Theme Park Insider

Universal Orlando cuts many themed food options at Volcano Bay

July 31, 2017, 10:05 AM · 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.

Back in the day...

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Replies (47)

July 31, 2017 at 10:21 AM · 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.

With the park closing regularly for capacity, serving up burgers, dogs, and nachos is not likely to affect demand for the water theme park, but there's no doubt the food margins will quickly increase after this move. Clearly theme park fans should be disappointed in this, but, as Robert has noted, until guests start rejecting generic theme park food and speaking with their wallet, decisions like this will continue to be made because of the almighty dollar.

July 31, 2017 at 10:28 AM · But if I could TapuTapu into a virtual queue for the ribs, would Universal brings them back?

Sh-tposting aside, Russell's right in that this is a math issue here, at its heart. Demand, production time, and margin all factor into the decision whether to put something on to a menu, and whether to keep it there. Many of the unique things on the menu failed that test in the park's first weeks. But fans' reaction to these changes will shape Universal's future moves on the VB menus as the park goes forward.

July 31, 2017 at 10:36 AM · 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.

Secondly this may be an operational issue they can actually fix at the park and they are trying to get their wins where they can as it relates to service at VB

July 31, 2017 at 11:06 AM · 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.

Most of the reviews I've seen of VB have been praising the food choices as well as the overall theming of the park, while most complaints are about the ride operations. However, in order to fix the ride operations while still using TapuTapu, a system Universal is heavily invested in, park capacity had to be shrunk. With fewer people in the park, fewer food options can be offered, and the easiest items to cut from the menu would be the lower demand, lower margin "specialty" foods. Lowest common demonstrator foods arise not necessarily because that's what people want, but because those are the easiest to make at comfortable margins (exactly why there's very little variety in most movie theater food). If VB was able to accommodate 10k guests a day, I don't think we're talking about a shrinking menu, but because overall daily guest revenue for the park had to be reduced to make TapuTapu work, those losses had to be made up somewhere else. So it was either jack up prices of specialty food items (and everything else in the park including admission price, which is already bordering on the obscene), or trim the menus back to a more reasonable, executable size with higher margin items to balance the losses from daily park admissions. The fact that this announcement is coming 2 months after the park's opening (i.e. in time for the park to make revenue corrections for their first quarter's financial statements), leads me to believe it's a purely business decision. They gave it 2 months to see if they could make money with these highly diverse menus, but it just didn't work, even with the park at "capacity" virtually every day, so in order to save face to executives, managers are pulling back to run a leaner operation in the 3rd month of the quarter to see if it changes the prospects.

July 31, 2017 at 12:11 PM · 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.
July 31, 2017 at 12:24 PM · 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.
July 31, 2017 at 12:57 PM · "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."

What appeal would that have??? A restaurant where you have to take a shuttle to reach (or walk nearly a mile from the parking garage) just so you can watch random people in swimsuits splash around on a Polynesian-themed beach??? You can already do that at Royal Pacific (less the walk/shuttle ride).

July 31, 2017 at 1:24 PM · 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.
July 31, 2017 at 1:45 PM · 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.
July 31, 2017 at 1:58 PM · @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.

There's really no precedent here for a table service restaurant outside the park gates where people are going to see what's going on in a theme/water park. What you've suggested is pretty unrealistic IMHO.

July 31, 2017 at 2:10 PM · 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.
July 31, 2017 at 2:25 PM · 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.)

So this is extremely disappointing to read midway through the first summer.

I'm sure the decisions were made for very good reason(s), but I'm taking a moment of silence as I was looking forward to lounging in a cabana some day and enjoying some of the more interesting offerings.

I'm seconding the motion: keep ordering the weird stuff, people!

July 31, 2017 at 3:10 PM · @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.

Are you going to keep beating down a blue sky idea just because you enjoy doing it? Keep at it.

I didn't say Disney should do it because they aren't positioned to do it, but Universal is a better candidate for trying different things. Universal did brand Volcano Bay as a theme park. That's new and totally realistic.

