Universal Orlando cuts many themed food options at Volcano Bay
Universal Orlando Resort last week changed the menus for its restaurants at its new Volcano Bay water theme park, cutting the number of choices and replacing several Polynesian-inspired dishes with more traditional burgers, hot dogs, and nachos.
Say goodbye to the Hawaiian Ribs, Smoked Glazed Chicken, Kohola Burger and Chicken Sandwich, Pork Belly Burger, Jerk Mahi Sandwich, and the Hawaiian Longboard Pizza at the Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club. And say hello to the Bacon Cheeseburger that is replacing them. Hey, to keep the theme, the bacon cheeseburger is served on a "Hawaiian style" bun. (Imagine an eyeroll emoji here.)
The tacos are gone from the Feasting Frog, replaced by hot dogs and nachos, and Bambu has lost its Reka Burger and Quinoa Edamame Burger, which remain at Kohola Reef.
Several themed food items remain at the park, including the Coconut Crusted Fried Chicken, Coconut Curry Chicken, and Mango BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich at Kohola Reef. The Waturi Mahi Sandwich and Karika Chicken Sandwich remain at Bambu. But the menus are smaller across the park.
The changes reinforce the lesson that you can put out an ambitious menu, but you can't force theme park fans to eat it. A significant contingent of fans simply want burgers, fried chicken, and pizza, and will not bother ordering anything before familiar tastes. Another share of fans would be willing to experiment with different flavors, but will become overwhelmed with too many unfamiliar choices, prompting them to retreat to the familiar.
And a kitchen's got to be able to deliver everything on its menu to consistently high quality... and swiftly, because time is money to theme park fans eager to get on as many rides as the can during their day.
While I loved the ribs and the jerk mahi when I sampled them during the media preview for the park, I also understand that the market speaks far more loudly than any individual critic. And that prepping food for a preview crowd is very different than going into full-scale production. But I hope that fans who appreciated the Polynesian-inspired fare at Volcano Bay will rally around the mango pulled pork, coconut curry, and remaining mahi and chicken sandwiches at the park, so that Universal will see a business case to keep them on the menu going forward.
One of my long-standing pieces of advice for theme park fans is to not buy anything inside the park that you can get anywhere outside the park. While that typically applies to bringing in your own sunscreen, mobile phone chargers and the like, I'd like to argue that the advice applies to food, as well. Skip the cola for a Butterbeer, the ice cream for a Dole Whip... and the cheeseburger for a mahi sandwich. You're paying for a unique experience inside the park, so why not reinforce that with your selection of food and drinks during the day? Yes, theme park food can be overpriced compared with similar items found outside the park, so why not order the most unusual (and tasty!) stuff you can find, if you're going to pay that premium for in-park food?
Parks can help by not going nuts with their menus, overextending their kitchens and overwhelming fans with too many options on a day when people are trying to take it easy. But, ultimately, if we want theme parks to offer most unique, ambitious, and well-themed food, it's up to us as fans and visitors to order it when they do.
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These changes might not only be because of a lack of demand, but because of the need for higher margins. With VB artificially reducing its daily guest capacity because of TapuTapu, it's unlikely the park could execute service of the wide-ranging menus with the needed efficiency and margins originally envisioned. With fewer people in the park, the fewer choices there will be because the total number of food items served in a given day is going to be less. Universal probably thought they could pull of these exotic menus with 10k people in the park, but with a little more than half of the original estimated capacity reportedly allowed into the park on any given day, serving low-margin specialty menus was the easiest way to make ends meet.
But if I could TapuTapu into a virtual queue for the ribs, would Universal brings them back?
I think another factor could be Universal over estimating the guest desire for "fancy" options at a Water Park. While the dishes could be awesome, do they really fit with the guest goals for food while wearing a bathing suit.
You're absolutely right Robert Morris, but Universal was trying to break the mold with VB. Perhaps they aimed a little too high, but it was clear they were trying to establish more of an authentic Polynesian beach vibe than a generic water park. They didn't want people to feel that they were at newer, fancier Wet 'n Wild, and were instead at a highly themed tropical resort. That was evident from their opening ceremony and from the early guest reviews. Rides and operational efficiency were secondary to establishing the theme and feel of the park.
That's a shame. I'm sure 90% of the guests at Volcano Bay won't care about this change, but it gives me one less reason to visit, especially since most of Universal's counter-service food is iffy at best.
