Cabana Bay Beach Resort Photo Tour

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Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the cheapest on-property hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, and is a great option for those looking to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. After spending the day enjoying Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, I recently wandered over to the Cabana Bay, which is about a 10 minute walk from Islands of Adventure.

Cabana Bay caught my attention when it first opened because of its 1950s retro design, with a lot of Mid-century modern and Googie architecture, and styling drawn from beach and car culture. The quasi-motel style works well for this theme, and the hotel actually reminds me a lot of ones you’d find around Palm Springs, California, or elsewhere. (Except Cabana Bay is much nicer.)

I was also intrigued by Cabana Bay Beach Resort’s pricing, which puts standard rooms around $100/night and family suites around $200/night. Add to this perks for Universal on-site guests like early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, proximity to the parks, etc., and it seemed like Cabana Bay might be a real winner, offering great bang for buck. If my limited experience is any indication, it absolutely is…

I wasn’t going to do a post about Cabana Bay Beach Resort until I actually had a chance to stay there, but a lot of people have asked about it, and my initial impressions were so strong that I thought I’d throw up a quick photo tour with some initial impressions.

Please note that this is not a proper review, and my impressions are based entirely upon spending a couple of hours in the common areas late one night. If you’re looking for something more comprehensive, check out the easyWDW Review.

As they say, this post is “for entertainment purposes only,” as I wanted to share some shots of the hotel’s cool aesthetic…

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My first stop when I got inside the hotel was the seating area for the food court, Bayliner Diner.

Fair warning: my text in between each photo is mostly mindless filler, so you might come out ahead by just looking at the photos and skipping all of the text besides the summary in the last few paragraphs.

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Right away, you see the retro style in full force, everywhere from the color choices to the carpet to the lighting and fluidity of the design.

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While this style is really en vogue right now thanks to the likes of Mad Men, I don’t think it’s easy to pull off. Had Universal not gone with the extra touches of the light fixtures, swooping lines of the ceiling, and stylized “support” beams, it might have just felt like the designers made a quick trip to IKEA to decorate the food court. Fortunately, it does not feel that way.

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The food court itself has a ton of options, none of which I tried…

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Moving on to this lounge area with one epically long couch and other seating…

This is a great common area, and the textured walls and the recessed lighting really makes the space.

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Guest telephones are a nice touch, and should double as nice “makeout booths” for couples seeking a bit of privacy.

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Next to the phones are computer stations where you can print out boarding passes. The graphic art here on the posters along with the lighting and trim is another nice touch.

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Moving towards the lobby, The Swizzle Lounge is located across from the check-in desk. There was live entertainment playing here when I walked by, and the place was packed.

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Here’s the bar from the other direction. Note the little lights on each of the tables. I thought those were a nice touch. In general, this hotel does light fixtures really well.

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This is the centerpiece of the lobby.

cabana-bay-beach-resort-011Moving outside for a second, this is one of the pools.

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I didn’t really think to photograph the guest room buildings, but you can see them in the distance, and both have a motel vibe on the exterior. This is really no different than Walt Disney World Values and Moderates, and given the price point, you can’t really complain.

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Here’s the back of the main lobby. I love those swooping lines.

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I spent way too much time photographing that thing in the center of the lobby. Here’s what it looks like when viewed from the ground with a fisheye lens. In case you were waiting for such a photo for determining whether you should pull the trigger on booking here. 😉

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Moving back to the seating araea (sorry for bouncing around, I was basically just wandering back and forth), this gives you an idea of the food court’s size.

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Back to the Swizzle Lounge. I could see this being a fun hangout spot to unwind after a day in the parks.

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The view out the back door towards the pools…

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I rarely buy theme park souvenirs, but even though I didn’t stay there, I felt compelled to buy this. I love Christmas stuff and I use this type of mug a lot. In reality, this whole post was a pretense so I could boast about this rad mug that I bought. 😉

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I tried to buy just the mug to save money, but they wouldn’t sell it to me without at least one day of Coke FreeStyle. It was already like 11 pm, so the cashier gave me 2 days for the price of 1. For the next hour, I sat by the FreeStyle machine, getting my money’s worth. TAKE THAT, COMCAST!

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Another view of the lobby. Have I mentioned that I love that planter-thing? I’m not so keen on the murals around the edges, which I think won’t age particularly well, but the rest is just great.

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Out the front is the bus pickup area and the main sign for the resort. Lights up nicely at night.

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Even though it’s a value resort, Universal nails it with the details, right down to the classic cars parked out front. Nice touch.

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I really don’t know why I took so many photos of this.

