The Essential Guide to Disney Waterparks
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The average summer high temperatures at Walt Disney World in Florida are in the 90s — with some nice humidity to boot. That make can make for steamy days at the theme parks, but there’s a way to stay cooler while still enjoying the “Most Magical Place on Earth.”
On your family’s next trip to Disney World, consider spending a day or two at one of the Disney waterparks. With two waterparks encompassing 122 acres, a Disney water experience may be just what your family needs to break up a few hot days at the parks — and they may be more affordable than you think.
Disney Waterpark Basics
Disney World features two entirely separate waterparks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Each has an extensive Disney-esque backstory.
Blizzard Beach tells the tale of a ski village in Florida that only ran a year in which there was a freak snowstorm. The ski resort, however, remains intact with a “ski lift” to the waterslides, a toboggan race track and many other nods to its cold-weather roots. Typhoon Lagoon features the “ruins” of a shrimp boat marooned on top of “Mt. Mayday” and “debris” water features scattered about the park.
There are distinct differences in the two parks beyond their themes. (I’ll break them down later in the post.)
Both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are on Walt Disney World property and are served by Disney buses. Unlike at the theme parks, parking is free at the waterparks.
Who Will Enjoy Disney’s Waterparks?
I had some thoughts about the waterparks based on previous visits, but wanted an expert opinion before writing about them. With that in mind, I recently set my 15-year-old son and his friend loose to render their verdict. I’m really glad I did, as they pointed out details I hadn’t considered.
Their bottom line recommendation: Take older kids to Blizzard Beach and younger ones to Typhoon Lagoon. My son even said, “Anyone under 48 inches will hate Blizzard Beach because there’s nothing to do.” “Nothing” was a stretch, as there are smaller slides, a kids’ area, a wave pool and a large lazy river, but he has a point. Most of Blizzard Beach’s marquee waterslides have a height requirement that most kids under 7 or 8 won’t reach.
Typhoon Lagoon, on the other hand, has North America’s largest wave pool, which almost any age can enjoy.
In my opinion, thrill seekers should head to Blizzard Beach and more mellow water lovers will prefer Typhoon Lagoon. I had fun at the Blizzard Beach lazy river, which takes close to an hour to navigate an entire lap, but I took a look at most of the slides there and knew they weren’t for me. The ones at Typhoon Lagoon were more my speed.
When to Visit Disney’s Waterparks
The waterparks are open from 10am to 5pm daily, with occasional weekend hours until 6pm (and some special after-hours events). There is one big exception: During winter, one park or the other is closed for refurbishment. Be sure to check Disney’s schedule before making your plans. While a winter waterpark visit may not sound appealing, Disney heats pools to 82 degrees, so it is doable as long as you’re prepared for the chilly entry and exit. That said, the waterparks can close during the winter when temperatures reach “Arendelle Frozen conditions” (Disney’s words, not mine).
How to Save on Disney’s Waterparks
The standard price for waterpark entry is $69 per day per person plus tax. Selected days offer a $5 discount. That price does include admission to both parks, so you could visit Blizzard Beach in the morning, have lunch off-site and try Typhoon Lagoon in the afternoon.
Use Discounted Disney Gift Cards: One strategy you can use to decrease costs is to purchase Disney gift cards at a discount and then purchase your waterpark admission with those cards.
Consider a Park Hopper Plus: Here’s an option that could save you a bunch of money: Park Hopper Plus tickets. I used to think Park Hopper Plus tickets were a waste when my kids were younger, but then I looked again and realized something pretty amazing. When you buy a Park Hopper Plus ticket, you get not only the number of days you purchase but also an extra equal number of activities that you can use anytime during your trip. This adds huge value.
For instance, if you have a four-day Park Hopper ticket, it is good for four days in the parks as long as you use them within seven days of the first use. With the Park Hopper Plus add-on, which for a four-day ticket is as low as $20, you get eight uses out of the same ticket. For five bucks and change each, you get to choose four “fun enhancements” — which could be waterpark visits, mini-golf games or actual rounds of golf.
Annual Pass May Offer Savings: Those with a Disney World annual pass can currently purchase up to four discounted waterpark tickets for just $49 plus tax. This is one of the (many) ways that having a Disney annual pass in the family can be a money-saving idea.
Another option that makes sense for multiple visits in a year is a Disney waterpark only annual pass. At just $139 (no matter what your age), the savings could add up quickly if you plan to make multiple visits in a 12-month period.
Use Points: While waterpark-only tickets may not be directly available on points, you may be able to use points to get the Park Hopper Plus tickets using some types of points. You can also use flexible points from a card such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to “erase” the ticket purchase price from your statement. (Find out why families need the Barclaycard Arrival card in their wallets.) However, be careful with how you purchase Disney tickets if you want them to code as travel for the purpose of using points. Purchasing tickets through a site such as Undercover Tourist will code as travel, but ticket-only packages bought directly through Disney will usually as entertainment.
