I’ve just spent two days at Universal Orlando’s newest theme park, Volcano Bay. The first day was set aside for media, and I was able to go on all of the rides and slides that I wanted to. The second day was opening day, and I was there when the first visitors arrived. There were a few glitches both days as bugs were being worked out, but that’s to be expected at any new park opening. I loved the park, and can’t wait to return with my kids at the end of August.
A Quick Guide to Volcano Bay
Volcano Bay is a water theme park based around the legend of the Waturi people, and it surrounds (literally and figuratively) the Krakatau Volcano. If you walk around the park counterclockwise from the entrance, you’ll immediately see the volcano with Waturi Beach and its wave pool in front of you. The volcano itself holds three trap door slides that drop you very quickly down to the pool/beach. The Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body slides are visible on the left and twist and turn to the bottom. The blue slide twists a little more than the green slide. The Ko’okiri Body Plunge is visible is right in the middle of the volcano and basically drops you 125 feet straight down through the waterfall. Well, it looks straight, but it’s actually at a 70-degree angle.
As you continue around the park you reach the Runamukka Reef and Tot Tiki Reef kid play areas and then the Honu ika Moana multi-person slides (each raft holds 4-5 people depending on weight). Don’t worry about carrying your raft up the stairs – there’s a conveyer belt that takes the rafts to the top.
Just past the slides is the entrance to the Kopiko Wai Winding River – basically a lazy river – and then the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, a four-person canoe ride that feels more like a roller coaster than any water park ride I’ve experienced before.
At the back of the park (in relation to the entrance) are the Taniwha Tubes – four twisting slides that you experience on two-person rafts – and right next to the Tubes is the entrance to the TeAwa Fearless River, rougher and more adventurous than the Winding River. You’ll then see the Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides, with six-person rafts, on your right and the Punga Racers on your left – four single-mat slides that come out of the back of the volcano. Continuing on you then reach the park’s last attraction, the Ohyah and Ohno drop slides, relatively standard waterslides but with drops of four feet (Ohyah) and six feet (Ohno) into a pool at the end.
I tried to sample at least one of two of the slides/rides in each area of the park. My absolute favorite ride was the Aqua Coaster. I went several times and it never got old. My favorite slide was the Honu half of Honu ika Moana, which sends you up two massive walls and is nicely scary. I did the Tai Nui trap door slide from the volcano and am glad that I did it, but trap door slides really aren’t my thing – I prefer longer raft-style rides than ones that shoot you down to the bottom in 7 to 15 seconds.
There are five restaurants and a bar throughout the park, as well as many smaller food and drink stands. The food, at least everything that I tried, was excellent. That’s true in Universal Orlando’s other parks as well. I loved the jerk shrimp mac n’ cheese at Whakawaiwai Eats. The Waturi Fusion ice cream at the end of the day was enjoyable as well, although I had to eat it quickly before it melted – probably my fault for taking photos of it first. But Instagram…
The TapuTapu Wristband
When you arrive at the park, you’re given a blue TapuTapu wristband to keep throughout the day. This acts as your placeholder for rides. Just tap it to the volcano icon near any ride and you’ll be given an estimated return time. Then head off to the beach, pool, kids areas or winding rivers and relax (no waiting for those attractions), or grab something to eat, and the wristband will vibrate when it’s time to return to the ride. You can return to the ride at any time after the TapuTapu vibrates – no need to jump off a tube on the lazy river or leave lunch right away. Note that you can be checked in for the Aqua Coaster and one slide at a time. The wristband also serves as on-site payment (as long as you’ve linked a credit card) and it lets you reserve and open a locker.
Kids can choose to wear standard TapuTapu wristbands or get lighter, thinner versions that have the same technology. Make sure your kids go in search of interactive TapTu Play experiences throughout the park.
Note: Be sure to download The Official Universal Orlando Resort App in advance, and set up your profile and credit card information. Then link your TapuTapu to your account when you arrive.
There are cabanas for rent throughout the park. They come with towels, water, snacks, a locker and concierge service. There are both standard cabanas (for up to six people) and family cabanas, for groups up to sixteen. Note: reserve one well before your visit! They sell out fast. For current pricing and information about how to rent a Volcano Bay cabana, click here. Note: If that link doesn’t take you straight to the Cabana section, go halfway down the page and click on Add-Ons.
You can also rent shaded pairs of lounge chairs with padded cushions. Do this at least a week in advance as they sell out fast as well.
Based on my two days at the park, I’d highly recommend arriving early, grabbing beach chairs under an umbrella and then quickly going on at least one or two rides before they have return times. Then tap your TapuTapu to get a reservation for another ride. As soon as you do that ride, tap again at another ride. As I noted above, you can be checked in for the Aqua Coaster and one slide at any given time.
Bring a book for the beach – Volcano Bay is as much about relaxation as rides.
Volcano Bay has towels for rent (currently $4.99), but bring your own if you can to save a few dollars. And wear flip-flops! You need to remove your shoes for all rides.
Locker rentals are $14.99 right now. You can’t have loose articles on any rides, and you can only take a camera onto the Kopiko Wai Winding River, so you’re going to want to leave your things in a locker all day or with someone in your party who’s not riding at the same time.
You can bring water bottles into the park but you cannot bring in coolers.
Volcano Bay pricing right now (May 2017) is $67/day for adults or $62/day for kids 3-9. Or it’s part of Universal Orlando’s multi-day, multi-park tickets. When we return in August it will be interesting to see whether the kids want to spend a full day at Volcano Bay, or spend part of a day at Volcano Bay and then head back to the other two parks. My initial thought is that the three-day and four-day multi-park tickets make the most sense from both financial and flexibility perspectives. That way you’re covered even if your kids want to do all three parks every day – a possibility, and the parks are so close together that it’s not a hassle to do that.
Where to Stay
If you’re coming to Universal Orlando just for Volcano Bay, stay at Cabana Bay. It’s next door to the park and has a private entrance. If you’re planning on visiting all three of Universal Orlando’s parks though, any of the five on-site hotels will work well. I’ve now stayed at three of Universal’s hotels – Sapphire Falls, Royal Pacific and the Hard Rock Hotel – and we’re booked at a fourth, Portofino Bay, in August. I’ve enjoyed all of them. My personal favorite thus far has been the Hard Rock Hotel simply because it’s closest to the gates of Universal Studios, and my kids love the pool there. But really you can’t go wrong. I’ll do a hotel post setting out the pros/cons of each property once I’ve stayed at Portofino Bay.
Volcano Bay Parking
Volcano Bay doesn’t have its own parking lots. Follow signage to the main parking structure at Universal City Walk, and then hop on a shuttle to Volcano Bay from there. There are also shuttles from all onsite hotels.
What am I leaving out? What questions do you have? I’ll continue to update this post so that it’s as complete as possible.
Note: I was invited to cover the opening of Volcano Bay in my role as a member of Universal Orlando’s inaugural Blog Squad.