It turns out a cold front doesn’t need to derail your Florida vacation plans.
Uncooperative winter weather is traditionally a cue to stay indoors and snuggle by the fire, but at Universal’s Volcano Bay water theme park, they’ve taken a different approach. When colder weather sets in, the water in its slides, pools, and splash zones is turned up to 85 degrees, making it an entertainment utopia for chillier Floridian afternoons.
I visited the water park on Christmas Eve, famously known to be one of the busiest theme park days of the year. Crowds flooded into Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida for roller coasters, Simpsons meet-and-greets and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, yet over at Volcano Bay, I effectively had the place to myself.
Plunging through the center of Krakatau volcano — which, if you’ve never been, is jaw-dropping — on the park’s state-of-the-art water coaster or getting sprayed by an unsuspecting tiki statue triggered by interactive wristbands was just as refreshing as in summer, only in the complete opposite way. The Kopiko Wai Winding River, set amongst lush landscaping and scenic views, turned its lazy river path into a never-ending hot tub filled with inflatable tubes. TeAwa The Fearless River, a personal favorite with rapids-like currents so strong free swimmers are required to don life vests, became an adventure in delightful bath water and the perfect way to float away the afternoon. Even the Taniwha Tubes, which sends two-passenger rafts down a twisty covered path, was veritably steamy — an ideal escape from occasional gusts of wind up top.
Splashing into a pool at the end of Volcano Bay’s scarier rides, like Honu ika Moana — which sees multi-person rafts soar through oversized tubes — was actually comforting. Slides brimming with warm water made the call of the rides stronger. Indoor water parks often must sacrifice thrills for space, but everything from the 125-foot body plunge slide to multiple children’s water play areas were in operation throughout the day.
With its plentiful lounge chairs, enormous wave pool, and Polynesian influences, Universal’s water theme park, which opened in 2017, is obviously intended for large summertime crowds. Still, the colder it is, the better of a time you might have. As the weather outside hovered around 60 degrees, we never waited more than five minutes to ride; lines were actually so short that Universal’s TapuTapu system, which hosts “virtual queues” to keep people from waiting in line and enjoy more of their day, wasn’t in operation.
It’s unconventional to whip off a turtleneck and winter hat to visit a water park, but then again, so is frolicking in a wave pool at the base of a 200-foot man-made volcano erupting with waterfalls and winding slides. And here, only in Orlando, both can be possible.