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.

5. Manage expectations

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.

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Replies (33)

May 30, 2017 at 11:46 AM · This just seems madness, only 5 rides in a day to me that is simply unacceptable. Just limit the capacity and open up the slides to queuing "stand by" and use Tapu like a fast pass.
May 30, 2017 at 12:04 PM · Adding standby queues would do nothing to increase capacity of the slides. I wouldn't be surprised if Universal further reduced the number of admitted guests before closing the park, though.
May 30, 2017 at 12:35 PM · So they have to be running at max capacity every single day just to pull 2m visitors a year? Seems like they need to expand - quickly.
May 30, 2017 at 1:17 PM · Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think they can expand the park since it is locked into the space it's in. Sometimes when you try to innovate you fail and sometimes you succeed....looks like it is headed in the wrong direction unless Universal can figure something out quickly.
May 30, 2017 at 2:34 PM · Reading the names of the slides, etc .made my head spin. I know they sound all Polynesian appropriate but they're impossible for most people to remember. Ethnic appropriateness is all fine and good, but few people will be able to learn them. Expect lots of pointing and mangled words.
May 30, 2017 at 2:35 PM · 6k guests at one time, not for the full day. At that capacity and figuring a 5-6 hour dwell time (that might be too low), they should be able to do 10-12k per day in total.
May 30, 2017 at 3:01 PM · I went on Sunday and the concept of Tapu Tapu is great but needs a lot of improvement. I was there from open to close and did all rides except Punga Racers. Volcano Bay is a beautiful park but but needs to work out all the issues to become excellent. In my opinion I believe after 4pm they should open all the rides without having virtual queue since there is less people. Most people were very disappointed with the queue times and did not mind having to stand in line if given the option. I am an annual passholder and look forward to enjoying an improved Tapu Tapu experience in due time.
May 30, 2017 at 9:27 PM · You said it, Jim! Not one catchy name in the lineup... although Krakatoa does remind me of a track on a circa 1970-ish Styx album.
May 30, 2017 at 3:49 PM · Just left the park. The rides are cool but the wait is way WAY too much. They need a better way to sort out the weight loading on the big rafts. We waited at the top while they found some slim dudes to ride with a couple big boys.

Virtual queues were good in concept but execution was poor.

Food service was lousy.. But the food was good. Hard to convert prepaid meals from other park to hard waterproof cards. But customer? service could do it.

Need more foot sprayers as well.

May 30, 2017 at 4:18 PM · For a 12 hour operating day you do not need to hit max capacity to reach over 6k visitors a day. You will have your morning, afternoon and evening crowds.
May 30, 2017 at 5:26 PM · Here are the Top 10 US waterparks, according to the latest TEA/AECOM Theme Index report:

3 AQUATICA, Orlando, FL 1,600,000
4 WET 'N WILD, Orlando, FL 1,310,000
5 SCHLITTERBAHN, New Braunfels, TX 1,037,000
6 WATER COUNTRY USA, Williamsburg, VA 726,000
7 ADVENTURE ISLAND, Tampa, FL 663,000
8 SCHLITTERBAHN, Galveston,TX 551,000
10 SIX FLAGS-WHITE WATER, Marietta, GA 541,000

So, two million a year would make it the third most popular park in the country, trailing only the two Disney parks.

I think the goal is probably just to beat Wet n Wild's 1.3 mil.

May 30, 2017 at 5:52 PM · 2 Questions: (from novice smartphone user) 1. What are you using for admission media? If APP, then I need smartphone to enter. Now need a locker....
2. Attach credit card to Universal account then return Tapu Tapu at end of day? Do they clear the TapuTapu as you leave?

3. Hopefully, you find a chair or pay to reserve one, can you leave towel, flipflops there like at Disney or not at Volcano Bay? (I would be willing to lose a generic towel.


May 30, 2017 at 7:14 PM · 1. You can enter with a hard ticket. You don't need a smartphone.

