While the theme park attractions may be the reason that people come to Walt Disney World, often the reason they stay at Walt Disney World is the hotel pool. All of the Disney World hotels have at least one, if not several, pools on site, many of which have elaborate themeing, kiddie play zones, or other enticements that can make a day at the resort just as fun as a day at the parks.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing some deep water exploration of the pool situation at Walt Disney World. So put on your swim fins, folks, and get ready to dive in.
What’s the overall pool situation like at the Disney World resorts?
While all Disney hotels have pools, there is a great deal of variation between the resorts in the size, atmosphere, and amenities of the pools at each location. The pools range from basic water-in-the-ground (albeit with colorful themed elements) at the All Star Resorts, to a de facto mini water park, with multiple slides, sandy play areas, and a lazy river at the Yacht & Beach Clubs.
Some resorts have elaborate interactive water play zones for children, some have hot tubs, some have deluxe cabana rentals, some have quiet pools for restful relaxation, some have zero entry approaches to the water. Sometimes these features, or the lack thereof, can have a big impact on your vacation enjoyment.
In a future post, I’ll get into the specific set-up at each hotel, but for now we’ll cover issues that apply to the pools in general.
Should the pool situation play a factor in my decision about where to stay during my Disney vacation?
Maybe. I consider this to be a bit like the “Is It Worth It?” question. The answer will be very different depending on your interests and needs. Before factoring the pool into your resort choice decision, consider the following questions:
- Am I planning a non-park day during my vacation?
- Do I swim for exercise?
- What’s the weather generally like during my travel dates?
- Do I like to swim to cool down or play? Do my kids?
- Do I like water slides? Do my kids?
- Do my kids like to play in water, but not swim?
- Do I like to sunbathe near a pool? If so, do I prefer a certain type of view or noise level?
- Do I like to unwind in a hot tub?
Personally, I let the pool situation influence my resort choice when I stay at WDW with my kids in the summer. If I’m on my own or we’re traveling during the winter, the pool plays no role in my resort choice.
Are there indoor pools at Walt Disney World?
No. All the Disney-owned hotels only have outdoor pools.
Are there lap pools at Walt Disney World?
No. There are no pools at Disney-owned hotels that have measured or divided lanes. There are a few pools at WDW which are long enough that you could get something approximating an exercise-worthy rhythm going. However, it’s rare that you would not find your swim path obstructed by other guests.
There are lap pools at the non-Disney-owned Swan and Dolphin resorts. If lap swimming is important to you, you may want to consider staying there or at an off-site location.
Are there diving boards at the Disney hotel pools?
No, there are no diving boards at Walt Disney World. Even diving off the side of the pool is prohibited.
Are the pools open in the winter?
Yes, year round.
What is the water temperature like?
The pools are heated throughout the year to a uniform 82 degrees Fahrenheit. You can swim in warm water even when the outdoor temperature is chiiiilly. I have often seen energetic children having a grand time splashing in the Disney pools while their parents huddle on the deck in layers of sweatshirts.
Are there weather conditions that force pool closures?
The pools will temporarily close if there are lightning strikes in the area. They remain open if there is rain without lightning. Very rarely, they will close for air temperature reasons, like if the outdoor temperature won’t be getting out of the 40s during the day. And of course if there are hurricane warnings, guests will be kept away from the pools. Generally there will be just a handful of days per year with full-day, weather-related pool closures. It’s unlikely that you’d have any desire to swim on those days anyway.
Do the pools have specific hours?
Yes, most do. These can vary based on the resort location, the type of pool, the time of year, and a number of other factors. For the most part, you can expect that the pool at your resort will be open from at a minimum from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Usually, there are longer hours (earlier and later) for at least one pool per resort. The hours during the time of your visit will be posted on signage around the pool, or you can stop by the front desk of your hotel to inquire. Please note that the lifeguard hours may be shorter than the pool hours. This information will be posted on signage near the pool. Generally any bonus water features, such as slides or whirlpools, will be turned off or shuttered while lifeguards are not on duty.
I want to have a late night dip after a long day in the theme parks, is this possible?
Often yes. Particularly during the summer, pools hours are extended until 10:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m., or even later. Again, lifeguard hours may be different than pool hours.
So what is the lifeguard situation like at Walt Disney World?
