As Walt Disney World continues its phased reopening, we head to Blizzard Beach for the water park’s first day back. In this report, we’ll share photos of crowds, health & safety measures, and other changes. We’ll also discuss relaxed face mask rules, physical distancing in the lazy river and on slides, plus thoughts on being back.
This day at Blizzard Beach comes roughly 8 months after our reopening reports for Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Obviously, a lot has changed since then and water parks are fundamentally different…but there were also some totally coincidental similarities.
The big ones were that Blizzard Beach was a veritable ghost town with “extreme” weather. Instead of high heat and humidity, there was cold weather befitting the water park’s name and theme, with the temperature being 59Â° at park opening and only hitting a high of 66Â° during our visit. Feels like temperatures were even chillier, with high winds.
Midwesterners are undoubtedly scoffing at those numbers, calling it a veritable heat wave. I was once one of you. More than once, actually. One of my vivid memories of visiting Blizzard Beach as a kid was demanding to go during similar weather, my parents acquiescing, and me being absolutely miserable in an authentic-feeling glacier pool.
I prided myself on being a “tough” Michigander who wore t-shirts and shorts in 50Â° weather. I’m honestly not sure why cold tolerance is such a weird source of pride for so many. Probably overcompensation for the woes of the Detroit Lions. It’s usually their fault.
In any case, it’s mostly Floridians visiting Walt Disney World right now in the lead-up to spring break, and most of them aren’t leaving home without a parka in this weather, let alone jumping into the water like members of the local polar bear club. Being cognizant of this, Universal closed Volcano Bay water park due to weather on the same day that Blizzard Beach reopened. Had it not been the debut day, I’m guessing Walt Disney World would’ve followed suit.
Our visit to Blizzard Beach was thus something like one of Walt Disney World’s “preview days” last summer, and is not even remotely representative of what you’ll encounter this summer or even next week. My guess is that the water park was at about 5% of capacity–nowhere near even 35%. With that caveat out of the way, let’s take a tour of Blizzard Beach and check things out…
Upon first reopening, we praised Walt Disney World’s approach to thoughtful safety measures and enforced health protocol. A lot has changed since then, but much of it is in terms of our perspective.
When we first returned to Walt Disney World, we literally had not left our neighborhood for any purpose other than groceries in months. We were like feral cats coming off the street for the first time, skittish around humans and hissing at random. (I’m sure Sarah will love this comparison when she reads it!) Returning to polite society was quite the adjustment, but at least the masks hid our hisses.
Now, we’re well past that and much more comfortable out and about. Moreover, a lot has changed about our risk assessments as collective knowledge has evolved. Guidance from respected public health experts, epidemiologists, and even the slow-moving CDC has also progressed. No longer are we over-sanitizing ourselves or surfaces, among other things.
For its part, Walt Disney World has slightly shifted some of its emphasis over the last several months. The reopening of Blizzard Beach is the first significant change to the health safety protocol.
The seismic change to the existing rules is the relaxed policy on masks. Elsewhere at Walt Disney World, this policy is complicated–look no further than our multi-thousand word Guide to Face Masks at Walt Disney World, including an update on how rules just got stricter at table service restaurants.
The approach at Blizzard Beach is out of necessity. Moreover, the water park changes reflect and are consistent with unofficial rules at all Walt Disney World resort hotel pools and the same policies embraced by other water parks, like Universal’s Volcano Bay.
As you can see from the photos above, there are signs when you enter an area where face masks are required. While it might seem like this presents a frequent and annoying on/off scenario, that’s not the case.
In practice, Blizzard Beach is basically divided into two areas with the bridges crossing the lazy river being the primary line of demarcation. If you’re in the front of the park where most of the shopping, dining, changing areas, and lockers are located, you need to wear a mask. Almost everywhere else, no masks are necessary.
A decent number of smaller snack spots and bars are scattered throughout the park, so there are some other small areas that present on/off mask situations. But it’s not like you’re going to be eating a dozen times during your day in Blizzard Beach, so this is really a minor thing.
Just remember to grab your mask when going to order the delicious mini donuts and Sand Pail Ice Cream Sundae, both of which are must-dos at Blizzard Beach.
Everyone’s personal comfort level with these rule changes is going to vary. Some will be overjoyed that Walt Disney World finally has a relaxed mask policy and now actively seek out Blizzard Beach. Others will avoid Blizzard Beach. As with the rules in other parks, to each their own.
We’re comfortable with the policy in theory. At this point, there have been numerous case studies demonstrating that outdoor transmission is highly unlikely. The in theory part above is simply acknowledging the reality that we have not been in a congested outdoor setting since last March, and don’t know if our “inner feral cat” will return upon first returning to such a scenario.
