Snap! We Didn't See That Coming - Cold Snap That Is

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

You’ve planned your vacation months in advance and, suddenly, you find yourself preparing for, or even unexpectedly in the middle of, unseasonably cold weather. What is a parent to do? This week we asked our Parenting Panel: Many people don't EXPECT it to be cold in warm weather areas like Anaheim and Florida, what do you do to prepare for colder weather and what do you do when you're caught off guard?

Mary Kraemer is an avid Disney fan and travel consultant with CruisingCo/MouseEarVacations who loves to travel with her husband and children to Disney destinations as often as possible. Mary writes

A few years ago, we spent Thanksgiving on board the Disney Magic to celebrate some milestone birthdays. Because we live on the West Coast, it seemed wrong to just get on the ship without spending time at the Walt Disney World Resort, so…we spent a week there, too!

Our main focus for the vacation was the warm sunny beaches of Castaway Cay, Cozumel, and Grand Cayman in addition to warm sunny days on board the ship…so we packed accordingly (but we did take some jackets because it was chilly when we left home and we knew we’d need them when we returned). Thank goodness for that. I had no idea what a good idea it was to have those jackets with us.

Needless to say, we were shocked when we got to sunny-but-definitely-not-warm Orlando. Temperatures were in the 30s in the evenings and I don’t think we saw anything higher than the low 50s during the days. Those icicle lights on the castle? I think they were real icicles.

My most immediate concern was for my father, who was undergoing cancer treatments and had lost a lot of weight, so he was especially frail. We had rented a motorized scooter for our time at Walt Disney World and on board the Disney Cruise Line, so he did not even have the benefit of walking or movement to help keep warm.

Fortunately, we had a rental car, which made it relatively easy to find a Wal-Mart close to Walt Disney World. The question in my mind, though, was “Would an Orlando Wal-Mart have cold-weather gear?” I am used to the local stores being a source of sunscreen and flip-flops pretty much anytime of year, so I thought that a cold snap would be a challenge and we might not have much luck with finding items that we’d need.

Fortunately, everything we needed was in stock. I was even able to find long underwear. (Think about that for a second: how much long underwear is really sold in Orlando?) I was very thankful to be able to get multiple layers onto my family and especially my dad. I also got some inexpensive fleece blankets that he could use while on the motorized scooter, to help keep warm. Our photos of him bundled up in a hat, gloves, and blanket in front of the castle make that wintery cold weather seem really believable…unlike some of the Disney Parks Christmas Parade crowds I’ve seen on TV.

Even so, our park days were hard for my dad, and we had to be flexible in our schedule. We were fortunate that First Aid, especially at the Magic Kingdom, would let him come in and rest, cover him up, and let him get warm. First Aid has quite a few beds and they were very kind to my dad. Sometimes, he would not want to go to the parks until mid-day, when it was warmest, and then need to go back sooner than the rest of us, but having a car helped with those logistics.

If we had not had a rental car, and we were staying on site with only Disney transportation at our disposal, I would have rented a car onsite to find the winter clothes we needed on that trip. It was that dire for us.

And then we went to Port Canaveral, got on the ship, and proceeded to have the sunny warm vacation that we’d anticipated.

Jen, also known as *Nala*, is an engineer, a Disney fan, and a MouseAdventure fanatic. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two future MouseAdventurers, ages 10 months and 2 1/2 years. Jen writes:

It's always warm and sunny at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts, right? Not necessarily. Even though Disneyland and Walt Disney World are located in the Golden State and the Sunshine State, respectively, sometimes a cold day or rainy day can catch you by surprise if you're not prepared. Everyone has a different idea of what is considered "cold," and while those from Minnesota or Canada might laugh at this article and then go ride Splash Mountain with no wait in 45-degree weather, the rest of us might want to think about how to comfortably spend a day at the parks in Southern California or Florida winters.

The Mouse will happily sell you a sweatshirt, jackets, long pants, ponchos, or even a scarf and hat, but you might want to spend that $49.95 (plus tax!) somewhere else. Like most other things related to a Disney vacation, it's best to plan ahead.

Bring Layers. Even on projected warm-weather days, you may find yourself arriving at the parks at the crack of dawn to take advantage of Early Entry or Extra Magic Hours, or staying later into the night to catch the fireworks or the last showing of Fantasmic! For all but the coldest weather, we prefer to layer a long sleeve shirt and sweatshirt and/or light jacket, rather than wearing a heavy jacket or coat. The removed layers then fit easily into the corner of a bag or the bottom of a stroller. They may also come in handy if the kids need an emergency change of clothes, as often happens.

Bring Rain Gear. Florida is famous for afternoon rain showers, even on warm days. Disney sells ponchos for $8-$10 a piece, but you can save money if you buy your own elsewhere and bring it to the parks. For those with little kids, stroller rain covers can also come in handy.

