Two weeks ago, I got a sneak peek at the revolutionary water theme park that’s going to take the family vacation world by storm: I went to the opening of Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando Resort.
As you may recall, I’m on the Blog Squad for Universal Orlando Resort, and our entire posse was reunited for four days as we got a preview of the park before it opened to the general public. And if you ever want to talk about the ultimate #workperk, it’s getting to be one of just 200 people let loose inside a water park! It was epic and one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
The opening party also came with some great entertainment in the form of a haka dance ceremony performed by a Maori tribe out of New Zealand. Universal sure knows how to debut a new park, that’s for sure!
For a full two days, SVV and I got to bop around Universal’s newest resident, the third in its collection of Orlando parks. For those of you planning a summer vacation to Volcano Bay, here’s everything you need to know:
Volcano Bay’s Premise
Universal created an entire story around the fabled Pacific islanders called the Waturi. And when Universal carves out a theme, it sticks to it. No fewer than 30 park employees greeted us with a cheeful “kia ora!” There are also tribal design elements woven throughout the park.
As the Volcano Bay video tells it, “Long ago the Waturi people criss-crossed the ocean. According to legend, the mythical golden fish Kunuku would one day appear leading them to a new home, where their spirits would be free. In search of Kunuku, they sailed far and wide, traveling to Tahiti, Hawaii, Bali, blending each remarkable culture with their own. Finally, at the very edge of the world, Kunuku leapt from the waves, calling, ‘Follow me to Volcano Bay.’”
The Waturi live by the mantra “Water is Life. Life is Joy.” As such, their homeland is situated around the stunning Fire and Water Volcano, the park’s centerpiece. Surrounding it is Waturi Beach, sprinkled with lounge chairs (free) and waterside cabanas (for a fee), and it’s also got a wave pool, a lazy river and an adventure river (which to be honest, wasn’t that much more fast-paced than its “lazy” counterpart). If you’re worried about getting a lounge chair, you can reserve Premium Seating in advance, which also come with a dedicated server.
There are four different sections or “lands” of the park and 18 immersive rides. While I didn’t go on every one of them, I definitely had my favorites (see below for more ride specifics).
Volcano Bay unveiled some pretty savvy technology: a virtual line system called TapuTapu. This means you get a watch-like wristband when you enter the park and can scan in at any of the rides you want, then it gives you a countdown and buzzes when you’re on deck. You can also use the app or the UOR website to link it to your credit card and pay for purchases cash-free as you go, as well as open and close lockers where you’ll want to store your things while you ride.
Is it perfect? No. There are definitely kinks to work out—wait times have been longer than expected—as is the case with any new park. Still, would I rather wait for a ride in the wave pool or lazy river than standing in line? Heck yes!
The Single Rides
I thought that the Ko’okiri Body Plunge, which shoots you straight down the middle of the volcano 125 feet at a 70-degree angle, was going to give me a panic attack—not because I’m afraid of steep slides but because I’m extremely claustrophobic and they fasten you into a glass tube then count down before triggering a glass door.
Luckily, no panic attacks here, but I did get a lot of water up my nose (and SVV’s back got pretty badly ride-burned). Would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad I did it once? Definitely.
Near the entrance to the volcano, there’s also the Ohno and the Ohyah rides, a pair of enclosed chutes that spit you out into a pool via a six-foot drop. This was also a pretty fun one and one I’d do again in a heartbeat.
killer action shot by Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo
Additionally, there are a handful of other single-rider tubes, mat races, raft slides and more. The best part of Volcano Bay, in my opinion, is the fact that they have technology that hauls the rafts to the top of the ride for you so you don’t have to mess with any of it and can focus on having fun.
The Group Rides
You’re probably going to love the Krakatau Aqua Coaster—I did, as did everyone who was tackling the park with me—and as such, you’ll want to make it your first swipe of your TapuTapu. This is unlike any water slide I’ve ever been on before as you’re seated in a four-person canoe that shoots through the tracks like a roller coaster set in water. My other favorite was Honu ika Moana, which sweeps up one big wave-shaped wall and makes you feel as if you’re going to soar right off the slide.
You knew I was going to talk about how awesome the food at Volcano Bay was, right? Well, here goes.
