Early last summer, the partnership of Universal Orlando Resort and Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando opened two new towers at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, one of five on-site resorts servicing three theme parks and the mega-shopping, dining and entertainment complex of City Walk.
The towers add 360 standard rooms and 40 two-bedroom suites to the now 2,200-room resort that predominantly caters to families and is currently the only "prime value" property in the resort's portfolio. (The Aventura Hotel, opening in August, will also be "prime value.")
After touring the hotel last March, getting a sneak preview of the new towers and suites in May and finally staying as a guest with my family last November, I can report what this all means to guests.
The towers continue the late-'50s/early-'60s retro style of Cabana Bay, with the same orange and teal decor, with lime-green pops, midcentury "mod" furnishings and spacious standard double-queen rooms.
Three standouts of the new towers are their proximity to Universal's new water theme park, Volcano Bay; floor-to-ceiling windows that make you feel like you are never further from the parks than an open or closed curtain; and the two-bedroom suites that maximize every square foot for up to eight guests.
The towers sit directly outside of Volcano Bay's perimeter and have their own gate, exclusive to hotel guests. Even a family with young children will find this to be the easiest access they've ever had to a theme park, making it a snap to return to the room for forgotten items, a nap or just to escape the sun for a little bit.
On the flip side of the convenience coin, the towers are a bit of a hike to and from the Cabana Bay lobby, front desk and the hotel's dining, shopping and entertainment amenities as well as the shuttle to City Walk. (It's a solid practice for guests to make sure they have their room key before walking across the property to one of the towers; plus, they'll need their key to open the sliding doors from the outside of the towers as well as the elevators).
A guestroom in the new towers with a view of Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando's Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
The new tower suites are stacked from the second through the 10th floor. Each has two real bedrooms, one with two full-size beds and the other with a queen. There is also a sofa bed in the living room, which includes an expanded wet bar with a minirefrigerator, a minisink and a microwave. The two full bathrooms are divided into three spaces: tub/shower; toilet and vanity; full bathroom. Each space has its own door, and all are accessible from the common hallway.
Parking lots and multilevel garages flank the property and offer convenient access to the towers, so those with cars and who already have room keys can more easily come and go as well as carry luggage and groceries. While there are luggage carts for guests' use, there are no bellmen to assist.
As for what makes this a "prime value" hotel, guests can expect a resort with the level of design and amenities one would expect from a Loews, but without the service such as bellman and full-service restaurants. The combination of style and substance, minus the face-to-face service, results in the best value for a Universal Orlando Resort vacation.
All hotel guests at all Loews/Universal resorts have early access to Volcano Bay and at least one of the "dry parks." However, Cabana Bay Beach Resort guests do not receive the Universal Express benefit, which grants access to the quickest line at attractions, as part of their hotel stay. Cabana Bay guests also don't have access to City Walk via the water taxi service as provided at the other four on-site properties.
However, a shuttle bus operates quickly and efficiently, with a drop-off just outside the secured area of City Walk, meaning guests will have to clear security there and have a longer walk to the entrances of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Not a big deal, though the lines to return to the resort after the parks close can be long. (I'd suggest to clients that they pause for dinner, drinks or a snack at one of the many City Walk options before returning to the hotel. That way, they miss the long bus lines and also skip the after-park meal back at Cabana Bay.)
There are no full-service restaurants onsite at Cabana Bay, which for most families with young children is a blessing. The Bayliner Diner is a multivenue food court serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with options that are fresh, tasty, varied and good value; parents can choose al carte items for fussy eaters. Tables are in a cavernous dining room, above which plays a loop of television commercials from the '50s and '60s. Food can also be carried out. Pizza delivery is the only in-room dining option at Cabana Bay.
Cabana Bay also has a Starbucks, not just one of those "We proudly serve Starbucks" counters. Its funky, wall-size photos of mermaids are a terrific tie-in to Florida kitsch, and the outlet has plenty of plug-ins to recharge devices before heading to the parks for the day as well as a number of tables to accommodate larger parties.
There's plenty of fun for families right at Cabana Bay. There are two huge pool complexes: One featuring a lazy river, the other a water slide. Both have cocktail bars, cabana rentals, quick-service food counters and top-notch lifeguards. Galaxy Lanes is an on-site bowling alley with a funky retro design where guests can order late-night noshes and get a mixed drink (open from noon to midnight). Game-O-Rama is an old school arcade, and the Jack LaLanne Physical Fitness Studio is a bright and spacious gym filled with authentic paraphernalia from "the Godfather of Fitness" that will inspire anyone that there's no better time to get and stay fit.
Tower room rates start at $113 for a standard double-queen room; and $253 for a two-bedroom suite. Agents can book vacation packages for clients at www.universaltravelagents.com.