If you are planning a family vacation to Universal Studios, you need to save this review – I’m going to give you the pros, cons and everything in between about Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the cheapest on-property resort.
This was my 6 year old and my first trip to Universal Studios and our first time at any of the Universal Studios hotels – we spent 3 relaxing yet exciting days on property and today, we’re digging into the hotel.
Best Universal Studios Resort for Families
If you want a brief run-down of all the Universal Studios Resorts, check out my Everything You Need to Know to Visit Universal Studios with a 6 Year Old post.
We chose Cabana Bay Beach Resort for the relaxed & retro 50s Beach vibe and the price – starting at $112/night it lets you stay on property for the same price it would be to stay off-property and you can put those savings towards special experiences throughout your stay – like breakfast with the minions or the Olivander Wand Experience.
Included in the nightly fee is:
- Free transportation to Universal, Citywalk and Seaworld (fees apply to DisneyWorld transportation)
- Ability to pool hop at any of the other Universal Resorts
- Early park admission to a specific park each day (the entire Wizarding World section at that park will be open)
- Free parking at the main CityWalk parking garage (parking at the resort has a nightly fee if you want your car closer)
- Free park-to-room package delivery so you don’t have to haul your purchases around the parks
You can make charges at the parks and around the resort using your room key – but make sure you use it at the resort before you head to the parks for the day and leave your credit card behind. Mine didn’t work and I was told that this is a common issue – the person who checked me in had missed a step. It was quickly fixed but we weren’t able to eat lunch in the park on our first day as planned – but I had enough cash on me for butterbeers!
Also, unlike most hotels where you check out at 11am and are not able to use the facilities past that time, Cabana Bay invited us to use the facilities all day. This is great if you have a later flight – they will hold your bags in the bell hop area and you can continue to use the bowling alley, swimming pools, etc.
Keep in mind if you are travelling during the summer that the pools will close if lightning is in the area – and Orlando is the world capital for lightning! Bring some activities for the kids to do in the lobby, cafeteria or back in the room – or budget for the arcade or bowling alley.
What I loved about Cabana Bay
I really enjoyed this resort – I met some fun people like David and enjoyed the weekend entertainment (an amazing musician in the Swizzle lounge melting my heart with some Frankie Vallie) and a fun run-in with none other than Ms. Lucille O’Ball.
I felt safe at all times and the staff was professional and accommodating – the lifeguard manager even spent a good 10 minutes trying to find us some clean towels after they had all been taken as it started to rain.
The proximity of Cabana Bay to Volcano Bay is awesome – literally a 5 minute walk from our room to the water park and there is a walking path that connects Cabana Bay to the other resorts where you can walk or take a boat to CityWalk and the Parks.
You can also take a bus from Cabana Bay to the Parks – one leaves about every 15 minutes.
The Retro 50s Theming
The hotel was incredibly clean and the theming was straight out of a 50s beach movie. Even the Alberto V05 shampoo and Zest soap in the bathroom were on point. (And my daughter was completely confused by the retro alarm clock.)
I loved the 50s and 60s music in the lobby area and wish they opted to play that music in the pool area instead of the typical mainstream stuff. As we were leaving, Moon River came on which is an all-time favorite and one I sing to my daughter often so that gave me goosebumps.
I don’t think there was a bad view in the entire hotel – I loved the floor to ceiling windows and how bright it made the room.
Cabana Bay Pool & Lazy River
We stayed in a 5th floor room for 3 nights which gave amazing views of Volcano Bay and the lazy river. It was perfect for keeping us away from the noise of the pool area for an early (6 year old) bed time. Based on other reviews I read, I would avoid staying too close to the action if your kids have early bedtimes as some guests found it loud.
There are two huge pools, a giant lazy river and a water slide and lots of lifeguards at any given time. I actually felt comfortable enough to let my daughter go off and play with some new friends because the lifeguards were so attentive.
On some nights there are movies by the pool and a bonfire with roasted marshmallows – these are never crowded as most guests with kids are either at the parks or already in bed.
(PS – the bar sells refillable cups that you are allowed to bring in the pools with you!)
Pro Tip: Rent a Poolside Cabana
Speaking of the cabanas, they were incredibly affordable and a great option when some family members want to relax in the room and others by the pool. The cabanas had mini-fridges, TV’s, safes, loungers, table and chairs, towel service and the option to have food and drinks delivered. It was such a treat and I would highly recommend it if you plan a pool day into your vacation – or you could even book it for the day you check out to give you a spot to stay until you leave to catch your flight or drive home.
