5 Things You Must Know About Universal’s Volcano Bay Before You Go

This blog is a big departure for me since I usually write about animals,  but recently my family and I went to Orlando and visited Universal Volcano Bay water park. The experience was so noteworthy that I want to share with you what I wish I had known before I went.

1. This is a brand new park. There are many bugs and hitches and things that must be improved.  Thr park is still in “beta” mode so although you will pay full price, do not expect a full polished experience consistent with the usual Universal experience. We were not prepared for the lack of a “Universal” class experience and expected the same quality we got from the other parks. The day was a disappointment to us because we were not prepared. Hopefully, you will be prepared after you read this blog. The park reaches capacity very soon after opening also, so GO EARLY.

2. Take towels! The concierge at our hotel told us we did not need to bring towels because the park rented them, The rental towels were almost $5 a piece,  but because the concierge (also a Universal employee) advised us not to take any, we didn’t. Sadly, they were completely out of rental towels by 20 minutes after the park opened, so we had to buy them in the gift shop. They were….wait for it….$25 a piece!!! Moral of this story- take your towels from the hotel no matter what they tell you. Do make sure that you don’t lose them though because a lost hotel towel is $25 also, but you won’t have anything to show for it.

3. Frame your expectations. We got to ride 2 rides each in our day at Volcano Bay and we waited a lot. We thought the Tapu Tapu wristband would allow us to optimize our wait time, but this is not the case. You cannot queue up all the slides and rides you want and then proceed through them as they become free. You can only queue up for one ride at a time, so if you wait for 3 hours for one ride, you then check into the next and wait again. 

4. It is not a family experience. You must defend and protect your chair and/or umbrella (assuming you get one- there seem to be too few) so one member of your party has to stay with them. Also, when you queue your Tapu Tapu wristband and your other family members do so immediately after, your times can be different when you can return to get in line. Oh and don’t think that when your wristband tells you to return, it is time to ride. When it tells you to return, it merely means that you can come and stand in line for the ride.

5. Take a cooler of drinks and snacks. We did not do this, figuring that the cooler was heavy and bulky, but we really wished we had. The food in Volcano Bay was expensive, but we expected that. What we did not expect was that there were so few restaurants and they had LONG lines at then from the moment they opened (which was at 10 am).  Also, very importantly, the park reaches capacity and no one can enter, so you will not be able to go back to your hotel to get anything that you need. If you do, you might not be able to get back in.

If you heed my advice and expect a new park type experience (even though the ticket isn’t discounted), take towels with a cooler full of snacks and drinks and you don’t mind experiencing the rides separately from your party, then you will be much better able to enjoy the park, which is very pretty. I hope that they are able to work out the bugs soon. You might be best served to save your money this year and give them until next year to sort it all out. Universal is a class act and I am sure that they will find a way to make this experience more in par with the other experiences. Happy vacationing!

I will return to my regularly scheduled animal topics after this brief public service announcement. 🙂

What does “organic” mean in pet food?

I recently treated a puppy that I have not seen before. We all love first puppy visits. The puppy is always curious and new owners excited. They proudly introduce us to their puppy and answer our questions with gusto. One of those questions always is: “What do you feed him/her?” Some new owners can tell me exactly what they feed and how they chose it (and choosing pet food is another blog entirely, so watch for that), but many of them say that they feed “that expensive organic pet food” that was recommended to them by the breeder or someone at the pet store.

dog-food

I feed my pets the pet food that I carry at Applebrook Animal Hospital, so I have not been pet food shopping in a long time. I decided to go and see what this experience was like for my new puppy and kitten parents.  I entered the large chain pet retailer with the intent of exploring the pet food options and perhaps look at some of the foods that people have told me they have chosen. It is true that the choices are overwhelming. A normal person would HAVE to have some kind of influence or advice to sort through the options. There are small bags, large bags, cans, and tubes. Today I was on a mission to figure out what “that expensive organic pet food” was, however, so I tried to focus.

Above one shelf hung a large blackboard that said “Organic” with a brief description of what the definition is. It said: Organic- made according to USDA organic standards with no pesticides, antibiotics or hormones. I would agree that this is a fair definition of what organic in this instance means.

However, what shocked me was that absolutely none of the foods I saw in this store had the USDA certified organic label on them. None of them even claimed to be organic on the label! This large blackboard (with the word displayed on it) did not denote the presence of any certified products at all!

It is possible that I overlooked one, but certainly all the brand names that I hear from my new pet parents were there and I saw them all. None were labeled ”organic” at all. I saw terms like natural and holistic, but no organic. So why did the blackboard imply that they are? I don’t really know. But my clients saw the board and assumed that what they were feeding was held to special standards.

When I got home, I contacted Rebecca Thompson at the USDA and she was extremely helpful to me. She provided a link to a presentation on the matter by Emily Rosen (also USDA) who provided a presentation on the topic of organics to AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). In her presentation (Aug 2013) she discusses the rigorous standards required by the USDA to allow the organic label on human food, but says that the pet food regulations are not specifically regulated. (Gasp!) She mentions that standards are being drafted for pet food regulations and I have contacted her to see if there are any changes I need to know about since that time. I have not heard back from her yet.

I guess it doesn’t matter at the moment because even the foods below the ORGANIC board at one of our local pet stores do not even have label claims. They are not breaking the law in any way. But I really want my clients and pet lovers everywhere to know what they are paying for. If you pay a lot for pet food, make sure that you know why.

At this time, it probably isn’t because it is organic.