Saturday, August 10, 2013

Which Disney Water Park is Better for a Toddler: Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon?

One question I often get asked is "Which of the two water parks at Disney is better for a toddler, Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon?"

I will do a more in depth post on each of the two water parks in the future but the answer to this one I think depends primarily on your child and whether or not you are going with any older children.
Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon both have a separate area just for small children/toddlers. At Blizzard Beach it is called Tike's Peak and at Typhoon Lagoon it is called Ketchakiddie Creek. Some of the slides in both of these areas are restricted to children 48 inches and under while other ones are available to anyone that wants to go down them. Both Parks have plenty of places for children to just wade in the water and splash and play. Both also have a lazy river with both adult and kid sized tubes that go around the entire perimeter of the water park, both have a wave pool that anyone can play in the shallowest parts of, and both have a family raft ride if your child is more daring and able to sit up independently and stay seated in one place for the duration of the ride. If your child is not a strong swimmer there are also plenty of free life jackets in all sizes that you can borrow for the day at both parks. Both water parks allow you to bring in food and drinks to keep your toddler well fed and hydrated without spending any additional money (most other water parks in Orlando prohibit outside food and drinks). So which of the two water park is better for a toddler?

We have been taking our two year old to the water parks since she was an infant. At six to nine months old she loved going down slides even though she had not yet learned to walk. If you need this type of slide Blizzard Beach is definitely the better choice. At Blizzard Beach there are slides where mommy can take the baby up to the top and daddy can catch them at the bottom. There is a side by side slide (3 across) where you can slide down with your baby. I've also seen adults put small babies on their lap on some of the smallest slides and go down with them (although other times there have been lifeguards watching these slides that do not allow this so your mileage may vary).

The slides at Typhoon Lagoon are either made for older children or are very small, extremely slick slides that a parent would have to stand next to the slide, hold the child, and "send" them down while holding them the entire time. There really aren't any I would put an infant under a year old at the top of and let them go down independently.
Blizzard Beach also has a good sized splash pad area where there is no big pool of standing water and the water simply squirts out of things. My daughter enjoyed crawling around in here long before she could walk. (The surface, however, is very rough so take tender knees into consideration). Now that she is older she enjoys filling and dumping buckets in this area. The "pool" area across from the splash area also starts out very shallow and has no wave motion to it and my daughter enjoyed crawling around in that water as well (again, another rough surface so be wary of little knees!). At age two she enjoys pretending to "swim" in the shallow water and loves to climb on the alligator statues in the middle.

After my daughter started walking and could do things more independently we graduated to Typhoon Lagoon. Ketchakiddie Creek is way in the back of the water park and fairly separate from the bigger slides. There is one tube ride for kids in here that I started putting her on just shy of her second birthday but other than that the slides are few and far between. There is, however, plenty of sand to dig and play in. There are a few really small slides walking children can go on but be advised that they can be extremely slick. If you are going to a water park with your toddler plus slightly older children I would forgo Typhoon Lagoon in favor of Blizzard Beach. There really is very little at Typhoon Lagoon for older elementary/preteen or even more timid slightly older children to do at Typhoon Lagoon whereas at Blizzard Beach there is a whole separate area for them.

One advantage to Typhoon Lagoon over Blizzard Beach is I find it is a lot easier to watch my daughter in the kiddie area at this park vs the kiddie area at Blizzard Beach. The way the slides are set up at Typhoon Lagoon it is easy for a parent to watch the child go from the top of a slide to the bottom without getting out of sight. The tube ride is set up so that there is plenty of time to put your child in it at the top and walk down and get them out of the pool of water at the bottom that the tubes dump into. (This also means it is easy to take great pics of them enjoying their first tube ride!)