July 31, 2017 at 3:09 PM · 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.
The ride que system is great but after 11am expect ques to be three to four hours.
July 31, 2017 at 4:20 PM · Florida tourists = Fat and Stupid.
July 31, 2017 at 4:53 PM · That's so sad. Food is such an important part of the themed experience. One less reason to go to VB now.
July 31, 2017 at 4:57 PM · 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.
July 31, 2017 at 6:11 PM · Bummed about this. I'll be there next month and sampling the food was going to be one of the highlights.
July 31, 2017 at 9:07 PM · 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.
August 1, 2017 at 3:16 AM · Another nail in the coffin tbh. It is proof that the creative minds at Universal Orlando have lost their way since 2010...
August 1, 2017 at 6:19 AM · @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).

I think the concept of placing a restaurant outside of a theme park with views inside has limited applications, and in particular one outside Volcano Bay just would not have great appeal for the following reasons:

1. Off-site guests would have to take a shuttle to reach the restaurant from the parking garage or walk nearly a mile to reach this one restaurant.
2. If said restaurant was to have an island/tropical theme, Universal would be undercutting their existing out-of-park offerings in CityWalk and Royal Pacific. On-site guests are already within walking distance of Emeril's Tschoup Chop and Island's Dining Room at the Royal Pacific, along with Margaritaville and Bob Marley's at CityWalk.
3. Certainly, Universal could design a must-taste menu of items, but the restaurant would literally be "on an island" with nothing else to do if you don't already have admission to Volcano Bay. There are no other table service restaurants immediately nearby if guests didn't want to wait for a table or simply didn't like the menu when they reached the entrance.
4. I don't understand how overlooking a fake volcano with people splashing around in bathing suits makes a restaurant more appealing. The Disney restaurants mentioned above are appealing because of their food and during a brief period in the evenings because of fireworks and the water parade. You're suggesting a water park overlook would draw people to a restaurant throughout the day (beyond the menu's appeal), which I find a bit dubious.

Again, I'm not suggesting you couldn't put a restaurant overlooking a theme/water park (depending upon the menu and the park it is overlooking you could get some draw). I just feel that the idea of putting one specifically overlooking Volcano Bay (as a way to compensate for the water park loosing its unique menu items) is a bit of a ridiculous concept.

There's nothing new about the concept of Volcano Bay, and the only thing "new" Universal is doing with it (aside from TapuTapu) is to call it a "water theme park". Disney could just as easily call Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon "water theme parks". The only thing Universal is doing differently with VB is marketing/spin.

August 1, 2017 at 7:14 AM · It's okay Clackers, keep your chin up. Who made you so sad?
August 1, 2017 at 8:00 AM · 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?

2. The Emeril's would not be undercut since it is a higher end restaurant. Margaritaville has its separate fans and would not be impacted from another tropical island hamburger place. The guests already at Volcano Bay have made it clear that such island type food is not appealing so why would anyone think Emeril's will be cannibalized?

3. Other than nothing else to do than eat, drink, and relax while enjoying the view, there lacks a reason beyond that. Trader Sam's offers nothing in addition to a themed drink with lots of Disney memorabilia on the walls. Guests who don't want to wait for a table (as if that's a problem) can visit Cabana Bay for a better choice.

4. The fake volcano is why Disney is long blue skying one to add to the Magic Kingdom with a Moana theme. Volcanoes have significance and is a big draw in itself. Sad to think you don't think so. BTW: Universal gave the volcano a lighting effect in the evenings.

If you otherwise think a restaurant isn't viable, then building one makes no sense, but the reasons you give are ridiculous.

August 1, 2017 at 8:42 AM · 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.
August 1, 2017 at 9:43 AM · 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.

I would agree that there might be some appeal for this concept for guests staying at Cabana Bay, especially since that resort currently lacks a viable table service restaurant. However, I think Universal wants to maintain that void so they can continue to differentiate the "value" priced CB from the "moderate" priced Sapphire Falls and Aventura. I doubt guests at Sapphire Falls are going to trek across the street to VB over the Amarista Cookhouse or the offerings at the adjacent Royal Pacific. If a really fancy TS restaurant were to be offered just outside the VB gate or as part of the Cabana Bay resort, Universal would have to completely change their marketing for the three non-deluxe resorts.

