Typhoon Lagoon’s 31st Anniversary: A Nerd Rant

A Furious Storm Once Roared ‘Cross The Sea, Catching Ships In Its Path, Helpless to Flee.

Instead of a Certain and Watery Doom, The Winds Swept Them Here to Typhoon Lagoon!

Embarrassingly, I didn’t have to look up or visit the park to see that rhyme that can be seen in pieces on “scattered debris” as you approach Walt Disney World’s second water park, which opened on this day 31 years ago.

According to the legend of the park, a huge storm, Hurricane Connie, blew through the Placid Palms resort in 1955. It also caused severe damage to a nearby island belonging to Merriweather Adam Pleasure and carried over some of the items from that entertainment facility and scattered them amongst the storm-devastated resort. The storm, as well as an ill-timed earthquake and volcano, left the place in complete ruins with surfboards, boats and other nautical items flung wildly throughout what locals came to call the Leaning Palms resort, referring to the uprooted trees that survived the storm. The storm even overturned a giant tanker ship, isolating it in it’s own tiny lagoon with animals that aren’t native to the area swimming around in there too. The locals managed to salvage most of the debris, using it to rebuild their tiny village.

Of course, that’s the fictitious backstory that makes Typhoon Lagoon the amazingly themed water park that it is. Intertwining the legend with Pleasure Island at the neighboring (then-named) Walt Disney World Village, the park and nightlife district as well as (then-named) Disney-MGM Studios all opened up as part of a major expansion in 1989. Though the latter two destinations opened in May, Typhoon Lagoon opened on June 1st. The park was conceived and developed after River Country at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground proved to be wildly successful, with its small size and limited offerings filling to capacity most days.

Walt Disney World Executive Vice President Dick Nunis once had the idea to put wave machines just off the coast of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort in the middle of Seven Seas Lagoon to create the opportunity for guests to actually surf during their stay. That idea didn’t quite work out as the waves were eroding the white sand beaches built for the resort, and the urban legend stands that the defunct wave machines still lie out there in the lake to this day. It was this idea though that created the centerpiece of the new park, which also became its namesake. It’s not just a wave pool, but a “Surf Pool” named Typhoon Lagoon that sits at the base of Mount Mayday, where a ship named the Ms. Tilly sits atop the volcano. With the ship blocking the volcano eruptions, the seismic energy must be released somewhere, and that’s the lagoon.

At approximately 2.5 acres in size, Typhoon Lagoon (the Surf Pool) uses a new (when it debuted) type of wave machine to generate a 6-foot wave every 90 seconds. The pool can also be rented out before and after the park opens for private surfing, where the waves can even be adjusted and intensity increased. And speaking of intensity, just the normal operation is deceiving. From far away you hear a roar as over 80,000 gallons of water are instantaneously dumped into the pool, immediately followed by screaming guests who are both excited and terrified about the wall of water coming at them. With the Disney name a certain level of expectation is built in suggesting that anyone can be in this pool, but once in the water, guests find that that goes out the door as this truly is an inland-beach with a low-level tsunami rushing in every 90 seconds, and that it’s probably best that smaller guests and weaker swimmers stay closer to shoreline. To quote a testimonial in an early 90’s vacation planning video, “the big waves are scary.”

Aside from the namesake signature surf pool, there are other attractions that have graced the park in the last 31 years, most of which are still there. There are, of course, slides. The most thrilling of which are the Humunga Kowabunga speed slides, dropping guests 70 feet straight down the side of Mount Mayday, as well as neighboring body slides like the Rudder Buster and the Stern Burner. There are tube slides that are substantially tamer on the other side of the mountain with an adjacent kids area. Of course, all of this is surrounded by approximately 2000 feet of Castaway Creek, a lazy river circling the park’s offerings that takes guests seeking calm and tranquility through rainforests, grottoes, and waterfalls.

In 31 years though, we really only said goodbye to one major attraction at the park, and arguably the most unique offering at any water park anywhere. Shark Reef. Set in the aforementioned overturned tanker, guests would enter the queue and be given a snorkel and mask for a short swim across a 362,000 gallon pool that housed a man-made reef. The reef was home to many different living aquatic creatures, including rays and leopard sharks. And in a time of upcharge experiences and nickel and dimed add-ons, this unique attraction was included with park admission. Those who were scared away by the notion of sharks (even though they are harmless) could walk through the tanker and observe the occupants of the pool from afar using the ship's portholes. Shark Reef opened with the park but closed in October of 2016, allegedly to make way for a new attraction, Miss Adventure Falls.

Miss Adventure Falls opened when Typhoon Lagoon reopened after its annual refurbishment in 2017. The new family raft-ride was a much needed addition to that park as the existing one, Gangplank Falls, pales in comparison to other family raft rides at other parks in the region, including Disney’s own Teamboat Springs at Blizzard Beach, which was the world’s longest family raft ride when it debuted.

Miss Adventure Falls is a welcome addition to the park, and also showcases the first Audio-Animatronic on an attraction at a Disney Water Park and has a story that ties into the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (SEA) Folklore created by Walt Disney Imagineering. It also is home to a fantastic easter egg on the marquee of the attraction, one that might be familiar to fans of the Walt Disney Animation Studios film, Atlantis: The Lost Empire. 

Miss Adventure Falls was only the second major new addition to the park in now 31 years. Prior to that, Crush N’ Gusher, an innovative “Water Coaster” that propels passengers UPhill on high pressure sheets of water under the guise of a fruit washing facility, was the first major addition after over 15 years when it opened in 2005. Notably, the area that was home to Shark Reef was still standing when Miss Adventure Falls opened, with the tanker still in place but now filled in with sand and seating. The area has also been used as recently as last year for testing the concept of adults only seating.

In recent years, the park has also been hosting a new hard-ticket event, H20 Glow Nights. Loosely (and I do mean Loosely) themed to the short film from Pixar Animation Studios, Partysaurus Rex, wherein Rex the dinosaur (from the Toy Story films) inadvertently hosts the party of the century in Bonnie’s bathtub with the aquatic toys, this event sees Typhoon Lagoon open well into the night. Guests are given glow sticks, new lighting has been installed in the park, and innertubes are switched out to clear ones so the glow effects can continue into the water. There was also the requisite DJ and dance parties featuring characters from Toy Story.

Over 31 years, not much has changed, especially in comparison to how other Disney theme parks around the world evolve. However, it could be argued that it’s because it works so well. When Typhoon Lagoon opened, the park would regularly fill to capacity, literally turning away hundreds of guests each day. Ironically, this was the same problem that River Country had, so the Imagineers solved the problem the same way…by building another one. This time, they’d stare off in the distance wondering how to theme it but fortunately there was a snow globe in their field of vision and long story short to save another rant for another day, Blizzard Beach opened almost six years after Typhoon Lagoon in 1995.

Unfortunately, we can’t celebrate the 31st anniversary of Typhoon Lagoon at the park today, but we hope to in the near future. I think we can all use some quiet time in Castaway Creek right about now.

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Tony Betti
Originally from California where he studied a dying artform (hand-drawn animation), Tony has spent most of his adult life in the theme parks of Orlando. When he’s not writing for LP, he’s usually watching and studying something animated or arguing about “the good ole’ days” at the parks.