Universal Orlando’s brand new “themed park” isn’t just a water park, it’s a fully immersive experience, both visually and…well…watery. The tribe who inhabit the land even hint at it in their name, and many of the attractions are equally humorous in their play-on-words (witness Runamukka Reef, Ohyah & Ohno drop slides, and, of course, TapuTapu wristbands). But the Waturi aren’t just a concept; they’re an entire backstory.
Legend has it, the Waturi jumped aboard their outrigger canoes and left their ancestral home in search of a new place to live, with the belief they would be guided by the golden fish Kunuku. After searching all across the Pacific, from Tahiti to Bali to Hawaii and beyond, and having picked up elements of each culture, they finally encountered Kunuku, who entreated them to follow her to Volcano Bay. It became the Waturi’s own private paradise, and you’re invited to join them as you relax, play, and immerse in an atmosphere of ‘perfect harmony’.
That is, until the fiery god Krakatau has his say. As with all good stories, love enters into it and in this case it was the love of Tai Nui, Krakatau’s daughter, for a villager named Kala. It was a love never meant to be as Krakatau banished Kala into the sky, where he became the moon. Tai Nui’s tears created a sea, and upon seeing her unhappiness Krakatau realised the error of his ways.
To reunite the lovers, he pulled the earth toward the sky, creating a great volcano. Then he enclosed his anger and jealousy inside the volcano, forming the fire spirit Vol, and from that act of reconciliation, earth and sky were once again in harmony. Volcano Bay may be a paradise, but Vol still lurks, and you’ll see his presence each night when the sun goes down and the lava flow begins.
What about the watery delights the Waturi have in store for you? The park is laid out in four spectacular, heavily themed villages – River Village, Wave Village, Rainforest Village and The Volcano, where 200ft Krakatau dominates the landscape. It’s an edifice so large it can be seen from International Drive and motorway I-4, with the main queuing stairway facing traffic (bear this in mind, ladies, as you choose your swim costume!), and it is both the central focal point and the launching area for several of the park’s slides.
The gods have smiled upon you with Krakatau Aqua Coaster, and taken into consideration how difficult it is to lug a cumbersome four-person canoe up a flight of stairs. Instead, riders board their vessel at a station near the bottom of Krakatau and spend the next minute and a half rocketing in and out of the volcano. What happens along the way is obvious, so hold on tight!
Ko’okiri Body Plunge is a nod toward Vol (as are some fabulous interactive elements here), and his fury makes itself known after the floor drops out from beneath you and you slide 125ft downward. Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides also start at the volcano and, just like love, they aren’t for the faint of heart. Drop-away floors mimic the anguish of heartbreak, but it all ends well with a plunge into the lagoon.
Finally, grab a manta ray shaped mat and join in the Waturi children’s favourite thrill on Punga Racers. You know the drill; lay down on the mat, wait for the signal, and….slide!
In River Village, Honu Ika Moana multi-person rafts, which careen wildly down twisting tubes, are the headliner attraction. Honu has more thrills in store, but if you’re looking for a serious soaking, it’s Ika Moana all the way!
Tot Tiki Reef is also here, with scaled-down slides and the kind of splash opportunities toddlers and preschoolers can’t get enough of. Nearby, kid-friendly Runamukka Reef’s coral reef theme, with geysers, water guns and slides, makes an ideal base for the whole family.
One of the most touching nods to the backstory appears along Kapiko Wai Winding River, with Stargazers Cavern lit by glow worms who represent stars in the night sky that have returned to earth with Tai Nui after her nightly visits on the moon with Kala.
The Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides we mentioned earlier are found in Rainforest Village, and their names are what you’ll be screaming as you launch into the final splashdown. And you will launch – that splashdown is four feet below you on Ohyah, and six feet below on Ohno!
TeAwa The Fearless River whitewater raft ride has all the thrills but far less “ohno”, while four twisting flumes make up nearby Taniwha Tubes. But before you think “been there, done that,” bear in mind there may be a surprise or two along the way.
Maku Puihi Round Raft Ride holds up to six people, and this isn’t your grandpappy’s raft ride. Regardless of which of the two lava paths you choose, you’re in for some serious hang-time and zero-gravity sensations.
And finally, Wave Village is home to Waturi Beach, featuring a wave pool with nine different wave settings, from gentle bobbing waves to collision-course breakers. The view of the volcano and its waterfall from a lounger on the beach is spectacular, and it really brings home just how special this park is. It’s easy to forget you’re in the heart of Orlando’s Tourist Central, especially with a drink in hand and the sounds of a South Sea island all around you.
Just across the way, The Reef leisure pool and private waterfall serve as a peaceful retreat from the park’s more exciting elements, with a fantastic view of riders rocketing through the clear tube slide that cuts a path right through the pool.
But let’s get back to those TapuTapu bands. If you’ve been to other parks that use wristband technology, you know the drill: simply tap (or taputapu) your band on a scanner to activate your ride return-time entry. And that’s the beauty here: virtually no queues, or at least much shorter wait times, as guests schedule a ride time using their band, and then head off into the park to enjoy something else while they wait. The band will signal them when it’s time to return. Best part of all? They’re free. Simply pick one up when you enter the park, and drop it off before you leave. Just remember, you can only schedule one ride at a time, so plan carefully.
Of course, this park is all about new and exciting technologies, so it doesn’t end there. Your TapuTapu band will also trigger some fun TapTu Play interactive elements throughout the park, so watch for these as you’re exploring.
You can also TapTu Snap at various photo op locations around the park, and if you’ve set up a TapTu Pay system, linked to your charge or debit card, you can automatically pay for any photos you’d like to keep. Just be aware, you must set up an account ahead of time to take advantage of the TapTu Pay system. The rest of the features are fully loaded onto your wearable already.
Wave, River and Rainforest Villages each have dining outlets, and, happily, there are lots of healthy selections to choose from if you’re burned out on burgers-and-fries. For an additional fee, you can hire a riverside thatched cabana and really get the feel of a tropical paradise ($159-$299), or purchase Universal Express ($19.99 one-time use, $39.99 unlimited use) and skip all the queues at Volcano Bay’s participating attractions.
Most water parks clear out once the sun sets, but you’re going to want to stay in Volcano Bay long enough to see Krakatau’s waterfalls turn to lava. But more than anything, this is a park you can really absorb. It’s meant for strolling and exploring as much as playing in the water, and there are visual delights around every bend.
Volcano Bay is located right next to Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, with easy access from all the Universal resorts. As of right now, guests will need a Universal Orlando 3-park Explorer ticket to enjoy Volcano Bay. And don’t forget, you get Early Entry to the Wizarding World areas of the parks with an overnight stay, and you also get front-of-the-queue access at Universal’s theme parks when you stay at Hard Rock Hotel, Loew’s Royal Pacific or Loew’s Portofino Bay.
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