Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort Review
Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a hotel in Orlando, within walking distance of Universal Studios Florida & Islands of Adventure theme parks. In this review, we’ll share room photos, info about amenities, pros & cons of Cabana Bay, and how these budget accommodations stack up to Walt Disney World Value & Moderate Resorts.
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort first caught my attention thanks to its 1950s retro design, with Mid-Century Modern architecture and interior design, and styling drawn from beach and car culture. The quasi-motor hotel style works well for this theme, and Cabana Bay reminds me of the iconic motels you’d find along California’s Pacific Coast Highway or Florida’s coast. Except, like the best Walt Disney World resorts, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is idealized, romanticized, and a more fully-featured hotel.
With that said, Cabana Bay Beach Resort is most definitely taste-specific. If you’re into mid-century Americana, appreciate the subtleties of Mid-Century Modern, or enjoy period television shows like Mad Men, this will be right up your alley. If you look at the photos here and think, this looks like a dated roadside motel, then Cabana Bay is not for you…
I am an absolute sucker for Mid-Century Modern. While living in California, we’d book otherwise pricey hotels during the off-season (read: when it was over 100 degrees in the middle of summer) in Palm Springs, and walk/drive around checking out the architecture. In addition to the aforementioned coasts, Cabana Bay would be perfectly at home nestled between the mountains and desert of Palm Springs.
The clean lines and swooping curves punctuated by geometric patterns, splashes of color, subtly deceiving minimalism, and contrasting materials that typify Mid-Century Modern are present in spades at Cabana Bay. Mid-century modern is ostensibly simplistic, with form following function. However, each element reveals more attention to detail and charm the more you’re in its presence. Same goes for Cabana Bay–there’s a ton of beauty in the resort’s ostensibly understated appearance.
I could go on and on, but I think it’s either something you love–or don’t. I’m very aware that this style is not to everyone’s tastes. As such, it probably makes sense to start with a series of photos from around Cabana Bay Beach Resort so that you can decide, as a threshold matter, whether this theme appeals to you:
When reviewing things I love, be it BBQ ribs, calamari, or ice cream, I often preface my comments by saying that there’s no such thing as a ‘bad version’ of those things. Only good to great. I feel like I should offer a similar caveat here–even before staying at Cabana Bay, I was pretty confident that I’d love it based upon the theme.
That’s why we chose it as our first place to stay at Universal and first hotel to review–it’s going to be difficult to top for me. Just offering that in case you look at these photos, read this glowing review, and wonder how I reached some of these conclusions. With that caveat out of the way, I truly believe Cabana Bay is head and shoulders above other Value Resorts in terms of its features and quality, objectively speaking.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the guest rooms.
We stayed in a Standard Room with a Volcano View. Each such room has two queen beds, a flat screen TV, Cuisinart single coffee pod brewer, iron, ironing board, hairdryer, in-room safe, and mini refrigerator.
These rooms are 300 square feet in size, which puts them between Walt Disney World Value (260 square feet) and Moderate (314 square feet) Resort rooms, size-wise.
The space is well-utilized, and we found Cabana Bay’s rooms to be very good.
There’s our view of Volcano Bay Water Park.
I loved this view and took a ton of day, sunset, dusk, night, and sunrise photos of Volcano Bay during our stay that made the ~$20/night extra we paid “worth it” to us. I probably wouldn’t recommend this upgrade to most people, though.
The most important ‘feature’ of our room at Cabana Bay?
THEMED BEDSPREADS. A+ review, 10/10 stars right there for that alone. You know how I am about my themed bedding.
The bathrooms are fine.
Given what Walt Disney World is doing with its room re-designs at Pop Century and the All Stars, I’d actually give Disney’s resorts the edge in this department.
We did end up with an ADA layout, so here’s what that looks like.
In looking at photos online, I prefer the normal layout, but this is what we were assigned. Not a huge difference either way.
Another little touch that I absolutely love is the themed toiletries.
It’s minor, but providing shampoo and soap with retro labels is really cool and shows the resort’s attention to detail.
One of Cabana Bay Beach Resort’s biggest selling points is its pricing, with standard rooms starting at around $100/night and family suites starting at $200/night. For our travel dates, we paid ~$130/night for a discounted standard room with a view of Volcano Bay Water Park.
