Universal Orlando

The Universal Orlando Resort is made up of three parks- Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and their new water park, Volcano Bay. In the two weeks we were in Florida we spent 2 full days in Universal parks, and came back on other days a couple of times as well. However, we tried to be as sneaky as possible to fit everything in!

Universal isn’t known for having the longest queues, but at this time of year all the parks can get pretty busy, particularly if they have any new rides. Universal have the new (ish) Harry Potter rides, split between the two parks, and Skull Island which is from King Kong at Islands of Adventure. So they do have a FastPass system, which unlike Disney (I’ll explain later), you have to buy into. You can buy individual passes for specific rides, or you can buy a complete pass to cover your whole visit called Universal Express.

As we’re planning that this is going to be our only family trip to Orlando, we really wanted to make the most of the time we had, and not spend too long in queues, so we looked into the Express passes. For theme park standards they’re not too bad, £79 for a 2-day 2-park ticket at their most expensive. However, that’s on top of the admission and for five of you, it adds up pretty quickly. So my husband had the very sneaky idea of booking us in to a Universal hotel, which not only gives you early park admission on both days you’re staying, but also Express passes, and hotel parking, which saves you $20 a day on the car parks. We booked a basic room for the five of us at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, turned up nice and early on day 6 of our holiday to sort out our tickets, and managed to get into the park for the early entry.

The first thing we did was head over to Islands of Adventure to get ahead of the queues at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As I mentioned, it’s split between two parks, so Islands has Hogsmeade, which includes Hogwarts, the Three Broomsticks pub, and Honeydukes sweet shop, as well as one of the two token rides, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Steve and I had been on this in LA, but the kids hadn’t so we went there first. We managed to get there quite quickly and only queued for about half an hour, but it was a really interesting queue line, starting off in the greenhouses at Hogwarts, winding through the corridors with enchanted pictures, going through Dumbledore’s office, and then getting instructions from Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom.

The ride itself is a cross between a roller coaster and a simulator, as are most of Universal’s rides. The idea is that you’re sat on an enchanted bench, which is going to sneak you out of school to get you to Harry’s quidditch match. Of course, things go wrong, so you end up being chased by Hagrid’s dragon, attacked by spiders and the whomping willow in the forbidden forest, and needing to be rescued from dementors. You wear 3D glasses around the ride, and the seat moves around and pulls you in different directions as you go along. The visual effects are really good, and you don’t really notice that you have the glasses on most of the time. The kids all loved it, and Ryan could even put up with the spiders to go on it again!

After that we went and caught the Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios and Diagon Alley. The train is the only way to travel directly between the parks, but is a ride in its own right. You catch the train from Hogsmeade station into platform 9 and 3 quarters. It chugs in looking like a steam train, while the other end is an underground train to fit in at the other end. Onboard you sit in little carriages with the luggage racks on top, and a frosted glass door into the corridor. As you travel between parks the journey from London to Hogwarts plays out on the window (and vice versa), and you can see other students moving about in the corridor- as well as more sinister things. The journey only takes a few minutes, but it is well worth going in both directions.

You arrive to find yourself in Diagon Alley, at Universal Studios, and immediately notice the dragon on top of Gringotts Bank, which smokes every now and then. Diagon Alley has several shops including Ollivanders, Madam Malkins and Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, so there’s enough to keep you occupied. The main ride there though is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. You enter through the bank, and the queue takes you deeper into the vaults. You’re met by Bill Weasley and a goblin as you prepare to enter the bank and retrieve something for them. However, almost as soon as you board a cart to take you to the vaults you’re met by Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort, who suspect you of being thieves, and send you spinning off to be eaten by trolls. The huge trolls tear the track apart and the cart starts falling, only to be rescued by Bill. You come across Harry, Ron, Hermione and Griphook as they’re raiding the bank, and so come face to face with the dragon, as well as a couple more run ins with Bellatrix and You-Know-Who! This one also uses 3D technology, but I preferred it to the other one as it was more similar to a traditional roller coaster, but enhanced by the special effects. After sampling some butterbeer- or butterbeer ice cream in the kids case- trying out a few wands, and meeting Stan on the Knight Bus, we left Harry Potter for the time being to explore the rest of the park.

