We recently spent a weekend at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort to experience Christmas at Universal Orlando Resort and had an absolutely fantastic time. I didn’t know much about the resort before staying there, in fact we’d never even stayed at a Universal Orlando Resort hotel before, so I was blown away by how much not only the kids loved the resort, but we did too. I thought I’d put together a Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort review with all of the details about the resort, plus what we thought of the food, the pools, the other amenities, and all other family friendly things there are to do.
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort overview
Cabana Bay Beach Resort is an onsite hotel at Universal Studios Orlando. Considered a Prime Value resort (in the same category as Universal’s Aventura Resort), the hotel is owned by Loews Hotels, the same company that owns other Universal Orlando hotels Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay, and Sapphire Falls (Cabana Bay doesn’t have the Loews name attached to it the way those resorts do because it’s considered a value product). While it doesn’t come with the same onsite benefits as hotels in a higher category (such as the Universal Express Unlimited Pass and the water taxis from the parks to the resort) it does come with early entry into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and complimentary bus transportation from the resort to the theme parks and Universal’s City Walk. The resort is made up of regular hotel rooms and family suites, and has a retro style inspired by Florida beach hotels in the 1960s. If you’re looking to compare the resort to those at Walt Disney World, then we would put it on par with a moderate resort such as Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, and above the Disney value resorts.
Rooms at Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Cabana Bay is made up of regular guest rooms and family suites. When you book your room, you’ll choose either the Courtyard rooms or the Tower rooms, and it’s important to know the difference. The Courtyard rooms are motel style rooms with outdoor walkways (the same as the Disney value resorts) and the Tower rooms have interior walkways as you’d find in a regular hotel. The Courtyard rooms are closer to the pool (some rooms are literally steps from the pool area) but can often be noisier, wheres the Tower rooms have the better views and the more ‘hotel’ feel to them. Not only can you book a certain type of room, but you can put in requests such as a higher/lower floor or being close to the lobby or a pool; we requested a higher floor and as close to the lobby as possible. Both of our requests were granted, but bear in mind that they are requests only and not guaranteed.
We chose a family suite at Cabana Bay since we wanted a bit more space with the two kids. The additional 130 feet of space, plus the separate bedroom and living room made a huge difference for us; it meant we could put the kids to bed in the bedroom area, and then shut the sliding partition door while we hung out in the living room. As well as the living room and bedroom, there was a small kitchenette, and a bathroom area (with a shower and bathtub, an important thing if traveling with a baby or toddler that needs baths instead of showers) that had two separate sink areas (very important when trying to get a whole family ready!) The room had that same retro feel as the rest of the resort, and everything was clean and comfortable. I was pleased to find so much storage, with drawers tucked away all over the place, and a great sized closet.
We were in the Continental Tower on the 5th floor in room 4504; this was close to the elevators, which dropped us right down next to the food court. This was the ideal location for us since it didn’t take long to run down and grab something to eat, perfect for travel with kids. We had a pool view that overlooked the Lazy River Courtyard and Pool, as well as Volcano Bay in the distance, which was perfect for us.
Dining at Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Cabana Bay Beach Resort doesn’t have any sit down restaurants, however there are plenty of places to get something to eat. The Bayliner Diner food court was where we picked up most of the food during our stay. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the food court also had grab and go sections to pick up snacks to take back to the room or to the parks for the day. There is a large seating area for those looking to dine there as well.
There were different bays serving things like waffles, pancakes and create your own omelets in the morning, as well as pizza, pasta and burgers in the evening, and a well stocked salad bar that doubled as a fruit and muesli bar for breakfast. There were also pastries, yogurts, and a frozen yogurt machine. They also sold s’mores kits for use around one of the fire pits by the pool. You can pick up refillable mugs here, and there are Coke Freestyle machines in the dining area. We don’t drink much soda so these wouldn’t have worked for us, but if you do then they’re a great way to save some money on drinks during your stay!
With two young children, getting them up and dressed to go out for breakfast is pretty tough in the mornings (especially before I’ve had my coffee) but it was easy enough to head down to the food court with them both still in pajamas to pick up cereal, toast, yogurt and milk for them to take back and eat while I got ready. Prices were very reasonable as well.
The other place we ate during our stay was Galaxy Bowl. While you’re bowling, servers come around and take your order, meaning you can eat as you play. The menu is pretty basic with things like nachos, mozzarella sticks, wings, and a few desserts, but we found the food was pretty good. There isn’t a kids menu advertised but when we asked, they were happy to bring the kids out chicken fingers and fries.
Other food options include the Hideaway Bar and Grill by the Lazy River Courtyard, and Atomic Tonic by the Cabana Courtyard Pool, both serving drinks, specialty cocktails, and appetizers. There is also a lobby bar called Swizzles (try an ‘Ellis Island’ if you’ve had a long day, it packs a real punch!) and most importantly for exhausted parents, a Starbucks as well (this can get very busy around 9am every day so I’d recommend stopping by early). If you’ve had a long day in the parks and don’t fancy going out, Delizioso Pizza can be delivered to your room as well.
Pools at Cabana Bay Beach Resort
We stayed at Cabana Bay in December and as anyone who has been to Florida during the winter months knows, weather can be all over the place! On the day we checked in, we were wrapped up in sweaters with 50 degree temperatures, and on the day we checked out, it was 80 degrees but pouring with rain! Luckily we had a day in the middle that was sunny and 70 degrees and while I wouldn’t normally be in a pool with 70 degree temperatures, Harrison was desperate to go swimming and check out the water slide! We spent time at both of the pools before it got too chilly and we headed inside, but both would be amazing during the warmer months.
