Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort opens at Universal Orlando

March 31, 2014, 9:33 PM · Universal Orlando Resort today opened its fourth on-site hotel, Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort.

Cabana Bay entrance
Photo courtesy Universal

The 1,800-room hotel, operated by Loews Hotels & Resorts, which operates Universal Orlando's other three on-site resorts, offers a retro Googie style, evoking roadside hotels of the late 1950s and 60s. (Though on a much, much, much larger scale.) Here's an overview from Universal Creative:

Our Krista Joy is there for the opening day and sent in some photos:

Cabana Bay at night


Fire pit


Room interior


Okay, they've fudged the theme with flat screen TVs, which along with in-room hair dryers are some of the modern amenities that visitors expect, regardless of theme. But look closely at those old-school phones and alarm clocks. Universal Creative seems to have applied an OCD-level commitment to theme detail in this resort.

Replies (26)

March 31, 2014 at 9:37 PM · Do note that visitors to the Cabana Bay won't get the same Universal Express benefit that visitors staying at the other three on-site resorts get. They will, however, get the early access to Islands of Adventure and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade. It's also the farthest from the front gates of the parks.

The upside is that prices at the Cabana Bay will be the lowest of the four on-site hotels. This is the new "moderate" option at the resort.

March 31, 2014 at 9:38 PM · So Krista Joy is just all kinds of fabulous today. First, an awesome column. Now she's our own Lois Lane getting the scoop and the photos of Cabana Bay. Hooray for Krista. Never has anyone been so aptly named because she gives us all so much Joy with her photographs especially. She always knows how to not only get the big scoops but the perfect shots as well. Go Krista!
March 31, 2014 at 10:07 PM · The worst thing about the 70s is the ugly bedspread. Seems like they preserved that and the uncomfortable sofa and ugly colors. While I like nostalgia, the 70s isn't it. Besides, any cheap hotel looks like the 70s and they still don't have the money for a makeover.

Cabana Bay looks like a dormitory.

March 31, 2014 at 10:23 PM · Great story, thanks!
I did the math on staying here vs Royal Pacific Resort for an upcoming May trip, and with four people it's about the same price after purchasing Express Passes. I went with the RPR because it's closer and has the boat access to the parks.
April 1, 2014 at 12:22 AM · This looks meh.
I'd rather stay at the Bates Motel.
Make it happen Universal Orlando!
Anyone else watch the show?
April 1, 2014 at 12:55 AM · @Anon Mouse As the article mentioned it's not a 70's BUT 50's/60's resort. Maybe you recognise the bedspread still being on your bed at the 70's.
I love the theme and for a moderate hotel is done excellent. I would love to stay at the Thunderbird wing, such a cool name.
Unfortunately the hotel and all it's pools aren't ready jet. When the last fase is done and you can do a lazy river in a moderate hotel pool it's an amazing deal.
I'm wondering if the proposed green walk-bridge that connects the resort to the parks (it should bring you right between Hardrock Café and the baseball restaurant) is already done.
April 1, 2014 at 12:58 AM · Anonamouse -- this isn't the 1970s at all. This is late-50s/early 1960s. I can't tell if you are kidding or not and being sarcastic, but if you think this is 1970s then you are way off. The 1970s were a lot of paisley, browns, shag carpet, wood paneling, brass, velvet paintings of things like tigers, lava lamps, orange-yellow-white plastic things, lots of orbs and circles.

You should look up Googie architecture. That's what the 1960s period referenced here is. The 1970s were more brutalist and the color palette was very different.

April 1, 2014 at 2:55 AM · Let's just all agree it's retro.... The suites include Alice from the Brady Bunch as your housekeeper.... and she will NOT shut up about Sam the Butcher.
April 1, 2014 at 5:23 AM · Looks like a pretty good value option for those folks most concerned with going to "The Harry Potter Park". Adding the lazy river and slide does put the hotel in a comparable category to Disney's moderate resorts at a (currently) cheaper price (keep in mind you have to add $10 for parking as well).

For true Universal fans (those who are not Potterites), the better option is still the Royal Pacific as you get a better quality hotel, closer proximity to the action, and Universal Express for about the same price as what you would pay at Cabana Bay if you added Universal Express (thanks for doing the math Brandon so I don't have to!).

Krista.... do you have more photos of the pool area and the slide?

April 1, 2014 at 6:24 AM · It looks like the 70s to me in the era of the Brady Bunch and disco fever. Since the article mentions the 50s and 60s, it would be incorrect to omit the 70s out of hand.

Lava lamps invented in the 1960s if you don't know. Shag carpeting... 1960s... yeah baby. Both were very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. There is overlap in the two decades.

