Should You Take Your Young Child to the Disney Water Parks?

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I’m a big fan of the Walt Disney World water parks. Bear in mind that I hate wearing a swimsuit and hate being wet, so that tells you that the water parks must be pretty special. I love the controlled thrills, the attention to safety, the detailed themeing, and the wide range of experiences available. My absolute favorite ride in all of Walt Disney World, bar none, is the Teamboat Springs family raft ride at Blizzard Beach. Teamboat Springs has just the right combination of excitement and silly, with the added bonus that you’re able to see the faces of your family members while they enjoy the experience.

Tikes Peak kiddie play area at Blizzard Beach
Tikes Peak kiddie play area at Blizzard Beach

While there’s lots to love about the water parks, there are some issues that parents of small children, under the age of six or so, may want to consider when deciding whether to make Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon part of your vacation.

How much does it cost to bring my child to the water parks?

As with the WDW theme parks, children under age 3 receive free admission at the Disney World water parks.

There are a number of pricing variations for older kids and adults. One-park single-day admission to either water park is currently $47.93 for kids ages 3-9 and $56.45 for guests age 10 and up. You can also obtain water park admission by purchasing the Water Park Fun & More add-on to your theme park ticket. There are water-park only annual passes available and you may be able to find discounts via independent ticket brokers or by using military or Florida resident rate programs.

Can you explain the overall atmosphere at the water parks?

The water parks each have about a dozen attractions. Compare this with the 40+ attractions at the Magic Kingdom. The attractions include individual and group slides, a “lazy river” float zone, free swim areas, themed children’s play areas, lounge chairs, counter service dining opportunities, and locker and changing facilities.

You can think of it as sort of a combination of the beach, your local pool, and a giant playground.

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Are there height requirements at the water parks?

Yes. Just like in the theme parks, many of the attractions at the water parks do have height requirements. For example, at Blizzard Beach, four of the twelve attractions have height minimums. These range from 32″ for the chairlift to 48″ for the major slides, Summit Plummet and Slush Gusher. Teamboat Springs, the family raft ride, has no specific height requirement posted, but signage does note that no infants are allowed. This basically means that the child has to be able to sit and hold onto the handgrips on his own. One Blizzard Beach attraction, Tikes Peak, has a height maximum.

Some attractions, notably the river areas, allow kids of all ages, but specify that children under age 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

The height requirements are similar at Typhoon Lagoon.

What does a height maximum mean?

These are areas where only small kids are allowed to play. At Blizzard Beach, the Tike’s Peak zone for small kids has a maximum height of 48″. Typhoon Lagoon’s Ketchakidde Creek has the same 48″ maximum.

In my personal observation, these height maximums are minimally enforced. If it looks like a slightly-too-child is playing nicely with a younger sibling, the lifeguards typically turn a blind eye to the height issue. I have, however, seen children who are obviously too tall/old shooed away from the area if their play is too aggressive or dominating for the younger kids nearby.

Life vests are available to borrow.
Life vests are available to borrow.

So there are areas just for little kids?

Yes, both water parks have areas designed as play spaces for small children. These include a shallow water play area, a few small slides, and a gentle spray fountain area. Typhoon Lagoon’s Ketchakidde Creek has some interactive elements such as small water canons, which Blizzard Beach is lacking. However, Blizzard Beach has Ski Patrol Training Camp, a zone specifically designed for kids ages 5-12. Ski Patrol Training Camp has moderate level slides, a zipline-over-water experience, and a faux iceberg crossing experience. There is no equivalent at Typhoon Lagoon.

Can bring my young child to attractions with no height requirement?

Yes, but bear in mind that this may require some additional work on your part. For example, children of all ages are welcome to participate in the water parks’ lazy rivers. But if you’re taking your toddler into the lazy river, you’re going to have to maintain a tight grip on him for the duration of the experience, which may involve bumps by other guests’ rafts, loud teens, flowing water, and overhead drenching. As parent with a small child, the experience is not exactly “lazy.”

Are there shady areas to sit with my little one?

Yes. While the pathways at the water parks can get quite hot (water shoes are strongly recommended), there are many trees and covered areas, many near sandy spots. If you’re interested in a more private experience, there are deluxe cabana-like patios available for rental.

Little kids area allowed in many of the general water areas, but the experience may be stressful.
Little kids area allowed in many of the general water areas, but the experience may be stressful.

