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When it comes to Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, it's the little details that are going to go over big with baby boomers

When it comes to Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, it's the little details that are going to go over big with baby boomers

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Don't expect to find a lot of moderation when you visit the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal Orlando's first-ever moderate resort.


Photo by Jim Hill

The folks at Universal really went all out to make their newest on-site hotel a celebration of the family vacation circa 1958 - 1962. That time when Mom, Dad & the kids would all climbed in the station wagon and then drive on down to the shore. Where the family would then spent a week swimming & sun-bathing while they stayed at this fun-yet-funky beachfront motel or hotel. So everywhere you look in & around Cabana Bay, both the big picture ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... and the little details combine to sell you on the idea that this particular resort is set in that era.


Photo by Jim Hill

And as a boomer who was actually born during that particular pop culture era, I applaud the lengths to which Universal went to reinforce this design concept. Take -- for example -- these signs telling you where the hotel's cell phone charging stations & ATM are located.


Photo by Jim Hill

Or -- better yet -- this sign above the entrance of the Universal Gift Shop ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... which replicas the typeface for the Universal (then Universal International) logo which was used back during this specific era in the company's history.


Photo by Jim Hill

I mean, as a baby boomer, it's really hard not to smile when -- as you pull back the shower curtain in your hotel room -- you then discover that your complimentary soap & shampoo is a bar of Zest and bottles of V05 shampoo & conditioner.


Photo by Jim Hill

Everywhere you look, there's some sort of clever wink or nod to the late 1950s / early 1960s. Take -- for example -- that stylized rocket ship which hangs over Atomic Tonic, Cabana Bay's poolside bar.


Photo by Jim Hill

If you'll look closely, you'll see that this rocket is being piloted by an ape.


Photo by Jim Hill

Ah, but that's not just any ape. The graphic on the side of this rocket is actually a tribute to Ham the Astrochimp. Who was hurled into orbit from Cape Canaveral in January of 1961 in kind of a test run / precursor to Alan Shephard's flight aboard Freedom 7 in May of that same year.


Let's hear it for Ham, the first hominidae
launched into outer space.

That's what's really great about Cabana Bay. That across-the-resort commitment to celebrating the late 1950s / early 1960s. Which is why this new Universal Orlando hotel can't just have any old fitness center. It has to have a Jack LaLanne Physical Studio ...


Photo by Nancy Stadler

Again showing their dogged pursuit of authenticity at this Universal Orlando property, they actually reached to Jack's widow -- Elaine "LaLa" LaLane -- and had her consult on the design & the color scheme of this fitness center. So that it then resembled where Jack worked out at home.

I really appreciate that Universal continually went the extra mile when it came to Cabana Bay ... And speaking of the extra mile, it's worth noting that -- during the development phase of this moderate resort -- Universal Orlando actually sent its people out into the field to visit classic beach resort towns like Wildwood, New Jersey ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... so that they could then use the color palette & design choices that were made back in the late 1950s / early 1960s during the construction phase of these beachfront motels as the inspiration for what Universal was trying to do with Cabana Bay.


Exterior of the Jolly Roger Motel in Wildwood, NJ. Photo by Jim Hill

And if you know your Wildwood history, it's easy to see -- as you walk around Universal Orlando's newest resort -- the various tributes to that Jersey Shore town that have been folded into Cabana Beach. Take -- for example -- the Caribbean Motel's famous curved walkway.


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, at Universal Orlando's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, that walkway now leads up this hotel's dive tower-themed water slide ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... not to mentioning provided a pleasing frame for this pool's waterplay area.


Photo by Jim Hill

And as fun as Cabana Bay to wander around during the day ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... you really have to come back here at night. When all of the neon & area lightning comes on and then makes the place look downright swanky.


Photo by Jim Hill

That's why -- last night as Nancy, Angela and I were wandering around this place -- it was so hard to decide what to do. Should we grab a drink at the Swizzle Lounge?


Photo by Jim Hill

Or maybe go upstairs and bowl a few frames at Galaxy Bowl?


Photo by Jim Hill

I have to admit that I was pushing to drop by the Bayliner Diner ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... if only so I could then sample some of the authentic 1960s comfort food that Universal has recreated & is now serving there. Like swedish meatballs.


