Orlando theme park opens new Volcano Bay water park, incorporating wristband technology to prevent lineups,
ORLANDO, FLA.— Universal Studios had rather large shoes to fill when it revealed the plans for its new Orlando water park, Volcano Bay. Since last year’s closure of Wet n’ Wild, visitors have had to head out of town for their water-based fun fix, to Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach parks.
At Volcano Bay’s spectacular opening event, Polynesian warriors rowed across the park’s huge lagoon to a soundtrack provided by tribal drummers. Universal, the masters of theming, have certainly done a fantastic job of transforming an 11-hectare plot of land into a South Pacific paradise.
First of all, there’s the soundtrack — a constant play list of mellow Hawaiian-inspired beats, courtesy of speakers disguised as lumps of volcanic rock.
Even the rubbish bins are beautiful, designed to resemble intricately carved totem poles. And then there’s the volcano, a 60-metre-tall, steamspewing spectacle that towers above Universal Blvd. At night, it’s still impossible to miss, thanks to spectacular light shows.
It’s not just the volcano that sets Universal’s third theme park apart, but the use of technology. It all revolves around the plastic bracelets visitors are given upon entry. Known as TapuTapu, they can be used to access lockers and, when linked with a credit card, to pay for items inside the park.
But TapuTapu’s biggest selling point is its ability to reduce queue times. As a Brit, I love a good queue more than most, but water park lineups are true tests of endurance.
You’re standing in wet swimwear with no electronic devices to help pass the time, knowing that if you need the bathroom, it’s game over. Add kids to the mix and the whole experience becomes even more painful.
Press TapuTapu against the touch points that can be found at the entrance to Volcano Bay’s rides and you’ll be allocated a ride time — unless there’s no queue, in which case, the panel will simply display a message saying “ride now.”
Most importantly, the technology actually works.
When I arrive at the Punga Racers ride and tap my bracelet, a message appears telling me to return in 10 minutes, which happens to be just enough time for a circuit of TeAwa the Fearless River — one of the park’s two lazy rivers.
I’m about to embark on a second lap when a message pops up on my TapuTapu informing me that it’s time to ride.
Within a matter of minutes, I’m throwing myself down the twisting Punga water slide.
The beauty of TapuTapu is that it frees up huge amounts of time. Although the device can only be used on one ride at a time, the park has such a diverse range of queue-free attractions that I never once grew bored waiting for my allocated ride time.
There’s the aforementioned lazy rivers — Kopiko Wai Winding River is the gentler of the two, while TeAwa has churning rapids and choppy waves. Then there’s the Puka Uli Lagoon, a large, bongo drum-filled pool, while Runamukka Reef, designed for younger visitors, has bubbling geysers and water guns.
Tot Tiki Reef, with its tiny slides and water-spouting whales, is perfect for toddlers. When I wanted some down time, I sprawled on one of the sun loungers on Waturi Beach. This stretch of golden sand is adjacent to the volcano — the perfect vantage point from which to watch petrified visitors take on the Ko’okiri Body Plunge, the world’s tallest trap door slide.
And if a sun lounger doesn’t cut it, there are also private cabanas — tikistyle huts that can be rented for an extra fee. Book one and you’ll enjoy concierge service, fresh fruit and bottled water. But the biggest reasons to peel myself off my sun lounger were culinary ones.
Volcano Bay’s chefs visited the South Pacific as part of their research and although there are more burgers and hotdogs than you can shake a tiki stick at, the theming also extends to the food, which includes regional specialties such as Hawaiian ahi tuna poke, on offer at the Feasting Frog and the delicious coconut crusted fried chicken served at the Kohala Reef Restaurant and Social Club.
Volcano Bay is also easily accessible. A walkway connects it directly to Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort and complimentary shuttles connect the water park to all of Universal’s Orlando hotels, as well as Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.
Guests at Universal’s Orlando parks also get to access Volcano Bay an hour before the park opens. Which means plenty of time to bag that perfectly positioned sun lounger. Tamara Hinson (firstname.lastname@example.org) was a guest of the Volcano Bay, which didn’t review or approve this story.