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Universal Orlando Resort announces Volcano Bay, the world's first water theme park

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Universal Orlando Resort announces Volcano Bay, the world's first water theme park

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For the past six months or so, guests staying at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort have been looking their windows and watching as a mysterious mound of dirt grew ...

Universal's Volcano Bay construction site in December of 2014. Photo by Jim Hill

... and grew.

Universal's Volcano Bay construction site in February 2015. Photo by Jim Hill

And when Universal Orlando officials were quizzed about what the Resort was building on this triangular piece of property (which is bounded by I-4 to the South, Turkey Lake Road to the West, and Cabana Bay to the North), they'd just say "We're not ready to talk about that project just yet."

Well, today Universal Orlando officials changed their minds. They're finally revealed what they're building right next door to Universal's Cabana Bay Beach. Which will be the Resort's third park, Universal's Volcano Bay.

Copyright 2015 Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

Universal Orlando's going to wait a bit before getting into the nitty-gritty when it comes to this ambitious, immersive project, revealing which attractions and experiences they'll actually be offering at Volcano Bay. But right from the get-go, Universal Orlando officials want people to understand that what they're now building at the Resort isn't just a water park. What they're really trying to create here is the world's first water theme park.

To put it bluntly, Universal's Volcano Bay isn't just going to be concrete and slides. When they're finished building Universal Orlando's third park, this will be a lush, tropical setting where -- yes -- there will be thrilling attractions for the entire family. But at the same time, guests will also be able to have these moments where they can stop & relax &  really feel like they're in that island environment. What Universal Orlando is trying to do with Volcano Bay is very different from what anyone else in the themed entertainment business has ever done with a water park before. It'll be an entirely new experience.

Now it may seem strange that Universal Orlando is attempting to recreate one of those postcard-perfect tropical islands -- complete with towering volcano -- right next to one of Florida's busiest highways. But let's remember that the people who are designing Universal's Volcano Bay are the exact same folks who did The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. More to the point, Universal Creative will be trying to give Volcano Bay the exact same level of intricacies and nuances that The Wizarding World has.

Long story short: Universal's Volcano Bay is going to be very different from what people have previously experienced at a water park. Which is why Universal Orlando officials are calling Volcano Bay a water theme park rather than just a water park. When guests finally get to Universal's third park in 2017 and then see how detailed & immersive Volcano Bay is, people will then understand why Universal Orlando is now making a point of making this distinction.

But as to when exactly Universal's Volcano Bay will be opening in 2017, theme park officials weren't ready to say.

So until the next press release about this project arrives, I guess that all theme park enthusiasts can do is gaze out the windows of Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort ...

The view of Universal's Volcano Bay construction site from the Americana
wing of Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Please note how close
Universal's water theme park is to Cabana Bay's lazy river.
Photo by Jim Hill 

... and watch as Universal's Volcano Bay slowly begins to rises up out of that bulldozed pile of dirt.

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  • So what, Blizzard Beach isn't a "water theme park"?

    "What Universal Orlando is trying to do with Volcano Bay is very different from what anyone else in the themed entertainment business has ever done with a water park before. It'll be an entirely new experience."

    Like what? Details? Some basis for the claim that this park will be somehow unique?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Sorry, Powers. But I'm not at liberty to get into specifics about Universal's Volcano Bay. Not yet, anyway. What I can tell you is that -- when Universal Orlando officials start releasing more information about their third park -- you'll understand why Disney's Blizzard Beach & Typhoon Lagoon are water parks (Well designed, highly themed, carefully propped water parks, I will admit) and Universal's Volcano Bay is truly a water theme park. Hopefully I'll allowed to reveal more details about the project someday soon. But for now ... Well, you're just going to have to trust me and my sources on this one.

  • Except, Universal itself admits that "water theme parks" already exist:

    "Imagine a place that offers radically innovative, thrilling attractions, peaceful moments of relaxation and an inspired guest experience that will forever change the perception of water theme parks." By saying that they are just saying that their water theme park will be better than *existing* water theme parks (and presumably Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon must qualify).

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Look, go to the Walt Disney World web site. What does Disney call Blizzard Beach. It's right there at the top of the page: "Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park." Likewise Typhoon Lagoon. Right at the top of the page, it's "Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park."

    More to the point, Typhoon Lagoon opened back on June 1, 1989 and Blizzard Beach opened April 1, 1995. When's the last time Disney updated either of these two parks? The Crush n Grusher was added to Typhoon back in March of 2005. And after that ... The only things that's been added to either of these two water parks were those cabanas that you can rent back in June of 2009.