The first ride we headed to was The Mummy- one that I remember falling in love with when I came about 14 years ago! The Mummy is another special effects/rollercoaster ride, but this time without the 3D goggles. It’s based on the films with Brendan Fraser (not the new one with Tom Cruise!) and involves beetles covering the walls around you, the ceiling suddenly catching on fire, and several run ins with a very angry mummy! The kids didn’t know what was coming so were pretty nervous the first time round, but they all came off having really enjoyed it! Much of The Mummy Ride is in the dark, so it is quite exhilarating, and one of the more exciting rides at Universal.

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Universal Studios parks are primarily 3D effect based, however they do have a couple of coasters that don’t require goggles! One of them is Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, which is the first ride I’ve ever had to go through a metal detector to go on! The ride doesn’t go upside down, which is just as well as the only restraint is a lap bar, however there are a couple of corkscrews so it feels like you do as the G-forces hit you! One of Steve’s favourite clips from the holiday is Sam (9) on the ride and his face being distorted by the forces. The things that stand out about Rip Ride Rockit are, firstly, the 167-foot drop at the start, that gets you going up to 65mph, but also that you can choose the music that will play through the headrest before you start. I don’t know if it was the music that was the problem, or the mechanics of the ride, but all of us came off with banging headaches. I think that because the restraint is only a lap bar, not supporting your shoulders, that you get thrown around so much your neck is under too much pressure. The headaches were at the base of the skull/top of the neck which would tie in with that theory! We were glad we went on it, but it was definitely not one we wanted to go on again.

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There were six other main rides in Universal Studios: Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, The Simpsons Ride, Transformers The Ride- 3D, Men in Black Alien Attack, Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon and Terminator 2- 3D. Despicable Me, The Simpsons and Transformers were all fairly similar, using a simulator car which moved, along with a 3D screen to simulate a roller coaster.

In Despicable Me, Gru is trying to recruit new minions so starts by turning you into a minion, and then the girls taking you through the minion training process. However, Agnes has made Gru a present to celebrate the anniversary of their adoption, and gets into danger when she tries to give it to him, so you have to rescue her as well.

In The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob is back and trying to kill Bart while they are on holiday at Krustyland. You are in the cart behind the Simpsons as they go through the park and Bob destroys each ride. Eventually you’re rescued by Maggie, who is giant after being allowed to play in the nuclear reactor by Grandpa Simpson. At one point she picks you up and starts sucking the car so you get a little bit splashed.

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I haven’t seen Transformers so it was more difficult to follow, but it basically seemed to be pulling you into a fight between the good transformers and the bad ones. So your car gets thrown around, you keep getting caught by the huge machines, and having things thrown at you. It was quite fun, even if you don’t know what’s going on!

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Men in Black was a more interactive one, as you are in smaller cars and competing against your group to see who can take out the most aliens. Each of you has a laser gun, which you use to shoot the alien targets, and avoid the humans! It’s not made to look as realistic, as that’s not the point, but it’s a really fun ride to go on, particularly with a competitive family. Just to point out, I thrashed them on this one, although it wasn’t entirely fair as it appeared that Sam’s counter may not have been working properly!

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Race Through New York was a really interesting one because you didn’t really know what to expect- Jimmy Fallon is a talk show host, so what can you base a ride on? In the end it was a really good ride though. You go through in groups, which are assigned a colour that you need to pay attention to know when to move through. You sit in what looks like a studio with curtains across the front. When they open you are in Jimmy’s studio for filming of The Tonight Show. During the introduction Jimmy challenges you to a race through the city, and you aren’t really given any choice but to agree. You end up winding through New York, narrowly avoiding traffic and pedestrians, before crashing into the harbour and eventually shooting up into space to try out the first roller coaster on the moon, which unfortunately isn’t actually finished yet. In all of this, the theatre style seats you’re on move around as the car swerves through the film. There were a few characters who are clearly regulars on the show that we didn’t recognise, Hashtag the Panda for example, but it didn’t take away from the experience and we did enjoy it, even if we came away feeling slightly baffled.