Disney takes lifeguard training seriously. The guards have extensive education in water safety and rescue. You’ll find that the resort feature pools are staffed with several lifeguards for a minimum of eight hours per day (usually longer), year round. There will be guards posted at the bottom of slide areas and at multiple points around the perimeter of the feature pool.
There are generally not lifeguards at the resort quiet pools or spas. Information to this effect is posted poolside.
Personally, I’ll let my own children (young teens) go on their own to the resort feature pool when the lifeguards are on duty, but I won’t let them go to a non-guarded pool without adult supervision. Smaller children will need more attention.
I’m concerned about my child “escaping” and running into the pool while we’re not looking. Are the pools gated?
Generally not. There are a few resorts that have low gates around some of their pools, but at most locations it’s very easy to access the water areas. Be sure to keep an eye on the little ones whenever you’re outdoors at your Disney resort, particularly during non-lifeguard hours.
Can I use the pool at a resort other than the one I’m staying at?
Using another resort’s pool is called, in Disney lingo, “pool-hopping” and it is generally not allowed.
So pool-hopping is allowed sometimes?
On rare occasion, yes. Some of the situations in which you would be allowed to pool-hop are:
- Guests of the All Star Resorts may use any pool at any of the All Star hotels.
- Guests of Port Orleans Riverside may use the pools at Port Orleans French Quarter, and vice versa.
- If the main feature pool at your resort is closed for maintenance, you may be granted access to the pools at another nearby resort. If this situation occurs, you will be given notice in your room and specific permission to hop.
- Members of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) can hop to the pools at other DVC resorts. Note that there are frequent blackout dates and that guests may never hop to the Yacht & Beach Club or Animal Kingdom Lodge pools. No word yet on what the policy will be regarding the new DVC construction at the Grand Floridian.
I’m staying at the Pop Century Resort. Does this mean that I can’t use the pools at the nearby Art of Animation resort?
That’s correct. There are no pool-hopping privileges between the Pop and AoA.
How will they know if I’m pool hopping?
In some cases, like at the All Stars, no one would know if you hopped there. However, at resorts with more popular or elaborate pools, there are security measures in place. At Stormalong Bay, the giant pool shared by the Yacht & Beach Club resorts, there are attendants at the pool entrance gates. You have to show your room key in order to enter the pool area. You may be given a wristband for repeated entries. At other resorts, the pool gates require an electronic key swipe indicating that you are a guest of that hotel.
I’m staying in the Disney Vacation Club villa part of a resort. Can I use the main hotel pools or just the pools in the villa area?
You can use ALL the pools at the resort at which you are registered. So, for example, Beach Club guests are welcome to use the main Stormalong Bay Beach Club pool, not just the small villa pool.
What is a zero-entry pool?
Picture walking into the ocean; this is what a zero entry pool is like. The pool starts with no harshly defined edge. There is simply an incline into the water which starts at zero and gradually increases to a more severe angle. Instead of having to jump in or go down stairs or a ladder to enter pool, you just walk in.
Why should I care whether my pool has zero entry?
Zero entry can be helpful for guests with mobility issues. Water-capable wheelchairs may be rolled directly into the pool, allowing access without the need to step down or up for swimming.
Many guests with younger children also like zero entry pools because little ones can have the fun of being at the big pool without actually going in very deep. Of course, this also requires extra vigilance because although the pool starts out with minimal depth, it does increase precipitously.
What happens if I have a mobility handicap and am staying at a resort without a zero-entry pool? Can I still swim?
Yes, absolutely. All the pools at Walt Disney World are now equipped with chair lift devices which can lower guests into the pool, with no need to step down. See any lifeguard for assistance with the device.
I’m visiting Walt Disney World with a toddler. Are there baby pools at the Disney resorts?
All of the resorts have some sort of low-depth pool area that’s appropriate for the smallest children. In some cases this does take the form of a traditional baby pool. At others, the low-depth area is part of the main pool.
My child is still in diapers. Is there an age cutoff for them to use the main pool?
No. You’re welcome to bring even an infant into any of the pools at Walt Disney World. However, Disney does require the use of swim diapers for diaper-age children.
My child is used to swimming with water wings. Can he do that at the Disney pools?