Tschoup Chop is not what I would call "high end", and I was interpreting your concept of a VB-overlooking TS restaurant as one that would be delivered with some level of quality (table cloths and unique, perhaps seasonal menu). If you think a sit-down casual table service (TGIFridays or Ruby Tuesday style) will survive just outside the Volcano Bay gate, then your idea is even crazier than I initially thought it was.

I don't think it's clear that guests at Volcano Bay have declared that "island type food" is not appealing. The reviews of the VB food have been glowing, and many trip reports from the water theme park specifically call out the food as a reason to visit. The trimming of menus appears to be simply a business decision to increase margins and food service efficiency. I never said that Tschoup Chop would be cannibalized, but instead that there isn't really a need for another outside-the-park tropical-themed restaurant, which is what the theming would need to be if you're marketing views of the Volcano.

Yipee, there's night lighting on the Volcano. That makes me want to rush and make reservations right now for a restaurant that can see lights on a fake plaster mountain with people splashing around in the pools at its base.

There's nothing ridiculous about my criticisms of an outside-the-gate restaurant overlooking Volcano Bay. The fact that there are only 2 such restaurants in the US (1 that's more of a bar and the other that markets their food far more than their MK views, which only draw guests for about an hour a day) is enough of a reason to say such a concept is not feasible. The other reasons stated previously and directly above, further demonstrate that the concept is a virtual non-starter.

August 1, 2017 at 10:18 AM · 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.
August 1, 2017 at 11:14 AM · 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.

The whole Cabana Bay area would be lower cost including that of a lower cost table service restaurant. Nothing more crazier than for you to define what is crazy and then say it is. Did I say TGIF and Ruby's? You're crazy. I did mention Islands Restaurant. Look it up.

I didn't say Island food was unappealing, but it's an issue of how it is offered. Merely offering in the water park is not worth it and the guests don't want it. Offering a table service restaurant while offering a view might have more appeal especially after a day at the water park or a day at Universal.

Wonderful for you to downgrade Universal's volcano and upgrade other's park's volcanos. The volcano can't be made of plaster. It'll melt. Disney doesn't even offer a volcano at Trader Sams. It just offers lots of Disney memorabilia. What's so wonderful about eating at Blue Bayou? You just see people on boats riding by and they aren't even in bathing suits.

August 1, 2017 at 12:00 PM · 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.
August 1, 2017 at 1:12 PM · "The whole Cabana Bay area would be lower cost including that of a lower cost table service restaurant."

If that's what you're suggesting, then it's going to be on the scale of a Friday's or Ruby Tuesday's ("low cost table service restaurants"). You're suggesting this low-scale restaurant for the 6,000 or so VB guests and a few of the CB and SF guests that aren't eating at the theme parks or CityWalk (some of whom are probably some of the same 6,000 guests that were in VB).

You seem to think people will spend the day at VB and then immediately need to sit down for a table service meal. I think that's a bit of a stretch. First of all, a table service restaurant suggests some level of class, requiring at a minimum shoes and shirt. So guests enjoying VB would likely not dine here until they're ready to leave the park for the day, and can change into appropriate clothing. Secondly, you want to offer something beyond the newly reduced menu items beyond what is already served in VB. Fine, I'm all for variety, and it makes sense to not duplicate outside the park what you can get inside. Next, you want the restaurant overlooking the park. Great, but your first assumption that guests will dine after enjoying a day at the park runs counter to the idea of overlooking the park. I will concede that some guests will leave before the park officially closes, but you're looking at a small window of opportunity where your primary audience (VB guests) will be interested in dining (maybe 2-3 hours). After that, the park is closed, and there's nothing of note to "overlook" anymore. Certainly you could run your fancy lights on fake mountain show, but is it really worth the expense to do so for the 50 or so people sitting next to windows in your hypothetical restaurant to see? With all that said, you're looking at a restaurant that would be limited to serving between maybe 3-4 in the afternoon until about 8-9 at night. It would have to be one heck of a restaurant with AMAZING popularity and margins to make ends meet on 4-6 hours of service (3-4 table turns).

