Make a Splash at Disney
From swimming to boating to dining by the water, here's the ultimate guide to finding water during your Walt Disney World vacation.
It's hot in July, and it seems even hotter at the big theme parks. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy them though. How so? Chill out with a little H2 Oh! With more than 850 acres of lakes, 66 miles of canals, two water parks, and more than 60 swimming pools, Walt Disney World offers a cool-down option wherever you roam. We've plunged into every bit of water we could find to bring you the best activities, tastes of the sea, boat rides, and even pools. Come along, and jump in--the water's great.
Where To Find Water in Walt Disney World Parks
Each of Disney's four theme parks treats you to water rides and surprising deluges. Head to one of those spots when you need a refreshing break. (Tip: If you're wearing heavy cotton clothing, plan your wet adventures for late in the day so you can go back to your room and change. Or bring extra clothes, and stow them in a locker, located at each of the park entrances.)
Magic Kingdom: Here, you'll find the most variety. Go to Splash Mountain for a log flume journey. It ends with a memorable 87-foot, 40-mph drop--if you're in the front car, you will get soaked; if you're in the back car, expect a damp seat and arms. Other attractions, such as the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean, simply float across the water. Tots squeal at the squirts of water they encounter while walking across Donald's Boat in Mickey's Toontown Fair.
Animal Kingdom: The most thrilling water ride in all the theme parks is the Kali River Rapids. As the 12-seat circular raft twirls and bumps down the white-water current, water sometimes gushes in on the raft floors, on the seats, and even over your head. Expect to get wet.
Disney's Hollywood Studios: Take a break from the thrill rides, and hop on the Backlot Tour. Sit on the left side of the tram to feel the splash during the flash flood extravaganza. Cool mist refreshes guests at the stage show "Voyage of The Little Mermaid." It mixes cascading water and an intense lightning storm into its story line.
Epcot: Take little kids to the plaza surrounding Journey Into Imagination With Figment to play in the fountains. Concrete planters spout streams of water that jump willy-nilly between them. For a silly boat ride, climb aboard a Viking-inspired ship at the Maelstrom in the Norway pavilion. A cool boat for stealing a kiss from your sweetie floats along El Rio Del Tiempo in the Mexico pavilion, which traverses pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial history as well as modern life in Mexico.
The water parks: When it's too hot to wear anything but your swimsuit, drop in on Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach. The best times to go: when the gates open, generally around 10 a.m.; after 3 p.m., when the throngs start thinning out; or after a good rain shower. Typhoon Lagoon, a tropical-inspired venue with a fabulous wave pool, offers more of a family setting with both thrilling and calm rides. Blizzard Beach, themed as a ski resort, maintains its reputation as a thrill-seeker's paradise with extreme slides (admission to either water park: $48.99 including tax adults, $42.60 including tax plus tax ages 3-9).
Ahoy There, Mates: Boating, Paddling, and Fishing
Almost everyone steps aboard a boat at Walt Disney World during his or her visit. You can ride a ferry to the Magic Kingdom, a launch across one of the lagoons, or a shuttle boat to get from one side of Downtown Disney to the other. In fact, Disney has the largest fleet of boats in America outside of the United States Navy. In addition to the basic transportation, Disney provides more than 500 canopy boats, flat boats, speedboats, sailboats, rowboats, pedal boats, and canoes to rent.
The vessels with the most appeal--the new fleet of Sea Raycers (they replaced the Mouse Boats)--have sporty little engines that reach speeds of 18 mph on Disney's lakes. Rented on a first-come, first-served basis ($21.59 plus tax per half hour), the Sea Raycers carry two passengers. All the marinas offer them to guests for exploring the waters around the Contemporary Resort, Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness, Yacht and Beach Clubs, Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans, and Coronado Springs.
If paddling canoes is more your speed, go to the Fort Wilderness Bike Barn, Caribbean Beach Marina, or Port Orleans Boat Dock. For $11 an hour, you can meander through the canals. It's a great way to bird-watch.
Ever wanted to catch fish the easy way? Schedule an excursion on Bay Lake from a pontoon boat at the Contemporary Resort Marina. For about $200, you--and up to four others--have two hours on the water, including a knowledgeable guide, gear and bait, and plenty of beverages. Shiners (little silver fish that largemouth bass love) cost extra, but they're worth it.
