Let’s get one thing straight. We are not really water park fans. Yes, we’ve done other water parks and we’ve been known to enjoy them at times. But we wouldn’t naturally choose a water park over other theme parks. We did visit Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. We haven’t repeated that experience nor felt it necessary to include Blizzard Beach in our schedule when we’ve vacationed in Disney World. So Volcano Bay opening at Universal was, for us, a bit of a puzzle.
The newly opened third park at Universal Orlando promises much. A brand new theme park dedicated to having fun, in and around the water. Rides and attractions with zero queuing and no lugging inflatable’s with you. Restaurants and bars to keep us fed and watered. And all of this within a Polynesian themed landscape. What’s not to like, even for reluctant water-park goers like ourselves.
So we duly made a visit to Universal’s newest theme park. Our first sight of it was, and probably is, for most people, from the freeway. It’s kind of shocking how close to the road the park is. Squeezed in between Cabana Bay, Sapphire Falls and the main freeway some of the theming is compromised by its location, of this there is no doubt.
As we were staying in Loews Pacific Bay Resort we made use of the extra opening hour offered to hotel guests and travelled by courtesy bus on a Tuesday morning. It was fairly quiet when we arrived, in fact in October, when we visited, the park didn’t get busy until after noon, which was great. We easily found a spot behind the iconic Krakatau Volcano as we wanted to be close to the rides. The area in front of the volcano, Waturi Beach, by the wave pool, is super nice though it does get busy later on as it’s the main beach and closest to the entrance.
On arrival we were given a Tapu Tapu. This is like a magic band but looks more like a watch with a little ‘tamagotchi’ style display. The Tapu Tapu, just like a magic band, allows you to charge purchases, once you’ve registered your credit card, so you don’t have to carry cash. It also holds a place in a ‘virtual’ queue for rides, which in theory means there’s no queuing.
Having been furnished with our Tapu Tapu watches and with our belongings stowed in a locker we were ready to try the rides. One thing I did find strange was despite my pre-registering my credit card I couldn’t use it to hire a locker. Despite the boasts of using the Tapu Tapu to pay for everything in the park, it doesn’t pay for lockers, that’s a bit inconvenient.
The first ride we chose was Krakatua Aqua Coaster which is the family water ride featuring a canoe style boat. It’s great fun. The ride vehicle goes uphill as easily as downhill and it’s fast and thrilling. This is a unique ride and it’s a must do. We repeated it a couple of times and then moved on to our next ride, Honu Ika Moana.
Honu Ika Moana is a multi person raft ride with the opportunity of two slightly different experiences. Honu, the turtle, is the most thrilling, a five passenger ride which navigates two massive walls, turns, wave pools and water sprays. Honu’s sister ride Ika Moana, the whale, is a less intense version. I was happily able to do both versions and I am not particularly fearless so both are pretty family friendly and look more scary than they are in reality.
We then progressed through the other attractions. We raced each other on Punga Racers, lots of fun. Then tried Maku and Puihi Round Raft Rides, these were good but Maku is far too tame for us. Then we opted for Taniwha Tubes, these are suitable for younger families, they were good but we felt we didn’t need to repeat them.
By this time my son and I were ready for a snack. I searched out a pretzels and some drinks, while my husband opted to try the drop slides housed inside Krakatau Volcano.
My husbands feedback was that he loved Ko’Kiri Body Plunge and both Kala and Nui Serpentine Body Slides. All of these rides are drop rides, meaning you stand on a trap door and get dropped into the tube from a standing position. He tells me the anticipation of waiting to be dropped and the countdown heightens the excitement. The rides are over quickly but are thrilling. He did mention that on these rides you can’t see anything. Water is thrust upwards over your face in a sensation he likened to ‘being water-boarded’ (Not that this has happened to him in reality). I saw most people who got off the ride happy and beaming. I did also see a couple of upset kids at the bottom of the ride so just make sure your children know what they are letting themselves in for. These are high intensity rides.
One small footnote, on the bus on the way home I noticed my husbands legs, his shins were so shiny you could see your face in them. On closer inspection it became clear that the hair on his shins had been removed. I can only put that down to the drop rides he went on. He did do each one a few times. I think the water pressure had removed the hairs, akin to the way sugaring works. Sugaring is a middle eastern hair removal method in case you’re not familiar with it. Anyway it was hilarious. Though I was quite jealous of his smooth, shiny pins!
By this time the queues had built up and wait times increased. We tried to use our Tapu Tapu to book a place in the virtual queue to ride Ika Moana again. This was problematic. I didn’t understand that we all had to individually scan our Tapu Tapu at the ride entrance. As my Son has a disability and the ride was at the other side of the park I walked over to get a virtual queue place. Of course we should have all gone, or I should have taken all the Tapu Tapu devices. When the Tapu Tapu told us it was our turn to join the actual queue we only had one place booked. The kind ride attendant did let us ride together though.
When we joined the queue there seemed to be a lot of confusion around the Tapu Tapu. At Honu Ika and Ika Moana the terminals are close together and you need to know which ride you are selecting and use the correct terminal. One is a turtle and the other a whale. This is fine if you know what the rides are and which is the corresponding animal but this did seem to cause a lot of confusion.
It’s pretty inconvenient to have to walk across the length of the park to book your virtual place. This means having to go back and forth across the park multiple times. It was problematic in October but in July and August when the weather is blisteringly hot it’s far from ideal. In my opinion they really need to offer terminals across the park where you can book any ride, like fast pass. This would eliminate the walking around the park and make the virtual queue a bigger advantage.
We tried most of the rides in the morning when the park was quiet. Once Volcano Bay got busy and we needed to use the virtual queue we didn’t get on very many rides. Overall I didn’t feel Tapu Tapu helped us in the way it was supposed to. I think I would rather have just queued in the actual line!
After a swim in the pool by Waturi beach its adjacent wave pool we made our way out of the park. Volcano Bay is lovely, everything is well considered. It’s a nice place to hang out. The luxury cabana’s are really cool, though expensive. There is a good range of rides and attractions to make the ticket price worthwhile. But were we, as reluctant water park users, converted? The answer is no, I wouldn’t give up a day at one of the main theme parks to go to Volcano Bay. That said on a really hot summer day, or evening, it would be a nice option at the start of or end of a park day.
A full run down of all the rides at Volcano Bay are listed here, click for a full description on each one.
Rides & Attractions
Honu Ika Moana & Ika Moana: A raft ride in two versions.
Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides: twin drop tube slides, fast, not for the feint hearted.
Ko’kiri Body Plunge: 70 degree fall down a 125ft water tube, the biggest drop ride in the park.
Onno & Ohyah Drop Slide: average water tube with 6ft or 4ft drop into pool at the end.
Taniwha Tubes: family raft ride with 4 different tracks, low thrill level good for smaller kids and families.
Punga Racers: head first down tubes on a mat, good fun and thrilling, keep your head up when hitting the water.
TeAwa The Fearless River: Lazy river type flowing through scenic area and the volcano.
Kopiko Wai Winding River: A lazy river that flows through the park
Krakatau Aqua Coaster: A family canoe style raft ride, a unique and fun ride.
Maku & Puihi Round Raft Ride: Family raft ride in two versions
Puka Uli Lagoon: Water Play area
Tot Tiki Reef: Water Play Area for smaller children
Waturi Beach: A picturesque beach in front of the stunning volcano
Ranumakka Reef: Children’s water play area