Fodor's Walt Disney World with Kids (2015)
A chance to cool off is always welcome in the hot summer sun, and Disney has two distinct water parks—Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach—to help you do just that. Just like the four major parks, these two minor parks have their own themes, unique attractions, and plenty of surprises.
For those families looking for more than just a splash at the hotel pool, both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach offer a fun, intense, and, yes, exhausting alternative. Each park has a section for preschoolers and elementary-school-age children, while offering plenty of wild rides for older siblings. Blizzard Beach is home to one of the world’s tallest free-fall waterslides, while Typhoon Lagoon will literally let you swim with the sharks.
But don’t think you won’t get a chance to unwind. Both parks feature broad beaches and a lazy river, which lets you float around the park in lieu of walking—a nice switch after a few days in the theme parks! Older kids can take on the monster slides while parents relax in a lounge chair with a book, and younger kids will find plenty of sand toys to help make their own version of Cinderella Castle.
Water Park Touring Tips
Getting to the Water Parks
On-site visitors can take the bus to both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, but expect a long commute. Getting to Typhoon Lagoon may involve sitting through the stops at Downtown Disney, while getting to Blizzard Beach often involves a stop at the Animal Kingdom. In other words, bus travel can take a while. If you have a car, drive to the water parks.
For off-site visitors, a car is definitely the best option. If you don’t have one, take a cab.
Try to arrive about 20 minutes ahead of the stated opening times for the parks, particularly if you’re visiting in summer or during a major holiday. During midday and afternoon hours in peak seasons the parking lots often fill to capacity.
What You’ll Need
Towels. You can rent towels, but they’re small, so it makes more sense to bring your own.
Swimwear. Girls should wear one-piece swimsuits. More than one bathing suit top has been lost on the waterslides.
Footwear. Bring rubber beach shoes with nonskid bottoms if you have them. They’ll protect the soles of your feet from the hot sidewalks. Flip-flops aren’t the best choice for kids because they are not allowed on the waterslides.
Life Vests. You can borrow life vests for free at the locker-rental stand, although you have to leave your driver’s license or a credit card as a deposit.
Snorkels, Fins, and Floats. Snorkeling equipment can be picked up for no charge at Hammerhead Fred’s near the Shark Reef at Typhoon Lagoon. There’s no point in bringing your own fins and floats; only official Disney equipment is allowed in the pools.
There are plenty of lockers, and the keys come on rubber bands that slip over your wrist or ankle, so you can keep them with you while you’re in the water. If you arrive in the morning when a swarm of guests enters at once, getting a locker can be quite a hassle, with the rental lines sometimes 20 minutes long and the area around the lockers packed. Many families skip locker rentals and keep vitals such as room keys, charge cards, and a bit of cash in one of those flat plastic holders you wear around your neck. (They sell them in the water-park gift shops for about $7.) MagicBands are waterproof, so that’s not an issue. By forgoing locker rentals, you can grab the best lounge chair locations and dash straight to the rides while everyone else is still trying to get a locker.
During the most crowded days of the on-season, Extra Magic Hours sometimes allow on-site guests a little more time in the water parks. “Our extra magic evening at Typhoon Lagoon was the highlight of our entire week at Disney World,” wrote one family from England. “It was a warm starry night and perfect for swimming in the big wave pool.”
Other Things to Consider
Younger vs. Older Kids. The water parks draw a rowdy preteen and teenage crowd, which means young kids and unsteady swimmers may get dunked and splashed more than they like. If your children are very young, stick to Ketchakiddee Creek in Typhoon Lagoon and Tike’s Peak at Blizzard Beach. These kiddie sections are off-limits to older kids.
Weather. Summer afternoons in Florida often mean thunderstorms, and even a rumble of distant thunder can lead to water-park closings. If you’re visiting in summer and want to make sure you have time to try everything, visit the water parks first thing in the morning.
The Scare Factor. If you have younger kids, consider the scare factor, because the attractions at both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are more physically intense than most of the rides in the four theme parks. Most kids adjust quickly, especially if they’re reasonably strong swimmers, but you might want to start the day on mild slides and gradually work your way up to the zippier rides.
Lost Kids. The Lost Kids Stations at both parks are so far away from the main water areas that it’s unlikely your children would find their way there. Instruct them, should they look up and find themselves separated from you, to approach the nearest person wearing a Disney name tag. A cast member will escort the kids to the Lost Kids Station, and you can meet them there. Because both of the parks are full of meandering paths with many sets of steps and slides, it’s easy to get separated from your party. Set standard meeting places and times for older kids.