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Sorry (not sorry).

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Moving upstairs, there’s Galaxy Bowl, which is–as the name suggests–a bowling alley. Given the pricing, the slate of amenities that Cabana Bay has is really, really impressive.

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Among those amenities is a Starbucks (lower level below the bowling alley), too. There’s also a lazy river, something else I wouldn’t expect from a value resort.

galaxy-bowl-table-cabana-bay-universal-orlandoI haven’t bowled in ages, but this seemed like a really nice setup. Bowling has a certain retro vibe to it, so it seems like Galaxy Bowl is the perfect fit for Cabana Bay Beach Resort.

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Overall, it’s tough to base an opinion of a hotel simply on a visit to common areas one night, but Cabana Bay Beach Resort felt like an absolute winner to me. I give major props to Unviersal for going all-in on an actual theme here, and that theme really gives the resort a fun atmosphere. The execution on that theme–at least the parts of the hotel I saw–was solid. Retro theming runs the risk of feeling either cheap and sloppy or so “authentic” that it’s instantly dated, and Cabana Bay Beach Resort feels neither of those thing. Its design feels retro-modern, with equal emphasis on both of those terms.

Even more important than the theme is the quality of the resort. On-site theme park hotels have the benefit of proximity, often allowing them to phone it in on quality, and that does not feel like the case at Cabana Bay Beach Resort at all. Rather than feeling like a dive motel with some theme park decorations haphazardly strewn about, it feels like Universal and Loews went out of their way to give Cabana Bay Beach Resort a true resort feel, and all of the common areas and things to do around the resort help it succeed in that regard, as it’s actually a place I’d want to stay to hang out and have fun, regardless of the theme park association.

In terms of value for money–setting aside the rooms, which is pretty tough to do considering that it’s a hotel–my initial impression of Cabana Bay Beach Resort is that it is on-par with Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World. I think this is the most apt comparison since Coronado skews towards a slightly older crowd offering ‘convention crowd’ amenities, and I think Cabana Bay is going to be best received by twenty-somethings, early baby boomers, and those who like to party. That might seem like an odd mix, but I think given the style of the resort and the entertainment options, I think it’s about right.

If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on Universal Orlando Resort, visit my Universal Studios Florida & Islands of Adventure Trip Report index page. I also have a Universal Orlando Resort Trip Planning Guide that covers tips & tricks for planning your visit!

Your Thoughts…

Have you stayed at Cabana Bay? What do you think of it? Interested in staying here? Have any questions or other thoughts? Please share below in the comments!

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19 replies
  1. Ruth Waugh
    Ruth Waugh says:

    Ah Cabana Bay, I love it! Ta for the photos, brought back holiday memories! We stayed there and the supposedly renovated Disney CBR rooms and there is no comparison for me in the quality of both the food options and accommodation at Cabana Bay. For a value hotel it is first class. Would love to go back but unfortunately the lure of wdw is too great! I find it interesting that I found Universal poorly themed ( other than Harry Potter) but their hotels so well crafted. Enjoying your travel caffeine posts. they are giving me itchy feet to explore further ( from UK) …

    Reply
  2. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    We stayed here for 2 nights last month- right before your article was posted!

    This resort is nothing short of wonderful! My wife and I are huge fans of the Googie architecture and the 50’s/60’s vibe throughout the hotel- even the soaps and shampoos were of that era! The staff was courteous and helpful- everyone seemed to enjoy being at work. The room seemed a bit small, but what it lacked in floor space, it made up for in vertical space- the ceilings were huge!

    The “food court” was a surprisingly good choice for dinner- we ate there twice- classic recipes like tuna noodle casserole and pot roast were the best!

    The bus transportation back and forth to the parks was never a long wait- shorter than most Disney resorts. They have 4-6 buses going for this resort only. Only drawback is the drop-off is on the other side of CityWalk. The alternative walking path was 20 minutes, minimum. Keep that in mind when you’re bushed from the parks. It’s about the same amount of time either way.

    Our only complaint about the experience came down to timing- we were there for Super Bowl Sunday, and every TV in the place was on the game. We couldn’t get in to Swizzle or Galaxy Bowling. Even the 4 giant screens in the Bayliner Diner were tuned in. Not being huge football fans, we took our pot roast back to the room and enjoyed a quieter evening there.

    Up until this trip, we’d only done 1 day at Universal- this time we did 2 & 1/2. I’m very sure that this will be the standard for us from now on- Cabana Bay is our second favorite resort hotel in Orlando now.

    I only wish my photos came out half as good as yours did, Tom!

