With its almost year-round warm weather, Central Florida is a natural location for an abundance of water parks. However, even though many places charge similar admission prices -- about $50 per day -- not all water parks deliver the same experience.
Walt Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach certainly are among the best-themed with the creative back stories Imagineers are known for and the rich details embedded in the slides and landscapes. We have been going to both water parks since my children were babies and have thoroughly enjoyed each park in its unique way. And it's important for first-time visitors to understand that, though both Disney water parks offer fun ways to cool off in the Florida sun, each is different in ways that go beyond their themes. (See tips for families in my previous article.)
Recently, my family and I spent a day at Typhoon Lagoon. From the family raft rides to the lazy river, from the play areas for toddlers to the downhill tube slides, many of the park attractions there were similar to what you might find at Blizzard Beach. Yet others were not.
Here are some of the unique aspects of Typhoon Lagoon that are different from Blizzard Beach.
1. Crush 'n' Gusher: Disney's first water coaster opened in 2005. This thrill ride propels visitors up and down hills on three separate flumes before plunging tube riders into a pool. (The same technology later was used on Disney Cruise Line's Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy to create the AquaDuck.) Riders can choose to go solo or partner with up to two others at a time on Crush 'n' Gusher. A cast member told me that the triple-rider rafts go the fastest, which makes sense because of the additional weight. There is a minimum height requirement of 48 inches.
Those who can't -- or won't -- ride the water coaster can hang out near Hideaway Bay, which is the pool Crush 'n' Gusher empties into. One half is open to swimmers. It's a zero-entry pool that's perfect for little ones to splash in without the crowds or waves of the big surf pool.
2. Surf pool: Speaking of the surf pool, the centerpiece at Typhoon Lagoon is a 2.5-acre pool with varying wave patterns. The gentlest waves roll in, letting swimmers bob up and down, while the 6-foot waves are forces to be reckoned with. Both are fun experiences, but be sure to keep young children well-supervised in the surf pool.
Though Blizzard Beach also has its own wave pool, the surf pool at Typhoon Lagoon is much larger, the waves are more natural and the central location of the pool in the middle of the park offers a much better overall setting from which to enjoy the attraction and plan your day's activities.
On Monday, Tuesday and Friday mornings before Typhoon Lagoon opens, surf lesson are conducted in the pool. The lessons include a half-hour of land instruction and 2.5 hours in the water. The class is limited to 13 students and two instructors. The cost is $150 per person, which does not include admission to Typhoon Lagoon after the surfing lesson. Other family members, however, are allowed to enter the water park to watch the surf lessons. Surfers must be at least 8 years old to participate.
3. Shark Reef. Swim with leopard and bonnethead sharks, stingrays and schools of blue tang fish (like Dory from "Finding Nemo") in this man-made reef. Guests are provided with snorkels, masks and life jackets at no extra charge for a short swim across the saltwater pool. This is a great introduction to snorkeling, and my whole family has enjoyed it. Guests must be able to float across the 10-foot-deep pool themselves, and lifeguards do not allow swimmers to turn around once they have started. The sharks are nothing to fear, though, because they are passive and stay at the bottom of the reef. The water is kept at 68 degrees, so it is a little chilly, but it's not uncomfortable once you are moving.
Snorkelers who want to explore Shark Reef further can rent a SAS (Supplied-Air Snorkeling) system at Hammer Head Fred's Dive Shop and be admitted to the other side of the pool. No certification is required to participate. The cost is $20 per 30 minutes.
A third option is available to those who want to see the marine life without getting wet: The reef is divided by an overturned sunken tanker with viewing portholes.
4. Teen Beach Movie: Beach Party: Through Sept. 2, guests at Typhoon Lagoon can join a beach party four times a day -- usually at 11 a.m. and 12:30, 2 and 3:30 p.m. -- near the surf pool. To promote Disney Channel's "Teen Beach Movie," the water park has planned the gatherings that feature a high-energy DJ spinning remixes of retro tunes and activities such as hula hooping, tossing water balloons, sand races and limbo challenges. Costumed bikers and surfers (mimicking those in the movie) will interact with participants. My 8-year-old daughter is always drawn to these types of parties and was excited about this Limited Time Magic event at Typhoon Lagoon.
Last month, I was invited to experience the kick-off of the Teen Beach Movie: Beach Party when actors Garrett Clayton, Kent Boyd and Chrissie Fit visited Typhoon Lagoon. Hopefully, you'll feel like you were there, too, when you watch the AllEars.Net video of the Teen Beach Movie stars here.
These differences, of course, don't mean that you'll have more fun at one park over the other. Both are enjoyable in their own unique way, and Blizzard Beach has its own one-of-a-kind attractions, as well. What both Disney water parks share is a chance to beat the heat, make some waves and have a blast - before the summer afternoon thunderstorms strike.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Walt Disney World for my most recent experience at Typhoon Lagoon. My opinions are my own, and this did not influence my story.
The previous post in this blog was Disney on Ice: Princesses & Heroes tickets on sale for Orlando dates.
The next post in this blog is SeaWorld Orlando releases 4 rehabilitated manatees at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.