Terminator 2 is a little bit different. You’re in a a big theatre with screens all the way round, and you start off with a presentation trying to sell you the new terminator machines. However, things soon go wrong when John and Sarah Connor come bursting in, trying to prevent the machines ever leaving the factory. A gun fight ensues, in the middle of which The Terminator (who would be Arnold Schwarzenegger but clearly isn’t!) comes bursting out of the 3D screen on his motorbike. He takes John back through the screen with him to continue the battle in the future. The premise is really clever, with actual people coming in and out of the screen, not just 3D special effects. The only problem was that it didn’t seem to have been updated since the last time I was there, about 14 years ago, so the technology hadn’t really come on either. A lot of the 3D effects were quite blurry, so it didn’t really have the same impact. It could be made a lot better with a revamp of the technology they were using.

We were also able to get to a couple of the shows and try some food at the Studios park. For lunch we headed over to The Simpsons Fast food boulevard, which was great in that it had something for everyone, but the downside was that you had to queue and physically have your food in your hand before any of your group were allowed to sit down, which we were told quite rudely when we tried to find somewhere for the kids to sit while we ordered. There were no signs saying that though so we had no idea! Frustratingly, there isn’t a central ordering point so you have to queue at each outlet for each meal you want, which is frustrating when one person has pizza, one has chicken, one has sandwiches and one has shrimp! The food was good though, and in more sensible size portions than a lot of places we went to! We sat and ate in Moe’s Tavern, which was  pretty realistic, even though we’re not cartoons!

We also managed to make it to a couple of the regular shows. Animal Actors on location was the most family friendly, showing off the acting skills of a variety of animals. You’d assume it would mainly be dogs, cats, birds, and maybe a monkey; but they also had otters, ferrets, rats, a pig, a porcupine- all sorts of well trained animals. The only thing I found annoying, but this is just me, is that they started off saying “we’re going to show what the animals can do”, and ended up acting as if it had all gone wrong and they were all just messing around. I just found it jarred a bit, because everyone knew that they were doing what they had been trained to do, and I would have preferred it if they had shown that in a different way. I couldn’t fault the animals, and it was probably just that they were making it more entertaining and trying not to be too informational for the kids. I did enjoy it though, and would recommend going, particularly if you have younger kids.

The other show we went to was Fear Factor Live, based on the American TV series of the same name. Six volunteers were stretched with 3 different challenges which play into common phobias. The first challenge was having to hang about 30 feet above the ground from a bar with slanted handles, the 2 who let go the first didn’t make it through to the next round. On the next round the 4 remaining contestants were split into 2 teams, once of which was swinging and the other had to try and throw a dead octopus into a bucket they were holding, while being attached to a bungee cord and having to run diagonally across the stage into the path of the other team. For the finale the contestants had to climb a ladder attached to the side of a building to collect flags, while water was poured on them from above.  They then had to return to the ground by sliding down a fireman pole to jump into a car. The car was winched up about 20 feet from the floor. When it stopped they had to climb out and collect more flags from the front and back, one of which contained a key for the boot. So they had to get to the boot, retrieve a rocket launcher and hit a target in the middle of the stage to win. While they were setting up each challenge they also had another stream where a participant first sat with her head in a tank whole scorpions were put on her head, and  then had to drink a concoction of gross stuff, like sour milk and insects.

Not surprisingly, Sam absolutely loved it. He was drawn in by the drama, the manufactured tension, and the controlled risk. He spent the rest of the holiday wanted to watch the tv show whenever we were home.

