In my previous posts, I talked about the trips I wanted to go on as a kid. There were a lot of us and things that other people got to do seemed out of our reach. It was something that I got used to over the years. But now that I have nieces and nephews (and money) I have some things that I want to do with them. Seaworld… My nephew loves anything in the ocean. Disney because I mean, the Animal Kingdom. Legoland because I mean that seems like so much fun. My nephew would LOVE it. It would really be me and my siblings (read: SISTER and most likely Leah. She is like my sister in the way that she wants to do all the things.) wandering the kids around and riding rides. My mother was never one for crowds or walking in the hot sun so she will definitely not be there. And of course Universal. I was finally able to visit Universal a few years ago and it was FANTASTIC. Come with me as I wax romantically about it.
I was able to take this trip with a group of friends in 2017. I was working for a company that took a serious toll on me so I knew I was going to take PTO for several days. But unlike what I used to do, there was no way I would just be sitting at home for a week. I started looking online for something new to do. That was when it came to my attention that there was a new water park being added to the Universal Studios and suddenly I knew where I was going. (This is something I need to do with my siblings at some point.) I had never been to Universal so I was planning to go all out and ride all the things. (That is normally how I do theme parks.) I love them and I always try to ride everything at least once.
Volcano Bay is Universal Studios third park. It is tropical themed and it replaced Wet n Wild as Universal’s water park. This built around a large 200-foot-tall volcano named Krakatau. The volcano houses three drop capsule slides, Ko’okiri Body Plunge, the tallest body slide in America ranging at 125 feet tall, and also the first to travel through a pool full of guests. I was super excited. At the time I was watching the video for it, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3Ro3bYOraI) it was a few days before it was going to open. I knew I would wait at least a month but I was worried that even in a month all of the kinks would not be worked out and I would be there with nothing to do. But also I mean, it was Orlando. I had a friend who had a birthday coming up and it didn’t take anytime to convince him. Most of my friends had been to the Orlando Theme parks before. We gathered a crew and headed down.
Several hours later we made it to our airbnb. Let tell you… I know I am not riding down to FL again by car. The ride is smooth but I just become so stiff. I was going to fly but we decided to ride in a caravan. (I shall do my shameless plug for high speed rail. Let’s get this.) Anyways, it is not hard to find an airbnb in Florida, much less in Orlando. The place was great. Several bedrooms and a lovely kitchen. There were at least 10 of us that went on this trip and everyone slept comfortably. It was decided that we would visit Islands of Adventure first and then head to Volcano Bay the next day. We were going to be there a week so we had time. I was told I would love Islands of Adventure because it had the most rides. And they were right. Next time I go, I will probably stay at one of the resorts on site and that way you get all of these perks (like getting access to the parks an hour earlier than everyone else.)
Islands of Adventure
So I was surprised to see that the park hadn’t been opened that long. As in opened in my lifetime. I was entering high school when Universal opened to the public May 1999. So that is cool. Islands of Adventure is modeled after a journey of exploration, where guests embark on an adventure to visit a variety of themed islands. Initially, the park featured six islands. A seventh, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, was added in 2010, themed to the highly successful Harry Potter franchise. (I was so stoked to get to Harry Potter World. I am of the HP generation so it was not something I was going to miss.) The eighth island, Skull Island, opened July 2016, and is themed to the King Kong franchise. I found out that it was a big circle and you get to walk from Island to Island. They are, in clockwise order from entry: Port of Entry, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Skull Island, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing.
After walking through the main gate and through the shops and finally got to Marvel Super Hero Island. The great thing that I remember was it was HOT. (It was July in Florida for goodness sake.) But for some reason, Universal Studios was smarter than most theme parks where they had air conditioned waiting areas or at least fans and shady areas to wait. So I didn’t feel like it was unbearable to wait in line for rides which weren’t as long as I originally thought it was going to be. The first ride we come to is for the Incredible Hulk and that coaster was bad ass. I have been on many coasters before but for some reason this stands out in my mind. Mostly because there isn’t a climb to the top, a wait and then a drop. You really don’t even get a chance to settle in before the ride gets going. There was another cooler waiting area but these lines were LONG. Probably the longest line of any ride I would get on that day. But the ride was 1000% worth it. Just know that I was prepared for a certain type of ride and the ride managed to freak me out… starting before I was ready. Check out this video. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-QwtvmEM1k ) I will say that they are pretty strict about you taking off things (Hats, sunglasses, flip-flops etc) that you will lose on this high speed ride. The security was tight but I got it. (They make you pay for lockers for that ride.)