2. Yes, they clear the TapuTapu after each use.

3. Yes, you can drop something on a chair to reserve it. But honor system applies.

May 30, 2017 at 7:16 PM · By the way, if a ride's virtual queue is empty, the TapuTapu station just tells you to go on right away.
May 30, 2017 at 7:56 PM · Should take a look at Tripadvisor reviews so far; Volcano Bay is getting lashed with exceptionally strong negatives (average 1.5) and rightly so. It's not just the bands that aren't ready for prime-time but pretty much every aspect. The media should be blasting Universal for a rushed start but of course one greedy hand feeds the other. On the other side of town, I went to check out the Avatar land today and found it underwhelming compared to the glowing media hype.
May 30, 2017 at 9:02 PM · They accidentally let it slip already that they are expanding by 5 acres, probably space they could not get ready for opening day.
May 30, 2017 at 9:35 PM · Even with the 4.3m people Disney is pulling, water parks seem like a loss leader. On the other hand, the rides are a lot cheaper to build. Still, why go to Orlando to visit a water park when there are similar slides at your local Cedar Fair / Six Flags park and they don't come with all the Tapu Tapu hassle and added expense?
May 30, 2017 at 10:25 PM · Because most Cedar Fair and Six Flags water parks can be considered inferior to the water parks in Orlando despite the improvements that Cedar Fair Water Parks have been getting recently. Unless they decide to add water coasters (like Six Flags Fiesta Texas) and have a wave pool as impressive as Typhoon Lagoon. =)

Water parks are just a way to keep guests onsite longer in hopes that they spend more money.

4.3 million is still better than what most Six Flags/Cedar Fair/Seaworld Parks pull in annually (excluding their flagships parks of course)

May 30, 2017 at 11:05 PM · Waterparks are designed to handle an order of magnitude less visitors than a theme park as the capacity of most attractions is far lower. If a sizable waterpark gets 4,000 visitors per day, that is considered pretty successful due to the higher profit margin they have compared to theme parks. For a waterpark to pull in over a million people in a year is a huge accomplishment, and it is virtually impossible outside of places where the climate permits year-round operation (aka Florida).

As for Volcano Bay, from the reviews and the reports I've read the general consensus seems to be this: If you want the full experience, it is absolutely worth the visit. With the possible exception of Disney's waterparks, it blows all others away in terms of theming and the overall environment. If you're going mainly for rides, however, go elsewhere, as while the slides are good similar rides can be experienced with a fraction of the wait at many of the larger waterparks across the country.

May 31, 2017 at 8:53 AM · The biggest issue I see with TapuTapu is that it eliminates the deterrent that typically keeps lines manageable, the physical action of standing in line. Everyone has their limits, and while people's tolerance for standing in lines has definitely increased over the past few years, there's still a limit to what the average person will do to ride the newest ride or experience the newest attraction. Obviously there are going to be die hards that will stand a line no matter how long it is, but most people won't step into a line over 60 minutes long.

For one, most people don't have the patience to stand in a line for over an hour, and while cell phones and other devices have made line waiting far more tolerable, that hour barrier is still there. At a water park, the hour long line is an even more pronounced barrier because of the inability to carry attention diverting devices into the line for a water slide or other water attraction that prohibits loose articles up the stairs.

Secondly, many people cannot physically stand in a line over an hour long due to fitness or the need to use the restroom at regular intervals.

So, Universal has come along and developed a technology that eliminates the physical standing in line for all their water slides. However, what they failed to realize is that they also eliminated the barrier preventing guests from standing in line. With TapuTapu, the grandmother who wouldn't normally stand on line with the rest of the family because she can't physically stand for over an hour at a time, will tap in and reserve a ride if she can sit in a beach chair while waiting for her turn to ride. Similarly, the family with a handful of overactive kids that can't stand still for more than 5 minutes at a time are all going to tap into a ride where they can hang out in the play area while they wait for their chance to ride the big slides.