    Inbetween 2009 and now, Universal opened the first Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure and fundamentally changed people's notions when it came to the sort of hyper-detailed, immersive storytelling that could be told in a theme park setting. And with Volcano Bay, Universal is looking to do the exact same thing when it comes to the wat people view water parks. Hence their insistence that Volcano Bay is a water theme park, rather than just a water park.

    Look, I get that both Typhoon Lagoon & Blizzard Beach has a backstory and elaborate theming. But what Universal Creative is trying to do with Volcano Bay is a quantum leap forward. Again, I honestly can't get into any specifics here (Not yet, anyway) without burning a sources. But believe me, Dan. You'll understand when this water theme park opens in 2017 and people start blithering about the attractions they experience there and Volcano Bay's hyper-detailed level of theming.

    Please don't mis-understand. By me saying that Universal is building something extraordinary doesn't then automatically mean that I think that Disney is no longer able to build things that will wow us. The stuff I've been hearing about "Pandora: The Land of Avatar" suggests that this DAK addition is going to completely blow people's socks off once it finally opens. The old problem is that that project is now running eight months behind schedule.

    Besides, I'm one of those people who actually believes that -- when it comes to Disney & Universal -- competition is a good thing. One of the reason that DHS' version of Star Wars Land recently underwent a design reboot was because Mouse House managers saw how the theme park-going public reacting to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express. Which is why they knew that doing the same old Star Wars stuff that Imagineering had done before (i.e., sand-colored buildings on Tatooine, another redwood-filled forest on the Moon of Endor) just wasn't going to cut it this time around. WDI really had to do something bold & ambitious this time around if Disney was looking to reclaim its crown as the top dog in themed entertainment.

    So do yourself a favor, Dan. Don't get bogged down in the semantics of "water park" versus "water theme park." Revel in the fact that Universal's trying to do something genuinely ambitious here. Which might then compel WDW officials to think "What can we do to freshen up / plus Typhoon Lagoon and/or Blizzard Beach?"

  • Judging by the size of the plot of land that is being developed, Volcano Bay will be much smaller than Universal's existing two theme parks.  It seems to be more the size of a water park.  Perhaps in this water park sized space, they will also include some water rides (rapids ride, log flume, etc.) along with the traditional water slides and wave pool.  That would set them apart from other water parks.  

    They would also need to have enough to keep families in the park for a whole day to really classify themselves as something more than a water park.  I could easily imagine a nighttime display centering around their volcano "erupting" with the use of pyrotechnics and red lighting effects to make the water flowing down the volcano appear to be red like lava.  The Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas does this already.

    Given the recent troubles that Sea World has been facing, Universal may actually be targeting the potential Aquatica audience.  Aquatica includes some live animal experiences along with more traditional water park fare.  I could imagine Universal trying to duplicate some of that.

    Beyond that, Volcano Bay would also need to have restaurants and live shows to get it into the theme park league.  I could envision a Traders Sams type restaurant, a luau or Polynesian dancers and musicians.

    Am I close?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Guys, I'm really not allowed to say anything at this point. A source within Universal was kind enough to share about what this project actually entails. Which is why I was able to offer a different perspective on Universal's Volcano Bay yesterday rather than just the press release & concept art that everyone else posted. If you can just hang in there a little while longer, I will eventually be able to share more details and you folks will then understand the whole "water theme park versus water park" distinction thing. 

    One thing I can share at this point is ... The volcano at the very center of Universal's Volcano Bay will be massive. There's just no way -- as you're driving up I-4 on your way to Disney -- there's just no way you'll be able to miss this oversized structure. I've also been told that any eruption-related effects will be done facing into this water theme park as to not distract drivers who are zooming by on the highway.  

  • "One of the reason that DHS' version of Star Wars Land recently underwent a design reboot was because Mouse House managers saw how the theme park-going public reacting to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express."

    The first Wizarding World - Hogsmeade / Hogwarts opened on 2010. Disney acquired Star Wars on 2012. How did Disney not know the theming quality of the Wizarding World unless they went back to their old tricks before realizing how Diagon Alley pushed the theming envelop even further.

    The oddity of the Universal versus Disney fight is how Disney is still blinded by its own perception of its superiority. I only wish Avatar fulfills its potential, which means little at this point until we see it. I'm not a bit concerned about Avatar being behind in schedule by 8 months. Perhaps that is why Star Wars Land is still not announced yet. DHS is in my opinion the worst Disney park with an oddest layout  that flows north and south instead of back beyond the Chinese Theater. (Animal Kingdom is the weirdest park with trails that intentionally get your lost.) DHS needs more than Star Wars to rescue it from mediocrity. It needs Cars Land with Radiator Springs Racers to replace the Motors show.