After the first day we were satisfied we’d seen most of what Universal Studios had to offer and set off to Islands of Adventure. There is loads to do in Universal’s other park, and has a few more of the non-simulator rides as it seems to have all the water rides! The theming around the park is really good- very colourful and clean, and well distinguished between the different areas. There are two simulator rides- The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey; four traditional roller coasters- The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge; three water rides- Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge rat barges, Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls, and Jurassic Park River Adventure; and two of what I can only describe as experiences- Skull Island: Reign of Kong, and Poseidon’s Fury. There’s also a lot of eating experiences and smaller rides around, but those are the ones that we went on, so I will try and do them justice.

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The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman are based on the comics rather than the more recent films that have come out of them, so the villains reflected that, as did the queue line. It was through the offices of the Daily Bugle with Peter Parker’s articles and Jonah Jameson plastered around the walls. The premise of the ride was that you are sent out to report on the damage the villains are doing around the city, so you head out in a car to see what’s going on. You meet Spiderman fairly early on who tells you to go back because it’s dangerous, but of course you ignore him, so you end up having all sorts of run ins with the villains and having to be rescued. Quite irresponsible of you really. The length of time this ride has been around means that it is one of the first 3D simulators, with the car moving around a course and the viewers wearing 3D glasses. However, unlike Terminator, it has been reanimated so the technology is up to date. It can feel quite realistic at times, so maybe not ideal for small children, but it was great for older children and teens.

I’ve already talked about the Forbidden Journey so I won’t go over it again, just to say that when the children were asked which Harry Potter ride they would rather do again, they all unanimously chose this one. Having a unanimous answer about anything is pretty rare, so that gives an indication about how good it is!

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The roller coasters themselves weren’t quite as inspiring though. The theming for The Hulk was really good- you wind through a radioactive laboratory, with notes from the scientists around the place, combined with military secrets procedures, and just generally official looking signs. There’s a huge reactor in the middle, so it is quite interesting to look at. Unlike Rip Ride Rockit, the Hulk does go upside down- seven times in fact. If you want all the specifications then look it up or ask Ryan- it was enough for me to know the number of times I would be the wrong way up, and that it accelerates really fast at the beginning, and gets up to a top speed of 67 mph. So pretty fast. It’s also quite cool in that it goes over the water for the majority of the ride, and is lit up green at night. If you stand underneath it when you come off you can see a collection of personal items that have fallen off people just sat, rejected, in the water! It’s a lot smoother than Rockit, probably because of the over-the-shoulder restraints, however it is still quite intense, so we didn’t want to go back on straight away, and then ran out of time later on in the holiday. This is another ride where music is pumped through the headrest as you go around, which we didn’t find that comfortable afterwards.

Hidden away in Marvel Super Hero Island is Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, which is basically a drop tower. There’s not a huge amount to distinguish between drop towers, with the exception of the Haunted Manor in Disney and the story around it, so from what I could tell, this is just a normal drop tower that takes you 150 feet to the top of a tower, giving you a nice view of the park, and then drops you back to the ground again. Sam and I chose not to go on it, as neither of us like that sensation of leaving your stomach behind, so we waited while the other three went on. They all seemed to really enjoy it, but did prefer the Haunted Manor. Worth doing if the queues not too long, but you’re probably not missing out on anything special if it is.

Flight of the Hippogriff is a much smaller roller coaster, primarily designed for children, so it isn’t very intense. We went on it in Hollywood rather than Florida, but the ride is the same. It’s quite a fun ride, so really worth doing if you have younger kids who want to do something in Hogsmeade but can’t go on any of the larger rides. The other coaster that’s in Hogsmeade is Dragon Challenge, although it also seems to be known as Duelling Dragons. There are two tracks to this coaster, which twist around each other. Riders on the red track are riding a Hungarian Horntail, and riders on the blue track are on a Chinese Fireball. The two tracks are actually different from each other, so you get a different experience depending on which you ride. I enjoyed this one more than any of the Universal roller coasters because it has my favourite method of restraint. It’s basically over the shoulder, but it’s one where the floor drops away so you’re hanging from your chair. I don’t know what it is about this method, but I always find it more comfortable and smoother than a traditional car. On this one, Ryan did go back on, and the rest of us would have been fine as well, except that it was at the end of the day and we didn’t want to push it to be the one that tipped us over the edge!

