Volcano Bay is a water park with a difference. On the way into the park you are given a TapuTapu. This is a wristband that in theory enables you to virtually queue for rides whilst you are enjoying yourself elsewhere in the park. Universal do not have a disability access pass for Volcano Bay as due to the TapuTapu system you will not need to queue.
This sounds ideal for those on the spectrum but is it too good to be true? Today we went to try it out and I am going to detail how my experience of taking a child with an ASD to Volcano Bay went, in the hope that it might help anyone thinking of doing the same.
On the way into the parking lot I explained my sons disability and was given a pass to park in disabled parking with a shorter walk so my son did not have to walk through a busy parking lot. This worked great for us.
2. Bag check.
First you need to go through a bag check area and walk through metal detectors. It is much like an airport where you put your bags and belongings in a tray then walk through and collect your belongings on the other side. You are allowed to carry your towel through. There is a chance you will be searched.
3. Getting to Volcano Bay from the parking lot.
You can not drive to Volcano Bay. Instead you park and then catch the special Volcano Bay busses from the parking lot. The wait for the bus is not long as there are so many busses, however they pack the busses full with people both sitting down and standing up along the bus. It can be crowded. The way my son dealt with this was to board last and therefore stand at the front of the bus and not in the crowd. This also had the added advantage of being able to get off the bus first. We noticed on the way back that as long as you are not leaving at park closing time the busses are far less crowded and there are also TVs with adverts playing along the bus which may be a good distraction.
4. Getting into the park.
There is a walk from the bus stop which is fairly safe as, other than near the busses, it is totally pedestrianised. You walk down a hill, through an underpass, up an escalator and up to the park entrance. The escalator and underpass both felt quite crowded.
There was no queue for getting in which was good. Our tickets were scanned and we were given a TapuTapu each.
I am going to add here that no instruction was given to us with regard to the TapuTapu or navigating the park. Adults with learning difficulties may find this difficult on their first visit.
5. Finding your way around the park.
This actually wasn’t easy. There are signs for rides but not until you get near to them and there are maps around the park but not very many so in the end we guessed the way to rides and sometimes went wrong.
6. The TapuTapu
The way the TapuTapu works is that you walk to the ride you want to go on. When you get there you tap your TapuTapu on the machine and it gives you a return time to ride. The TapuTapu keeps track of your return time and tells you when to return for your ride. You are only allowed to queue for one ride at a time unless you can find one with “ride now”.
You can not leave your child with someone else and take their TapuTapu to get a return time for a ride. We tried this and had the TapuTapu taken off us as you are only allowed one (unless the child is with you and you are wearing it for them). This means that you may have to walk your child all the way across the park to get a wait time and then back again to wait. Some children may find this confusing.
7. How our day went
We started off quite excited for the day. We went to the ride we wanted to ride first, Krakatau and scanned our TapuTapu’s. There were five of us today and four of us were given a 40 minute wait. The other person, who tapped last, was given a 35 minute wait which seemed odd but we didn’t think anything of it because you can return anytime after your TapuTapu says “ride now”.
With 40 minutes to kill and not able to find any rides because they all had wait times, we decided to go in the Fearless River to wait.
The Fearless River is great fun! It is a fast rapid river with waves. You must ride round in tubes. There are life jackets available if needed. The only issues we had on this attraction were entering and exiting the ride as it is very easy to be separated from the rest of your party and the current is too strong to stop moving and wait. We figured out the best way was to all hold on to each other and not let go!
We rode the fearless river until our TapuTapu said “ride now” and prepared to get out at the exit. Unfortunately by the time we got to the exit, our TapuTapu’s said “ride delay” and we had to wait longer.
Around 15 minutes later the TapuTapu’s said “ride now” again so we exited the river and set off to find the ride.
We had to queue to tap into the ride and as soon as we had done this we realised we were in a really long queue for the ride! I asked the person manning the ride if this was normal and she told me that we should expect to queue for every ride and that they try to keep queues to 15 minutes.
Half way along the queue our TapuTapu’s said “your queue has been paused” and we were stuck in the middle of a hot crowded queue.
We were queuing for 40 minutes until we actually got on the ride. This is not a manageable time for my son and he was becoming distressed.
When we got off the ride we walked to Maku as it had the shortest wait time and got given 30 minutes to wait. We walked back to the bag to calm down, re-apply sun cream and have a drink then headed over to Maku. We again had to queue to tap into the queue and then queue for 20 minutes to get on the ride. The ride was good but it wasn’t worth the combined wait time and subsequent stress.
We then walked right to the other side of the park to TapuTapu a ride my daughter really wanted to go on but were given an 80 minute wait time so went back into the Fearless River.
Unfortunately the Fearless River had no waves at this time and was quickly losing its appeal for my fed up, over stimulated kids so we decided to give up on our third ride and left the park with 45 minutes left to wait on our TapuTapu’s.
If you do decide to visit with a child on the spectrum then these tips may help you:
Arrive early or late! The park can reach capacity by 10am! We arrived at park opening and used our TapuTapu straight away (this is how we got a 40 minute wait for Krakatau). The park gets less busy again after 4pm so wait times will be shorter later on.
If you are going to stick it out all day then consider getting a Cabana. These are expensive, starting at $160 but will provide a quiet space with small mini-fridge stocked with cold water, fruit and snack baskets. You also get towels, chairs, and lockers included. The most useful thing however is that some have a TapuTapu machine enabling you tap rides from the cabana rather than walking across the park.
If your child doesn’t like sand then take water shoes. There is a lot of sand throughout the park and it spreads onto the paths.
Service dogs are allowed in the park but not the water. There are kennels to leave them whilst on rides.
If you have tickets to this park included with your other tickets and your child could cope with the bus journey then I would possibly consider visiting to just go on the non queue activities such as the Fearless river, lazy river, wave pool and younger childrens play areas.
If your child struggles with queues then I wouldn’t even try to use the TapuTapu.
Before you arrive at the park your child would need to understand they won’t be able to just get on all the really exciting looking slides they will see. Even my daughter got frustrated with the wait times and queues and that she didn’t get to ride what she wanted.
If you don’t already have this park included with your tickets then don’t waste your money! Have a look at CoCo Key water park instead. We had so much more fun at this smaller park and got to ride as many slides as we wanted with no queues. My son found it far less stressful!
The virtual queueing idea is great in theory but people on the spectrum who struggle with crowds and queues will struggle with the queue times after the virtual queue.
I’m really sorry Universal but whilst we love your other parks, your TapuTapu system gets a massive thumbs down from us, especially my son!