Surviving the Heat on a Summer Trip to Disney World

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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.

Are we having fun yet?

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.

Yes to afternoon pool time.

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!

My kids were melting in front of Frozen when I paused for a 3 second photo.

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 (here’s how), 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.

Yes to t-shirts and shorts

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.

Nice once you sit down

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.

Evenings in the park are the best.

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.

Every second in the shade helps

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.

Comments

  1. I agree with everything you said except for EMH! I’ve been visiting WDW multiple times a year since my 13 year old (who just spent her birthday 11 days ago completing a 4 park challenge) was 5 months old. We’ve had annual passes more times than I can remember and we’ve spent over 30 days at WDW this year alone. I realize that’s somewhat pathetic, but my point is that I’ve logged a lot of miles at WDW!

    We used to take advantage of EMH when we first started visiting WDW because, like most people, we thought that we should take advantage of this extra special hour granted to only WDW resort guests. However, as I became more “park saavy” and learned more about touring strategies from websites like (now defunct) Tour Guide Mike, EasyWDW, and Touring Plans, the consensus of the true park touring experts is to avoid EMH like the plaque. It just brings in droves of people. A good rule of thumb is to go to the park that had EMH the day before because the crowds will be lower.

    For the first time in many years, we went to a morning EMH at MK to start our day on my daughter’s birthday. It reinforced our anti-EMH position. We were staying next door at Bay Lake Tower and arrived for an 8am EMH at 7:30am. In comparison to a couple of days earlier, it was significantly crazier from the security line to the lines for the ride. I would estimate that we were slowed down by 50% with the lines on EMH day. Even if you are only going to spend the morning at the park, you will likely accomplish more on a non-EMH day AND get an extra hour of sleep. Also, there are only limited attractions open during EMH. MK only opens Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.

    Night time EMH are probably a better use of time than AM EMH. It’s definitely preferable from a weather perspective (8am might be a couple of degrees cooler than 9am, but the humidity is higher). However, unless you don’t need a lot of sleep or are committing to a non-rope drop touring philosophy (which we don’t), PM EMH can be a challenge from a fatigue standpoint.

    One more summer Disney tip- cooling towels! My husband would have died without them last August.

    • I hear you and know the EMH part would be controversial. I’m just up anyway and would rather start while it’s cooler, but it does carry a crowd cost for sure. I have done rides over and over again back in my 20’s late at night thanks to late closings, but those days are behind me for now. Ha!

  2. I just pull my son from school the 1st week of december every year and enjoy relatively empty parks.Hats off to all the folks that brave the heat during the summer months

    • I miss those days. My personal favorite is the last week of January. I used to freely pull my kids from school for Disney trips, but it’s not really a feasible option for us after the oldest hit middle school.

  3. We agree that evenings are the best time at the parks. We have the Epcot after 4 pass, so we always try to plan to be there around 4. We take it easy during the day and make sure the kids get a good nap so they can stay up a little late. We usually stay until park close at 9 and the weather is usually bearable if not enjoyable!

  4. Respectfully disagree with first poster – we’ve found we can get more done in the am EMH hour than at any other time – and the temps are better! Then after 10 or so you hop to another park. And, in our experience (YMMV), the pm EMH aren’t that much less crowded that the regular hours (but, again, the temps are better). I guess the moral is you have to go a bazillion times doing everything in different combinations to see what works best for you!

  5. We went in February and it was awesome. Mild weather and hardly any wait times. We really got to enjoy things at a nice pace. A friend went with her girls around Easter and said she had never seen that many people in one place and hated it. To me, the only down side to going in winter is not being able to use the pools, etc. (Even at that you might catch a warmish day for a pool here and there). I truly would not go to Disney in the summer if it was free. But there are plenty of people who disagree so there you go:).

  6. We dined at Be Our Guest for lunch in March this year. Did you not know about how you can order on your smart phone beforehand and totally skip the ordering line? I think you can do it up to 5 minutes before you enter the restaurant. I saw that crazy line and wondered why people didn’t just do what we did. We bypassed the line completely and went straight to our table.

    • I tried 12 or more times and never got it to work. I didn’t know how bad the penalty for that would be!

  7. Going to Disney in October for a work trip…

    My husband – who has never had any interest in Disney as a child or adult – will have the kids (18 month and 3.5 year old boys) for a day while I am in meetings. What park should I send him to? I was thinking Epcot because – selfishly – I would like to be with boys on their first Magic Kingdom day and I thought the monorail would be the easiest way for him to navigate and make a quick exit back to the hotel.

