Although Walt Disney World has numerous beaches and Disney resorts have dozens of pools, when it's hot outside, the best places to cool off are the two Disney water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
|Typhoon Lagoon wave pool|
|©THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY|
In their rush "to do" the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, families often overlook Disney's water playgrounds. Muggy weather, however, offers a perfect excuse to enjoy their water slides, rivers and surf during the day and postpone the theme parks until the cooler evenings.
If you've ever dreamed of being shipwrecked on a South Pacific Island, then Typhoon Lagoon will bring your fantasies to life. The story of its creation is told on wooden plaques as you enter the water park.
Once upon a time (according to Disney legend) there was a beautiful tropical resort. One day, a furious typhoon roared across the sea, catching the ships in its path and tossing them about like toy boats.
High winds blew a surfboard through a huge tree, pushed a huge buoy into a building's thatched roof and left a shrimp boat perched precariously on the peak of volcanic Mt. Mayday.
The 30-meter-high volcano vainly tries to dislodge the boat (Miss Tilly out of Safen Sound, Florida) by shooting up a 15-meter geyser. The water rushes down the mountain in eight twisting and turning water slides and roaring streams created by the typhoon.
You can hike up the Mt. Mayday Trail on a fern and hibiscus-lined path, stitched together with swinging rope bridges. From the top, look out over the 23-hectare water park. Below is Typhoon Lagoon, the world's largest inland lagoon, twice the size of a football field and large enough to encompass an ocean liner.
Every 90 seconds, a 'tidal' wave, more than a meter high, rolls through the lagoon, inviting swimmers to body surf. The water comes from 12 huge chambers, which for surfing competitions, can release enough water to create waves nearly two meters high. You can learn how to cut, carve and "hang 10" during surfing clinics offered by professional surfers before Typhoon Lagoon opens.
|Tubing along Castaway Creek|
|Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll|
If you prefer to loll around in the water instead, head to Whitecap Cove or Blustery Bay, two smaller tidal pools. Alternatively, relax on lounge chairs on the sugar-white beach.
You need only slightly more energy to ride a tube along the meandering circular Castaway Creek. Passing through a misty rainforest, you twirl through hidden grottoes, glide under bridges and bump into barrels and assorted nautical flotsam, left in the aftermath of the mythical storm.
Like the Walt Disney World Railroad in Magic Kingdom, this 640-meter-long stream gives you an overview of the park. You can get on and off at various exits, or just enjoy the lazy half-hour journey.
Your kids will invariably coax you from your languor to scream down the two 16-meter speed slides at Humunga Kowabunga. When a lifeguard gives the "go" signal, you lie on your back, cross your arms over your chest and shoot down, like greased lightning, at speeds of 50 kilometers an hour.
The view from the top is terrifying, but few people chicken-out, according to one lifeguard. "I usually talk them into trying it," she adds, "then get everybody to clap when they reach the bottom." Invariably, they come back for another plunge down the water slide.
Slower, but much longer are the storm slides, Jib Jammer, Rudder Buster and Stern Burner, on which you curl around rock formations and wind through bat caves before ending with a kersplash in a pool.
Three whitewater rafting adventures course down through rocks and waterfalls, on the opposite side of the mountain. At Mayday Falls, you drop down 140 meters and land in a pool. Before you catch your breath, another set of rapids brings you to the bottom. Keelhaul Falls spirals you down in a triple vortex at 16 kilometers an hour, while Gangplank Falls allows a family of four to ride the rapids together in an oversized inner tube.
Parents can bring young children (two to five) to Ketchakiddie Creek, a pint-size water playground with water-spouting whales, floating toys, a run-through waterfall and a scaled-down whitewater rafting adventure. Mom and dad can watch the fun from a nice shady spot.
Snorkel with sharks
Anyone who has visited Epcot's Living Seas has experienced the urge to snorkel in the fish-filled aquarium. Typhoon Lagoon provides that opportunity with its Shark Reef, a 1.3 million-liter saltwater pool.
|Snorkeling at Shark Reef|
|© THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY|
Hammerhead Fred's Dive Shop provides free masks, snorkels and fins, so you can glide across the pool fin-to-fin with butterfly fish, French angels, rays, groupers and harmless (but no-less-awesome) nurse and bonnet-head sharks.
If you can't swim, enter the tanker, overturned by the typhoon in the pool, to peer through its portholes at some of the 4,000 inhabitants of Shark Reef. Barrels suspended on ropes, swing above you, while the sound of waves crashing on the hull add to the realism.
Water roller coaster
In the jungle behind Typhoon Lagoon you'll find Crush 'n' Gusher, North America's only water roller coaster with three different rides off a single tower. Each slide, averaging 122 meters in length, can fill a normal home-sized swimming pool in about one minute.