You can have any type of dining experience at Volcano Bay from grab-and-go to something a bit nicer. SVV and I both really liked the pretzel bun hot dogs and flatbreads from Bambu (in the Rainforest Village) and the chicken coconut curry from Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club (in Wave Village). Snack-wise, the flavored Icees were awesome (banana, specifically), and the unicorn ice cream was possibly my favorite treat I had in the park. The Dippin’ Dots and smoothies were just OK.
The food overall was very impressive—a nice change over many theme parks I’ve visited where it’s all fried fair food. Best of all: There’s beer and liquor available! There’s even a signature drink, the Volcano Blossom, a refreshing passionfruit-flavored beer that I just adored that was created by Orange Blossom Brewery exclusively for the park.
What It Costs
A one-day Volcano Bay ticket is $67 for an adult and $62 for children, which is cheaper than the other two parks. However, you can buy a park-to-park ticket for $165 that gets you into all three parks on the same day. If you’re going to spend that kind of money, though, I’d highly suggest doing a multi-day ticket; it’s simply too ambitious to think you can do all three parks in one day. If you are said ambitious type and insist on squeezing it all in, you’ll want to tack on an Express Pass (starting at $55 per day)—especially during peak summer vacation time and also Spring Break—to accelerate to the front of the line and get the most out of your day in the parks.
I get a lot of emails asking how much time one needs to properly do Universal and now with three parks, I’m going to say three days. You could do it in two, but you’d be rushing from attraction to attraction and not have time to re-ride anything you loved. Check out all your ticket options and costs here.
Unlike Universal and Islands of Adventure where most locker rentals are free while you’re on the ride, at Volcano Bay you have to pay to rent one. The facilities are clean, nice and easy to use, much like the other parks. If you don’t want to have someone camp out with your lounge chairs and stuff on Waturi Beach all day, I recommend paying the $8 to $15 (depending on size) so you know your belongings are secure all day long. You can also rent towels or bring your own. At the entrance of each attraction, there’s a place to leave your shoes and cover-up (unmanned, of course) while you ride.
In terms of food, SVV and I spent around $45 for lunch for the two of us; that included a main and a drink (beer, for us) each. Given that Universal offers dining plans for $22 a day, that sounds about right.
Where to Stay
I love all five of the on-site Loews properties for different reasons, but if I had to pick a favorite, I’d probably say Cabana Bay—and lucky for you, it’s the budget option and backs Volcano Bay. Win-win!
Here’s a short little video I put together about the entire Volcano Bay experience:
Looking for other Universal tips? I’ve got a few:
- Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure: Orlando’s Theme Parks
- Vacation Like a Rock Star at Hard Rock Hotel Orlando
- Loews Portofino Bay: A Taste of Italy in the Heart of Orlando
- Scream Queen: Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights
This looks fun. I’m not sure if I want to take my 4 year old sons there but when they get older I’m sure it will be a blast.
I think Universal overall is best for kids 12 and up. There’s Seussland and a couple areas for small children, but in general, it’s more of a big kid park =) But definitely take them when they get to their late elementary school years!
WOW – Just wow! I’m in the UK and we have been to Orlando before which was just amazing. Our children would have such a blast here so will definitely show them this later. Your photography is fantastic too! I loved this post.
Thank you, Natalie! What was your favorite thing you did when you were in Orlando with the kids? It’s definitely a city MADE for families!
Ooh it’s so hard to choose but I’m going to go with Universal Studios.
Great photos! It seems like so much fun. And I just love that Waturi people story, so amusing! 😀 So glad you’ve had a blast. 🙂
Right? I’m a sucker for a good story! Love the fable they’ve woven together.
The photos are stunning and it seems like you had a blast. My favorite is the minion photo – they are so cute! The volcano blossom and the pool look so refreshing.
You’d love it there, Ketki!
This looks so awesome!! We are visiting Universal in August and I can’t wait to check it out. From the food to the rides it looks so fun!!!
So exciting, Leah! Are you visiting all three of the parks?
This looks pretty rad. I’m a Disney girl, but this water park looks a little more grown up than Blizzard Beach/Typhoon Lagoon. The aqua coast looks intense! Looks like you guys had an awesome time. I can’t imagine having a water park basically to myself!
