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On Site at Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay OpeningApril 8, 2014 By: John Stone
|Dennis Quinn (left), vice president of destination Universal with Tom Roditus, senior VP operations for Loews Resorts & Hotels // Photo by Maureen Stone|
ORLANDO - The vacation trip of the 1950s and early 1960s was brought to the future in Orlando on March 31 with the opening of the first 600-suite phase of the new 1,800-room Universal Cabana Bay Beach Resort. On hand to welcome the first guests, who included members of the local Florida and travel industry media, were senior executives from both Universal Orlando Resort and Loews Hotels & Resorts, which operates the hotel as Universal’s partner.
Designed as a family-friendly property to attract visitors whose vacation budgets do not allow for guest stays at Universal Orlando’s three luxury hotels, the Loews Cabana Bay has the potential to deliver the on-campus experience of the destination to a larger category of less-affluent theme park fans.
“We made a conscious decision for this to be a leisure hotel,” said Dennis Quinn, vice president of destination Universal for the resort. “We are not planning for big events or corporate groups to stay here. But we will have family reunions, school groups and leisure groups like that.”
|Reception Lobby of Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort // Photo by Maureen Stone|
Quinn said Universal wants to convince families to select Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort as their primary vacation address in Orlando, where the average stay in the central Florida neighborhood is five and one-half nights. “Our family suites are designed for longer stays, so we expect a mix of three-night short getaways and full-week family vacations.”
|Tom Roditus, senior vice president of Loews Hotels & Resorts // Photo by Maureen Stone|
Universal is enticing early family bookings of the new resort hotel by offering suites, which can accommodate up to six guests, at standard room prices for stays up to June 14. The second-phase hotel opening is set for June 16, according to Quinn. There were 600 of the hotel’s total 900 suites available as of the March 31 soft opening, with the remaining 300 suites and 900 standard rooms to be completed and available by the mid-June opening, according to Tom Roditus, senior vice president of Loews Hotels & Resorts, who guided opening day press guests on a tour of the property.
Standard room rates at Universal’s Cabana Bay start at $119 per night, but go down on a discount plan for each night from the fourth through seventh night of a guest stay to as low as $93 per night. Suite rates begin at $174 per night and packages including hotels stays, park tickets and airport transfers are available from Universal Vacations and other tour operators partnering with Universal Orlando.
Quinn said the scheduled summer opening of the new Harry Potter attractions at the Universal Orlando theme parks, including Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and the Hogwarts Express connecting Diagon Alley to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure, “will offer new family vacation opportunities.” Roditus added that Universal’s Cabana Bay is the first on-site hotel at Universal Orlando to offer Harry Potter merchandise in its Universal gift shop, where the Potter items were on display off the main lobby.
|Classic 50s cars in entry circle at Universal's Cabana Bay Resort. // Photo by Maureen Stone|
The Universal and Loews hosts described service amenities at Cabana Bay Resort as intentionally not designed to rival the amenities at Universal Orlando Resort’s three luxury hotels: the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Hotel. Those remain the right choices for Universal guests seeking higher-end services. Here are some key service differences noted during an on-site visit.
- Gifts and souvenirs purchased at the theme parks can be delivered to the Cabana Bay lobby for pickup, but not to individual guestrooms.
- Theme park amenities for Cabana Bay guests include a one-hour early gate admission to the parks, but not the Universal Express Access feature that takes Universal’s luxury hotel guests to front-of-line line entry on many rides.
- Cabana Bay guests at the newly-opened Cabana Bay Courtyard pool or soon-to-open Lazy River Pool do not have beverage servers visiting their poolside chaise lounges or tables. Guests queue up at the courtyard Atomic Tonic or Hideaway Bar & Grill to purchase and obtain their own beverages.
- The Cabana Bay’s main eating facility, the Bayliner Diner, offers self-serve meals of popular items in multiple food court stations including Deli, Burger, International, Pizza, Salad (build your own) and Dessert. But there is no table waiter or waitress service, except at the hotel’s 10-lane Galaxy Bowl where food can be ordered for delivery to players at their lanes.
- The Loews Cabana Bay Resort, unlike the other Universal Orlando Resort properties, does not have water launch access from the property to the theme parks or other hotels on the Universal Orlando Resort campus. The hotel is serviced by a fleet of its own stylish, aquamarine colored buses which transport guests at frequent intervals to other Universal Orlando areas from the bus stop at the front end of the Cabana Bay entry circle.
|Classy hostesses at the Atomic Sonic poolside bar. // Photo by Maureen Stone|
The opening day staff at Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort, while visibly in training mode on hotel and restaurant computers as well as individual work station procedures, could not have been friendlier in interacting with arriving guests. Efforts were made to repeat guest names, tables were cleared promptly of empty plates and trays and “my pleasure” was a standard response to a guest thank-you, as were staff smiles. Staffers were a combination of Universal employees transferred from the other Universal Orlando hotels and new workers arriving with customer service experience elsewhere.
The strength of the new hotel is in its period theming, dating from the 1950s into the early 1960s. The small details of the retro atmosphere combined well with the enthusiastic welcoming attitude of the new staff. Although the resort had some of the feel of a ship and crew undergoing their shakedown cruise, the opening made for a decidedly successful experience that should steadily improve for Universal Cabana Bay’s early guests.
This article is the first in a two-part series. Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for a closer look at the hotel's 50s style and family-friendly amenities.