A First Look at Universal’s Volcano Bay

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Volcano Bay’s four themed areas are based on the story of the Waturi, an ancient tribe from Polynesia. Here is the short version of the tale: The tribe set out on their outrigger canoes to find a new home, as legend told them that Kunuku, a golden-finned fish, would show them the way. The Waturi visited many Polynesian islands without encountering the elusive fish until they caught sight of Kunuku playing in the waves of Volcano Bay. The Waturi settled at Volcano Bay, and you have just arrived to discover what it is all about. The park is themed to the islands of the South Pacific, with lush palm trees, tiki carvings, and thatched cabanas.

The heart of the park is Krakatau, the volcano that is also home to the Krakatau Aqua Coaster. Surrounding the volcano is Wave Village, home of Wauturi Beach, featuring a multi-directional wave pool at the foot of the volcano, and The Reef leisure pool.

The River Village holds Runamukka Reef and Tot Tiki Reef, Volcano Bay’s child play areas. Tot Tiki Reef is perfect for toddlers, while Runamukka Reef is more suitable for older kids.

Fun and relaxing for all is Kopiko Wai Winding River, the park’s lazy river that takes guests through the tropical landscape and the volcano itself. Inside Mt. Krakatau, watch how your TapuTapu wristband interacts with the mountains and cavern walls.

The Rain Forest Village is home to several raft and speed slides, the Puka Uli Lagoon pool, and a whitewater rafting experience.

Also in the village is Teawa the Fearless River, a high-speed whitewater river.  If you are looking for a lazy river, this is not it!

Universal has replaced the traditional queuing system with virtual lines. Every visitor is issued a wearable wristband called TapuTapu that, in addition to helping you claim your place in the virtual line, can be used to reserve and open lockers, as well as to make payments throughout the park when it’s linked to a credit card via the Universal Orlando website or app.

Guests tap the band against a totem outside a ride, and the device will alert them when it’s time to return to experience the attraction. In the meantime, they are virtually waiting in line while experiencing other areas of the park. The TapuTapu bands also trigger special effects throughout Volcano Bay, such as controlling streams of water in Tot Tiki Reef or shooting water cannons at other guests who are enjoying the Kopiko Wai Winding River.

As with standby queues, you can wait in only one virtual line at a time. You can check wait times for the entire park on boards near the park entrance, but they are not yet displaying on the Universal Orlando app.

Volcano Bay has a capacity of about 6,000 people, and the new park has been hitting that capacity nearly on a daily basis. Wait times for the most popular rides can reach up to six hours. Be prepared to only enjoy a few rides in the foreseeable future. Arrive at the park entrance about 30 minutes prior to opening and go for the headliners such as the Aqua Coaster, the two Hony rides, the Ko’Okiri Body Plunge, and the Maku raft rides. So, be sure to research which queue you want to commit to!

Hopefully, Universal will quickly gain enough data on how many people a ride can handle in a specific time period and eliminate the long lines. We also hope that the park will add real-time wait time boards next to each TapuTapu station, which would enable guests to decide whether it is worth their while to walk over to a ride and make a virtual line reservation. A standby line might help, too, as guests simply get distracted and forget to ride while their reservation is still clogging up the system.

If Universal can manage to work out all the kinks of the TapuTapu system, it will show the way to the entire theme park industry on how to manage lines, giving guests a carefree, almost wait-free experience.

While luxury cabanas are available for rental, we think they are not necessarily a must; however, we do recommend the private loungers at the price of about $30 for two covered, connected chairs, providing shade and a box to store items that you want to keep close and not put down in the sand.

Another novelty for Orlando water parks is that Volcano Bay offers a leisure pool. The Reef is adjacent to the right of the Volcano, and most of the pool is meant for swimmers. Swim up to the edge of the pool overlooking Waturi Beach and get a glimpse of the brave souls shooting down Ko’okiri Body Plunge.

The Rides at Volcano Bay

The Krakatau Aqua Coaster is the super headliner of the park. A canoe (that seats up to four) takes guests through the volcano’s interior, all the while twisting and turning before plummeting through a waterfall. The ride uses linear induction motor technology, which launches the canoe uphill before immediately sending it into a downhill plunge.