April 1, 2014 at 7:08 AM · There were a lot of different styles in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, just as there are many different styles in architecture and fashion today. This particular style is Googie, and you could find its influence persisting well into the 1970s, particularly through the whole retro-futurism movement.
April 1, 2014 at 7:49 AM · The bridge hasn't started yet, they just put up the markers. It also appears that the walking path, which will connect to the Royal Pacific path is about to be started on. The bridge location was changed. It isn't crossing the large Hollywood Blvd., it will cross the smaller side street between Cabana & the empty 60 acre lot. It's walking distance is nearly identical to the Portofino to parks walkway. But there is no boat access as at the other three hotels. Keep in mind that these rooms are the suites. The standard rooms don't open until July. If you stay at the standard rooms for five days the price generally decreases to $94 a day for most months of the year. Though this resort has amenities and the look of a Disney moderate hotel, it's priced similar or lower than the Disney values. It's a good alternative to the Universal partnership hotels off property. Basically, it's for large families & the price oriented customer, and of course does not offer Express since it's price point is so low. But it does have early access, an important point since the new attractions won't have Express at the beginning.Universal just purchased a fleet of buses for the park's transportation and they are decorated in the 50's, 60's motif, some with surfboards on the roof.
April 1, 2014 at 8:07 AM · Hard to imagine someone with the word "Mouse" in their username would have something negative to say about Universal.
April 1, 2014 at 8:48 AM · This is right up my street! I love anything kitsch and retro. Might have to try a few nights next year!
April 1, 2014 at 9:21 AM · I live across from this monster - and it ain't pretty. The outside of the two biggest buildings(I think they are called Thunderbird and Continental) have avocado and the drab olive ... you remember those colors you detest in old kitchens.... yep they are on the side of the buildings on intermittent panels. The sun will do another number on them in a few years. The locals think its quite ugly.

On another matter ... the Harry Potter train is moving and undergoing testing. It has the main engine and two passenger cars on the tram like structure moving slowing between both parks.

Finally, new HP inside info ... don't expect the new Gringotts Bank ride to open when the new area opens... you heard it here first!

April 1, 2014 at 11:23 AM · This hotel is absolutely stunning. Kudos to Universal for creating an immersively themed resort.

I've been in love with the Googie style ever since I was a teenager. In recent years, since I'm a fan of Mad Men, this love has only intensified.

To the people (person) who does not like the look of this hotel, perhaps this is a matter not just of personal taste, but age. If you were alive during the fifties, sixties, or seventies, when Googie architecture was a lot more prevalent, I can see how this might all seem a bit 'been there. Done that.'

For example, I'm in my early thirties (Born in the '80s), so the '60s has always seemed like an exotic and exciting decade to me.

April 1, 2014 at 12:54 PM · James Rao said something interesting above that is very reflective of how my family and friends look at Universal: he called it "the Harry Potter Park". Last weekend, I was helping a friend plan her vacation in May. They ended up deciding not to go to "The Harry Potter Park" because her daughters are 7 and 4 and she didn't think it was worth the money right now. She wants them to read all the Harry Potter books and really be into it before they'd plunk down all that money on the two-park passes to ride the train and everything. My friend, like me, is a HUGE Potter fan but she didn't want to take a day away from WDW and go to the "Potter Park" and spend all that money until the girls are older (maybe when the younger one is 8 and the older one is 11).

What James said made me realize that almost everyone I know calls it "Potter" or "The Potter Land" or says "Harry Potter" instead of "Universal". For us, Universal doesn't have anything we are really interested in besides Potter, especially the Studios park. Looking at Universal, we're definitely in the niche that only sees a day there as going for the Potter stuff...and that's now pretty expensive considering that to enjoy it all you have to buy the two-park pass. It would be weird to go and just experience Diagon Alley but not Hogsmeade or vice versa.

Universal to me is now like Discovery Cove. A really cool thing that is super expensive and we have to look at it accordingly. With WDW, my friend for instance is going to be there for 6 days so it was super cheap with the multi-day tickets after like 3 days. Going to Potter one of those days would have been an extra $400 to $500 easy. My friend just could not afford that for her family of 4 (and that's not even including all the food and drinks and things).

I'm really surprised my friend is okay with skipping Potter because she loves the books and movies so much but this trip she just can't swing the money for it.

April 1, 2014 at 2:28 PM · Annette, with children 4 and 7, I would definitely recommend Disney over Universal. There are so few rides they can go on at that age, all they will be able to do is play in the small kids areas in each park. Yes, there are some kids rides, but Disney is filled with all ages attractions.

I'm not sure I would pay the admission for USF parks just to experience Potter either, and I am a huge fan of the movies.

This is one of those time where Disney wins no matter what.

April 1, 2014 at 2:37 PM · I agree with James and Annette. This hotel is for people who just want to come and see Harry Potter. But I am the opposite of Annette, it has been several years since I have been to WDW. I only go to Universal when I go to Orlando, I remember being there when I was little and the ground was just being broken for Islands of Adventure. So for someone like me, there is no incentive to stay there. I am too spoiled on unlimited express pass. And the Royal Pacific has ferry access. And having express automatically at Cabana Bay would dilute the value. This hotel was made to combat places like Holliday Inn, it was not made for true Universal fans.
April 1, 2014 at 3:12 PM · Annette, here's something else the general public messes up: they think Potter Land is at a Disney park...and even more, they think Universal Orlando is owned by Disney. Most people that spend loads of money on a themed resort vacation in the greater Orlando area have NO IDEA whats what in the theme park industry.

