Review-Volcano Bay: Universal’s Incomplete Waterpark

This review was made when the park first opened. To read a more accurate and up to date review, please click here.

There was so much hype behind Universal Orlando‘s new themed waterpark, Volcano Bay.   They called this a third gate.  They called it a Water Theme Park.  A lot of high expectations, but how does it live up?

This review is outdated. For a more accurate and up to date review please click here.

I went to the park a week after the grand opening to see how the park has progressed.  I heard nightmare stories from opening weekend, so I avoided the park until yesterday.  I took the risk and went in, because I have been dying to get inside!

This review is outdated. Please read our newer, and more up to date review by clicking here.

I’m going to preface the honest thoughts  below by saying I did have a great time in the park.  I had a fun day riding all the slides and exploring.  The park has the potential to easily be the best water park in Orlando, it just needs to be completed first.

This review is old and not accurate anymore. Please read our up to date one by clicking here.

Although the park is a ton of fun, I felt during my whole visit I was experiencing a soft opening/preview of something better to come. But I was not in a preview; I paid for a full price admission ticket to a park that was officially open.  It’s simply highway robbery to charge full price for an obviously incomplete park. Could this be the next marvel of waterparks?  Maybe yes, maybe they gave up?

This review is old and not accurate anymore. Please read our up to date one by clicking here.

Upon entering Volcano Bay, the theming at the entrance all the way up to the big reveal of Krakatau is spectacular. It’s a wow moment that all guests will enjoy. I was also impressed that it’s located next to the I-4 highway,  yet it was not a distraction while in the park.   However, once you start walking around the park, things quickly go downhill.

This review was made when the park first opened. To read a more accurate and up to date review, please click here.

Although they attempted to make theming a #1 priority, much of the theming, besides the front of Krakatau, feels rushed or incomplete.  Throughout the park, there are dead ends, landscaping not planted, and tons of effects that are either not working, or sitting half done.  This park is still under construction.  And even though they don’t make any reference to that fact, it is completely and obviously apparent.

During my visit, I tried so hard to avoid some of the eyesores around the park due to construction.  Exposed wires hanging places, Tapu Tapu units (for effects) sitting out but not working, and areas that were not finished and just covered with a barricade (not even regular construction walls).  There are construction vehicles tucked away in the back and still on property for night work.

All this would be fine if Universal Orlando was giving guests a preview of what’s to come, letting guests enjoy the slides, food, and other attractions.  But they are officially open, and the rushing to do so makes the park look less than steller.

I also can’t ignore the fact that the back of Krakatau being open looks really bad when you’re in the park. The front looks so spectacular, and then you walk around the park and see behind it.  It adds to the fact that people must be thinking – “Did they rush and give up?”  “Was the budget cut?”

Here’s the thing Universal – it probably wasn’t wise to open the park early.  Maybe half the guests don’t notice the flaws, but I’m sure quite a lot do.   Take a look at some of the comments on Trip Advisor:

“The waterpark is small, near the highway, and they are still doing construction. Also, for some reason the back half of the volcano is not finished. What a fail of a park.”

“This resort was a complete disappointment. I intend to speak to Universal’s management to look for a refund, but I don’t expect to get anywhere at all. I have been in business for several years and have an MBA…this place should NOT have launched with as many issues as it has…”

“The park is not ready for public, clearly running beta.”

“Visited today to find half the park under construction but we where still charged the full amount $69 each it’s crazy that it’s open but not finished! So you are not getting what is advertised, better off going to the other water parks that are only $40/50 or extra $20 if purchased as 3 park tickets!”

The Tapu Tapu System

So what about Tapu Tapu?  Does it work? Is the park really “queue- less?”

Honestly, I didn’t have a problem with the system.  I thought it was a innovative concept, although it needs tweaking.  One big issue though – they don’t really explain the system to anyone entering the park.  I am theme park and tech savvy, but others may not be.  They just give you the Tapu Tapu and let you go and figure it out.  The plus side – there are tons of Team Members to assist throughout the park.  Just speak to one and they can help.

Pros:

  • The locker system with the Tapu Tapus works great.  You can link multiple bands to a locker simply tap to open throughout the day.
  • Tapping for slides and entrances is super easy and I love the sound effects too!
  • The cute little Waturi cartoon guy on the Tapu Tapu while you ride the slide 😊

Cons:

  • No time displayed on the Tapu Tapu.  If you don’t own a water-proof watch, you’re out of luck.  Would be a nice addition.
  • One slide per wait time.  I know this helps with keeping wait times low, but it’s an annoyance if you want to experience more than one thing in the park.
  • The band itself is bulky and they fall off easily.  They did add a small rubber band looking attachment to keep them secure better.

The whole experience waiting for slides is not the best.  So basically you can reserve one slide at a time.  Once you reserve you cannot ride anything else until your reservation time is up and you ride that slide.  The only exception is if a slide displays RIDE NOW.  If that is displayed, you can ride it even with a reserved time for another attraction.

This is great in the beginning of the day since crowds are light and several slides may have RIDE NOW on display.  However, once the crowds hit, you can forget about that option.  All slide times go up significantly, and the RIDE NOW option quickly goes away.

So what does this leave you?  It leaves you the opportunity to ride only one slide per reserve time.  You can’t really do much else during your “waiting period” except check out the winding/fearless rivers, some of the smaller pools, or the wave pool.  Or, you could dine or have some drinks at several different venues scattered throughout the park.  FYI – I think that’s what Universal Orlando wants you to do – spend money 😊

Once your reservation time is up, you can head to the slide you reserved.  But don’t expect to walk right up.  The slides all had about a 30 minute wait in addition to the time you already waiting while reserving.  I’m sure this will be tweaked later on, but it’s a downfall right now.  Who wants to wait 120+ minutes around the park while reserving and then get to the actual slide and wait again?  Some slides had 5-6 hour waits! That’s your whole day!

