I’ve been promising that I’ll update you all on our Florida family Christmas, and as I’ve got so much to tell you and I don’t want to miss anything out (I’ve had so many messages from people considering Christmas holidays at Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World) I thought I’d split it into a few different parts, with this first bit covering the journey and Christmas at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. This was a big ask as a holiday: we had a pretty varied age range, from young adults to my 78 year old Mum, and a lot of different bucket list items to tick off too. I got myself into a bit of a flap planning it all and in the end Jim had to sit me down and tell me to chill out a bit, as it was starting to look like a bit of a military operation getting everyone to see and experience everything I wanted. As it turned out, we had a lovely mix of relaxing and exploring, and there were loads of wonderful memories made. I’m not going to lie to you: six adults being together 24/7 for 10 days was never going to be 100% without stress, but although it was pretty tiring (and the weather wasn’t great), it was definitely one of the best holidays we’ve ever had.
Our Florida family Christmas at Universal Resort Orlando
We started our trip in the best way possible, the gorgeous Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse courtesy of the lovely gang at Virgin Atlantic. We were all pretty stressed by the time we got there (Sam managed to skid on black ice and drive his car into a ditch the night before), so after a taxi ride spent mostly on the phone to the insurance company, the delicious breakfasts (and the Virgin Redhead cocktails – my favourite) were definitely welcome. The staff are so friendly and you can chill out playing pool, having a drink or some yummy brunch, play video games, or even indulge in some pre-holiday pampering in the Clubhouse Spa.
Virgin Economy Delight
After writing about Virgin’s three new economy categories back in March, we decided to pay a little extra and book Economy Delight, which provides free seat selection, extra legroom (a very spacious 34″ of it), one 23kg checked item of luggage, dedicated storage, priority check-in at the Premium desks, and priority boarding. You get 150% Flying Club miles too (don’t discount airline flying club miles as a waste of time – I saved a fortune using my miles against the cost of this holiday – and I have the Virgin Credit Card too to get more miles). The Economy Delight seats seemed to be at the sides of the plane rather than the centre (I’m guessing as they’re a different colour and I couldn’t see any in the middle), and you get a ton of storage all to yourself, which I actually didn’t use as there’s so much legroom it was easy to put my relatively small bag under the seat in front. As a Christmas treat, I also booked Premium Economy on the way back (more of that later, thank you Gatwick drones). The Economy Delight seats were mega-spacious and comfy and we were really pleased with them. We also had a couple of spare seats near us which made it even better. Virgin Atlantic’s service is just so flipping good – I love their friendly cabin crew – and the food and entertainment are great too. The time flew by (excuse the pun) and we were landing in Orlando before we knew it.
As you can imagine, we were pretty tired when we finally got to our hotel (it’s a very easy 15/20 minute Uber from the airport costing around $40), but just seeing all the gorgeous decorations was worth the two hours queuing to get through security at Orlando Airport.
The two bedroom suite at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
We were shown to our room(s) – a gorgeous two bedroom suite in Bayside Tower with a view over Volcano Bay. The suite has a roomy lounge area with TV, small sink area with microwave and a large sofa that converts into a double sofa bed, plus another two bedrooms, a bathroom with shower, another bathroom with a bath and shower over, and another loo with a double sink area, so really plenty of room for the six of us. I love the bright, retro decor at Cabana Bay and everyone was impressed, which made me really happy. We arrived at night, so sorry about the lighting in the pics, but I wanted you to see the rooms before they were covered in everyone’s belongings.
How about this for a view though:
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
There was some serious negotiation over who would have which room, but that decided (with minimal fighting), we decided to head to Galaxy Bowl for dinner. The food was delicious (think huge burgers, amazing bbq wings, pizzas, salads and sandwiches) and we spent a happy evening having a few drinks and getting thrashed at bowling by Charlie’s girlfriend, Amy.
Cabana Bay Beach is a huge resort, and our suite was located in Bayside, one of two stand-alone towers located at the western end of the property (the other is Beachside), overlooking Volcano Bay water theme park. It’s a bit more of a walk from the main entrance to the hotel to get to Bayside, but it’s so worth it for the amazing views from the rooms, plus the walk is gorgeous and takes you all the way past the pool, the lazy river and the fire pit areas, so it’s not really a hardship. Top tip: you can buy ready made s’mores kits in the Bayliner Diner then spend a lovely evening melting marshmallows by the fire pits.
There are some lovely little touches in the rooms, like the microwave and coffee machine, a fridge, and a pizza menu where you can order pizza from the Bayliner Diner and have it delivered to your room, plus there’s a laundry off the lobby where you can wash and dry your clothes and keep an eye on your wash progress with an app. Handy.
The resort is split roughly in half by the central reception area, with two pool areas: the Cabana Courtyard to the east and the Lazy River Courtyard, where we were, to the west. Bayside is also where resort guests can access Volcano Bay water theme park, so it’s a great location for that – you’re literally a two minute walk straight to the entrance. We weren’t blessed with amazing weather but we did have a couple of sunny afternoons where we got to hang by the pool (and one absolute scorcher which happily coincided with our day at Volcano Bay – more of this soon).
Dining at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
If you park yourself near the lazy river, you’re also quite near The Hideaway Bar & Grill where they do ridiculously good nachos, snacks, hot dogs and delicious frozen cocktails that you can eat there or nibble on your lounger by the pool.
As well as Galaxy Bowl and the poolside options, there’s a huge restaurant called Bayliner Diner. It looks amazing with its 50s theming and enormous movie screens and has a huge selection of food, from buffets serving lunch and dinner items, the Pizza Station, burgers, desserts, takeaway sandwiches and snacks, pastries, drinks (including alcoholic ones you can pick up and take to your room) and more. Every morning, I got into the habit of walking down to get fresh muffins and pastries from Bayliner Diner, then picking up coffees from Starbucks and taking it all back to the room.
We did eat at the diner one morning, but there’s a relatively limited breakfast menu, and we have a couple of fussy eaters, so on a couple of occasions we grabbed an Uber quite cheaply (less than $10) and headed out to the local diners, including Keke’s Breakfast Café, which is something of an Orlando institution, with a huge menu offering huge portions of pancakes, waffles and other delicious breakfast treats. You can’t book so you usually have to wait, but it’s well worth it. Make sure you’re hungry, or do what we did: go later and just skip lunch altogether!
We also popped across the walkway to lovely Loews Sapphire Falls Resort for drinks and dinner a couple of times – it’s one of our favourite hotels and the Strong Water Tavern does the best tapas around.
It’s also a lovely way to get to the parks, as you can head downstairs and hop onto one of the water taxis. We used the water taxi from Sapphire Falls on several evenings too when we didn’t fancy catching the complementary bus to CityWalk, dining at the gorgeous steampunk-themed Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen, where you can dine on the most incredible menu (including savoury chocolate dishes) and the biggest, best desserts in town, and the boys’ fave, NBC Sports Grill & Brew for Sunday football and the most incredible loaded nachos.
Next up: we head to the Universal parks, take in Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, spend a sunny day at Volcano Bay Water Theme Park and finally head to Walt Disney World!
Massive thanks to all our faves at Universal Parks and Resorts and Virgin Atlantic & Virgin Holidays.