Something us insiders have to realize is that we are a niche audience. A tiny segment of the population to whom neither Disney nor Universal are all that interested in catering.

It stinks, but it is true.

April 1, 2014 at 4:10 PM · Okay here's the rules:
Your kids are ages 8 and below - take them to WDW, endure that awful Small World Ride. Enjoy the quick thrills you get from Expedition Everest and Big Thunder Mountain. Spoil yourself with the Grey Goose Orange Slush at Epcot (and drown out the noise of your whining kids).

Your kids are 9 and above - go to Universal. See what real thrill rides are like. Enjoy a tasty churro. Your kids will actually remember the great memories of riding A+ rides and having fun. Repeat as necessary...

April 1, 2014 at 7:20 PM · Anon poster, you want real thrill rides, take your kids to Busch Gardens, Cedar Point, Magic Mountain, or your local amusement park. You want highly themed, narrative attractions go to Disney and Universal. Calling Universal a thrill park is an insult to everything they are trying to accomplish these days.
April 2, 2014 at 3:50 PM · I agree James... but those parks you mentioned lack the all inclusive multi-day experience of UOR (parks, CityWalk, hotels, insanely expensive themed dark rides etc...)

So, I would consider UOR a thrill park by comparison to Disney, but not to a park like Cedar Point.

Once your youngest is 48" tall (56 is better) Universal becomes a whole different experience without child swapping.

April 2, 2014 at 8:22 PM · At only 48" tall your child misses out on five of the main thrill attractions at Universal Orlando. However, 48" is perfect for Disney as your kids will be able to ride everything, including Rock n Roller Coaster. So, at 48" the better choice is Disney.

If your family seeks thrills, and that's it, best wait until everyone is at least 54" before heading to Universal. But again, at that point, Busch Gardens Tampa is a more thrilling option without a doubt - and immersive, relaxing resorts are just a few minutes away from the park along the gulf coast.

However, we both seem to agree that Universal is not a thrill park. It is a family park, very much in the same vein as a Disney park - a model that works better than any other if you want to have a highly profitable business. Sure, Universal has a couple of decent coasters, but for the most part their headliner attractions are designed for families and for people who are willing to leave their skepticism at the door and let their imagination run free. In fact, without imagination and a suspension of disbelief most of Universal's attractions, like Disney's, just don't work. It is the sum of the parts that transforms the ride into a memorable experience.

With Universal's new HP expansion, I fear that people who visit the Gringott's Coaster expecting to be thrilled by the ride alone will be very disappointed. This family coaster is going to be a multi sensory experience that caters to the young and young at heart (and adults who read kids books). Uber thrill seekers are going to see it as boring and slow, and will quickly head back north to ride Millennium Force sixteen times in a row instead. But, to quote James Cameron's THE ABYSS, "You have to see with better eyes than that!" Imaginative families will think Gringott's is the best thing since.... Revenge of the Mummy (a great coaster that doesn't register as a blip on most coaster enthusiast lists). So again, to label Universal as a thrill park is an insult to everything the company has labored to achieve in the last five years.

And N B, you've mentioned a couple times in various discussion threads that your kids have outgrown Disney. But I wonder if it might be their father who has moved on instead? My kids are all taller than 54" and range from 16 down to 10 years. They love roller coasters and thrill rides (heck, we're headed up to Kings Island for Banshee this summer), and they have an amazing time when we visit Universal. But their true love, their first love, is Disney. It is the place they want to visit above all others. If they ever outgrow Walt's Kingdom it would mean they have outgrown adventure, story, and imagination. And if such a thing happened it would be a real tragedy, and would probably break this father's heart.

And if your kids have truly outgrown Disney, it is only a matter of time before they leave Universal in the pixie dust as well.

April 2, 2014 at 6:12 PM · Impressive. Very Impressive. I'd love to stay here. The style is incredible and the extra things to do (lazy river, bowling, etc...) set it a notch above other hotels like this.
April 3, 2014 at 2:37 PM · I noticed yesterday that one of the entrances to this hotel is right off the entrance to I-4 from Hollywood Way. People are going to have to pay attention if they go in this entrance or they will wind up on I-4 West and the next exit to turn around will be Exit 68 in Lake Buena Vista.

I have to say that having driven past this place quite a lot that I am not too enthused about the color and design of it. It looks like a Holiday Inn and if I am going to spend $94 night, I might as well stay on International Drive for less in a place that looks the same. When I stay on property, I like to stay in a place that looks and feels special. On Disney, I love Animal Kingdom Lodge and for Universal, I would like to stay at Portofino Bay or the Hard Rock if my budget would allow.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive