For my thoughts on the re-opening of Walt Disney World, see this.

By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Category — u. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Standard Four Person Rooms at Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando

(For the first page of this review of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, see this.)


Standard Rooms at Cabana Bay Beach Resort from yourfirstvisit.netNine hundred of the 1800 rooms at Cabana Bay Beach Resort are standard four person two queen bed rooms.

All are found in the Americana and Continental buildings in the Lazy River Courtyard at Cabana Bay.

There’s also family suites in this courtyard, but they don’t connect to the four person rooms.

Rather, there’s independent blocks of family suites and standard rooms.

See the Continental building fire escape map below (such fancy images on this site…).

At the far right you can see larger family suites; the building curves and narrows; the center has a block of standard rooms; the building curves and widens; and at the far left you can see another block of family suites.

Continental Building Cabana Bay Beach Resort from

Standard four person two queen rooms at Cabana Bay have a traditional design, looking like almost any other interior-corridor accessed two bed rooms.

You enter from an interior corridor into a hall.

Closet Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

One side has a good-sized closet with sliding doors. Here’s half of it…

Closet part 2 Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

…and the other half.

Sink  Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

The other side of the hall has a divided bath, with a sink area open to the hall. Just one sink, but a couple of narrow but long storage drawers.

Bath Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

Next to it is a toilet and tub/shower in a separate space.

Bed Side Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

Deeper in the room you’ll find two queen beds on one side.

Bedside Table Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

Between them is a bedside table with storage for all your important stuff.

Bed Side from Back Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

The beds from the back.

Bed Close Up Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from yourfirstvisit.netA close up.

Americana Building Cabana Bay Beach Resort from

My room was deeper than most.  It was fitted into the curve of the Americana building, marked by the dot in the bottom center above, another fancy image you’ll find on no other site :), and based on eyeballing other standard rooms, I had 4 to 5 feet more room between the far bed and the window than most rooms.

“Standard” standard rooms at Cabana Bay are twelve feet wide and have bedrooms about 16-17 feet long (my non-standard one was 21 feet), making their bedroom areas about 40-50 square feet smaller than the Disney moderates, and tight between the far bed and the window.

View Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

No spaces at Cabana Bay have balconies.  Here’s the view from one of my atypical porthole windows–“Standard” standard rooms have rectangular windows.  Pool view rooms are nicer, but more expensive.

TV Side Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

On the other side of the rooms you’ll find a table and chairs, and a dresser/TV/mini-fridge thingy with a coffeemaker.

Table Chairs Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

There is to me a bit of charm to the Cabana Bay design outside the rooms, but overall I’m not keen on the colors, textures or materials of the rooms themselves.  The table and chair in particular look cheap to me.

More Outlets Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

But at least there’s plenty of outlets–including a four spot above the table…

Outlets Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

…and another nearby, between the coffeemaker and TV.

TV Thingy Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

Not keen on the dresser colors–though they are authentic to the old 60s motel theming.

Drawers Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

The four drawers are adequate for the four people this room sleeps.

I am Here Cabana Bay Beach Resort from

The TV knows more about me than I wish it did.

Mini Fridge Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

On the other side of the dresser thingy is a standard mini-fridge.

Compared to Disney World resorts, these rooms land between values and moderates.

  • Unlike the Disney values, they have queen beds, extra space, and a coffeemaker.
  • They are a little smaller than the Disney moderates, have just the one sink, and are missing some minor amenities common in moderates like a coat rack and a bench seat with additional storage–and none sleep five, as some Disney moderate rooms at Caribbean Beach and Port Orleans Riverside do.

Hogwarts Express at Diagon Alley from

But they are a great choice for people who want to take advantage of Universal’s early access program to see Harry Potter, but don’t want to shell out for the higher prices–but also better amenities and park privileges–of the Universal deluxes!


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December 10, 2014   2 Comments

Review: Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando

Review Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando from yourfirstvisit.netCabana Bay Beach Resort, a Loews hotel at Universal Orlando, opened in 2014 in stages beginning at the end of March.

The fourth Universal hotel, and the first “value/moderate” (the ambiguity is both intentional and accurate) to be built at Universal, Cabana Bay Beach Resort offers two room types:

  • Typical four person two queen bed rooms, and
  • Six person family suites with two queens and a bath in one space, and a fold-out sofa bed in another small living/kitchenette space.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort offers convenient access to Universal Orlando at a much lower price than the Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay, or Hard Rock.

Review Cabana Bay Beach Resort from

However, it does not have so many amenities as these deluxe Universal resorts (especially dining) and does not offer the full range of park perks that guests at the more expensive resorts get.

Specifically, guests at Cabana Bay Beach Resort do get the early morning access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter but don’t get the Universal Express line-jumping pass for other rides that guests at the more expensive hotels get.

Why to Stay at Cabana Bay Beach Resort from

“Early access” is the one hour period during which only Universal hotel guests can enter the Wizarding World (at either one or both parks—it’s varied), and if you arrive the turnstiles well before this period starts, you can save a lot of waiting.

For guests focused on Harry Potter and indifferent to fine dining at their hotel, standard two-queen rooms at Cabana Bay are a great choice. I’m not so keen on its family suites.

Because of the value of early entrance, I’ve always suggested that people who want to see Harry Potter without waiting for hours should stay a night or two at one of the Universal hotels. Cabana Bay makes doing so much more affordable, especially for larger families.

Comparing Cabana Bay to Disney values, moderates, and family suites is a natural act, but I’m not sure how relevant it is. In general, don’t choose between Disney and Universal hotels; rather, stay at Disney for your Disney World days to get 60 day access to FastPass+, and stay at Universal for your Universal days to get early access to Harry Potter.

That said, I stayed in both Cabana Bay rooms types in November 2014, and at Disney World have stayed in 22 different value resort standard rooms and family suites, and 27 different moderate rooms, so here’s my comparisons:


Standard rooms: Cabana Bay much, much better, with queen beds, more floor space, and coffeemakers. A little more expensive than some values, cheaper than others. Perhaps more likely to be on deal—it’s too early yet to say.

Family Suites: Cabana Bay’s are much smaller, not nearly as good, but priced much lower than Disney family suites. Adults who plan to put the kids on the two queen beds and themselves sleep on the fold out couch should think again. Families that can put the adults in the queen room will likely prefer the beds to those in the Art of Animation Family Suites, and almost certainly will prefer them to those in All-Star Music Family Suites unless they need the four sleeping spots that Music suites offer. Space overall too small for the six people it can sleep. Many will find two connecting queen rooms at Cabana Bay a better choice than a family suite.

Gift Shop Cabana Bay Beach Resort from

Theming: Cabana Bay is lightly themed as a 60s Florida art-deco roadside motor hotel. This will escape pretty much all kids and not be of much interest to most adults; it is generally much less garish than the theming at Disney values, but at times it does indeed seem a little loud. Jack LaLanne??

Amenities: Much, much better dining, pools, and other amenities than at the Disney values.


Table Chairs Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

Standard rooms: Smaller and less well appointed. Although their 300 square feet seems pretty comparable to the ~314 square feet of Disney moderates, Cabana Bay’s room entry from interior halls means a waste of square feet in the room’s entry hall between the bath and closets. As a result, the bedrooms are larger at the Disney moderates, and in particular longer. The table and chairs fit the Cabana Bay 60s art deco theme but to the eye look cheap, and there is no footstool/bench, common in Disney moderates except Coronado Springs. No rooms sleep five. Cheaper than Disney moderates—sometimes much cheaper.

Theming: Disney moderates are more subtly themed and have much better landscaping. The absence of landscaping at Cabana Bay comes from the tight footprint—while not small, Cabana Bay is much more compact and easy to get around than the Disney moderates, except perhaps French Quarter.

Bayliner Diner Cabana Bay Beach Resort from

Amenities: Comparable to or better than the moderates, except for table service dining. Has a great gym—you’ll find a gym only at Coronado Springs among Disney’s moderates. The quick service dining area of the Cabana Bay food court is cavernous compared to those at the Disney moderates. I haven’t eaten yet at the table service in the bowling alley (I am not making this up), but its menu is more limited than the Disney moderate table service offerings.


Cabana Bay Beach Resort has two wings, each surrounding a pool complex, with most other amenities in the middle.

Map Cabana Bay Beach Resort Family Suite from

One wing is variously called the North Courtyard or the Cabana Courtyard, surrounds the Cabana Pool complex, and has 600 family suites with exterior entrances in the Starlight, Thunderbird and Castaway buildings. No standard rooms are available in this Courtyard. It’s on the right in the map.

The second wing, the South or Lazy River Courtyard, left on the map, has 300 more family suites and all 900 standard four person rooms in the Americana and Continental buildings, all opening to interior corridors.

The corridor difference in the family suites means that Cabana suites have their windows in the living room, and Lazy River suites have them in the bedroom. It also means that the Cabana suites should be quieter. Exterior doors are typically MUCH better insulated than interior doors (to cut back on heating and cooling costs) and half as many people walk by on exterior corridors than interior ones (because there are twice as many exterior corridors).

On the other hand, interior corridors are out of the weather, welcome in the summer. Moreover, the interior corridors in the Americana and Continental buildings also connect directly with the central building holding the main amenities and services, so if you are in a standard room or one of the family suites in these two buildings, you don’t have to go outside at all to get to the main dining options, bar, bowling alley, etc.

My family suite was in the interior corridor-ed Continental building, and while I had no noise issues, I also—after trying the sofa bed for ten minutes—slept in the more isolated queen bed space, so may have missed some ruckuses.

I didn’t do floor plans on this visit—I’ll have them next time around—but here’s the basics of the layouts:


Living Area Cabana Bay Beach Resort Family Suite from (3)

You enter the family suites into a living/dining kitchenette area.

One side has the kitchenette with a microwave, mini-fridge, and storage. The other side has a couch and a couple of small easy chairs. A two person table (high enough that more can stand at, but there’s not much room) divides the two.

The connecting door, if there is one, is also here. No Disney family suites that I am aware of have connecting doors, so this is nice. The connecting doors connect only to another family suite—not to standard rooms. The Cabana buildings have only family suites, and the Lazy River buildings have only stretches of family suites, then a break, then stretches of standard rooms, because of footprint and length differences.

A TV stands on top of a split dresser, with half the dresser drawers serving this side of the suite and half the other bedroom space. This is not a lot of storage for six, and the drawers are awkward to access, cramped by a bed in the queen room and by the fold-out bed, when opened, in the living room.

The bedroom space of the family suite, with its two queens, is oddly proportioned, as it is much narrower than typical hotel rooms. The TV is on the wall instead of on a dresser, and the space that in standard rooms is occupied by a dresser and chairs instead here is on the other side of a wall. This space—widened a few feet–is used for a walk-in closet and a three compartment bath—with a sink area, a toilet in its own room on one side of the sink, and a bath/shower and another sink in their own room on the other side of the sink space.

This is not a lot of bath for six people—but much better than a bath divided into only two spaces. Disney family suites offer two full baths, at least one of them also divided.

The bath in Cabana Bay Beach Resort family suites is only accessible from the queen space, and oddly there’s no privacy curtain at the central sink area which is open to the queen room, so lights may wake some.

I can’t particularly recommend these family suites. Too many design compromises and not enough space. Most families that need the extra beds will want two connecting queen rooms instead, which give more space, better and more beds, better storage, and another bath, at the cost of the living room furniture and the microwave.

A full photo-tour of a Cabana Bay Beach Resort family suite is here.


Bed Side Cabana Bay Beach Resort Standard Room from

Standard four person two queen rooms at Cabana Bay have a much more traditional design, looking like almost any other interior-corridor accessed two bed rooms.

You enter into a hall with a divided bath on one side and closets on the other.

The bedroom space is beyond, with queens on one side and a table, chairs, and a dresser/TV/mini-fridge thingy on the other.

These rooms are not so long as my photo suggests. I had an unusually-dimensioned room at the break of a shorter wing, and thus got both cool porthole windows and also a room about three feet longer than most.

From looking in the windows of other rooms (yes that was me, sorry, but I did it for a good cause) the bed far from the bath is very tight on the window wall—more so than in the Disney moderates.

Other than the ugly chairs and table, and the tight space at the further bed, these are great moderate rooms for four person or smaller families than can fit them.

A full photo-tour of a Cabana Bay Beach Resort standard two queen room is here.


Cabana Courtyard Pool Cabana Bay Beach Resort from

No Universal resort has the strong visual kid appeal of, for example, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge or Art of Animation resorts. Cabana Bay has less than most, but kids will love the pools. More to come on these, but the Cabana pool complex has a great slide (above) and a kids water play area, and the Lazy River side (below) has a water play area and a lazy river.

Lazy River Courtyard Pool Cabana Bay Beach Resort from

Access to Universal is via bus. There’s one bus stop, nearer the Lazy River Courtyard buildings. Bus service during my visit was great, and you can also walk to the Universal Parks from Cabana Bay.

Bus Cabana Bay Beach Resort from


I’m pretty sold on an upper floor room in the Americana building.

