Saturday SixUniversal Orlando Resort

The SATURDAY SIX Checks out Universals’ CABANA BAY BEACH RESORT and VOLCANO BAY

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This week’s SATURDAY SIX heads on over to Universal, where we took a quick trip to Orlando to visit our favorite onsite resort and our favorite park… which just so happen to be right next to each other. So we’ll start off our journey by checking into…

# 6 – Cabana Bay

I have stayed in many rooms at Cabana Bay over the years but this stay was the first time I ever chose to book a family suite with an interior entry. In the past, I’ve always had rooms with an exterior entry, or stayed in the towers. For those who don’t know the terminology, the Cars, Finding Nemo, and Lion King family suites at Art of Animation have interior entry, while the Little Mermaid rooms have an exterior entry. I checked in early, as we planned to spend the entire day enjoying Cabana Bay’s fantastic amenities, and was pleased to find out the room was already ready in The Continental section of the resort.

Arrow pointing to our room location.

The biggest difference between exterior and interior entry at Cabana Bay is that the exterior entry rooms have their windows in the kitchen/living area section of the room, whereas the interior entry rooms have the windows in the main bedroom section. We were located on the backside of The Continental, which means most of our view was of a parking garage, but you could also see the Honu slide at the neighboring Volcano Bay.

Room key card also featured Volcano Bay’s Honu slide.

Not only was this the first time I booked an interior entry suite, it was also the first time I have ever asked for connecting rooms. We’ve done two rooms at various hotels across Universal and Disney property, but I’ve never asked for connecting rooms in the past for the sheer fact that I wanted the rooms to be ready as soon as possible. I was prepared to wait for the connecting rooms at Cabana Bay to be ready, but luckily both were all set at my early check-in time. The door between the connecting rooms is located in the kitchen section of the suite.

Cabana Bay celebrates its 10 year anniversary later this Summer, and I’m still in awe at how great these rooms look when you first walk in. Just a marvel of design and so much better than the antiseptic and generic look that most hotels are gravitating to these days (including those at Universal and Disney.)

The in-room fridge is shockingly large and actually keeps things cold. You could easily store multiple 2 Liter bottles of soda and other items in it.

Still amazed by the fantastic design elements in the room, including this dresser which has drawers that open up on both the living room side of the suite…

…and also on the main bedroom side of the suite as well.

Cabana Bay still has bed spreads on each bed.

The retro theming is alive and well with the alarm clock design, and how can you not love the Cabana Bay branded pen and notepads in each room? Again, these are little touches that it seems almost every other hotel is just getting rid of.

At night you could still see the time on the analog clock because of the built in lighting feature.

Every trip to Cabana Bay I expect to see the retro soap and shampoo offerings to be removed for a generic refillable bottle mounted on the wall. Yet for 10 years my eyes light up and a big smile comes to my face when I go into the bathroom and see the Zest soap and VO5 shampoo and conditioner. Cabana Bay is not the resort we deserve, but it’s the one we need.

I generally don’t spend much time watching TV when at the resorts, and part of the reason is because it is so frustrating trying to figure out what channels are what. When turning on the Cabana Bay TV it offered the opportunity to connect your phone to the TV, so I figured I would try it.

The rooms come with free wi-fi, so downloading the app was fast. Once I got the app, I entered the code from the picture above….

…and I was immediately connected to the TV. On the app, you can see every channel is an easy-to-search listing.

I went immediately to the “Volcano Bay Channel” as we were going to the park the next day. When we came back to the room at night we did watch some TV, as Despicable Me 3 was on one of the channels. There were also a lot of on demand movies available including the animated films Migration and Super Mario Bros.

# 5 – The Amenities

When I was a kid traveling with my parents on vacation, I always loved the hotel arcades and it breaks my heart that – with a few exceptions – Universal and Disney resorts seem to be moving away from good arcades at their hotels. Yeah, I know that with smart phones and consoles you can hook up to your in-room TVs, traveling with video games is easier than ever, but nothing can replace the feeling of playing games inside an actual arcade. Cabana Bay delivers a fantastic arcade experience with Game-O-Rama.

