Surviving the Heat on a Summer Trip to Disney World
What do you think of when you think of Walt Disney World in the middle of the summer? Frequent rain showers. Temperatures close to 100 degrees plus humidity. Melting Mickey ice cream. Crying kids. Overheated adults. Long lines. Short tempers. Sound fun?
When I first thought about taking my girls to Disney World in July, I thought through some of those potential realities myself. Obviously summer is a popular time of the year to visit Disney because school is out, but summer is far from the ideal time to visit Disney as far as weather is concerned. However, summer was what we had to work with, so I decided that we could make summer in Disney work even if the weather was less than temperate. Here's how it went for us, and some tips if you decide to visit Disney World in the summer.
Don't be out mid-day unless you are in the pool.
Let's cut to the chase and talk about how the middle of the day in Orlando in July can be really brutal. When you are outside in the sun on the Disney concrete at high noon in the summer you will melt faster than the iconic Mickey shaped ice cream. My goal was to really limit our time outside in the sun from a little before noon until mid-afternoon. That coincides with toddler naptime, so it is a pretty logical plan if you still have children of napping age.
However, even if you don't have children who normally nap, it still is a pretty good idea to get up early to hit the parks in the morning, and then return to your hotel for several hours in the middle of the day either to either rest or swim. As the clock reaches late afternoon, you can venture back out to the parks for some evening rides, meals, and activities. It will still be pretty hot late morning and late afternoon, but not as intolerable as it is if you are out for hours in the middle of the day.
If you don't have any young kids in your group you could skip the mornings entirely, sleep in, and just go to the parks beginning in the late afternoon or early evening. Depending on the park and day of the week, some stay open until 1AM! On our July trip, things got much nicer outside as you approached 6PM, but with kids doing late nights in the parks wouldn't have worked well.
Avoid long outdoor lines.
If you are going to be in the parks midday then at the very least have a strategy in place so that you aren't waiting for a long period of time in an outdoor line. While many of the outdoor lines are covered or shaded, honestly I wouldn't even do that if you can avoid it. I would try to target indoor air conditioned lines and shows when you don't have a FastPass since a little time in the 75 degree air conditioning can go a long way to make the 95 degree heat outdoors more tolerable....at least until you go back outside!
Bring lots of water, Gatorades, and more.
One of the great things about Disney World is you can bring in your own drinks and snacks. We had lots of drinks from home delivered to our Disney hotel room for free, and then we would chill them in the room's fridge at night and bring them into the parks in the morning. This allowed us to stay pretty well hydrated without going broke buying water by the bottle.
You can also ask the quick service food counters for a complimentary cup of ice water, or refill your own water bottles in the parks from the water fountains, though I personally prefer the cups of ice water or water bottles.
Skip the cute clothes and dress for the heat.
We have Mickey Mouse leggings, princesses dresses, black Mickey ears, and more, but that is not what we are going to wear to the parks in the heat of the summer. Put on a cool and light colored Mickey Mouse t-shirt and comfortable shorts and leave the cute stuff for evening visits to the parks. I personally don't recommend sleeveless shirts as it can be really easy to sunburn your shoulders if you aren't careful, but a nice cool short sleeve t-shirt is essential. A light colored hat is also a very good idea.
Because I feel totally nasty after a few hours in the parks in the summer I also like to have at least a different shirt packed for our return trip to the parks in the evening, or preferably a whole new outfit. This is of course not mandatory, but if sure feels nice after a swim and shower to have clean clothes to put on, so pack accordingly if you also fall into that category.
Make a lunch dining reservation.
If you don't want to retreat to your hotel in the middle of the day, another good place to retreat to is a Disney restaurant that accepts lunch reservations. This can be a great way to spend 90 minutes or so being waited on while sitting in glorious air conditioning. We made lunch reservations at Be Our Guest this time around, which was great from an air conditioning perspective, but less than relaxing in terms of waiting for our turn to order via the computers. I honestly don't think I will return there for lunch as it was a madhouse, but most sit-down Disney restaurants don't operate in this manner.
Keep in mind that some restaurants don't really have a waiting area other than outside, so you may have a little outdoors time in exchange for time sitting at a dining table even with a reservation. Still, this is a very solid plan if you are going to spend all day in the parks during the summer.
Yes to Extra Magic Hours, sort of.
If you are staying at a Disney property you have access to Extra Magic Hours which allows you to visit certain parks on rotating days before and/or after the official closing time. There are some who say you should avoid the parks that are hosting Extra Magic Hours entirely as it leads to them being more crowded than usual. This is true, but I would argue that if you are only going early or late in the day when the Extra Magic Hours happen, then you can have more time in the parks outside of the hottest times of the day.
For example, Magic Kingdom may open at 8AM instead of 9AM on an Extra Magic Hours day, and the 8AM - 9AM hour is almost pleasant, even in July. If you want to avoid the crowds you may not want to spend all day in a park that is hosting Extra Magic Hours, but if you are only going from like 8AM - 10AM the crowds shouldn't be that bad. Additionally, you could just go to the park in the evenings and enjoy Extra Magic Hours from 10PM - 12AM when you can ride a ton in a short period of time without the overwhelming heat and sun.
How was Disney in the summer?
It was hot. Really hot. Seriously though, for our July Disney visit we had a toddler, a seven year old, a Grandma, and myself out in the heat and it was mostly fine. We live in weather conditions pretty similar to Orlando, so it wasn't a huge shock going to a hot and humid location....it felt just like home. That said, we don't usually spend all day outside in July at home walking around 10+ miles with a stroller, so it still had its challenges. By minimizing our midday outdoors time and not overdoing, it we were fine.We drank a ton of water and Gatorade, dressed in cool clothes, and we weren't afraid to retreat to air conditioning. That said, I absolutely did see people being treated for dehydration and overheating in the parks.
Since we were staying at The Polynesian we didn't waste time or energy in the heat getting to or from the parks since we just hopped on the monorail. We also never waited in a single line in the parks thanks to scheduling FastPasses ahead of time, taking this tour, and getting some free bonus FastPasses by taking a Disney Vacation Club tour. There is a zero percent chance my crew would have done well waiting in even a 30 minute outdoor line in the heat of the day during the summer.
Going to Disney World in the summer was no worse than we thought it would be in terms of heat, but it wasn't any easier either. I would visit Disney again in the summer if that was just how things worked out, but as I plan into the future to target when we will take a "big" Disney trip when our youngest is about 5, I think we will try to go mid-March during our spring break instead of during the summer break.
I'd love to hear what does your family does to make summer trips to Disney doable.