Universal Cabana Bay Beach Resort Review

by josh on April 6, 2014

The first section of Universal’s new “moderate and value priced property” opened on March 31st and I had the (mis)fortune of staying there on opening night to experience the Full Sochi firsthand. Enjoy the people watching here at the entrance as it’s the most we’re going to run into for the rest of our tour.

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It’s 4:40pm on March 25th 2k14. It’s a minimum of 40 minutes assuming you want to do something that includes the miracle of motion. We have some very attractive first-generation Android phone pictures augmented by much better looking photos taken by Lisa and her Canon Rebel SL1 back on March 1st.

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DVC construction continues at the Polynesian.

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This is the Free October 2014 Disney World Crowd Calendar that shows the Recommended Parks to Visit, Overall Crowd Level Estimation, Cost, Historic High/Low Temperature, Historic Chance of Precipitation, Extra Magic Hours Schedule, Fantasmic Show Times, Holidays, and Special Events.

Make sure you first read my month-by-month overview of visiting Disney World, located here. The overview will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of cost, crowds, weather, and special events on a broader scale. Once you figure out when you would like to visit, you can move on to this more detailed look.

Here’s a quick explanation of how to read the calendar and what the numbers mean. It may seem like it’s a little long, but you’ll only need to read the explanation once.

  • The first line in each box is the date.
  • The second line shows the cost to book a room at a Disney-owned resort. $ = Value Season, $$ = Regular Season, $$$ = Summer Season, $$$$ = Peak Season, and $$$$$ = Holiday Season. Occasionally there will be a + or – after the $$$ to show that the cost is slightly higher or lower than usual, but not by enough to raise it another $ notch.
  • The third line is the average high and low temperature and the chance of precipitation. All data is based on the last 15 years. I wouldn’t read too much into the precipitation percentages for each day because just one or two additional days of rain in the last 15 years can raise the percentage substantially. I included it so you can look at the precipitation trends throughout the month(s) and take it into consideration when deciding when to book your vacation. For a broader overview of the month, read the month-by-month overview I linked to above.
  • The fourth line is an estimation of the overall crowd level. A “5″ refers to average crowds. Numbers above 5 refer to a larger than average overall crowd level and numbers below 5 refer to lower than average overall crowds. A day with an overall crowd level of “1″ means that the crowds are expected to be the absolute lowest of the year and a “10″ means crowds are expected to be at their largest of the year. In other words, the overall crowd level estimation will give you an idea of how many people are in the entire Disney World complex, including the four major theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney, golf courses, resorts, etc. Individual theme parks can have smaller or larger crowds than the overall estimation, which is where the theme park recommendations come in.
  • The fifth line shows the theme parks I recommend visiting in green and the theme parks I recommend avoiding in red. There is also a | sign that splits up the recommended and not recommended Parks for the color blind or those printing in black and white (the Parks to the left of the | sign are recommended). I use the usual abbreviations for the Parks; AK is the Animal Kingdom, EP is Epcot, HS is Hollywood Studios, and MK is the Magic Kingdom. In addition to the colors, the Park on the far left is the most recommended Park to visit that day. The Park second to the left is the second most recommended and so on. For example, if the line reads AK EP | HS MK then the Animal Kingdom is the most recommended and Epcot is the second most recommended. On the other side of the | sign, Hollywood Studios is not recommended and the Magic Kingdom is expressly not recommended even more. If possible, I would strongly recommend you visit the Park that is most recommended each day. Please read below the calendar for an overview of how I’ve selected the recommended Parks and also a day-by-day explanation.
  • The sixth line lists which Parks have Extra Magic Hours and at what time they start. Morning Extra Magic Hour lasts one hour and usually starts at 8am. Evening Extra Magic Hours last three hours from the start time. For example, if you see AK:8am EP:9pm, that means the Animal Kingdom has a morning Extra Magic Hour from 8am-9am and Epcot has evening Extra Magic Hours from 9pm-12am.
  • The seventh line lists the Fantasmic show times at the Hollywood Studios.
  • The eighth line lists the start time of Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP:) and Wishes Fireworks at Magic Kingdom(W:). For example, if you see, MSEP: 9pm & 11pm W: 10pm, it would mean that Main Street Electrical Parade begins at 9pm and 11pm and Wishes begins at 10pm.

The Calendar is also available in an easy to view and print PDF file, Here.

Click the image to enlarge it.

