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Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park – complete guide and history

Welcome to Universal’s Volcano Bay, where the typical frustrations of water parks (such as standing in long lines and wrestling with tubes) drift away and is replaced by a paradise full of thrills and relaxation.

This page in our OI Universal Center includes a history of Volcano Bay, a summary of its (rather elaborate) backstory, common misconceptions, and a description of the park’s layout. When you are done here, use the navigation links at the bottom of the page to continue your learning.

Universal’s Volcano Bay – a history

Universal Orlando’s love affair with water parks started even before it was a full-fledged resort: as Islands of Adventure was busy being built and CityWalk was just opening up in 1998, Universal purchased Wet ‘n Wild Orlando, a property that was hailed as the country’s first modern water park when it originally bowed in 1977. This was intended to be the very first move to an expanded, geographically-displaced themed empire that would be large and robust enough to directly compete with Walt Disney World Resort, which would have included the construction of a third and fourth theme park and the addition of a series of sporting complexes, among other features and amenities.

Wet 'n Wild in its early days
Wet ‘n Wild in its early days (via University of Central Florida)

Unfortunately, the project fizzled out, and the company was forced to sell off the extra 1,000 acres of land that it had earmarked for future expansion. Wet ‘n Wild remained under the Universal umbrella, but it lingered as an afterthought, partially because what money was available went to maintaining and (just barely) upgrading the two theme parks and partially because the water park was located five minutes down the street from the resort proper.

Once The Wizarding World of Harry Potter hit the scene over a decade later, however, and once brand-new parent company Comcast saw the massive flood of money that was starting to pour in, thought immediately turned to doing away with the rather standard water park and creating, from the ground up, a new and next-generation experience. Wet ‘n Wild Orlando closed its doors permanently on December 31, 2016, sending many of its employees up the street to its replacement. (The 63 acres of land that it once sat on, which Universal only bought in 2013 for $30.9 million [the company had leased the real estate for the 15 years previous to that], will soon be home to a new hotel that, rumors indicate, will be massive – probably some 4,000 rooms in total.)

That next-level water park is, of course, Volcano Bay, a location so detailed in its theming and so involved in the breadth and depth of its attractions that Universal officially refers to it as a “water theme park” and as the resort’s third gate. After years of being rumored (which included reports of its original name being WonderSea Island), it was officially announced on May 28, 2015, nearly two years to the day before it would open – and long after construction had already begun.

The sun sets on Universal's Volcano Bay just two short months before it opens.
The sun sets on Universal’s Volcano Bay just two short months before it opens

Volcano Bay’s conceptual history, however, dates even further back – all the way to the early 1990s, when Disney was busy sketching out future expansions for its Disneyland Paris Resort. Lava Lagoon, a proposed water park, was expected to be the property’s third gate, ironically enough, and would have featured a massive, man-made volcano as its central icon, along with distinctive visual features, such as lush foliage, Tiki theming, and a series of water slides, lazy rivers, and wave pools that would have crisscrossed the volcano’s slopes and encircled its base. Though the project would never see the light of day, thanks to the European Disneyland’s constant financial struggles, many of its concepts live on in Universal’s newest park; one of Lava Lagoon’s lead Imagineers, Thierry Coup, now serves as a senior vice president of Universal Creative, one of the main divisions responsible for bringing Volcano Bay to life.

And no recounting of the water theme park’s history would be complete without a brief comment on its opening date: the new gate is not only meant to be Universal Orlando Resort’s biggest expansion since the advent of CityWalk and Islands of Adventure, it is also meant to be the company’s counter punch to Pandora: The World of Avatar, which is, in turn, Disney World’s own answer to Universal’s Harry Potter areas. Animal Kingdom’s newest land opened on May 27, 2017, just two days after Volcano Bay, and insider reports indicated that both companies were in something of a race to debut their newest additions first.

Volcano Bay – backstory

Nothing themed can truly be “next generation” without a narrative, right? Universal has gone all-out on Volcano Bay’s backstory, providing a compelling reason for the park’s pan-Pacifica theming and, more intriguingly, its various interactive experiences that will be sprinkled throughout its four lands.

The water park’s creation story starts with the Waturi, who, for some unknown reason, set out on their outrigger canoes for a new home. According to their legend, a mystical, many-golden-finned fish named Kunuku was destined to guide them to their new home, but the Waturi searched all across Pacifica, visiting many islands – Bali, Tahiti, and Easter Island among them – and never once encountered her.

Finally, just as they were approaching the very edge of the world, they found Kunuku playing in the waves. “You are ready,” she said to the people, and then turned and swam away. The voyagers followed her, and, within a day, they caught sight of a smoking mountain on the horizon – Volcano Bay.

This island was pristine, beautiful, lush – everything they would want in a new home. The Waturi settled there, taking with them all the customs, music, and art of the various cultures they had encountered along their journey. It is the closest place to being paradise on Earth.

But, it turns out, the island wasn’t always so peaceful:

It all began with the fiery god Krakatau. Though his wrath and fury dominated the land, he couldn’t contain the adventurous spirit of his daughter, Tai Nui. She fell in love with a native youth named Kala, and when her fiercely protective father learned of the romance, he flew into a rage. He banished Kala forever to the sky, where he became the Moon.

Overcome with grief, Tai Nui’s tears became the Sea. Krakatau then realized he had only succeeded in destroying what mattered most to him: his daughter’s happiness. Determined to reunite the young lovers, he reached into the earth and pulled it to the sky – creating the volcano of Volcano Bay. Krakatau trapped the remains of his anger and jealousy in the form of the fire spirit Vol, whom he imprisoned deep within the volcano.