I remember waiting for was The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man and not being hot or uncomfortable while I waited. (when my nephew found this out he almost had a heart attack. “You went and saw spider man and not me?”) I don’t think I had ever been on an interactive ride like that before. (I found out later that is what Islands of Adventure is all about.) But with the water hitting me at the exact moment and the feeling the heat from the “flames” was too awesome to forget. (Definitely got to bring my nephew back. He will love it.) Check out this video on it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MgPOFZvRNA)
I think the last ride I did on this island was Doctor Doom’s FearFall. Think Six Flag’s Acrophobia. It was not for me. I am not into freefall rides. But I have nothing against this ride in particular. After leaving the Marvel Super Hero Island, we ended up in Toon Lagoon. There was a lot to do but we were just too hot to really explore. There was a lot of picture taking opportunities. But thank goodness this portion of park had a water ride. I was all for it. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw falls does the trick. We went with it because it had the shortest line. It was pretty cool… but the while we were able to get wet… the water was warm. So I am not sure how much better off we were. It was almost impossible to stay dry on this ride…. so settle in and wait on the water.
Next stop was the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride. Here was my second interactive ride. And this one was even more epic than the first. I was excited about this ride because I really enjoyed this movie. If you haven’t seen it… do so. We were loaded onto an expedition truck with one of five different drivers, each one containing their own backstory and dialog for the ride. There was complete immersion like with the Spider Man ride. But the ride was awesome. The graphics were the best. This was probably one of my favorites. Check it out here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_GZCxD1Jvw (I can’t wait to see my sister’s reaction.)
We crossed over into Jurassic Park. If you ever wondered what my favorite movies were as a kid, these were my faves. It was sad that we just passed through. I should have gotten on a ride here. I plan on forcing my sister and brother along with me when I return to Universal Studios. But I took plenty of pictures with the beloved Jeeps. We moved on because we wanted to eat and not be out in the sun for too long.
We moved onto the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Heading into the 3 broomsticks for food. But before that could happen… my friend and I spotted the Hogwarts express. (This cost additional money to ride and I also had no clue where in the park I was going to end up.) But that did not stop me from taking plenty of pictures. This is probably another thing that I will do with my siblings when I return.
Long Lines but it ran like a well oiled machine. Kind of expensive but it is to be expected when going to a theme park. There wasn’t a lot of places for a group as large as ours to sit together. We made it work so no big deal. The food was good. I recommend getting the Butterbeer because it was fantastic.
I enjoyed that there was garden salad… healthy food choice option with all the meals. I actually enjoyed the fact that we got plenty of food for the money and that it was pretty light feeling so that we could continue on with the park. Shepherd’s Pie is always fun.
After lunch we trotted around Harry Potter world. For a few short moments because it started raining pretty hard. But before the torrential rain pour, we spotted lots of people buying wands from Ollivander’s which was great. The whole experience was surreal mostly because it really looked like the movie set. My friends and I were able to make our way to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. We were waiting outside when the downpour happened. We were able to wait out the rain while waiting on the ride which was FANTASTIC. Prior to Universal, I was unprepared for the type of ride that I would be experiencing but by that time I was ready for the greatness. So check it out. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iBOvFcSCG8 ) Next time I come back I will ride the other two rides I missed: Escape from Gringotts and Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike adventure. (Although I think the motorbike ride opened 2 years later. )
We made our way through the rest of the park but I think we were really just kind of shopping from that part on. The rest of the park (The Lost Continent and Seuss landing seems fun for the younger crowd.) We were exhausted and headed back home to prepare for Volcano Bay the next day. And boy, were expectations low but I was pleasantly surprised.
