A Disney Dad’s Guide to Surviving Summer

by Bill McMenamin
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the March 15, 2016 Issue #860 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.

Bill McMenaminUntil I had kids of my own, I never realized how wonderful it was to travel to Walt Disney World during the off-peak times when children return to school, the Florida humidity drops, and the peak season crowds thin out. Like many families, the decision to have children and their subsequent introduction to school forced me to change my entire routine. Gone were the days of spontaneous midweek fall and winter escapades to enjoy the Halloween or Christmas celebrations. Rather, I became one of the many Disney vacationers who schedule their trips during the summer months when school is out. Now, I know there are plenty of you who have no qualms about pulling your kids out of school for a few days, but that's not an option for us. Instead, I have joined the masses and have taken my three little princesses, ranging in age from 1 to 8, to Walt Disney World during the summer the past few years. Instead of succumbing to the blazing sun and the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, I've used the opportunity to come up with some strategies for beating the heat.

The foremost question needing to be answered when you decide to visit one of the Disney theme parks during the summer is whether you're going to break up your day. Many Disney vacationers, particularly those staying at one of the on-site resort hotels, choose to leave the theme parks during the heat of the day, opting instead to spend those few hours lounging around the pool before returning later in the afternoon. Many of my closest friends swear by this philosophy. While this sounds like a great plan, the ever-increasing cost of admission to the theme parks is forcing many families to second-guess the strategy. Compounding this is Disney's recently released demand-based ticket pricing where most of July is now considered "peak" season. Most of August remains "regular" season. To put it into perspective, a family of four visiting the Magic Kingdom in early July will spend over $500 for single day, non-park hopper tickets. Add the cost of parking, food, and souvenirs, and the typical family could spend upwards of $700 for a magical day at the park. Many families – particularly those who perhaps don't frequent the park as often as others – see the idea of leaving the park as being detrimental compared to what they've spent, regardless of the fact they're slowly withering under the Florida sun.

So for those families like mine who decide to ride it out and spend the whole day traversing the park, I've developed a number of tips to help your family beat the heat and keep your children from having a complete Olaf-like meltdown. While I believe these strategies can be applied to all four theme parks, I've specifically singled out the Magic Kingdom given that's where my family ultimately spends most of our time given my daughters' ages.

Keep Everyone Drinking!

Let's start with the obvious. You don't need to be a meteorologist to know it can be unbearably hot and humid in Central Florida during the summer. Ensuring your children stay hydrated is by far the most important task you as a parent will face. I usually bring two soft-side coolers (they easily store within our stroller) when we go to the park, each of which can hold four full bottles of water or larger baby bottles. But here's the challenge. For whatever reason, I've found my children tend to shy away from actively drinking, and even when asked, will typically claim they're not thirsty without realizing they are slowly dehydrating. I found myself pushing water bottles constantly, trying at times to make drinking seem more like a game as opposed to a chore. "Bet you can't finish your water before we get on the next ride!" became part of our routine. And my kids ate it up, or should I say drank it up. It's amazing what children will do when they believe they're "winning" at something. Sure we had to make a few additional restroom stops, but it's really a small price to pay. Aside from the recognized health impacts, dehydrated kids become cranky kids. And cranky kids will ruin your day.

Know Your Rides! Know Your Queues!

Keeping everyone hydrated is half the battle. Keeping them relatively cool and providing enough breaks out of the sun is the other. For the sake of argument, let's say that the worst heat of the day is typically recognized as noon to 3 p.m. and the merciless Florida sun can make those hours pretty miserable. But if you know your rides and queues, you can still enjoy some great attractions without waiting on lines under the blazing sun. There are a number of attractions where much of the queue or the ride itself is in lovely air conditioning. Mickey's PhilharMagic, the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Country Bear Jamboree, "it's a small world," Dumbo, and Pirates of the Caribbean are perfect examples of this. Brief respites from the heat will be welcomed by all, and it's a lot easier to occupy children on the standby line when they are comfortable.

Conversely, I've found a number of attractions I try to avoid during the heat of the day. For example, even though the queue for the Jungle Cruise is covered and has overhead fans circulating the air, I've always found it very hot. Big Thunder Mountain — despite being my favorite attraction — is also a major culprit when it comes to queues in the sun. Even when you enter the building section prior to boarding your runaway train, the temperature is definitely uncomfortable. It would pain my wife to say it, given it's her favorite attraction, but the Haunted Mansion queue can be tedious as well, even under the covered walkway leading to the interactive cemetery. The sheer number of visitors gathered in relatively tight confines, when combined with the general heat, is a bad combination. Lastly, I have always found that waiting in line to meet characters is definitely one to avoid during midday. Queues for outdoor meet-and-greets typically offer little protection from the elements, and because the processing rate can vary greatly, wait times are always longer than you expect.

Use the FastPass+ system to your advantage. Schedule those attractions with unprotected queues for the early morning or late afternoon when the sun isn't as strong. Even with the interactive queues at many rides to keep them somewhat occupied, it's tough to focus children when they're hot and sweaty.