Again, brings me to my point…why open a park when the tweaks haven’t been working out?  The Tapu Tapu system is actually the number one complaint with the park right now.  Again, from Trip Advisor:

“They give you a wristband which tells you when you can go on the slides . It s a good idea but it doesn´t work to well. It should just be for express pass.”

“The tapu tapu time bands are a really bad idea, even if it wasn’t really busy it takes too long to process customers at the entrance. You have to walk between every ride to work out the shortest wait time. Then you have to wait around for 3 or 4hrs for the ride and are unable to book any other ride until this is completed.  Once you arrive for your ride time, there is still a long queue to wait in.”

“They need to get their software engineers and population flow scientists to work out how to manage this park or just let humans behave naturally by standing in line for the least busy rides.”

Also, nearly NO Tapu Tapu interactive effects are working in the park.  Some were out there, but not working.  Others were not even installed – Just another shortcoming.

The Food

The food was quite good at the park.  I had the Reka Burger and a Volcano Blossom (their speciality beer).  The burger had great flavor and seasoning and the beer was very refreshing.  I also tried the tasty Waturi Fusion ice cream later in the day.  Doesn’t quite rival the Butterbeer ice cream, but it’s a close second for me at the resort.

The Slides & Attractions

I was able to experience most of the slides except some of the smaller ones and the drop slides inside Krakatau.  My absolute favorites were the Krakatau Aqua Coaster and Honu.  Both were super thrilling! I won’t get into all the details, but most of the slides were really fun.  Some designs I have never done before.

The slides are not really themed, so to speak.  They all have really nice entrances, but but beyond that, nothing at all.  They also reference so called “characters” during some safety spiels, but it is never explained on who these characters are.  One in particular I heard was called “The Parrot King.”  In this particular slide spiel, it’s mentioned that it’s a favorite of this character, but who is he? It was just odd.

I also want to point out that some of the construction mess is even more visible once you start climbing the stairs for the slides.  Lots of construction debris was pushed under the slides – all kinds of randomness.  It’s almost as if they said “just push this stuff out of the path and shove it under the stairways.”  And then there is the view of Turkey Lake Road and I-4.  Obviously that can’t be avoided, but it gives the park a very Wet & Wild type feel.

Also, several break downs during my visit.  Slides are not 100% efficient yet.  Sensors for the slides seemed to be off too.  On several occasions, they were in “manual mode.”  Lifeguards on the top had to radio down to the bottom once guests were “cleared” from the slide.  Also noticed they may have opted for different sized tubes.  Some of the slide tubes were too big for the slide entrances, causing the lifeguards to push and squeeze the tube through the entrances to get the slide going.  Looks like a design flaw.

I really liked the weighing system for the slides.  It was not intrusive and worked well for loads.  Depending on the amount in your party, you walk onto a scale laid in the floor and the Team Member rotates people as needed to even out the weight.

Both rivers (Winding and Fearless) are okay.  The winding river is quite boring, but I enjoyed taking a lap around the Fearless one.  The winding river also closed off and on – chemical issues for the water, from what I was told. The Fearless has some cool wave effects during it, and it moves quite fast at points.  The “Stargazer’s Cavern” room looks like it’s still a work in progress, even though it’s completely advertised on the Volcano Bay website.  Again, please Universal, complete this park don’t advertise these things yet.

Take a slow ride on the Kopiko Wai Winding River through the tropical landscape of Universal’s Volcano Bay™, a land full of surprises. Sprays of water surprise along the way, and beneath the lava rocks, Stargazer’s Cavern reveals the magical night sky above.”

Some of the pools in the park were closed as well – mainly The Reef (closed all day) and, as mentioned above, the winding (lazy) river.  Some had dirt from construction on the bottom too.

Customer Service

I give kudos to Universal Orlando for their stellar customer service in the park! It is seriously the best of the resort.  Every Team Member I encountered was friendly, informative, and smiling (well, most).  Tons of staff are onsite, even additional ones that you can tell worked somewhere else and were just “helping out.”  I think they amped up their customer service to distract from the less then appealing sights in the park?  Everyone was so eager to help and answer questions, without hesitation, throughout the day.

Conclusion

So all of this is why I titled my blog “Volcano Bay: Universal’s Incomplete Waterpark.”  I truly did have a good time on my visit and was glad I went.  However, I have to be completely honest to everyone on what to expect.  If you are okay with dropping a full price ticket for a park 80% complete, do what I did and go.  However, if you are expecting a complete and immersive waterpark (as advertised), maybe visit somewhere else for now.

Arrive early! Right now, at least, this is a rope drop park.  The later you get in the day, the worse the waits become.  Get there early and do as much as you can.  Get your reserve time in for the aqua coaster first! You cannot miss that.

Tapu Tapu will need constant tweaking and adjusting before it works right.  People seem to be angry about it, so I’m sure Universal Orlando‘s team will be working on changes.  I’m curious to see the final product.  Too much time and effort was put into it to scrap it all together and do normal lines.

So will Volcano Bay get completed? I’m not sure at this point.  Although I saw lots of work going on, I wonder how much they will actually complete and/or fix.  I feel like at the end of construction they may have just rushed everything.  Did things get budget cut? Will we ever see Stargazer’s Cavern or the night projection/full eruption of Krakatau?

I guess we will just have to give it some time to see?

Take a tour around Volcano Bay in this short video.

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