Wednesday October 1

Animal Kingdom: 9am – 5pm (Recommended)

Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade: 3:45pm

Epcot: 9am – 9pm (Not Recommended)

Evening Extra Magic Hours: 9pm – 11pm

Illuminations: 9pm

Hollywood Studios: 9am – 7:30pm (Most Recommended)

Fantasmic: 8pm

Magic Kingdom: 9am – 9pm (Tentatively Recommended for Evening Entertainment)

Festival of Fantasy Parade: 3pm, Main Street Electrical Parade: 8pm, Wishes Fireworks: 9pm

Animal Kingdom remains recommended. Magic Kingdom will be more popular than yesterday with longer hours of operation, main Street Electrical Parade, and Wishes and Epcot’s extremely popular evening Extra Magic Hours will help pull Disney resort guests in that direction. The only problem is the fact that it’s a bit later in the week and we’ll have some off-site visitors who arrived on Sunday and visited Magic Kingdom on Monday and Epcot or Hollywood Studios on Tuesday. But that’s a nominal concern, particularly with the average overall crowd level. To have the most success, arrive prior to Park opening and head straight for Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest. You’ll have no trouble riding both with very low waits before 10am. Once you get through these two attractions, you have little to worry about other than trying to get to the scheduled shows. Finding Nemo and Festival of the Lion King do get busy during the afternoon shows, so try to see the first or last show of the day. You’ll also want to get to DinoLand USA before 10:30am to ride Primeval Whirl and DINOSAUR because those two attractions are popular. Still, they aren’t necessarily your top morning priorities. You should have no trouble experiencing most everything Animal Kingdom has to offer in one day, provided you arrive early in the morning, tour efficiently, use FastPass+ intelligently, and keep an eye on the time in order to see the scheduled stage shows. Finally, crowds disperse shortly after the 3:45pm Parade. Plan to stay through close because waits will only get shorter as it gets later in the evening. Visit DinoLand after 3pm and Asia after 4pm to find much lower crowds than the afternoon.

We’ll want to avoid Epcot. Its evening Extra Magic Hours will lure the majority of Disney resort guests, which will lengthen waits times at the attractions for the entire afternoon and evening. Epcot is almost always at its busiest and lines are the longest when it has evening Extra Magic Hours. This is due to the fact that many Disney resort guests head to whichever Park has Extra Magic Hours, even if they don’t plan to take advantage of them. Without Park Hopper, Disney resort guests must stay in the Park with Extra Magic Hours for the entire day. The increased crowds lead to longer lines, heavier congestion in common areas, and an overall less pleasant touring experience. I would urge you to visit a different Park. If you want to head to Epcot today, despite my strong objections, your best chance to ride the headlining rides is from 9am-10am. Most Disney resort guests will sleep in and arrive around 10:30am in anticipation of staying until around 10pm. The morning will be an excellent time to tour Epcot, but you’ll probably want to Park Hop elsewhere after lunch or you’ll be stuck in significantly larger-than-usual crowds. You might also consider an afternoon break from 2pm-6pm when crowds will be at their largest. You could then return in the early evening for dinner and Extra Magic Hours. Alternatively, you could also Park Hop over in the evening for Extra Magic Hours, provided you’re aware of how busy it will be. The last hour of Extra Magic Hours is always the least crowded, so plan to stay until 11pm and head back to Soarin’ and Test Track after 10pm. Skip Illuminations if you’ll be here on another night because it will be more crowded than usual.

