With the announcement of the Halloween Horror Nights “Jack’d Up” experience coming to Cabana Bay for HHN 30, we thought it would be fun to look back at other reasons why we love this resort!
First published March 27, 2021. Updated June 17, 2021.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort! This week marks the seven year anniversary of Universal Orlando’s first attempt at reaching the coveted Value Resort market. At the time, this demographic was solidly owned by Disney with the All-Star Resorts and Pop Century, but Universal came to play. Similar to the introduction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village in 2010, the opening of Cabana Bay was a game changer. While Value Resort guests in Orlando were used to paying cheaper prices for over-the-top themed buildings and a dearth of amenities, Cabana Bay went the other way with a high level of resort-wide theming and wide array of amenities that are usually only seen at Moderate or Deluxe Resorts.
A quick primer on the differences between the classifications of resorts at Disney and Universal. Disney’s are currently grouped into three main categories: Deluxe (The Poly, Wilderness Lodge), Moderate (Coronado Springs, Caribbean Beach), and Value (Pop Century, The All-Star Resorts). Meanwhile, Universal Orlando has four categories: Premier $$$$ (Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel), Preferred $$$ (Loews Sapphire Falls Resort), Prime Value $$ (Aventura Hotel) and Value $ (Endless Summer’s Surfside Inn & Suites and Dockside). At Universal, Cabana Bay falls into the Prime Value classification.
This week we’re going to look at some of our reasons we love Cabana Bay, starting with…
# 6 – The Resort-Wide Retro Theming
If you are a fan of vintage ’50s and ’60s minimalist designs – and who isn’t – Cabana Bay is the place for you. The retro theming is everywhere, and it starts immediately on your drive into the resort. The signage outside bills Old Timey amenities like “color TV” and “cool air,” but at night the entire resort pops with with neon.
Outside Cabana Bay sits a collection of not just classic cars, but models which have been featured in movies and television shows of years past.
While the lobby area is gorgeous, we do have a Pro Tip concerning something that has recently started at Cabana Bay: online check-in. Be sure to check your email before arriving for your Cabana Bay stay, as there’s a good chance you’ll get an opportunity to choose online check-in. You’ll be asked to choose your arrival time and associate a credit card with your room for incidentals. Later, when you arrive at your allotted time, you stand in a much smaller line to receive your room card. In our experience this has been an incredible addition to Cabana Bay and the process will hopefully be adopted by all of Universal’s on-site hotels.
While we’ve become spoiled by them now, we need to remember that Cabana Bay introduced the first stand alone Starbucks at a Universal or Disney resort. It resides right off the main lobby area, and serves a full Starbucks menu.
In an amazing touch, this Starbucks location has murals on the wall with pictures of the Weeki Wachee Springs mermaids. This is a small taste of Old Florida and it fits right in with the retro-hip theming.
Now of course the biggest thing guests will notice is the rooms at Cabana Bay. Walking into your room is like walking into a time machine, except that along with the retro decor and theming is the luxuries and conveniences of today’s life that we have become accustomed to. Let’s check out a family suite at Cabana Bay…
The room’s fridge actually keeps items cold.
Here is a view of the Family Suite from the opposite direction, looking into the kitchen area.
When my family and I sailed on our first Disney Cruise, one thing that stood out to us was the ingenious way that Disney had designed the rooms to take full advantage of such a relatively small space. We’ve since seen several of the Disney and Universal hotels adopt some of these designs (such as being able to store your empty luggage bags under the bed). Cabana Bay has some brilliant ideas as well, such as a dresser system that is split between the living room and bedroom, allowing both sides to have access to drawers.
Each room is also LOADED with outlets for all of your charging needs.
The bedrooms at Cabana Bay are brilliantly designed.
The bathrooms at Cabana Bay are designed so that several people can get ready for their upcoming park day at the same time rather than waiting for one person to get out of the shower.
# 5 – Swizzle Lounge
If you’re like us, you enjoy an adult beverage on occasion. It’s fair to say that until Cabana Bay, bars in Value Resorts were – at best – lacking. Considering families cooped up in those small rooms for a week probably need a drink more than anyone, this is scandalous. In fact, we even poked a little fun at how poor the options are with the article Worst Idea Ever: Value Resort Bar Crawl.
Cabana Bay has THREE great bars, including the incredible Swizzle Lounge located directly in the lobby.
