From $20 mac and cheese to $7 ice cream cones, here's what’s worth ordering at Universal's Volcano Bay water park

·7-min read
I took a break from the Florida heat to spend the day at Universal's Volcano Bay. These are the best foods and drinks I tried there. (Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)
I took a break from the Florida heat to spend the day at Universal's Volcano Bay. These are the best foods and drinks I tried there. (Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)

I've been visiting Universal Orlando Resort regularly since it opened in 1990. On a recent visit, I was looking forward to some much-needed refuge from Florida's escalating temperatures and ditched the roller coasters for their on-site water park, Volcano Bay. Forever a theme park foodie, I couldn't wait to try the food and drink offerings at the South Pacific-themed water park in addition to cooling off.

Surrounded by lush vegetation, this waterpark is unlike any I've ever experienced — it's almost resort-like thanks to its sandy beaches and winding paths. With stunning tropical nature and a towering 200-foot volcano serving as its centerpiece, I completely forgot that I was within earshot of I-4, the busiest interstate in central Florida.

At this total oasis, a surprising and honestly unexpected gastronomical hotbed was found serving South Pacific inspired bites and cocktails. From ribs smoked in-house to fresh ahi tuna poke bowls, the culinary attention to detail is largely in part thanks to Universal Orlando's executive chef, Jason Glus.

When he joined the company 20 years ago, the menus were rampant with the theme park staples, like churros and chicken tenders — but he set out to change the perception of what theme park food can and should be. Yes, there will always be turkey legs and hot dogs, but for the discerning or adventurous palate, there's so much more.

Glus shares with Yahoo Life that in the last four years Universal Orlando Resort has made the shift to becoming more sustainable by using locally sourced ingredients — meaning that across the Orlando resort's properties, their menus change seasonally as as they try to use the freshest of available ingredients.

With dozens of inventive options to choose from at easily one of the best waterparks in the country, these are the absolute best eats and drinks at Universal's Volcano Bay.

Waturi Fusion Waffle Cone, $6.49

Location: Koka Poroka Ice Cream Kona

(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)
(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)

This flavorful explosion of colorful soft serve is probably what Volcano Bay is most known for in terms of food, but it is absolutely worth the hype. Waturi Fusion is an Insta-worthy creation that can be found at quick service ice cream hut Koka Poroka Ice Cream Kona. The layered soft serve cone is a cascading rainbow mix of banana, blue raspberry, orange and strawberry flavored swirls. Served in a cup or my preferred method, the waffle cone, it's an absolute delight on a hot day that is shockingly subtle on the sweetness scale.

Burgers, prices vary

Locations: Kohola Reef Restaurant and Social Club and Bambu

(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)
(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)

You really can't go wrong with any of the burgers served at both Bambu and the Kohola Reef Restaurant and Social Club. Volcano Bay uses fresh angus beef patties that are hand-packed daily and loaded onto homemade burger buns. The patty itself is juicy, full of flavor and prepared to perfection — a feat for any theme park.

My favorites include the Reka Burger with pepper jack cheese, caramelized onion and tangy mango barbecue sauce and the Kohola Burger, topped with crispy fried onions and pickled jalapenos. Vegetarian eaters aren't left out and can enjoy a quinoa edamame burger topped with flavorful roasted shiitake mushrooms.

Tiki Punch, $13.99

Location: Dancing Dragons Boat Bar

(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)
(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)

There are many places to grab a refreshing beverage at Volcano Bay, but Dancing Dragons Boat Bar is the very best. Akin to a beachside watering hole, the sprawling bar — shaped like a canoe — opens to the lagoon's white sandy beaches with perfect views of the water park's larger-than-life volcano. Views aside, the thirsty guest will be delighted to know that the drinks are fabulous, with the Tiki Punch being a knockout.

This cocktail is a boozy combo made with light rum, raspberry rum, dragon berry rum, lemon rum and cranberry juice. Like a distant cousin of the Long Island Iced tea, it is heavy on the pours while also being very smooth. It's also great for people like me who want a tropical drink that's not over-the-top sweet.

Coconut Crusted Fried Chicken Platter, $14.99

Location: Kohola Reef Restaurant and Social Club

(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)
(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)

Located at the base of the Krakatau volcano with prime viewing of the expansive lagoon-style pool, Kohola Reef Restaurant and Social Club is home to one of the most satisfying dishes found at Volcano Bay, the coconut crusted fried chicken. It's almost shocking to find such great fried chicken at a waterpark, but alas, here we are. The meaty chicken is wonderfully juicy and coated in an addictively crunchy exterior with just the right amount of sweetness from the coconut breaking through its brininess. Mango slaw and fries serve as great accompaniments, but the chicken is the star.

Jerk Shrimp Mac and Cheese Combo, $19.49

Location: Whakawaiai Eats

(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)
(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)

Whakawaiai Eats offer plenty of flair in its tropical decor and some much-needed shaded seating. Bypass the menu's flatbreads and hot dogs for their jerk shrimp macaroni and cheese. Not exactly the traditional waterpark snack, this dish combines pan-seared jumbo shrimp with a decadent macaroni and cheese made with pasta shells and an addictive creamy white cheddar sauce. Kudos to this quick service stand that executes perfectly cooked shrimp.

The combo is served with an Icee, perfect for cooling off during your break from the sunshine.

Wai-Waitermelon, $13.99

Location: Dancing Dragons Boat Bar

(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)
(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)

There are plenty of signature cocktails at Universal's Volcano Bay Dancing Dragons Boat Bar, but the Wai-Waitermelon is one of the most refreshing. With vodka, watermelon syrup, fresh raspberry and watermelon, this fruity concoction combines just the right amount of booze with the flavors of summer's most beloved fruit. Its drinkability factor makes it more than easy to knock back a few making the souvenir glass a wise purchase here as it offers discounted beverage refills. Kick back, you're on island time now.

Chocolate Pineapple Upside Cake, $3.29

Location: Bambu

(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)
(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)

Named after the gorgeous stalks of bamboo that comprise this restaurant, Bambu is a quick service spot offering a variety of chicken tenders and sandwiches. Skip right over the savory items for their chocolate pineapple upside cake. The chocolate cake itself is wonderfully rich and moist, complemented with a sweet ring of pineapple cooked right into it. The size is absolutely perfect, satisfying your chocolate fix without weighing you down so you can get back to the slides.

Smoked Hawaiian Ribs $18.99

Location: Kohola Reef Restaurant and Social Club

(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)
(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)

It's worth dodging the crowds at Volcano Bay's largest eatery for this tropical twist on an American favorite. At Kohola Reef Restaurant and Social Club, their Hawaiian ribs are slow smoked in-house before being glazed in a sweet and sticky honey sauce. The glaze coats well over the meaty ribs that are packed with flavor and fall right off the bone. Paired with the platter's cucumber mango basil slaw, this is a total home run.

Poke Poke Bowl $14.49

Location: The Feasting Frog

(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)
(Photo: Carly Caramanna/Yahoo)

You can find one of Volcano Bay's lightest bites at The Feasting Frog, a quirky quick service spot literally shaped like a frog. The poke poke bowl taps into the park's Polynesian influences and features fresh raw ahi tuna, soy honey vinaigrette and pineapple salsa. The flavors dance in harmony together as the vinaigrette offers the right amount of sweet and sour taste to compliment the incredible fresh fish. Plantain chips provide just enough crunch to tie together this dish that proves you can have something incredible light but still bursting with flavor.

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