"Wonderful for you to downgrade Universal's volcano and upgrade other's park's volcanos. The volcano can't be made of plaster. It'll melt. Disney doesn't even offer a volcano at Trader Sams."

I have no idea what you mean by this statement. I only know of one other theme park in the world with a volcano, and that's Volcano (formerly Volcano: The Blast Coaster) at Kings Dominion in Virginia. I didn't know by generically calling Volcano Bay's icon made of "plaster" as downgrading it while upgrading others. It's obviously not really made of plaster, though the technique used by Nassal to create it is similar to applying plaster or stucco to walls by using a thin set, fast drying material sculpted on a wire frame. I was deliberately using hyperbole there for affect, which obviously did not come across. I never said Trader Sam's offered a view of a volcano, but did mention that it had views of the MK fireworks and the Water Parade on the 7 Seas Lagoon. Blue Bayou is INSIDE Disneyland, thus requiring park admission, and incomparable to your hypothetical restaurant, though I'd say the Monte Cristo is wonderful.

August 1, 2017 at 12:45 PM · Apparently they are only serving food items that you can eat on a bus while riding back to the parking garage.

(Chuckle)

August 1, 2017 at 1:34 PM · "for a restaurant that can see lights on a fake plaster mountain"

That's what you said. Thus my response.

"First of all, a table service restaurant suggests some level of class, requiring at a minimum shoes and shirt."

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.

"Secondly, you want to offer something beyond the newly reduced menu items beyond what is already served in VB."

I'm suggesting the foods that VB already discontinued would instead be offered at the restaurant so the guests that do want them can have them, plus the other guests at the hotels. Again, "Islands Restaurants". Stop mentioning the other restaurants. I'm not comparing them at all. You already said it's crazy.

"Great, but your first assumption that guests will dine after enjoying a day at the park runs counter to the idea of overlooking the park."

Not if the views are still there, although the view is on other side of the park. Is this really so hard to wrap your head around?

"but you're looking at a small window of opportunity where your primary audience (VB guests) will be interested in dining (maybe 2-3 hours). After that, the park is closed, and there's nothing of note to "overlook" anymore."

The water park is usually open until 9pm. That's the dinner service time (6 to 9pm). There's still the view after the park is closed. What's your problem again? You already think people in swimsuits isn't much to look at. ("I don't understand how overlooking a fake volcano with people splashing around in bathing suits makes a restaurant more appealing.") So you'll get a nice park view with nobody in the park. Much better really. So you said people in bathing suits are not worth looking at until you decide it's even worse that you can't look at them.

Your rationalizations are getting more ridiculous in each post.

August 1, 2017 at 1:55 PM · "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."

For guests visiting a water park, yes it could be onerous, particularly those staying at on-site resorts that are likely to leave their street clothes in their hotel rooms. A lot of people just show up to water parks in their tank tops, board shorts, and flip flops/water shoes (particularly on-site guests and AP holders that are the majority of guests visiting Volcano Bay, especially during the off season). You're suggesting that guests bring a full change of clothes and shoes just so they can eat at a "low-scale" restaurant outside the park. Have you ever been to any of the water parks in Orlando? Have you ever stayed at an on-site hotel?

"Not if the views are still there other, although on the other side of the park. Is this really so hard to wrap your head around?"

You seem to think people will pay $70 to visit Volcano Bay and voluntarily leave long before the end of the day to have a sit down meal overlooking the park they were just in. Why would anyone do that when there's food in the park (maybe not food as good as this hypothetical place, but still decent)? If they wanted a "nice" sit-down meal, they could go back to their hotel room, change, and head over to CityWalk. Again, I can see this as a benefit for guests at Cabana Bay, but as I noted before, I think Universal clearly wants to distinguish their "value" resort from the rest by NOT having a table service restaurant on the property (just as Disney value resorts do not have table service restaurants).

