The answer to the question: "Should you go to Volcano Bay on your next trip to Orlando?" is a resounding yes! The bigger question is: "Are you prepared?" Knowing what to expect ensures you and your family have the most fun possible.
Volcano Bay was a great choice when considering Universal Orlando Resort's expansion as the third theme park, exclusively touting water rides. Its location close to resort hotels complete with shuttles between it and Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida make it an easily accessible option that varies from the other resort offerings. Opening in May 2017, Volcano Bay introduced new technology and water ride experiences: the TapuTapu wearable, rides that do not require you to hold tubes while you wait in long lines, and the ability to pay via an app that connects to your wearable. Needless to say, they are still working out the kinks.
This review shares shares the good, the bad, and the ugly to give you thorough details so you know what to expect before your first Volcano Bay visit. My overall recommendation is to visit this park (truly! it's a not-to-miss venue). Just go in with clear expectations so you make the most out of your adventure.
The Top 8 Pros of Universal's Volcano Bay Water Theme Park
Volcano Bay gives family vacationers a lot to look forward to. Here is my top 8 list:
- The Theme. From the design, branding, marketing, and more, the creative folks at Universal Orlando Resort nailed Volcano Bay's theme. They thought of even the tiniest of details. For example, I loved how water squirts your legs and feet on the pathways between the rides to get the sand off of you and to keep you cool on your walk from sandy areas to rides.
- The food. The food is amazing. In addition to restaurants with a wide array of menu options (all delicious), I love they offered traditional theme-park food. Churros? Yes, please!
- The rides. The variety of rides accommodates people of all ages and interests. Thrill seeker? Go on the body slides. Not into 70-foot drops down 125 feet? Volcano Bay has you covered. You can enjoy either a slow or fast lazy river. Want a mix? The aqua coaster seemed to be everyone's favorite. Still into the kiddie areas? You're in luck. Hang out in the children's area and play to your hearts content.
- The technology. The TapuTapu wearable allows you to avoid wasting time waiting in the ride lines. Instead of waiting, you can enjoy the wave pool or the lazy river. Just make your way up when it's your turn to ride and grab a tube at the top.
- The seating. You can find quite a bit of free seating throughout the park. I got a great seat under an umbrella close to the wave pool and LOVED it.
- The group options. The group "picnic" section was awesome with it's shade and fans. Group food options aren't too shabby either. We enjoyed a hamburger and hot dog lunch and it was great.
- Early entrance. Get to the park as early as possible and get in quickly. That will give you the advantage to get one of the best free seats in the house as well as rush to ride the more popular rides without a huge wait.
- Paid seating. If you want to pay for upgraded seating options, you can via either premium seating or a cabana. Paid seating options have great shade, locations, and perks. Perks vary by price, so check them out online before selecting your seating option.
What to Watch Out for at Volcano Bay
Now for the watch outs. As a new water park, Volcano Bay isn't perfect. So knowing what to expect before heading there for the family vacation of a lifetime will help you make the best of your water theme park experience.
Here are the things to watch out for.
- The wearables. The TapuTapu wearables fall off easily. Make sure to tell your children to watch out for them falling off. Also, keep your park tickets in a safe place and take a picture of them. If you lose your wearable, show your tickets and get a new wearable without a worry.
- Technology glitches. The new TapuTapu technology still has some kinks. For example, currently you may only reserve one ride at a time. Sometimes, the technology struggles and tells a lot of people all at once that the ride is available. So, when you head over, you may still encounter a wait. Knowing you may have to wait in line is helpful and can really help you set clear expectations for you and your kids.
- Park capacity. The park gets to capacity quickly once it opens to the public. The only con to this is that if you are staying off property and do not have early entrance or are not an early riser, you may not take advantage of the perk of early entrance. To remedy this, stay at an onsite hotel, get up early, be one of the first in line, and enjoy the park when it isn't full. You'll be so glad you did.
- Large crowds. If you or your children have trouble in large crowds, since the park does get to capacity, you may want to prepare them that there will be lots of people in all areas of the parks. Renting a cabana is a great solution to help crowd-adverse family members take advantage of a private space and get some quiet time.
- Ride flow. Some rides are still figuring out entrance and exiting. Flow is a work in progress, but prepare for this.
- Customer service. We found the customer service inconsistent. Some folks were great. Others not so much. I think more training will be required to get this entire theme park up to the customer service standards of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. The good news? Universal Orlando Resort gets the importance of this. I have no doubt this park will be up to par with the others in no time.
- Seating reservation system. As of August 2017, the paid seating reservation system had gone through many iterations and had yet to land on a final process. Call in advance to see if you can reserve seating ahead of time. Otherwise, get to the park early and make your way to customer service right away if you'd like either premium seating or a cabana.
- Operations. Like any other theme parks, rides break down or may close due to weather. Explain this to your family. Setting expectations is half the battle.
Volcano Bay has lots of kinks to work out and can do more training to amp up their customer service. But, given that they have just opened, I think they have the makings of a stellar water park option for Orlando. Again, it's a definite must-visit water theme park and a great addition to your Universal Orlando Resort experience. Just know what to expect going in.