Humunga Kowabunga! Typhoon Lagoon at 35: The History, The Tips, & The Joy

Humunga Kowabunga! Typhoon Lagoon at 35: The History, The Tips, & The Joy

Well, Humunga Kowabunga! Typhoon Lagoon is 35 years old this year. We’ve had the opportunity to celebrate the 35th anniversary of several Walt Disney World attractions, and we would be remiss if we didn’t take the plunge on this one as well. We’ll dive in on the history of this water park and how it came to be. We’ll also look at how it compares attendance wise to parks across the globe. Then we’ll cover 10 tips for how to best enjoy your day at the park without getting burned–sun burned at least. Finally, we’ll rewind the clock and share a conversation of why Typhoon Lagoon is such a joy to visit. So join us as we commemorate Typhoon Lagoon’s 35th anniversary.

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The following is an outline of this week’s podcast:


  • Water recreation didn’t have its beginning in Florida or California. It largely started in Denver, Colorado, with the Celebrity Sports Center. Originally an investment between several celebrities including Walt Disney, the facility was purchased in 1962 and became a training ground for Cast Members operating resort facilities.
  • Dick Nunis, who was a surfer at heart and had grown up on the California beaches, had always seen that key competition for the Florida Project would be the beach. Therefore, he advocated for having a wave machine. Unfortunately, machine was unreliable, and served to only erode the sandy beaches.
  • River Country became a water park solution to a Walt Disney World that was largely contained between the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. This old-fashioned Swimming Hole was popular and proximate to Disney hotels because they were all connected by water. But Florida lakes have their challenges, and as Walt Disney World grew to be something much, much bigger, the park’s capacity was overwhelmed and access became more difficult. If that wasn’t enough, George Millay, a friend of Dick Nunis came up with a water park concept known as Wet ‘n’ Wild in 1977.
  • A breaking point was when Gary Larson announced another water park off of US 192. As he was getting ready to finalize his park’s financing, Disney announced that they would build Typhoon Lagoon.
  • As growth continued, a new park was considered. Imagineer Randy Bright led the theming for it. Concepts included a Florida Swamp with guests floating past dense Florida foliage, dark caves and animatronic gators. Ultimately the gator concept showed up later for Blizzard Beach with Ice Gator. The popularity of that mascot led to Lagoona Gator. Other ideas were considered, such as giving the park the title of “Splash” because of Michael Eisner’s intent to tie it to the “Splash” mermaid film done by Touchstone.
  • The park was originally announced by Michael Eisner. It was part of a package of additions to include Pleasure Island and Disney-MGM Studios. The Casting Center opened prior to help staff all of this.
  • At one time Jeffrey Katzenberg announced the intent to build a live-action motion picture entitled “Typhoon Lagoon” using the park’s location for shooting. This probably gave greater excuse to justify the expense of theming the park. It is speculated that the park would cost 20 million at time of construction.
  • Originally, the concept for the park called for Tarzan-style cable drops that ran across a course of random water obstacles ending in a “waterfall fall” inside scenic grotto.
  • The wave pool when tested at full strength sent water so far up the shore that it sped past the beach and flowed into Castaway Creek.
  • Hundreds of body boards were purchased for use with the surf able waves, but when tested management realized those boards could inevitably fly off and hit others. That was terminated.
  • Castaway Creek at some 2100 feet in length was to be called originally “Upalazy River”. Lazy rivers already occurred in water parks, but they were typically smaller and simply went up one direction and then turned and came back another direction.
  • Originally Shark’s Reef was going to have the sharks visible behind plexiglass. In the end, they were right with the guests.
  • The park opened on June 1, 1989, and still today holds the title of the largest wave pool (surf pool) in North America.
  • On April 1, 1995 Blizzard Beach opened.
  • In the wake of 911, River Country closed indefinitely. It would be 3 years later they would announce it formally.
  • In March of 2005 Crush ‘N’ Gusher opened officially in the parks with three roller-coaster-type raft rides.
  • In March of 2017, Miss Adventure Falls opened. At the same time Shark Reef was closed.
  • Surfing sessions are still possible at Typhoon Lagoon. It’s a 3-hour session broken into sets of 25. You can choose the direction of your wave from left, right to A-Frames. Prices range from $1,300 to $2,350 depending on the day, time and number of waves.

How Popular is Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon?

  1. In 2019 before Covid Typhoon had nearly 2.25 million guests and Blizzard Beach had 1.98 million guests. Volcano Bay came in at 1.8 million guests. But the reigning king was Chimelong in China, which had over 3 million.
  2. In 2022 Typhoon was again the most popular water park in the world, with 1.92 million guests, beating Chimelong in China at 1.62 million and Volcano Bay at 1.85 million.
  3. That honor of being at the top came at the expense of Blizzard being closed while Typhoon was opened in the fall and aftermath of Covid.
  4. Blizzard Beach will reportedly reopen this Fall. There is a possibility that both parks will reopen simultaneously next spring.

10 Tips for Visiting Typhoon Lagoon

  1. Arrive at Walt Disney World Early. If you’re staying on property, you can take advantage of free access to the water parks on your first check in day. This is a huge savings and value.
  2. Go Early or Stay Late! Lines may not be the longest compared to the theme parks, but they move slow when only one is allowed at a time.
  3. Shade Matters! Especially in the summer time. Be there at rope drop and move quickly to secure a place that provides shade–throughout the day!
  4. A Locker Equals Peace of Mind. You don’t need everything in your locker, but keys, wallets and mobile devices should never be left on your beach chair. Put it away and then go have fun!
  5. Get a Map! If you don’t know the park, there are maps around everywhere. But it helps to get a paper one and leave it near your beach chair. It’s easy to get lost.
  6. Castaway Creek is Your Monorail! You can do a lot of walking. If you know where you are going, get in a tube and head there by water. It makes all that barefoot walking doable.
  7. Read the Signs! While on Castaway Creek keep an eye at each stair case for a set of burma-style signs. They give you a hint of what attractions are nearest to that exit.
  8. Pack Your Lunch! The food is not great, and there’s no where else to go. Look at your mobile order app and identify whether you want to mobile order lunch ahead of time, or if you want to pack in your lunch. You can bring any food in, just make sure it’s not alcohol and its not glass.
  9. Keep an Eye Out For Storms! Do not let yourself get caught in thunderstorm. Make sure you’re close to a place you can duck under when a storm is headed your way.
  10. Take a Nap! Splash and slide and swim, and then just decompress. Take the time to take a vacation from your vacation.

Books From Your Host at Disney Insights

My new book, A Century of Powerful Disney Insights, Volume I 1923-1973, The Walt & Roy Disney Years is available! 

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