The day started when my alarm went off at 7am, which I promptly shut off. Then the phone rang at 8am and we slowly got in gear. The park was scheduled to open at 10am, so we figured if we got there by 11am, we'd be fine. WRONG! If you're going, plan on being there at park opening.
We arrived to traffic signs everywhere that said the park is full, visit Sea World next door. They also said the park would reopen at 3pm.
All three of us were disappointed, but we drove over to Downtown Disney and looked around at World of Disney and the Lego store before Chef Jr. complained of hunger. We walked into the Earl of Sandwich and saw a line that was nearly as long as a queue for an e ticket ride. Out to Crossroads and one of the restaurants there. We were seated immediately and had food in less than 10 minutes. (and I think we still would have been waiting to order at Earl's)
At 3pm, we were on International Drive, hoping that we'd make it in and waiting in the right hand turn lane that brings you into the park. It did-but they allowed the other lanes from the opposite side of I Drive and from the cross street in first, since they'd impede more traffic than us. After a few minutes wait, we were turning into the park. Yay.
We were all set to flash our APs (Gold Passports equal free parking), but the booths were empty. There was plenty of parking, so I think I'm pretty safe in saying that if the park reaches capacity, then you should shoot for returning at 3pm, as it appears to be a set time. If you want to maximize your day, you need to be there BEFORE the planned park opening time (either 9am or 10am). Guests who have purchased their tickets online get to enter the park an hour early. Judging by the lines at the self serve kiosks, a lot of people have been doing just that.
We'd upgraded our Gold Passports (for a pittance, you can add it to a Busch Gardens/Sea World passport), and were having trouble with those self serve kiosks, so we went to Guest Relations-and waited in line with many others who seemed to have the same problem (ours would scan, but the passes wouldn't show up!) Before 3:30, we were in the park and ready to go.
There are lockers to rent: 8 bucks a day for a small or 10 bucks a day for large, which is the perfect size to fit an average backpack. You get three dollars back as a gift card when you return the key. We rented, and that was the only money we actually spent in the park!
I didn't take nearly as many pictures as I expected to, because I wanted to enjoy the park. Next time, I think I'll take some more pictures-the ones here (except for a few) are taken after the park closed.
Pretty Macaws, seen outside the changing rooms:
The first ride we got to enjoy was Loggerhead Lane, seen here:
The entry to the Commerson's Dolphin viewing area-you WILL get wet on this attraction! :)
It confused us a bit, because we saw a sign, and then a path to the right of a zero entry pool that appeared to be an exit (and you saw people standing with those rafts to climb Tassie's Twisters in such a way that it appeared they'd entered from the back) It ends up you enter the attraction through the zero entry pool, grab a single or double raft and the current carries you around the loop.
Riders can exit to begin queueing for Tassie's Twisters, which is a giant slide (that looks like a colorful toilet bowl) or continue onward around the circuit. The current is pretty swift and keeps you moving in those rafts. There are two turnoffs, and the first time, we allowed the current to take us to view the Commerson's Dolphin tank-but we didn't see the dolphins.
Soon after we'd passed the Commerson's tank, we noticed another area that had branched off to a tank that had tropical fish. Basically, there's a large outer loop and then an inner loop. The dolphins are on the outer, and the fish on the inner. There are waterfalls at the entrances to the 'grottoes' where you view the animals and jets around the ride, so if you go on this (or any ride) thinking you'll stay in the raft and stay dry, you won't.
After several loops around, we decided to keep walking and find another ride. We saw people on another water ride that looked like they were all being carried by the current-we HAD to try it. Roa's Rapids is a white water river ride. Chef grabbed a life vest, but I think we all should have-they enhance the ride, IMO. This was another zero entry attraction. I think it works better on rides where you're not using a raft, though.
Chef acted as if he was flying as the current carried us around the very large river. Ed decided one circuit was enough, and Chef and I continued on. I noticed that if I was by the walls (attractively themed to look like a rocky waterfront), I could pass the jets that cause the current and be pushed downstream much more rapidly.
This ride has two exits, which we didn't realize at first. We told Ed we'd come back and got off at the first exit we saw-and I realized quickly it wasn't the one we'd use to enter the ride. Five minutes later, we were back at our entrance and Ed grabbed Chef to get him off the river.
Across from us was the sandy beach front and wave pools, with chaise lounges everywhere. Chef had been champing at the bit to do the waves from the moment he laid eyes on them (while we were waiting for Ed to come out of the dressing room when we first arrived). Big Surf Shores has two wave pools and we started out in the right hand one because we saw the countdown clock announcing the start of some waves. Gnarly, dude!
It was pretty cool-the wave action starts much quicker than the wave pools I remember from 20 years ago. However, when the wave session ended, Ed and I both were sure there were bigger waves in the other pool, so we switched. We walked in and found the pool is deeper and had a nice drop off, indicative of good wave creation. So, if you want big wave, go to the left. Wimpy waves to the right.
Ten minutes later, the next wave cycle began and wow, we had some pretty high waves. Chef has really impressed me, he taught himself to swim last summer when he spied this park being built while riding the Sky Tower at Sea World. He was bound and determined that he was going to enjoy this place, and my gosh, the kid has amazing form. Swim team type form, even. He held his own in those monster waves, kept swiming in Roa's Rapids and never tired out.
By the clock when the wave cycle ended (about 4 minutes on, 10 minutes off), we had 15 minutes before the park closed and we had Whanau Way in front of us. It was yet another slide where people went up a tower with double rafts (yellow this time) and chose one of four slides to go down.
Five stories up carrying the raft (oof!), no waiting, and Chef chose the Yellow slide. It was pretty fast and very cool! He was rather impressed, and as we looked up the tower, there still was no line. Again? But of course!
This time, we went down one of the blue tubes. The blue tubes are enclosed nearly the whole way down, except for one hole that has water dripping down. Claustrophobics should go for the yellow or pink. The blue tubes also give you some air time when you get to the bottom.
We did have enough time for a third trip, but I didn't really feel like carrying that raft up those stairs again. We went back to the lockers and got our stuff to get dressed. What's neat is that the park has showers that are stocked with cleaning products, but the line on the ladie's side was easily 20 deep-I just changed. Ed and Chef showered.
One of the rides we didn't get to try was the Dolphin Drop, seen here:
A view of the tower, sans the lines it had all afternoon:
The ride looks pretty neat, you go down the tubes and some of the tubes are clear, which exposes you to the Commerson's dolphins swimming happily. See?
The tube behind the Commerson's dolphin is what riders go through on their way down:
The Commerson's Dolphins are very playful and very cute. At first, we thought we were looking at Orca whales, because of their markings. There were four in the tank, but only one was mugging for the people watching over at the viewing area.
I imagine that if we'd gotten in at 10 or 11am, we would have experienced all the park has to offer. That said, we were quite happy with the time we did have. Somehow, I suspect we'll be playing hooky one weekday to get over here before school lets out. There's enough for a rookie swimmer like Gameboy to enjoy with the rest of the family.