Welcome to Blizzard Beachby Jeff Kober, contributing writer
Disney's Blizzard Beach reopened this week after its annual refurbishing. The weather most days is great—so it is a good time to visit. If you haven't been before, you are missing a great treat. Blizzard Beach rivals only Typhoon Lagoon as the greatest water park ever. I could tell that was the case long before it opened. My former boss at Water Mania helped open Typhoon Lagoon, and was invited by Imagineers and operators to visit Blizzard Beach for a tour. Water Mania's owner had no interest—but I jumped at the chance. We drove to a backstage location and headed into a trailer to get our hard hats. There on a wall was a huge map of the proposed park. Wow! It was amazing. I remember walking up the mountain when it was more dirt than rock and snow. But I could tell it was going to be a fantastic experience when it opened.
Nearly 17 years later, Disney's Blizzard Beach is still a fantastic park. You don't have to love swimming to appreciate the attention to detail in creating what would be Disney's first "ski resort." Let's take a look around and I'll show you what I mean.
After you enter the park, you come to a small alpine village. Beach Haus offers a terrific selection of swimsuits, towels, sunglasses, sunscreen, and anything else to set your day off on the right start. Take a look at one wall, and you're quickly introduced to Blizzard Beach's mascot, Ice Gator, who clearly has been through here.
In one direction you find changing rooms and showers, in another you find Lottawatta Lodge, which is one of several counter service facilities—and the largest—in the park. Take a look at the railing around the Lodge. Cutouts of palms and pine trees clearly indicate how opposites come together.
Before you is a tip board, similar to what you find in the theme parks. Nearby you find the "Disney legend" of how Blizzard Beach came to be when a freak snow storm came through the area, and a ski resort was built quickly thereafter. But, of course, the sun eventually came out, melting all the snow. It looked like the resort was doomed for failure until an alligator was seen sliding down a flume and splashing into a pool of water. Hence the arrival of Ice Gator.
Just as the parks have a focal point, the centerpiece of Blizzard Beach is Mt. Gushmore. It's nestled between palms and pines.
You can hike up there, but the most fun way to experience Mount Gushmore is by chairlift. There's a beautiful view as you climb the mountain, and to folks below, it really looks like you're on your way to ski. It's one of the great examples of going the extra mile on the details of an attraction—not just the addition of a chairlift, but theming it to look like your skis are going up with you.
From the top of Mount Gushmore the view is great. You've got Disney's Animal Kingdom in one direction; the Magic Kingdom in another; and Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios in a third.
Even more beautiful is the layout of the water park itself. The tallest of these views comes from Summit Plummet.
With speeds heading toward 60 miles per hour, it's one of the tallest free-fall slides in the world at 120 feet. That's tall! I must admit, it is the one thing I have not done at the Walt Disney World resort (and I don't see that changing anytime soon).
The theming abounds here, even at 120 feet in the air. Everything reflects skiing, snow, and wintertime fun.
Most of the slides come off of Mount Gushmore. On one side, referred to as the Purple Slope, you have the Tobaggan Racers with its eight lanes.
The Snow Stormers sports a switchback course.
Then there's Downhill Double Dipper, which times guests as they work their way down the slope on inner tubes.
On the Red Slope are the Runoff Rapids. Here you have two open and one enclosed tube slide. The rides are fun, but dragging a double-rider tube to the top is quite the workout.
My favorite of all the slides is Teamboat Springs. This is the world's longest "family white-water raft ride" and with four to six people in each, you are in for a tremendous series of twists and turns.
Back down on the bottom, there's still more excitement to come—especially for younger swimmers—at Blizzard Beach Ski Patrol Training Camp.
Beyond a leisure pool there is Fahrenheit Drops where kids hang on to a "T-Bar" and swing over the pool. There's Freezin' Pipe Springs, which is a short body slide; and Cool Runners, which offers on a shorter inner tube ride.
For the littlest ones is Tyke's Peak, which offers a scaled-down version of many of the slides found at Blizzard Beach.
By the time you're done with all that, you'll want to head to one of the quieter places in the park. There's Melt-Away Bay with its bobbing short waves that are much tamer than Typhoon Lagoon's surfing-style waves. And they provide dedicated tubes to enjoy, as well.
But my favorite is Cross Country Creek, which is one very long lazy river-style attraction. Here you can see plenty of theming, such as the bone-chilling ice cave.
There are plenty of other elements that are designed to splash you in some way, or help you to enjoy the journey.
There is nothing quite like Blizzard Beach. Fan sites talk about the four parks all the time, but I assure you that the water parks are probably Disney's best unkept secret. If you have not tried this out, you haven't done Walt Disney World. It's simply one of the most fantastic experiences you can enjoy when you visit Central Florida.