No need to schlep wallet, keys at Universal’s new water park

ORLANDO, Fla. — No need to schlep around wallets or locker keys in your Speedos at Universal Orlando Resort’s new water park opening later this month.

That’s because Universal is debuting a new wristband that can pay for food, open lockers, trigger special effects, set spending limits on the kids and most, importantly, eliminate waiting in lines by sending alerts when it’s your turn for a ride.

Universal executives hope the Tapu Tapu wearable wristbands get rid of some of the hassles for visitors at the water park which opens May 25, and they want the wristbands to lead to a “frictionless” experience.

“It really was designed to rethink and reimagine how we take all of these friction points out and make it so you can get to the fun faster,” said Chris Crayner, the company’s chief digital officer.

Tapu Tapu is only the latest effort by theme parks to eliminate waits, go cashless and track guests through technology that allows workers to greet them by name or know what food they have ordered as they arrive at a restaurant.

Disney’s parks in 2013 unveiled Magicband wristbands that allow visitors to unlock hotel rooms, gain entrance to parks and pay for food. Earlier this year, Universal introduced “virtual lines” at its “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon” ride, which allows visitors to relax in a lounge, watch live entertainment or explore the park instead of waiting in a line before getting on the ride.

Unlike Disney’s wristbands, Universal’s Tapu Tapu wristbands have screens on which visitors can get text alerts or see images, and they also vibrate.

“The wearable we have here is more of a two-way device to display information to the guests,” Crayner said. “It’s like an Apple watch. It buzzes and you can feel it. When your time to ride is near, it will vibrate and send you a message on the screen.”

Tapu Tapu uses a combination of radio frequency, Bluetooth and near-field communication technology, which allows electronic devices to talk to each other. When visitors get to a ride, they can swipe their wristband against a kiosk and they will receive an alert when it’s their turn to go on the ride. Visitors can also use their wristbands throughout the park to trigger water jets or lighting effects. Unlike at the Disney parks, visitors at Volcano Bay must return their wristbands at the end of the day.

The wristbands engage the guests, enhance their experiences and expedite going through the water park, said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, Inc., a Cincinnati-based consulting firm.

“They are helping guests spend more money in the park because they aren’t standing in line so long,” said Speigel, who has been in the business for five decades and says he has never seen as much technological advancement in the theme park industry as in the past five years. “The technology is driving our industry now in every sense.”

Universal executives say eliminating the “friction” at its parks is a top priority. While the Tapu Tapu wristbands won’t be used at other Universal parks since they are uniquely designed, and water-proofed, for the water park, “frictionless”-driven technology will show up at other Universal parks, whether through cell phones or other devices, said Jeff Polk, Universal’s vice president of water parks.

“The Tapu Tapu wearable isn’t the culmination of our overall technology development,” Polk said. “It’s the first step.”

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