I was always a Disney girl myself until about 10 years ago. The coasters at Universal are a lot better suited for adults sans kids 😉 I did, however, go to Typhoon and Blizzard Beach two summers ago and had a blast!
I had no idea there was such a place but love the photos and looks like you all had a blast!
It’s so brand new, I’m not surprised you hadn’t heard of it before!
Wow! How awesome to be able to experience the park before it opened to the public. I’m not usually one for water parks, but this one looks amazing! I love how you really told the story of the park and went in depth on everything. The TapuTapu app seriously needs to be incorporated at every amusement park!
I totally agree, Kristin! Love the concept of virtual lines.
I’m not really an amusement park type of traveler but this does sound fun. I really want to try that unicorn ice cream too 🙂
The unicorn ice cream was my favorite thing I ate all week!!
Omg omg these are exactly my kind of rides! Honestly, I don’t really care about the food but the rides are.. wow!
The rides here are insane! You have to visit!
Wow, this really looks like fun! Your photos are amazing and make me want to jump into the water. And you are so lucky to have experienced it without crowds before it opened to the public! 🙂
I think that might have spoiled me for life!
This looks amazing! You sure do have a fantastic job! ;D . I don’t know if I too can brave some of those amazing water slides, but I sure would love to try just once! Definitely including this to my bucketlist!
Some of them were NOT for the faint of heart! But I’m glad I did them all once 😉
wow this place looks so much fun! I haven’t even realised how much you can do in Orlando! I am gonna be in South Carolina this year I feel like I should have a little trip to Florida now 😀 I would love to visit this place !
You definitely should! The parks in Orlando are top-notch, no doubt =)
Wow what a fun new park. Love the idea of the lineless rides and using technology to give guests a better experience. Will be interesting to see how it goes once it’s open to the public.
I’m interested, too! It’s great to see it before the crowds, but I’d be curious to see how they do with the lineless system when at full capacity.
Amazing Pictures and wow the rides are so awesome. I love to visit there at least once in my life. volcano Bay is the best water park I have ever seen. thank you for sharing this information and pictures with us.
Amazing trip Kristin, So many activities, beautiful shot and a great drink. Can’t wait to try this in next month.
Wow, this looks amazing!! We are in Orlando fairly regularly to visit Disney but we’ve been overlooking Universal. Def time to include them again! Thanks for such gorgeous photos and detailed info.
As adults, you totally need to try Universal! I feel like Disney is for the nostalgia, Universal is for the thrills.
Wow this is like the ultimate park! I love the watch for the rides- that is a lifesaver! You’re so lucky to experience it with basically no one else!
Right? Waiting is the pits! I’d much rather wait while in the pool 😉
This park looks like I could spend my whole summer there. And on the first picture I see some great girl power. Awesome!
SO much girl power =)
‘Such a cool park.
I wish we had similar in Europe, but it just wouldn’t work as Europeans would consider it too “American” as in code for “fake!”
Disneyland Paris is as far as most European customers would go whilst calling it “for children.” And even then, it’s an add-on because it’s free for children under 12 years old, and marketed as “cheaper” than staying in the centre of Paris. Which, if you time it right, is quite true. Sigh!
I absolutely adore your photography, the slides, the dancers,the ice cream, the minions, the rushing around, the fun…!
Ha! I know what you mean. Similar to how so many of the cutesy attractions in Japan when executed over there are considered adorable, but if replicated in the US (or Europe) would be far too kitschy. Guess that just means you’ll have to come to Orlando for your park fix 😉
Looks like a tropical paradise for the family! Would love to take the kids there one day!
Wow, this is lovely. I have two kids – 10 year old Rhea and 4 year old Ritwik. I am sure they will go bonkers at Volcano Bay. Beautiful pics!
Oh, I’m sure they would, Rekha! There’s so much for kids of both ages to do there.
I loved the video at the end! You really captured my imagination and attention. Thank you for the beautiful pictures of the park and food. I haven’t visited Universal’s Parks in years but now I know what I’m missing. It’ll take me more than 3 days though. Thanks for the motivation.