In what we can now refer to as The Good Ol’ Days, a guest could just mosey on up to the Swizzle Lounge, grab a seat at the bar and order. However, during this “unprecedented times,” you can check out the bar’s menu via a QR code while in line to order from the bartender.
Thankfully there is still lobby seating nearby.
The two other bars are located at Cabana Bay’s two pool areas. The Hideaway Bar & Grill is located in the Lazy River Courtyard. Not only does The Hideaway offer a full drink menu like Swizzle Lounge, but also serves an awesome food menu!
The bar area is separate from the food area.
The Cabana Bay Pool Cups are currently $15.50 and includes a 16 ounce drink of your choice. Even better? Refills are only $12.
One of the retro-themed items found throughout the resort are a series of posters featuring locations at the hotel.
Over at the Cabana Courtyard is the Atomic Tonic bar.
Directly next to Atomic Tonic is the Atomic Grill, so like with The Hideaway, you have a food menu to go along with your drinks.
# 4 – Galaxy Bowl/Gym
Some people enjoy the athleticism of basketball, while others admire the grace and skill of soccer, but we at the SATURDAY SIX favor bowling as our favorite sport, as it is the only one you can participate in while eating chili cheese fries or chicken wings (preferably both). Cabana Bay is the only theme park resort in Florida to offer a 10 lane bowling alley, along with a full menu of food and drinks. Galaxy Bowl is actually inspired by the famous Hollywood Star Lanes, the bowling alley seen in The Big Lebowski.
In our current New Normal, the hours of Galaxy Bowl have been reduced to nighttime only, and because of social distancing concerns only every other lane is being used. If you’d like to bowl, I would definitely try to get in line as close to opening as you can to sign up for a reserved lane time. You will be given a text reminder to come back at the appropriate time. Hopefully at some point in the near future Galaxy Bowl will go back to it’s former operating hours starting at 11am, especially during busier times, as it can be such a family friendly experience while on vacation and no other hotel in the area has this type of offering.
Post COVID, there have some changes. Masks need to be worn at all times when bowling, so if you want to eat at Galaxy Bowl, you need to be seated in the dining area outside of the bowling area.
If you choose to be seated for dining, Galaxy Bowl can be considered the resort’s only “table service” restaurant.
Recently in this Fine Blog Series we covered Universal’s 2021 Mardi Gras event, and one of the things going on across the entire Universal Orlando Resort is special food and drink items at the various hotels. The drink offered at Cabana Bay is the Laissez les bons temps Rouler Hurricane. “Let The Good Times Roll” – Bacardi Light Rum, Cruzan 12 Year Single Barrel Rum, Passionfruit Puree, Orange Juice and Grenadine served in a 32-ounce souvenir Galaxy Bowl cup.
A value resort with a gym? Impossible! But, believe it or not Cabana Bay has probably the largest gym at any Disney or Universal resort. In fact, the Jack LaLanne Physical Fitness Studio just may be bigger than many gyms you’ll find in small towns. With free weights, machines, ellipticals, bikes, and a whole bunch of treadmills, you can get your regular workout done. Pro Tip: even if you don’t want to break a sweat, take some time and check out all the Jack LaLanne memorabilia located inside the gym.
# 3 – Bayliner Diner
Similar to Disney’s Value Resorts, the Bayliner Diner is a food court with several stations featuring a wide array of items. Pizza, burgers, paninis, and chicken sandwiches are similar to what you’ll find at many food courts, but here you’ll also find an international section with Asian vegetable stir fry, Brazilian beef churrasco, and an Ahi tuna bowl. Looking for a carving station? They got it. There is a dedicated grill and fryer for those looking for cooked gluten free options, along with a wide selection of pre-made gluten free items. There is a frozen yogurt station (including plenty of DIY add-ons), ICEEs, and huge salads. Unlike similar venues, Bayliner eschews paper plates and plastic utensils for real plates, bowls, and silverware.
The seating area for Bayliner Diner is huge, and has a whole bunch of tables and booths. One nice feature is that all the booths have easy access outlets near them to charge your devices. There are several large TVs playing ’60s era television ads, which carries that same level of fun nostalgia you’ll find at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, It is extremely rare to find a food court worth going out of your way to dine in, but for my money Bayliner Diner even tops AOA’s Landscape of Flavors.