First thing I learned, through my research, is that once Volcano Bay is filled to capacity. They start turning people away. Makes sense right. So if you want to make sure that you are counted amongst the crowd they let in then you want to make sure you are up early and ready to go. (Keep in mind, those staying in a Universal Resort are also let in before the park opens.) Now I will restate that I went shortly after the park opened in 2017 (like a month.) So things may be different now but my group and I got up pretty early and headed out. We had to pay to park for the day of course. And we were filtered down to a large parking lot where hundreds of people were already gathered. We were being shuttled to the park itself. Not sure if that is something that they are still doing. Be sure to check that out before hand and plan to add that into your departure time. We were able to check in and get bracelets and get on the bus fairly quickly. It was a short shuttle ride but we were let out at the bottom of the hill and made our way up to the main gate.
On the shuttle bus, we were shown the video of the Tapu Tapu. (Wristbands that keep up with payments and line queues which I thought was extremely helpful.) There was a video posted about this place on Facebook after I had returned that I commented on talking about how great my experience was here. Some Jo Schmo commented that he thought all theme parks were stupid, way too expensive and had long lines and anyone who went there was dumb. (The issue with the internet is that anyone can use it.) When I responded anyone who decided to go to a theme park knows they are going to stand in lines. It is not a secret and this park is no different. The tapu tapu was extremely helpful because it cut down on the amount of time I waited in line. He was upset and told me if I want to waste my money continue going to theme parks. (Oh, well.) Anyways, once we made it to the gates we were fitted with the Tapu Tapu and sent on our way.
My crew and I were all able to get in and get lockers first. Of course, they were overpriced but they held our belongings all day. And then we were off around the park which was fantastic. It was easy to set up payments for everyone on their watch. Volcano Bay runs a cashless system so it is much easier to link your card information to your account and go on about your business.
The first thing we saw when we left the lockers was The Krakatau Volcano. You can see it from anywhere. It is like a guidepost which was helpful towards the end of the day. The thing was the plunge slides that were located inside the Volcano were closed so we didn’t get a chance to ride those. Super sad. So definitely something to do when I return. My sister would love it.
One of things that a lot of people didn’t know and also complain about is the fact that there is a weight restrictions. They weight everyone that are inline and if you are above a certain weight you will not be allowed on the rides for safety. Yes, seriously. So Since the pandemic I may have to get down to where I was to begin with… but still it wasn’t all that shocking. It is just something to know if you are going to go. Groups may be split or added with others to follow the safety guidelines. We started out in the wave pool in Wave village located at the base of the volcano. It was awesome. The water was cool and it doesn’t matter as it was like almost 90 degrees that day. There wasn’t a lot of people but at that point it was pretty early in the day.
We headed off to River village which houses the Kopiko Wai Winding River. You grab the inner tubes. Sit back and float away. Probably the most relaxing time I had at the park except for when my glasses floated away. Other than that it was great. It was also a great way to pass the time waiting on a ride. Check it out here. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e84M2eOmVPg)
The other river is not quite so lazy. TeAwa The Fearless River moves pretty quickly and guests are asked to wear a life vest. I did not have to wear a vest because we had inner tubes. But check it out anyway. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNJ6xU-fopg)
The crew and I ended up heading to the Honu multi-passenger slide. And it was all types of awesome. We were able to experience this altogether. Funny story about this slide… that I have to share. As with all of the rides, we had to stand on a scale to determine the weight of the group. We thought 5 of us could ride at a time. The gentlemen at the ride had us sit down and did so strategically. But we didn’t quite get that. So we all got on the rafts when the gentleman was attending to someone else’s question… and someone else took over with us. We were sent on our way. It is important to know that the weight restrictions are important for reasons that I didn’t really understand until I went on that ride. The ride was great but with all of the people on it we seemed to go over max speed. At one point, I thought we were going to go over the side of the slide. I think I saw my life flash before my eyes. So while I enjoyed that slide but in the end I would say that it is best to heed the rules. I could have been on the news and not in a good way. Check out the rides here. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnCa2fIeB5I) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqtYbhpVsZU)
On the other raft ride, Ika Moana, we had learned our lesson. So that was epic without the fear of death. Good times. I also liked the Tube return. Those tubes were awesome but huge and I could have imagine climbing all of those stairs trying to carry that thing. Check out the other ride here. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbySWaK0PvE) The trippy thing is always when the inner tube turns and then your are going down the slide backwards.
