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Universal Orlando previews its new park, Volcano Bay

May 24, 2017, 1:46 PM · ORLANDO — What is Volcano Bay? Is the third gate at the Universal Orlando Resort a theme park, or a water park? Or, as Universal's taken to calling it recently, is it a hybrid — a water theme park?

Who cares? All I know is that it's a lot of fun. And that's coming from someone who's never really enjoyed water parks before.

Universal Orlando invited reporters to visit the new whatever-it-is park today, one day before its official public opening tomorrow. Volcano Bay features seven water slide collections, plus two lazy rivers, two water spraygrounds, and a fun aqua coaster that I thought was the highlight of what I was able to sample today.

But the heart of the park, without question, is that big visual weenie at its center — the Krakatau volcano.

“volcano”

It houses two of the water slides as well as its eponymous aqua coaster. More importantly, it gives the park a thematic identity that separates it from most water parks.

Beyond those, however, Disney established the template for a themed water park with Typhoon Lagoon and then Blizzard Beach, years ago. But Universal advances it with Volcano Bay, which effectively recreates the form on a South Seas island, with a volcano in the middle and the water attractions surrounding it. Yet it is with service that Universal is making a claim for Volcano Bay to become the world's top water park.

Universal has replaced the traditional queuing system with virtual lines, requiring it to issue every visitor a "TapuTapu" wearable, which not only is used to claim your place in a virtual line in the park, it also can be used to reserve and open lockers and make payments throughout the park, when linked to a credit card via the Universal Orlando app or website.

Yes, Disney blazed that trail with MagicBands a while ago, but by eliminating standby queues, Universal has the potential for a much more coherent and user-friendly system. Just tap the wearable to claim your place in line. Then go sit by a beach, float down a lazy river, grab a drink at a bar. Whatever. The TapuTapu's screen will tell you when it's your turn to ride.

No managing reservations in advance, or via an app. Just tap, wait, and go.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you how well or poorly the system works because on a media preview day like today, there simply aren't enough people claiming places in line to cause a backup. Everything was a walk-on. (To quote a rival company's villain, "I can feel your hate.") But the TapuTapu works great for the lockers, which are located in three main stations inside the park, each next to shower and changing facilities. And I was impressed with Universal's conveyor systems to move rafts back up to the top of water slide towers, without requiring guests to haul them up themselves.

Let's take a walk around the park.

My goal for the day was to try two of the relatively new and unique ride types in the park: the Krakatau Aqua Coaster and the Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides. Yes, you might find similar water rides in other parks, but these ride types — a capsule drop slide and especially a LIM water coaster — are fresher concepts than your basic tube slides. Even though I'm not a water park fan, I didn't want to start at the beginning. Why not jump in with the latest stuff?

For once, I didn't have to keep my hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times! ;^)

As you can tell from my reaction, the Krakatau Aqua Coaster is pure fun. It's not a water slide, but more a roller coaster with water flowing all around you. The zippy lifts, the airtime over the hills and the stomach-floating drops are all part of the coaster repertoire. But when you're laying down, right on the "track," everything feels magnified. And that refreshing water, with a soaking splash at the end? It's best of a flume and a coaster, together at last — 10/10 would ride again.

Also inside the Krakatau volcano you will find the Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides, as well as the Ko'okiri Body Plunge. All three are capsule drop slides, where you're loaded into a clear chamber to await the trapdoor releasing below you, dropping you into the ride.

I wanted some twists with my slide instead of a straight down drop, so I chose the green side of Kala & Tai Nui. (I've already forgotten which one that was.) If the Aqua Coaster was pure fun, this one was pure terror. (Hey, some of us are into that!)

The trapdoor drop was no problem. It was the swirling rush of water in the tube that got me. Let's back up a moment. Getting on the ride required a hike up the countless steps that bring you nearly to the top of the 200-foot Krakatau. I needed some time to catch my breath up there before even considering which capsule to enter. But, apparently, I needed even more time than I took — and more breath — because when I opened my mouth to refill on the way down, well, oxygen was available only with its twin friends, H1 and H2.

