The Water Park
The motel pool is often the vacation highlight for our younger children, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the waterparks at Disney World were also family favorites. They offered a needed break from the heat, crowds, and long days of walking and touring the parks. We were very surprised at how empty the waterparks were (fewer people than the local water parks at home). And the parking was free (unlike the $14 charge at Disney World's 4 main parks). Given the choice, I would absolutely pick a waterpark over Animal Kingdom (even if your kids are animal lovers--keep reading to find out why). You really need a chance to park your stroller and take a break after long days at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios.
So, there really is only one problem--which water park is better, Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach? Our family is split evenly on this issue. My husband and I and our two youngest (ages 4 and 1) like Typhoon Lagoon better--much better. Our three oldest children (ages 12, 10, and 8) prefer Blizzard Beach. So what makes them different?
Mom and Dad's favorite was Shark Reef with snorkeling and surface scuba tank. The snorkeling (including the gear) is free and you actually snorkel with sharks (!!!) and dozens of tropical fish. Life vests are available for school aged children (or those who can't swim). Some kids find snorkeling difficult (two of ours found it to be tricky), but swimming with sharks is unforgettable. Surface scuba is available on the other side of the tank (no certification required) and includes approximately 45 minutes of aquarium exploration without the hassles of snorkel gear. I consider that on my top 10 list for cool things a $20 bill can buy. I was actually swimming with sharks, several of them, and big enough ones to make me gasp a little. Small children can explore the tank through a "sunken" ship and look through the portholes.
The wave pool is also amazing. Every 90 seconds, an ocean sized wave crashed through. Even in the kiddie end of the wave pool, the waves are big enough to knock toddlers over. Clearly meant to mimic the ocean, the wave pool and surrounding sandy beach provides a day at the beach without the drive or hassle. The wave pool is so impressive that surfing lessons are taught before park hours for an additional fee. Kid meals are served in sand buckets for a reason. There are plenty of sand areas around the wave pool and kiddie pool to dig and build.
Sadly, the park only has a handful of medium sized water slides and no area for older elementary kids to play (they had one little part by the wave pool with two unimpressive slides). The only redeeming water slide is the Crush n Gusher which is actually 3 water roller coaster slides, 2 of which require a double tube.
This water park offers a gondola ski lift type ride which in itself is amazing. At the top of the lift is a family raft ride unlike any I have ever seen. This ride is long with enough thrills to keep everyone happy. The best part is toddlers (but not infants) can ride with their parents. Hands down my favorite slide at either park.
Though this park offers an unimpressive kiddie area for the under 5 crowd, it has an amazing tween section for the 6-12 crowd (under 60"). Ski patrol, as its called, includes a zip line, obstacle course, and medium sized slides. Our children loved this area and spent half their day here.
When its time for slides, Blizzard Beach offers several medium to large ones including racing and twisting slides using mats or rafts. One favorite was the toboggan racers which look more intimidating then they actually are. Lying on your stomach, face first, you race downhill skeleton style but at speeds slower than you might first expect. And for the truly brave, there are 2 classic drop slides that guarantee a wedgie. Ironically, they offer no slides to compete with the Crush n Gusher coaster.
But be sure to skip the wave pool--it is tiny with an extremely rough bottom.
The Ice Cream
Take a Break
So which park is better? Depends on your family. For me, a day snorkeling at the beach is just about perfect, so I would pick Typhoon Lagoon every time. But I know my kids would vote differently. Either way, be sure to take a break and cool off at the water park.