Can we use sand toys at the water parks?

Certainly. Feel free to bring a bucket and shovel. The water park gift shops also sell a small selection of plastic sand and water toys.

What is the diaper situation at the water parks?

Diaper-age children are required to wear swim diapers. If you’ve forgotten yours or if you run out, you can purchase more at the water park shops. All changing must be done in the restroom areas, not in the lounge or swim areas.

Can my child wear a life vest at the water park?

Yes. Life vests are available to borrow free of charge. There is, however, a limited supply available and these are distributed first-come, first served.

What sizes of vests do they have?

  • Infant/child: Weight less than 30 lbs.
  • Child: Weight 30-50 lbs.
  • Youth: Weight 50-90 lbs.

Adult sizes may also be available upon request.

Blizzard Beach has a play area specifically for elementary age kids
Blizzard Beach has a play area specifically for elementary age kids

Are there lifeguards at the water parks.

Yes. There are multiple lifeguards at every water park attraction. But even the best lifeguarding is no substitute for keen parental supervision. The water parks are not a place where you’re going to let your three year old splash while you nurse your daiquiri and catch up on the Kardashians in People. There’s a lot happening to keep an eye on.

How is the water park experience different from the theme park experience?

At the theme parks, there are a larger number of attractions that an entire family can do together with minimal effort. For example, at the Magic Kingdom, kids and adults of all ages are equally able to enjoy attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, or Peter Pan’s Flight. At a water park, an older child or adult will likely become bored in the kiddie play zone, while a toddler or preschooler might be overwhelmed on the larger water park attractions. Plus, mom and dad will be working much harder to keep an eye on junior at the water parks. You can catch a few zzzzs during Country Bear Jamboree and your toddler will be fine. Nodding off at a water park may be more problematic.

Another area of difference is communication. At the theme parks, mom and dad may separate for a bit, taking different age kids on different attractions but, by using cell phones, they can easily reconnect or alert each other to potential delays or changes in plans. Given the wet, sandy nature of the water park, you’re much less likely to have your phone readily at hand. This can lead to some confusion or frustration regarding planning.

Interactive kiddie play area at Typhoon Lagoon
Interactive kiddie play area at Typhoon Lagoon

How is the water park experience different from the experience at the ocean?

At the ocean, if your family camps out at one spot on the beach, you can often see each other if you part for a bit. (Dad’s building castles with one child, while mom takes another child into the surf.) This will likely not be true when you’re visiting the water parks. The attractions may be separated by hundreds of yards, with no clear sight lines. If dad is sitting with the toddler in the kiddie zone and mom takes the older kids on the big slide, you may barely see each other over the course of a day.

And again, the adults in the family may have no easy way to communicate.

On the plus side, there are more lifeguards at the water parks than you’re likely to find at a beach. There are also no sharp shells to step on, threatening animals, or unpredictable undertow to throw a wrench into your plans.

How is the water park experience different from the experience at the pool at my hotel?

This depends a bit on where you’re staying. Disney’s value resort pools are fine, but they’re pretty basic, with no slides or enticing water features. If you’re staying at a value resort, then you might find that the water parks are substantially more stimulating than your hotel pool. On the other end of the spectrum, the Yacht & Beach Club pool, Stormalong Bay, has many of the same elements as the water parks, with slides, a lazy river, and a sand play area. A small child, not tall enough to go on the big slides, might find very little difference between a water park and the hotel pool.

Another factor to consider is travel time. If you’re playing at the hotel pool and junior gets tired, you can be back in your room for a nap within minutes. If you’re at a water park and junior has a meltdown, it may be an hour or more before you can get him on a bus and back to a quiet environment. Similarly, if it starts to rain and you’re at the hotel, you can be warm and dry in just a few moments. This will take substantially longer if you’re at a water park.

Sand toys available for sale
Sand toys available for sale

And don’t forget the key element of cost. Once you’ve paid for your room, use of the hotel pool involves no additional fees. Even a couple with a baby will be spending over $100 to visit a water park.

How do I decide whether to go to Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon?

First make sure that you have a choice. If you’re visiting Walt Disney World during the winter months, it’s quite likely that one of the two water parks will be closed for regular maintenance.

If you have a child between the ages of 5-12, Blizzard Beach is by far the winner in my book. BB’s Ski Patrol Training Camp has experiences aimed specifically at the elementary school set that Typhoon Lagoon can’t match. If you only have kids under the age of five, it’s a toss-up, with Typhoon Lagoon perhaps edging ahead by just a nose.