Crush 'n' Gusher is based on another Disney legend. After the typhoon, the wobbly remains of Tropical Amity, a washing facility for a fruit-packing plant, became a turbulent series of gushing water flumes. Spiraling out of control, through twisted and crumbling wash spillways, they carry riders away in flash floods.
Inflatable rafts whisk riders up-and-down the water roller coaster. Powerful water jets propel them through cavernous twists, turns and steep drops, before spitting them out into calm Hideaway Bay. Water from each jet nozzle gushes out at more than 5,100 liters per minute. Kids must be at least 1.2 meters high to ride Crush 'n' Gusher.
Where to eat and shop at Typhoon Lagoon
The fresh air and exercise works up appetites, so head to Typhoon Tilly's Galley & Grog or The Leaning Palms for refreshments. How about a Beach Burger and an order of Tall Chips, or an All Hams On Deck sandwich with a Thar She Flows drink? Typhoon Lagoon has two picnic areas at Hideaway Bay and Getaway Glen.
Singapore Sal's and High 'N Dry sell souvenirs and rent towels. Washrooms are appropriately labeled "buoys" and "gulls."
While Typhoon Lagoon is fun, don't forget Disney's other water park, Blizzard Beach. You'll find it just north of Disney's All-Star Resorts. The glaring white water park looks like a ski resort, but the atmosphere is tropical. The only real ice you'll find is in the drinks.
As legend has it, Blizzard Beach was created by a freak winter storm which dropped snow over the western side of the Walt Disney World property. Florida's first snow-ski resort was planned immediately, but the plan was short-lived.
|Summit Plummet water slide|
|© THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY|
Temperatures soared and the ice and snow rapidly began to melt. Dismayed ski-resort operators, ready to close, spotted a playful alligator sliding down the "liquid ice" slopes and realized that the melting snow created the most exhilarating water-filled ski and toboggan runs in the world. As a result, the ski resort/water adventure park was born.
Disney's largest water park offers 27 hectares of whitewater raft rides, water slides and floats. Wooden-bench chair lifts, sporting colorful overhead umbrellas and snow skis on their undersides, carry you over the craggy face of Mt. Gushmore, from its base at the beach, to its summit. Mt. Gushmore features moguls, slalom courses, toboggan and water sled runs.
Highest water slide
The 37-meter-high Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach is one of the highest water slides in the USA. From the ski jump tower, you can take a breathtaking 89 kilometer per hour plunge straight down to a splash landing in the melted "snow" at the base of the mountain.
If Summit Plummet sends shivers down your spine, consider the shorter Slush Gusher slide or Toboggan Racer, an eight-lane water slide that shoots guests over exhilarating dips as they descend the "snowy" slope. Kids love to lie on their stomachs and ride down this 76-meter route head first. Couples like to descend side-by-side on Downhill Double Dipper at speeds of up to 40 kilometers per hour.
|Toboggan Race water ride|
|© THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY|
Flume-ride lovers should try Snow Stormers, three flumes which descend from the top of the mountain and follow a switchback course through ski-like slalom gates. Alternatively, you can careen down three different twisting turning flumes on inner tubes in Runoff Rapids. One is in complete darkness.
If you're not adventurous, you can have a great time on Cross Country Creek. The lazy river encircles Blizzard Beach. Plop yourself on a free inner tube and let the slow current carry you along its meandering course. Just as you begin to forget that this is Blizzard Beach, you enter a cave where melting "ice" water splashes you from overhead. You can warm up in the one-acre Melt-Away Bay where a wave machine creates a gentle surf.
Tike's Peak is a kid-size version of Blizzard Beach, including a scaled-down version of Mt. Gushmore. Children like to frolic in the snow castle fountain play area. Teens, meanwhile, prefer the Blizzard Beach Ski Patrol Camp, where they can ride a T-bar, hurtle over moguls on inner tubes and walk along slippery floating "icebergs."
If all this exercise works up an appetite, you can grab some snacks at Avalunch, The Warming Hut and Polar Pub, or visit the fast-food restaurant, Lottowatta Lodge.
Whichever water park you choose, you're guaranteed to emerge refreshed and ready to enjoy the theme parks during the cooler evening hours. And if you like the watery playgrounds so much that you want to return in winter, don't worry. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are heated when temperatures drop. Both water parks are open daily, with longer hours during the summer months.
- Bring towels so you don't have to rent them.
- Don't wear bathing suits with metal buckles, buttons or decorations if you want to go on the water slides.
- Arrive early to get lockers and lounge chairs, snorkel in Shark Reef and ride the slides before lineups begin.
- Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach close after they reach the maximum number of visitors.
- You can easily spend a full day at either park, so bring lots of sunscreen.
Walt Disney World: www.disneyworld.com