parents that want to put the little kids to bed but still stay up a little longer.
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 setup, but I see the advantages for multiple people getting ready in the morning, which is helpful for families.
Basically, there was a toilet room 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 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. But that’s one of the cons of Cabana Bay (I’m not sure if it is different in the other Universal hotels.)
The size of the room and the amenities were fine, but my main complaint about 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 on, 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. I know these things can vary and it is a “value” hotel — but housekeeping could have been better.
Cabana Bay Hotel Dining
Despite these drawbacks, we still enjoyed our stay at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The hotel is very well-outfitted for families. And while they don’t have any high-end dining, the giant cafeteria-style Bayliner Diner food court is very family-friendly and perfect for fast meals in between activities.
There is also a Starbucks for a quick snack or coffee, two poolside bars (The Hideaway Bar & Grill and Atomic Tonic), a adults-only Swizzle Lounge, and food at the on-site bowling alley, Galaxy Bowl restaurant. Delizioso Pizza also provides room service for pizza, salads, and desserts. And don’t miss the desserts at Shakes Malt Shoppe.
Cabana Bay Beach Resort Amenities
And yes, you heard me right that the hotel hosts its own bowling alley, the Game-o-Rama arcade, and a large Jack LaLanne fitness center (what a throwback!)
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 Beach Resort Pools
The best part about Cabana Bay was the grounds and the huge pools. 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 dive tower-themed water slide, a kid’s play area, fire pits, 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 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 value, far exceeding my expectations for a budget hotel when it comes to the resort amenities. I was disappointed by the housekeeping and the quality of the linens and the 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 over $300 a night a budget hotel.
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 with the free Express passes that are also offered with that property, I would be tempted in the future.
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.
If you are visiting Orlando, you may want to read these articles:
- Things to do in Orlando beyond the theme parks
- Tips for Visiting Universal Orlando
- Best Harry Potter Souvenirs to buy in Universal
- Tips for Visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Universal Orlando Harry Potter Scavenger Hunt
- Tips for Visiting Volcano Bay
- Best Disney Rides for Teens
- Things to do in Orlando with Teens
- Best Orlando Water Parks
- How to Plan your First Trip to Disney
PIN THIS FOR LATER
Tamara Gruber is the Founder and Publisher of We3Travel. A former marketing executive and travel advisor, Tamara is an award-winning travel writer and recognized expert in family travel. She is also the publisher of YourTimetoFly and the co-host of the Vacation Mavens travel podcast.