This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Universal’s VOLCANO BAY!
Here at the SATURDAY SIX we have written extensively about the Universal parks (including the Wizarding World, Marvel Super Hero Island, and Springfield USA,) the incredible onsite hotels (such as Portofino Bay and our personal favorite, the Royal Pacific Resort,) and the transformation of CityWalk (including Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Voodoo Doughnut.) However one area we have yet to discuss is Volcano Bay. When Volcano Bay was first announced, very few foresaw the immediate impact the “water theme park*” would have. The company Motely Fool had an article titled 3 Reasons Comcast’s Volcano Bay May Not Make a Big Splash. However, many times during its first year the park had to close for capacity, and its success caused Orlando’s biggest water parks – Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach – to both have significant drops in attendance since Volcano Bay’s opening. Motley Fool had a follow up article earlier this year titled Disney World’s Top Rival is Winning the Water Park War.
So today we are going to check Volcano Bay to see if it lives up to the hype.
# 6 – The Merchandise
It should come as no surprise that one thing we immediately wanted to check out was the gift shops. It may sound crazy to some (because it is crazy) but as people who write a monthly Disney Outlet Report, along with various other articles on theme park merchandise – both real and imagined – it has become one of our passions in life. We are happy to report that Volcano Bay has a wide array of quality items spread across several stores. One of the things that we collect at Universal is their version of a Disney Vinylmation, the Uni-Mini. The release of new Uni-Minis have considerably slowed down over the years, but recently there was a Stranger Things two pack for Halloween Horror Nights, and now this one for Volcano Bay featuring the character, “Vol.”
There was a whole bunch of Volcano Bay cups and tumblers, but one of the more kid friendly ones was this refillable Tiki mug.
Magnets of various sizes were available.
Lots of different types of keychains as well, including several which had a neat theme like this turtle one.
Plenty of hat options, but I had never seen a baseball cap one styled like this.
Seemingly a million shirt options, but I really love this minimalist Volcano Bay logo design.
I haven’t seen coconut candles before.
This Tumbler features a style of art I enjoy when at the parks, and is one which lists out all the rides. I think these make a good memento from a trip, especially for guests who don’t go to the parks that often.
# 5 – The Food and Drink Options
Bring your appetite when you come to Volcano Bay, because the park is filled with some unique options that you wouldn’t expect. Tacos, mahi mahi sandwiches, pizza (that actually tastes good) and pulled pork are just some of the highlights. We often travel with a vegan and were surprised to find a good amount of options for that dietary restriction (and it has gotten even better for vegans as The Impossible Burger has been recently added to the Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club.)
Don’t worry, there is still the standard hamburgers and chicken tenders for the picky eaters in your party.
The Waturi Fusion ice cream is one of the signature snacks of the park. This cool concoction contains swirls of banana, blue raspberry, orange and strawberry flavored ice creams.
The pineapple upside down cake is worth going out of your way to try. Delicious.
If you get to Volcano Bay early early in the morning there are breakfast options available, such as this apple oatmeal flan.
For Coke Freestyle enthusiasts such as myself (who rate Freestyle machines right up there on the list of man’s greatest achievements of creating fire and conquering space travel) there are machines throughout the park. During our recent stay they were advertising Mezzo Mix (which should be familiar to anyone who has been to Club Cool in EPCOT) along with a special flavor tying into Jurassic Park’s 25th anniversary.
Like the Coke Freestyle refillable cup program at the Universal parks, you can get as many Icees as you want in your Freestyle cup for no extra charge.
Some of us enjoy an adult beverage now and then, and Volcano Bay brings the goods in that area as well with several well themed and fully stocked bars.
Volcano Bay also offers an exclusive brew called Volcano Blossum. This beer is made by Orange Blossum Brewing Co based out of Orlando. A bit sweet for a pilsner, but overall a nice option.