The fancy burgers are a bit much for a water park, but you'll see them at the Islands Restaurant. If they care to keep a high quality restaurant, they should consider a table service restaurant overlooking the water park that's just outside the park gates.
"If they care to keep a high quality restaurant, they should consider a table service restaurant overlooking the water park that's just outside the park gates."
It will have the same appeal for those staying at the Cabana Bay or just visiting. You think they are just watching the people in bathing suits? It's a view of a Volcano in a water park. That's the payoff without paying admission prices. That's why Disney commands the prices for their restaurants with views inside theme parks.
This seems more like a way try and raise profits considering the park can handle way less people than they were expecting...got to make up that money somewhere. Fancy food is neat but usually is lower margin.
@Anton - What Disney restaurants are outside theme parks with views into them? California Grill is the only one I can think of (and maybe Trader Sam's, but that's more bar than table service), and it's only really popular during the fireworks - the food is top notch too. I believe at one point you could visit Rainforest Cafe at DAK without a theme park ticket, but you weren't "overlooking" anything in the park.
When I saw the great food choices some months ago, I wondered if you could eat there without a $60 per person cover charge. I guess not. The fancy food just doesn't go with bathing suited and active guests. Maybe they can have an attached restaurant that isn't actually in the water park like ballparks with top flight restaurants you can enter from inside and outside.
Universal did so much special promotion for all the foods at VB opening. Vloggers had entries about the special tasting events, there were interviews with the designers discussing how integral the food theming was to placemaking (they frequently mentioned Butterbeer as helping to "make" the Wizarding World.)
@Russell: I don't get what's your problem. It's not unprecedented except when you mention the California Grill. Then it's a precedent except it's not. It was done before.
Having visited recently the que system for food is stupid, you have different places serving different foods but when you que and get to the front they tell you the signs above are wrong and to join another que, a single que with the same choices at each station make the wait the same for everyone and saves the hassle of queuing to find what is advertised above is not available at that location. It's all new but needs work on this side.
Florida tourists = Fat and Stupid.
That's so sad. Food is such an important part of the themed experience. One less reason to go to VB now.
Good effort by Universal, especially considering how successful themed food has been in Harry Potter areas, but it doesn't appear that people care about eating large, themed meals while wearing a bathing suit. I haven't been to Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon in a while, but I don't think those parks have elaborate food choices, either.
Bummed about this. I'll be there next month and sampling the food was going to be one of the highlights.
People write how the food choices are now poor (Dont disagree really), but I am not sure if they are aware if Disney's waterparks have the same offerings.
Another nail in the coffin tbh. It is proof that the creative minds at Universal Orlando have lost their way since 2010...
@Anton - I don't have a problem other than I find your suggestion pretty unrealistic. I did mention California Grill, where I do know that people explicitly make reservations to watch the fireworks while taking in a 3-star meal, and Trader Sam's, where many guests have a drink while watching the water parade and MK fireworks, but aside from those specific times, the views of the MK from those restaurants do not factor into guests' decisions to make reservations. And even then, we're only talking about 2 restaurants among dozens of non-park restaurants that have maybe 1-2 hours of appeal a day for their views overlooking a theme park (not a water park).
It's okay Clackers, keep your chin up. Who made you so sad?
1. The primary appeal will be on-site guests already staying at the nearby hotels like Cabana Bay, Sapphire Falls, and the thousands visiting Volcano Bay who rather eat better after drying off. The other off-site guests take a shuttle. What's so unusual about that?
Nick, VB is (IMHO and at least to date) not a nice place to visit. My experience was bad... just bad. I'm really hoping that they get their ship in shape, but after going, spending way too much time up front to set up the tapu-tapu, paying a pretty high price for tickets, watching the rides break down throughout the day, spending AN HOUR getting my tapu-tapu fixed when it stopped working, and finding out my que time for rides was in the MULTIPLE hours, I doubt I'll be back. Most of the rides aren't anything special (how much can you do with a slide of water, save the water-coaster that I wasn't able to ride because of it breaking down during my 4 hour wait). Forget the typical overpriced food and usual waterpark nuances, those didn't even make it to my radar. On the good side, I left the park with more money in my pocket than when I got there thanks to the kind people at guest services who had a long line waiting to complain.
Certainly a volcano has appeal (I'm a geologist, and have heated lunch on a steam vent in the Kilauea Caldera before), but simply seeing a fake one out the window of a restaurant doesn't draw people to eat. Building a roller coaster or other dark ride in one certainly does (Volcano at Kings Dominion), which is why the Mt. Fuji concept for EPCOT always keeps coming up.