It's Really Hot? Now's a Great Time to Eat!

There are a handful of dining locations throughout the Magic Kingdom that accept reservations. Rather than compete with the masses for a table at one of the quick-service offerings, secure your own table at Liberty Tree Tavern, Be Our Guest or other restaurant. You'll pay a little more for the table service, but the hour or so you spend in air conditioning, without hovering over a table waiting for others to leave, will prove almost miraculous. This breather gives everyone in your party a chance to mentally and physically recharge. It's also free refills on most beverages at these locations, so pump yourself full of fluids (avoid the sugary soft drinks, though) and get back out there!

Think Cool!

I'll be the first to admit that after pushing a stroller with multiple children through tight crowds when the temperature is hovering around 95, I've often questioned my own sanity. Imagine how your children feel. I've found a number of methods to keep your kids cool while you're walking to your destination or waiting in queues. The mist sprayers have become wildly popular, but will run you about $20 when purchased in the park. You can, however, find similar mist sprayers in local chain stores for half the price. While great for the older kids, these mist sprayers don't work as well for toddlers and infants. Many baby stores now sell battery-powered fans that can clip to the side of your stroller. It will make a huge difference for your little one to have constant air circulation. Just don't forget to bring an extra set of batteries! I also keep a full package of baby wipes at my disposal. They're not only great for cleaning dirty hands and faces, but the cool wipes give kids a little boost.

Get Little Ones Off Their Feet!

I'm in no way suggesting parents start carrying their children all over the park. If that's your plan, you won't make it very far. Rather, take advantage of either Disney's strollers or use one of the many off-site stroller rental outfits. I read that the average person can walk as much as 5 to 7 miles during one day at Disney theme parks, and it's amazing how fast children start saying their feet hurt or they're tired when it's really hot out. My girls were complaining before we even exited the monorail station! Also, consider the glider boards, which attach behind the seat of the stroller for your older kids to stand on. My oldest is 8, and we procured a stroller with the glider board specifically with her in mind. The result was great. All three of my kids were off their feet and one thing to complain about was eliminated.

Expect Rain… but Hope it Doesn't!

Few things in life are certainties. A passing thunderstorm during the summer in Florida is one of them. The degree of rain is what's going to make or break your day. Having some ponchos packed is easy and a little rain shouldn't slow you down. You can purchase one at Disney, but similar to the mist sprayer, I suggest going to any sporting goods store prior to your vacation and buying one that's less costly. Lightning is a game-changer, though. During my last visit to the Magic Kingdom, a thunderstorm passed through late in the morning. Lightning in the area closed outdoor attractions, such as Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Dumbo. The result was catastrophic. All the visitors in the queues for these rides went to those remaining open, and stand-by times skyrocketed. I witnessed the queue at Peter Pan's Flight go from an already tough 50 minutes to 120 minutes in no time. Similar wait times were evident throughout the park. There's not much to do with young children when the system is overloaded like that. You just need to ride it out and wait for queues to dissipate as other attractions come back on line. Try going to the rides that have high processing rates like Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, the Mad Tea Party, "it's a small world" and others that turn over high volumes of visitors in relatively short times.

This is the EXPRESS Monorail?!?

After a long day enjoying the park, everyone in my family is essentially burned out. Feet are sore, clothes are dirty and sweaty, and at least one of my kids is out cold in the stroller. The absolute last thing you want to do is wait on another queue, but there's frequently a 15-minute or longer wait for the express monorail back to the Ticket & Transportation Center. Bypass that queue and take the resort monorail instead. Granted, you'll have to make an additional stop at the Contemporary, but there's rarely a long queue for the resort monorail. You'll still get back to the TTC faster and don't have to explain to your overtired children why you're waiting in line. Again.

Be Flexible!

This one's tough, especially in today's age of FastPass+ ride scheduling and dining reservations that can be made six months in advance. But it's also critical as a parent. Children don't care about your plans. Period. If you accept that, you'll have a lot less aggravation when the temperatures rise and everyone starts getting agitated. Telling your children that you have reservations in a half-hour means absolutely nothing to them. Keeping your kids happy throughout the day will likely result in you bending a few of your typical rules, but you're on vacation. If I can forget about my diet for the time I'm at Disney, I'm sure I can let my kids slide a little as well. Being flexible and adjusting to the day as it comes will reduce your stress, increase everyone's amiability, and ultimately quash the potential for conflicts and arguments.

I hope these little tidbits prove as beneficial to your family as they have been to mine. I've learned that a family with young children can beat the summer heat and enjoy the wonders of the park by using the little strategies highlighted above. Here's wishing you a magical time the next time you visit the World!

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Summer Survival Tips

What to Pack

Infant and Toddler FAQ

Stroller FAQ



Bill McMenamin is a lifelong Disney fan, having taken his first trip to the Magic Kingdom when he was 6 months old. Now 37 and residing in New York, he's vacationed at both Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort more than 60 times. His passion for all things Disney is not just skin deep — but he even has Alice and the Cheshire Cat tattooed on his arm! Married and the father of three little princesses, he's a true "Disney Dad."


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.