Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort...WOW!

I have always said that a successful travel consultant is a person who travels and sees things first-hand. I make it a goal every year to try to visit either a new destination or a new resort or a combo of both. This year has not been an exception.  I was fortunate to be invited to a travel agent event at Universal Orlando earlier this month.  While this was not a new experience overall to me, I was able to visit and experience all the new additions that Universal Orlando has to offer such as Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley and two of the new restaurants in City Walk; Vivo Italian Kitchen and Antojitos.  All of it was incredible.  I will try to write a more comprehensive review of those experiences a little later.  

But what I want to focus on in this post is the brand new resort that Universal Orlando introduced this past Spring (2014)...Cabana Bay Beach Resort.  If you are a fan of Disney's Pop Century Resort, you will love Cabana Bay.  You may even love it a little bit more than the Pop.  I did and I am a fan of the Pop and have stayed there more than once.  The theming at Cabana Bay is a throwback to the 50's and 60's with more of a touch of Florida thrown in.  Unlike the Pop, Cabana Bay is strictly themed to those two eras with virtually no Universal theme park plugs thrown in.  What I mean by that is Disney's Pop Century is themed to various eras as well, but they also make sure you know you are at Disney with Pluto making appearances in the theming as well as gigantic statues of Lady and the Tramp.  At Cabana Bay, you really feel like you have stepped back in time.

The beauty is in the detail.  Universal and Loews did a great job keeping you in the theme all the way down to the VO5 shampoo, Zest soap in the bathrooms and an analog clock in every guest room.  Love it!  

The Bayliner Diner (food court) is well designed to accommodate the possible 4000-6000 guests that could be at this resort assuming full or near full occupancy.  For as big as this resort is, you feel like you have room to breathe.  I like that there is more than one food and beverage venue.  In addition to Bayliner, you have Starbucks, the Swizzle Lounge in the lobby, The Hideaway Bar and Grill and the Atomic Tonic pool bar out near the pools. 

The standard guest rooms are around 300 sq. ft. compared to the Pop's 260 sq. ft. standard rooms.  You feel the extra space.  Standard rooms come with 2 queen beds. That's right...queens!  Again that is compared to the Pop's 2 full sized beds.  Family suites are even larger.  The come in at around 430 sq. ft and can sleep up to 6.  Some rooms offer indoor entry ways depending on their location which is a plus with me.   All of the public spaces are well designed and again make it feel like you can move around freely even if you were there during peak times of the season.  I loved the bowling alley and Jack Lalane fitness center.  It saddens me to think that a lot of guests won't have a clue what VO5 is or who Jack Lalane is, but it fits the theme perfectly.  My those before you arrive and you might appreciate the detail even more. 

The resort's color scheme is vibrant and cheery, but not gaudy or over the top. You will feel at home upon arrival.  The pools areas are well designed to accommodate guests, even at full occupancy.  

I walked away from Cabana Bay anxious to book a stay there for myself and most likely will very soon.  But I know some are going to be Debbie-downers (sorry Debbie) for one big unlimited express for guests even though it is an on-site property.  You have to understand Universals' reasoning before judging.  I was one who did NOT like that until I understood more of why.  Unlike Disney's FP system which is available to anyone, Universal's unlimited express is a resort guest perk.  Non-resort guests can buy an express pass add-on, but they are not unlimited.  Universal's express pass line is intended to be a true benefit meaning having an express pass should truly allow you to be on a ride a lot quicker than stand by line folks.  Universal controls those lines by knowing exactly how many guests have unlimited and limited express passes.  Based on capacity at their 3 deluxe resorts, they then offer the limited express pass for sale, but only a certain amount.  It is simply crowd and line control. Imagine if Cabana Bay was at full capacity with almost 6000 guests and how much more crowded that would make the express pass line.  The express line would be too congested and the benefits of having an express pass would be negated.  So that is what went into their decision.  And I get that now.

So I know some of you are thinking...then why would I stay there if I have to pay for an express pass?  Won't that make the cost more in line with one of their deluxe properties?  The answer is yes, yes it would.  So here is my suggestion when it comes to the decision to stay here or somewhere else:  If you are a huge fan of Harry Potter and that is where you plan to spend the majority of your time, then this resort is a great, more budget-friendly option.  Since the Forbidden Journey, Gringott's and Hogwarts Express are not even on the express pass system, you are not losing anything by staying here and not having the unlimited express pass.  You are gaining being much closer to the parks, being able to take advantage of a much more regular transport system, charging privileges at the parks and early entry.  

Why stay at an offsite resort when you can stay at Cabana Bay?  That is the ultimate question.  If you were staying offsite in order to save money, Cabana Bay should now be your resort of choice.  And if you schedule your trip during low crowd periods, you won't miss having the express pass that much.  I have visited both parks during low season and have seen stand by lines be as fast as the express pass lines.  

So the long and short of it is this...I LOVE Cabana Bay Beach Resort.  It had that "wow" factor for me.  I like the uniqueness of the theming.  I like the feel and look of everything.  I like how roomy all of the public areas are.  I suggest giving it a try.  If you are a huge fan of the Pop Century, you for sure need to visit Cabana Bay and see what I am talking about.   Have you already visited Cabana Bay?  If so, what was your overall experience like?