Volcano Bay is Universal Orlando Resort’s new water theme park that opened earlier this summer. We paid a visit on our recent trip, and here are my thoughts on Universal Orlando’s newest addition.
First of all, Volcano Bay looks beautiful. The lush landscaping and the pops of bright blue and green throughout are fun yet relaxing. The centerpiece of the park, the volcano, is gorgeous with waterfalls cascading down the side. Guests can see the south Pacific inspiration in the park’s architecture and design.
Volcano Bay isn’t too difficult to get around in, but it can be confusing to know where the entrances to rides are if you haven’t been there before, so I recommend taking a look at a map beforehand. There are some rides that we could clearly see from all over the park, but it took us a while to figure out where the entrance was. The park is organized into four ‘villages’: Wave Village, River Village, Rainforest Village, and then the Volcano area in the center of the park. The entrance to several of the rides in the Volcano area are at the back of the Volcano.
I did like how the theme park’s amenities are organized. There are locker stations in each of the four villages, and there are beach areas with chairs and umbrellas scattered throughout the park. We grabbed a seat on Waturi Beach facing the Volcano, which is the first seating area guests see when they enter the park, but it’s not the only seating area. If you want to go further into the park to find chairs and set up a home base, you don’t need to head back to the front of the park to get to lockers. Locker areas also have bathrooms and towel rentals. Lockers and towel rentals do have an additional charge (you can bring your own towels with you thought). At all of the attractions that require tubes or rafts, they are provided for you as you get ready to ride, which was convenient. Life vests for younger guests are also provided in several areas throughout the park and at the entrance to the two lazy rivers in the park.
There are also quick-service restaurants in each area of Volcano Bay. We had other lunch plans so didn’t eat at Volcano Bay, but they seemed to have both typical theme park items such as pizza and chicken fingers along with a few more unique items such as jerk shrimp mac and cheese and coconut curry chicken.
We headed in to Volcano Bay during early admission, which is available for on-site hotel guests. Bus service was available from Sapphire Falls where we were staying. It was a rainy morning, but there was no lightning so nearly all the rides were operational (one of the body slides was closed most of the morning).
We rode the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, which was our favorite of the day – unlike a lot of water slides, this felt more like a roller coaster as you’re propelled up and over several hills and drops. We also tried some nearby raft rides, Honu ika Moana (a multi-person raft ride with two slides of varying intensity) and Taniwha Tubes, which felt more like a standard tube raft ride. We also took a few laps around TeAwa The Fearless River, which is a somewhat more intense lazy river with areas of rapids and mist. We’re not much for the drop slides or body slides, so we stuck with the raft rides during our visit.
We enjoyed all the rides we went on – some felt exactly like things we had done at other water parks before (which isn’t a bad thing necessarily), while others like the Krakatau Aqua Coaster felt more unique and special to Volcano Bay.
Of course I haven’t yet talked about the one thing that is meant to make Volcano Bay unique – TapuTapu. Guests all receive a TapuTapu wristband upon entering the park, and it manages a lot of functions at Volcano Bay. The most publicized of these is being able to access the Virtual Line for the park’s attractions – the way it works is that you ‘tap in’ to an attraction and are given an expected wait time. You can go enjoy other attractions in Volcano Bay, and then return to the attraction at your leisure after your TapuTapu lets you know that it’s time to ride. The idea behind the Virtual Line and TapuTapu is to eliminate waiting in a long line – instead, you’re “waiting” while being able to do other things in the park.
Because we were there on a rainy morning in September, we didn’t actually get to use TapuTapu to check in for an attraction. All of the rides were listed as ‘Ride Now’ for most of the morning, meaning that guests could go directly to an attraction and ride with minimal or no wait. Closer to noon the two drop slides were operating their Virtual Line, though they quickly jumped up to nearly 100 minute waits despite everything else in the park still being ‘Ride Now’.
I did get to try several other TapuTapu functions. There are a few photo ops that you can activate with your TapuTapu (we found two), and I did also find a TapTu Play interactive element on Waturi Beach. I found a couple of other icons that seemed to indicate an interactive element, but they didn’t seem to be working. I had also set up my account on the Universal Orlando app in advance, so I was also able to use TapTu Pay in order to pay for food and merchandise with my TapuTapu (guests who have been to Walt Disney World will find this familiar). I grabbed some ice cream later in the morning and the TapTu Pay worked perfectly.
We enjoyed our time at Volcano Bay. The park is beautiful and has some fun attractions. In general we prefer theme parks to water theme parks, so this is unlikely to be a must for us every trip, but if you’re able to arrive early I would encourage guests to give it a try. I am still unsure about the concept of a Virtual Line-only theme park, and since we didn’t really experience much of the Virtual Line I can’t make an overall judgment of it. I’ll be interested to give Volcano Bay a visit in the future, at least to ride the Krakatau Aqua Coaster again.
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