# 4 – Location, Location, Location
In my mind, there is nothing better than being able to walk to a park. I love how close The Contemporary is to Disney’s Magic Kingdom. When we stayed at the Boardwalk, the walk to our room from the lobby was probably farther than the walk to EPCOT. It’s just so refreshing to not have to drive, bus, or even monorail to a park (how about that for the ultimate first world problem?) Volcano Bay is literally right next to Universal’s Cabana Bay and Aventura hotels. “Next to” doesn’t even do the phrase justice, as the short walk from The Contemporary to MK seems like a half marathon compared to how close Volcano Bay is to these resorts. As I wrote about in my recent stay at Aventura, I like to always be early for things and give myself plenty of time. I gave myself 15 minutes to get from my room to the front of Volcano Bay. It took us three minutes. Keep in mind, that’s going through security as well. I can not recommend it highly enough to book a stay at either of these two resorts if you want to plan the ultimate Volcano Bay trip, as it makes life so much easier. Keep in mind the walk from Sapphire Falls would only be a couple minutes longer than the one from Aventura.
AND HOW ‘BOUT THESE VIEWS?!
This is basically the entire walk from Aventura to Volcano Bay.
This photo is taken at the Volcano Bay security area. The steps in the picture above would be at the far left end of the picture below.
# 3 – Seating
One thing you don’t have to be afraid of is finding seating at Volcano Bay. There are more than enough lounge chairs for everyone. If you can get to the park relatively early, there is also a whole bunch of covered seating that even have fans to keep you cool. For those used to the finer things in life, there are plenty of cabanas throughout Volcano Bay, and these come with some pretty cool amenities. Well the rest of us ham ‘n eggers need to bring our own towel or rent one at the park, cabana guests have towels waiting for them. They also have snacks, a dedicated server to bring food and drinks, and the ability to make ride reservations in the actual cabana. It’s a pretty sweet deal. I was going to book a cabana and then I saw the price. After the smelling salts revived me, I settled on Premium Seating. For the day we went, Premium Seating was $85 and this included two covered seats, a lock box, and a dedicated server for food and drinks. I liked having the lock box right at our seats to put our phones and wallets into, although to be fair there are plenty of lockers available to rent for the day throughout the park that are much cheaper than the price we paid for Premium Seating. You can also use my standard Pro Tip “beach locker” tip and just put all your valuables in your sneaker, because no one’s ever gonna check there.
My favorite part of the entire Premium Seating was that for the first part of the day the area is roped off and the Volcano Bay Cast Members only let in guests who have certain wristbands. It’s a little taste of being at the club and knowing the bouncer working at the door to get right in, instead of having to stand in line with the rest of us idiots. I would say for the average person there is no need to invest in any seating upcharge as long as you can get to the parks before it gets too busy.
# 2 – The Attractions: Rides, Slides and more!
I’ll be honest, I’m not really a “water park” guy. I’ve been going to Walt Disney World for years and never felt compelled to visit Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach despite hearing great things. In fact, I hadn’t been to a water park since I was a kid until this past Summer during a trip to Legoland Florida. Maybe the highest praise I can give Volcano Bay is that now I consider myself a water park fan. I can’t wait to go back, and now I’m really looking forward to trying Disney’s options as well.
Now the first thing you get when you enter the park is your Tapu Tapu. This band is effectively your “MagicBand” for those used to Disney vacations, except it also has a screen. You use Tapu Tapu to “check into” rides, allowing you to do something else if the line is long. If the line is short, the check in area will say “ride now” and not give you the ability to reserve a time. It is very intuitive to use, and in a nice touch it will sort of “countdown” to your experience. For example on one ride we “checked in” with our Tapu Tapu and it said there would be about a 15 minute wait. We walked away to get a drink, while our Tapu Tapu gave us reminders at 5 minute intervals that we were getting closer to our ride time.
There are also many interactive features across the entire park which are accessed by your Tapu Tapu, so keep your eyes open when exploring the park.
The names of many of the slides are completely bonkers, so I apologize in advance that I can’t remember a lot the official names. I can tell you that the slide below is one of the most fun things I have ever been on in my life.
