Volcano Bay: the Lines, the Waves, and the Waturi

by on October 2, 2017 18 Comments

Filed under: Universal Orlando Resort, Volcano Bay

A few months ago, Daisy took an initial run at Volcano Bay, Universal’s new water park that I still refuse to call the third theme park (sorry, Universal marketing). She did not have a great experience, but the park was new, and it was still getting used to swimming without its floaties. So we gave it a few months and then tried again.

I visited the park on a relatively nondescript Tuesday in August–the 22nd to be exact–and my colleague David Davies was there a few weeks before me, on July 27. This post is an amalgamation of our two experiences, which had a few differences but the same general result: it’s not great, folks.

Arrival

Heading to the Parking Buses Around 4:15 PM

David and I each arrived differently. I was lucky enough to have an overnight stay at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which is where some of the photos of stunning Volcano Bay views in this post came from. For me, getting in was easy: there is an entrance specifically for Cabana Bay guests about 50 feet from the Bayside Tower. Since I entered during Early Entry (more on that in a bit), the entry process was quick and simple.

The alternative for everyone not at Cabana Bay or the neighboring Sapphire Falls is to take a shuttle bus. The other Universal resorts have their own shuttle, and there is one that delivers guests from the parking area. The latter was the path that David took, and he wasn’t too thrilled. Here’s what he says about the process:

“Having to park and go through security on the first floor of a garage is very industrial and non-water-parky. I guess it conditions us to get used to crowds and lines, but forcing driving guests to take a bus isn’t fun and takes a good chunk of time. The bus’s path doesn’t seem especially direct, either, and the buses from the garage (vs. from the hotels) park farther away from the park entrance, so immediately I was feeling second-class. After exiting the bus, we had to corral ourselves into a narrow path and then through through a nicely decorated tunnel to get to the park. Then we had to take an escalator (or switchback path) up a hill to get to the entrance. I know Universal has land constraints, and the workers were doing a good job with the processes dictated to them, but these complexities can make negative first and last impressions on guests as they arrive and depart the park.”

One bonus of riding the bus–probably the only one–is that there is a video on the bus about the TapuTapu system. The quick version is that the TapuTapu is a wearable smart watch that guests use to get FastPass+-like reservations, but more on that in a bit. As a walker, I got no explanation whatsoever as to what TapuTapu was or what to do with it; I was simply handed one at the entrance and sent on my way. Of course, I am a crazy-level researcher so I knew all about TapuTapu, but that shouldn’t be assumed.

Early Entry

As I mentioned, I had stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, so my family and I got to walk over to Volcano Bay a full 90 minutes before opening! (Sixty minutes seems to be the norm, but 90 happens during busier periods.) I have to admit, 7:30am is a little early to be careening down water slides, but since this was Orlando in August it was already somewhere around 218 degrees.

At the risk of killing any suspense this article may have had, I’ll tell you that Early Entry was what made the entire day worth the trouble. The TapuTapu system was turned off the entire time, meaning that all the rides were showing “Ride Now” rather than a wait time. We were a little later getting there than we wanted and had to get to our cabana first and we still managed to do 6 slides before the public opening time of 9:00am with almost no wait. The Krakatau Water Coaster was the only one that had any wait at all and that was about 15 minutes–we did that last at around 8:55am. I cannot stress enough how important Early Entry was, but I will continue to stress it anyway.

The First Few Hours

If you can’t get into Volcano Bay during the Early Entry period, obviously the next best thing is to get there just before the regular opening time. On all but the busiest days, most of the slides will still be set on “Ride Now” meaning there are minor waits. The best strategy during the 9-11am section is to grab a wait time for a slide that has one–hopefully less than 90 minutes away–and jump in line for anything that is Ride Now.

Now seems like a good time to take a detour into TapuTapu land…

The TapuTapu System

In theory, the TapuTapu system sounds brilliant: Guests reserve times for attractions, freeing them up to explore the park while waiting in the “virtual line.” Across from the queue entrance for every attraction is a screen with a wait time for that slide. Simply tapping your TapuTapu on the touchpoint puts you in the virtual queue. The screen on your wrist counts down and tells you when it’s time to ride. Sounds great, right?

Well in practice, there are some major problems…mostly it’s a math problem. Let’s say I have 30 people in my house, all drinking a gallon of water and I only have 1 bathroom (stay with me here). Twenty people have to use the bathroom at once. Here are two scenarios:

  1. Everyone who has to go lines up in the hallway and uses the bathroom in the order they arrived. People are annoyed that they have to wait so long, but the line is moving. The rest of the house is very pleasant because 2/3 of the guests are still in line.
  2. I give everyone in line a time to go, set 5 minutes apart. No one has to wait in line, but now my house is jammed with people, many of whom have to use the bathroom and are distracted and just thinking of using the bathroom. On top of that, some of the people who had to go now have to wait over an hour until they can use the bathroom.