The interior corridors of the Lazy River Courtyard’s Americana and Continental buildings are more comfortable—though potentially noisier—than the exterior corridors in the Cabana Courtyard buildings (and if you want a standard room, you won’t find one in the Cabana buildings anyway).

Of the two Lazy River buildings, the Americana Building is closer to the bus stops, so it gets the nod.

Upper floors tend to be quieter and more private—the rooms I looked in were all on the first floor, you know.

Views are tougher. Except at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, I’m not too keen on first timers paying for views in rooms they won’t be in that much.

View  Cabana Bay Beach Resort Family Suite from

However, the parking lot views at Cabana Bay are particularly lousy. One side has parking lots and a construction wasteland, the other side parking lots, parking garages, and Turkey Lake Road. So if your itinerary suggests you will be in the room a lot, then a pool-view room might be better—making an upper floor (to avoid pool noise) even more important.


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December 9, 2014   3 Comments

Harry Potter and the Battle of the Afternoons

The Battle of the Afternoons from yourfirstvisit.netSometime this summer—my bet is June 13, by the way, technically spring—On July 8th the second installment of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando will open at Universal Studios. The effect for Harry Potter fans will be to make Universal a two-day park.

For Disney World this has multiple implications, and its responses will likely try to address then all. The core issues for Disney are

  1. Harry Potter will draw incrementally more people to Orlando, so Disney’s task for these is to grab some of their time and money while they are in town
  2. Of the people who would have come to Orlando anyway, Disney’s task is to not lose too much from people spending time and money at Universal that they might otherwise have spent at Disney World

In this post, I’m gonna focus on the second issue, as it is widely misunderstood—and in particular the role of FastPass+ in it.

The best way to see the new and older Harry Potter is to get a two-day multi-park ticket, stay in a Universal hotel, and use Universal’s early entry to hit one area each morning, fitting Hogwarts Express rides back and forth in as well.

For younger kids, though, there’s not enough age-appropriate stuff to stay all day at Universal—and that’s where FastPass+ kick in.

In the olden days, the best way to see Disney World was to arrive before open, see a bunch of rides first thing, and then pull old-style FastPass+ over the rest of the day. Guests who arrived in the afternoon—e.g. after a visit to Universal—would see long lines stand-by lines and Fastpasses either gone or with very late return times. Nobody with Disney World experience would advise that such could be a great day.

But with FastPass+, you can book three great Disney World rides for the late afternoon/early evening and be able to see them with hardly any wait. So a day that begins at Universal and ends at Disney World can be a much better experience—one that would be recommended, rather than suggested as to be avoided.

This is the key point. With great late days available at Disney World, the competition is no longer about which park gets the only entry that day—competition is about how to spend the afternoon and evening. That’s a much easier competition for Disney to win with pre-teens and their families.

Note that Disney’s recent deals have had a lot of “buy this many nights and tickets, and get another ticket day free.” It’s been years since Disney World has had free tickets for so many deals—and the effect of these is to make another afternoon/evening at Disney World that much more doable.

And you can also see other stuff happening in late August and September that has the effect of making Disney World more attractive in the afternoons and evenings—one that’s clear, one that’s speculative, and one that’s probably me just making stuff up.

  • The clear one: Food and Wine is beginning a week earlier in 2014 than in prior years—adding that much more attractiveness to Epcot in the afternoons and evenings that week.
  • The speculative one: The Magic Kingdom has more and earlier 7p closes in September than in past years. The widespread guess is that this means that Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party will have more and earlier shows in 2014 than in the past—e.g. an earlier show may be September 1. Later in the month, there’s likely to be two more shows than in recent years. Add it up, and Magic Kingdom becomes more attractive in the evenings. (Confirmed.)
  • The made-up one: Disney’s Hollywood Studios has four straight nights in early September (the second through the fifth) with no Fantasmic scheduled. It’s been years since the last time that happened. Sensible people are guessing that this is because of a quick rehab to the Fantasmic operations. But I can’t help wondering if there might not be some special event planned those evenings to make HS more attractive those nights…perhaps a test of a villains party?

I’m probably wrong—as usual—on that last guess. But more broadly, Harry Potter is gonna happen, and it’s gonna have a real draw for some subsets of people who would otherwise attend Disney World. FastPass+–and some of the other items I’ve noted—make afternoons and evenings at Disney World much more attractive than they’d otherwise be, making its parks more competitive for the second half of a visitor’s day…

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April 3, 2014   14 Comments

Free Transport from Disney World Hotels to Universal

My friends at Destinations in Florida Travel have a deal where if you buy your Universal tickets from them, you can use, for free, their shuttle service from Disney World hotels to Universal and Harry Potter.

