The first phase of Cabana Bay Resort opened on March 31 at Universal Orlando Resort, giving the property its very first value-priced hotel. Fortunately that doesn't mean any reduction in quality. The most noticeable difference between Cabana Bay and the other three resorts is that it doesn't offer free Express line access.
Other than that, you get an hour of early entry time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, just as you do at the other on-site hotels, and amenities include a very comprehensive fitness center, arcade, bowling alley, food court, Starbucks, and massive pool with a water slide (the second phase pool will have a lazy river). The rooms are somewhat small, and they open to the outside in this first phase (the second will feature interior hallways), but overall it doesn't really have the feel of a "cheap" resort.
Here's my full review of Cabana Bay Resort, with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thankfully, there isn't really much bad, so it's a perfect place to stay if you're in a budget and can do without the Express access:
The rooms: As I mentioned, the rooms open to the exterior. The outside design will remind you of a 1960s hotel, in keeping with the retro theme. The decor inside is retro, too, but you still get all the modern amenities along with the classic Zest soap and V05 creme rinse. I stayed in a family suite, which had a flat screen TV in the living area and bedroom. It was also equipped with a mini fridge, microwave oven, and coffee maker, and the bedroom has an ironing board and iron. But perhaps the best modern feature was the innovative bathroom design, with the bathtub and sink in one section, the toilet on the other side, and a sink in the middle. That means three people can use the facilities at once, which is very welcome in a room that holds six.
The suite was a little small for six people, although the sleeping arrangements were quite adequate (beds for four and a pull-out couch for the other two). You'll probably spend most of your time in the parks or enjoying the amenities anyway, so that probably wouldn't be much of a bother.
I could hear the toilet next door flushing and some footsteps from upstairs, but overall there wasn't enough sound to bother me. I sleep with a white noise app on my iPod anyway, and I recommend always having one with you because you can never predict when you might have noisy neighbors.
The food: The food court serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with lots of options for all three meals. There's lots of kid friendly food, like burgers and pizza, plus healthier choices like salad and wraps. I was a big fan of the tuna casserole, which was one of the comfort food selections, in keeping with the 1950s/1960s theme. The seating area is huge, with screens showing classic TV clips. As an alternative, if you'd rather have table service, you can get that in the bowling alley. I did that for dinner and really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere (well, as relaxed as it can be with the bowling sounds all around you). You can order food at the lanes, too.
I didn't patronize the Starbucks, but it was a fully functional location with all the typical food and drinks. I'm sure I'd be there if I had a longer stay.
The amenities: The pool was large, with an amazing number of lounge chairs, which is a must for a Florida hotel. But everyone has pools; the thing I enjoyed most here was the bowling alley. You pay to bowl for 60 to 90 minutes, and there are plenty of neon colored bowling balls to choose from, and of course rental shoes too. The only downside I can see is that there are only ten alleys, so the wait might get quite long in the peak season. I was very impressed with the array of equipment in the Jack LaLanne fitness center, which would be a great spot to work off the tuna casserole or the top-it-yourself frozen yogurt that's also available in the food court.
The convenience: It's always convenient to be onsite, and you can walk to the parks from Cabana Bay or take a bus. I didn't try the walking path, but I watch the buses crank out one after the other, so the service will be excellent if that level of frequency keeps up. You really won't need a car if you're spending your whole trip at Universal Orlando Resort because you have the parks and CityWalk literally just a stroll or short bus ride away.
One thing I don't like is that if you do bring a car, it costs $10 a day to park. I know that parking fees are common at many Orlando hotels, but it's something that always annoys me. I think it should just be rolled into the room rates.
That was really the only downside I encountered during my stay, other than some predictable opening-day glitches. I expected the hotel to be on a par with the Disney value resorts, but with the level of theming and amenities, I'd liken it more to the moderates. It's a welcome addition to the Universal hotels that should be very popular, especially during the off season when Express access isn't as valuable of a commodity as it is during the peak attendance days.
Check out the video accompanying this article for a tour of the hotel.