Eating. There are fast-food restaurants at both water parks as well as places to picnic.
On-Season Visits. If you’re visiting in summer, consider dropping by both water parks. They offer very different experiences. Typhoon Lagoon has the better beaches and pools. Blizzard Beach is the pow! park, focusing on slides.
Off-Season Visits. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are often closed for refurbishing in January and February, although it’s rare for both to be closed at the same time unless the weather is truly cold or inclement. If you’re planning a winter trip, visit www.disneyworld.com to see which will be open during the time you’re in town.
After the Parks. Because you’re climbing uphill all day, half the time dragging a tube or mat behind you, the water parks are exhausting. If you spend the day at one, plan to spend the evening at a film or show, or take the night off.
Disney calls its 56-acre Typhoon Lagoon “the world’s ultimate water park,” and the hyperbole is justified. Where else can you float through caves, take surfing lessons, picnic with parrots, and swim (sort of) with sharks? Typhoon Lagoon is a replica of the perfect tropical isle—older kids can hit the thrill slides, younger kids can splash in the bays and dig in the sand, and parents can relax (at least in shifts) under a palm tree with a piña colada in one hand and a best seller in the other.
For anyone with a Water Park Fun & More option, entrance to Typhoon Lagoon is included. Otherwise, admission is $53 for adults and $45 for children ages three to nine, before sales tax.
Typhoon Lagoon Attractions
Castaway Creek is a meandering 2,000-foot river full of inner tubes. You simply wade out, find an empty tube, and climb aboard. It takes about 30 minutes to circle the rain forest lazily, with a bit of excitement at one point when riders drift under the waterfall. There are numerous exits along the creek, so anyone who doesn’t want to get splashed can hop out before the falls. In fact, Castaway Creek serves as a means of transportation around the park; savvy guests who don’t want to burn their feet on hot pavement or waste energy walking around often hop in and float their way from attraction to attraction. Scare Factor Castaway Creek is a fun, relaxing ride appropriate for any age. The water is 3 feet deep throughout the ride, however, so keep a good grip on young kids or those who can’t swim.
Crush ’n’ Gusher
This thrill ride combines flumes, spillways, and steep drops, but the real kick is that you’re hit so hard with pulsing streams of water that at one point in the ride your two-person raft is actually propelled back uphill. The concept is that you’re lost in an abandoned fruit-processing facility. There are three paths out—the Banana Blaster, Coconut Crusher, and Pineapple Plunger—each about 420 feet long with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Scare Factor The Crush ’n’ Gusher is not for the nervous. The height requirement is 48 inches; even if younger children are tall enough for it, you should probably warm them up on Keelhaul Falls before tackling Crush ’n’ Gusher.
You weather these white-water rapids in four-passenger rafts. Slower and calmer (but much bumpier) than Mayday or Keelhaul, Gangplank is a good choice for families with kids who are nervous about tackling a white-water ride on their own. Gangplank Falls does load slowly, however, and the ride is short, so hit it early in the morning before the line becomes prohibitive. Scare Factor If the kids are nervous about the slides, this is a good starter.
With three enclosed waterslides that drop you a stunning five stories in a matter of seconds, Humunga Kowabunga is definitely a thrill. Riders reach speeds of up to 30 mph! Scare Factor Humunga is an intense ride that fully deserves its height requirement of 48 inches. Part of the scare factor is certainly the drop, but falling in complete darkness makes the experience even more intense. Nonetheless, once people ride it and get over that initial trepidation, they usually climb right back up to do it again.
This water playground designed for toddlers and preschoolers has geysers and waterspouts in the shapes of crocodiles and whales as well as pint-size slides, a grotto with a waterfall, and a small white-water raft ride. No kids over 48 inches are allowed inside, which keeps the area safe for the younger ones. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Mayday Falls and Keelhaul Falls
A Disney employee helps you climb into your inner tube and begin your winding journey down a white-water stream. The journey is fast, giggle inducing, and has enough turns that you often feel like you’re about to lose your tube. Scare Factor Keelhaul Falls is slightly milder than Mayday, so let younger children try it first. The park provides some smaller inner tubes with built-in bottoms. Kids as young as four have reported loving this ride.
Trying to decide which Disney water park to visit? We agree with this father from Michigan: “Our extended family visited both water parks and concluded that Typhoon Lagoon was the favorite of the adults and the younger children because it’s pretty, with nice beaches and shallow places for little ones to swim. Family members age 10 to 25 preferred Blizzard Beach because of the slides.”
In this unusual attraction, snorkelers swim in a saltwater pool “among” exotic marine life, including small leopard and hammerhead sharks. The sharks are behind Plexiglas and aren’t too numerous, so anyone expecting the Jaws experience will be disappointed.