If you travel during peak season, expect to pay more. During off-season, you can score deals for less. Currently, there are offers for Florida residents and Annual Passholders that are around $84/night. Given the amenities, features, and quality, the value proposition of Cabana Bay is exceptional.
The biggest perk for Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort on-site guests is early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Park. (Note that Cabana Bay guests do not receive unlimited Express Pass.)
Early access to Wizarding World of Harry Potter isn’t as important as it once was, but is still pretty key at Volcano Bay, which is literally right behind the hotel–a super easy walk.
Cabana Bay also has shuttle buses and walking paths that provide access to Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk. (The bus stop is near the classic cars–the cars aren’t the shuttles, as cool as that would be!)
I personally find the Garden Walk to the parks to be lovely and something of a hidden gem, but it’s about a 20 minute walk. Buses can be crowded during prime times, but they’re also incredibly frequent, with one nearly every 5-10 minutes (or less).
In terms of amenities and features, we’ll start with the pools, since those are often the biggest selling point of a resort.
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort has two large pools: Cabana Courtyard & Pool and Lazy River Courtyard & Pool.
Cabana Courtyard and Pool offers a dive tower-themed water slide, poolside Atomic Tonic bar, cabanas for rent, shaded picnic tables, and a large fire pit.
This area is located off of the main lobby and among three different wings of guest buildings. I don’t know if it was simply my perception or the layout of the pool as simply a single, large area, but the Cabana Courtyard & Pool always felt crowded and chaotic during our stay.
Lazy River Courtyard and Pool features a lazy river, sand beach, the poolside Hideaway Bar & Grill, two fire pits and tons of outdoor seating.
This seems to be the more “chill” of the two pools at Cabana Bay; it’s the one I preferred and recommend.
On the dining front, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort has a ton of options. In addition to the aforementioned pool locations, there’s also a lobby bar, food court, bowling alley restaurant, lobby Starbucks, and in-room pizza delivery.
Not exactly what you’d expect from a Value Resort!
The main dining option where most guests will eat is the Bayliner Diner food court, located off the main lobby.
It’s fine. In addition to standard fare, there’s an international station that has some good options. As for a Walt Disney World comparison, I’d put this somewhere around or slightly above Everything Pop in terms of quality, and below Landscape of Flavors at Art of Animation.
On a previous holiday season visit, I felt compelled to buy this refillable mug from Bayliner Diner. 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.
On our most recent visit, we found two different styles of resort-specific mugs at Cabana Bay. Another nice touch.
Moving towards the lobby, The Swizzle Lounge is located across from the check-in desk. Every night we’ve stayed at or visited Cabana Bay, this place has been hoppin’, even into the late night hours.
It’s obviously a popular hangout spot for unwinding after a day in the parks.
Upstairs in the main lobby, there’s Galaxy Bowl, which is–as the name suggests–a bowling alley.
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.
Given the pricing, the slate of amenities that Cabana Bay has is really, really impressive.
There’s little arguing that Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort far exceeds any Walt Disney World Value Resort in terms of hotel features. The bowling alley, multiple restaurants, lazy river, and being within walking distance of the parks are all huge, and things WDW’s Value Resorts simply do not offer.
Of course, there’s the question of whether you’ll use all of those things (while I love the idea of a bowling alley, I’ve never once gone bowling on vacation).
There’s also the question of whether Walt Disney World’s on-site perks like Extra Magic Hours, Disney’s Magical Express, etc., outweigh the early access to Volcano Bay and Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Personally, I think this is a why not both? situation.
If you’re going to spend multiple days in Walt Disney World’s parks and multiple days in Universal Orlando Resort’s parks, do a split stay with at least a couple of nights at each set of hotels. Otherwise, “stay where you’ll play.”
Even though it’s a Value Resort, Universal nails it with the details and design. Conveying an actual theme in a Value Resort is no easy task, but Universal nailed it here by leaning into the motel nature of the accommodations, rather than aiming for something more grandiose and elaborate.
Reasonable minds may vary, but this is a superior thematic approach as compared to Walt Disney World’s decision to decorate its Value Resorts with oversized icons. With Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal is recreating the clean, sleek architecture of the 1950s and 1960s–and absolutely crushing it.
By contrast, Walt Disney World’s value resorts are not transportive to another time and place; they feel like modern motels with big decorations all around. (Again, theme and decorations aren’t the same thing.)