At Blizzard Beach this is not the case. The way the kiddie tube ride is set up at Blizzard Beach it does not have as many twists and turns and is more of a straight shot ride so you have to put your child in at the top then run to the bottom and I still usually do not make it to the bottom before my daughter's tube does (some nice lifeguards will hold the tube at the top a few minutes to give you a head start if it is not busy so it is worth asking if you are alone with your child).
Many of the other slides at Blizzard Beach are set up so that if you walk your child to the top of the slide you can not make it to the bottom before they do or if you send them to the top of the slide alone and wait at the bottom you are going to have to let them out of your sight briefly while they find their way up the path to the top.
For this reason if I am going to a water park and it is just me and my two year old daughter, I definitely prefer Typhoon Lagoon.
My daughter, however, prefers Blizzard Beach and that is definitely my top choice if my husband or another adult is accompanying us. The kiddie area at Blizzard Beach simply has more slides and more fun things for little ones to do than Typhoon Lagoon. If you are going with any slightly older children, kids taller than 48 inches, or even toddlers that are total daredevils like my own, Blizzard Beach has a whole separate area from Tike's Peak called Ski Patrol Training Camp that is just for them. Ski Patrol Training Camp is a short walk from the Tike's Peak area, so choose where you put your stuff down carefully if you have kids that fall into both age groups. Ski Patrol Training Camp has a tube ride for kids taller than 48 inches that is slightly more thrilling than the one in the kiddie area but still very mild. My two year old daughter loves it and actually prefers it over the one in Tike's Peak. Parents can also ride on this one since there is no upper height restriction (although not in the same tube as your child) so you can choose to ride down first and ask the lifeguard or person in line behind you to send your child down a few minutes after you if you need to catch them at the bottom. You will need to carry your child's tube to the top of this ride in addition to your own so be forewarned that your child will have to walk up completely on their own.

Ski Patrol Training Camp also has a pool with much deeper (and colder!) water than Tike's Peak as well as some "icebergs" for them to try to walk across and some larger slides and a t-bar drop for children that are better swimmers. While I don't allow my two year old on the larger slides or t-bar yet (water on the bottom is very deep) she enjoys trying to cross the "icebergs" (parents are allowed in the water beside the children but may not climb on the icebergs). she also enjoys swimming in the deeper water (with her life vest on) since her hands and feet do not scrape the bottom.
While the two lazy rivers in the parks are completely comparable, the wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon seems to be a bit rougher. My daughter enjoys being knocked over by and trying to outrun the waves at both but I find it is easier to keep her safe in the wave pool at Blizzard Beach. Typhoon has several extremely shallow areas of water very young children can splash and play in around the wave pool area but at age two I've found my daughter is already bored by them. She passes those up in favor of the one slide Typhoon Lagoon does have for older kids/preteens, which dumps down into the wave pool. The lazy rivers in both parks have plenty of adult and kid sized tubes (with a solid bottom) as well as double tubes and even pool noodles (which my daughter loves to collect as we float past them). I think there are more opportunities to get splashed with ice cold water in the lazy river at Blizzard Beach due to the cave you float through and the sneezing alligator (which my daughter gets a huge kick out of) but if you plan carefully you can avoid most of these areas.

Either of the two water parks is a lot of fun for a toddler that enjoys playing in the water. Both of them have plenty for a toddler to do. If I had to choose one over the other, however, I'd choose Blizzard Beach if I had another adult along to help keep track of my daughter or Typhoon Lagoon if it were just the two of us for the many reasons I described above.

Indoor Fun in Orlando: Puzzles Playplace in Hunter's Creek

8/11/13 Update: Sad to hear this place is going out of business soon. I really did like it a lot better than its competitors!

When I need an indoor play spot but don't feel like driving all the way to Monkey Joe's we often visit Puzzles in Hunter's Creek. Puzzles is a lot smaller than Monkey Joe's but my daughter enjoys it just the same. I really appreciate the premise behind Puzzles and although it is slightly more expensive for a toddler and there is slightly less to do than at Monkey Joe's, I am happy to give them my business for that reason.

