Universal opens retro hotel; Legoland blocks out its own

Even in Central Florida, theme park companies don’t build hotels all that often — the last one was Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, which opened in mid-2012 — but it’s even rarer when a company other than Disney does.

In Florida, Universal is the only theme park company other than Disney to have its own hotels. And now not only is Universal about to complete its fourth hotel, but Legoland is building its first.

At the same time, Four Seasons is finishing a hotel on Disney property. Although it will not be operated by Disney, its location will give the resort special privileges to hold Disney character breakfasts and use park shuttles and the like when it opens in August.

Up first is Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, a Loews hotel that, with 1,800 rooms and suites, will be one of the largest in Central Florida. The first wing opened in March; it will be completely open by June 16.

The hotel’s design was inspired by the beach resorts of the late 1950s and early 1960s, said Russ Dagon, vice president and executive project director of Universal Creative. “The whole idea for this project was as a tribute to the old family vacation, where you loaded everything in the car and ended up at a mom-and-pop resort,” he said.

The architectural lines are simple, befitting the architecture of the times, Dagon said, which helped cut costs. In the lobby is a palm-filled atrium like the one that once stood in the Loews Americana in Miami Beach. The diner offers classic dishes like tuna noodle casserole and Swedish meatballs, while the lounges have retro drinks like Grasshoppers.

The hotel has two wings, one with family suites, the other with standard rooms. The suites are not big, but they have two queen beds in the bedroom, a fold-out double in the tiny living room, a kitchenette and two 40-inch TVs. For a family, the best feature may be the bathroom, which is divided into three sections — toilet on one side, shower on the other, with sink and vanity in the middle — so that several people can use it at once and still have some privacy.

Amenities include two enormous zero-entry pools, a lazy river, cabanas for rent, fire pits, a 10-lane bowling center, a fitness center inspired by ahead-of-his-time fitness icon Jack LaLanne, and a game arcade, as well as several restaurants and lounges. Plus, there’s free shuttle service (in a surfboard-topped bus) between the hotel and the entrance to Universal’s parks and CityWalk.


Legoland Hotel:

Under construction next to the park entrance in Winter Haven is the Legoland Hotel, a four-story, 152-room building with Lego-themed décor. The hotel will overlook Lake Eloise, where pirate-themed water ski shows are held. It is scheduled to open next year.


Four Seasons Resort Orlando:

The 444-room hotel at Disney World is scheduled to open Aug. 3. In addition to Disney character breakfasts and access to free park shuttles, the hotel will have a Disney Planning Center, offering help with park tickets and reservations; In-Room Celebrations, consisting of princess- or pirate-themed welcome banner and gifts; water park; games arcade; kids camp; plus more adult amenities including a spa, golf course, tennis course and fitness center.