Longtime readers of the SATURDAY SIX know how much we love souvenir refillable cups. Universal must have somehow got a hold of our dream journal, because Cabana Bay has taken souvenir mugs to the next level. The resort made its debut with a fun design that is perfect for the style of the resort. The design is very retro and reminds me of the Disney art done by Shag. While it generally takes years for Disney to change their refillable cups, Cabana Bay offered a unique design for both the Halloween and Christmas seasons! Disney also uses the exact same cup for all its on-site resorts, whereas Universal has a different cup for all their hotels which offer them, which makes them a great souvenir.
The original Cabana Bay refillable cup design was based off a large mural that is in Bayliner Diner.
Proof that we still live in the best timeline, not only does Cabana Bay offer a themed pizza box, it also has a smaller version if you order breadsticks to go (or get them delivered via room service).
Recently Universal has ended it’s partnership with Dippin’ Dots, the self proclaimed ice cream of the future. However, you will still be able to find an item called Mini Melts, which I’ve dubbed the ice cream of tomorrow.
The grab and go section of Bayliner Diner is shockingly large. Pretty much anything you could ask for is here, including reasonably priced bottles of wine.
One fun option while staying at Cabana Bay is making your own S’mores over a fire pit. Bayliner Diner offers everything you will need.
There are fire pits located in both courtyards at Cabana Bay.
The fire pits are lit up at night. For those who don’t want to wait for nightfall, there is a firepit that is turned on 24 hours a day.
Time for S’mores!
# 2 – Lazy River and Pools
Cabana Bay has two huge pools, a giant slide, and a water play area, but what separates it from the pack is everyone’s favorite water feature: a lazy river. The E-Ticket of pools, a relaxing float along the lazy river – with its waterfalls and lush theming – can be just what the doctor ordered. Cabana Bay does not supply tubes to guests (they have no cleaning facility onsite to disinfect them) but they do offer a wide assortment of tubes for pretty much the same price you would pay at Target or a pool store. Several of the tubes they offer are Cabana Bay branded and are relatively inexpensive souvenirs.
At the lazy river tube shack you can purchase your own tube, or have a tube you brought filled with air. One stark difference that Disney annual passholders may discover when staying onsite at Universal is that Universal annual passholders get discounts EVERYWHERE. All food and non-alcoholic beverages, merchandise, and even items at the tube shack!
# 1 – The Best View in Florida
We’ve gone on the record saying that Volcano Bay has become our favorite park in all of Florida, and Cabana Bay is all but connected to it! In fact, guests staying at Cabana Bay have their own dedicated walkway (and security check) to get to the park. For me personally, being close to a park is my absolutely favorite amenity of an onsite hotel. Being able to walk to Disney’s Magic Kingdom made me love The Contemporary. Being able to walk to EPCOT and DHS made staying at Yacht Club and the Boardwalk a blast. I always thought the walk from the Royal Pacific to Islands of Adventure was quick, but the jaunt from Cabana Bay to Volcano Bay is the fastest of all. With everything considered: view, price point, and amenities, a Volcano View room at Cabana Bay is the best place to stay not only at Universal, but in all of Orlando.
The aerial photo below shows just how close Cabana Bay’s towers are to Volcano Bay!
Honorable Mention – THE RESORT SPECIFIC MERCHANDISE!!
We are approaching the 8 year anniversary of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch!, the sister article to the SATURDAY SIX, and it is safe to say we love theme park resort merchandise. Cabana Bay has hands-down the most unique resort specific merchandise at any Disney or Universal hotel, let alone value resorts. There are your usual pins, keychains, t-shirts, and coffee cups, but also beach towels, beach bags, candy, and even water proof phone cases. There are Galaxy Bowl themed bowling shirts, Atomic Tonic shot glasses, and more Jack LaLanne-related items than you could have ever dreamed existed. Cabana Bay’s gift shop just may be one of the top six stores in all of Universal, as it also contains a great mix of items from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Despicable Me, Transformers, and even Marvel. Chocolate frogs, unicorn plush (“It’s so fluffy!), VelociCoaster shirts, and Cabana Bay breath mints… that’s what I call a gift shop!
There are so many items specific to Cabana Bay it reminds me of the merchandising moment from the movie Spaceballs…
So there you have it: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s CABANA BAY BEACH RESORT! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles covering the latest from the Disney Outlet Stores. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.