Having been dropped from a perfectly comfortable chamber and squeezed through a tube into stuff I'm not using to breathing, I now believe that I have a conscious understanding of what it was like to have been born. It was a great trip, and I'm glad that I went through it, but I'd rather not look back on my way to ride the Aqua Coaster again.

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Replies (27)

May 24, 2017 at 1:53 PM · Amazing water coaster. I wish I'm there!!! I will try out the newly expanded Knott's Soak City this weekend.
May 24, 2017 at 2:11 PM · That water coaster looks awsome and no one can complain it's a screen .
May 24, 2017 at 2:12 PM · The excited commentary is contagious! Can't wait to hear more!
May 24, 2017 at 2:24 PM · "And I was impressed with Universal's conveyor systems to move rafts back up to the top of water slide towers, without requiring guests to haul them up themselves."

Sounds to me that while Disney is encouraging guests to lose weight for their newest rides, Universal is doing the opposite here.

May 24, 2017 at 3:56 PM · Looks beautiful, but I’m not seeing anything that would get me - a person who actively dislikes the idea of water parks - to buy a ticket and set foot in there. As such, it’s just a water park. But a really nice one!
May 24, 2017 at 4:07 PM · That's great about the conveyor belts because having only one capable hand and arm I always found the raft rides almost impossible without assistance from family or friends. Are the slides ADA compatible? In that are there any elevators to any of the slide structures. Someone said that they thought they where building elevators and that would be a first for a water/hybrid/third park. Thanks Robert, great stuff.
May 24, 2017 at 4:17 PM · Didn't ask about elevators, but did see what looked like one being finished at Krakatau.
May 24, 2017 at 5:49 PM · I don't think it's fair to refer to it as the "third gate". Disney has had two water parks for decades, and no one ever refers to them in the count of theme parks. Even if Volcano Bay is the greatest water park around, it's still a water park.
May 24, 2017 at 6:20 PM · How in the world is Aquatica Orlando going to survive this? At least Disney added a raft ride at Typhoon Lagoon!
May 24, 2017 at 6:33 PM · Wow! That watercoaster looked amazing! It's been 6 years or so since I was at a water park last (and a few pounds, sadly), but this one would be worth it, especially in Orlando in the Summer (yuck!). I think they've got a real winner on their hands!
May 24, 2017 at 6:46 PM · Looks amazing!!
May 24, 2017 at 8:28 PM · Nice legs.
May 24, 2017 at 8:31 PM · While I do think Holiday World's Wildebeest may be slightly better as a slide, Krakatau Auqa Coaster looks outstanding with all the theming. I'm really curious to see what people think of this park as a whole, because I'm definitely considering adding a day here to my Florida trip this fall.
May 24, 2017 at 8:44 PM · In all seriousness, we are going to Orlando in June and my daughter wants to go to a waterpark for one day. She is 7 years old and we were trying to decide between Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Maybe we should go to Volcano Beach. I know it just opened, but does anyone have thoughts?
May 25, 2017 at 2:04 AM · Attendance was down on expectations, and privately Universal executives were furious with what looks to be another failure for the company.

It seems a long time ago that Universal built WWoHP, since then it has been Disney leading the way, and I am afraid Volcano Bay does not match up to the likes of Typhoon Lagoon.

May 25, 2017 at 3:24 AM · The park looks amazing and certainly sets a new standard for themed water parks.

Aquatica will probably continue to be a favorite among locals due to it being FAR more affordable to add on to an annual pass (VB costs 2-3 times as much as an add-on.) That adds up for a family of 4. Plus, there is significantly less hassle to get in and out of Aqautica (no parking in a garage and then transferring your stuff via bus to the park entrance, etc.) For those of us who already spend a good chunk of our time fighting I-4 to travel to and from the parks, that is a big deal.

Now as far as visitors to Orlando looking at how to use their very limited vacation time to visit a water park - I would guess that Aqautica would be on the bottom of their list.

May 25, 2017 at 7:35 AM · " Attendance was down on expectations, and privately Universal executives were furious with what looks to be another failure for the company.

It seems a long time ago that Universal built WWoHP, since then it has been Disney leading the way, and I am afraid Volcano Bay does not match up to the likes of Typhoon Lagoon."