Many of Game-O-Rama’s offerings also allow multiple people to play at once, whether its air hockey, basket ball, or car racing games. This allows some friendly competition between family members.

Cabana Bay packs a ton of games into the Game-O-Rama space, including many claw based games.

Game-O-Rama.

This “Cut 2 Win” game had a gigantic Mario plush hanging from a string and the object was to align a pair of scissors to cut the string. Came close, but wasn’t able to free Mario.

Many games in the arcade will earn you “tickets” which you can then redeem for prizes. This was something you used to be able to do years ago at some of the Disney arcades (like at Pop Century) but they have all been removed.

Like most resorts now, to play any of the games you need to purchase a game card. Once purchased, you can reload credits onto the card as well. You can also check the balance of credits on your card, and the screen will display every single game that the card has been used to play.

The card itself is also a nice little Cabana Bay souvenir.

Located directly next to the arcade is Cabana Bay’s bowling alley.

 

Galaxy Bowl has recently started offering a new menu.

There was even a limited time Mardi Gras themed menu.

 

Galaxy Bowl Mardi Gras Menu. The Handsome Cajun. (photo by @teambercase)

Dining at the lanes has also returned, which is a huge win.

Speaking of dining, went down to the Bayliner Diner – Cabana Bay’s food court – and discovered what I think may be ANOTHER new refillable mug design. This would be absolutely BONKERS as the resort has released three other new cup designs just over the past three months.

Of course I bought it.

Let’s take a quick look back at some of the cups Cabana Bay has released since December, including this Christmas themed cup.

A New Year cup, which is almost straight up mind-boggling but brings us one step closer to my dream of a Groundhog’s Day cup.

We also got this retro-themed cup which is referencing the classic cars that Cabana Bay has parked outside the front lobby.

All of Cabana Bay’s refillable mugs can be used at the resorts Coke Freestyle machines. These are located in the Bayliner Diner, at Galaxy Bowl, and outside by both of the pool bars.

I’ve passed by the Frozen Yogurt Bar a million times at Cabana Bay, and figured it was time to finally make my own.

Didn’t realize until after the fact that I grabbed the “small” cup, as there was a much larger size next to it. Yes, Dear Reader, mistakes were made.

I’m a vanilla soft serve guy. Even as the rest of the family gets Dole Whips at Disney, if there is a vanilla soft serve available I’ll always get that.

Topping choices included various fresh fruit…

…and candies.

Bayliner Diner also offers S’more kits (along with sticks to put the marshmallows on.)

Which can be used at either of the fire pits on property. Important to not that at Disney, roasting S’mores is pretty regulated and done only during a supervised time window, but at Universal it is more informal and you can roast S’mores whenever you want.

Fire pit. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

# 3 – The Pools

We spent the vast majority of our check-in day bouncing back and forth between the two pool areas at Cabana Bay. The Cabana Courtyard features a kid friendly-splash pad and pool with a giant water slide, while the Lazy River Courtyard features another pool and – of course – a lazy river. Both sides have hot tubs and great food/drink options as well.

My family has been going to Cabana Bay since it opened and the Lazy River has always been a HUGE hit. You can purchase tubes for the lazy river at Cabana Bay, or you can bring your own. Here is a picture of the very first tube that Cabana Bay offered way back in the day…

…and here is one of the tubes that they offer now. Every tube that Cabana Bay sells has the Cabana Bay logo on it, making it another cheap souvenir that you can actually use while on vacation.

Took almost a decade, but I finally got her to hold the tube with the Cabana Bay logo in the correct spot.

Also, when you purchase a tube Cabana Bay will give you one that is filled with air to enjoy during your stay, and when you are ready to go home you exchange that tube for one that is still sealed in the package. That’s a nice touch.

The Lazy River itself is still E-Ticket.

Does it get better than this?

The Hideaway Bar & Grill is the pool bar for the area near the lazy river and has a full bar along with some good food options.

