VIAGGI – FAMILY TRAVEL
Cabana Bay Beach Resort is an affordable option for families visiting Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando, Fla. The mid-century modern flair and colorful details make for oh-so-kitschy fun. With a lazy river, fun themed rooms with comfy beds, and a bowling alley, you can have fun without even leaving the resort. (See photo album below the text.)
I recently stayed at Cabana Bay with my husband and 4-year-old son. Interestingly, we did not go to any of the Universal theme parks. Instead, we were visiting family and friends in the area ahead of an already planned Walt Disney World Resort stay. We tacked on this extra weekend, in part, to check out and share our thoughts on this relatively new hotel. For full disclosure, we paid for our entire trip and anything we did at the hotel.
From the moment Universal announced it would be landing in Orlando, it has been competing with Walt Disney World. Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, famously opened what is now Disney’s Hollywood Studios one week before Universal Studios opened its doors. To be honest, I went to both theme parks as a kid, and my family and I never cared for Universal’s rides. They were more adventurous than the kid-friendly ones at Disney world, and they seemed to break down a lot more. But that was then (nearly 20 years ago) and this is now.
Nowadays, Universal is expanding its reach with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and resort hotels like this one. As soon as we walked into the lobby, I could tell this place was aiming to compete with the Disney World value resorts, which include the All-Star Sports, Movies, and Music, Pop Century, and Art of Animation. I have also stayed at Pop Century and All-Star Music, and when I walked into Cabana Bay, I said, “This place gives those value resorts at Disney a run for their money.”
For starters, when I took to the Internet, I learned that I would pay about $400 to stay at Cabana Bay from Friday night to Monday morning. While the Disney value resorts are often affordable, too, the prices keep going up and you don’t get as much value. The Cabana Bay pools were impressive and included a beach area, replete with sand and games, such as oversized tic tac toe, and a lazy river. Disney has beach areas at one of its moderate and other deluxe resorts, and its only lazy river is at one of the deluxe resorts. In addition, at Cabana Bay there is a bowling alley/restaurant and a quick service restaurant.
Despite my devotion to Disney, I must admit that Universal’s answer to the value resort beats Disney’s. As a result, I find myself wanting to recommend Cabana Bay to families with children of any age. However, I still believe that Universal, its rides, and most of its characters are better suited to older children. Mickey Mouse, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Peter Pan still won more smiles from my son. Although we didn’t go to the Universal theme parks, I think the rides would not have been up his alley.
Still, we had a blast at Cabana Bay. We ate breakfast at the quick-service restaurant every day of our weekend stay except the last. We went bowling and my son ate lunch – his favorite chicken nuggets and fries – in the Galaxy Bowling alley. (I will review it in a later post but know that we liked it despite the hefty price tag.) We also enjoyed the arcade, which is next door to the alley. What I really loved about the hotel and the reason I recommend it to families is that you didn’t even have to go to the parks to have a great time. (It should be noted that had we gone to the parks, we would have had access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before non-resort guests, complimentary shuttle buses and walkways to the parks and Universal CityWalk, and promises of more benefits but it is unclear what those would be.) We stayed at the resort, and it was like a mini vacation before our actual vacation at Disney. And it was a fraction of the cost to boot. If I was looking to save money but still have a family getaway, I would consider returning here and staying at this hotel with or without stops at the theme parks.
One of the other benefits was the nod to the past in the form of furniture, art work, the classic cars outside (great photo props), and the toiletries (OMG!). For a good time and a great vibe at an affordable price, turn to Cabana Bay for lodging and entertainment.