When to visit Universal's Volcano Bay and what you need to know
May 30, 2017, 10:03 AM ·
Thinking about a visit to Universal Orlando's new water theme park, Volcano Bay? Themed to a mythical South Seas island, Volcano Bay features more than a dozen water slides, two lazy rivers, children's and toddler water play areas, white-sand beaches and a zippy aqua coaster that take you through and round the 200-foot Krakatau volcano at the heart of the park.
In case you missed it last week, here's our walking tour of Volcano Bay.
So what do you need to know for a visit to Volcano Bay?
1. Get there early
Arriving early is standard theme park advice, but it's essential for Volcano Bay. The park has a reported capacity of just 6,000 people, and it's been hitting that capacity on a daily basis in its first week. Even with a limited capacity, wait time for Volcano Bay's most popular rides can top six hours, so your only hope to get more than two or three rides in your visit is to be there at opening and head straight to one of the top rides.
2. Park at CityWalk, not at Cabana Bay
Volcano Bay does not have its own parking lot, so you'll need to park at Universal's main parking structure, next to CityWalk. From there, you will follow signs to buses that will take you to Volcano Bay. (You'll take the same buses back at the end of the day.) There's a walk-up entrance for guests staying at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, but don't think that you'll just pay your $20 parking fee and leave your car there for the day. While Cabana Bay charges just $12 a night to park for its registered guests, it has hiked its daily parking fee to $45 for people who are not staying at the hotel. Don't waste time and money trying to game the system. Just arrive early, park at the garages and get to the front gate ASAP.
3. Take what you need, but nothing more
Volcano Bay is a water park, which means that you won't be taking purses or backpacks with you on rides the way you can on many theme park attractions. Wear your swimsuit and flip-flops to the park, and bring a towel if you need one. (You can rent them for about $5 a day in the park.) If you link a credit card to your Universal Orlando account via the resort's official app, you can even leave your cards at home or in the hotel, and use the TapuTapu wristband the park will provide you to pay for meals, rent lockers, etc. Do keep in mind that you still will need to bring a government-issued ID with you if you intend to buy alcoholic drinks while you visit. A waterproof bag or container for that would be a must, then.
On certain slides, you won't be able to wear flip-flops or even rash guards. You can leave them, plus you towel, on provided shelves at the entrance to those slides, or store them in a locker. If you do want a locker, claim one quickly, as they will "sell out" early in the day. Lockers cost $8-15 a day.
4. Understand TapuTapu
TapuTapu looks like a waterproof Apple Watch and you will get one when you enter the park. All of Volcano Bay's rides use a virtual queuing system and you will use your TapuTapu to claim your place in the virtual line by tapping it to a station next to the ride's entrance. Just like with traditional queues, you can wait in only one virtual line at a time. However, Universal has made an exception to the laws of physics and allowed you to basically clone yourself to wait in the virtual line at the Krakatau Aqua Coaster in addition to another line at the park. As a result, the aqua coaster is almost always the longest wait in the park, so tap into it ASAP when you arrive. *Update: As of May 31, we've heard Universal has done away with the Aqua Coaster exception. Now it's one queue at a time, for everything.
You now can check wait times for the entire park on boards near the park entrance, but wait time are not yet available on the Universal Orlando app, as they are for the other two parks.
You also can use TapuTapu to pay for meals, lockers, towels, amenities, and souvenirs in the park... so long as you've linked a valid credit card to your Universal Orlando account. Get the app, create an account on it, then click the "Wallet" option under the menu to get started.
TapuTapu is your best friend when you're inside Volcano Bay, but don't get too attached. You will have to give back your TapuTapu when you exit the park.
Water park attractions don't have anywhere near the capacity of theme park attractions. While Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey can accommodate more than 2,000 guests per hour, it's an operational struggle to put even 100 people per hour through on some water slides. Universal hard opened the park, so it's still learning just how many people it can reasonably expect to put through each hour on each ride. That's affecting its estimates on wait times for the virtual queues.
If you can go right on a slide when you enter the park, do it. Then tap into your next pick. You'll be able to tap into another virtual queue after riding that ride. The three capsule slides inside the volcano (Ko'okiri Body Plunge, Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides) have the lowest capacities in the park, and thus the longest waits. The Honu ika Moana slides are the next longest waits. But the Taniwha Tubes and Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides tend to have the shortest waits.
It's up to you whether you want to get one or two of the long-wait rides in addition to a trip on the aqua coaster, or you want to get more rides by opting for shorter-wait attractions. But at this time, it's impossible to do everything in the park in one day without buying an upcharge Universal Express pass. (Which might be sold out or unavailable, anyway.)
The good news is that, with TapuTapu, when you are waiting "in line," you're not actually trapped in a physical queue. You are free to ride one of the two lazy rivers (which don't require waiting), take your kids to the play areas, hit a beach, swim in the Waturi Beach pool, eat in restaurant, or drink in one of the bars.
So until things calm down at Volcano Bay, manage your expectations. Realistically, you should be able to get on the aqua coaster and one to four other slides in a day (depending upon what you pick), plus trips down the lazy rivers. The rest of your time in the park is beach, pool, restaurant, or bar time.
6. If you can wait to visit, go ahead
It's the same advice as we offered for visiting Walt Disney World's Pandora, only amplified. As Universal gains more experience and data from operating the park's slides, wait times should come down and return time estimates for virtual queues should improve, eliminating the back-ups at load platforms. Putting off a visit until later in the summer or beyond should also improve your chances of getting a Universal Express pass at a reasonable price, should you want that option. Prices currently range from $29.99-79.99 per day.