My girlfriend and I disagreed on this particular pair of slides, which were called OhYah and OhNo. The actual serpetine slide experience wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but you come of the slide and then drop down into a 10-12 foot pool. The OhYah side has a four foot drop while OhNo has a six foot drop. Going to so many theme park and hotel pools, I can’t even remember the last time I’ve been in a regular pool that was really deep. Not being able to touch the bottom of the pool, even when being dropped by six feet, was just an amazing experience. I loved it! Total exhilaration.
There are also more traditional slides that have you exiting into the water in a more normal fashion.
No need to ever carry your tubes at Volcano Bay as conveyor belts bring them up. This pair of slides was another fun one.
The Krakatau Aqua Coaster is a legit E-Ticket ride in a water park. I have never done anything like it and is the true headliner of the park. You sit front to back – like Space Mountain – in a canoe before rocketing all around and up and down through mists and waterfalls in and out of the volcano. It’s absolutely crazy in the best way possible. We were so glad we knew nothing about this attraction going in because we were blown away.
I had bought a water proof phone protector for my iPhone ahead of the trip to Volcano Bay, but when it came time to actually put my phone near water I chickened out. Here’s a video of the aqua coaster by Attractions 360 (who are a great follow on Twitter for you theme park fanatics as they go everywhere.)
I may not have been a water park guy before, but I was definitely a “lazy river guy.” Volcano Bay has a lazy river, but it also has a “fearless river.” I’m having a hard time ranking my favorite attractions at Volcano Bay, but the fearless river is right up there because almost anytime we were thinking of what to do I suggested we go there and think about it.
Another favorite? The wave pool at the front of the park. Words can not describe what it is like to be in the pool looking up at the massive volcano. It’s amazing.
There is a large play area for the kiddos as well.
Kid’s will also enjoy the King Julien photo op.
# 1 – IT’S INDESCRIBABLY BEAUTIFUL
In an Instagram World, Volcano Bay is what we can call “picture perfect.” Each time of the day presents different opportunities for some great photos, with many involving the park’s iconic volcano, Krakatau. Whether it is early in the morning, afternoon, sunset or especially if you can get the rare opportunity to be in the park after dark, there are some breathtaking views. Like the Universal parks, Volcano Bay is basically surrounded by The Real World, but once you are inside it is easy to escape that reality and just be immersed by the tropical theming.
HONORABLE MENTION – The Tikis
To say tikis are everywhere at Volcano Bay is an insult to the world “everywhere.” Everywhere you look there are tikis in some form or fashion, many done with a sharp sense of humor. The ones built into the rock work are just insane.
The overall whimsical theme of the park extends beyond tikis, so keep your head on a swivel to see other details, such as these kissing monkeys.
DOUBLE SECRET HONORABLE MENTION – The Flora and Fauna
As a theme park fan, I beg all of you reading this not to go to Volcano Bay with someone who enjoys nature. The landscaping and overall plant life at Volcano Bay is straight up fantastic. My girlfriend loves flowers, so she would keep getting distracted by various plants that we would pass, explaining to me what each one was. Apparently there are literally a million types of orchids in the world, or at least it seemed that way as she described them all. I guess this may be how she feels when I try to explain the exact nuances between an Autobot and a Decepticon in the Transformers universe.
In all seriousness, they say in life you should take a moment to smell the roses, and no matter how many fun things there are in Volcano Bay you should put aside a couple minutes just to admire the tender loving care that went into making of the environment all around you.
Well that’s enough for today’s look at Volcano Bay. We’ll leave you with a sign that was seen more often than not during the park’s opening year.
* “Water theme park” is a Universal Orlando Resort term and will not be used again in this fine blog series. Volcano Bay is a water park. A cool water park. A great water park. AN AWESOME WATER PARK. But still, a water park.
So there you have it: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s VOLCANO BAY! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood along with his better half and runDisney’er @caitlizgrace, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Mr. ‘Ohana Tim Grassey, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and Nick, Dynamite Daisy Lauren, and Hermoine Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2018 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now!