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.

Your Thoughts

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!

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