For Steve, the water rides were the real attraction to go back to Islands of Adventure. In the UK, mainly because it’s never really hot, water rides tend not to be that wet. If you’re heading towards a waterfall, it will stop as soon as you go near it. The splash at the end is usually away from the boat. There’s one drop and the rest is generally admiring the scenery. Not the case in Florida. It’s warm there, they’re doing you a favour by helping you cool down! The first water ride we went on was Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges, and we were completely unprepared. You’re loaded into a circular boat on a rotating platform that fits 12 people, and then let off into the river. The first surprise is that the waterfalls stay on as you go underneath them. The second is that they don’t mind putting a raft over quite a big drop. The third is that, as you think you’re coming to the end and you can’t possibly get any wetter, there are huge jets of water on either side of the river before you reach the conveyor belts to take you back to the beginning. The aim is to make sure that the belts load evenly. What actually happens is that, if they catch you at the wrong angle, the entire boat gets drenched through with a sustained, heavy jet of water. The kids absolutely loved it, and it was hilarious watching their faces when a huge wave of water crashed over the side of the boat and soaked them from the waist down- and they had that moment back at us as well. You will come off being soaked through down to your underwear, including your feet, so make sure there’s nothing that doesn’t like water in your pockets. There is a central console to put bags in, so you can keep stuff safe, just don’t go in thinking it’s going to be like the flume at Alton Towers.

The other water ride in Toon Lagoon is Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls, which is a log flume, essentially. By the time we went on it we knew we would be getting wet, so we were prepared. We’d seen the drop at the end and noticed that, not only does it drop 75 feet, but you then get the added bonus of water spraying into the boat from water jets on either side. The thing we loved about this one though was the length. We knew where the drop was but we hadn’t seen the rest of the track. So every time we thought we were going up or coming around a corner to get to the final drop, we weren’t. It just keeps on going, and it keeps going after the drop as well. We did experience a couple of technical issues on this one, our boat was paused once at the top of the drop, and then again towards the end. It wasn’t for long enough to cause concern though. The only drawback was that I hadn’t come across Dudley Do-Right or the other characters before, so it was quite difficult to follow the story line that was clearly playing out alongside the boat. It was still one that we wanted to go on again though.

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Islands also has Jurassic Park River Adventure, which is a very different water ride in that there is an element of threat in it! You sit in rows of 4 on the boat and begin a tour of Jurassic Park. It starts off nice and peaceful as you drift past herbivorous dinosaurs happily eating trees and randomly appearing out of the water, and then your boat takes a wrong turn and you end up in the carnivorous dinosaur enclosure with alarms going off. There are raptors pulling pieces of clothing apart that clearly used to have people on them, blood streaked walls, and a torn apart warehouse where a huge tyrannosaurus rex ends up lunging towards you through the roof. You get splashed a bit by the dinosaurs, but the biggest drop is away from the T-Rex, initially through the dark, and ending in a big splash in the sunlight after the 85 foot drop. We’ve been on this one a few times and in both the Hollywood and Florida parks, and you seem to get wet to a different extent each time. The first time we went on we came off fairly dry, the second we were soaked through, and in Florida it was wet, but not to the extent of the other two water rides. Due to the theming of the ride though, the splash isn’t the main attraction and it is well worth going on.

