Pros: Best water park for families with preteen children
It was a hot Sunday and with nothing else planned we decided that two adults would try and take three young children to a water park. After a quick flip of the coin we loaded up the car and headed to Blizzard Beach.
Welcome to Winter in Florida
Legend has it that a freak snow storm made its way across Florida. As we all know, when snow melts it becomes water. What better way to use that water to make an alpine themed water park around the melting snow?
Blizzard Beach is located in Disney World between the MGM Studios and the Animal Kingdom. It is accessible by internal bus transportation or drive your car and enjoy free parking for all. Admission is about $39 for adults and $33 for children 3-10 and is included with some theme park admission tickets. Inside, towels are available for $1 each and lockers can be rented as well. Life preservers are provided in exchange for leaving a picture ID and a fully refundable deposit.
Lay of the Land
Despite numerous visits to Blizzard Beach over the years, it can still be a bit difficult to find what you are looking for. This is due in no small part to the tropical foliage popping up all around this ski resort. On the plus side these trees provide a lot of natural shade to keep guests cool and create smaller confined play areas. On the flip side, it can be difficult to see what is around the next turn of the path or to even know if you are headed in the right direction. The paths are always splitting off but sign posts should help you find your way. Similar slides are grouped together by color so keep in mind from the large maps all around which color areas you are heading for and follow the signs.
There are two restaurants that provide seating for meals along with several other counter service kiosks throughout the park. Typical park food is served, including burgers, hot dogs, salad and cold treats. You can purchase a mug and get free self serve refills all day of soft drinks. For those looking to save some money you can bring in coolers and dine at one of the many covered picnic tables scattered throughout the park. An important note for people traveling with young children, like Animal Kingdom there are no tops or straws available for drinks. You can purchase a straw cup souvenir but feel free to bring your child's favorite sippy cup.
For the Tots
I haven't been to a water park with children in at least 10 years and I have to say we lucked out when the penny picked Blizzard Beach for us. There is plenty to keep any child of walking and sliding age happy and contained for a good portion of the day.
We started our day at the kiddie area, Tike's Peak, and set up our base camp here under a pavilion. At the base we found arctic animals providing a cooling shower and some climbing fun in a one foot deep pool with padded rubber bottom. A small sand box area provides fun for children who may not like the water. Stretching upward was a set of long and surprisingly fast triple body slides. There is also a longer twisting body slide and a tube ride that sends riders under 48" down for some fun. There are cast members at the top making sure the maximum height is adhered to, so this limits older children from taking over an area specifically designed for toddlers and preschoolers. Depending on the ages of your children you may be able to let them run around the area freely on their own, although my husband and I stationed ourselves one at the bottom and one at the top to keep an eye on our girls as they played. If that isn't an option you can choose some of the chairs that are midway up the path for a good view of most this area.
At the very summit is a self contained climbing structure for the youngest in your party. Two tunnel, two open and one longer curving slide tumble out of a gazebo style house into one small pool. These short slides are geared for the 3 and under crowd who love the typical backyard slide but aren't ready to brave more than ankle deep water. Around this small pool under the shade of more trees are plenty of chairs for parents to keep a close eye on these youngsters.
Our whole family spent about 2 hours here before our daughters 4 and 5 1/2 wanted to do more. Had we said "this is it" I have no doubt the kids would have continued to have a wonderful time in this area, but they knew there was something more beyond the trees.
For the Kids
My 4 year old is not a big fan of getting on any ride of any kind. Once she is on she generally has a fabulous time and usually wants to go again. Getting her on the first time is a high hurdle. Whatever was in the air that day made her very brave and she was game for the family raft ride, Teamboat Springs. Fortunately the park was not terribly crowded as we climbed the stairs up to the top of the mountain and I distracted her during the short wait as we climbed into a large round raft for 6 with another family at which point I was able to convince her there was no turning back. The Teamboat Springs is far faster than I remember it being 6 years ago when I last rode it. From our first dip down I feared I would never get Buttercup on another ride again, and then I heard her giggle. She clung to my leg for dear life the whole way down but immediately demanded to go on again. We got Daddy and little brother, Bud-Bud, and took several more trips down until the girls were too tired to climb up the stairs again.
We decided to check out The Ski Patrol Training Area, which Disney claims is geared for pre-teens. Here we found more tube and body slide rides, much longer and faster than we had left in Tike's Peak, but nothing too frightening either. Here parents can ride so long as they are accompanied by a child. My girls enjoyed the slides but since they knew they could take on the adult rides outside of this area, they spent most of their time on the attractions unique to this area of Blizzard Beach.
My girls were dying to try and walk their way across the floating icebergs. These large semi-free-floating foam pathways have ropes suspended above the water. Children use the ropes to hold themselves up and pull them selves along the icebergs from one end of the pool to the other. My 48" 5 1/2 year old was just tall enough to reach the ropes. At 41" my 4 year old was not, but parents are allowed into the pool to help children along. I held my younger daughter's hand and steadied the icebergs for her while she crossed. Although it took her three tries my older daughter finally made it across on her own. She was thrilled.