Swimmers need to be able to cross a 60-foot pool confidently twice, a task that might preclude the participation of some young kids who find this too physically demanding even with a flotation vest. If older kids want to suit up, younger siblings can watch from an underwater viewing area that gives you a good view of the marine life and the snorkelers.
Disney provides the snorkeling equipment and a brief orientation on how to use it. Only official Disney equipment is allowed in the pool, so don’t bother packing your own masks. Scare Factor Shark Reef isn’t scary per se, but young kids sometimes struggle with the equipment and panic when they either flood their masks or suck water through their snorkel.
The Storm Slides are curvier and thus a little tamer than a straight plunge down the mountain. Each of the three slides offers a slightly different route, although none is necessarily wilder than the others. Scare FactorKids of any age can ride the Storm Slides, but they need to be fairly confident in the water. Although the pool you land in at the bottom isn’t deep, you do hit the water with enough force to temporarily disorient a shaky swimmer. Most kids 7 to 11 love these zesty little slides, and, if they’re good swimmers, some kids even younger can handle them.
In this huge and incredible 2½-acre lagoon, guests can ride machine-made waves up to 6 feet high. The waves come at 90-second intervals and are perfectly sized for tubing and bodysurfing. A foghorn blast alerts you to when a big one is on its way; if you’re bobbing around with young kids, stay in the shallow areas, where the swells won’t be too overwhelming, and you can avoid the surfers.
Toddlers and preschoolers can safely splash around in two small, roped-off coves called Blustery Bay and Whitecap Cove. Scare Factor The Surf Pool’s waves come with a lot of force, so make sure that you keep an eye on unsteady swimmers.
The water parks are extremely popular with preteens and teens—and a great way to reward them for patiently waiting through a character breakfast or a morning of kiddie rides with younger siblings. The surfing lessons at Typhoon Lagoon are a special treat for this age group.
Blizzard Beach may have the cleverest theme of any Disney park. The tropical ambience of Typhoon Lagoon seems natural for a water park, but who could have predicted a melting ski lodge?
Blizzard Beach is built on the tongue-in-cheek premise that a freak snowstorm hit Orlando and a group of enterprising businesspeople built Florida’s first ski resort. The sun returned in due time, and for a while it looked like all was lost—until someone spied an alligator slipping and sliding down one of the slushy slopes. Thus, Blizzard Beach was born. The snow may be gone, but the jumps, sled runs, and slalom courses remain, resulting in a high-camp, high-thrill ski lodge in the palms. The motif extends into every element of the park: There are Plexiglas snowmen, a chalet-style restaurant, even ski marks running off the side of the mountain. And the original skiing alligator, Ice Gator, is the park mascot.
At the center of Blizzard Beach is “snowcapped” Mt. Gushmore. You can get to the top via ski lift (long line, short ride) or a series of stairs (big climb, short breath), but how you get down is up to you. The bold descend via two wild water rides called Summit Plummet and Slush Gusher, but there are medium-intensity flumes, tube rides, and white-water rafts to take you down as well.
Everybody Goes Surfing
At Typhoon Lagoon, adventurous guests can catch a wave and master the rush of shooting the curls as part of Craig Carroll’s Ron Jon Surf School in Cocoa Beach. Every 90 seconds, the world’s largest wave machine blasts out walls of surf that can tower up to 6 feet high. Because the park’s 2.75-million-gallon wave pool is such a controlled environment, with a steady supply of perfectly sized waves and top-notch instructors, almost everyone manages to catch a wave by the end of the class.
The 2½-hour program, for guests age eight and older, is available by reservation for $165 on select mornings prior to regular park hours. Since classes are capped at 25 students, make sure to call well in advance for reservations. Call 407/939-7529 (407/WDW-PLAY) for more information.
The water parks have a tight cap on how many people they can admit and tend to get quite crowded, at least during peak season in the summer. Showing up early is the only way you can ensure you’ll get in at all and have some chance to sample all the rides. Like Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach is included in Water Park Fun & More; otherwise, admission is $53 for adults and $45 for children ages three to nine, not including sales tax.
Blizzard Beach Attractions
The Chair Lift offers direct transportation to the top of Mt. Gushmore where Summit Plummet, Slush Gusher, and Teamboat Springs await. It’s also a fun little diversion in itself, but lines can grow unbelievably long in the afternoon. Hiking up the steps is a lot faster. For a faster ascent, consider the singles line—you won’t all ride together, but you can reach the top much faster.