You can currently pick up an evening party ticket to H2O Glow Nights (no sun burns!) held on select nights at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon from Undercover Tourist for under $60, which would translate to less than 6,000 redeemed points per ticket from your Barclaycard Arrival card if you charged the purchase to that card.
Standout Rides at the Disney Waterparks
Blizzard Beach’s marquis slide is the Summit Plummet, which was until recently North America’s tallest waterslide. You reach Summit Plummet via either a long climb or via the chair lift. The slide drops you 12 stories at a speed of up to 60 miles an hour. You read that right: The Summit Plummet projects you faster than many highway speed limits. I’ll be honest, this one was a little too intense for me. The teen boys enjoyed Summit Plummet, but notably only tried it once.
That was not the case with the Toboggan Racers: an eight-lane track that pits you up against seven competitors. The kids did that one over and over again until they had both won a race.
I spent most of my time in Cross Country Creek, the lazy river. Pro tip: if you can’t find an inner tube, hop in and float to the next stop. Disney stores a large stash of inner tubes behind a couple of the more secluded entry points. A complete laps of the lazy river took me almost an hour, which is definitely not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
As I mentioned above, Typhoon Lagoon’s attractions are a little more low key than those at Blizzard Beach, but there are still thrills to be had. The boys’ favorite was the Humunga Kowabunga, which sends you down five stories, but in an enclosed tube so the ride is enjoyed in near-total darkness.
Typhoon Lagoon is all about the wave pool: the largest in North America. If you want to take it up a notch, you can register for surf lessons each day before park opening. The price is a steep $190, but breakfast and a photo session are included.
Minimize Lines at Disney Waterparks
Unlike at Universal Orlando’s newer Volcano Bay waterpark, which sells Express Passes and features virtual lines, Disney waterparks do not offer FastPass+ bookings or options beyond old-fashioned waiting. But there are ways to minimize the lines. The first tip is to arrive 30 minutes before the water features’ official opening as the locker rental, shops and services open at that time. That way, you’re at the head of the line for “rope drop” with any necessary preparations already done. You could also come closer to the end of the day.
We were there during spring break so the waits got long for the biggest slides. The lines got to 20 to 30 minutes between noon and 2pm. When we got there first thing in the morning (which is why I recommend going early), we could walk on. The lazy river and kids area were always open, as was the wave pool.
The Disney waterparks, due to their relatively cheap annual passes, get a lot of locals in the morning who head home at lunch. If you follow this plan, be aware of afternoon thundershowers, which will not only empty the pools but also close the waterparks for 30 minutes beyond when the last lightning bolt is seen. (Here are tips for enjoying Disney during the rainy season.)
Waterpark Pro Tips
Lockers at the Disney waterparks are $10–$15/day and are pretty much mandatory if you want a safe and dry place to keep your keys, wallet and cellphone. The lockers are coded in a manner similar to a hotel safe. Towel rental is $2/day, but you can save by bringing your own. Beyond that, shady spots are numerous in both parks but tend to fill up quickly and look confusingly alike when you are wandering through the park trying to get back to your stuff. Trust me on this one: Bring a distinctive towel or other prop to help identify your chair from a distance and take a mental picture of nearby landmarks.
You also can save a ton of money by packing a collapsible cooler in your suitcase. Food and drinks are allowed in the waterparks with the exceptions of alcohol and glass bottles. You won’t miss anything by skipping the food outlets. These are not the best restaurants at Disney World as they lean toward theme park standards, such as $10 hot dogs and $5 soft drinks.
The park outlets do offer a refill cup for $13 if you forget to bring your own. Another option is the “splash pack” which costs $44 and includes a meal, a refill cup, and a beach towel. The parks also sell adult beverages if you are so inclined.
Where to Stay
TPG has ranked the top 10 Disney World Hotels you can book using points. My advice would be to stay at one of the Disney Springs Hotels because they are in the sweet spot of both price and location. TPG ranks the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista- Disney Springs Area as No. 1 (from 41k to 50k Hilton Honors points per night). If you’ve got a free weekend night certificate from Hilton, you can use it here on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (pending availability). You can get a free weekend night certificate on your anniversary of holding the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. If you have the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, you can earn a free night certificate by spending $15,000 on the card in a calendar year. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
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Disney World’s waterparks are worthy destinations in their own right, and both are definitely worth seeing if you’re a Disney fan who likes mixing things up with dip in the water. You could get ennui-prone older kids on board with this activity, especially at the more thrill-oriented Blizzard Beach. Even better, you can visit them both in the same day.
Featured image courtesy of Disney Parks
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