Florida With Kids | A family day at Volcano Bay water park, Orlando
[AD: We visited Volcano Bay as guests of Universal Orlando.]
I love water parks.
This is actually quite a strange admission for me to be making, really, because given how scared I am of… well, everything, really… water parks are always filled with slides that would scare me to death. As in, I would literally die if I tried to go on them. Like the ones that take place totally in the dark, for instance. (Nope, STILL not over it…) Or anything with the word ‘kamikaze’ in either its name or description. Because life’s scary enough sometimes without feeling like you’re falling from a great height, amiright?
While the more extreme slides most definitely aren’t for me, however, when I DO find one I like, I really, REALLY like it. Seriously, there’s a hotel in Naples (The Florida one, I mean…) which I was lucky not to get banned from, because I just kept going down the slide into their pool, then immediately getting out and climbing back up to the top again. GOD, I loved that hotel. But I digress!
I love water parks: but I’d never tried to visit one with a toddler in tow before, so when Universal Orlando offered us complimentary tickets to their Volcano Bay water park, I was both excited and just a little bit apprehensive. Would Max be too young to appreciate it? How many excuses could I come up with to avoid having to attempt the ‘body plunge’ ride? Finally – but most importantly – could Max be counted on to keep his sunhat on for more than a few seconds at a time, or was that just wishful thinking on my part?
Here’s how we got on…
So, first things first: this park is gorgeous. As the name suggests, it’s themed around the giant volcano in the centre, which has water flumes winding around its side, plus no less than three body-plunge slides, in which a trap door opens to send you plunging to the pool below. Needless to say, there will NOT be a review of these in this post, because… no. Just.. no.
That’s not all, though. In addition to the volcano centrepiece, the park has four themed areas, all containing slides, beaches, and other watery attractions, including lazy rivers, wave pools and lots of places to eat. Hell, there was even a ‘people drier’ which you could stand in to have the water blasted off you – a bit like a giant hairdryer, really, You gotta love that, right?
On admission to the park, we were each handed a Tapu Tapu wearable: a waterproof wristband, which you primarily use to ‘check in’ at rides by simply scanning it at the posts provided in front of each slide. The Tapu Tapu then basically holds your place in the virtual line, alerting you once it’s your turn to ride: so much better than having to stand in an actual queue in the blazing hot Florida sun. The wearable also allows you to pay for food and other merchandise without having to try to figure out a way to smuggle cash in your swimsuit, and to do things like take selfies at various points around the park. It’s a simple idea, but an absolutely genius one, as anyone who’s ever tried to visit a water park will know: we really appreciated not having to keep going back to our locker (Which was, of course, locked and unlocked using the Tapu Tapu) to fetch our phones and wallets, and it also saved us a huge amount of time queuing for rides. To be fair, not all of the rides had huge wait times – we walked right onto some of them – but the more popular slides are understandably busy, and all had waits of over an hour, which would’ve been a complete deal-breaker for us without the Tapu Tapu.
As soon as we arrived, we got Max and ourselves changed (Quick aside here to note that the changing rooms, toilets and baby change areas at Volcano Bay were some of the nicest I’ve seen… and I really wish I’d discovered them BEFORE I tried to get a wriggly 16-month-old into a lycra swimsuit right in the middle of the locker area. AHEM. Seriously, though, despite the business of the park, there was tons of space, and I was particularly impressed with the baby changing area, which was spotlessly clean, and just everything you could wish for, really.), and then headed straight for the Tot Tiki Reef: a child-friendly splash pad/slide area, where my parents had volunteered to hang out with Max while Terry and I went off to explore the rest of the park.
We already knew from our visit to Dr. Phillips Community Park earlier in the week that Max was a big fan of a splash pad, but this section of Volcano Bay was just NEXT LEVEL AWESOME, as far as he was concerned. With lots of shallow water to splash around in, plus water jets, and even some toddler-friendly slides, he was absolutely in his element, and happily spent the next couple of hours here without ever getting bored. This area of the park is pretty large, and it’s suitable for bigger kids, too, with some taller slides, waterfalls, and walkways. So. Much. Fun.
I think his face says it all, really, don’t you?
With Max and my parents happily settled at the Tiki Reef, Terry and I headed off for a walk around the rest of the park. Unusually for Terry, who normally likes to plan things down to the last second, we had no set agenda here: we basically just wandered until we found something we fancied, doubling back every now and then to make sure Max hadn’t run my parents totally ragged. (TOP TIP here: if you’re planing to visit this park, BRING FLIP FLOPS, or some other kind of waterproof shoes which you can kick off when you want to go on a slide. The concrete walkways get really, really hot – as in, too hot to actually stand on for long – so you will need them. Don’t worry, each ride has a shoe storage area next to it, so you can stow your shoes safely, and then pick them up again once you’re done.)
Top tip: BRING FLIP FLOPS. Or any other water-resistant shoes.
Although we knew Max would play in the splash pad for as long as we let him, we also knew he’d be needing a nap in a couple of hours, which meant we weren’t able to try nearly as many of the rides as we’d have liked. Of the ones we did try, though, I loved the Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides, in which you climb aboard a 6-person raft to go down the flume (I tend to like multi-rider slides like this, because I always figure there’s safety in numbers. Also, there were two little girls on our raft, so, I mean, how scary could it be, right?) (It wasn’t actually scary at all: it was, however, pretty exciting, and I’d have happily gone back on, if there hadn’t been too much else to see…), occasionally spinning up towards the side of the slide as you go.
My absolute favourite, however, wasn’t a slide at all, but TeAwa, the Fearless River. At first glance, this LOOKS like a lazy river: instead of floating gently downstream in an inflatable ring, however, as in the photos above (Which are of the ACTUAL lazy river at Volcano Bay, just FYI…), you put on a life jacket, and are, quite literally, swept along by the rapidly moving water. We enjoyed this so much that this time we actually did go around twice… and then immediately went off to get my dad, so he could try it, too. It was, as I said afterwards, one of the best times of my life: I was only half-joking, too.
I’m very aware that I seem to end all of my travel posts in the same way, lately, but, once again, I have to wind up this one by noting that our only real issue with this park was the simple fact that we didn’t have nearly enough time to do it justice. This has been our experience of just about every aspect of travelling with a toddler, though: it’s worth every second, but it does mean you have to compromise on some things, and, for us right now, one of those compromises involves having to fit everything around Max’s naps. That won’t be the case forever, though, obviously, and we saw enough of Volcano Bay on this trip to know that it’s definitely a place we’d want to return to next time we’re in Florida. In the meantime, if you’re travelling with an older child, or with adults-only, I’d recommend setting aside at least one full day for it – ideally more, if you want to be able to try all of the available rides.
Finally, and because I know you all care deeply about this: YES! Max DID actually keep his hat on for (almost) the full duration of our visit, purely because he was too busy having fun to even notice he was wearing it. Now, if that isn’t a good enough recommendation for you, I don’t know what is…