"The water park is usually open until 9pm. That's well after most dinner service time. There's still the view after the park is open. What's your problem again?"

It's open until 9 PM on certain days in the summer, but only until 5 PM after daylight savings time. There simply aren't enough effective hours or people on this part of the Universal property to warrant operating this restaurant more than a few hours a day. Why go through all the trouble to build a themed table service restaurant (with low margins) when it's only going to be open a few hours a day, particularly during the winter months? I don't mind overlooking an empty park, but I'm not sure why most guests would find it a reason to eat here over other options. Nor would I understand why Universal would pay to operate lighting and effects after dark for a few people eating in this silly restaurant.

Overall Anton, you seem to ignore the overall economics of your concept. To create a completely new venue overlooking Volcano Bay would not come cheap. The location of such a venue is already problematic because the only foot-traffic would come from park goers and guests of the nearby Cabana Bay and Sapphire Falls (a stretch coming from across the street, but I will grant you that). So you're looking at a potential audience of maybe 8 thousand guests per day that would have any reason to dine here (assuming it is "low scale" as you've suggested, meaning the food is not the primary draw). Add to that a restaurant that can only possibly open at most 5-6 hours per day for dinner service ONLY (perhaps just 3-4 hours per day in the winter). That just doesn't add up. You'd either need hundreds of table (all with window views of the Volcano) to make this concept work or have food prices that would be cost prohibitive to most guests. Such a concept simply won't work from a financial standpoint, and the last time I checked, theme park operators (and restaurant owners) do what they do to make MONEY.

August 1, 2017 at 2:03 PM · Normally, dry shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops are required. Not that onerous.

Some will leave early. People tend to clear out of water parks by 5pm voluntarily. If people buy multi-park passes, they won't think of $70, maybe $50 instead. That is much less of a loss to leave when they want to. Only a small fraction of the park visitors need to eat at the restaurant plus other hotel guests.

Nothing wrong with the restaurants being open seasonally. All theme parks have seasonal hours. It's an issue of whether any park wants to leave money on the table.

Why would you suggest only dinner hours for the restaurant? It would serve lunch too.

This is not a full blown out proposal. You seem to think a small throw away line about a restaurant means I'm really to present a proposal to Universal for a new restaurant concept. Maybe you should stop acting so crazy.

"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. "

I'm just thinking out loud. Why are you trying so hard to argue against this? Do you have a competing proposal? I'm not in competition with you. (giggles).

"If they care to keep a high quality restaurant" If they don't, then I'll won't mention it to them. LOL!!!

August 2, 2017 at 8:06 AM · "Why would you suggest only dinner hours for the restaurant? It would serve lunch too."

Who's going to eat lunch at a restaurant that requires guests to exit the park, give up their chair, and change into street clothes? Sure, there might be a few random people hanging out at the Cabana Bay that might stumble over to a restaurant just outside the Volcano Bay gate, and there might be a few people that don't mind the hassle of changing in the middle of the day to step outside the park gates for a quick sit-down meal. Let's be realistic here, VB is in a "coffin corner" of the Universal property with ZERO foot traffic and no parking, so any audience for a restaurant just outside the water theme park's gates would be limited to VB guests and those at Cabana Bay (and maybe Sapphire Falls). By limiting the restaurant to seasonal operations, as you suggested, it would make this an even bigger drain on resources (something Universal is already trying to eliminate at VB) and take up already precious space on contiguous Universal property, limiting future VB attraction expansion.

I totally understand where you're going by trying to find an avenue for the lost menu items, but the way Universal has setup Volcano Bay and nearby Cabana Bay is simply not conducive to the concept of a table service restaurant accessed outside the VB gate.