    Reply
  3. Dale
    Dale says:

    Just stayed at Cabana Bay Beach Resort this past weekend for one night, and let me tell you, it was AMAZING! Given it’s price, I would definitely place it on my “must stay there again” list! It was incredibly fun, and there were tons of amenities for a value/moderate resort. The rooms themselves are very nice too, and in keeping with the theme, a mix of retro/modern (down to the V05 shampoo – not my cup of tea, but since I rarely use hotel shampoos, it didn’t really matter to me). Even the resort bus to the parks was “retro”!! The only slight disappointment was that unlike the other Universal resorts, Cabana Bay does not include Universal’s Express Pass as part of its amenities, but the hotel offers early access to Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so I found that I didn’t require the Express Pass. However, for the price, I really feel that I got value for my money staying at this resort!

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, the lack of Express Pass does sort of stink, but I think since it’s aimed at the budget-conscious traveler, most guests would probably have a lower per night cost and no Express Pass than higher rates and Express Pass.

      Reply
  4. Kyle Branch
    Kyle Branch says:

    I stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort this past August and I loved it! My only complaint would be that the rooms are a little small, but the theming of the resort definitely made up for it and then some. And the food at the food court place was really good too!

    Reply
  5. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    the first picture i took when we got to this resort is your first picture on this report, it took it with my ollie fish eye lens ( bought on your recommendation ) and loved the way it turned out. anywayyy my only problem with the resort was really having no nice place to eat, we had to leave the resort two times because we didn’t want to eat fast food and wanted to have a nice meal out. ( we were there during fright nights so city walk was crazy ) we did find an awesome Mexican food place called rocco’s tacos and moonfish, both places are really great if you want something different and only 5 mins away. Over all its a good value and the buses ran on a good schedule. We did have a nice 430am walk up the morning we were heading to disney, there was a water main break on the first two floors of our hotel and thank goodness we were on the 6th floor. called to get our bags picked up when we were leaving, they didn’t offer that service so i had to walk all the way to the lobby to get the carts, she tells me all the carts are being used for the people that were dealing with the water main break and that i might be able to find one in my building not being used…….there was 6 in our group aka lots of suite cases. so not the greatest way to end our trip there but oh well!

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Given that it’s a value resort, I’m not surprised that there’s no table service restaurant, but given the OTHER amenities at the hotel, I am a bit surprised. It would definitely be nice, but with how efficient those buses are at getting you to CityWalk, it wouldn’t really be a huge issue for me.

      That really stinks about the water main break, and the lack of luggage service.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!

      Reply
  6. StevenV
    StevenV says:

    We stayed early summer 2014 right after opening, and got a family suite for around $130 per night. The rooms were crazy nice: kitchenette, living area, 2 beds, walk in closet, and bathroom with 3 separate areas (sink, toilet, shower+toilet). The details of the resort even extended to period-appropriate shampoo and soap in retro packaging. I expected a slightly generic room, but even the furniture was custom-designed to the theme of the resort. The info packet in the room that tells you about TV channels, room service, etc, was even cool! By the time we left, I though I’d found my new favorite resort in Orlando. It balances perfectly value, design, and quality. Home run for Universal! I was impressed… except or the $10 per day parking fee.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      $130/night for a family suite? That’s pretty awesome. I think I recall seeing $59/night rates for the standard rooms, which is also pretty wild.

      Parking fees at hotels ANYWHERE that space isn’t an issue really bother me. I totally get the need to charge a parking fee in a downtown NYC hotel, but in sprawling Orlando? It’s just nickel and diming guests. This is especially the case when I’d guess 90%+ of guests there are driving. Hotels should never have “optional” fees for things that are a cost the vast majority of guests will incur.

      Reply
  7. Mitch
    Mitch says:

    I’ve been curious about this resort for a while because it looks like a great deal and a really fun place to stay. My only issue is the theme which is interesting but not a necessarily a style I would want to be immersed in for a week long vacation. If I was a local it looks like a place I would enjoy staying at for a few nights to use the amenities and have fun with my family at a very reasonable price.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] terms of theme, price, and category, Art of Animation compares interestingly to Cabana Bay Beach Resort over at Universal Orlando Resort. For those unfamiliar with it, Cabana Bay is very similar in nature, offering both value single […]

  2. […] For more pictures of Cabana Bay, as taken by a real photographer, click here. […]

  3. […] can check out my Cabana Bay Beach Resort Photo Tour to see why this retro-inspired hotel is so fun, and offers great bang for buck. I hope to stay […]

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