In fairness, kids will probably prefer those oversized Disney icons and various decorations, but Cabana Bay is hands-down the superior resort in terms of theme and quality.
My biggest complaint about Cabana Bay is its size. This resort has 1,800 rooms, and at various times it feels like every one of those guests is in the pool, food court, or waiting for the buses.
With that said, this is hardly a unique problem. Pop Century has ~2,800 rooms and each of the All Stars have nearly 2,000.
I’m not sure if it’s the way those resorts break up space with multiple building clusters and more space (or if we just stayed here during a busier time), but Cabana Bay felt busier.
Nevertheless, my late night and early morning strolls around Cabana Bay were still delightful. Seeing the neon glow against the palms or the morning sunlight kiss the sharp lines of the architecture were lovely, serene experiences.
Overall, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is an absolute winner, offering unparalleled value for money among theme park adjacent resorts. The hotel offers far more features than you’d expect from the price-point, especially one situated at a major theme park complex. While I wouldn’t personally use all of these things, the diversity and range of the offerings is really impressive, and all of this in-tandem is what makes Cabana Bay work so well as a bona-fide resort where you’ll have a lot of fun.
On-site theme park hotels have the benefit of proximity, sometimes allowing them to phone it in on quality. That is not even remotely the case at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Rather than feeling like a roadside motel with some decorations and haphazard stylistic flourishes, this is a romanticized and elevated 1950s-60s era midcentury modern motel. While the style might be taste-specific, the attention to detail and quality at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort are undeniable. The end result is an inviting resort that’s actually a place at which I enjoyed hanging out and spending time, irrespective of the theme park association.
Planning a trip to Orlando, Florida? Learn more about Universal Orlando Resort in our Islands of Adventure & Universal Studios Florida Planning Guide. Want comprehensive Disney advice? The best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know. For more on hotels, check out our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page.
Have you stayed at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort? What do you think of it? Interested in staying here? What do you think of Universal’s v. Disney’s Value Resorts? What about on-site perks? Do you agree or disagree with our hotel review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
We are planning to go in Feb. Silly question, is the pool a bit heated? it might be too cold to get in during our February vacation. just wondering. The hotel looks amazing and the reviews and comments so helpful!!
My company and I stayed here for a business meeting and honestly the quality of people that stay here make it miserable. The rooms are obviously not insulated because we had to listen to the folks next door cuss like sailors and scream at a young child that was upset! They also played very loud music and were very obnoxious. We will not be staying here ever again. Very frustrating
WOW! Your photos are amazing. Can’t wait to go here in July
We booked Cabana Bay last night for our first Universal/Harry Potter stay. The pools were the deciding factor over Endless Summer. We’re doing a split stay with Disney. I
I stayed there two years ago and loved it. Having recently stayed at All Star Movies I can definitely say that Cabana Bay beats the All Stars in quality. I loved the bathrooms at Cabana Bay, so bright. When getting ready at All Star’s and even Port Orleans recently, it is pretty dark. I love the new trend of keeping the shower/toilet separate to give everyone a chance at the mirror. I also thought the food at their food court was very nicely done.
You weren’t supposed to make it sound this GREAT!
Was hoping to keep that secret to ourselves, as we LOVE Cabana Bay!
We have stayed every year since it opened in 2014 – hands down, our very favorite.
We stayed at Cabana Bay last March and absolutely loved it. A short walk to Volcano Bay was awesome. The thing I loved the most was that you were actually staying in a hotel and did not have to walk a mile outside to get a cup of coffee or midnight snack. Although we do love Disney and will be going back next year, the convenience of having the food available with just an elevator ride was awesome. Will definitely be doing a split between Disney and Universal our next trip.
We have never stayed at a Universal Resort hotel. They offer vacation packages with “neighbor” hotels which we have always done (or stayed at Disney and did 1 day at Universal). We are currently in the beginning stages of planning a 2020 trip to Universal for the Orlando Informer Meet-Up and plan on staying on site. We were considering going the cheapest with the new Surfside Inn Resort but I appreciated seeing your review on Cabana Bay! Possibly you will be staying at Surfside sooner than later as you mentioned more reviews to come?
