When Universal first came on the Orlando scene in 1990, it offered one park: Universal Studios Florida. And that was it. Through the years, Universal added a second theme park, Islands of Adventure, the CityWalk dining, shopping, and entertainment district, a stunning collection of hotels, and other features and amenities (not the least of which is the wildly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands).
The bustling theme park resort now rivals Walt Disney World -- with one glaring exception: It doesn't offer an on-property water park. But that's about to change.
Universal Orlando has announced that Volcano Bay, a highly themed outdoor water park, will open in 2017. Ground has broken on the project. The park will be located near the resort's Cabana Bay Resort.
This Water Park will Pour on the Thrills
Universal hasn't revealed a heck of a lot of details yet. But it did promise that Volcano Bay would be an "entirely new water theme park experience" and that it would offer "radically innovative, thrilling attractions." Given the track record of Universal Creative, the in-house team of designers responsible for developing the attractions at the parks (Universal's equivalent of Walt Disney Imagineering), I'd say that there is likely to be more than a grain of truth in the resort's self-aggrandizing hype -- especially the "thrilling" part.
Compared to Disney, Universal's rides are bolder and amp up the thrills. Coasters such as The Incredible Hulk, for example, are in the same league as the extreme thrill machines at Cedar Point and other coaster-crazy parks. I'd imagine Volcano Bay would really pour on the thrills. (Then again, Disney World's Blizzard Beach features one of the world's tallest and fear-inducing water slides, Summit Plummet.)
In the concept art that Universal released (see the image above), an enormous volcano is shown as the park's centerpiece. It's difficult to determine the height of the volcano from the artwork, but it looks really tall. It might be a bit hard to see in the rendering, but at the top of the structure, there is a lookout deck. I'd imagine that is likely part of the queue for water slides that are located on the back of the volcano. Given the height, there could be some wildly extreme experiences originating at the volcano's summit. How, I wonder, would guests get up to the top of the volcano? That could be a lot of stair climbing.
What Kinds of Water Rides are on the Way?
According to the rendering, it also appears that there will be a large wave pool in front of the volcano. The layout looks similar to the wave pool at Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon, which is located in front of Mount Mayday. The only other attraction visible in the rendering is a three-passenger tube slide.
Since Universal has been light on the particulars thus far, any other speculation about rides would be just that: speculation. However, it's likely that the usual water park suspects, including body slides, an interactive water play station (or two), and a family raft ride, among others, will be coming. Other possibilities include a water coaster, a funnel ride, a bowl ride, and a surfing attraction. Perhaps Universal's creative wizards will also develop some kind of new water experience that will incorporate media or other storytelling elements as a signature, themed attraction.
The resort has announced that Volcano Bay would include "peaceful moments of relaxation" as well. Given its theme parks' in-your-face, hyper-adrenaline-inducing attractions, that's not a description generally associated with Universal. "Peaceful" features might include a lazy river as well as some whirlpools. It could also refer to the park's tropical island theme and the opportunity to chill out among lush landscaping.
No More Wet 'n Wild
Although Universal doesn't heavily promote the connection, it owns nearby Wet 'n Wild Orlando and has operated the park for many years. As part of the development of Volcano Bay, the resort has confirmed that it would be closing the venerable property in December of 2016.
Opened in 1977, Wet 'n Wild is generally acknowledged to be the first large-scale water park ever built. (Clouding the contention, Disney World debuted River Country in 1976. That park has since closed.) Although it is not as elaborately themed as some of the area's other water parks, such as Aquatica at SeaWorld Orlando, Wet 'n Wild is still quite popular. Universal has not revealed what it plans to do with the property after it closes the water park, but it could be a site for future expansion.