We expected to find out with this day at Blizzard Beach, but that did not happen. The vast majority of people we encountered were masked, as Cast Members wear masks everywhere, and they outnumbered guests on Blizzard Beach’s reopening day. This did present some interesting juxtapositions with unmasked guests and masked Cast Members, but that was probably more noticeable given low attendance.
Ultimately, we give the relaxed face mask rule a tentative two thumbs up. It’s very much a common sense approach to masking, even if one dictated by the watery nature of the park. It’s not too laid back nor are the rules overbearing. You can basically go the entire day–save for entering, lunch, and leaving–without wearing a face mask.
The other interesting change comes via Cross Country Creek, which is Blizzard Beach’s lazy river.
The first unique wrinkle here is that guests must be in a tube. The purpose of this rule is that it’ll self-regulate reduced capacity of the lazy river and assist with physical distancing. That makes complete sense and is a smart rule. I’m also a fan of this as a curmudgeon: the lazy river should be lazy, with no one swimming and splashing around me.
The other area of interest is that guests are only to take inner tubes that are upside down.
This is for the sake of sanitization–Disney is letting the chlorine do the work here. While it’s a bit eye roll-inducing as circa-March 2021 health safety protocol, it’s still a good idea. The kind of thing that should’ve been done all along and continue going forward.
Most of the other rules and signage at Blizzard Beach are what you’d expect, so no sense in meticulously documenting the water park’s 5,683 trash cans that look exactly like those in Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.
One minor noteworthy thing is that two of the photo ops at the front of Blizzard Beach in the “mask zone” have signs reminding guests to wear masks while taking photos. Given the verbiage, these were clearly just borrowed from other parks.
I think it’d be nice if Walt Disney World relaxed the rules or unofficially let things slide at those photo ops, but can understand the company wanting consistency in the rules. Unfortunately, some guests try to exploit every perceived loophole.
In any case, there are much better photo ops in mask-less areas of the park. You’ll have to head over to the Ski Patrol Training Camp and Tike’s Peak kids areas, but there are two excellent Ice Gator statues in these areas. (One of which is not in the water.)
In the seating areas, there are signs up not to move the lounge chairs.
With few guests in attendance, it was easy to see where this was being ignored as people sought out sun. It’ll be interesting to what degree this is obeyed and enforced on busier days.
“How will things change on normal spring and summer days?” was a recurring theme throughout our visit to Blizzard Beach.
We didn’t make any effort to deliberately avoid people when taking these photos, nor did we wait until near closing when the water park cleared out even more. This was the midday–peak water park time!
These wait time signs actually oversell crowd conditions. At one point, we went about 15 minutes on Mount Gushmore without seeing anyone do Summit Plummet.
Accordingly, it was impossible to get an idea of what lines and physical distancing will look like on normal days.
This isn’t to say Blizzard Beach was totally devoid of guests.
The main seating area with a prime view of Melt-Away Bay had a decent number of people in it. (You might not be able to tell from the above photo, but I didn’t want to zoom in any further; there’s a fine line between normal and creepy water park photos.)
There’s also the question of what a normal day even looks like at Blizzard Beach.
Will Typhoon Lagoon’s ongoing closure push more people to Blizzard Beach? Could relaxed face mask rules draw in more guests? Or will low tourist numbers keep water park demand down?
However, it’s also worth pointing out that not only is Walt Disney World not selling new Annual Passes, but they’re not allowing renewals on APs that previously offered water park access. This leaves a very small segment of locals with access to Blizzard Beach without buying single day tickets.
Plus, it was pretty obvious we’re going to need to make a return trip to Blizzard Beach in the near future to see and report on a normal day. We’ll eat there then.
Ultimately, we had a great day at Blizzard Beach both in spite and because of thematically-appropriate weather. It made documenting our visit, which is normally a bit stressful and uncomfortable, super easy and pleasant. It was also really fun to walk around somewhere at Walt Disney World with a more relaxed atmosphere and without many other guests. Both of those things were big pluses.
Conversely, we didn’t do a whole lot that you’d normally associate with a “fun” day at Blizzard Beach. The water park was comfortable so long as you were out of the water and in the sun–not in the shade and definitely getting in or out of the water. Our experience also wasn’t particularly illustrative of what anyone else can expect going forward. Guess we’ll have to take one for the team and head back to Blizzard Beach in a couple weeks for more water slides, lazy river lounging, and snacking for the sake of research. Oh darn.
Did you visit Blizzard Beach on reopening day? What was your experience? Thoughts on any topic discussed here? Looking forward to returning to the water parks, or are you not a fan of them? Do you have any questions about the current modified experience at Blizzard Beach? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this spring or summer, or are you waiting until 2022 or beyond? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!