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
"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
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.
"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
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."
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,"
"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.
"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.
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