If Don Draper had come to Florida instead of California, he’d have stayed at Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
Maybe you read my review of Universal Orlando’s Royal Pacific Resort and thought, sounds great — but I can’t afford it! In that case, you’re in luck, because today I’m giving you a tour of the Universal Orlando’s most budget friendly onsite-hotel option, which requires very few compromises. In fact, I’d argue it has some of the best pools, the best theming, and the most fun amenities of anywhere in Orlando!
This retro gem of a resort was inspired by the same classic Florida nostalgia that inspired another hotel I recently reviewed, The Postcard Inn in St. Pete.
With 1,800 rooms and counting, Cabana Bay ain’t no boutique hotel — in fact, it’s by far the largest of all the onsite hotels at Universal. With rates starting at $114 a night, and rooms big enough to fit a whole family, you can see how they sell out even at that size!
Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the one on-site hotel that doesn’t have water taxi access to CityWalk, Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure — however, there is a free shuttle. And the trade off? Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the one onsite hotel with direct access into Volcano Bay, Universal’s brand new water theme park! There are also no Express Passes included in a your stay, however you can purchase them separately — and you’ll still get your extra hour of early admission, free entrance to all CityWalk venues, and free delivery of many onsite purchases straight to your room.
You’ll feel like you’re on vacation — a vintage one! — from the moment you step through the doors of Cabana Bay. The two-wing lobby boasts the cute Swizzle Lounge bar, the expansive Bayliner Diner cafeteria, an appropriately large check-in area, and a well-stocked gift shop.
Rooms are spread out into several long wings with different views — some of the new tower suites even boast Instagram-able views over Volcano Bay! Our room was well sized for three girls with two queen beds, a full size closet, a small table with two chairs, and a large bureau for stuffing clothes in.
While the fancy Keurig of the more expensive onsite hotels was absent, a small fridge and basic coffee and tea maker was available — larger family suites have an entire kitchenette.
My favorite detail? The retro toiletries — what a blast from the past!
The onsite entertainment options at Cabana Bay are really what makes the place stand out. In addition to the standard arcade, there’s literally an entire bowling alley!
Bowling is one of those things I love but don’t actually get to do that often, so I was thrilled when I got to spend a night tackling the ten ten-pin lanes. The prices are super reasonable, and I just love this as an option for either a rainy day or a restless night.
But that’s just where the fun begins. Outside, two totally distinctive pool areas each boast their own bar and grills, plenty of slash zones, and hundreds and hundreds of beach chairs. One side boasts a lazy river where you can purchase branded floats or bring your own for a free inflation, while the other is lined by stylish cabanas you can rent for the day. Other attractions include waterslides, a fire pit — for which s’more kits are sold in the cafeteria — and dive-in movie nights.
Stay tuned for a post coming up this week with more details on the pools at Cabana Bay, and elsewhere at Universal Orlando!
Back inside, I found myself totally smitten with the Jack LaLanne fitness center, my favorite of the onsite hotel gyms at Universal Orlando Resort. The adorably themed — and enormous! — gym has all the usual weight and cardio machines, vintage calisthenic videos playing in the background and a small museum-like dedication to Jake himself.
The only drawback I can think of at Cabana Bay is that for those with a palate that extends beyond chicken fingers (AKA, ya know, most grown ups), there isn’t really a dining option for date night. Here’s the full list:
• Bayliner Diner: Cabana Bay’s primary cafeteria. I didn’t get the chance to eat here, though the selection looked enormous!
• Delizioso Pizza: Cabana Bay’s cutely themed but limited room service option.
• Starbucks: My favorite perk of staying at Cabana Bay Beach Resort — an in-lobby Starbucks. (I’m obsessed with the egg white bites!) It’s an absolute lifesaver for grabbing breakfast on the way into the park, or a caffeine boost throughout the day.
• Galaxy Bowl: They serve a basic menu of the usual pizza, burgers and chicken fingers for eating in the lanes.
• Swizzle Lounge: This is mostly a lobby bar, but serves a few apps and snacks — probably the best best for grown ups looking for a nicer meal.
• Hideaway Bar and Grill and Atomic Tonic: The two separate pool bar and grills — we had lunch one day at the former, and I was impressed with the exotic hot dogs on the menu (I had one with mango salsa and washed it down with a pineapple cider from the bar) as well as your standard wraps and burgers.
If I was pressed to eat three meals a day here, I’d grab breakfast at Starbucks, do lunch at one of the pool bars, and do either a light dinner at the bar in the Swizzle Lounge or lounging in my room with a delivery pizza.
But! The good news is that you don’t have to go far if you’re craving something a little fancier. Right across the street from Cabana Bay lies the best hotel dining scene in Universal Orlando resort, in my opinion.
Sapphire Falls has it all — a fabulous grab-and-go breakfast spot at New Dutch Trading Co., the best poolside menu around at Drhum Club Kantine, a chic rum bar with amazing dinner options at Strongwater Tavern, and a stunning full service restaurant at Amatista Cookhouse.
I took the girls to a delicious dinner at Amatista Cookhouse for our last low-key night in Orlando before their early morning flights back north. It was just a few minutes walk and several worlds away from Cabana Bay!
In short? I’m obsessed with Cabana Bay! I actually found myself wistful to leave, sad that I didn’t have time for sunset s’mores, a dive-in movie, or a day by the second of the two pool courtyards. And then I remembered — there’s always next time. At with Cabana Bay’s prices, you won’t have to wait too long to save up for your next trip.
Stay tuned for my final post from Universal Orlando Resort!
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it.
This post is brought to your by Universal Orlando Resort. I am a member of the Universal Blog Squad, and have been compensated for this partnership. I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and geeky TV references are my own.