One of the new islands at the park is Skull Island: Reign of Kong, but the only thing in it is an attraction of the same name. We were interested to discover that the main part of the ride we had already experienced on the studio tour in Universal Studios Hollywood, but it had been built around. Like Jurassic Park, the premise is still that you are on a tour around the island, this time on a truck with multiple benches and open sides. They fit a lot of people onto one truck so it loads quite fast, but the action is all around so everyone can see. You have 3D glasses again for this one, but they don’t need to be put on straight away. You enter Kong Island and are confronted with very dramatic, and intimidating scenery, but you’re going to meet a couple of archaeologists so everything is ok to start with. The problem is that, while you’re talking to the archaeologists, they get attacked by giant bats and one of them is carried off. You go after her and find yourself in a swamp, where all sorts of nasty creatures are starting to wake up and attack, so you escape and instead find yourself in the middle of a jungle, surrounded by dinosaurs. Most of them ignore you until a T-Rex takes interest in the truck and starts coming towards you. Fortunately, at that point Kong appears and starts fighting the dinosaur off. A few more appear and there’s a battle raging around you, pulling the truck in at various points, until it all goes too far and the truck is pulled over the cliff with a falling King Kong. Your fall is broken by various branches and vines, until you reach the bottom of the valley and more creepy crawleys arrive. Luckily, you do manage to escape and make it back to safety and civilisation. There are warning signs all the way through the queue line that the ride is scary, so if you have younger children you do need to pay attention. The older two were ok, but Sam was scared as we went around. It is a good experience to go on, but just be aware that it may not be as enjoyable if your kids are crying all the way around!

The final attraction, Poseidon’s Fury, was a bit of a dark horse, in that we didn’t really know what we were going into, but it turned out to be really good. We were told it was a 20 minute walking tour- clearly the staff around the attraction are used to being asked- and we almost gave up waiting while we were in the queue, but it was definitely worth it. The story is that you are part of a group of tourists who are being taken on a tour of the lost temple of Poseidon, but as you’re waiting with a junior assistant to meet your actual guide, the room is sealed, goes dark, and there’s secret writing that appears shining on the walls. You journey deeper into the temple, as you can’t get out anyway, to try and give Poseidon back his missing trident, for which he will reward you with your freedom. You pass through mystical rooms with lasers casting magical effects, things burst into flame around you, walls move, at one point you pass through a tunnel made entirely of water (the kids were a bit nervous about that one), before the finale is played out in the final chamber, projected onto a water screen. It’s the perfect mix of lighthearted banter from the guide, with a bit of danger thrown in, all while knowing you’re in the safe hands of the attraction attendants. We were pleasantly surprised with how well the whole thing was done, and it remains a highlight of the park.

We stayed in the Lost Continent to watch the stunt show- the Eighth Voyage of Sindbad, and while we were waiting we came across the Mystic Fountain. You could very easily walk past without noticing there is anything special about it, but if you stay still near it long enough it starts talking to you. It’s not just casual conversation either, it’s really funny. You can tell it jokes and it doesn’t laugh if they’re not funny, it winds people up and teases them, and will try and work a way of splashing people into the conversation. Whoever is controlling the fountain and in charge of the voice is clearly very funny and witty, and Steve could have stayed there for a lot longer watching it. However, we moved on to watch the show, which is one of the better ones. At the beginning they fill the time by getting members of the audience to come and act through a very basic outline of the story. Sam and Steve managed to get themselves picked, Sam as Sindbad, and Steve as the comedic sidekick- a pretty good casting really. Sam was doing really well at waving his sword around and competing in the dance off, until he had to kiss the princess. Surprisingly enough, he had no idea what to do at that point and got away with a huge shrug and a handshake.

The actual show was slightly better acting though! The stunts were quite dramatic and very well rehearsed. Loads of fight scenes between all sorts of combinations of characters. They fell into things and off things, swung across things, jumped over each other, and generally behaved how you would expect swashbuckling adventurers to behave. I was happy to see that the princess could hold her own pretty well in a fight, and wasn’t just spending all her time waiting to be rescued. She seemed to have more brains than Sindbad to be honest! The show ended with big splashes and explosions, the villain was defeated, and the heroes sailed off into the sunset, perfect.