Photo by Jim Hill

But you know what I like best about Cabana Bay? It wasn't this hotel's snazzy bedroom decor ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... or the fact that the everything right down to the graphics that Universal Orlando used on the tri-fold menus at the Galaxy Bowl gets the period just right.


Photo by Jim Hill

It wasn't the classic cars that were parked out in front of this hotel's lobby area & food court.


Photo by Jim Hill

Or the fact that the 10 shuttles which service this resort are all painted to look like woodies. (And if you can catch a glimpse of these buses from this resort's upper floors, please note that there are -- of course -- giant surfboards painted on the tops of these vehicles.)


Photo by Jim Hill

It's the fact that this hotel even exists at all. At a time when so many of the classic 1960s era motels in & around Wildwood like the Royal Hawaiian ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... the Singapore ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... and the Blue Marlin ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... are being replaced by generic condos ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... it's just so nice to see Universal Orlando spending all of this time & effort & money to recreate that era. Which is why I can't wait 'til this Summer. Which is when Phase Two of Cabana Bay -- with its Continental & Americana wings (not to mention this hotel's highly anticipated lazy river) opens. I just can't wait to see what pieces of late 1950s / early 1960s pop culture that part of this complex will pay tribute to.

Oh, jeese. Look at the time ...


Photo by Jim Hill

Sorry to cut today's story short. But I've got to get downstairs ASAP ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... to meet a friend for coffee at Cabana Bay's onsite Starbucks.


Photo by Jim Hill

I'm supposed to meet this guy in front of one of those large photo murals that take their inspiration directly from the Weeki Wachee mermaids ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... which -- again -- is just the sort of attraction that a family would have visited when they drove down to Florida in the late 1950s / early 1960s.


Photo by Jim Hill

So what do you folks think of the photos that I've shared today? Does Universal's new Cabana Bay Beach Resort look like the sort of place that you'd like to experience the next time you're in Central Florida. Why not join me in the conversation pit ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... and share your thoughts about the images that I've included as part of this article.

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  • Jim,

    It is OFFICIAL.....Universal Creative is now Imagineering in its Hey Day!

    And I think it boils down to what you have always said....Universal Creative is not too top heavy and it seems they are just building places that are just downright interesting.

    Just by reading this article and seeing the pictures..makes me want to go bowling and see what else is on the menu.

    Great job!

  • This aesthetic gave me many bad memories. It is more form over function. The seats are horribly uncomfortable. They seem to be designed for wide butts that pinch your thighs, which cuts off circulaton. They are designed to look good in the environment they are designed for, but are actually quite gross. Your home should not look like an airport lounge. The heavy use of vinyl, plastic, and metals gave an artificial look. I hated the formica table and countertops for years. I hated the family station wagon with bench seats with vinyl coverings especially with no air conditioning. The back window is often open to allow for ventilation, but it usually just gave us the exhaust smell. This was before the carbon monoxide warnings of today.

    When traveling to our summer jaunts to Disneyand in Southern California, we stayed in many local motels. They are horrible and quite the budget hotel that the look implies. The walls are paper thin. Usually no air conditioning. Ugly decor. Lots of plastic, vinyl, and formica. Tasteless food. Bad service. It wasn't snazzy. Cabana Bay is a step up, but let me tell you, a step up in those days means real luxury. I probably won't stay in such a resort. I can't get a comfortable seat.

  • I'm impressed! We have even more proof that Disney can't just shrug off Universal anymore; Uni may never become the number one theme park/resort in this market, but they're definitely out to match WDW - if not surpass them - in their offerings. Time for Disney to stop putting their full focus on getting MyMagic+ to work properly and to start letting WDI spend enough money to bring on their A game...

  • It's outstanding work, but I'm worried the choice of theme won't have legs... Boomers aren't getting any younger.

  • What fun, amazing, and detailed theming!  I'm a Disney fan, but this is a grade A effort by Universal.

  • I'm not sure of agree with your assessment of the staying power of the theming, Powers - granted, the boomers are getting up there, but the nostagia aspects of this period appeal to a lot of twenty and thirtysomethings these days. Check out a Dapper Days event at DL or WDW and you'll notice that a lot of the participants are way too young to remember the period where their clothes came from or were inspired by...

  • Maybe disney should have just left tomorrowland a little longer and it would have become relevant again (I meant that as a joke, but there might be some truth in that).

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