That means those that didn't mind standing in line knowing that they would be eventually rewarded for their patience, now are confronted with an entire park full of guests getting in line for every ride they can. So instead of 3-4k people out of a 6k park capacity standing in line for a water slide at any given time, now there are 6k all day every day. With no choice but to TapuTapu to ride, there's no deterrent to getting in line, and there's nothing causing people to think twice about "stepping in line". That's the biggest problem with this system, and I don't think there's really any way to fix it. Queuing has a natural order to things, and the physical nature of it weeds out those who maybe do not absolutely need to ride a given attraction. Without an actual line, the physicality of waiting in line is gone, and instead of just a portion of the park guests wanting to ride, now everyone is riding.

May 31, 2017 at 9:41 AM · Yeowser, I get what you're saying, but I don't see the disparity between Orlando and non-Orlando water parks.... Splashin' Safari at Holiday World is probably the best water park I have visited. It is not highly themed but I would stand their two water coasters, two wave pools, and variety of slides up against anything at an Orlando water park. The Schlitterbahn parks in Texas and in Missouri all have water coasters and fantastic slides (at least one was tragically too fantastic). White Water down in Branson is small but beautiful, just like Water Country USA in Virginia. Cedar Point just completely upgraded their water park, and like you said other Cedar Fair and Six Flags parks are doing the same - and almost all of those experiences are included with your dry park ticket (no extra charge). Disney and Universal do some great things with themed, narrative attractions that set their "dry parks" apart, but I can't imagine anyone planning a trip just for a water park - not with so many good to great options "down the road." Robert's call for patience is justified, I think, because once the hubbub and newness wears off, Volcano Bay will settle into a pleasant diversion for Universal visitors and locals with season passes looking to cool off for a few hours.
May 31, 2017 at 9:41 AM · Are you allowed to carry in coolers (food) like theWDW's water parks?
May 31, 2017 at 11:14 AM · Are there any security checkpoints or do you have to go through the metal detectors one would use to get to CityWalk?
May 31, 2017 at 11:17 AM · It was hell, won't go back unless capacity lowers...ripoff
May 31, 2017 at 12:54 PM · Does the Express Pass help at all with the wait times?
May 31, 2017 at 1:59 PM · I find this whole thing really interesting. Technology hasn't ever been used on a scale like this for virtual queuing. With the next few months, I am interested to see how Universal works out the kinks, because it's clear that the system as it is currently set up is not ideal.
May 31, 2017 at 4:48 PM · Its terrible 3 hours fpr one ride,when u come ride,,the ride is full or close,horrible i not come.any more,,, aquatica is the best,,no volcano bay,,,
May 31, 2017 at 5:07 PM · Cold opening on a holiday weekend with no softs along with some of the equipment only being functional days (if that) before was probably a bad idea.
May 31, 2017 at 8:05 PM · James, when I went 2 days ago there was a security checkpoint with metal detectors (same as getting into CityWalk) after getting off the bus.
May 31, 2017 at 8:35 PM · @james trexen the metal detectors are inside the parking garage at universal. Once you park,there's a tent for guest services right next to it theres metal detectors before you wait for the bus to get you to the park. These metal detectors are different than the ones in citywalk. They are sort of airport style.
June 2, 2017 at 11:01 AM · After watching this video I have to tip my cap to Robert for his fantastic pronunciation for the names of the rides...

Great job.....

June 4, 2017 at 9:15 AM · What's with the martian from Mars Attacks! visible when you were walking past the kid's area?
June 4, 2017 at 2:45 PM · Leaving volcano bay and all I can say is WE WON'T BE BACK!! waited in line for +2hours to ride the blue kamu Slide and after 2 hours it says ride delay, then we get into another rise line and same thing so 500$, rode no slides, so paid 500$ to float in rhe lazy river which we could've done at our resort. This will be the 1st and last time time.

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