If you know anything about me, you know that I am a theme park person. I’ve actually worked at two theme parks, and have been to many others all over the world. What do I love about them? Well, more than anything I love what those in the trade call, the show. That’s the ‘theme’ part. It’s how seamlessly everything works together. All the little details like costumes, employee-guest interactions, the story behind an attraction, these all add up to the show. There are some parks that do it better than others. Obviously Disney is at the top of the list, it was the original and what all other theme parks are compared to. Before you start scoffing, that’s not to say that other theme parks don’t do what they do well. In fact, I was extremely impressed by the Universal Orlando Resort. And that first class theming continued at Universal Orlando’s newest park, Volcano Bay. The tropical feeling lived in every corner of the park from the sandy beaches to the names of the attractions. It’s an island adventure!
While I like being outdoors and hanging out in nature, I’m not the kind of person who enjoys the sun. When planning an outdoor activity the first thing I look for is the shade. I love the beach, but I can’t sit outside all day. I have to reapply 50+ spf sunscreen every hour or so and still manage to get sunburned. So imagine how surprised I was to find that I had an absolute BLAST at Universal’s Volcano Bay. I’ve never been to a water park at a theme park, and I couldn’t even tell you the last time I went to a water park at all. Maybe in middle school. It’s been awhile, for sure.
So, I’m going to share with you why I loved Universal’s Volcano Bay and how you can make the most of your experience.
Overview of Universal’s Volcano Bay
Universal’s Volcano Bay is a beautiful park featuring nineteen rides and attractions for all ages and levels of bravery. Right off the bat, as you enter the park you are greeted with a truly beautiful view of The Volcano and Waturi Beach. The huge volcano towers over Waturi Beach and the sandy shore below filled with lounge chairs. I definitely let out an audible, “Wow”. The beach is so inviting you just want to dive right in. The water is warm and leveled just like a real beach, getting deeper the farther you walk into it. But beware – Waturi is also a wave pool, and the tide starts at the sound of the gong. (Don’t worry, you won’t miss it, it’s insanely loud.)
Surrounding the Volcano are three “lands” – Rainforest Village, River Village, and Wave Village. There’s not much of a separation between the lands in terms of theming, everything about Volcano Bay is tropical but it is helpful when trying to navigate. Something that I found pretty neat is that most of the rides are actually two versions of the same thing, one of them being a little less intense. This way everyone can enjoy the same type of ride without feeling like they missed out. Awesome!
Filling just about all the remaining space are multitudes of lounge chairs. Most of them are the chaise style so you can lay out (and maybe catch a nap) but there are usually a row closest to the water that are regular chair type. There are a ton of umbrellas too, so there is plenty of opportunities to get out of the sun.
How to Use Tapu Tapu
To cut down on wait times Volcano Bay has come up with a pretty cool system called Tapu Tapu. When you check in at the gates you will receive a wearable bracelet that looks like a watch or a fitbit. You’ll want to wear this at all times during your stay. Each ride will have a posted wait time at their entrance as well as wait time boards with all the times posted throughout the park. Unless there is no wait, which is noted on the boards as RIDE NOW, you’ll need to Tapu Tapu to be allowed to get in line. This keeps the lines from getting out of hand and also allows you to do something else while you wait for your time to come up.
Note: Tapu Tapu does not work the same way as FastPass at Disney World. You will still be waiting for a short time after you enter the line
Tap your Tapu Tapu on the kiosk and you’ll see the wait time countdown by 5 minute increments. When you get to zero it will buzz and tell you to ride now. Then you’ll come to the front of the ride and check in. You can only use Tapu Tapu to hold your place in one line at a time. We were lucky having visited on Monday morning that the longest line was only 30 minutes. If the lines are longer it’s a good chance for you to get a drink or a snack, re-up on your sunscreen or relax at your lounge spot. Or you can jump in the Kopiko Wai Winding River (lazy river) or TeAwa, The Fearless River (not so lazy river) – they never have a wait.
Best Rides for Thrill Seekers at Volcano Bay
If you asked me what my favorite thing about a water park was, prior to visiting Volcano Bay I would have stuck with my go-to answer, ‘lazy river’. BUT now that I’ve experienced the awesome rides at Volcano Bay, I can’t wait to go back. There are some really unique attractions here but I’ll just share my top three. You’ll have to let me know what your favorites are when you visit.
Krakatau Aqua Coaster
This was by far the best ride at Volcano Bay, IMHO, and maybe even in my top 10 favorite ride. It’s also one of the most unique and magical, our group was discussing how it worked for the rest of the day. The ride vehicle is an inflated canoe that you awkwardly sit in with your legs up on the side, pretty much in the lap of the person in front of you. Then the conveyor belt pushes your canoe into a tube similar to a run-of-the-mill inner tube ride. Except somehow you are launched up and down hills like you would be on a roller coaster. It’s crazy! I swear it felt like we were catching air on some of the drops. I kinda want to book a flight to Orlando right now just to ride that one again.
Honu of Honu Ika Moana
This is no ordinary inner tube ride. After climbing about five million flights of stairs you and your group get into a cute flower shaped inner tube and then descend into the abyss. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic but I had my eyes closed the whole time, so that could quite possibly be the truth. Basically you’re shot into a tube but every time the track curves your tube is rocketed up the side of a shear wall. You can see it happening while you wait on the stairs. The hype is real! But the ride is very quick so it’s over before you really have a second to think about your tube flying off the side. This is also one of those rides I mentioned earlier that also has a tamer version. I didn’t ride that one, so I’m not sure how much different it is but everyone I was with called it “the kid’s version” when I asked about it.
TeAwa The Fearless River
The Fearless River is the opposite of a lazy river. Volcano Bay has one of those, it’s called the Kopiko Wai Winding River. But TeAwa is a lazy river cranked up a notch. It has a crazy fast current spurred on by a wave generator. You don’t float in a tube on this one, you need a life vest and you float you just fell out of your boat while white water rafting. There are two entry/exit points that are shallow like a beach. Grab a vest before getting in the water (make sure it’s snug for the best floating) and wade out into the current. It will grab you right away. It’s so much fun and more than a little crazy. This is also a great way to kill time when you’re waiting for your Tapu Tapu ride time to come up. When you’re ready to get out look for the signs telling you are approaching an exit and swim over the the right. If you can’t get out don’t panic, just wait until the next exit.
So have I convinced you to visit Universal’s Volcano Bay? There is so much more to do including some pretty crazy body slides – even one that literally drops the floor out from under you before you shoot down a tube from the top of the volcano. If you’re not into all the water rides you’ve got more than enough space to relax a little. Where else can you just walk up to the shore and already have your lounge chairs and umbrellas set up for you? Not at any public beach I’ve been to. It’s like being at a beach resort with the added bonus of really awesome water rides. Plus Volcano Bay is just steps away from the Cabana Bay Beach Resort makes the ‘beach resort’ feeling even easier.
Have you been to Universal’s Volcano Bay? What’s your favorite attraction? Let me know in the comments!