As I stated before, if Universal wants to maintain their tiered resort concept, placing a table service restaurant too close to Cabana Bay would put the "value" property on par with the "moderate" Sapphire Falls. There's nothing preventing from Universal from doing that, but based on how they've been advertising the two (along with Aventura), and differentiating them from Hard Rock, Royal Pacific, and Portifino Bay, a table service restaurant would require Cabana Bay prices to increase, eliminating its "value" appeal. Perhaps the 2 new resorts going on the Wet 'N Wild property become the new "value" resorts and the addition of a table service restaurant to Cabana Bay allows Universal to then market the former value resort as a moderate. I could totally see that.

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. In fact, one feature of the VB side of the restaurant could be pool-side tables where guests would be sitting in the water (like many "swim-up" bars featured at many resorts around the world). The second level would have floor to ceiling windows overlooking the park, accessible only from outside VB, and isolated from park guests. That would allow the restaurant to serve the same menu to both sets guests, but the second level would feel "classier" being separated from guests in the pool/cabanas below in their swimwear, while giving VB guests direct access to the menu without having to leave the park and change into street clothes. While the lower level would be open only during park hours, the upper level would be open for late lunch and through dinner. It would allow the kitchen to serve from perhaps as early as noon to 9 PM or later (a much more realistic ask), and would also enable the restaurant to operate year-round. By catering to both in-park and nearby resort guests, this restaurant would have enough draw to maintain profitability and viability. I still think it would be a tough ask to get guests to pay for a table service meal while in a water park, but it's far more reasonable than expecting guests to hop out of the park in the middle of the day (changing into street clothes), or leaving altogether for a sit-down meal outside the park.

August 2, 2017 at 10:29 AM · @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...
August 2, 2017 at 12:41 PM · 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.

Rusell you stated "You seem to think people will pay $70 to visit Volcano Bay and voluntarily leave long before the end of the day to have a sit down meal overlooking the park they were just in. Why would anyone do that when there's food in the park"

That’s simply not true. Guests will leave a park to dine off-premises or just outside the gate and return thereafter. There are many reasons, including better choices, avoiding crowds, seeking full-service versus quick casual or fast food. It occurs every day, so you can make a restaurant outside the gates work, but it typically does require more than just theme park visitors to be viable.

I don’t believe there is a need for a full-service restaurant just outside the gate of Volcano Bay. A view of a waterpark is not exactly a marketable attribute, even as impressive as Volcano Bay is.

From a business perspective this location would be access challenged. It would be most accessible to those visiting the waterpark, but difficult for those not attending. Closing the waterpark at six or seven o'clock to make the restaurant successful, will only further reduce capacity at the already overcrowded waterpark.

You have to also account for the fact that crowds will fluctuate significantly during the winter months. There isn’t an Orlando waterpark so far that maintains its peak attendance during the late Fall and winter months. It’s highly unlikely that VB will break that tradition, so foot traffic will die off significantly.

However the real evidence for lack of need are in the menu changes.

The menu changes don't reflect operational challenges or a need for Universal to generate more revenue. Hot dogs don't necessarily equate to higher margins. You can charge more for a more refined entrée, like a fish sandwich or ribs, and food costs as a percentage are generally similar.

The fact that people are wearing swimsuits is also irrelevant. There are plenty of full-service or quick casual restaurants, serving finer foods to those who are wearing swim attire. Just look at Hawaii, the Caribbean, Miami and other beach resorts, for examples. The poolside menu at the JW Marriott in Orlando doesn’t adhere to nachos and hot dogs.

What the menu changes at Volcano Bay reflect is simply the demographics of Orlando theme park visitors, especially those who visit the waterparks.

Waterpark visitors are by and large low end consumers.

The perception of a waterpark has not changed, even with Volcano Bay. Most consider them to be grimy and gross. Swimming in pools with thousands of others is not generally considered high on ones list of things to do.

High end consumers in Orlando, who often seek better quality food options, largely avoid the waterparks and instead visit the theme parks, if any at all. Hence, why you see more full-service options at parks like EPCOT versus Aquatica or Blizzard Beach.

Many waterpark visitors typically have children in tow, who preference hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and hamburgers, over fancier fare. If you’ve got kids with you you’ll likely differ to their desires when it comes to food at a theme park or waterpark.