The Lazy River Courtyard and Pool was where we started. The lazy river is on the smaller side, but it has some cool fountains and we happily floated around for a while in one of the tubes available for rental (tubes aren’t mandatory in the lazy river, you can float around without them if you like). The pool itself had a zero entry which would be perfect for younger children, and plenty of seating both in the shade and the sun.
The Cabana Courtyard and Pool not only have the water slide, but a small splash pad for the little ones, and a huge sandy area for the kids to play in. We spent over an hour here, with Harrison alternately going down the water slide over and over, and digging around in the sand. There was also a ping pong table and some beach games.
What else is there to do at Cabana Bay Beach Resort
If you’re like us and visiting during one of the cooler months of the year where pool time might be limited, or you’re in Orlando during hurricane season where it rains every day, or you just need a day away from the parks for something a little lighter, then Cabana Bay actually has some great options for family friendly things to do.
Galaxy Bowl is the bowling alley located on the second floor of the resort, right above the Starbucks. This wasn’t the cheapest bowling alley I’ve ever been to, but it wasn’t the most expensive either, with prices running $16.99 for adults and $10.99 for kids (as of December 2018) for 45 minutes. At two years old, Grayson was free, which was great because we figured he wouldn’t be all that interested in playing. Well what did we know – not only did he love the game, but he won! You can request bumpers (we didn’t because Harrison insisted that he didn’t need them…he did) and they have a few of those little ramps you can push the ball down in a straight line. The kids had so much fun and we got some lunch while we played so the 45 minutes flew by. We were there at lunchtime on a weekend when the weather outside was sunny and the place was basically empty, but I can imagine on a rainy day or in the evening it fills up quickly.
Next door to Galaxy Bowl is Game-O-Rama, Cabana Bay’s arcade. It’s a pretty small arcade but it has some great games and the prices weren’t too bad at all. Harrison is only six so not a huge fan of gaming at this age but he had fun playing some of the games directed at younger kids, and I’d imagine older kids and teens would be able to spend a lot of time (and money!) here.
Cabana Bay also has a Universal Studios Store, stocking not only plenty of Universal Orlando merchandise but Cabana Bay specific items and sundries like shampoo, sunscreen and basic pain medication. We always buy Christmas ornaments on our trips and they had plenty to choose from, including ones featuring the Cabana Bay logo as well as beautiful Harry Potter themed ornaments.
Perhaps coolest of all, every Friday evening you can meet some of your favorite Universal characters such as the minions in the Cabana Bay lobby. I had no idea about this until the kids were already tucked up in bed on the Friday we were there, so I wanted to include this for anyone else who didn’t know so you don’t miss out. This would have been a great way for the kids to meet some characters without much of a wait.
Getting from Cabana Bay Beach Resort to the Universal theme parks
Chances are that you’re staying at Cabana Bay in order to be close to the Universal Studios theme parks, and you’ll need to know how to get there! As previously mentioned, Cabana Bay doesn’t have the water taxis the same way that the premier hotels do, but they do have other options for getting to the parks. The easiest way is to use the shuttle bus, which departs from right outside the lobby doors and drops guests off by the parking garages. We used the shuttle at off peak time and it was a quick, easy trip, but then used it again right after the parks closed and found it took a little longer. The line looked very long but actually moved relatively quickly, however I would suggest considering that if you’re trying to get to the parks or City Walk for a specific time. The other thing I didn’t love about the shuttle was that it drops you off before the park security check, which can sometimes have long lines, and you still then have to walk all the way through City Walk. Other than that, the shuttle buses were super easy to use and very convenient.
The other option for the theme parks is to walk. The Garden Walkway goes straight from Cabana Bay to City Walk which ends almost right at the entrance to Islands of Adventure; you also get to go through a private security entrance that was very quick. The walk took us about 20 minutes with one kid and a toddler in a stroller; I would imagine most adults could make the walk a little quicker. The walk was pleasant with some pretty views, however I would only recommend this during the cooler months – I can imagine during the summer months when temperatures can climb into the high 90s, the walk would be very hot and feel very long!
One of the biggest perks about staying at Cabana Bay is the proximity to Universal’s Volcano Bay, their fantastic new water park, and guests at Cabana Bay have their own private entrance literally steps from the lobby. This is a huge perk if you plan to visit the water park, as getting there otherwise can be a little bit of a challenge, involving parking and getting a bus from the parking garage. We’re planning on visiting Volcano Bay this year, and I’m seriously considering booking a night at Cabana Bay Beach Resort just to use that entrance!
What else do you need to know about Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
- Check in is at 4pm and check out at 11am. When you book the room you are given the option to put in some requests for things like higher floors, close to the lobby, etc, and you can log in to change these requests at any time. When we booked the room we didn’t initially request much but then once we did some research we went back in and made our requests.
- Cabana Bay Beach Resort charges $14 per night for parking which is NOT included in the price of the room, so bear that in mind when checking prices. If you are an annual pass holder or Florida resident, check for special prices and discounts.
- If you’re celebrating anything, be sure to mention it at check in. Although we never expect anything for free, we were checking in with giant birthday balloons for Harrison and the lovely guy checking us in gave us a certificate for a free slice of cake from Bayliner Diner, which was a very sweet gesture.
Read more on why we love Universal Studios Orlando for toddlers and young children.