Hideaway Bar & Grill. (photo by Scott Sanders)

Options include burgers, hotdogs, wings, and nachos. Can’t go wrong with their Caprese Salad…

…or the Hummus and Pita Bread.

The other side of Cabana Bay has the Cabana Courtyard pool area, which includes a massive pool with a large slide.

There are actual cabanas in this section that you can rent out for the day. They include lounge chairs, a covered area, a fan, and a TV.

While I’ve never rented a poolside cabana, I have rented out one of the large Pavilions in this area for a birthday party.

The Youngsters Pool is a large splash pad area where you are guaranteed to get wet.

Enjoying the Youngsters Pool.

Here we have the kiddos getting ready for a bucket of water to be dumped on them…

…and, KER-SPLASH!

Youngsters Pool

The nearby Atomic Grill offers food items including pizza, (great) French fries, and salads.

ATOMIC SALAD -Mixed lettuce and herbs, tomato, cucumber, carrots, olives, pickles and pepperoncini.

Believe it or not, they even have gyros available.

In case you were wondering, both pool areas have towels available for all guests.

# 3 – More Reasons Cabana Bay is Next Level

Hard to believe its been over a year already, but in late 2022 Cabana Bay opened Shakes Malt Shoppe in the Bayliner Diner section of the main building. This was a fantastic repurposing of space because in the past this area was just a large seating area that you almost never saw an actual human being use.

Shakes Malt Shoppe. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Here’s what the space used to look like.

Previous space. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Shakes Malt Shoppe offers milk shakes, ice cream cones, and sundaes.

There are also grab and go items including fresh fruit and snacks.

Shakes also has a themed napkin, and its striking how many “little things” that Universal’s “value resorts” do compared to the much more expensive hotels and both Universal and Disney.

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.

You know how much I loved themed bathroom signage, and the logos at Cabana Bay are ::chef’s kiss::

One thing that was new (for me) on this trip was Cabana Bay offering in-room pizza delivery. It stood out to me because the Disney resorts we have had pizza delivery to in the past have stopped doing that. Meanwhile Universal has gone the other way and added it.

Getting a themed pizza box delivered to your room is basically someone bringing my Dream Journal to life.

Ok, so the reason why we were staying at Cabana Bay is because we made an almost last minute decision to spend a day at Volcano Bay…

# 2 – Volcano Bay

One of the reasons I love staying at Cabana Bay is the resorts proximity to Volcano Bay. The two properties bump up to each other and Volcano Bay has a dedicated entrance just for Cabana Bay guests!

This entrance has you passing through security on your way to the main Volcano Bay entrance just steps away. Guests staying at any Universal hotel get 30 minutes Early Entry into Volcano Bay. The day we went, Volcano Bay officially opened at 10AM, with an Early Entry time for resort guests at 9:30. The security for the Cabana Bay entrance opened at 9:15. At around 9:20, this was the line to get into Volcano Bay.

Now, Volcano Bay’s Krakatau Aqua Coaster is pound for pound the best water ride in all of Florida. It is a legit E-Ticket attraction that draws the longest lines at Volcano Bay. If you rope drop Volcano Bay with the Early Entry admission by staying at any Universal hotel, in my experience you can easily get 5-10 rides of Krakatau Aqua Coaster in before the crowds arrive. That first half hour is like magic, and after that the virtual wait times climb FAST.

Krakatau Aqua Coaster. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

For this trip to Volcano Bay I tried Mobile Ordering for the first time. People that know me know that I hate mobile ordering. I despise QR codes. Give me an actual menu and ordering from a human being any day of the week. However, there is one thing I hate more than mobile ordering, and that’s standing in line to order food at a water park that closes at 5PM. The new and improved Universal Orlando App actually has a great system when it comes to looking at menus and placing an order, so at 11:45AM I placed a mobile order with the Kohola Reef Restaurant. I got an alert on my phone that said my pick-up time would be in 15 minutes.

Wouldn’t you know, at noon I got an alert that said my order was ready. Even a mobile order nay sayer like myself has to admit that’s pretty good service and definitely something I would do again.