The sad reality is that most people who visit Orlando theme parks like to eat lousy fast food. They’re not foodies or adventuresome eaters.

There is a reason why the parks by and large serve terrible food and why fast food like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Dunkin Donuts and mediocre fast casual restaurants like Olive Garden, Chili’s, Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings are in abundance in the resort areas.

So the entire menu change simply reflects what Volcano Bay visitors seek. That’s it.

August 2, 2017 at 1:25 PM · "That’s simply not true. Guests will leave a park to dine off-premises or just outside the gate and return thereafter."

OK...What makes you say that? Again, we're talking about a water park here where people have covered themselves in sunscreen, striped down to their bikinis and board shorts, and splashed around in chemically treated water and the bodily fluids of 6,000 complete strangers for a few hours. My argument is that most guests spending the day at Volcano Bay are not going to leave, have a sit-down lunch, and come back to the park. Maybe regular theme park guests might leave in the middle of the day and come back for some more fun, but theme park guests are not usually changing clothes and/or taking showers before going to lunch/dinner. I agree that people dine at table service restaurants at other tropical resorts, but the restaurant Anton suggested would be outside the park, meaning VB guests leaving for a sit-down meal could be mixing with guests not in pool attire, making for potentially uncomfortable situations or requiring a mandatory dress code, unlike many of the resort areas that you've mentioned where the only guests dining are coming from the beach/pool.

An audience for a restaurant located just outside the water park's gates would be limited to guests hanging out at the nearby Cabana Bay during the middle of the day (when most people are at a theme or water park), or guests leaving Volcano Bay for the day in the late afternoon. That's a very limited audience such a restaurant would attract, which is all I'm trying to say. You supported my thesis in the second half of your detailed response.

"I don’t believe there is a need for a full-service restaurant just outside the gate of Volcano Bay. A view of a waterpark is not exactly a marketable attribute, even as impressive as Volcano Bay is."

This is exactly what I've been saying. I appreciate you being able to say it a bit more succinctly than I have been.

"Many waterpark visitors typically have children in tow, who preference hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and hamburgers, over fancier fare."

You could say the same about theme park guests, and fancy sit down restaurants in and around theme parks have managed to flourish. My son (7) rarely eats hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and hamburgers over fancier fare, and I think there's a general shift occurring in today's society to reduce children's intake of generic fast food, even when on vacation.

"The sad reality is that most people who visit Orlando theme parks like to eat lousy fast food. They’re not foodies or adventuresome eaters."

Again, I wouldn't say that. Disney has made an industry out of fancy theme park food, and they're drawing more foodies than ever before to Orlando. Visit the EPCOT F&W Festival on a Saturday evening, and see how PACKED the park is with foodies. Special dinners and meet and greets with famous chefs sell out in a matter of minutes.

"here is a reason why the resort areas are full of fast food. McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Dunkin Donuts and mediocre fast casual restaurants like Olive Garden, Chili’s, Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings are in abundance."

That may have been the trend 10-15 years ago, but if you look at the Orlando restaurant landscape today, the chain fast food and fast casual restaurants are falling by the wayside to newer places with more adventurous menus. If you had told me 20 years ago that Morimoto would have a location in Downtown Disney today, I would have laughed, but that's a reality now, and there are more high quality restaurants opening every single month in the Disney/Universal corridor, and all of the parks continue to push the envelope with their food and beverage offerings, though perhaps VB may have bit off a little more than they could chew.

Universal hasn't stated why they're pulling back their menu. It certainly could be because the unique items are not very popular, but it could also be because they were difficult and expensive to execute. With a daily guest count that can no longer meet initial projections (because they're artificially limiting it to make TapuTapu work), the lost admission revenue had to be made up by streamlining the food offerings. Both are completely plausible explanations for the pullback, and unless someone from Universal were to go on the record, either would be completely valid. And yes, I do have experience in the food industry too, and a deep understanding of general business practices as a certified project manager.