We have an "anonymous troll"... I think I know who it is :)

Your IP comes up like a rash all over theme park websites, and your desperate anti-Universal comments are hilarious. Please keep them coming.

May 25, 2017 at 8:11 AM · The water coaster looks fun but they are not a new concept. Typhoon Lagoon added Crush and Gush years ago. Schlitterbahn in Texas invented the water coaster with its first one in 1994.
May 25, 2017 at 9:16 AM · @ 82.12.117.88

You wrote this at 2:04 AM. It is currently 12:15 PM in Orlando, on the day it opened. Unless you just stepped out of a time machine, how can this be remotely accurate?

May 25, 2017 at 3:16 PM · So if there are no standby lines, and it gets crazy busy like Holiday World's Splashin' Safari but with even more guests, is it possible that you could be waiting all day to ride one or two signature rides and just sitting in a lazy river or wave pool the rest of the time? Seems like a customer service nightmare. What am I missing? Can you have more than one reservation or is Universal expecting crowds to be very manageable since it is just a water park? From the photos I've seen from opening day (5/25) it didn't look very busy, but surely it will get more crowded as summer heats up, right?
May 25, 2017 at 8:53 PM · You are allowed only one ride in the queue at a time plus the water coaster so yes your scenario is possible. Let's say you scan in at the OhNo slide and it has an hour wait. You can't ride another slide until you are done with that slide even is the wait is shorter.
May 25, 2017 at 11:49 PM · 82.12.117.88 has a great future in fiction writing.
May 26, 2017 at 3:55 AM · @73.136.55.237 It will be interesting to see this method of "Fastpass+" in action. I think it might have been better to only implement it at the signature slides so folks would still have something to do besides soak in a lazy river/wave pool while waiting. Part of the lure of a line queuing system is to be able to wait in two lines at once (one physically and one virtually). But again, it is a water park, and attendance will not be theme park crazy, so maybe it will be fine. We'll see.
May 26, 2017 at 7:39 AM · We attended opening day. Let's just say they have a long way to go to make this a functioning theme park.

Very few rides actually worked and most of the tech asssociated with the wearable were not functional.

I would have chosen a different activity if I had known my family and I were going to flush a day of vacation as beta testers for Universal

May 26, 2017 at 1:09 PM · I feel the themeing is absent in quite a few areas. The Atlantis Aquadventure is much better theme wise. For example the Lazy rivers have high walls with tiles on, no vegetation to look at, in Dubai it's all rock work which seems more natural for a river. Inside the volcano it's all exposed pipes and plumbing and supports. You think they would have hidden all that with rockwork, like it's all hidden (mostly) inside the Tempels.
Tapu Tapu sounds disappointing as you don't have any thing else to do apart from the 2 lazy rivers and pool to pass the hours whilst virtually queuing.
May 26, 2017 at 4:09 PM · We cut short our visit today.... our family arrived this morning at 11am. It took us ages to find just one sun bed. My first thoughts were this place was busy.. we were given the new type wrist bands to book our slots on the rides. Sounds good in theory but due to the amount of people in the park the wait times were well over two hours. Once one ride was booked you couldn't go on another! Many of the rides kept failing which pushed the times further back! We went on the lazy river/Rapids. This seemed ok except I noticed electrical cables hanging down from the bridge! Many electrical box covers were missing next to the lazy river....I can't believe people can be in the water near live electrics! The box lids need to go on because the wiring inside looked an absoloute mess! Perhaps this was the reason for the rides failing! Surely an electrical inspection is required before the park was opened. In my opinion the park was rushed to be open for this holiday weekend. The only queue you coud join today without your technical wristband was guest services. Mind you it was a long wait. Guest services conducted themselves very well. Disappointed as the two other parks were amazing this week.! (Ed Wilson) (U.K.) (electrical inspector).
May 27, 2017 at 6:23 AM · Went opening day. Tapu Tapu broke on both me and one son. Took over an hour to replace - was told it would open my locker because everything was re-linked... no such luck. Was told it would have ride data in the son's Tapu... again no such luck. Additionally several attractions were out of service and more broke down as the day wore on. Very few places to seek shade without paying for it. Not an ideal start to our vacation.

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