By Fowl Owlerson
In 1977, Wet ‘n Wild opened after having been conceptualized and led by George Millay. In the wake of his success with SeaWorld, Millay was able to secure investors to create an entirely new concept for the time. We take it for granted today, but before Wet ’n Wild, the next tier above a standard swimming pool was a wave pool and a splash pad at best.
Universal purchased Wet ’n Wild in 1998 and subsequently leased its land until 2013 when Universal outright bought the 50 acres the park sits on.
Recently, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Universal filed permits for a brand new water park. Further digging by astute members in the theme park community revealed all but an official confirmation with a project proposal and environmental impact report submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) by NBC Universal.
An Orlando United forum user by the name of “CatCatCat” uncovered the aforementioned report. We’re reprinting several portions of the report below, although the documents are public, it should be noted this report is the property of Florida DEP and NBC Universal.
The project is a proposed water theme park to be constructed to the south of the recently opened Cabana Beach Resort. The site is a vacant tract of land that occupies a plan area of some 25± acres. The site is generally triangular in shape, bounded by I-4 to the south, Turkey Lake Road to the west and the new hotel to the north. A generalized plan view of the area under consideration is included on Figure 1.
We understand that new construction will include slides and pools plus various recreational facilities. A tall “volcano” with slides will be constructed in the southern portion of the site. There will be a series of low-rise buildings constructed throughout the site with several containing equipment pits. The site is to be graded by cutting and filling, the full extent of which is not known to us at this time. We do however understand that some construction elements will be located several feet below the water table.
The largest below grade construction will be the bunker that is associated with the Volcano. The finished floor slab of the bunker is understood to be elevation +117 feet, some 20± feet below existing grade. Pool shells will also be located below grade with the deepest such feature being at the wave pool next to the Volcano equipment bunker.
This crystallizes Universal’s overall plan and location for “Project 533,” otherwise known as Universal’s Volcano Bay. The project will be next to Cabana Bay Resort on the 25-some-odd acre plot between I-4 and Turkey Lake Road. It will center around a large volcano towering above 100 feet. This is concrete fact as far as their plans for now.
We can only assume an attraction centering around the volcano, as well as a lazy river attraction will be incorporated into the park. Rumors have alluded to Universal aspiring to expand further, making Volcano Bay the “premiere” intricately-themed water park. Think along the lines of Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach with new technology and more of a “resort” feel.
From here on out, things become nebulous and steeped in hearsay.
Several sources have said Universal made a few adjustments to Wet ‘n Wild’s management, choosing a more seasoned and refined group to lead the park. Furthermore, a source revealed to us that Universal has finally integrated the once cloistered Wet ’n Wild team members. Staff now receive the same benefits “proper” Universal Orlando team members have reaped for years.
Rumors persist that Wet ’n Wild will be closing within the next two years. We suspect the park will remain open at least until Volcano Bay opens and has its knots unfurled. But there’s something about this that leaves me dissatisfied and curious. What of the previous rumors of water attraction concepts to feature Universal IP, such as Despicable Me, and non-Universal IP presently incorporate into the resort, such as The Simpsons? What of the rumored “Universal WonderSea” park moniker?
The inspiration for Volcano Bay is said to be Cabana Bay Resort. Per speculation and rumor, Loews will play a major part in this new water park, which seems cogent due to the expansion being constructed right next to Cabana Bay. We’ve heard Universal’s higher-ups have been impressed with Loews. The success of Cabana Bay shows Universal has benefited a lot from this partnership thus far.
Okay, so fly with me here, Perhaps Cabana Bay Resort is phase one, Volcano Bay will be phase two, and an amorphous phase three is a vague possibility. So what could it be?
Universal paid a hefty sum to acquire Wet ’n Wild’s land. Its modification of the park’s management and infrastructure suggest they either intend on keeping the staff for employment at Volcano Bay or part of a future Wet ’n Wild revamp. I find it unlikely Wet ’n Wild will continue to persist in its present form unaltered for much longer past Volcano Bay’s grand opening.
This is an entirely conjecture, but what if Wet ’n Wild’s future transformation is Universal WonderSea? What if post-Volcano Bay’s grand opening, Universal intends on retaining the more than 50 acres of land of Wet ’n Wild rests on and revamping it with its own properties and whatever else Universal Creative can cook up?
Speaking of which, when can we expect Universal’s Volcano Bay to open? Definitely not summer 2016. Rumors peg Skull Island’s opening from late 2015 to summer 2016. There’s speculation that the rumored 25th anniversary Universal Museum will open at some point between mid- to late 2015, thus filling Universal’s vow of at least one new attraction per year at the resort. We think a “soft opening” in spring 2017 and a grand opening in summer 2017 are reasonable estimates for Volcano Bay.
By 2020, the resort’s 30th anniversary, we think Universal Orlando Resort will feel like an entirely different place. Volcano Bay will just one of the many additions and I can’t wait to see what Universal Creative pulls off.
Disclaimer: Except when noted otherwise, the following consists of hearsay, rumors, and conjecture, and should be viewed as such until officially confirmed or denied by the companies mentioned.
• Fowl Owlerson, or “Fowly” as he’s affectionately known, has been attending theme parks since he was a spry owlet. When he’s not filtering through the latest murmurings around the industry, he can be seen writing, reading, and snacking on the occasional mouse. Follow him on Twitter @fowlowlerson for the latest rumors or drop an anonymous letter to him at [email protected].