For more, and to get your Universal tickets that provide this free deal, see this.

For more on getting to Harry Potter from Walt Disney World, see this.

January 19, 2012   No Comments

The Best and Worst Days of the Week to See the Wizarding World of Harry Potter


Fred Hazleton, one of the wizards behind, published last week a blog post on the most busy and least busy days at Universal Orlando.

On average over the course of the year Sunday is the least busy day, and Thursday the most busy day.

However, as the commenters on Fred’s post noted, this can vary depending on the week of the year and on special events happening at Universal.

Dan from the Orlando Informer had a particularly thoughtful set of comments on how your results may vary!

For Fred’s views on the rest of the days of the week at Universal Orlando, and for all the comments, including Dan’s several entries (writing as the OrlandoInformer), see this.

July 31, 2011   17 Comments

Review: Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, Continued

(This is the second page of this review.  For the first page, click here.)


The Royal Pacific is laid out like a big Y.

See the not-so-great map below (It’s a photo of a sign; I could not find printed maps to scan…)

The ends of the Y are three room towers, themselves Y-shaped.

The tower on the upper left–labeled 23, and known as Tower 2 or the Leeward Tower–is the least convenient to the pool and boat docks/walkways to the theme parks.

The other two towers–22 on the lower left, known as Tower 1 or the Windward Tower, and 24 at the right center, known as Tower 3 or the Royal Tower–encircle the pool and are closer to the boat dock and theme park walkway.

The boat dock to the parks is just visible as the green point labeled 19 at the bottom of the map.

The walkway to the parks follows the upper part of the same lagoon (barely visible on the map) the boat dock is located on, and heads leftwards past the Windward Tower (on the map) along the boat canal to Islands of Adventure.

Convenience to the pools, the boat dock and the theme park walkway makes the Windward Tower the best of the three options.


You can take the boat or walk.

The boat is more fun and easier.

For most families, walking is faster unless the boat has no line and is ready to leave when you arrive.

Either way, once you are moving, getting to the entrance to Islands of Adventure takes about 5-10 minutes.

My trip, carefully but not thoughtfully designed to put me first in line for the wand choosing the wizard at Ollivanders, went as follows:

  • Walk from my ground floor Leeward Tower room to the boat dock: 4 minutes
  • No line for the boat at 7.28a; 4 minute wait for the boat to leave
  • 6 minutes to the dock at Universal’s Citywalk, between NASCAR and the Hard Rock, with a very entertaining boat skipper
  • Realize at 7.43a that I left my room key locked in my room, so won’t be able to get in for the early admission to the Wizarding World
  • By 7.57a I had walked back to the Royal Pacific, gotten a dupe of my room key, and returned to the boat dock
  • This time there was a longish line for the boat, but I got on the next (8.01a) departure anyway, was back at the Citywalk dock by 8.06a, and in Hogsmeade by 8.16a


As noted on the first page of this review, Royal Pacific rooms are on the small side and hold four.

As you enter, the split bath will be on one side and the closet and connecting door on the other.

The bath has one sink (this compromise lets the bedroom space be a little bigger) and a semi-screened cutout between the sink area and the bedroom.  This cutout will be a negative for most families, as it limits the ability to manage noise and light from the sink area.

In the bedroom area you’ll find two queens and an upholstered chair on one side.

The other side has a largish round table with two chairs, and a credenza with drawers, a small TV, a mini-bar (but no separate fridge) and a coffee maker.

(You can order a mini-fridge for an additional fee.)

As noted on the first page, there’s no balcony.

These rooms are adequate for a family of four.

There’s enough space, but no more than enough.

The theming of the rooms (and the room towers) is scant; one could be anywhere.


The best overall features of the Royal Pacific are its pool, its general theming, its price, its access to the parks, and all the sit-down dining options it provides.

The pool is particularly a marvel, and in its size, meandering, distinctive areas, and decoration has few peers at Walt Disney World.

My photos of the pool–on this and also on the first page of this review–don’t begin to do it justice.

The Royal Pacific is pet-friendly and takes a European attitude to smoking.

It has price seasons similar to those at the Disney World resorts.

Before Harry Potter opened, additional discounts were widely available.  They are now much less common.

Military families may find special discounts at various times of the year. See Universal Parks Military Discounts.  Some specific 2011 Universal military discounts are here.

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July 17, 2011   2 Comments