By: Jon Self
After watching the Harry Potter movies for 246th time, you plan to visit Universal Orlando for vacation. You decided you want to dine at The Leaky Cauldron (that is in London, you know) and the Three Broomsticks. You want to enjoy every version of butterbeer. You are saddened to learn there is not a Wizarding World themed hotel, so you need to decide where to stay. You scrutinize prices of the “Premier” level hotels. You decide that your budget cannot handle those price points since you do not have a “philosopher’s stone” to turn lead into gold. You realize that your budget is closer to a Weasley family budget.
Fortunately for you, Universal Orlando has well themed resorts for lower budgets. Universal Orlando has defined these resorts into two categories: Value and Value Plus. As you might imagine, values are the lowest cost resorts at Universal Orlando and value plus are slightly higher priced but with more features.
The value resorts are Surfside Inn &Suites and Dockside Inn &Suites. These are “sister” resorts under the branding name of Endless Summer Resorts. The price point is from about $90-$180/night depending on season. These two resorts are remarkably similar in style with lots of suites that sleep six. The rooms, amenities, and operations are very analogous with Surfside being the smaller resort. They are located across the street from each other in the former location of Wet ‘N Wild water park.
The value plus resorts are Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Aventura Resort. These cost between $100-$250 depending on time of year. These are located nearby Volcano Bay waterpark. These offer generally better amenities, better dining options, and overall a more immersive experience than the value resorts. However, better quality usually means more cost. How do you decide which one is best for your stay? Every group is different so you will need to make final decision with some variables to consider.
How Long Will You Be Staying At Universal Orlando Resort ?
The Endless Summer suites are excellent value resorts. Yet, they are value resorts. If you are having a longer stay, then can you survive without a coffee pot in your room? Starbucks is great but it is in the lobby not your room. Endless Summer Resorts have less space to place your items you brought with you. They have well-placed hooks for bags but if needing drawer space then it is limited. The value plus ones have more traditional storage area and coffee pots.
Also, if you are on an extended stay then the room overall quality will start to matter since you will spend more time in your room. Aventura has the best overall room quality with all the tech features with Cabana Bay also having great theming.
Are You Planning On Going To Volcano Bay?
Cabana Bay is the best choice being right next door to Volcano Bay. You literally can stroll through a gateway to the waterpark, which is incredibly helpful with early park admission. Aventura is a solid second choice due to its private walkway to Volcano Bay.
The most expensive food court of these choices is Aventura, but it has the highest rated food options with wok bowls for example. In addition, Aventura has Bar 17 bistro rooftop bar with its unique menu served with a view of the Orlando area. Whereas Cabana Bay food options are better than value resort options and features one of the best burgers on property.
If you might be dining often in your room then a suite may be the better option with more dining space and a microwave. All these resorts have lobby Starbucks, pool bars, and refrigerators in rooms with only the Endless Summer ones having easy access to off-site restaurants like I-Hop, Red Lobster, Applebee’s, KFC, and more restaurants within an easy walk.
Are You Bringing A Car?
All the resorts have parking fees. Endless Summer guest parking is $15/day with it being $18 at Value Plus resorts.
How Are You Planning to Get To The Parks ?
Unless driving yourself to CityWalk garage (and hopefully you have free parking there), you need a plan. All resorts have shuttle service to take you to CityWalk security hub in about 5-6 minutes. Cabana Bay has the best shuttle service by a slight margin. Now, Aventura is located next door to Sapphire Falls Resort, which has boat service directly to CityWalk. Many would suggest walking through Sapphire Falls to take the water ferry if staying at Aventura (and possibly Cabana Bay). Though you could walk from the Endless Summer Resorts, it is inefficient since the bus service is so reliable. In contrast, there is a walkway that value plus guests can use to CityWalk avoiding the main security hub with about a 15-minute walk.
Do You Enjoy Sleep ?
This may seem like a silly question but if you find yourself in a noisy situation, you will understand. The Endless Summer Resorts are infamous for thin walls in standard rooms with average bed quality, which I can personally verify. Now Cabana Bay can also be very noisy if a cheer competition is in town so beware. In fairness, a higher tower room at Aventura will have a great view but you might be able to hear the music of Bar 17 until about midnight. Also, if you want the luxury of a King size bed then Aventura is your only option, and those rooms tend to book quickly since they come with a sleeper sofa also.
All resorts have a fitness center, but Cabana Bay’s is superior. Cabana Bay also features a bowling alley with a restaurant. Aventura has Bar 17 combined with tech-savvy features like delivery robots and a virtual reality game room (when it reopens). If your length of stay might involve spending part of a day enjoying your resort, then prioritize the value plus.
how Easy Is It To GetTo Your Room?
Cabana Bay is the largest of these resorts. Depending on where your room is located, you could be making an 8-minute walk just to get to it from the lobby. The main difference between Surfside and Dockside is Surfside is smaller thus easier to get to your room. In addition, the elevator system at the values, especially Dockside, is notoriously slow. In this category, Aventura wins overall with an excellent elevator system and no individual room is very far from the elevator.
Theme park vacations should be fun. Your resort will be fun no matter what. Please consider the above thoughts to decide what is most important to you since all party needs are different. Surfside is a good choice if you want a lower cost, smaller resort, and are planning to dine off-site and/or visit places outside the Universal Orlando bubble. Dockside is a good choice if you want lower cost, multiple pool options, slightly better food options, and plan to visit places other than Universal Orlando. Cabana Bay is a great option if you have a family with children/teens wanting more resort amenities but still staying on a lower budget. Aventura is a great choice for an adult trip looking for more amenities and a bonus of tech-based rooms but deciding a more expensive resort is out of your budget.
Whatever you chose, “Let Yourself Woah!”
Jon Self is an avid theme park fan who has the high privilege to serve as a pastor at an American Baptist Church (fbcmacomb.com) while also trying to find the proper life path with his loving spouse, a bigger theme park fan than Jon. You can follow him at @pastorjonself on Twitter. Jon writes for various theme park sources such as touringplans.com and universalfamilyvacations.com. He also writes for faithelement.net.
Thrills Taste Travels Blog
The Thrills, Taste & Travels Team provides news, information on attractions, restaurants, as well as provide general information about our favorite parks