Scenario one is how most water parks work, scenario 2 is how Volcano Bay works. Yes, the time waiting may be long either way, but while people are in line they are not in the rest of the park. At Volcano Bay, many of the guests are in the park, the wave pool, or the lazy river because they don’t know what to do while waiting–and some of the “virtual” queues get quite long. Let’s get into that.

Mid-Day

Starting at about 11am everything started to fall apart. I was lucky because I had ridden almost all of the slides by then, but still wanted to do Ohno–one of the slides that drops you into the water from a height of a few feet–and ika Moana–one of the family raft slides. I got a wait time for Ohno that was 110 minutes, which is pretty high. Our plan was to eat lunch during the wait (more on that in the cabana section) and then get ika Moana. Luckily, ika Moana was only about 50 minutes, but that still means that 2-1/2 hours were taken up by 2 slides and some trips to the lazy river.

Unfortunately these wait times were not outliers. By noon the Ko’okiri trap door slide was showing a 180 minute wait, the Krakatau Water Coaster was 150 minutes, and even the smaller Punga Racers was 40 minutes. Adding up the times meant that it was impossible to do everything by the end of the day if you had arrived at 11am…don’t do that.

To make matters worse, the real lines after the TapuTapu says to get in line can be 15-30 minutes. I waited 30 minutes for the Krakatau Water Coaster after waiting in a 45 minute “virtual” line (I got that one at about 9:30am). Every slide I went on after the TapuTapu system became active had at least a 5 minute wait, and 15 was common. Again, I was lucky and only went on 4 slides after 10am, so my sample is not extensive.

Part of my issue with Volcano Bay is the expectations they set on themselves. It seemed that many guests were not aware of how the TapuTapu worked. I saw several eternally patient Team Members doing double duty both checking guests in via the TapuTapu scanner and explaining to other guests where to get their wait time. Outside every queue entrance there also was a cluster of people just waiting for the TapuTapu to tell them to ride, presumably because they didn’t know what else to do.

The Cabanas

I’ll try to keep this part short because renting a cabana is very expensive and not something most do. Most of the cabana experience was wonderful: my family had space to relax in the shade all day and our very own screen to make TapuTapu reservations from.

The only down side was the service, which was incomprehensibly slow. I don’t blame our attendant totally–he was covering half the park. That said, a 90-minute wait for our lunch and an hour to get a beer seems excessive, especially when Universal pushes the food service as a major bonus. David (remember him?) also rented a cabana for his trip and received similar “service.” Unfortunately, this appears to be systemic.

If you have the ability to rent a cabana I would definitely recommend it, but be prepared to go get your own food (and don’t be surprised by long lines for food).

Recommendation and General Tips

We at TouringPlans have now tested out Volcano Bay several times with the same basic results. As it stands, we can’t really recommend spending a full day at the water park. If you can use the Early Entry or only plan on riding a few slides, then by all means enjoy the beautiful park. Under any other circumstances you will likely find yourself annoyed.

If you are heading to Volcano Bay, I suggest doing some research ahead of time. Know how to use the TapuTapu system and get used to the names of the slides. All of the attractions have very unique and hard-to-pronounce names that do not indicate what they are in any way. Keeping them straight when looking at a map is next to impossible. Knowing the names of the 3 or 4 slides you want to do first will help you immensely while navigating.

Let’s Get Positive

I know much of this has been negative, and I legitimately feel bad about that. I found Volcano Bay to be a frustrating park because much of the actual water park is good to great: the rides are fun, and the park looks great. The operational issues, however, bring the entire experience down. I sincerely hope that Universal uses the slower periods coming up to adjust the TapuTapu system.

Since I did like the actual park, I shot a video highlighting the Top 5 things I liked about it which you will find below. If you like this (or just like TouringPlans), please consider subscribing to our site and/or our YouTube channel. Thanks for reading!

Posted on October 2, 2017

18 Responses to “Volcano Bay: the Lines, the Waves, and the Waturi”

  • Great article. I’ve been hoping for an update to help with expectations for our upcoming trip. Do you know if Volcano Bay has discontinued the use of Universal Express for guests staying on hotel property? A few months back I remember reading that guests with Universal Express could bypass the Tapu Tapu system and simply get in line, but I no longer see anything about that on Universal’s official website.

  • We have rented a cabana for my daughter’s 17th birthday on Oct 16th. You talked a bit about service. When you order food does the attendant tell you how long the wait will be or you just have to wait without knowing. Also when they bring your food is it covered? Just trying to anticipate if we have to wait in the cabana or can walk around and come back to covered food. Any other thoughts and tips on the cabana will be helpful we are booked in the Rainforest section

    • by Brian McNichols on October 2, 2017, at 12:01 pm EST

      The food was covered and the attendant did tell us it would be about an hour, although it took longer than that. The beer I ordered I assumed would come immediately (it took an hour). Any cold items they will put directly in the fridge for you if you aren’t there.