    However, would love any advice you have!

    • I’ll chim in!

      First of all, what hotel are staying at since you made mention about the monorail? It’s pretty easy to get to the Poly via email from Epcot, but it was a pain when we stayed at Bay Lake Tower (Contemporary) a couple of weeks ago. Is there a specific reason that you think you husband and kids would enjoy Epcot? We love it, but the other parks (Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios) might have more to offer and hold the interest of your kids.

      At Animal Kingdom, my kids loved the safari and Triceratops Spin (dinosaur Dumbo) at that age. Additionally, they would spend HOURS playing in the Boneyard playground. Animal Kingdom also has arguably the two best shows on property (Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo). Both are great and hold the interest of toddlers/preschoolers. There is also the Wildlife Express train that can take them to Raifiki’s Planet Watch where they can pet goats, see animal exhibits, etc. Check out the website jamboeveryone.com for tons of AK info.

      Hollywood Studios gets a bad rap these days, but we still have lots of fun there. Toy Story Midway Mania is a really fun ride that your kids and husband can all enjoy together. If your kids are fans of the Disney Junior shows, there is a cute stage show featuring the characters. There is also a Little Mermaid stage show, a really funny Frozen Sing-A-Long, Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, a Muppet 3-D movie, and an incredible Beauty and the Beast Show. Your kids won’t be big enough to ride Star Tours, but if they like Star Wars, there is an exhibit and character meet and greet. The Stormtroppers also periodically march through the middle of the park.

      Have fun!

      • Also in October EPCOT has food and wine festival which I would avoid with kids especially if you go on a weekend. I personally think the Studios or AK is more preschool friendly as well. EPCOT has Frozen and the Nemo ride but the distances are so far to walk.

        • This is so helpful! Thank you!

          To answer the questions – we will be staying at the Grand Floridian and won’t be renting a car and my husband will have the kids on a weekday. I thought the monorail parks would be easier for him because I don’t know how he would navigate two car seats if he had to Uber to the other parks – is that silly? Are there ways of getting to the parks via bus or something where you wouldn’t have a car seat issue?

          Are there Cars themed attractions at any of the parks? My older son looooooooves Mater – so that would be a top priority if there was some sort of toddler attraction featuring those cars.

          • There’s actually two monorail loops. The one the GF is on only connects to Magic Kingdom, two other hotels and the TTC. You would need to transfer at the TTC (transportation hub) to get to EPCOT. Disney has buses at all their hotels that go directly to the theme parks so you could catch one to EPCOT, AK, or the Studios (separate buses). My experience is that they are mostly efficient and come every 15-20 minutes or less but we have had a few bad experiences (long waits – mostly at park closing time). I believe Uber only has the option for 1 car seat, but the brand new MinnieVan service might be something looking into as they provide door to door service anywhere on Disney property with two car seats included/installed for a flat rate of $20. This is run by Disney and is still in the testing phase but should be fully rolled out by the time you get there.

            As for Cars, Disneyland has a whole ride and land themed to Cars but Disney World doesn’t have that much. They do have Cars themed suites and fun giant sized outdoor decorations at the Art of Animation resort. Even if you’re not staying there, you can walk around and look at them.

          • Wendy described the buses very accurately by describing them “mostly efficient.” 🙂

            When we were at Hollywood Studios a couple of weeks ago, they had the yellow car from the new Cars movie out for meet and greet/photos, but that was about it for Cars. It was located by Toy Story Midway Mania.

          • Great job helping each other! I will add that I agree with what others have said but would add that at those ages, any park is fine. Stamina will probably only be 2-3 hours (or at least it would be for me), so any park will have more than enough to keep them occupied for that long. The Minnie Vans should be totally up and running by then I think and do have two car seats, so that seems like the best option for going to a park other than MK in his situation.
            https://thedisneyblog.com/2017/07/26/close-look-disneys-new-minnie-van-car-service/

          • One more thing to go along with Mommy Points comments about stamina…make sure you have a double stroller even if your older child doesn’t really use a stroller in the real world anymore. We kept bringing a stroller to WDW until my youngest was 6-7 even though he hadn’t really used one anywhere else since he was 2-3. If you don’t have a double stroller, you can rent one through http://www.kingdomstrollers.com.

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