Wet and Wild: Extreme Watersports
Push yourself a little, and get lots of confidence with these experiences. Brush up on slalom, wakeboard, knee board, or combo skiing techniques--or get a basic lesson--with the folks at Sammy Duvall's Watersports Centre at the Contemporary Resort Marina. For $140 an hour, up to five guests can glide over Bay Lake. The center schedules excursions early in the day to take advantage of the calmest water. The boat, gear, and guide are all included in the price (reservations required).
For an eagle's-eye view of the Magic Kingdom from the Seven Seas Lagoon, try parasailing. Each 10-minute flight costs $85 for one person or $135 for a tandem flight (reservations required).
Imagine learning how to hang ten on perfect 7-foot waves. You can do just that with surfing instruction from champion Craig Carroll. His 2 1/2-hour lessons at Typhoon Lagoon's wave pool cater to a maximum of 12 students at early morning sessions (times and days vary, rates: $135 per person). Craig, along with two other world-class competitors, coaches two students at a time as the waves roll out every three or four minutes. You'll learn whether you ride the waves like a regular surfer (left foot forward) or goofy-footed (right foot forward).
Plunge into one of the world's largest aquariums at Epcot's Living Seas. In the DiveQuest program, for $140, you can scuba dive in the 27-foot-deep, 5.7-million-gallon tank that's home to more than 70 species of sea life. If you're not scuba certified, consider a snorkeling Aqua Tour ($100).
Tastes of the Sea: Seafood Picks
If you spent the day on the water, complete the experience with wonderful seafood. Our favorite restaurants include the Flying Fish Café at the BoardWalk Inn and the Coral Reef Restaurant at Epcot. Flying Fish, open for dinner only, costs more (entrées from $20), but serves up the best seafood at Disney. The menu changes daily based on what's fresh. We really like the potato-wrapped snapper and plank-grilled salmon. At the Coral Reef, dine in a dark blue room with the Living Seas aquarium filling an entire wall. Try the grilled skewered shrimp over Swiss chard ($19.50; lunch entrées from $13).
Other favorite places to savor fresh seafood include Citricos at the Grand Floridian (sautéed shrimp or scallops), Cap'n Jack's Restaurant at Downtown Disney (don't pass up the chowders), and Fulton's Crab House near Pleasure Island (order oysters any way you like them).
Romance on the Water: Boat Tours
End the perfect day with a boat ride on Breathless. The 24-foot solid mahogany runabout is a reproduction of a pre-war classic speedboat. It zooms around Crescent Lake from the Bayside Marina. Breathless will also take you to a seemingly private viewing of Epcot's IllumiNations (the fireworks and laser-light spectacular) from the bridge area at the France pavilion. Rates start at $178.40 plus tax per boatload; it holds up to seven guests, but two is the sweetest number.
The most extravagant boat ride at Disney comes aboard the 45-foot Grand 1. The charter cruise on Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake departs from the Grand Floridian's marina. This exquisite vessel comes completely furnished with three bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, living room, and dining room. Up to 16 passengers can take in the Magic Kingdom fireworks, while being served dinner catered by the Grand Floridian. Reservations are difficult to obtain, so call as soon as possible ($352.11 plus tax per hour includes driver and deckhand; catered dinner is extra).
Walt Disney World: (407) 824-4321 or www.disneyworld.com. To make reservations for activities, call (407) 939-7529. One-day, one-park admission: $82 plus tax adults, $74 plus tax ages 3-9.
The Best of the WetMost fun water ride: Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom
Best swimming pool at Walt Disney World: Stormalong Bay, shared by the Yacht and Beach Clubs
Most popular family pool: Polynesian Resort
Best lounges for a cocktail: Victoria Falls at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Mizner's Lounge at the Grand Floridian
Best pool for swimming laps: Dolphin and Swan Resort
Most fascinating wine list in the Kingdom: Jiko-The Cooking Place restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge--all South African
Best uncontrolled watery thrill: wiping out Goofy-style at Typhoon Lagoon's surfing classes
Best place to rent a boat: marina at the Contemporary Resort. Be sure to explore the connecting canals; one crosses over a road.
Most outrageously romantic spot to watch fireworks: from the Grand 1 on Seven Seas Lagoon
This article was updated May 2011. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.