The food at Volcano Bay is still fantastic.

Speaking of food items, one of the biggest mysteries of Volcano Bay is whether or not the Waturi Fusion ice cream machine will be working. The reliability of this machine makes the ice cream machines at McDonald’s look like perpetual motion machines in comparison. ALL THAT SAID, Waturi Fusion is worth the wait as the combination of orange, blue raspberry, strawberry, and banana soft serve is truly sublime. Now, the day before our Volcano Bay day I popped into the park using my Annual Pass to pick up a couple Volcano Bay swim shirts. I noticed when I was there that Koka Poroka – VB’s ice cream quick service – was closed. On the day we went to  Volcano Bay, I checked Koka Poroka when I picked up my mobile order food above, and it was closed. However, a couple hours later I went to purchase another Volcano Bay swim shirt at the merchandise store located by Koka Poroka and saw that it was open!

What was funny about the experience is that every single person in line was ordering Waturi Fusion (Koka Poroka also offers vanilla and chocolate as well.) Each time the Team Member working the machine made a Waturi Fusion cone or cup for a guest, they seem surprised it was working. About an hour later, the only option available was chocolate, so either the machine broke down or they ran out of vanilla and the Waturi Fusion ingredients. Whatever the case, we got our Waturi Fusion cones and everyone was happy.

As always, a bad day at Volcano Bay is still better than a good day almost anywhere else, but we were lucky enough to have a great day.

TeAwa, the Fearless River. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Kopoko Wai Winding River. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
The Reef. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

One thing I would recommend doing before going to Volcano Bay is purchasing the 1-Day Volcano Bay Photo Package from the Universal Orlando website. If you purchase the photo package before your Volcano Bay day you will save $10 over buying the photo package in the park. Many of the attractions at Volcano Bay have “on-ride” photos, and your digital prints will include both the original photo and one with an added background.

Original photo.

# 1 – Volcano Bay CABANA

Speaking of happy, NOTHING makes me happier at any park than getting a cabana at Volcano Bay. You can read my article on Why You Need A Cabana at Volcano Bay for more details, but believe me when I say it is the single greatest way you can experience any park in Florida. Because this Volcano Bay trip was booked so late, I figured our chances of getting a cabana would be slim to none. However, single cabanas were still available when I called and the cost was $375. I’ve been lucky enough to get several cabanas over the years at Volcano Bay, and in the past it was always “luck of the draw” which of the 50 cabanas you would get. However, two days before our cabana rental I received a call from Universal asking if I had a preference of what location I would like my cabana to be in. After talking to several people afterwards, this is apparently a new operating system they put in during the last year or so and it is much appreciated. During the call I asked if we could be put in the “Waturi” section of the park, which would be near the volcano.

Map that includes the location of all the Volcano bay cabanas.

For this trip we were assigned to Cabana #7. This is among of group of cabanas that is in-between The Reef pool area and the entrance to the Kopiko Wai Winding River (VB’s lazy river.) This location – for us – was fantastic. Close to restrooms, close to Runamukka Reef, and close to my beloved wave pool in front of the volcano.

Cabana # 7. (aerial photo by @bioreconstruct)

After checking into the cabana station I was walked over to my cabana and given a brief overview of what was included.

The view was great, and because of the location we got a wonderful breeze all day as well.

Some longtime SAT SIX readers may remember some of our earlier Volcano Bay articles which included taking children who were very young and spent much of the day taking naps…

…well, those kiddos are now old enough to play in Runamukka Reef and let me tell you something, THEY LOVED IT. Being able to see Runamukka Reef from our cabana had them talking about all the slides they were about to go on once we went back into the area.

Volcano Bay’s Runamukka Reef is incredible for the kiddos.

One benefit to renting a cabana is that it comes with towels. I found out the hard way at Legoland that guests are expected to bring towels to water parks. I’ve brought my own towels to Volcano Bay before, but having them there in the cabana is certainly a lot easier.