This is how the Sky, Sea, and Earth united to form the paradise of Volcano Bay.

Volcano Bay – location

Not much land remains in Universal Orlando Resort’s main parcel of roughly 840 acres, but the company has more than enough experience with conserving space and tucking brand-new experiences within its pre-existing infrastructure.

Universal's Volcano Bay as seen from Cabana Bay's pool
Universal’s Volcano Bay as seen from Cabana Bay’s pool

Volcano Bay is no different. You can find it on the very edge of Universal property, right next-door to the ultra-popular Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the biggest on-site hotel, and across the street from the future Aventura Hotel, which is scheduled to open in August 2018 and have rooftop views of Volcano Bay. This location wasn’t simply a matter of finding a big enough chunk of real estate to build upon – Cabana Bay is a prime value hotel, meaning it offers the cheapest rates but lacks the convenient (and fun) water-taxi transportation to CityWalk and the theme parks, along with complimentary Express Passes, to boot. To compensate for this, however, and to offer another incentive for guests to stay at the venue, Universal can now offer instant and easy access to Volcano Bay, allowing Cabana patrons the ability to not worry about parking or catching buses. (Yes, Aventura will also be prime value, but its guests will still need to take a shuttle over to the water park.)

Yes, that’s right – for all other on-site guests, they will have to grab a bus from their hotels to Volcano Bay. And for those visitors who aren’t staying on property, they will need to hop on the dedicated shuttle from the first floor of CityWalk’s Transportation Hub. (No, there is no dedicated parking structure for Volcano Bay, and, no, you can’t use the nearby hotels’ parking lots, either. In fact, here’s a friendly piece of advice: don’t even try to sneak your car onto Aventura or Cabana Bay property – it won’t result in a fun outcome for you or your family’s wallet.)

Signs directing guests to Universal's Volcano Bay
Signs directing guests to Universal’s Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay – misconceptions

If you were to look at a map of Universal Orlando Resort – which we highly recommend you do before arriving, and even plenty of times afterwards – you would notice that Volcano Bay is only, essentially, one-fourth the size of either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. This, in turn, might make you conclude that it’s insufficiently large or doesn’t provide a full-day experience, but you couldn’t be further from the truth – Volcano’s 28 acres is actually very comparable to Walt Disney World’s two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach (once you strip away their parking lots, that is, which Universal’s park doesn’t need).

Krakatau at Universal's Volcano Bay glows red
Krakatau at Universal’s Volcano Bay glows red

And as far as the full-day part of that conclusion goes, Universal has been working very hard to offer enough tricks and treats to make Volcano Bay just as fun and exciting at night as it is during the day. We know for certain that lighting will make the aquatic eruptions and waterfall running down Krakatau look like lava – which should be a captivating effect – and Universal itself has said that it will make something of a show of the volcano’s transition from waterfall to firefall to lavafall several times each and every night.

Volcano Bay – layout

Map of Universal's Volcano Bay
Map of Universal’s Volcano Bay

Unlike Universal’s two theme parks, Volcano Bay doesn’t have a central lagoon that acts as the primary organizational principle of the entire park. Instead, the man-made volcano of Krakatau serves as the central icon – as well as the first of Volcano Bay’s four lands – with the other three areas all radiating out from it.

Krakatau is the first area you’ll note when entering the park, thanks to its 200-foot volcano. Here you’ll experience its three “pulse pounding” water slides and unique aqua coaster. Before you get there, you’ll encounter Wave Village, which is located at the volcano’s base and which is home to Volcano Bay’s main beach, Premium Seating, and huge pool. Off to the right of Krakatau is River Village, the something-for-everyone area (including a lazy river and kiddie areas), and stretching all around the back of the park is Rainforest Village, the home of even more thrill rides and a relaxation pool.

Volcano Bay – opening ceremony

On Thursday, May 25, Universal held a grand opening ceremony to officially welcome guests to its new water theme park. Taking inspiration from Volcano Bay’s elaborate backstory, the festivities were distinctly South Seas in flavor, with a number of Maori practices specifically being invoked, from tribal singers, dancers, and drummers performing on the sands of Waturi Beach to outrigger canoes floating behind them in the huge, multi-directional wave pool.

The capstone of the event – no pun intended – was the presentation of a special stone, which was transported from the bottom of the ocean near New Zealand to Orlando. This ancient tradition is meant to bring good fortune to future generations, and it was passed from a tribal chief to Bill Davis, the President and COO of Universal Orlando Resort.

The watery finale was the plunging of a couple hundred annual passholders into the wave pool, marking them as the first official guests to enjoy Volcano Bay.

Volcano Bay – expansion

Even before Universal’s new water theme park opened, the company was already teasing that it had reserved a five-acre parcel of land for a future expansion – and that, furthermore, construction could start as early as 2017, depending upon the popularity of Volcano Bay.

While we have no idea what would go into this expansion pad, we certainly have some ideas: even more cabanas, should the demand for their rentals prove high enough, and, of course, even more slides. Our biggest hope is for a sister attraction to Krakatau Aqua Coaster, one that includes all the rumored bells and whistles that never came to fruition with the original (such as in-door dark-ride elements, like audio-animatronic figures and projection screens, to tell a story).

Volcano Bay – construction photo gallery