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Universal Orlando will use cutting-edge tech to reimagine the water park experience at Volcano Bay

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Universal Orlando will use cutting-edge tech to reimagine the water park experience at Volcano Bay

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Seven years ago, Dale Mason - the Vice President and Executive Art Director at Universal Creative - had an idea. He wanted to do a water theme park.

Not a water park, mind you. A water theme park. Something that would then move the whole water park experience to an entirely different level.

"So I and this very small team of people put together a very small brief on this idea," Dale recalled during a recent phone interview. "And we thought that the concept that we had come up with for this water theme park project was really strong. So we did a couple of pieces of artwork. And we then wrote it all up.  And we put this brief on the shelf and said 'One day, we're going to do that.' And we all went off to do other projects."

And Dale? Well, he got busy on this tiny, little thing that Universal Orlando was building. Maybe you've heard of it? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

Jump ahead five years now. And Mason is just putting the finishing touches on Diagon Alley when Universal Parks & Resorts management quietly reaches out to him and says "Hey, do you still want to do that water theme park?"


Photo by Jim Hill

"And when Universal said that they finally wanted to go forward with this project ... Well, that was like a dream-come-true for me. Ever since I began working in the themed entertainment business, I've always wanted to design and then build a water theme park," Dale enthused.

The only problem with this particular dream is that Universal Orlando wanted to fast track it. To be specific, the resort wanted to have this water theme park open by the early summer of 2017.

"So this was two and a half years ago. Which is a very fast track for a project of this size and scale. But we had done that brief, remember? And if Universal was going to build a water theme park, we were going to take everything that we know about rides & attractions, how to handle people, how to create an experience for our guests and then apply that to this project," Mason stated. "So we quickly began the investigative phase. Visiting all of the very best water parks around the world and then deciding what it is we liked and didn't like about each of them."


Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

And according to all of the in-the-field research that Dale and his team did, there are two things that people consistently complain about whenever they visit a water park. One is that they constantly have to carry these big, awkward rafts around. And the other is the bane of every person who has ever visited a theme park. Which is waiting in long lines.

"So as we were moving Volcano Bay from blue sky to its concept phase to design development, we knew that we wanted to address and then remove these two huge customer complaint issues from this project. Which is why - when we were designing the attractions for Universal's water theme park - we made sure that every slide complex that required a ride vehicle, a raft, a mat, whatever, would then have this built-in conveyor that basically takes these ride vehicles all the way to the top," Mason said.

Then when it came to the hassle of standing in line ... Well, that's where Volcano Bay's TapuTapu system comes in.


Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

"These wearables - we've just gotten our first samples back. They're beautiful. Like island bracelets with lovely colors - are honestly going to change the way people experience water parks," Dale claimed. "We did all of the software development in-house. And I'm really proud of the way these turned out."

Anyway, the way that Volcano Bay's TapuTapu system works is that every guest will be issued one of these island bracelets as they come through the front door. And then - when this Universal Orlando visitor decides that they want to experience one of this water theme park's signature attractions like the Krakatua aqua coaster - they just walk up to the entrance of that ride and tap in.

"And when I say 'tap in,' there'll be this tiki totem out in front of each ride where guests can then use that island bracelet they were issued when they first entered the park to log into the TapuTapu virtual line system. And once they do that, these people are then free to do whatever they want in Volcano Bay. They can go grab a meal. They can go float in the lazy river, experience our action river or explore the children's playground," Mason said. "But when it's finally time for that guest to experience that ride, their island bracelet will begin to vibrate. And when they look down at their wrist, these people will see that there's now a screen there that says '15 minutes.' And that then gives them a countdown that lets this guest know when it's time to return to that attraction and walk right onto that ride."


Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

Which is some pretty amazing sounding tech. But Universal's Volcano Bay is just loaded with this sort of next gen stuff. Take - for example - the various devices that Dale and his team have assembled that will then allow this water theme park's central icon, Krakatau volcano, to erupt in a truly spectacular manner.

"The concept for the Krakatua volcano is that it's a mythical volcano. In that it's a water volcano by day and it's a fire volcano by night. This backstory then allows us to completely change the experience and the environment whenever Volcano Bay is open in the evening. So there are hundreds of light fixtures that have been specifically designed to light the exterior of this volcano and create a light show. It is going to be awesome," Mason enthused.

"We've already mocked up & tested all of the lighting & water effects for the top of the volcano. A few months back, we flew over to France - which is where the company that built a lot of the Volcano Bay effects to our specs is located - and they did this  presentation for us. So we're standing two, three hundred yards away from the mock-up of the top of Krakatau volcano and they then launched everything. And I have to tell you, it felt - to me, anyway -- like I was standing two hundred feet away from an erupting volcano. It was so beautiful and stunning," Dale continued.


Copyright Universal Orlando. All rights reserved

"That's why we've been joking that those two new towers that they're building right now at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the ones with rooms that will face directly into the Resort's new water theme park, they should call them the volcano rooms. Because during the evening - when that volcano erupts - these Universal Orlando visitors are going to have a pretty spectacular show going on right outside their windows," Mason concluded.


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, if you'd like to be among the first to experience this water theme park, tickets for Universal's Volcano Bay will be going on sale on November 15th. And if you'd like to continue to keep tabs on this genuinely ambitious project as Universal Orlando's third park rises up out of the ground right behind Cabana Bay Beach Resort, you can now sign up for real-time email alerts right now.

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on November 3, 2016

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