We’re a couple with a child under the age of five. Would you recommend that we visit the water parks?

There are two possible scenarios for how your day will unfold:

  • Both parents spend the bulk of the day with junior in the children’s play area. Depending on where you’re staying, this not much different than what you’d be doing spending the day at your hotel pool, but the pool is free.
  • The parents trade off watching the child and exploring the rest of the park. This is fine, but you’re essentially spending the day away from your family.

Given these options, in my opinion, I’d probably skip the water parks for now and plan a visit for when the child is older.

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We’re a couple with one small child and one older child. Would you recommend the water parks for us?

In this situation, the parents can switch off having quality time with each child. You may only be all together for meals and rest time, but the water parks can be a great place for some active one-on-one bonding.

I’m a single parent with more than one small child. Would you recommend a water park for me?

That’s a tough one. As the mother of twins, I often felt a great deal of stress when trying to watch both of them in a large play space with uneven sight lines. Add water into the equation, and you’re going to have to be even more vigilant. Bear in mind that even if you’re just hanging out in the kiddie area, one child might be on a slide while the other is in the splash pool. It may not be physically possible to have eyes on both at once. You’ll have to consider your kids’ abilities and your own comfort level before undertaking something like this.

What have your experiences been at the water parks with young children? Do you have any tips to share? Do you have a preferred park? Let us know in the comments below.

Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel at DisneyWorldMoms.com, a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater. Erin can be reached on Twitter @MsErinFoster.

8 thoughts on “Should You Take Your Young Child to the Disney Water Parks?

  • January 6, 2015 at 1:43 pm
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    Thank you for tackling a good topic with an excellent compendium of facts and relevant experiences. You’re thorough and honest without being unnecessarily judgmental or didactic. Planning is key, as in any situation.

    Reply
  • January 6, 2015 at 3:01 pm
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    We went to Typhoon Lagoon with a 10yr old, twin 5 year olds and twin 2 year olds. The kids had a blast in ketchakiddie creek. There is a small scale tube ride that the little kids were super independent on, and the big brother stood in the pool at the end of it to help them out.
    Our only critique was that the lazy river absolutely needs at least one staffed entry/exit. You can imagine how difficult it was to physically get in and out with our insane configuration of kids!! If not for the help of strangers we’d still be going around and around…

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  • January 6, 2015 at 6:55 pm
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    Aquatica really is the perfect park for 5-8 year olds. It is more manageble and has a large play area with slides that are large enough to be exciting for kids that age, but small enough that there is no risk of drowning. If you trust your kids not to wander off, and to return to you regularly, you can easily read a book while they play.

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    • January 7, 2015 at 3:59 am
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      A child can drown in an inch of water. It’s not up to us to “trust” a child; it’s up to us to supervise them in unsafe situations. The book can wait.

      Reply
  • January 7, 2015 at 11:14 am
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    We did Typhoon Lagoon when our son was five and not tall enough for the big slides. We had to swap out at Crushin’ Gusher, but we could only ride one of the slides there since the others were only available for double tubes. Also the lifeguards made him remove his mask/snorkel in the wave pool so that was not as enjoyable for him. He loved snorkeling with the sharks though. We need to go back now that he is able to ride the bigger slides.

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  • January 7, 2015 at 11:45 am
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    I think a key element here is how much YOU want to do at a water park. We took my barely three year old son and we all had a great day, but neither his father nor I cared about whether or not we got to go on the big slides. We played in Ketchakiddie Creek, we rode the lazy river many times, and we stood in the shallow end of the wave pool (my son loved the drama of it). It was a really fun day and a great break from the parks. But if either of us had wanted to go on the “big” slides, we might have been disappointed. So I think you can easily enjoy yourself with a young one, as long as you won’t feel like you missed out on too much.

    I do want to add that Typhoon Lagoon at least is quite large and so the logistics of separating and meeting up again when no one has a phone or watch could be really stressful.

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  • January 7, 2015 at 1:19 pm
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    Both water parks are great for all ages. I prefer Blizzard Beach because I find it to be the less crowded one. Also, we love to play putt putt after a long day at the water park and Blizzard Beach has the best putt putt course. You can play a few games before you catch a bus back to your resort.

    Reply

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