This is indeed sad news. One of the main reasons I was one of the very first to upgrade to a 3-Park Premier pass was because of the new food and beverage offerings. Sadly, the only thing I was able to try was the tacos. The lines were always too long and the seating was a zoo. I have yet to "ride" anything in the 3 visits I have made to the park as I prefer to lounge, walk around and float-not to mention the issues with the virtual queue. If I wanted hamburgers and pizza, I'd stay home. Perhaps in time they will be able to reintroduce some of these unique dishes.
Tschoup Chop is definitely high end. Dinner starts at $30 for fish, steak, and scallops. The chicken is $24. Lunch is more reasonable at $14 for a burger and large salads. $12 for various sandwiches and tacos.
Just to clear the air about this "restaurant with views of the volcano" , that's exactly what the new Aventura hotel tower will offer that is being built adjacent to Volcano Bay.
"The whole Cabana Bay area would be lower cost including that of a lower cost table service restaurant."
Apparently they are only serving food items that you can eat on a bus while riding back to the parking garage.
"for a restaurant that can see lights on a fake plaster mountain"
"Class requiring shoes and shirt. You're crazy. That's what all table service restaurants require at minimum. That's really onerous to require? You're a laugh."
Normally, dry shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops are required. Not that onerous.
"Why would you suggest only dinner hours for the restaurant? It would serve lunch too."
@Rusell I'm in sales and one time had lunch at a very expensive restaurant in Napa to impress a client. Sorry...I thought this is what we were doing...
Rusell- I'm pretty certain you've never been in the food and beverage business at a management level. Neither has Anton. Your ideas suggest so. My career includes several years spent as F&B Director for a movie exhibitor developing full-service restaurant, bar and in-theater dining concepts, in addition to running concessions.
"That’s simply not true. Guests will leave a park to dine off-premises or just outside the gate and return thereafter."
Can we please get back to the fact that you compared your career as a geologist as a reason you're qualified to state whether or not a restaurant concept will succeed?? You're an idiot. You have long winded answers to why you are right and while you may be passionate...at the end of the day you're wrong. My god man. Grow a pair and move on. Squabbling to internet trolls and fellow idiots does not make you look good. Study rocks and love rollercoasters. You're good at that (apparently). Stop crushing peoples dreams and telling everyone how wrong they are. You do it a lot and it's annoying. I imagine the friends you may have also find that trait annoying. You are the GOT character everyone secretly hopes dies. Please understand that. Fix it if you can. Otherwise just live this life of misery. Fighting every word said on a message board to a theme park website. God speed.
"I do have an idea that would limit the need for seasonal operations of an "overlooking table service restaurant". You could hypothetically create a 2-level restaurant with a single kitchen. The lower level would serve Volcano Bay guests that could enter the restaurant straight from the park in park clothes."
Barry, if anyone here needs to fix something, you should fix your last comment because it's out of line. Russell has an opinion. You have the right to agree or disagree with it. What you shouldn't do is resort to personal attacks and insults. It moves the discussion into territory no one wants to enter.
Russell felt the need to publicly call me out as some kind of "Disney drone" because I said I'd be willing to spend $55 solely to ride the Hogwarts Express. Russell is like some form of cancer on these threads that consumes everything in its path. Something needed to be said.
"Guests will leave a park to dine off-premises or just outside the gate and return thereafter"
@James...If Mr.Meyer was resigned to JUST his personal opinion on things I would have no problem. He attacks anyone he may disagree with on this site and gets into long arguments as seen above. He is no better than any troll. As Cole Short states... he called him out publicly for having the opinion that paying money for a train was ok. There is no more civility my friend.
Man those guys completely derailed this topic. You guys should take your arguments to email next time and leave the forum to people wanting to discuss and not argue with each other.
I am glad Robert mentioned the "don't buy anything you can get outside the parks", especially with food.
Anton is spot on correct and his idea should have been done day one by Universal...I remember reading that exotic menu and going really?!! at a water park...just build a table service very cool tropical themed restaurant to go with waterpark that say overlooks volcano...as for food in the park where you are running around with bathing suits on...offer typical burger,hot dog,pizza,etc,etc...this was a no brainer...of course universal cut the menu...suprised it lasted this long
It's a water park. An over-priced, poorly-themed, too clever by half water park. Fixing the menu to reflect water park patron realities is the first smart thing they've done.
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