My mom and I stayed at the Cabana Bay 5 years ago and loved it. Now my husband and daughters are also planning on visiting Universal in June of 2020 and looking at the new Surfside Inn Resort. I’d love a review like this of that resort before we commit.
He posted a review of the Surfside Inn today: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/endless-summer-resort-surfside-inn-review/
We spent 5 nights in early June at Cabana Bay in a family suite. It was our first visit to Universal and we had a blast! The room was well thought out with the bathroom arrangement and the kitchenette. Loved the sliding door partition that separated the kitchenette and fold down sofa from the rest of the room. My husband was successfully segregated there due to snoring! The beds were comfy, but our room needed some refurbishment. There was a section of carpeting that needed to be replaced and the bedspreads were pilled and and tearing around the edges in places. We had to call three times to get an extra blanket from housekeeping! Other than that, we loved everything about the resort! The bus service was excellent and the short walk to Volcano Bay was awesome! We also used the Sapphire Falls resort boat and walked across the street to CB three times but there is a safer footbridge that goes over the street connecting both resorts. My 14 and 12 year olds had an great time in the arcade and the food was pretty good too! We spent all of our pool time on the lazy river side, where you can buy or bring inner tubes and they’ll inflate them for free! We loved it so much that we upgraded to Seasonal AP’s and are heading back for another stay at CB in November!
Stayed here in 2015, and it was great! We had just stayed at Pop the year before, and this tops the Disney Value resorts, all things considered. The only thing I thought was just ok was the food. Loved that you can walk to the parks (imagine being able to do that from a Disney Value resort!), and it’s actually a really nice walk. Not sure if they still have this, but when we stayed there they offered a free ride to/from other Universal hotels if you had a dining reservation, a really nice perk. Ate at the Royal Pacific (which looks amazing)….the wok experience at Islands is great!
If that dive-tower themed slide was an actual dive tower, that would take the cake for best hotel pool in Orlando!
If you stayed in a suite you would have been able to compare to Disney’s Art of Animation Suites. The value proposition is unquestionably in the favor of Cabana Bay! Even with one bathroom instead of two, the cost difference is less than a third of Art of Animation Suite prices. In fact, a starting price of $200 is kind of high. I was able to stay last summer for less than $150 a night. My kids LOVED this place way more than Pop Century because the pools have more features. There may be more people in the pool because it is a better pool than the plain jane pools at the value resorts at Disney. I can’t wait to go back to Cabana Bay 🙂
We stayed for two weeks in 2017 and again in 2018 can’t wait to go back for another two weeks in 2020. Hotel and staff are fantastic.
Our stay at Cabana Bay 2 years ago was HORRIBLE! And the terrible customer service when I tried to address our issues made it worse. Disney World has spoiled us! Universal has a long way to go in the customer service department.
You mentioned “While living in California…” – are you based out of FL now? That would explain the rise in posts about WDW and surrounding areas.
I stayed here a few years ago while doing Harry Potter, and was completely blown away! It’s a beautiful hotel, and the details are so lovely. My favorite part was probably the poolside bar, with its ’60s patio furniture. My only tiny complaint was that the beds and linens aren’t very nice, but for the price it’s completely expected. Would absolutely stay here again!
Oh man, I’ve never stayed at a Universal hotel but I absolutely love the look of this place. SO COOL. I might book 1 or 2 nights here next year. Honestly I’m not a big fan of the Universal parks, but I could TOTALLY spend an early morning doing Harry Potter stuff and the rest of the day on the lazy river here.
We stayed at Cabana Bay two years ago and we LOVED it! It wins hands down over any Disney Value Resort. My kids loved the special entrance to Volcano Bay which was about 5 minutes away from our room. They loved the Bowling alley and the arcade too. The pools and lazy river are wayyyyy better there than at the Value Resorts and Moderate hotels. Sorry, but they are. The rooms are huge, and the resort feels spacey; if that’s a thing. Lol. My husband loves that they have Starbucks inside the Resort too because he could get his Starbucks fix. My kids are getting older now, and it seems like they are shifting to less Disney and more Universal stuff, so it’s likely that we will be staying at Cabana more often. Although, I love Walt Disney World more, my kids prefer the rides at Universal, so these hotel choices matter. Universal definitely gives you more for your buck than Disney. My cousin stayed at Sapphire Falls and said they were better than a Disney Deluxe. I can only imagine what Portofino and Hard Rock are like!!