Author: Kyle McCarthy
Tags : Cheap Vacation, Couples, Family-Friendly Hotels, Florida, Kids, Multigen, North America, Orlando, Teens, USA, Water & Themeparks
A few years back we reviewed the plans for Universal Orlando Resort's first budget hotel and, during our recent stay at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, it exceeded all expectations. This fun, 50s or mid-century modern style style hotel grants the same one-hour early park admission to the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" themepark or the new Volcano Bay waterpark as its pricier on-site neighbors. It's also managed by the classy Loews Hotels, who operate the park's four other options, which means guests can swim, dine and even enroll kids in supervised programs (for a fee) at the other properties. "We want to ensure there's a hotel for any travelers of any style and any budget at the Universal Orlando Resort," says Jennifer Hodges, Area Director of Public Relations at Loews Orlando Hotels.
Let us note up front, this hotel does not grant first-in-line Express Passes that come with rooms at some of the other on-site hotels. But the Cabana Bay Beach is a helluva deal, with so many hotel activities to keep you busy that you can hang out for several days, spread out your themepark visits over a few early mornings, and accomplish everything your family came for.
We also toured the new Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, priced a bit higher in the same range as the Loews Royal Pacific and connected to these other Loews resorts by water taxi, so check out our video and then read on.
Affordable Family Rooms for a Universal Orlando Vacation
Small families will appreciate the two queen size beds, minifridge, and a flat screen TV in the Cabana Bay Beach's standard rooms; even better are the innovative family suites. Of Cabana Bay Beach's 2,200 rooms, the family suites sleep six using two queens separated by a screen from the kids-style foldout sofabed in the living area. Best news, the one bathroom is divided so three people can get ready to party at the same time, plus they have kitchenettes for a quick early morning repast or evening pizza delivery, as well. Additionally, most are able to connect to other double rooms to house muggles, bachelorette parties, spring break groups and couples who can't afford the posh digs at other nearby Loews Hotels.
Keep your eyes on the two blue glass towers which add 400 rooms to the Cabana Bay. They'll have two-bedroom suites with kitchenettes for larger families, direct views over Volcano Bay and subtle Pacific island theming.
Innovative Family Suite Design and Amenities
We love the motel style layout in separate wings because it keeps the resort feeling small and uncrowded. There's fun 1950s-60s era design played up in neon signage, mid-century modern architecture, framed vintage photos and posters the grandparents will love, and colorful room decor. The two enormous themed pool areas service different wings and kids run between them, depending on whether it's time for sandy "beaches" lined with chaise lounges, or the lazy river (those inner tubes are our favorite souvenir of the trip), waterslide races or a ping pong match. Both pools have lots of super attentive lifeguards, loaner lifejackets in bright colors, and zero entry toddler splash zones too.
Entertainment includes occasional group activities, free nightly movies at each pool, free movie classics at the family cafeteria, free WiFi, fitness room, and the pay as you go on-site Galaxy Bowling Alley (open to the public) and gaming arcade. We enjoyed several of the lounges, well-priced cafes and on-site Starbucks, too. However, unlike other Loews Hotels, the Cabana Bay Beach won't welcome your owls, wands, bats or snakes because it's not pet-friendly.
Loews Sapphire Bay adds to the Fun
Directly across the street from Cabana Bay Beach is a newer resort that serves visiting conventioneers as well as Volcano Bay guests. Not as playful, Sapphire Falls' theme is tasteful Caribbean nautical, from the waterwheel being turned by "Sapphire Falls" on the resort's lagoon side, to the interior stone and plank wood accents reminiscent of island sugar mills. This will please families who want a more sophisticated, adult environment. As noted, from the tranquil lagoon side overlooked by the Strongwater Tavern, a hot tequila bar, guests of any resort can board a free water taxi to CityWalk and the themeparks or, from there, to the other resort hotels.
Of interest to larger groups, the turquoise-hued Sapphire Bay has 1,000 rooms, including 83 fun suites, that connect by walkway to the Loews Royal Pacific Hotel. That brings it in close proximity to Emeril's Tchoup Tchoup, a pan-Asian eatery that is our very favorite dining in the area. Sapphire Falls has a somewhat calmer 16,000 square-foot resort-style pool with its own waterslide, interactive kids’ play and splash area, hot tub, fire pit and cabana rentals -- all overseen by those great lifeguards. There's a seasonal program of activities, a weekly Caribbean Carnaval dinner and entertainment show, the big Calypso Game Room and, for kids' night out, a supervised camp program at the Royal Pacific if parents want some alone time. As at other Loews Hotels, guests of all stripes are greeted with kid-friendly and pet-friendly welcome kits.
More Hotel Adventures or Aventuras!
Now that we've finally stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Hotel, we can look ahead to Universal's Aventura Hotel, opening in August 2018 across the road from it and the Volcano Bay waterpark. Very different in style, it will be a sleek stylish blue glass tower with 600 guest rooms, including 13 kids' suites, decorated in a contemporary way for a more urban feel. Great facilities to look forward to include a resort-style pool with a hot tub and kids' splash pad, fitness center, game room, fast-casual food hall, lobby bar, a pool bar and grill, and Starbucks. The top benefits of staying at Universal's Aventura Hotel, just as at Cabana Bay Beach, include early theme park admission; free shuttle bus transportation to the theme parks, other hotels, and Universal CityWalk; resort-wide charging privileges; free delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the Universal Orlando complex; and, let's not forget -- the parks' first rooftop bar. Managed by Loew's Hotels & Co., this is considered a "prime value" hotel.
Trip Planning Tips for Universal's Budget Hotels
Booking ahead is the best tip we have, as these rooms -- especially the family and kid suites -- go really fast. In terms of pricing, the Aventura will be on par with Cabana Bay Beach, with rooms starting at about $150 with frequent room plus three park ticket packages. Sapphire Falls is priced similarly to the Loews Royal Pacific with rooms from about $200 and up, also with excellent park pass deals for families. For example, in summer 2017 for a minimum four-night stay, Sapphire Falls is priced at $152 per room per night, with three-park tickets priced at $105 per day. If you're ready to commit, book the Aventura before its grand opening and save with pre-opening booking rates from $97/night for a weeklong stay and $116/N for a four-night stay. Universal announced in late 2017 that two more budget hotels were set to open in the summer of 2019, with a combined 2,800 guest rooms. Designed to be priced even lower than $100/night, the adjoining towers will be a short drive from the parks and include 1,450 two-bedroom suites for families of all sizes. To book any hotel stay and explore ticket options for Universal Orlando's three theme parks, visit UniversalOrlando.com or call one of their knowledgeable agents at 800.BE.A.STAR
I know my family will.