Use Body Heat. This suggestion is Disney-friendly, I promise! For the littlest park guests, often the best way to keep them warm is to carry them in a front baby-carrier or sling. In cold weather our infant daughter is usually much happier if she can ride on Daddy and share his body heat. An added bonus is that Mom or Dad stays warmer, too!

Go Inside. While there is no real way to avoid some outdoor time when spending the day at Disney parks, there are a good number of indoor attractions that can provide at least a brief break from the weather. With little kids we'll head to the Disney Junior show or Turtle Talk with Crush at Disney California Adventure Park, or Innoventions or "it's a small world" at Disneyland Park. All four Walt Disney World parks also have plenty of indoor shows and rides. If we're hungry, we'll stop for a meal at one of the many indoor table service restaurants or counter service locations with indoor seating. Even spending a few minutes inside a store can help everyone warm up. But if that doesn't work, it may be time to…

Go Home. We are fortunate to be Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club members. Especially with little kids, there is a point at which it makes more sense to cut our losses for the day, go home or go back to the resort, and watch a Disney movie instead. We know we'll be back again to enjoy the parks on a warmer day.

Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:

For much of the United States, for an escape from the cold, you head south to places like Florida. It’s a logical choice since it is portrayed as sunny and warm all year round. And, for the most part, this is very true. However, nature has a way of playing tricks on locals and visitors alike to Central Florida and, at times, you can get caught in a cold snap. Its not something you really have to worry about, but something to consider when figuring our your wardrobe.

My family’s first winter trip experience was rather amusing. For our five-day trip, the temperature ranged from the mid-80s when we arrived, down to a high of 40 by the time we left. Add in an actual wind chill from the stiff breeze that you usually experience at the parks, and you have the potential of getting caught off-guard. Granted, those of us who live up north may think that a low in the 40s is no big deal while those who are from the sun belt may think it’s time to stay indoors. But there are a few things you can do from a planning perspective to make sure you are ready for anything.

  • Don’t assume the weather report will be exactly correct. While checking weather sites for the 10 day forecast right before your trip, do plan on the weather being cooler just in case the predictions are off a bit.
  • Dressing in layers will be your best bet. The mornings can be somewhat chilly at times with the daytime sun bringing a lot of warmth. This may mean a sweatshirt or hoodie in the morning and t-shirt weather later. Of course, if you stay out later in the evening, you will most likely want to put those extra layers to good use once again. Just remember, you will have to carry or store any clothing you might have with you.
  • If you are going to be near one of the many lakes and lagoons for activities or fireworks, the breeze off the water can make it seem cooler. Keep this in mind for when you are looking for that perfect viewing area and try to have the wind at your back.
  • Don’t always expect the stores to carry winter clothes. I know this may seem somewhat odd since the World of Disney and Mouse Gear stores tend to have anything you ever want when it comes to Disney clothes. However, like any store, they do have certain items out during certain months. This may mean that if you were waiting to pick up a Mickey jacket in February to add to the T-shirt collection you packed, you might be out of luck. It’s best to bring what you need from home if at all possible, though some stores will have thick character beach towels that can be used as fun blankets in a pinch. It may seem odd, but they work well and hold up better to being outside.
  • If you still planned and are caught off guard, layers are still your best bet. Layering long-sleeved and short-sleeved T-shirts can be very effective at warding off chill. This was my line of defense during that first winter trip I mentioned earlier.
  • Do not forget sunscreen or a poncho! It might be winter, but these two items are often forgotten. You still need to protect your skin from the sun and it still has the possible chance for rain at times. And when it is cold outside, being wet is much more uncomfortable than when it is hot and a welcomed relief.

If caught off guard by a sudden cold snap, or even if you tend to be a person who is more sensitive to cooler weather, keep in mind that the more you move, the warmer you feel. At the same time, it gives you a great chance (or excuse) to shop more indoors and take in some longer dining experience. After all, dealing with the weather is as much adapting as it is preparing for the unknown.

MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry his wife Diane, 11-year-old Samantha, and twin 8-year-olds, Casey and Alex, live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:

As I write this in New York, it’s cold and getting colder. We had a trace amount of snow and ice this morning. Three days ago, it was near 50 degrees. Welcome to winter in New York. Temperatures can range anywhere from the single digits with negative wind chill and snow, to 60 degrees and sunny. Florida is traditionally an escape to us New Yorkers during the winter. People leave New York and head to Florida in droves. Why? Not just because of Walt Disney World. It’s the weather … the consistent warm weather. It’s one of the reasons that the resort was built in the region in the first place, good weather all year long.

Notice, I used the word good, not perfect. Nothing is perfect. You have to go to the Caribbean to find perfect weather; it’s pretty much the same all the time, warm and breezy. Orlando, despite being in sunny Florida, can actually get darn right cold. People forget this. Heck, I’ve forgotten it and given my Walt Disney World experience, I should know better.

Several years back, during MouseFest in December of 2006, I forgot to pack anything warm for my long weekend at the Walt Disney World Resort. Perhaps it was intentional. It was cold here in New York that December and I couldn’t wait to get to WDW for the obvious reasons, but also for a break in the cold. I checked the weather forecast and only paid attention to the daytime highs, which seemed comfortable in the upper 60s and low 70s. Color me surprised on my first morning when I walked out of my Caribbean Beach room to legitimate 40-degree weather. The walk around Barefoot Bay to Old Port Royale that morning in shorts, a T-shirt and Mickey windbreaker was downright painful. I’m not a coffee drinker so, thank god for hot cocoa.

That day, I bought a Mickey Mouse thermal shirt and put it right on. Later on, after almost literally freezing in the Himalayas, I bought an Expedition Everest fleece jacket in the Serka Zong Bazaar in Animal Kingdom. I can still remember MousePlanet’s David Koenig cracking jokes that night about my warm upper body wrapped in fleece and my chattering legs wrapped in only shorts as we walked around World Showcase.

I learned a lesson that weekend.

The next December trip we took, I paid close attention to the entire forecast, not just the daytime, and packed accordingly. Of course, on that trip it was warm and we were swimming each day to cool off, but I was prepared just in case.

We typically travel to Walt Disney World in August and, maybe, this sounds too obvious, but I have never needed anything too warm in August. Shorts and T-shirts are all that you need. But one night in the Magic Kingdom, years ago, influenced my summer packing. It had rained in the afternoon, but not quite like it always does in August. This one lasted longer and was a bit slower to finish. It lingered for a while and I’ll never forget when it finally stopped, we were walking through Liberty Square on our way to dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern, and all three of us were shivering. The rain had ushered in something cold that wasn’t going away. We each had rain ponchos or windbreakers, and we were dry enough, but it wasn’t sufficient. We needed more. The little one had a sweater in my bag. I had nothing. The wife had nothing. It was August, after all.

We stopped in the Heritage House shop and she bought a nice heavy Grumpy sweatshirt. I agreed to suffer to save a few bucks, but there we were in August in the Magic Kingdom, in need of warmer clothes. From that moment on, a sweatshirt is always in my suitcase and usually in my backpack…even in August…just in case.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go throw another log on the fire.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!



  1. By danyoung

    If I had one suggestion to everyone, it would be to check the weather sites - and It just cracks me up to see people in line for a rope drop at a WDW park dressed in shorts and tank tops, and the temps are in the 30's or 40's. There's information out there, people. It's not always the most accurate, but it at least gives an indication as to the temps you're going to experience.

    That said, I've been caught more than once in the unexpected cold. I've increased my supply of Disney sweatshirts at these times, but I still feel somewhat silly that I wasn't more prepared!

  2. By jennibell

    Long ago when I was about 10 and we took our first trip to WDW. There are many things about that trip that I will never forget. We were staying at a friends house and I remember waking up one morning to see the fruit tree in the neighbors yard covered in ice. They had sprayed water on it all night because of the cold...for reasons I still don't quite understand. Keeping that in mind, I packed hand warmers for our Dec. trip. The hand warmers were wonderful, a bit of warmth and they don't take up too much room. I had checked the weather and knew it would be cold. That trip we didn't spend as much time in the parks at night as I would have liked. It was just too cold. Still had a great time!

  3. By bigm

    For some people, its hard to pack extra clothing to cover weather. Living in Canada, we always travel in November and have our winter coats on for departure, and I always bring a light jacket along with wet jackets. So prepared for wet and cold weather. I used to bring an umbrella along but it got to be a pain and take up space. Hardly ever used it. When go to the parks, I have a backpack with cameras and jackets so ready just in case weather decides to turn. Even if you pay attention to the weather forecast, when are they right? For us, what you call 'cold' weather is a typical summer day so we used to it. We laugh sometimes as we are in the park, we are in t-shirt and shorts and hot and people there are in their jackets and gloves turning blue. They look at us going aren't your freezing? Nope, its -30 back home so we loving this! You guys don't know cold. lol

  4. By rph13

    Remember even going inside , isn't always warmer. Sure the wind is gone but not every place has heat. Three years ago we where there for Christmas week and DD and I took the Keys to the Kingdom tour at 8am the temperature at start time was 35* by the time we got to lunch at Columbia Harbor House everyone was ready for some heat! We went upstairs to our tables and man was it cold up there. Our tour guide told us they don't really build for heat because they would use it so infrequently. But the utilators (tunnels under MK), are nice and warm, once you get away from the entrances.
    Definitely wear layers! And wind breakers are good, it seems there is always a wind so if you just have a fleece the wind goes right thru.

  5. By GusMan

    Quote Originally Posted by danyoung View Post
    It just cracks me up to see people in line for a rope drop at a WDW park dressed in shorts and tank tops, and the temps are in the 30's or 40's.

    Thats still shorts weather for me. Sure, I may be wearing a hoodie as well, but its just my variation on a theme of dressing in "layers."

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