I relaxed in the cabana with a full view of the pool with the hot tub and pool bar closeby. Younger children could catch a nap in there if needed so you don’t need to pull older siblings out of the pool to keep that necessary routine.
Family Suites with Kitchenettes
There is an on-site bowling alley which was pretty low-key and had a built-in restaurant for something a bit different, especially if the kids have had enough of the pool for the day.
While we stayed in a standard room, there are affordable suites with kitchenettes which not only helps with budget, it can make mornings easier and are a great option if you’re dealing with dietary restrictions or allergies. The suites also sleep 6 people and have a dividing partition so you don’t have to wake everyone up as you’re preparing breakfast. The suites start at $152/night.
I like to eat out as much as possible on vacation so grabbing some cold breakfast options from the Bayliner (or the giant Simpson’s donut at the parks) the night before to keep in the fridge and using the in-room coffee maker was a good compromise for me.
We didn’t eat in the Bayliner Diner and there was a mix-up with our order from the pool bar (it was delivered to another cabana and the guests ate it thinking it was complimentary – ha!) but my friend Stephanie is a huge fan because her son is a picky eater and it allowed them to each grab something they liked and not have to deal with the fuss of a restaurant when they just wanted to eat and get back to the pool as fast as possible.
However, we did visit Starbucks several times during our stay – yes, on site Starbucks. I saved the best for last!
Pin this review of Cabana Bay Family Resort for your Universal Studios vacation planning:
Cabana Bay: Things to Keep in Mind
Of course, there are always a few things about any hotel that may or may not be a good fit for the guest – but to be honest, all of these things were “preferences” and not problems, and all of them are to be expected at an inexpensive hotel.
Something that really put a damper on our arrival – but might not be a big deal for others – was that the bell hops don’t actually help you to your room. Ok, for $112/night, I think that’s understandable but we were travelling for 3 weeks and had 3 weeks worth of luggage (and souvenirs). The luggage carts were really hard to pull or push on the carpet and I ended up whacking my daughter in the forehead with the cart because I’m 5’2″ and couldn’t see around it to see that she had stopped walking. There were also several housekeeping carts in our way as we were trying to make it to the room which made it all the more difficult and time-consuming (having to stop and move each cart to fit ours past it). If there’s one suggestion I would give to Cabana Bay it would be to make this an add-on service – I would gladly pay to never have to do that again.
There is no room service – there is a room pizza delivery option and in-room coffee machines and a fridge, so plan ahead. (This may be where a kitchenette comes in handy.)
The lazy river doesn’t provide rafts/tubes. You can bring your own but we purchased a couple and were told you can bring back your inflated tube for a packaged one at the end of your stay as a special souvenir – so that’s not really a con to me. They could easily charge rental fees and not offer the flattened packages so I think this is a mix of pro-and-con. (The con mostly because it’s an unexpected add-on – it’s somewhat hidden in the terms and conditions on the site.)
A second semi-con is that Cabana Bay is the only one of the Universal Resorts that doesn’t give guests free Express Passes – however, you’re also saving potentially $100+/night staying at Cabana Bay so you could put some of that savings towards the pass. I would do the math on the savings/cost before arriving to determine if one of the other Loews’ hotels on property is better for your group if this is a must-do for you.
Despite not having full amenities (like helping with luggage and room service), I never felt like I was staying at a “cheap hotel.” Everything was always clean, the staff was attentive and the attention to detail in the decor was amazing.
We had a few small issues (like the charge to room not being set up properly and food in our cabana being thrown out by an overzealous lifeguard) and while they didn’t go above-and-beyond to fix the issues, they were dealt with politely and promptly. (I also didn’t let the front desk clerk know that we had to skip lunch due to the charge feature not working, so it’s possible they would have done something had they known.)
I would definitely stay here again and recommend it as a family-friendly option for visiting Universal Studios. Next time, I want to stay at Loews Royal Pacific hotel just based on the theming and ambience, but I think most kids would enjoy Cabana Bay more than the other resorts for the laid-back vibes, all of the other kids to play with and the family programming throughout the day.
Do you have a Universal Studios family vacation coming up? Let me know if you have any questions about Cabana Bay or visiting Universal Studios with kids!
For more tips on planning a Universal Studios family vacation check out our post – Every thing you need to know to visit Universal Studios with a 6-year old!