The centerpiece of Typhoon Lagoon, one of two water parks at Florida’s Walt Disney World, is its surf pool. Six-foot curls roll across the huge lagoon – it’s the largest wave pool in North America – sending swimmers bobbing as they try, sometimes comically, to body surf them. The waves come in intervals, but nobody seems to mind the wait. Unlike the sometimes interminable lines that riders have to endure for the Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, and Disney World’s other popular attractions, the pool’s cool waters help keep everyone mellow, even on especially hot and humid days.
That’s part of the appeal of Typhoon Lagoon. After hectic days spent battling crowds at the theme parks, it’s a great place linger in the water, relax on a lounge chair, feel the sand between your toes, and chill out. Its tropical theme and stunning landscaping help reinforce the park’s calming effect.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some thrills to be found at the water park. Its latest attraction, Miss Adventure Falls, is a family raft ride filled with drops, twists, and banked turns. Having opened this spring, it also features a scene with an animatronic character – something more typically reserved for a theme park ride.
Groups pile into large, circular rafts and ride a conveyor belt to begin the journey. As they ascend the lift, they see Duncan, a talking parrot, cracking wise aboard a wrecked ship. According to the backstory, the parrot and ship belong to Captain Mary Oceaneer, aka Miss Adventure. As they careen through the two-minute course, riders can see some of the treasures that the famous explorer has amassed in her travels around the world.
The most thrilling ride at Typhoon Lagoon is Humunga Kowabunga, a five-story-tall speed slide that sends daredevils racing at a hairy 60-degree angle through a darkened tunnel. Beware of wedgies. Crush ‘n’ Gusher is a water coaster themed, oddly enough, as a tropical fruit-processing plant. Powerful water jets propel riders in one- and two-passenger rafts uphill, while gravity sends them soaring through one of three tube slides.
There are a variety of other water slides, some which are navigated via inflated tubes and others that are body slides. Riders access most of them by climbing up Mount Mayday, the mountain that looms above the surf pool and serves as the park’s focal point. Perched atop the mountain is a ship that somehow got tossed there during a violent typhoon – or so Disney’s Imagineers would have you believe.
With lush flowers and waterfalls lining its banks, Castaway Creek may just be the loveliest lazy river at any water park. Taking about 20 minutes to circumnavigate, including a jag into a tunnel under Mount Mayday, the 2,000-foot-long river is also one the longest.
Disney World changed its admission policy a couple of years ago and allows one-day ticket holders to hop between Typhoon Lagoon and its other water park, Blizzard Beach. Visitors could also bundle the water parks with theme park passes by opting for Disney’s Park Hopper Plus option. The park offers surfing lessons – on actual surfboards – before regular operating hours on select days. Reservations are required.
A pioneer in the industry, Disney World opened one of the first water parks, River Country, around the same time that Wet ‘n Wild debuted in Orlando. The resort closed River Country in 2002. Universal Orlando, which had owned Wet ‘n Wild for a number of years, closed it in December 2016. In May, Universal is opening a new water park, Volcano Bay, on its property. Guests will use interactive bracelets to reserve ride times at the park, thereby eliminating all lines.
Arthur Levine, Special for USA TODAY