      One annoyance I didn’t mention is that there is no way to call the attendant, you just have to wait until they come around to order. Depending on how busy they are that can take a while. If I did it again (and I would), I would just go get my own stuff.

      • thank you. I saw a video posted on youtube just this past week and the person said that you can call an attendant through the tapu tapu screen in the cabana, too bad that’s not true

  • Great article; I’ve been wondering how things are going there. It bums me out that there are still many operational flaws at Volcano Bay, but at the same time, I’m thinking it might be smart (and cost-effective) to book the current promo package without VB tickets and instead do some pool hopping while staying at a resort. If given the choice, would you pick resort pool time over time at volcano bay?

    • by Brian McNichols on October 2, 2017, at 1:11 pm EST

      It probably depends on how much time you have. If you only want to take some breaks mid-day pool time would likely be better. If you are willing to take a few hours in the morning (and be there during Early Entry) there is some great stuff at Volcano Bay.

  • Thank you so much for this information. We are planning a trip for March so I am hoping some of the issues will be resolved but I had a question. Is Early Entry only for Cabana Bay or for all the Universal on site resorts?

    Thank you,

    • by Brian McNichols on October 2, 2017, at 1:12 pm EST

      Early Entry is for all Universal hotels. Cabana Bay has a separate entrance, which you can also walk to from Sapphire Falls (and the soon-to-be Aventura). The other hotels have shuttle bus service.

  • by Ruth Woodhouse on October 2, 2017, at 1:21 pm EST

    We went in September getting there mid morning. We hadn’t realised that you couldn’t stand in line as an alternative to the Tapu Tapu thing. Our group only managed three rides if that while we were there and that was only because some of the group didn’t want to ride so we booked them and then swapped Tapu Tapu bands. We found it absolutely awful. Everything was so far away. We won’t be going back any time soon!

  • DD11 and I went to VB late August, and it was probably our favorite day of our trip. That said, we had a cabana and express passes, which I had bought b4 they were discontinued. We went on the aquacoaster maybe 12 times! I would only go back if express passes were again available, because that obviously made all the difference.

  • by Gareth Oakley on October 3, 2017, at 1:51 am EST

    We visited on the Saturday before Irma hit – I think we lucked out. Since they were preparing for the storm all the touch points were covered up and everything was ride now apart from the volcano drop slides (closed). We had a great time that morning – we got to immediately ride Krakatao since no one was queued up!

    • We went on the Friday before Irma and everything was ride now as well including all three drop slides. We rode Krakatau 4 times in a row first thing- they didn’t even have us get out of our canoe. It was that dead in the park.
      Likewise, I rode all 3 drop slides back to back to back. Climbing those stairs three times in about 10 minutes was pretty killer. It was on that last climb that I was longing for some lines. 🙂

      We were also the only ones with a cabana in the entire park.

      My experience was likely one that no one else will ever get to experience- but because of that , I got to take in the beauty of the park in a much different state. I’ve been to Typhoon Lagoon a multitude of times, including the DVC parties (including the first one ever in 2014 that was DEAD). I find Volcano Bay the most beautiful water park I’ve ever been to- and that’s with immature vegetation growth. Once if all fills in it’s going to be staggering.
      While the volcano is obviously impressive- the inner workings of the cave might be even moreso. Yes, there are exposed slides, on purpose- because that’s what Universal is- an “in your face” park. They want slides exposed for excitement and they want Hulk looming over Islands roaring every 30 seconds. It’s their MO- I understand that.
      But what sets the park apart from TL and others is the amount of waterfalls and woodwork. It’s everywhere. The carvings are extremely detailed, and the ambiance of the water flowing in every direction is unlike any water park you’ll ever go to. It’s like being in Hawaii by a waterfall (I’ve been 20+ times to Hawaii). The music is great and takes me back to my favorite state in the US. Well- until you get to the staircase and look at the Highways. 😉

  • We had a similar experience in early August. During EE we were able to ride about 6 slides with little to no wait. Then after 10:30 am, all the waits jumped up to 2+ hours. Has anyone tried going to the park in the evening? I would guess that wait times would drop around 5-6 pm, but I’m curious if anyone has tried it. We didn’t get a cabana, but did get the “premium seating” (a pair of shaded chairs) with an attendant. Our food also took about 90 minutes, but thankfully, my rum punch drink arrived right away! Our chairs were near the wave pool, so the kids didn’t notice the long wait for lunch because they were having a good time in the pool.

    • Went there in the Evening in the Middle of August, waits came down, but only by about half of the peak wait times, a lot of slides were still about an hour. The park was noticeably less crowded though. Kids had a blast night swimming in the wave pool without the crowds that are there 11-4. We went 4 days in a row, walking over from CB for EE every morning, left by 11 and came back just that one night.
      Were able to do 8 to 10 rides every morning plus wave pool and lazy rivers, but by 11 there were just too many people to do anything, even the wave pool was overcrowded. That supposed 5 acre expansion needs to happen ASAP and NOT increase the attendance capacity at the same time.