Let’s face it: visiting Walt Disney World during the summer months (which is pretty much anywhere from May until October!) can be brutal. Not only will it be crowded as the schools let out for summer break, but chances are that it will be over 90 degrees every day – and some days it will be over 100! Walking around a theme park in the blistering heat doesn’t sound like much fun, especially when joined by a few thousand other people just as hot and tired as you are, but it’s often the only time that families get chance to visit Walt Disney World – and for plenty of people, a hot day at Disney is better than any other day at home. Keeping kids cool at the parks can often be difficult though, and dealing with overheated kids can not only be miserable, it can be dangerous. Dehydration and heat exhaustion can be life threatening, especially to babies, but in the excitement of being at the parks and trying to get as much done as possible, sometimes you don’t spot the warning signs until it’s too late. No one wants to spend their days at the parks in First Aid (or worse, having to leave the parks to go to the hospital) so it’s important to be prepared. As a local mom, we spend plenty of time at the parks during the summer, and I am always ready with a few solutions to help my kids beat the heat. Read along for tips on how to help kids stay cool at Walt Disney World in the summer.
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7 tips for helping kids stay cool at Walt Disney World in summer
1. Plan your day
This is good advice when visiting Walt Disney World in general if you want to beat the crowds, but in the summer it is especially important. Try to plan your day to be at the parks as early as you possibly can; rope drop or even earlier is the best time to arrive. This part of the day will be the coolest, the sun won’t be quite so strong, and the heat won’t be as unbearable. Try to get as many rides in as possible during this time, especially any of the outdoor attractions or rides that have queues without shade or air conditioning (we’ve found the worst offenders for this to be Big Thunder Mountain and the dreaded Autopia at Magic Kingdom, and the brand new rides in Toy Story Lane at Hollywood Studios). As the temperatures start to climb in the late morning, that would be a good time to schedule lunch to get out of the heat for a while, and then it’s wise to head out of the parks and back to your resort for a nap or a dip in the pool.
If you’re not staying on Disney property or fancy doing something different, consider taking a bus, boat or monorail over to one of the resorts to have a look around. Unless you’re a Disney Vacation Club Member, you can’t use the pools at the other resorts, but you can walk around the lobby in the air conditioning, try a new place for a snack or a drink, or just sit and watch the world go by from somewhere cool. If your little one still takes a nap, this would be a great time to find them somewhere quiet to let them get some sleep, and even older kids may benefit from a little quiet time away from the stimulation of the parks.
The temperatures will start to drop again around 5pm, and that’s a great time to go back to the parks. Others will be leaving for the day to get dinner or just because they’re wiped out from the heat, whereas you’ll be refreshed and ready to hit the rides again. It will gradually get cooler and cooler, making the parks more tolerable again as the night goes on. If your kids don’t do well staying up late, just stay as long as they will tolerate before heading back to your hotel (but in this case, it’s even more important to get to the parks as early as possible to make the most of your time!) If your kids are a little older, seeing the parks after dark can be especially exciting, and of course, they get to experience the nighttime shows this way as well!
2. Be aware of what you wear
It goes without saying that you don’t want to dress your kids in a sweater and a pair of jeans to head to the parks in July, but you also need to think about exactly what you do want them to wear. Try to avoid dressing them in dark colors, and go for lighter, loose weight options that give their skin chance to breathe. Cotton is a great fabric that they probably already have in their closet, but there are also plenty of clothing options on the market specifically designed to keep cool in hot situations. Moisture-wicking clothing will draw moisture away from the body to help you stay cool, and the fabric dries quickly, which makes it perfect for water rides. It’s also worth looking for clothing that has some form of sun protection, and the more covered up your kids are, the less you’ll have to worry about sunscreen. Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before heading out into the sun, be sure to bring some with you to the parks, and then reapply every two hours (or more often if the kids are sweating a lot or playing in water).
It’s also a good idea to bring a hat for kids, to keep the sun off their heads and faces. I know at least for my kids, it’s not always easy to convince them they have to wear a hat (especially a baby or toddler, with whom it’s difficult to reason!) but even having them wear a hat for part of the day is better than not at all. A wide-brimmed hat that offers sun protection is a great option, or a baseball cap with neck protection. If you have stubborn little ones, the Disney parks sell a number of hats that will offer some protection; they’ll be more expensive, but if they feature a favorite character, it might be easier to persuade your little one to don one for a while.
As well as clothing, there are some other awesome products out there to help you stay cool. Cooling towels are reusable towels that you simply soak with water (which is easy to do at the parks) and then wring out and place on the back of a neck or forehead. Misting fans are sold at the Disney parks, but it’s easier (and so much cheaper!) to bring one from home, and then refill it with water from drinking fountains as your day goes on – your kids will love these things! A portable stroller fan is a must if you’ve got a baby or young child, especially if they’ll be taking naps in the stroller – a cool breeze (or even a warm breeze!) will help to keep them comfortable as they catch some rest.
