If your goal for the summer is to mix serious thrills with relaxing chills, Universal Orlando’s new Volcano Bay is the place to be. The resort opens its third park this month — a lavishly tropical water theme park that focuses on relaxation for the entire family.
Universal is estimated to have spent $200 million on Volcano Bay, making sure this water park punctuated with a towering faux volcano is as lavish as it is luxurious. A typical water park costs between $60 million and $80 million to construct.
Universal dubs Volcano Bay a “water theme park,” which means it meshes theme park thrills with water park leisure in a Polynesian-inspired environment.
“It’s 30 acres with the volcano as the centerpiece,” said Jeff Polk, Universal’s vice president of water parks. “It’s immersive and convenient with beaches, a lazy river, body slides, private cabanas and thrilling raft rides, all inspired by the South Pacific.”
Media previews weren’t available before press time, but one of the thrilling rides is the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, which sends riders on a roller coaster-type excursion through the park’s 200-foot volcano.
Specially designed canoes propel riders downward and upward through the volcano’s interior peaks and valleys, along dark passageways and through sparkling waterfalls.
The best part of Volcano Bay — no lines.
Every guest gets a Tapu Tapu wristband, which lets them wait in virtual lines for rides. The wristband alerts guests when it’s time for the ride and lets them interact with “tap-to-play” experiences around the park, like activating water cannons and illuminating images on the volcano wall.
“The big thing they are touting is no lines, no queues,” said Dennis L. Speigel, president of the analysis firm International Theme Park Services. “If that works and they get that done right, that’s huge.”
Polk said the creative team behind Volcano Bay wanted to design an experience like no other that focused on being hassle-free.
“We want you to encounter thrills on your own schedule,” he said.
Part of that schedule will be eating, and with more than 60 dishes across five dining spots, you’ll be stuffed with options. Choose from blackened mahi, tuna poke bowls, mango BBQ pulled pork sandwiches and coconut curry chicken. Top it off with guava tapioca pudding, chocolate pineapple upside-down cake or a chocolate lava cake.
“The food service piece wasn’t an afterthought,” said Ric Florell, senior vice president and general manager of resort revenue operations at Universal. “It’s all about experience, all about the senses.”
With more theme parks adding immersive attractions, Universal is ready to put guests “on the island” of Volcano Bay. No need to carry inner tubes, wait in long lines in the sun or worry about what the whole family is going to have for lunch. The focus is on relaxation and convenience.
“This is going to be a major attraction when it opens,” Speigel said. “I think it will chart the course for future water parks.”
With the Tapu Tapu wrist band, Universal makes it easier than ever to explore Volcano Bay without lugging around a bag or electronics. Get yourself acquainted with the Universal app before going. It contains everything from a park map, ride descriptions, places to find restrooms and lockers and you’ll be using it to connect with your Tapu Tapu wristband.
Looking for a drier Universal experience? There are plenty of attractions and eats to keep you satisfied all summer long.
The Studios’ newest ride, Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon, transports guests inside Studio 6B at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and on a race against Fallon through the streets of New York City. It’s one of the more impressive simulator rides Universal has come up with, and it’s even more fun with a no-line wait system. Fear not, those of you queasy about yet another simulator ride, this one focuses on sharp, clear graphics and smooth riding to fend off motion sickness.
Volcano Bay is getting all the attention this summer, but there are two ride updates in Islands of Adventure. Skull Island: Reign of Kong takes riders on an expedition through the mysterious island home to giant insects dinosaurs and Kong himself. The ride is part simulator, part bumpy jungle ride through misty caves. And everyone’s favorite not-so-jolly green giant coaster, the Incredible Hulk, opened after an almost yearlong renovation in August with a new rail and new ride vehicles that play songs from Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump.
The fun doesn’t stop outside the Universal parks and those with eyes as big as their stomachs can get their fill at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. The steam punk-inspired restaurant opened late last summer with a novel-length menu of decadent dishes. Save room for one of their giant milkshakes and an order of the chocolate bread. (No, it’s not cake; it’s bread.) When it comes to accommodations, Universal’s newest on-site hotel is the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, a 1,000-room Caribbean-themed hideaway. The hotel features a 16,000-square-foot pool, two beaches, a kids water play area, an arcade and daily rum tastings. Room prices vary by season and by number of nights. Check loewshotels.com.
Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected]. Designed by Lyra Solochek and Lauren Flannery.