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Arts & Culture

Top 10 reasons to love Cabana Bay Beach Resort

Universal Orlando’s new retro-revival hotel complex gets the details right



As an arts and entertainment writer, it isn’t often I wax rhapsodic about a hotel, but Universal Orlando’s newly opened Cabana Bay Beach Resort is worthy of an exception. As executive project director Russ Dagon explained during my media tour last week, Universal’s first value-priced property evokes the “early, happy seasons of Mad Men,” with gorgeous Googie architecture belying its affordability (I’m returning in June for under $100 a night). It’s impossible to list all the ways I love this renaissance of retro revival, but here are 10 top reasons to start:

The lobby

The majestic midcentury modern central lobby instantly sets the stage with curvaceous couches, sparkling terrazzo floors, a monumental mosaic mural and – most impressively – a towering atrium of live trees. Disney’s Polynesian is sadly losing its vintage indoor rainforest, but this stunning centerpiece is nearly a worthy replacement.

The neon

As nice as the property looks by daylight, it’s a knockout once the nighttime illumination ignites. Having recently visited the historic Neon Museum in Las Vegas, I know how outrageously costly even small signs can be, so I can’t imagine how expensive the custom calligraphic script blazing atop each guest building must have been.

The furniture

If you appreciate the vintage decor popularized by designers like Eames, you’ll want to bring a U-Haul and steal every chair you see. Guest rooms are smaller than the “family suites” at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (though half the price), but still sleep six comfortably with colorful beds and pull-out sofas straight out of a mid-’60s issue of Good Housekeeping. Even the nightstand alarm clocks are delightfully analog.

Snazzy Starbucks

Starbucks is Starbucks pretty much everywhere you go, and they’ve been sprouting like weeds lately around local theme parks. But this coffee slinger goes the extra mile with a structural sculpture of vintage diner cups, a wall displaying raw coffee beans Connect 4-style and larger-than-life photos of Weeki Wachee mermaids (a unique Old Florida nod to the chain’s corporate mascot).

Retro recipes

It’s a shame that there’s no sit-down restaurant on site, but the Bayliner Diner is a step above your basic cafeteria food court, with cake-batter froyo, bulk throwback candy and Jumbotrons screening vintage NBC television clips. Best of all are a handful of classic comfort food entrees – Swedish meatballs, tuna casserole, tortellini with green peas – that are just as deliciously creamy and unhealthy as Mom used to make.

Galaxy Bowl

I’m among the world’s worst bowlers, and at $15 per person (plus $4 for shoes) this 10-lane alley is too expensive to visit regularly, but it has two big attractions. First, a 24-ounce beer costs $8, which is cheap by theme park standards. Second, it’s the spitting image of the now-vanished Hollywood Star Lanes, as seen in The Big Lebowski, right down to the orange stripes and starburst sconces.

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