Neither of my girls was interested in trying the flying T-bar. Riders climb to the top of a pool, hang on to a t-bar above them and slide down. The bar bumps into a pole at the bottom dropping riders into the deep pool if they manage to hang on that long. While they enjoyed watching others dropping "that far" into the water with no adult around to catch them didn't seem like fun.
The inner tube rides, Runoff Rapids, toward the back of Blizzard Beach provided for a lot of fun in the afternoon. My girls loved that there were double tubes so they could ride with an adult down these fast and twisting slides. Although my younger one passed, my older daughter took a couple of rides down the enclosed tunnel slides that only permit single riders. I was disappointed to see that they had done away with the triple tubes that they had when Blizzard Beach first opened.
For the Brave
Summit Plummet; how I love Summit Plummet. At one time it was billed as the fastest and tallest body slide in the world. I am sure someone else has eclipsed the record, but I doubt it provides any more chills and thrills. Atop the t mountain you continue your climb up to the observation tower to the 120 foot summit and then head straight down. I think this is the only attraction anywhere at Disney World where I have had to give myself a pep talk before going on. You sit at the top of the slide and wait until the previous rider has cleared the slide. Then you cross your arms and ankles (and your fingers for good luck) as you shoot down what feels like an almost vertical drop through a tube until you pop out into the open air again before being slowed by a long horizontal pool of water at the bottom. How fast? I hit 64 MPH according to the radar gun that displays your speed for the world to see. You will find many young men gathered around the bottom of the slide ostensibly to see how fast people are flying down. Really, they are waiting for women in 2 piece bathing suits to take a ride. The force of flying down at 55 or more MPH is enough to make atomic wedgies and turn bikini tops into bowties. If you think you can handle it, Summit Plummet is a ride to try at least once in your life!
Cross Country Creek is a lazy river tube ride that circles the entire park. There are 6 or 7 different entrance and exit points. A complete circuit takes 20-30 minutes and includes floating through a cave. Most of the tubes are singles, but some double tubes and available. For younger riders you may be able to snag a smaller tube with a solid center for them to sit on, you can also hold younger children on your lap. My one complaint about Cross Country Creek is that it is almost impossible to avoid the waterfalls and sprinklers. Obviously a water park is designed to get you wet, but my 2 year old was very happy to lie on me and nap as we floated along, but was awakened every time cold water fell on us from one of the themed features; detours would be nice.
We spent quite a bit of time in Melt Away Bay, Blizzard Beach's version of a wave pull. As opposed to large breaking waves Melt Away Bay has gentle continuous waves, more like a large lake than an ocean. There are inner tubes available so you can bob up and down on 1 acre of waves.
What Blizzard Beach Does Better
Unlike nearly every other theme park I have visited Blizzard Beach has lockers in more than one location, not all near the entrance to the park. Depending on where you are planning on spending most of your day, a locker toward the back of the park may prove more practical. There are plenty of restrooms with changing rooms and showers scattered throughout Blizzard Beach.
Although in nearly any water park you are always surrounded by cooling water, it can still get hot. Blizzard Beach provides lots of chairs and lounge chairs as well as picnic tables in the shade. This makes it easy to bring even young babies to the park without fear of quick burns or overheating; of course sunscreen is still a must. There are even covered bleachers at several of the slide areas so guests can wait for riders in comfort. Most of the sidewalks are kept cool either with the natural shade of the trees or ankle height sprinklers. I would still recommend water shoes as some sidewalk areas are still hot.
Although not the fastest way to the top, the Chair Lift does have some definite advantages. While adults can probably climb to the top of the mountain in just a couple of minutes, waits of 15 minutes or more are not unusual to ride up to the summit in style. If you want to ride a ski lift in Florida for the sake of doing it, definitely hit the chair lift in the morning as the wait gets longer as the day goes on. Despite the wait, the Chair Lift proved invaluable for us. My children still wanted to ride when they were too tired to walk all those stairs again. The only problem is that you can only ride limited number of slides using the Chair Lift since you cannot take tubes or mats up with you. Since we were mostly riding Teamboat Springs, where the large rafts are brought to the top on a conveyor belt, this wasn't an issue for us.
Who is Blizzard Beach Designed for?
Blizzard Beach is a great family water park. It seems especially well suited for families with preteen children, but there is plenty to do for older children as well. If you are looking for a sandy beach experience you might want to try out Typhoon Lagoon instead. But if water slides, both tame and on the wild side are what you are after, or just a fun day with young children, definitely check out Blizzard Beach. We also visited Typhoon Lagoon on this trip and Blizzard Beach was the far better choice for our family.