Scare Factor Although there’s nothing scary about the ride, it’s tough to hold on to a squirming toddler who’s been slathered with sunscreen, so there’s a height requirement of 32 inches.
Blizzard Beach has its own version of a lazy river. There are plenty of inner tubes, so all you have to do is wade in, climb on, and float along on a relaxing loop of the park. Oh, and watch out for the occasional blasts of “icy” water from the caves and cascades. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Downhill Double Dipper
On this individual tube ride, you race the rider in the other chute, going through water curtains and free falls during your descent. At one point in the ride you’re completely airborne. The Double Dipper is fun and addictive, albeit a bit more jarring than some of the other rides at Blizzard Beach. Test the kids on nearby Runoff Rapids before you tackle it. Scare Factor Downhill Double Dipper is a bit rougher than it looks, and has a 48-inch height requirement.
Unlike the huge surfing pool at Typhoon Lagoon, this swimming area is relatively small and offers mild swells instead of big waves. Fed by “melting snow” waterfalls, the pool is perfect for young kids and unsteady swimmers. There are plenty of chairs and shady huts nearby for relaxing, but these tend to be claimed early in the day. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
You take a separate set of stairs up the back of Mt. Gushmore to reach these three inner-tube rides. To start, you get to choose between tubes that seat either one or two people. Just remember, the heavier the raft, the faster the descent, so don’t assume that two family members in one raft will tone down the experience. The rapids are great fun, and each of the slides provides a slightly different thrill so you can try it over and over. The only downside is that each time you have to troop up the 7 zillion stairs (157, to be exact); visit early in the morning before your stamina fails. Scare Factor Most kids should be fine with this, but being able to ride together lessens the intensity.
Ski Patrol Training Camp
This special play area is designed for kids 5 to 11 who are too old for Tike’s Peak but not quite ready for the big-deal rides. They can walk across icebergs, swing from T-bars, test their mountaineering skills, and ride medium-intensity slides. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
If you’re riding either Summit Plummet or Slush Gusher, don’t forget to cross your legs as you descend. Your bathing suit will still ride up, but at least you’ll have some protection against the Mother of All Wedgies. Women and girls should wear one-piece swimsuits unless they want their tops up by their ears as they land.
This is another monster slide but with a couple of bumps along the way to slow you down. Akin in intensity to Humunga Kowabunga at Typhoon Lagoon, Slush Gusher is so much fun that many kids insist on doing it more than once, despite the climb to the top and the long line. Scare Factor Kids must be 48 inches tall to ride Slush Gusher. Try it as a plunge test before you queue up for Summit Plummet.
This is a mock slalom run that you descend on your belly as you clutch a foam-rubber “sled.” The three slides are full of twists and turns that splash water into your face, and if you’d like, you can race the sledders on the other two slides to the bottom. It’s so much fun that hardly anyone does it just once. Scare Factor While not a wild ride, it can be a bit hard to see where you’re going. Try Toboggan Racers first.
The icon of the park, Summit Plummet is 120 feet tall, making it considerably longer than Humunga Kowabunga at Typhoon Lagoon. From the outside, it looks like Summit Plummet riders are shooting out of the side of the mountain into midair. In reality, the ride includes a 60-degree, 60-mph drop that’s almost twice as fast as Space Mountain—and here you’re not even riding in a car. Scare Factor The height requirement for Summit Plummet is 48 inches. Although it’s a very short experience—less than four seconds from top to bottom—the drop feels like a free fall and may be the most intense sensation in all of Disney World. In short, this flume is not for the faint of heart.
In one of the best rides in the park, the whole family can join forces to tackle the white water as a group. The round boats, which you board at the top of Mt. Gushmore, carry up to six people, and the ride downhill is zippy, with lots of splashes and sharp curves. Teamboat Springs draws an enthusiastic thumbs-up from all age groups, from preschoolers to grandparents. It’s much longer, wilder, and more fun than Gangplank Falls, the comparable white-water ride at Typhoon Lagoon. Scare Factor Riding together makes even nervous kids feel at ease.
Toddlers and preschoolers gather here to play on small slides and flumes, in igloo-style forts, and in a wading pool that looks like a broken ice-skating rink. No kids over 48 inches tall are allowed. Scare Factor It’s not scary.
Eight riders on rubber mats are pitted against one another on a straight ride down the mountain. The heavier the rider, the faster the descent, so the attendant at the top of the slide will give kids a head start over adults. Not quite as wild as Snow Stormers, Toboggan Racers lets kids get used to the sensation of sliding downhill on a rubber sled. Scare Factor Kids as young as four have reported loving this ride.