August 2, 2017 at 1:45 PM · 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.
August 2, 2017 at 2:15 PM · "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."

Well, that's the idea, but a more simpler idea is just patio seating with a window for takeout orders for water park guests who don't wish to change their clothing.

"The perception of a waterpark has not changed, even with Volcano Bay. Most consider them to be grimy and gross."

How can this be true when Disney's Aulani and Great Wolf Lodge cater to high end guests with rooms starting at $400 a night at Aulani and GWL at $200 a night. Volcano Bay is expensive for a local water park at $70. Other local water parks like Wet n' Wild usually start at $30 admission. Higher prices mean higher expectations.

Water parks are also in the business of selling high end cabanas that are easily $200 a day. Who can afford them? Not low class scum. Maybe they are actually high end customers who expect concierge service.

Even hotel swimming pools are offering much better amenities with slides and Olympic sized pools. You almost don't need to visit a water park.

Hotels are charging more for pool and garden views. Many hotels have prime spots reserved for their restaurants around their pools.

The example I used is Islands Restaurants, which is clearly NOT a high end restaurant. Thus, adding the water park view is not much of an additional amenity. It's a bonus.

"Let's be realistic here, VB is in a "coffin corner" of the Universal property with ZERO foot traffic and no parking, so any audience for a restaurant just outside the water theme park's gates would be limited to VB guests and those at Cabana Bay (and maybe Sapphire Falls)."

I need to address this last point. Tons of restaurants are located at weird corners around the hotel property. Disney's Aulani's Ama Ama restaurant is located close to the beach at the far end of the resort's property. It is still open after many years of operation.

This restaurant will be located at the far end of the pool where the Cabana Bay's furthest hotel rooms will be. In fact, it will be flanked by two hotel wings on the east and west side. Do you really think it is that far away? I don't.

People who gone out of their way to visit Trader Sams at both Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Polynesian Resort won't have an issue of visiting an Islands-style Restaurant within their price range. I just don't see it.

August 2, 2017 at 4:26 PM · 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.

What ever happened to civility amongst the comments here? It seems like many people are going straight for the jugular these days.

August 2, 2017 at 4:53 PM · 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.

I'm a guy who has like 10 posts on this website in five years of browsing. It's ironic that a man who appears to love theme parks so much he ends up turning people off from a website devoted to them.

August 2, 2017 at 6:24 PM · "Guests will leave a park to dine off-premises or just outside the gate and return thereafter"

"The sad reality is that most people who visit Orlando theme parks like to eat lousy fast food. They’re not foodies or adventuresome eaters."


Wrong and wrong again

August 2, 2017 at 10:28 PM · @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.
August 3, 2017 at 4:19 PM · 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.

Park foods IMO usually are pretty lousy and that's just understood. It's usually the same Sysco Foods/Aramark burgers and fries you get at every stadium, arena, venue, everywhere. It is a means to an end due to time constraints and honestly I never go too crazy with a new food when I am riding things that might make me sick or extremely sunburned or hot, etc. A hamburger is also hard to mess up to the point of giving my food poisoning on my limited vacation time.

The two examples Robert listed (Dole Whip & frozen Butterbeer) stand out for me too since they are exceptions to the rule that seem to have found a nice niche. It also helps they are both delicious on hot days.

Leave the comments next time you guys want to fight please. Other people are here too.

August 4, 2017 at 6:31 AM · I am glad Robert mentioned the "don't buy anything you can get outside the parks", especially with food.

We try to stay away as much as possible from Pizza, Burgers, and Chicken fingers for some more unique eats. Sometimes there isn't an option so we go with chicken fingers. There usually is a good side sauce!

Sadly, Universal fell victim to guest tastes. Ironically, they should since its good business, but it is sad to see such good food options leave.

From the beginning, I have been skeptical of VB. It just seems like a glorified Typhoon Lagoon to me. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but Universal seems to have been advertising like they are some creative geniuses. However, the food is where VB could shine. They still can, but now even less :(

August 5, 2017 at 11:35 AM · 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
August 6, 2017 at 6:23 PM · 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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