Go ahead and bring the wings. There are no specific prohibitions against personal floatation devices at the Disney pools. Several of the pools have nearby shops that sell water wings, pool noodles and the like. However, while they are not banned outright, you may want to avoid bringing large rafts to small pools. If your raft interferes with other guests, then you may be asked to remove it from the pool. That being said, several of the larger Disney resort pools do rent inner tubes or rafts by the hour or the day. When in doubt, use the rental.
If you’re not sure about whether your child might need floatation assistance, you should know that all the Disney resorts stock a supply of life vests right next to the pool.
Is there a rental fee for life vests?
Nope. They’re free to borrow while you’re in the pool area.
What sizes do the Disney life vests come in?
- Infant/child: Weight less than 30 lbs.
- Child: Weight 30-50 lbs.
- Youth: Weight 50-90 lbs.
Are there life vests available for adults?
Yes. Some special needs or reluctant swimmer adults may need or want access to a floatation vest during their Disney visit. The resorts that have attached boating and marina recreation areas also have adult-size life vests already on hand. Simply go over to the marina area to request one. There is no charge to borrow the vest, but you may need to leave your room key or driver’s license until the vest is returned. If you need an adult vest and you’re not staying at a resort with a marina, speak to the front desk of your hotle and they will often be able to borrow one from another hotel.
Do you have sizing information for the adult vests?
Here you go:
- Adult XS: Weight more than 90 lbs., Chest size 31-34 in.
- Adult S: Weight more than 90 lbs., Chest size 34-37 in.
- Adult M: Weight more than 90 lbs., Chest size 37-40 in.
- Adult L: Weight more than 90 lbs. Chest size 40-43 in.
- Adult XL: Weight more than 90 lbs., Chest size 43-46 in.
- Adult XXL: Weight more than 90 lbs., Chest size 46-48 in.
- Additionally, there may be a small supply of even larger vests. Inquire at your resort.
You said that some resorts sell pool noodles. How much do they cost?
Prices may change, but currently (spring 2013) they are about $4.00 each.
I typically fly to Walt Disney World and my daughters love swimming with noodles, so we usually end up buying three or four during family trips. We can’t bring them back on the plane, so we consider this a sunk cost and leave them at Walt Disney World. If we’re pressed for time, we leave them in the room with a note for the housekeeper to take them. But if we’re in Good Samaritan mode, we’ll bring them down to the pool area and gift them to another family. It’s an easy way to Pixie Dust it forward.
Are other types of toys OK in the pools?
Generally, yes. The resort gift shops usually sell some basic toys that would be appropriate for water use such as rubber duckies and bucket & shovel sets. A few resorts even serve some of their children’s quick service meals in fun plastic buckets. I’ve also sometimes brought something like a whiffle ball for playing catch in the pool with my kids. As long as you’re not disturbing other guests, you’ll be fine.
In my experience, kids with pool toys become very popular with other kids in the pool who want to play too. If you’re traveling with an only child and want him to have some age cohort interaction during your vacation, a nice strategy is to bring some extra toys to the pool. Chances are he’ll make a buddy.
How deep are the Disney World pools?
This varies from resort to resort, but generally the deepest part of the main pool will be about four and a half feet deep. There are some exceptions to this that I’ll talk about when I get to resort specifics. None of the pools have a real “deep end.”
My resort has a pool slide. Is there an age or height requirement for this?
There are no posted age or height requirements for the resort slides. However, all guests must be able to go down the slide completely on their own. No lap-riding is allowed. Given child confidence levels, this typically means that the very youngest guests on the kiddie-size slides will be about 2-3 years old and the youngest guests on the big-size slides will be about 4-5 years old.
How deep is the water at the bottom of the pool slide?
This varies slightly from resort to resort, but the typical depth at the base of the slide is about three and a half feet.
My child wants to go down the slide, but he doesn’t have great swimming skills, do you have any suggestions?
Well, there are those life vests at all the pools. If it makes you or your child feel more comfortable, go ahead an have him wear a vest.
You can also wait for your child at the bottom of the slide. The lifeguards won’t let you stand directly in front of the slide dump point (sometimes those kiddos come down FAST), but you can stand a few feet to the side and move to intercept them within a second or two of their arrival in the water.
