Universal's Cabana Bay leads 2020 Theme Park Insider Awards

January 1, 2020, 10:11 AM · Today we kick off the presentation of our 2020 Theme Park Insider Awards, honoring the best of the theme park industry around the world. Our first category is Best Moderate or Budget Hotel and our winner, once again, is Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort.

Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort

The largest hotel at Universal Orlando, the Cabana Bay set a new standard for value when in opened in 2014. Like all Universal Orlando hotels, the Cabana Bay is operated by Loews Hotels, a luxury hospitality company not previously known for mid-range and budget hotels. But with the Cabana Bay, Loews and Universal demonstrated that a property can deliver top quality with a low price — a formula that the companies have repeated with their Aventura and now Endless Summer hotels.

Located at the far end of Universal Orlando's Garden Walk and next to the Volcano Bay water theme park, the Cabana Bay features a Googie-inspired design that evokes Florida roadtrips in the middle of the 20th century. Universal and Loews carried the theme all the way down to the complimentary bathroom toiletries, which feature old-school brands such as Zest soap and Alberto V05 shampoo.

But the real theme here is fun, with two massive pool complexes, including one with a lazy river. There's even a bowling alley here, too. Each reservation at the Cabana Bay, like at all Universal Orlando hotels, includes Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter as well as to select locations at the adjacent Volcano Bay. The Cabana Bay's towers offer the defining views of Volcano Bay, and the hotel offers 920 family suites with kitchenettes in addition to 1,280 standard rooms, making this the go-to hotel for families visiting Orlando.

The Theme Park Insider Awards continue tomorrow with the presentation of our award for Best Deluxe Hotel. And for reservations at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, please check availability through our travel partner.

About Theme Park Insider: Theme Park Insider is a consumer's guide to the world's best theme park resorts, reaching more than five million unique readers via its website annually and winning multiple honors for its reporting, including from the Online Journalism Association and the Webby Awards. Winners of the Theme Park Insider Awards are those locations that received the highest average reader rating, with a minimum number of votes, in their categories over the past year.

Replies (11)

January 1, 2020 at 11:44 AM

Well deserved 2nd win for Universal’s Cabana Bay! Love the spacious and well organized family suites, fun pools, various amenities and affordable breakfast platters at Bayliner Diner. The resort has a great kitschy theme and the grounds are light, airy and very comfortable. Congratulations, UOR!

January 1, 2020 at 11:45 AM

Any chance we can know what came 2nd and 3rd in each category, Robert, or even the top 5? Whilst it’s great to know who won sometimes knowing who the ‘honourable mentions’ were is also really handy.

January 1, 2020 at 2:16 PM

I’d venture to say that Sapphire Falls, Aventura and Port Orleans Riverside also received consideration for best moderate resorts. As for budget hotels, Endless Summer is by far the best available with Pop Century a distant 2nd.

January 1, 2020 at 2:39 PM

There was such a big break here after the Cabana Bay that I didn’t bother with honorable mentions in this category, but they will be included in all other categories.

January 2, 2020 at 5:24 PM

I haven't been to Universal Orlando in a long time, but it seems like a no-brainer to stay here the next time I do make the trip.

The only thing that would stop me is if I splurge on Royal Pacific, so I can make use of the Express Pass, as there are a ton of new things since my last trip. Could very well be worth it.

But if I don't go that route, this seems like the clear choice.

January 2, 2020 at 9:18 AM

Cabana Bay is totally deserving of this award. The theme and atmosphere are so cool, and it's within walking distance of Volcano Bay. We loved it and will definitely stay there again.

January 2, 2020 at 11:51 AM

I can't say that I've stayed at Cabana Bay, and don't think I would ever do it. The price differential between a night here and a night at Royal Pacific is usually around $100-150, which is a great value to get the Universal Express perk for every guest in the room. The early entry perk is extremely limited with just a few attractions open during the hour where on-site guests get exclusive access, so the draw of Universal Express is a much bigger deal in my opinion.

I think Pop Century offers a much better value in comparison in this hotel class. The average rates for the Disney value resort are a bit higher, but the comparative perks are much better. Not you do you get EMH, where almost every major attraction in a given park is available exclusively to on-site guests, but you also get that all important 60-day head start on booking FPs. Pop Century now has the added advantage of being on the Skyliner with efficient access to DHS and EPCOT.

January 2, 2020 at 11:20 PM

Russell with his sort of compliment and then compares it to something at Disney he likes better.... shocker.

January 2, 2020 at 11:23 PM

Personally speaking, I would never stay at any Universal hotel without Unlimited Express. There is nothing like 5-10 minute waits for the duration of a 5 day stay.

January 3, 2020 at 7:33 AM

@NB - I don't know why you accuse me of being biased towards Disney. I've criticized both Universal and Disney multiple times for deficiencies in each of their resorts and projects. I was merely trying to provide a comparison in this particular category - value resorts. In my opinion, I feel that the WDW value resorts, particularly Pop Century, are a bit better than this award winner from Universal. I clearly stated the reasons for this opinion, but to state them more concisely...

1. For a little bit more per night (usually @$100), you can upgrade your stay to Royal Pacific Resort and get Unlimited Universal Express. I find that to be an incredible perk to have at UO, and is not included as part of a stay at Cabana Bay.
2. The early entry perk at UO is not all that it's cracked up to be. There are only a few attractions that are actually open during that extra hour. Disney's EMH is a superior perk.
3. Pop Century gives guests early access to FP+ reservations. Universal doesn't have a comparable here aside from UE, which you can't get at Cabana Bay. While I personally hate FP+, there's no doubting that getting a 30-day head start on off-site guests in making those reservation could mean the difference between getting to ride FoP 2-3 times versus not at all. If you're staying at Cabana Bay, you have to pay extra to avoid any lines (aside from Volcano Bay of course), which would push the cost of a stay at the UO resort out of the value category.
4. Pop Century has superior transportation options. While you can certainly walk from Cabana Bay to CityWalk and the parks, it's a bit of a hike (over 20 minutes at an average walking pace). Yes, Cabana Bay is steps away from Volcano Bay and has bus service to the park for those who don't want to walk, but Pop is now connected to the Skyliner, which offers extremely easy access to 2 of the 4 WDW theme parks and more frequent bus service to the rest of the resort than Cabana Bay provides.

I would say overall, Disney value resorts, particularly Pop are slightly better than their UO counterparts when their prices are within $20/night of each other (I haven't tracked prices enough at Endless Summer to say whether they stay close to the Disney value resorts throughout the year), the moderate resorts (Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans, and Coronado versus Aventura and Sapphire Falls) are pretty much a toss up, while Universal deluxe resorts blow Disney's away solely because of complementary UE.

You yourself said you wouldn't stay at Cabana Bay, for a reason I wholeheartedly agree with, so I don't understand why you've criticized me for providing a comparison of a similar Disney resort in the same category.

January 6, 2020 at 7:19 AM

Russell with his usual Disney rose tinted glasses.
Cabana Bay wins this one hands down.

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