For the ultimate thrill, go for the Ko’okiri Body Plunge, a 125-foot slide featuring a drop door with a 70-degree-angle descent. Next up would be the Kala and Ta Nui Serpentine Body Slides. Two riders go down slides simultaneously, their paths crossing several times, on translucent, intertwining tubes. Yes, here, too, a drop door is involved. Guests must meet the 48″ height requirement to ride the plunge and the slides.

At the nearby Punga Racers, guests (on racing mats) go down across four lanes and through underwater sea caves.

The Rainforest Village is home to two raft rides. The Maku Round Raft Ride, a six-person raft, lunges riders through wild waters, through bowl-like formations. The Puihi Round Raft Ride launches up to six people down into a dark, winding tunnel before shooting up and having riders experience momentarily zero gravity prior to going down once more. Guests must meet the 42″ height requirement (49″ if riding alone) to ride the rafts or the Punga Racers.

At the Ohyah Drop and the Ohno Drop slides, there’s a height requirement of 48″. Be prepared for an intense ride that ends up with a drop into a pool.

One of our favorite rides is the Taniwha Tubes, a single- or double-person tube ride down twisting water slides. Along the way, Tiki statues make sure you do not stay dry.

Cranking it up a notch are Honu and Ika Mona, two separate slides attached to the same tower where guests board multi-person animal-themed rafts, a sea turtle and a whale respectively, before speeding down into a pool.

The Honu side is the blue raft slide that sends you vertically up steep walls before sliding back down; it’s the scariest group ride in the park. Ika Mona is a much gentler ride in and out of twisting green tunnels. Guests must meet the 42″ height requirement (49″ if riding alone) to ride the tubes or the rafts.

Volcano Bay Eateries

Four dining venues serve Caribbean and island-inspired foods, such as Hawaiian ribs, a Poke Poke bowl, and quinoa edamame burger. For the less adventurous eaters, there are, of course, plenty of chicken fingers, burgers, and pizza to be had. Those tired of theme park fare, however, will welcome the amazing options Volcano Bay offers.

At Bambu, in the Rainforest Village, we love the Quinoa Edamame Burger topped with roasted shiitake mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, sriracha mayo, and a side of fries.

Also at Rainforest Village is The Feasting Frog, where we recommend the Taco Sampler (a trio of amazing tacos served with plantain chips and salsa) or the Poke Poke Bowl (Ahi tuna tossed in soy honey viniagrette and served with plantain chips). Both are light, refreshing meals, perfect for a day at a water park.

The River Village Whakawaiwai Eats is the home for pizza lovers. We recommend you try the Hawaiian Pizza with caramelized pineapple, diced ham, and pickled jalapeños.

In Wave Village, at Kohola Reef Restaurant and Social Club, the Slow-Smoked Glazed Hawaiian Ribs, served with Boniato Mash and Sweet Plantains, will not disappoint.

An absolute must is the Chocolate Lava Cake or the Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

Dancing Dragons Boat Bar (Rainforest Village) and Kunuku Boat Bar (Wave Village) serve a variety of exotic drinks.

While we totally understand that thrill riders want to be able to ride without much wait, one can easily spend an entire day at Volcano Bay enjoying the amazing view of the Volcano, the beach, and the lazy river. When all is said and done, Volcano Bay is an great addition to Orlando’s offerings, and its theming is simply stunning.

Volcano Bay is located directly south of Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort, a short walk from Universal’s Royal Pacific and Sapphire Falls hotels. If you are driving from off-site, park at Universal’s theme park parking structures and take the shuttle bus over to Volcano Bay.

The regular parking fee is $20, preferred parking is $30, and there is no charge for the shuttle bus to Volcano Bay. Do not attempt to park at Cabana Bay, as the hotel just raised parking fees to $45 to discourage off-site guests from parking on their premises.

Single-day access to Volcano Bay costs $71.31 for adults and $66.03 for ages 3-9, taxes included.

Seth Kubersky in his book The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando covers all there is to see and do at Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for our newsletter here.

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