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The most surprisingly charming hotel I’ve stayed at in years: Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort

April 14, 2022
9 min read
The lazy river at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
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I’m a Grinch when it comes to themed hotels.

Usually, they fall short of the concept or end up doing things that feel forced.

Then I checked into the Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando Resort.

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I had packed tempered expectations in my overnight bag, along with a bathing suit, but the property ended up restoring my faith in hotel designers who embark on creating a themed experience.

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The main entrance to Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

The property harkens to the Florida beach resorts of the 1950s and 1960s. Fans of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" will know what I'm talking about.

Classic cars are parked outside. Rotary phones line a lobby wall. There's even a retro bowling alley on the second floor.

At every turn, little touches of the theme put a smile on my face — from the Jack LaLanne-inspired gym to the minibottle of VO5 shampoo and the bar of Zest soap in my room.

The designers at Universal and their partners at Loews Hotels, which operates the resort, pulled off both the minute and more ambitious aspects of the theme, all of which combined to make the property feel authentic instead of cheap or corny.

But there's more to the hotel than its charming vintage vibe. Here's everything you need to know about Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort.

Looking out over one of the pools and hotel buildings at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

The design is totally groovy

It's no secret that the Cabana Bay Beach Resort aims to provide guests with a nostalgic dose of yesteryear's beach vacation. But the tasteful commitment to this theme is what truly impressed me and my TPG colleagues.

The vintage airline posters adorning the walls, the classic automobiles lined up outside and the space-age features on display throughout made the hotel feel unique, as if I'd just stepped inside a meticulously curated time capsule.

Take the Jack LaLanne Physical Fitness Studio. Not only did this on-site gym offer all of the equipment you'd need to complete one of the TV fitness guru's workouts, which play nonstop on screens, but it showcased some of the late icon's trophies, photos and more.

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Then there was the retro arcade featuring all the classic games you remember playing as a kid, including Skee-Ball. You can try to grab a Minion plush from the claw machine, too, when you're not catching a flick or hula-hooping by the main pool.

There was even an old-school bowling alley, which made me feel like I had been thrown into a scene from "The Big Lebowski."

As my colleagues and I bowled an evening round (which cost $13.99 per person for 45 minutes, shoe rentals included), I couldn't help but be impressed by the era-appropriate design of the space and the wide selection of bowling ball weights. Clearly, this hotel knew its audience, offering plenty to appeal to both sentimental adults and energetic little ones.

Know, though, that the lanes do sell out, so you'll want to reserve one early in the day to avoid missing out on some fun in this facility.

Its proximity to the parks is a major draw

These days, access plays a huge role in having fun at theme parks.

Like other popular parks in Orlando, Universal Orlando lets those staying at its eight on-site hotels, including Cabana Bay, into its theme parks an hour earlier than the general public and provides a 30-minute head start into its water park.

That can be a big bonus if you are looking to enjoy the hottest rides, such as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and the Jurassic World VelociCoaster, or you just want to cast some spells in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter without all the crowds.

An aerial view of Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Because the hotel sits within the Universal Orlando complex, you can also quickly reach the parks via free shuttle buses or on foot. It'll take you about 20 minutes to walk from the property to the main gates of Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure.

For those looking to go to the Volcano Bay water park, specifically, this hotel is ideal. It is directly next to the water park (you can see the volcano from one of the two resort pools) and has its own entrance and security checkpoint just for hotel guests.

Prices are surprisingly affordable

As a parent, finding a place to stay with my family that won't break the bank is important, especially for theme park vacations that can quickly get expensive.

So, imagine my surprise when I found single-serve cartons of milk and juice in the cafeteria for the affordable price of $1.49 each. I've seen many resorts like this charge more than $5 for a half-pint of milk.

Related: How to use points to save money at Universal Orlando

Kids meals were budget-friendly, too: A hot dog with apple slices, carrot sticks and a juice, milk or water at the hotel's diner came to just $8.50. And for adults, there were domestic beers for $7.50 and minibottles of Sutter Home wine for $8.25. Well, budget-friendly for a resort.

Even my room rate was surprisingly reasonable. While I didn't expect exorbitant prices since the resort is considered a "prime value" property (or one in the second-lowest cost bracket of Universal's four-tier categorization system), the $279.77 I paid for a one-night stay, including all taxes, seemed more than fair as it fell during one of the country's spring break weeks. Again, not necessarily affordable but reasonable for the peak season.

The rooms are inviting and well appointed

Spread across eight buildings, some of which are not connected to the lobby (a downside to an otherwise well laid-out complex, as afternoon thunderstorms are common in Florida), the hotel's 2,200 guest rooms and suites are decorated in a style befitting a property inspired by 1960s beach resorts.

The map given to guests at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Featuring a colorful but minimalist design, my room had everything I could need. There were two queen-size beds with bright orange headboards positioned against a bright blue accent wall, a small table with two yellow chairs and a dresser with plenty of space to store clothing for every member of the family.

Although there weren't any USB plugs next to the beds, there were enough outlets above the nightstand to charge all of my devices. (Strangely, there were two USB plugs near a corner table.)

The upgraded Wi-Fi was fast enough to make video calls and upload photos as well, though this option costs an extra $9.95 per day. If you're not planning on working during your stay, you can easily get by with the complimentary standard internet.

(Screenshot from Ookla)

The bathroom was just as welcoming as the bedroom, offering a bathtub-shower combo (a much-appreciated amenity for families that's becoming increasingly difficult to find in hotels) and a separate sink area with a matching blue feature wall. In short: It did the trick.

You'll have 2 excellent pools to choose from

As you may expect, this Universal property touts a top-notch pool scene befitting a hotel with an old-Florida beach vibe.

The two zero-entry pools are perfect for kids. One features a lazy river, while the other boasts a waterslide built into an old-school diving tower. Yes, those once were a thing.

Both offer up racks of life jackets, and there are self-serve stations where you can grab fresh towels.

While there were pockets of shade during my visit, the pool areas could admittedly use some more trees and umbrellas to shield swimmers and sunbathers from the sun.

The real highlight, though, came at night when each pool area transformed into a chill, midcentury modern oasis. Palm tree trunks dazzled with string lights as guests gathered around fire pits to roast marshmallows and make s'mores using kits sold on site.

I don't normally associate Florida with campfires, but I enjoyed seeing people capping off their day in such a classically mellow way.

At night, groups gathered around the poolside fire pits to make s'mores. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a solid choice for a Central Florida vacation spent at the parks. It's by no means the nicest place I've stayed at, but it may be one of the most fun, thanks in part to its cool retro design. In fact, despite being a massive property by almost any scale, it was one of the most charming hotel designs I've encountered in quite some time.

While you could find a cheaper hotel off the resort grounds, the easy access to Universal's theme parks — including that coveted early hour of admission — and array of on-site amenities make this reasonably priced property well worth a visit.

When you come to a large theme park like Universal, the goal is to have fun. And Cabana Bay more than delivers on keeping the fun going back at the resort.

Featured image by The lazy river at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
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  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

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  • Annual Fee

    $125
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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
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  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees