If you’ve read my book (and who among you hasn’t?) you know that I’m a strong advocate for visiting Walt Disney World in the off-season. I base that preference on my fondness for less-crowded parks, smaller queues, easier dining reservations and… the weather.
“The weather?” you ask. If you’ve visited in December or January, you realize that the weather at Disney World is the proverbial crapshoot. It can be beautiful, sunny and 70s – 80s, or downright wintery. Conversely, if you attend in the summer months, central Florida temperatures approximate the surface of Venus (everyone uses the “surface of the sun” analogy and, to be honest, it’s becoming a tad stale.) It’s then that I ask "just what was Walt thinking?" Sure, there are acres and acres of open land to build theme parks but how attractive are parks built on molten lava?
The following is excerpted from my book:
Summer can be an excellent time to visit if you like stifling heat, high humidity, enormous crowds and violent daily thunderstorms. Those puddles on Main Street are melted tourists—many others simply combust spontaneously. And don’t forget … it’s hurricane season. But your kids are out of school.
Having read that, if you’re still insistent on visiting in the summer, please read on.
When faced with comparing the extremes of Walt Disney World in January and July, I offer this truism: You can always add more clothing if it’s cold but there is a limit to how much you can take off when it’s warm. I’ve layered on sweatshirts, fleeces, windbreakers, jackets, hats and gloves to fight off the chill while waiting in line outside at the Comedy Warehouse. However, you don’t want to see me, or any of my brethren, slogging around the Magic Kingdom in a tank top, flip-flops and a Speedo. Trust me.
Unfortunately, many of you are forced to go in the summer. Maybe you’re a teacher or you have children in school. The summer season is the only time that works for you. You’re apprehensive about going but allow me to calm your fears as I offer you “Steve Russo’s Guide to Successfully Touring Walt Disney World When It’s So Hot the Birds Have to Use Potholders to Pull Worms Out of the Ground." Ready? Here we go.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must first reveal to you that I have never visited Walt Disney World in the summer months. I know. I hear you gasping. I have visited during a couple of particularly warm periods in early May and early October. The October trip, in particular, was quite oppressive. The daily high temperatures were consistently in the 90s and the humidity was extremely high—peaking at 102% at one point. I’m still perplexed as to how the humidity was able to completely saturate the atmosphere… and then kick it up a notch. I’m reminded of the sports cliché of “giving 110%” which we all realize is impossible. Later, someone was able to offer an explanation that satisfied my curiosity but it involves a Wilson Cloud Chamber, a lot of math and always results in a pain over my left eye.
I can remember that, during that October trip, the simple act of walking through Future World would have me perspiring profusely—sweating through my shirt so I left the telltale Hidden Mickey sweat stain on the front. But I digress. We were discussing my lack of foundation with summer touring; and why I think I’m qualified to offer advice on said topic. To substantiate my expertise, allow me to offer a few of my travel experiences that approximated the hellish qualities of an Orlando July.
I once spent three weeks in San Antonio, Texas in July. The culmination of my stay there corresponded to their 108th consecutive day without rain. The lowesttemperature during these three weeks was 92 degrees—and that occurred at 3:00am! You needed to use a cloth to open your car door at the end of the day less you incur third-degree burns to your hands. I played tennis (not a smart move, by the way) on courts you reached by stepping over colonies of fire ants. The palmetto bugs that came out by the hotel pool each evening begged to be saddled for the Calgary Stampede.
Not convinced? I also took separate week-long trips to Phoenix and Tucson, also in July. I played golf in Phoenix when it was 115-degrees and the Club Pro kept insisting, “Yeah, but it’s a dry heat” just prior to bursting into flames. I also spent the July 4 holiday in Las Vegas a few years back but that doesn’t really count—there’s so much air conditioning in Las Vegas that just passing in front of a Strip hotel is cooling.
Satisfied? Good. Now that we’ve got my qualifications out of the way, let’s get down to offering you some serious advice for touring Walt Disney World in the summer months. We’ll start with…
Sunburn… peeling skin… melanoma. None of that is very pleasant but it demonstrates the need for you to protect every square inch of your body from the damaging rays of the sun. The recommendations you most often hear involve wearing long-sleeved shirts, slacks and a hat the size of Alabama to minimize skin exposure. The people that offer that advice don’t realize that, if dressed like that, you’d likely melt. Have you ever seen one of those brightly colored puddles on the walkways at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Yep… melted tourist.
My advice is to dress appropriately for the temperature which will require some variation of shorts and t-shirt; then slather on sunscreen like there’s no tomorrow. Because Orlando in July is only 17 nautical miles from the sun (that’s a scientific fact few are aware of—go ahead, look it up), you need sunscreen protection of approximately SPF 500. You can find SPF 500 only in those countries without adequate government oversight and, even then, it will cost approximately $1,000 per ounce. I’ll save you some travel and some dough by letting you in on a little secret: you can get the same SPF 500 protection with a few bottles of SPF 50, a good friend and some time. You need to slather on 10 coats of SPF 50 to achieve the desired protection but it will be worth it. Sure, some cast members might complain about the oil slick you leave behind on attraction seats but you’ll feel better knowing you’re protected from the sun’s harmful rays.
I hope that you realize I was kidding about the 10 coats but not about the importance of sunscreen. Apply and re-apply often.
Have you seen those little battery operated fans they sell in the parks? They even offer a version with a little water reservoir so you can spritz yourself for some additional cooling. Do you own one? Throw it away. In the Florida heat, it’s equivalent to cooling the South Pacific with an ice cube. The water you spritz will turn to steam before it reaches your face and the fans aren’t powerful enough to muss your hair.
To stay cool at Disney World you need a sturdy, high-powered 30" electric fan delivering at least 7,400 CFM. To power that baby, you have to travel with a stand-alone gas-powered generator. I’m not certain how Disney’s security guards will react so you may want to keep this one on the wish list for a bit.
Seriously, those spritzing fans can offer some welcome relief when stuck in a hot queue but, please use them judiciously and be aware of those around you that may not be looking for a shower.
Sure, everyone talks about it but, do they take it seriously? You need to drink water and lots of it. If you rely on Disney’s fountains, you’re facing a week of holding your nose while you sip that sulfur-laden liquid Orlando calls “water”. If you buy bottled water at Disney, at the going rate of $2.50 per bottle, after a week you will have spent the equivalent of the GNP of several African countries.
My advice? If the resort water is really distasteful to you, buy a case of bottled water off site. Or bring a Brita filter (or equivalent) to filter the tap water in the parks and at your resort. In any case, fill a few bottles back at your hotel and pop them in the freezer overnight. Take them with you to the parks and after a few hours, you’ll have some ice-cold drinks available. You can refill the bottles from drinking fountains the rest of the day unless, of course, you really find that distasteful.
We’ve already discussed the absurdity of park touring in slacks, sleeves, gloves, a big floppy hat and a parasol. You need to dress to be cool and comfortable (or as cool and comfortable as possible, anyway) while realizing you’re in a theme park and decorum is still appropriate.
Regardless of your attire, there are a few ways to maintain your cool, so to speak. One tip, used by many, is to wet a washcloth or small towel, place it in a zip lock bag and freeze it overnight. The next day, when you’re feeling particularly heated, you can extract the towel and use it for relief as a cooling compress on your forehead or the back of your neck (or any other body part you can get away with). From my days playing and coaching baseball, the back of the neck is a very effective location for use.
I toyed with the idea of actually wetting and freezing an entire wardrobe to be worn the next day. While that would certainly keep you cool in the early morning, my guess is things could get pretty soggy by midday. I’m also guessing there may be some chafing.
Stay out of the sun. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s often easier said than done while visiting theme parks. You could sprint from attraction to attraction to minimize your time outdoors but that may be counter-productive.
Tour the parks in the early morning and evening when the temperatures are a bit cooler. Save the shows and indoor attractions, where it’s air conditioned, for the hotter parts of the day—usually the afternoons. Try to tour in specific areas or lands, minimizing the time spent walking across the park. Take that mid-day break and nap in the air-conditioned room and/or spend some time cooling in and by the resort pool. You could also visit one of the two water parks, Blizzard beach or Typhoon Lagoon.
So there you have it. The complete guide to staying cool during a summer at Walt Disney World. To summarize: dress appropriately; use sunscreen; freeze water bottles and wet cloths; hydrate; tour intelligently; take a midday break. Just a lot of common sense, isn’t it? Some of the suggestions are good ones while a few are offered with tongue firmly planted in cheek; but I’m sure you can discern which are which. And, when all else fails… change your vacation to December.
I’d love to hear some of your tips for staying cool so send them in, and, as always—thanks for reading.