  • Jim... stop being such a blowhard. You're turning into Al Lutz at an exponential rate. Give up a little juice.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: So let me get this straight. I'm supposed to burn a source, give up information that I've been told in confidence for someone who won't even use their own real name when posting a comment on this site. You understand how one-sided / totally ridiculous that is, right?

    Universal will be revealing more about Volcano Bay later this year / early next year. When I get the go-ahead, I'll share what I know. But not until then.

  • I definitively get what some other commenters are saying.  Frankly, you come off as a bit of a jerk...particularly in the comments section.  You tell people not to get hung up on semantics but you aren't willing to provide any details the define the difference between a water park and a water theme park.

    Pretend that you know nothing.  Now, re-read your article (and your comment responses).  Perhaps now you will see why people are frustrated with you.

    Honestly, the only information I learned from reading this article is that Jim Hill knows a bunch of secret stuff.  Oh, and he wants us to know that he knows a bunch of secret stuff.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: "Jerk" ? Okay. Take a minute. Go read everyone else's Volcano Bay story. You wanna know why they're all exactly the same. Because everyone else reprinted the press release.

    I -- on the other hand (because I've been writing about themed entertainment for 30+ years now) -- could actually pick up a phone and talk to someone senior at the Universal Orlando Resort and get you guys a somewhat different take on the project. Go a bit more in-depth about what Universal Creative is going to try and do here. Which is try and do something more ambitious than what Disney or SeaWorld has done to date. In much the same way that -- when Universal first announced USF's Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- they described this new "land" as being " ... a theme park within a theme park."

    But you guys have to understand that my job is built on relationships. That the only way I get the stories that I do is that people in the themed entertainment (or over at Disney & Pixar Studios for that matter) trust me. That when they say "I'll tell you this now, but you have to wait a few weeks / months / a year or more before you can then write about this info / post that story," they know that I'll actually sit on that info for the agreed-upon period of time.

    I realize that we now live in the Twitter-verse. Where there's this 24 hour news cycle and we have spoilers coming at us 24/7. And (from your side of the fence) it must genuinely be frustrating to hear / read that there's additional information about Volcano Bay that I know right now but I can't yet share with JHM & HuffPost readers. But that's the truth, Alex. If I reveal that info now, I then burn my source at Universal Orlando. Which means that I would most likely be cut off when it came to future stories about what else is coming down the pike in regards to Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure and the rest of the Universal Orlando Resort. Which -- given the huge amount of stuff they've got in development right now -- would be a really stupid thing to do.

    So you have a choice here, Alex. You can either accept what I say at face value. That -- at some not-too-far-off future date -- I'll be able to share additional information about Universal's Volcano Bay. Which will help illuminate why Universal Creative feels that they can call this project "a water theme park," rather than just "a water park." Or you can continue to come in here and post rude comments. Which (let me be honest here) makes it far less likely that I'll continue to post Editor's Notes in this particular comment thread. Because -- to be blunt -- I have better things to do with my time than deal with JHM readers who call me a blowhard & a tease. Who want to know EVERYTHING about Universal's Volcano Bay RIGHT NOW when I've already explained (multiple times at this point) why I'm really not at liberty to reveal that information right now.

    It's your call.

  • I never said you should burn a source.  I totally understand who you are and your relationships.  I've been there myself.  I've worked on a number of TV series.  Several times, I knew major plot twists months before the general public.  But, here's the difference: I didn't go on the internet to tease everyone that I knew those secrets.

    So, I guess I'm saying that you shouldn't have even bothered to write the story, at all.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: So now you get to decide which stories get published on JHM? Wow, talk about having a sense of false entitlement.

    Look, if this was the huge issue that you & HereWeGoAgain seem to be pretending this was, wouldn't there be dozens of people in here complaining about this particular article ... instead of just you two?  

  • "So now you get to decide which stories get published on JHM?"

    Where did I say that?  I have an opinion and I expressed it via the Feedback Form.  If you don't want to hear opposing views, remove the comment option or require registration.  That way you can ban those of use you deem "rude".

    "...wouldn't there be dozens of people in here complaining about this particular article ... instead of just you two?"

    Not my concern.  There have been many times in life where I've held a minority opinion on a given subject.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Did you ever see Monty Python's "Argument Clinic" sketch? At this point, our back-and-forth has now devolved into something like that, only not nearly as funny. So sorry, Alex. We're done talking. Go find someone else to offer your passive-aggressive editorial advice to.

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