If you’re not 10,000% sure that your child is ready to slide, use two adults for the first few runs: one at the top of the slide as the escort (who will slide down after the child) and one at the bottom as the “catcher.” I once ran into a situation where I was set at the bottom of the slide to “catch” and sent my daughter (age five at the time) up the stairs to the top of the slide on her own. She chickened out at the top, started crying, and became frozen. This was obviously not my finest parenting moment. We eventually got it sorted out thanks to a sympathetic cast member, but for years after that my kids only went on the big slides when both parents could be involved in the process.
Are there any other slide rules to be aware of?
Slide rules include:
- Only one rider may enter the slide at a time.
- Slide feet first only, either sitting upright or lying on your back.
- Keep hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the slide at all times.
- Do not stand, kneel, or rotate while on the slide.
- Upon entering the pool at the bottom of the slide, swim immediately clear of the slide.
Will there be a hot tub at my hotel?
Disney calls them “spas” but in my mind they’re hot tubs. Whether or not you’ll have a hot tub at your resort depends on where you’re staying. There are no spas at the value resorts. Most, but not all, of the moderate and deluxe resorts have spas.
How hot are the Disney hot tubs?
The hot tubs are set to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can my kids use the hot tub?
There’s no age requirement. Kids can, and do, use the hot tubs. However, children under age twelve are required to have adult supervision when using the spas.
Is there food available at the Disney resort pools?
All the resorts have at least one pool with a nearby bar. The bars serve soft drinks, beer, wine, and some mixed drinks. Most have some specialty fruity/frosty option that can be had in both virgin and alcoholic versions. A few resorts do have hot food like burgers and fries available, but most only serve a limited menu of cold food items such as prepared salads, sandwiches, and chips. If you’re staying at a resort that offers room service, another option is to have items from the room service menu delivered to the pool.
Are there towels provided at the pool?
It depends on where you’re staying. There are towels provided at the moderate and deluxe resorts, but usually not at the value resorts. Check out our full report on the towel situation at Walt Disney World.
What exactly is a “quiet pool?”
Every resort has a “feature pool” where the action happens. That’s the place with splash zones, squirty things, slides, recreation, games, etc. Most resorts have at least one other pool which Disney folks call the “quiet pool.” You don’t have to be silent there, and children are certainly welcome to take a dip, but it is the place to be a bit more subdued in your activities. There should be no music, ball-playing, or other raucous behavior. If you’re an adult wanting to take a poolside nap, find your resort’s quiet pool.
Again, note that there are usually no lifeguards at the quiet pools, so be extra vigilant if you’re there with children.
I forgot my child’s swim goggles. Can I get replacements on site?
Yes. The Disney gift shops are very well stocked. You should be able to find children’s goggles, swim diapers, sunscreen, cover-ups, flip-flops, and even swimsuits on property. The selection won’t be large, but you’ll find the basics.
What’s the scoop on saving poolside lounge chairs for my family?
It’s pretty much a no-no. If you’re heading to the pool first and your family will be five minutes behind you, then go ahead and snag a row of chairs together. But if you’re going to be away from the pool for more than half an hour or so, take your stuff with you and give another family a chance to enjoy the view.
I’m planning to spend the whole day at the pool and really want to relax, any tips?
Well, a few of the deluxe resorts have poolside cabanas. These are stocked with comfy chairs, a TV and music hook-ups, a small refrigerator stocked with water, fresh towels, and waiter service. They’re pricey, but may be worth it if you reeeeally want to relax. Call 407-WDW-PLAY for reservations and additional information.
Is there anything to keep my kids occupied at the pool besides, you know, swimming?
Absolutely! When you check into your Disney resort, you’ll be given a recreation schedule which includes poolside activities. Typically, there will be programming at the pool from about 12:30 or 1:00 p.m. until about 5:00 p.m. Activities may include hula hooping contests, trivia games, Name That Disney Tune, chalk art, rubber ducky races, and dance parties. Any of which may be accompanies by lots of music and uber-happy cast members rallying the guests to play.
Additionally, there are playgrounds next to many of the resort pools, as well as ping pong tables and a few outdoor billiards tables.
With all that activity, aren’t the pools noisy?
In a word, yes. My kids seem to love it, but personally, I find the main feature pools to be quite noisy in the afternoons. This is not a big deal if I’m there to play with my children, but if I’m in work-on-my-tan-with-a-trashy-novel mode, then the main feature pool is not my happy place.
Will the noise impact me if my hotel room is near the pool?
