True confessions of a cabana mama

Iden plays outside the cabana

I’m not a hang-out-at-the-pool kinda mama. I don’t like being hot. I burn.

So when we checked into our Orlando hotel recently, and my three kids caught a glimpse of the the massive “lazy river” that wound around our condo, I suspected my goose was cooked. (A lazy river, for the uninitiated, is an artificial river with a real current that carries you around the property on inner tubes. Think of it as a pool on steroids.)

As the kids high-fived and fist-bumped each other, gathering pool toys, I silently cursed our pool-view accommodations at the Holiday Inn Club Vacations at Orange Lake Resort.

But I’m also a pushover mommy who will do anything to exercise the kids and tire them out before bedtime. A quick phone call later, I had secured a private cabana as our “poolside room” for the day.

Guess what we learned? You can survive a whole day at the pool, even if you’re not a “pool” person. A valuable lesson with the summer pool season just around the corner.

Erysse blows bubbles at the Cabana

Most hotel guests pass on the cabana, for a variety of reasons. But after we reviewed our last trip — and several others before it — we concluded that would be a mistake. Here’s why you should consider splurging between $50 and $200 a day for a cabana:

Shelter from the sun. You know that cabanas offer a level of privacy, but it is also a shelter from the sun. (Did I mention that this Norwegian-Irish girl burns easily? Yes, that she does.) Some cabanas come with a ceiling fan to help circulate the air and offer extra cooling. Many also block out the rain, which is very important in the afternoon when visiting Florida.

Snacks are included. Our cabana at the Holiday Inn Club Vacations included fresh fruit, chips and a refrigerator packed with bottles of water. That’s a pretty standard amenity that can save you the time it takes to shop for nibbles or the cost of purchasing them poolside, although some higher-end cabanas, like the one we checked into at the Four Seasons Miami, also offered chilled towels to stave off the tropical heat. Pretty cool.

An entertaining backdrop. When the kids lips turn blue it’s time for a break. They don’t always want to return to the room, but having a shady spot with snacks and a TV can be a draw. We packed coloring books and games for both the pool and the cabana, too.

Personal attention. This is a point of distinction for different resorts. It is standard to have an attendant to take orders and deliver food from the dining menu to your cabana, but some resorts have dedicated service personnel exclusive to the cabanas. When we had a cabana at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa near Miami a few years ago, our attendant always seemed to be just around the corner.

An unorthodox workspace. The cabanas are usually set aside which allows for privacy and quiet when the kids are out splashing. Our cabana in Orlando included a table and had power so I could set up the laptop to follow my favorite twitter handles. Some work was done in between trips along the lazy river.

Comfort and peace of mind. In our cabana, we were able to bring more personal items than if we stayed on a lounger at the pool. I could unpack my workspace and the kids packed a variety of dolls, toys, goggles and snorkels for the pool. The cabanas can be closed off for privacy, but I used this feature to keep our stuff safe. With constant attention by the attendants I wasn’t worried about leaving for a few minutes to take the kids for splash time in the pool. We did, however, discreetly put things away — just in case.

Wouldn’t you know it, this sensitive-to-the-sun mom managed to avoid getting roasted on our cabana day. So did the kids. I even got a little work done. Actually, it’s the story you’re reading right now.

Do you rent a cabana when you're at the resort?

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Kari Haugeto

Kari is a serial entrepreneur with an education addiction and a profound curiosity that, more often then not, fuels some pretty incredible adventures. Currently her attention is focused on social and digital media technology and she is developing a project with her family of five and a variety of sponsors to share their cross-country adventures online in an interactive, socially responsible, educational and authentic manner.


  • Becca Markson

    Did you actually stay at Orange Lake? If so, what did you think?

    • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

      It was fun. Full disclosure: I was inside the room, working on a project for most of this stay. So I didn’t really get to see the cabana. But the kids LOVED it. Also, the theme parks are all close by, which is very convenient.

    • http://www.facebook.com/haugeto Kari Astrid Haugeto

      Golf is king, so there were a lot of activities we just weren’t into. But there’s plenty of paths for walking and pools galore. It helps that they’re about a mile from the back entrance to Disney World.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000171447550 Margery Wilson

    These days I am usually a solo traveler and, although I love being “free,” when it comes to hanging out at the pool I miss having kids with me. I am reluctant to hang at the pool on my own, and there is no one to plead “Watch this, watch this!” Enjoy these all-too-fleeting days with your wonderful trio (Quartet, if I count Chris) :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/haugeto Kari Astrid Haugeto

      Chris is the “pool widower” (like a baseball widow) being disowned the second we hit the deck and the kids splash about. He’s usually the one left to watch over our things. Maybe that’s why we never stay too long :)

  • http://thedealfanatic.com/ The Deal Fanatic

    Love this post. I’m a Vegas resident “king of Cabana rentals”. But I don’t do it here. The atmosphere seems very different in other states. When we leave and go to others states, like California….it’s a must. It seems more “mom friendly”. Thanks for the funny, informational post…;-) Can’t wait to stay at the Holiday Inn this summer with the twins here in Vegas.

    • http://www.facebook.com/haugeto Kari Astrid Haugeto

      We’ll be there in August, staying at the Holiday Inn too! I’ll follow you to see how it goes.

  • http://twitter.com/jylmomIF Jyl Johnson Pattee

    On a trip to Orlando once, we were offered a free cabana at the Loews Porto Fino resort. I had never thought to rent one before, but after that experience, I am sold. They brought us drinks, we ordered food, and I even took a nap. We spent all day out and my one-step-above-an-Albino skin didn’t burn from being in the sun all day.

    • http://www.facebook.com/haugeto Kari Astrid Haugeto

      I feel your burn! I’m sticking with the shade.