3. Drink drink drink!
It’s easy to say that you’ll drink as much as possible when visiting the parks in the summer, but it’s also easy to forget to keep properly hydrated once you’re there and excited and too busy having a wonderful time. I always bring a refillable water bottle to the parks with me, as well as one for each of the kids – this way, I can keep track of exactly how much everyone is drinking, and encourage the kids to drink more if I think they’re forgetting. I use a water bottle with a built in filter, as Florida water can sometimes taste a little weird, and I make sure the my son’s water bottle is insulated so that the water stays cold (he is a kid who will NOT drink water unless it’s ice cold!) I bring an insulated sippy cup for my baby too, since I find he drinks better out of his own cups than the disposable cups at the parks. Speaking of which, did you know that you can always ask for a free cup of iced water at any of the quick service locations in the park?! Sometimes you have to wait in line, but other times (especially in summer) they will have a designated area for those looking to just grab a cup of water. I use these to refill our water bottles, as I much prefer them to the water fountains (I’m not a germaphobe by any means, but those things freak me out a bit!)
Another way to save money on water at the parks, especially if you’d much rather have bottled water, is to have a service such as Amazon Prime deliver bottled water to your hotel so you can bring bottles to the park; you’ll be paying about as much for a crate of bottled water as you would be for one bottle in the parks!
If you’re traveling with a baby, pay close attention to how much they’re drinking and how many wet diapers they’re producing; you might need to up their liquid intake a bit. If you’re breastfeeding, expect that your little one might want to nurse more often, and be sure to drink enough water yourself so that you don’t get yourself dehydrated (I’ve been totally guilty of this!) The Baby Care Centers are a great place to get the little ones out of the heat where they can nurse or be fed somewhere cool – take a look at my Ultimate Guide to visiting Walt Disney World with a baby here!
4. Eat the right foods
When we’re visiting the Disney parks in the summer, we always go for a ‘little and often’ approach to food. We aim for a filling breakfast with plenty of hydrating fresh fruit, and low fat dairy products, and plan for our biggest meal of the day to be at dinner time. We try to eat a light lunch in the middle of the day, since no one ever feels like eating a big meal when it’s 90 degrees outside, and I try to choose foods that won’t sit heavily on a stomach. I usually encourage my kids to have sandwiches, salads, or even just fruit and yogurt, for lunch over fried foods or heavy carbs like mac and cheese (I say ‘encourage’ but I often mean ‘bribe’!) and try to stick with water over something like milk or lemonade. I try to keep snacks light as well; we always bring snacks to the park, so things like applesauce pouches, dried fruit, and crackers seem to work well in hot weather. I do try to get some salt into my kids, as it helps the body absorb water, so I will let them get fries or chips as a treat, and I bring little bags of pretzels so we have something salty on hand. If you plan to bring food, a soft-sided insulated cooler is a necessity, and you can rent a locker for the day if you don’t want to lug it around with you all day.
5. Don’t be afraid to get a little wet
Sometimes the heat is just too much, and the only way to escape is to get wet! Luckily the Disney parks have some great water rides, as well as water playgrounds for the kids to get soaking wet in a matter of minutes! The best ride to guarantee a thorough soaking is Kali River Rapids at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and our favorite water playground is the Casey Jr. Splash’n’Soak Station at Magic Kingdom. I generally carry a change of clothes for my kids at all times, but if you don’t, I would definitely recommend bringing one to the parks during the summer so that you can let the kids get soaked without worrying about how they’ll dry off. I actually bring a bathing suit for my kids in a Ziploc bag, and have them change in one of the bathrooms – then I just throw their wet clothes in the Ziploc bag afterwards!
Bear in mind that, even if you don’t plan on getting wet on a ride or in a splash park, Florida weather might have other plans for you! Afternoon thunderstorms are an almost daily occurrence during the summer months, and they can come on so quickly, you might find yourself running for cover! If you do get wet, it’s helpful to have a change of clothes in your bag, as being stuck inside with cold air conditioning blasting when you’re soaked is no fun at all! Also bear in mind that, whilst it might be tempting to jump right into a thunderstorm to cool off, lightning in Florida can be deadly and you don’t want to be running around in it! For more tips of tackling rain at Walt Disney World read this post.
6. Take advantage of the air conditioning
Another great trick to escape the heat for a while is to take advantage of the indoor shows. Some of the parks have more indoor attractions than others (we find Epcot and Hollywood Studios to be the best for this) and it’s always a relief to get out of the heat and into the cool for a bit. Use the My Disney app to find those with the shortest lines, and I always try to find a show where I can sit down for a few minutes! One of my son’s favorite attractions is the Living Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot, which is a wonderful place to let the kids walk around and burn off some stream, somewhere cool, where there’s so much to keep them entertained – and plenty of places for me to sit down!
7. Use your common sense
Common sense is often something I think people forget to bring to Walt Disney World, and I totally get it – I go to the Disney parks to get away from it all for a while, to just relax and have fun, and I often forget little things that I would never forget in ‘real life’ (I might have once forgotten to bring any diapers for a baby). But not paying attention in the heat can quickly lead to disaster and a ruined trip if someone gets sick, and it can happen so quickly when you’re busy having fun. If someone seems unwell, First Aid is located in each of the parks, and they’re great about assessing the situation quickly. If everyone is just miserable and too hot, don’t stay in the parks just because you feel like you have to; no one will have fun that way! Be prepared, be aware of how everyone is feeling, and you’ll be able to beat that Florida summer heat!