Possibly. If your room directly faces a feature pool, you may hear pool party noise in the afternoon. This is not optimal if you or your child is planning a mid-day nap. Perhaps take this into consideration if you’re making a room request.
Also, all guests should be aware that any poolside noise they make at any time of day may impact other guests. If you’re taking an evening swim, please remember that all around you there are parents trying to get their little ones to sleep.
I see that many of the resorts are situated on lovely lakes. Can I swim in the lake instead of the pool?
Sorry, no. None of the resorts allow lake swimming. In some spots, you can wade in up to your ankles or so, but go in any further than that and harbor patrol will be all over you.
Why can’t you swim in the lakes?
Over the years, I’ve heard a number of different explanations for this: evil algae, hungry alligators, nefarious snakes, and the presence of too much boat traffic. The reality is probably some combination thereof, plus the fact that there is no lifeguard presence in the lakes. They’re looking out for your safety; don’t swim in the lakes.
I want to keep my stuff safe at the pool. Are there nearby lockers?
The best way to keep your belongings safe is to leave them back in your room, but of course you will need to bring a few basics to the pool with you such as your room key and possibly a little cash. If you’d like to lock this up, most resorts do have coin-operated lockers located near the main feature pool. There are generally not lockers near the quiet pools.
Are there showers near the resort pools?
Yes. All the resorts have outdoor shower spouts can use to rinse off sand/grime before getting into the pool. Additionally, most of the resorts have 2 to 4 real showers in one of the poolside restrooms. These have privacy curtains and soap/shampoo dispensers affixed to the wall. (Well, I’m describing the situation in the women’s rooms; I assume that the men’s situation is the same.) Many, but not all, of the shower areas I surveyed had wall mounted hairdryers nearby.
These showers are a great resource if you’d like to spend part of your last day at Walt Disney World at the pool. Since check-out time is 11:00 a.m., you won’t have access to the shower in your room after that time. With the pool restroom showers, you can spend last-day time swimming and then rinse off the chlorine before heading to the plane. And remember, the bell services desk at your resort will be happy to hold your luggage for you.
The poolside showers can also be a resource for guests with lots of adults staying in one room. Sometimes the one-bathroom-for-five-women thing is tricky. Send someone down to shower at the pool and you’ll get out the door much more quickly.
I’m traveling with someone with a mobility issue. Can the poolside showers accommodate them?
Yes. If your resort has poolside showers, then at least one of them will be handicapped accessible with grab bars and in-shower seating.
I’m having Orlando-area friends visit me at my hotel. Can they use my resort’s pool? What about members of my extended traveling party who are staying at another resort? Can they swim with me?
This one is tricky.
First of all, you’re always welcome to have visitors at your Disney resort. If they’re using Disney transportation to get to your hotel, then you don’t need to inform anyone of your plans to have guests. However, if your visitors are driving to your hotel, you may want to alert the front desk so that there are no issues with parking.
As for guests using your resort’s pool, it really depends on where you’re staying. At most hotels, there’s no problem with this. For example, at the All Stars, there’s no gate and no one checking IDs at the pool. You should obviously be cognisant of not allowing your friends to disrupt the enjoyment of paying guests, but if grandma wants to splash in the pool with your daughter for an hour, I say “Go For It.”
At resorts with cast attendants at the pool gates, you may have trouble with having guests join you for a swim. Often cast at these resorts will ask to see resort IDs for every member of your party, even children. In order to have a guest join you here, you’ll need to get permission from the front desk of the hotel. They may issue your guest a temporary ID card or some other form of pass. Please beware that this may not always be possible, so don’t promise grandma a swim in Stormalong Bay before double checking.
Any other rules I should know about?
Just the usual stuff: No glass bottles near the pool. Don’t drink the pool water. Supervise your children.
Basically, use your common sense and you’ll be fine.
Are there better or worse resort pools for my infant/toddler/preschooler/child/teen?
This is another subjective call. Stay tuned for Part Two where I’ll discuss the specific pool situation at each resort. Once you have that information, you’ll be able to make a better decision for your family.
UPDATE: Here is part two of the series: Get to Know the Disney Value Resort Pools
UPDATE: Here is part three of the series: Get to Know the Disney Moderate Resort Pools
UPDATE: Here is part four of the series: Get to Know the Disney Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resort Pools