Hollywood Studios is the most recommended Park with Magic Kingdom drawing more guests with the later close and Epcot being attractive to resort guests. To have the most success, you’ll still want to arrive by 8:15am and head straight for Toy Story Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Star Tours. Because Toy Story Mania has such a limited capacity, wait times are almost always 60+ minutes in the afternoon, even with some of the lowest crowds of the year. You’ll want to make it your top priority. Your second priority is Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which also sees long afternoon waits and limited FastPass+ availability. Tower of Terror and Star Tours should be easier to ride, but also remain priorities. If you can get these attractions done in the early morning, you’ll be in great shape for the rest of the day. The only other problem most people run into is trying to schedule all of the stage shows that run on a set schedule. You may also want to prioritize characters that will have longer afternoon waits. The Toy Story characters across from Toy Story typically meet beginning at 9am and have the longest afternoon waits. Sofia the First usually has the second longest waits and meets in Animation Courtyard beginning at 9:30am. Phineas & Ferb also see long lines. They typically begin appearing at 9:30am, which means you’ll have time to ride Toy Story Mania before heading over to the Toy Story characters and then over to Sofia or Phineas & Ferb, which are located near Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano and across from the exit to Muppet Vision 3D. Check the week’s Times Guide to verify appearance times. Two other popular characters appear in the Animation Building in the Animation Courtyard. Sorcerer Mickey in particular has long afternoon waits and The Incredibles characters also tend to have decent lines. Since both characters meet indoors and their lines aren’t usually over 20 minutes long, you should be able to find them with decent waits later in the day if you have other morning priorities. Finally, you’ll find some characters in the morning near Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat that won’t appear later in the afternoon. Daisy Duck, Donald Duck, Chip, Dale, Stitch, Goofy, and Pluto are all common, but no specific character is guaranteed to appear. For Fantasmic, consider the Fantasmic Dining Package that guarantees everyone on the reservation a seat in the reserved section of the theater. You’ll still need to arrive at least 20 minutes early, but it’s better than the 60+ minutes early you’ll need to arrive without the package. The Dining Package makes the most sense on the Disney Dining Plan because it only costs one table service credit (except at Hollywood Brown Derby, which still costs two credits as it would otherwise) and includes the appetizer. As far as general seating is concerned, the best seats are about half way up in the center sections. Sit any closer and you run the risk of getting wet and it’s more difficult to see what’s happening on the water.

Magic Kingdom is tentatively recommended, though this will be the third busiest day of the week there with the longer hours of operation and nighttime entertainment luring more casual vacationers in the middle of the week than usual. With no Electrical Parade scheduled until Saturday, today will be more popular than either of the next two days.  Anyone who wants to see Main Street Electrical Parade and doesn’t have Park Hopper (and many that do) will have to spend most of their day at the Magic Kingdom in order to see the Parade at night.  While the Magic Kingdom may be busier than other days this week, many people do want to see the Parade and Wishes Fireworks show and this is your best opportunity to do both.  Ideally, you would Park Hop over to Magic Kingdom in the late afternoon or early evening, after spending the majority of your day at a Park that’s recommended higher.  This way, you can enjoy short lines and low crowds and still see the Magic Kingdom’s nighttime spectaculars.  Without Park Hopper, you’ll want to arrive prior to 9am and head straight for the priorities on your itinerary.  The 9am to 11am timeframe is always the best time to tour, regardless of overall crowd level or what day you visit.  You’ll be able to get a lot done in those first two or three hours, but crowds will begin to build around 11am and will continue to be moderately heavy through Wishes.  Plan to move on to some of the less popular attractions in the afternoon and/or take a lengthy afternoon break when crowds are at their highest.  You can then return to the Magic Kingdom around 6pm for dinner, Main Street Electrical Parade, and Wishes.  This is always the second best plan of attack (second to only the evening Park Hop) when you’re trying to see evening shows that aren’t scheduled often enough.  Overall, Magic Kingdom is recommended if you tour during the recommended times and make efficient use of the morning and FastPass+ in the afternoon when waits peak.  It will be more crowded in the afternoon than several other days this week.  You’ll want to visit on a Mickey’s Party date if all you care about is low crowds.  For the Main Street Electrical Parade, I recommend staking out a spot along the Parade route in Frontierland or Liberty Square.  Both areas are significantly less crowded than Main Street and offer a similar view.

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Thanks to those of you who have been patient (or at least not publicly bugged me about) with the lack of updates over the last few weeks as working on my upcoming guide book has more or less consumed my life. We should have a Hollywood Studios (Characterpalooza, FP+ Kiosks, Walls) update and a Magic Kingdom (Be Our Guest Dinner Review, Crowds, Walls) update over the next few days, in addition to this Epcot update. I’ll try to breeze through the Animal Kingdom cheat sheet some morning next week too. Things should be back to normal shortly and we will again tackle FastPass+ with the upcoming changes to off-site booking.

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As evident by the “9″ crowd levels on the March Crowd Calendar this week, we’re in the midst of some of the heaviest crowds of the year thus far. In fact, this past Monday had the highest attendance of the year so far and today (Wednesday) looks to be even worse. Disney has made several last-minute amendments to the next few days:

Animal Kingdom:

  • Thursday, March 27 – Park open has changed from 9:00am to 8:00am and Park close has changed from 7:00pm to 8:00pm
  • Friday, March 28 – Park close has been changed from 7:00pm to 8:00pm
  • For both days, Finding Nemo show added at 7pm; Rafiki’s Planet Watch close extended to 6pm; With the exception of Louie and Baloo, characters will appear for one additional hour after the stated end on the Times Guide. All food and beverage locations will stay open one additional hour.