For the other multi-passenger slides… (Puihi and Maku) there was a wait time so we had to you use our Tapu Tapu watches. The sign with the name of the ride on it also told you how long the wait was. You tapped your watch and you were placed in a virtual line. So you were able to ride something with no wait time, get food, or chill out until you got the notification on the watch to come back. I chilled in the Wave Pool and the lazy rivers until it was time to head to the ride. (You have 2 minutes to make it back to the ride before they move on without you.) So that saved us a lot of time standing around and not doing anything. Those damn stairs killed me though.
The one thing that didn’t have a line that we rode all day in between waiting for other things was the Taniwha Tubes. Four raft slides ridden solo or in pairs. They were pretty high up which is fine after the first two but you will spend the day climbing stairs. It is pretty windy at the top so be prepared to feel just a bit chilly before heading down. Check out these rides. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsVNmrCDGt0)
The only ride I remember really waiting for was the Krakatau Aqua Coaster. It is an interesting combination of water slide and roller coaster. Great stuff. Worth the wait. And now I can’t even remember how long I waited. It is a 4 person canoe and they seat you in a particular order. Do not switch up. They know what they are doing. Check it out here. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjEwk1CT8LE)
When I return, I will probably start with the drop in plunges slides. They were closed when we came. I am not sure if they were being worked on or what but that is priority number one when I return. These include:
- Ko’okiri Body Plunge: A near-vertical (70-degree drop) speed slide with a trap-door start that passes through the Krakatau volcano, falling 125 feet (38 m). The slide will also pass through one of the pool attractions at the base of the volcano, described by the park as a “world’s-first” feature. Along with the Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides, Ko’okiri Body Plunge is the tallest drop capsule slide in the world. It is also the tallest body slide in the world to send riders out of a drop capsule the entire height of the slide in one continuous descent.
- Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides: A pair of high speed twisting body slides with trap-door starts. Along with the Ko’okiri Body Plunge, Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides are the tallest drop capsule slides in the world at 125 ft.
- Ohyah and Ohno Drop Slides: Body slides with tall drops into the splash pools. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf_HlQ6ewcY)
The only time the line was outrageous was when we waited to get food for lunch. I chalked it up to it being recently opened. But we weren’t going to leave the park so it is what it is. The food was pretty good. Just expensive but that was also to be expected. I am not sure if this was a more streamlined process yet or not but I hope so. I work in IT, so I know how openings or rollouts work so there wasn’t a lot about this park that annoyed me. Although, the lines here came close. It was a cashless system so you load the Tapu Tapu, tap and go. (I am sure that is what made the line long and slow moving. Because I am sure there were people who didn’t know it was cashless and didn’t load their money.) But all in all it was pretty okay.
You also have the opportunity to rent out private cabanas. Maybe I will do that with my group next time. Cabanas come in one and two-story varieties, and are located all throughout the park. These cabanas have a lot of great features including:
- Towel service
- Padded lounge chairs
- Complimentary fruit and snack basket
- Small fridge (replete with bottled water)
- Concierge service ( enables you to get any item from any of Volcano Bay’s four restaurants or two bars.)
I also hear that as you first enter the water park, a concierge will greet you and escort you to your home-away-from-home for the day. The Guest Experience Transformation (GET) tablet, which allows you to book and modify your place in all of the various attractions’ Virtual Lines right from the comfort of your cabana (that’s right – you don’t have to run all over the park swiping your Tapu Tapu at each individual slide’s TapTu Ride point).
Needless to say, it was the best day I had in at a theme park. There were a lot of complaints about the tapu tapu and not being able to stand more than one virtual line. But at what place can you stand in more than one line? A lot of the negative seems to come those who show up mid day. Because this is a theme park, and I am a bit anal… I had figured that midday is probably the worst time to show up if I actually wanted ride something. A little research goes a long way and it saves you trouble in the long run. Check out this video, it highlights the park, the pros and cons, and tips. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=libz5lzUlbI&t=333s)
Think it will take a lot to convince Leah and Mariah to go with me? I don’t think so either.