Universal’s Volcano Bay is a themed water park at Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida. The 28-acre park opened on May 25, 2017. The park’s centerpiece is the 200 feet tall Krakatau volcano. Krakatau is definitely impressive and a welcomed site.
We knew visiting Volcano Bay within the first week of opening meant that our expectations would need to be kept at an appropriate level. I knew there would be big crowds, and opening weekend reviews pointed out some of the expected problems a new park faces. However, we decided to take the plunge, and after two great days at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure; a nice day in the water sounded fantastic.
Because we stayed on-site, we were able to take advantage of early hours. This is an amazing benefit, and the main reason we were able to enjoy so much of the park. Buses arrived at our hotel, and we were on our way. Shuttles at Citywalk carry off-site visitors to the park, and on-site guests of Cabana Bay have their own walking entrance to Volcano Bay.
The entrance to the park is beautiful. The entire park is well themed, and the staff was very welcoming and friendly. A video on the shuttles introduces the backstory of the Waturi people, and explains to features of the wearable TapuTapu.
After having our tickets scanned, we received our TapuTapu interactive bracelet. The TapuTapu is meant to hold your place in line without actually having to stand in line. When you arrive at a ride, you’ll see the current waiting time. If you want to ride, you tap your bracelet to the totem pole and you will get a return time to ride. You are then free to explore the park. You can only reserve one ride at a time. It was reported that you could get a reservation for Krakatua water coaster, and one other ride, but it was not offered the day we went.
Our first stop was to claim a couple chairs at Wave village which is at the base of the massive Krakatua volcano. We were able to get front row seats in front of the multi-directional wave pool. We did bring our own towels from home. Towels are not provided, they can be rented. If you are staying on-site, you can also bring the hotel pool towels to Volcano Bay. We dropped our stuff off, and started our hunt for the Krakatua coaster.
One critique I have of the park is the lack of maps. It wasn’t too hard to get your bearings, but in the morning, we did wander around a bit looking for the coaster. I hope they plan to provide some maps, and place some around the parks. Thankfully, there was enough staff to help us find our way. Hint- Take the path to the right of the volcano to get to the Krakatua coaster.
Because of early morning access, we were able to ride Krakatua twice without any waiting. It is a ride that is definitely worthy of riding more than once. Everyone loved it! I’m glad we were able to take advantage of the extra morning hour because return times were 320 mins by noon! Getting there early is key. We were able to ride six slides in addition to the water coaster. Punga racers were a hit with everyone, and I loved the amount of family raft rides we were able to do together. The Honu Ika Moana is actually two slides. The Honu was our favorite. The blue slide sends riders up two massive walls, and then drops you back down. The area around these two slides was very congested, and it was confusing to pick which slide you wanted. Make sure you ask an employee if you’re confused. We wound up riding the wrong slide the first time. Also, many of the family raft rides, and even some single ride do have a weight limit. You or your party will stand on a scale, but I found the process was done rather discreetly, and many visitors were not aware of the scale. I did see a couple parties that had to be split up because they were over the weight limit
By 11am, the return times for most rides were long and continuing to climb. While it was nice to not actually wait in line for 3 hours, for guests arriving later in the afternoon, it meant they had little chance to ride any of the slides. Hopefully, Volcano Bay will continue to tweak their system to reduce wait times.
While we we waited for our ride time, we were able to enjoy both rivers. The Kopiko Wai Winding River (Lazy River) had the best pool floats. I found those floats much more enjoyable than the tubes. This leisurely rides takes you through the volcano. I was hoping some of the TapuTapu play features would work inside the volcano, but they were not working during our visit. I’ve heard TapuTapu features will illuminate the sky inside the volcano.
Next, we tried the TeAwa Fearless River. This is a fast moving river that takes you through choppy rapids Riders were required to stay in tubes the entire way through the river. I absolutely loved the fearless river, but it does move quickly, and many guests were surprised with the current. I would be very cautious with small children on this river. I personally required my youngest to wear a lifevest. This river was very packed, and getting a tube was difficult. Staff seems overwhelmed trying to get passengers in and out of the river. They only had one entrance and exit to the river. I really believe having another area to join or leave the river would help the confusion and congestion.
By far the kids favorite was Runamukka Reef. This area is located near the tot play area. Runamukka Reef is great for younger kids. It has numerous twisty waterslides and sprinklers to play in. My 8 and 9 yr old kids loved the slides, and my 12 yr old and husband loved the spray guns. It was a great area and the kids were able to ride plenty of slides without any wait.
We found the food to be pretty good at Volcano Bay. I wanted to try the BBQ pulled pork sandwich, but again the lack of maps and signs make that difficult to find. We tried the BBQ pizza and the mac and cheese. Both were pretty good.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at Waturi Beach. The multi-directional wave pool is huge and colder than the other areas of the park, but it provided some much needed relief from the Florida sun. There is also a path to walk through the volcano which was pretty cool.
We also stopped to try the Waturi fusion ice cream which is a combo of banana, orange, strawberry, and blue raspberry. The combo of flavors really worked well together! The plain Banana was also great.
Cabana and premium seating were available on a first come first serve basis. They looked pretty awesome. I don’t think I could ever justify the price, as we were rarely in our free seats as it is, but I definitely see the appeal. Having the ability to get wait times for rides at the cabana is a fantastic benefit and will save you time from walking around the park looking for a ride. Also, both premium seating and the cabanas have private staff to order food and drinks for you. Premium seating comes with two covered loungers and a private locker. Prices on both seem to vary based on dates. Universal has stopped selling express passes for Volcano Bay, I’m sure they will in the future, but I assume they are trying to get a handle on their capacity levels right now. Express passes to Volcano Bay are also NOT included with on-site reservations to Hard Rock, Royal Pacific, and Portofino(You still get express passes to Universal studios and Islands of Adventure) I originally thought they were and found Universals advertisement a bit confusing.
Overall Volcano Bay is a great park. Loved the theme, atmosphere, and the rides were a lot of fun. Krakatua is a must-do! Wait times definitely need improving. The Tapu Tapu features, and overall concept still need to be sorted out. I have no doubt when all the bugs are fixed this park will be beyond amazing. Overall, we had a great first visit, definitely some hiccups and improvements needed, but early entry made our day a positive experience and I’m looking forward to returning again in the near future.
- Look at a map online before entering park, and learn the names of the rides. Ride names can be confusing, make sure you pick the right ride.
- Arrive early!
- Bring your own towels (Rentals are 4.50 per towel)..or grab a couple from on-site hotel pool area.
- Get a chair early. Free umbrellas go quickly, and shade is lacking.
- Get on the rides early
- Make sure TapuTapu is on securely. Honestly, they fell off quite a bit. I saw many people having to get new ones.
- Eat lunch early or late to avoid the long lines
- Wear footwear while walking. Sidewalks are hot. Shoe rack are available at the entrance of all rides.
- Be prepared to climb a lot of steps
AND HAVE A GREAT TIME!