This weekend I had the opportunity to visit Volcano Bay at the Universal Orlando Resort for my first time. I had waited to experience the park until after the initial rush died down to swamp the place... And as it turns out, the day I ended up going was almost empty thanks to an unexpected cold front that deterred most of the crowds.
Volcano Bay was designed to minimize the queuing experience by having guests wait virtually in line while enjoying other offerings in the park that don't have waits. In the case of our visit, none of the slides had any waits that required virtual queuing, with all of the check in stations showing "Ride Now." This isn't a problem for me, given the fact that it meant getting the chance to ride some awesome slides multiple times with minimal waits, but it did deprive me the chance to actually see how this system would work in the event the park was busier.
The Tapu Tapu (the waterproof, digital wristband that you wear throughout the park to manage your virtual queuing) can also be used as a credit card (you tie a form of payment and your ticket to your Tapu Tapu via the Universal Orlando mobile app) and as the key to open your fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo. While I didn't use the payment option, I did get the chance to use it for the fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo we rented and I was impressed to find that the system was intuitive enough to allow multiple guests' Tapu Tapu to be linked to a single fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo, allowing my wife and I to access our items without having to swap bands or travel back to the fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo together.
In addition to a wide variety of ProSlide slides, the park features a large wave pool, a themed water fortress, a lazy river and an "action river." We didn't spend any time in the wave pool or water fortress this time around but we definitely enjoyed our time in both of the rivers... The lazy river was great for hanging out towards the end of our visit, while the action river was better enjoyed for some fun being thrown around in a more rapid moving current, churned by the occasional wave maker along the course.
The park is built with a large volcano, Krakatau at its center (hence the name Volcano Bay) and it is definitely a centerpiece to be had. Up close detail can be appreciated in the form of tiki/Moai heads carved into the rockwork of the structure... And while the interior features more exposed steel holding up the many slides that run through it, the solid side of the volcano is definitely picturesque. The volcano itself holds up several ProSlide SkyBOX slides: Ko’okiri Body Plunge, a 70 degree drop down a 125 foot tall fall; and Kala and Tai Nui, two drop slides that send guests twisting down to the base of the volcano in a lengthy but tame experience.
The park's signature attraction is the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, a hydromagnetic slide that rockets in and out of the base of the volcano. Depending on the party you've got sitting in the raft, you're potentially in for a great deal of airtime... We rode three times during our visit (thank you cold weather) and two of the three rides saw me getting some serious air. This is the first hydromagnetic slide I'd been on (I've been on water coasters that propelled you with rushing water uphill) and it is definitely the style of water coaster I'd love to see more frequently in water parks. I only wish there was more than just one of them in this park...
As you'll see in my photos below, we rode several more slides, dined along the way and took in as much as I could during our time. I definitely need to go back to experience the rest of the slides I didn't try this time around, and I'm interested about trying more of the food options there as well.
Overall, we had a really fun time at Volcano Bay... I hesitate to call it the best water park in Orlando, if only because I don't feel like I truly experienced it the way it was designed to be experienced... The queueless experience was one that I didn't really get the chance to take advantage of (though the short lines I waited in were nothing to complain about) and for that reason, I don't know how the virtual queuing would affect a busier day in the park. I loved the slides I rode and spent over an hour in the action river. Getting to roam the pathways inside of the volcano was a pleasant surprise too. This was a great introduction to a park that I hope to experience more fully with more visits to follow.
The entrance experience starts after you take a shuttle from the Universal Orlando Resort parking garage to a drop off location... I have to give them credit for squeezing this entry setup into a very narrow plot between two hotels and a major exit for I-4.
Once you're dropped off, you go through a tunnel which serves as a portal to the land of the Waturi Tribe, who once resided in Volcano Bay.
The natural light brought into the tunnel is a neat touch.
You exit the tunnel to experience your first ride... The escalator!
The park's entry plaza with one of Cabana Bay's two towers looming above.
Under the massive thatched roof you'll find the Guest Services area...
Along with this talking tiki head... And me.
Here is the ticketing booth for those that didn't buy their tickets beforehand.
Height requirements for those that need them.
These are no ordinary turnstiles...
Your ticket is scanned and linked to a Tapu Tapu wristband that you wear throughout the duration of your visit. Don't worry: if it falls off during a slide or in the water, you can always go to the concierge inside of the park for a new one.
There aren't many spots in the park where you can't see Krakatau, the park's 200 foot tall centerpiece volcano.
The lazy river flows calmly through this corner of the park... You can see a variety of themed structures along the park's skyline but none of them are nearly as tall as Krakatau.
We dined at the Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club quick service venue and I had the Reka Burger, swapping the jalapenos for grilled pineapple (in the spirit of the tropical nature of the park). It was a pretty good quick service burger!
Looking down at the park from the Honu slide queue...
The Honu slide was easily my favorite in the park...
The double wave maneuver allows for two moments of water slide weightlessness that really caught me off guard.
The park's action river "TeAwa The Fearless River" weaves in and out of the park's structures including Krakatau itself.
Quite the view!
A look towards Cabana Bay...
The park definitely has lush greenery from end to end!
It is a interesting design choice to have so much of the volcano's side open...
The Krakatau Aqua Coaster wraps around this corner of the park and lines both sides of the action river.
In case you were wondering what the Krakatau Aqua Coaster raft looked like...
For the love of Larry.
Tapu Tapu check in locations like these are set up at the entrances of all of the major slides that would require you to queue virtually on a busy day.
Another really cool marquee.
No shortage of slides in view.
These were easily the most aggressive, fast mat racers I've ever been on. Typically I drag along the bottom of the slide but thanks to the increased water flow, I really flew down the slide and took some of the turns pretty high on the slide walls.
Just a few of the moments where the Krakatau Aqua Coaster weaves in and out of the rockwork of Krakatau.
A look at the ProSlide SkyBOX slides...
The Ohyah & Ohno slides drop you into a pool with a full 6 foot and 4 foot respective fall. The feeling of being shot out of a slide into weightlessness before hitting the water is hard to describe, but super thrilling!
The park's wave pool during its calm period...
The Dancing Dragons is one of the park's bars, and its name is no doubt a subtle nod to the former Dueling Dragons coasters that used to run in Islands of Adventure.
Inside of Krakatau, guests can walk along a path with a few interactive features triggered by the touch of a Tapu Tapu.
There's even a volcanic spirit inside that can interact and speak with guests!
This effect triggers a multi-angled burst of wind... Which would have been welcome on any day but ours thanks to the cold weather.
A moving piece featuring two kissing monkeys.
I definitely like this angle.
The sign of a slow day...
Some of the turns featured in the Taniwha Tubes slides can really pull some g's.
I was quite fond of this angle of the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, taken from within the action river...
Looking up into Krakatau from the action river...
It was a great first introduction to Volcano Bay and I'll definitely be back for more in the future!
Change the scheme, Alter the mood! Electrify the boys and girls if you would be so kind!
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