That pretty much concludes the main Universal theme parks, however there is one more park to mention. Volcano Bay opened, quite literally, in the week that we arrived. We gave it a few days to quieten down, and then used our extra opening hours on the second day of our hotel visit to get in ahead of the crowds. The park itself looks fantastic. The volcano is really impressive, and the pool in front was a lovely size for the time of day we were there! The paths around the park that weren’t covered in sand had water spraying on them to keep them cool, and everything, at a first glance, looked pristine. We had high hopes for the park but the further in we went and the more time we spent there, we realised it’s just not quite ready yet. I was concerned that the problem would be Tapu Tapu- the wristbands that you can use to log yourself into a ride queue then go and do something else until it’s your turn- wouldn’t work, however they weren’t the problem.

When we arrived we went as a family on Ika Moana, which allows up to four people in a raft, and is a fast slide that uses water to push you down. You have to walk up a lot of stairs to get there and Katy-Grace was getting nervous at the height, but she did enjoy the slide in the end. The extra height also allowed us to see the places where they were still planting the flowerbeds in the park! The same tower has Honu, which means whale, and was a slide the boys wanted to go on. The girls decided not to as it looked a little bit scary, as the raft you’re on slides up a huge wall! So the boys went up the tower to go on it while we waited, only for it to break down, and not reopen- bearing in mind the park had been open less than an hour.

So the younger two kids and I toddled off to explore the Kopiko Wai Winding River- a lazy river that goes all the way around the park. As usual there were rubber rings floating along it for you to jump on, but there were also inflatable chairs, which I haven’t seen on a lazy river before and were much more comfortable. We really enjoyed the river, there are waterfalls at various points around, and you even go under the volcano, so it was quite a nice way to spend half an hour. While we were floating, Steve and Ryan used their Tapu Tapu’s to go on the Ko’Okiri Body Plunge- a slide that drops you from standing, at a 70 degree fall through a trap door, down 125m through a slide, ending shooting out the bottom. The rest of us found the idea utterly terrifying, and we were confirmed when they came off it. They had both enjoyed it, but had been extremely nervous at the top, couldn’t breathe on the fall, and reinforced that we wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Having said that, they both would have gone back on again.

One ride we did want to go on was the Krakatau Aqua coaster, and we spent the first hour we were there going back to the entrance to the queue, because it never opened while we were in the park. Initially we were told to come back in 10 minutes, then half an hour, but they eventually admitted they didn’t think it was likely to be opening any time soon. I hope they manage to iron out the difficulties soon because it does look incredible. Four people to a raft, the coaster goes through the volcano and ends up coming out of a waterfall. Being a coaster not a slide means that your movement is more controlled and takes the fear I have out of water slides!

Fortunately we were able to go on Waturi beach and in the lagoon at the bottom of the volcano. The kids are happy just having a pool and would have stayed in there for ever, but we were getting frustrated at the amount of things not open and decided to call it a day. They were also filming some promotional material while we were there so half the beach and lagoon were off limits anyway. The lagoon is also a wave pool, which was pretty good, except that the waves seemed to dredge up pieces of broken black plastic from the back of the pool and bring them to the front, which was a bit worrying. All in all, Volcano Bay has the potential of being a really good water park, but while it’s still new, with so many issues to iron out, it’s not really worth going to. Unless the main rides and slides are open, there’s only so much you can do. There’s a really good play park for smaller kids, and the photo points that work with Tapu Tapu take really good quality photos, but you really need everything to be up and running to sustain interest for a longer period of time.

If you’ve managed to read all the way to the bottom then well done, I’m impressed! I hope you’ve found it interesting, and if you’re planning on visiting Universal yourself then I hope you’ve found it helpful, let me know in the comments. Next up I’ll be reviewing the Sea World/Busch Gardens parks, followed by Disney- but that one has a lot of parks so it may take me a while. In the meantime, feel free to check out the rest of my blog, I’ve already reviewed some of the general attractions in Florida over here, and enjoy your own holidays.

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