Puzzles was founded as a place to teach employment and independent living skills to young adults with developmental disabilities. Many of the employees fall somewhere on the autism spectrum and Puzzles is big on promoting autism awareness. Some of its walls are even painted with the colorful puzzle pieces that symbolize autism. I have found the employees at Puzzles to be nothing but friendly and helpful. I really appreciate that unlike the employees at Monkey Joe's, they seem to actually watch the place and enforce the rules. They make their presence known throughout the playplace (especially when it is busy) and are not afraid to tell children to stop running (as is posted in the rules) or to politely ask older children to leave the one bounce house they have reserved for younger children.
When you walk into Puzzles you immediately encounter the check-in desk, which is where you pay and fill out the registration/liability form. Admission is $10 for kids 5 and up, $7 for 4 and under for unlimited bounce time. I visited with a friend a few times when my daughter was under one and they did not charge for her. There are packages available for multiple admissions at a reduced price. The employee that checks you in gives matching wristbands to parents and their child(ren), which they also check and cut off before you leave. You are required to wear socks in the bounce houses but if you forgot your child's at home they have some available for purchase. In addition to socks, they also have a small selection of autism awareness products available for purchase.
After you pay your child is free to play for as long as they want. Parking is free and plentiful in the lot right in front of Puzzles so need to worry about going over the time limit of a parking garage.
Puzzles is divided into two separate rooms and the party rooms are in the middle of the two. The first room you enter, Room #1, is where the check-in desk is. Just beyond the check-in desk is an area with several tables for parents to sit at and tables and booths to sit and eat at. This is also the room where the concession stand is. Prices for the food are very reasonable ($2.00 for a slice of pizza or hot dog, $1.00 for a juice box, etc). Absolutely no outside food is allowed in and there are signs on the door stating that and this rule is enforced, although I have always brought in a sippy cup for my daughter and a bottle of water for me and that seems to be okay. In addition to meals they also have plenty of snacks for purchase like ice cream, chips, candy bars, etc. You can purchase a whole pizza if you are there with multiple children to save a little $.

Room #1 also has the one bounce house reserved for toddlers/younger children. Older children are allowed inside as well but whenever my toddler has been playing in it and there are several older children in it or just one that is acting a little too rowdy I've always had an employee come over and politely ask them to get out. Since it is close to the check-in desk, it is easy for them to monitor. I really appreciate the fact that they make the effort to keep the younger children safe.

Room #1 also has a very small selection of video games and other coin operated games. These are not included in the admission price and you need to buy tokens to play them, but tokens were very reasonably priced and most games only require 1-2 tokens.

The way Room #1 is set up it is very easy to sit and relax while your toddler plays in the bounce house. It is easy to keep an eye on them from both the tables and the booths and if you are sitting at the tables they would have to pass by you to get to Room #2, which has the bigger bounce items and an air hockey table. Room #2 also has shelves to put your shoes on and several benches and chairs scattered throughout for parents to sit on and watch their children.

The way Room #2 is set up it is one big, long, narrow room. The bounce houses line the walls on either side. A row of windows to the outside with chairs in front of them to sit on line the front wall and the back wall has an inflatable structure that is more like a court with two sides to it that has several soft foam balls in it that kids can use to play team games and throw across the inflatable "net" in the middle (not an actual net, it is just a slightly raised inflatable wall).

Most of the bounce structures in Room #2 are geared towards preschool age and up, however, my daughter was able to do all of them independently at age two, even the one with the large slide. The entrances to the bounce houses are a little bit higher than what we've encountered at other places so your toddler may need a little bit of help getting in and out. the raised circle entrances also make it more difficult for a parent to get in and out if they need to retrieve their child for any reason but if you asked one of the teenage staff members I'm sure they'd be happy to help if need be. 

I really like the set-up of Puzzles because it is easy to keep track of where my daughter is so I can actually sit and read a book or socialize for a little while while she is playing. I do not have to worry about her getting lost in a big, open room. The drawback is that all of the inflatables in Room #2 really are geared towards older children so if your child is under two or a more hesitant two year old (not a daredevil like mine) there really isn't a whole lot for them to do. My daughter really enjoys all of the bounce houses in this room but when I took her when she was a new walker the only thing she really enjoyed was playing in the court inflatable in the back, which is lined with colorful foam squares.
Overall I think Puzzles is a great playplace for older toddlers, preschool, and young elementary aged kids. It is clean and the attentive staff tries their best to keep the kids in the place from getting out of control. It may cost slightly more than Monkey Joe's and have slightly less to do but I love that it supports young adults with developmental disabilities and that I can sit and relax for a little while but still be able to keep track of my little one while she is playing so it is a place I will gladly return to again and again.