The fridge in each cabana comes stocked with plenty of water bottles and you can always ask for more. The freezer section of this fridge works better than you’d think as well, because when I got our Waturi Fusion cones I also got a vanilla soft serve cup and it barely melted while sitting in that freezer for several hours.

The welcome basket is always a hit.

For this trip, I told the family to go ahead and ride the Aqua Coaster while I checked into the cabana. This meant I got first crack at the Volcano Bay cookie, which you only get with a cabana rental. Because the kiddos have always been with me when checking into the cabana in the past, I never got a chance to taste it. The cookie tasted GREAT and they really should sell these at the quick service locations without the “Welcome” on the cookie. They would sell tons.

“I guess they don’t come with cookies any more.” – me to the kids when they finally saw the welcome basket later.

After I ate the Volcano Bay cookie, I went out to join everyone at the Aqua Coaster. When I came back to the cabana our server had put their name and number to text on a sheet that was in our cabana. This made things very easy, as I could just text Melissa our food and drink orders. The cabana attendants are the ones who will bring extra waters or change out your towels if needed.

The cabanas offer a limited menu, which is why I also used mobile order in the section above. However, throughout the day I did order several items including Yucca Fries…

…a Beyond Burger…

…a Nu Kohola Burger…

Nu Kohola Burger.

…Island Coconut Crusted Chicken Sliders…

…and the iconic Universal Brookie (which was awesome.)

As usual, the actual Volcano Bay attraction experience was wonderful. Everyone had a blast in all the areas. Waits outside of the Aqua Coaster were minimal across the board and the Team Members were fantastic. Everything was absolutely perfect during the entire day at Volcano Bay, especially compared to what happened when we attempted to go to Walt Disney World right after (which you can read about by CLICKING HERE.) Afterwards, the quick walk back to Cabana Bay made the decision to stay there even better in hindsight. Highest possible recommendation for any one planning a family trip to Volcano Bay.

Exit to Cabana Bay Beach Resort.

So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX Goes to Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Volcano Bay! 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 THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following: 

The SATURDAY SIX Celebrates Ten Years with TouringPlans

SATURDAY SIX Presents: The Disney Merchandise Hall of Shame

SATURDAY SIX Presents: The Disney Signage Hall of Shame

SATURDAY SIX Presents: The Disney Food Hall of Shame

SATURDAY SIX: Tribute to Josh easyWDW

SATURDAY SIX: Tribute to Ian Barritt

Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, 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, artist @SonderQuest, the mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, the permit princess Alicia Stella, master cartographer Tommy Hawkins, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. 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.

NEXT WEEK! The SATURDAY SIX returns to sea…

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4 thoughts on “The SATURDAY SIX Checks out Universals’ CABANA BAY BEACH RESORT and VOLCANO BAY

  • When did they downgrade from the full size fridge? The kitchen doesn’t look nearly as good as when I stayed, although I have always stayed at exterior entry suites.

    Reply
    • John, I’ve been covering Cabana Bay since it opened in the summer of 2014. I’ve stayed there dozens of times over the years in each type of room category, but mostly exterior entry suites. This fridge in my room on my most recent stay this past week is the same size it has been for all my stays over the past decade. The only time I’ve had a full size fridge during any stay at a Universal Orlando Resort hotel was in the deluxe suites at the premier hotels such as Royal Pacific. You can see a picture of the full size fridge in the Captain’s Presidential Suite in my article on Royal Pacific: https://touringplans.com/blog/s6_bacini-loews-royal-pacific-resort/

      Reply
  • Loved reading this article, hopefully one day I can put together a trip to Universal and follow all of the great advice included here. Please ask Len for a raise, you and your team deserve it and also thank you for the recommendation [I forget where I saw it] to check out Views and Queues – easily my favorite YouTube channel!

    Reply
  • Great article as usual Derek. Our local movie theatre has the “cut the cord to win Mario” thing, and the staff there told us it’s not actually winnable based on skill, the game just has a set number of attempts before it releases the plush. Kind of like a slot machine. So it’s not that you came close but couldn’t do it, it’s that the ghost in the machine had not yet decided it was time for Mario to be free.

    Reply

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