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.
As they say, this post is “for entertainment purposes only,” as I wanted to share some shots of the hotel’s cool aesthetic…
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.
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.
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.
The food court itself has a ton of options, none of which I tried…
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.
Guest telephones are a nice touch, and should double as nice “makeout booths” for couples seeking a bit of privacy.
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.
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.
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.
This is the centerpiece of the lobby.
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.
Here’s the back of the main lobby. I love those swooping lines.
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. 😉
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.
Back to the Swizzle Lounge. I could see this being a fun hangout spot to unwind after a day in the parks.
The view out the back door towards the pools…
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. 😉
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!
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.
Out the front is the bus pickup area and the main sign for the resort. Lights up nicely at night.
Even though it’s a value resort, Universal nails it with the details, right down to the classic cars parked out front. Nice touch.
I really don’t know why I took so many photos of this.
Sorry (not sorry).
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.
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.
I 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.
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!
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!