Hollywood Studios:

  • Saturday, March 29- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular added a 10:00am show; Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage added a 10:30am show.

Magic Kingdom:

  • Wednesday, March 26 – Park close has changed from 12:00am to 1:00am
  • Thursday, March 27 – Park close has been changed from 12:00am to 1:00am

Magic Kingdom was also extended to 1am yesterday. Magic Kingdom’s parking lot closed to capacity yesterday and today. The website has otherwise received a number of amusing emails asserting that the crowd levels for this week are “off.”

It’s pretty easy, really. Virtually all of Florida is off for spring break this week.

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Big news for guests staying off-site. Beginning March 31st, any guest with valid theme park tickets may connect their tickets via My Disney Experience/DisneyWorld.com and make FastPass+ reservations up to 30 days in advance of their visit. On-site guests maintain some advantage being able to book 60 days in advance, but all experiences should remain available at the 30 day mark (as well as being available much closer to any given date). Off-site visitors will be able to use My Disney Experience app and mobile site to make or change FastPass+ reservations, rendering the (currently) busy kiosks largely irrelevant for any guest with an Android device or iPhone.

MagicBands will be available for purchase (expected price is $12.95 each), but they are not required to use FastPass+. The RFID-enabled ticket media is all that’s required.

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This is what we’re looking at for October. Click to enlarge or view as a prettier PDF. And if you don’t know what the numbers/letters mean, read the top of this post.

October sees average crowds for the most part with the International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot driving weekend crowds higher than they would be otherwise, also helped by long hours at Magic Kingdom. One potential mistake on the official operating schedule is October 4th when the Tower of Terror 10-miler is scheduled at 10pm in and around Hollywood Studios. I’m expecting Disney to switch the Animal Kingdom/Hollywood Studios morning Extra Magic Hours so Friday’s morning EMH is at the Studios and Saturday’s is at Animal Kingdom. Also expect Hollywood Studios to close at 6pm with no Fantasmic scheduled on Saturday the 4th so Disney has time to set up some infrastructure for the race. I’ve indicated this by crossing out the Fantasmic and the recommendations have the expected changes already built in.

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Disney updated the July 2014 operating schedule today. The full schedule is available here: http://media.disneywebcontent.com/StaticFiles/ParkHours/WDWTravelAgent_july.pdf. Click refresh on your browser to load the newest version. The changes are what we would expect from Disney and include later closes at Magic Kingdom in addition to a second Electrical Parade scheduled every night, and a second Fantasmic scheduled every night along with a 10pm close at Hollywood Studios. We also have a spattering of 8pm closes at Animal Kingdom. As always, an FAQ follows the dates below.

Tuesday July 1:

  • Hollywood Studios hours extended to 9am – 10pm from 9am – 8:30pm. Second Fantasmic added at 10:30pm, in addition to 9pm show.
  • Magic Kingdom hours extended to 9am – 11pm from 9am – 10pm. Second Main Street Electrical Parade added at 11pm, in addition to 9pm Parade.

Wednesday July 2:

  • Animal Kingdom hours extended to 9am – 8pm from 9am – 7pm.
  • Hollywood Studios hours extended to 9am – 10pm from 9am – 8:30pm. Second Fantasmic added at 10:30pm, in addition to 9pm show.
  • Magic Kingdom hours extended to 9am – 11pm from 9am – 10pm. Second Main Street Electrical Parade added at 11pm, in addition to 9pm Parade.

Thursday July 3:

  • Animal Kingdom hours extended to 9am – 8pm from 9am – 7pm.
  • Hollywood Studios hours extended to 9am – 10pm from 9am – 8:30pm. Second Fantasmic added at 10:30pm, in addition to 9pm show.
  • Magic Kingdom hours extended to 8am – 1am from 9am – 12am. Second Main Street Electrical Parade added at 12am, in addition to 10pm Parade.

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Just a couple changes outside of Easter Week, which now has 8am openings at Hollywood Studios.

Tuesday April 1:

Hollywood Studios hours extended to 9am – 9:30pm from 9am – 8pm. Second Fantasmic added at 10pm, in addition to 8:30pm show.

Sunday April 13:

Hollywood Studios hours extended to 8am – 9:30pm from 9am – 9:30pm.

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