Author’s Note–This is just my experience as a test subject for new technology coming into Volcano Bay. As always with new technology, it’s always changing and evolving, especially with it being part of a new theme park experience. This is just my first impression, as things might change within the coming weeks. There is only so much I can share due to confidentiality reasons, but the info on the wearable shared is common knowledge already covered in the media. This is my experience with it. Yours may differ unpon entering the actual park when it opens May 25.
As many of you know who have been following the development of Universal’s newest park Volcano Bay, you will come to find yourself staring at what appears to be a wrist watch that’s supposed to replace standing in line.
This little device is called TapuTapu, and like it’s very similar yet distant cousin the Disney MagicBand, it gives you the opportunity to reserve your place in line for rides so you don’t have to stand there all day. Disney’s MagicBand system works more like a free FastPass that you could only use if the ride is offering a time slot. The flaw in that system is that spaces become unavailable for a same-day visitor since certain guests are able to book months ahead of time. Universal’s TapuTapu system puts you in a virtual line so no matter what time you came in, you have a return time and don’t need to waste time standing around all day. This gives you the opportunity to go play in the lazy river or the wave pool, maybe even go grab a bite to eat. The TapuTapu will let you know via vibration and a message on an LCD screen that your spot in line is ready for you to go up and enjoy, a perk that MagicBand doesn’t offer since you have to mentally keep track of your times or use a phone app.
As a recent test subject for TapuTapu, as well as being a former cast member at Disney who has used the MagicBand, each system has had it’s fair share of pros and cons when it comes to accessibility for those with disabilities. When working at Disney, I had several guests with sensory processing issues complain about wearing a wearable on their wrist. Just recently, Disney introduced The MagicBand 2, with the option to pop out the middle of the band with the guests’ tickets and FastPass information and securely place it into a keychain or a medallion that could be hung around the neck or held on a purse or belt buckle.
Unfortunately, there has yet to be an option for TapuTapu, other than a parent or caregiver carrying the wearable for them, which for older children and adults, can lead to a feeling of lost independence.
Same goes for my situation as someone legally blind. Although the wearable has tactile feedback in terms of vibration, the visuals on the wearable’s screen are a tad small. The only thing that was legible for me upon testing the wearable is the wait time, which is written in bold font. But the name of the ride is written so small, I fear that either I will forget what ride I tried to get on, or possibly wander so far to the park, I’ll get lost.
From what I have heard, provisions have been put into place so that you are not rushed to get back into that line, unlike how it works with the MagicBands, where after about 15 minutes past your time, you’re pretty much out of luck and have to book another spot if it’s available. You also have the opportunity to change what ride you want to go on just by tapping the wearable to the totem kiosk at the entrance of the ride. No need to go to a centralized kiosk, like that other band.
Another issue I have come across is a minor one but could lead to issues with people who have learning disabilities. Given the park has a very thick Polynesian theme, the names of the rides are often hard to pronounce, and unless you have a really visual memory, navigating back to your original ride could prove difficult. Luckily, there are large maps throughout the park in case such a thing happens. But to those who are visually or cognitavilyy unable to read maps, this won’t be much help, unless the map has an interactive future similar to both Disney and Universal’s phone apps that give you step by step instructions or visual cues to where you want to go. Obviously, carrying your phone around most likely will be cumbersome in a park like this, given that it is a water park.
As a person with a disability, using wearables in theme parks have its fair share of issues, and although in a technical sense Universal has a more advanced wearable, it’s still isn’t as easily accessible in terms of the MagicBand 2, given their feature of comfort for those with sensitivity processing issues. And from visual impairment standpoint, the TapuTapu needs a lot of work, since that tiny little screen replaces the accessibility of a phone or a tablet when it comes to keeping track of your ride times. Making that screen text larger will make all the difference, as would the potential of making it audible for those who can’t read it at all for one reason or another. Even setting up special totem stations that will read the wearable aloud to you would be a great workaround on that, especially if going the route similar of a talking watch won’t do.
After testing, I was able to speak to a gentleman who works on the project. His reply was that ” Since day one of testing the prototypes, we have known accessibility was a bit of an issue. Although plans are in place for such situations, most likely they won’t be ready by grand opening day. But rest assured, they are coming.”
I have worked on both parks during the inception of their wearables and bands and change does come quick as technology advances. In the meantime, team members will be on hand to assist anybody who needs it. Although the workarounds might give a very independent disabled person the feeling of lost independence, the same goes for any visitor who finds themselves at Volcano Bay. The park is one of its kind and quite possibly the first in the world to utilize such a system as a Virtual Line. With patience and some feedback, which I gave plenty during the testing, Universal will lead the way in making an enjoyable park experience for anybody and everybody.