You’ve spent countless hours planning, making reservations, and studying touring plans to construct the best possible Disney vacation for your family. Yay! But even the most carefully constructed Disney World battle plan can go quickly awry when unexpected weather conditions butt into your plans. Here are some things to consider about how the weather might impact your trip.
Long-term Information is Power
One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve seen when working on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel is, “What will the weather be like during the time of my visit?” The guest then typically lists a date months in advance. Lacking Madame Leota’s crystal ball, the source I use to answer these types of questions is The Weather Channel chart of month averages for Walt Disney World. See the photos at the right for screen shots of the average WDW temperature and rainfall each month.
The main thing to note about these charts is that the temperatures and rainfall listed are AVERAGES. This means that what will happen during any given year might vary widely from those numbers.
I have visited Walt Disney World during the first week of December during four different years. If you look at the Weather Channel chart, you’ll see that the average daytime high for that week is in the mid-70s and the average nighttime low is in the mid-50s. Two of the four years I visited at that time, that’s exactly what I experienced, temperate climes perfect for touring. My other two early December visits had significant deviation from the curve. One year I was sweating through my tee shirts, with temperatures in the upper 80s. A different year, I ended up purchasing two heavy sweatshirts and pair of gloves because early morning temperatures were in the low 40s. Same week, vastly different experiences.
So, while you can use weather averages for general planning purposes, deciding when to visit for example, you’ll definitely need to do some fine tuning on your packing and daily planning as you get closer to your trip.
And in the trivia department … The highest recorded temperature at Walt Disney World was 102 degree F. The lowest was 17 degrees F. No shorts on that vacation!
Short-term Information is Power
Since there is such weather variability, it’s important to check the five, seven, or ten day forecast for Orlando immediately prior to your departure from home. This will let you swap out your jeans for an extra pair of shorts, add a pair of gloves to your bag, or throw an umbrella into your carry-on.
I’m a freak, so I tend to check the forecasts from half a dozen different sources. These might include:
- The weather app that came on my iPhone
- Other iPhone apps including: Weather Channel, Weather Bug, and AccuWeather
- Orlando area TV station forecasts including: WFTV 9, WESH 2, and My Fox Orlando
- The Orlando Sentinel
Generally, the forecasts are quite similar, but every once in a while there’s an outlier that makes you add an extra sweater to your bag.
Even Shorter-Term Information is Power
While I’m on my Walt Disney World vacation, I also take a look at the hourly forecasts (available from many of the sources listed above) at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon. This can help with decisions about how long you might be able to spend at a water park, whether you should bring a jacket to the fireworks, or if you can leave your ponchos in the room.
What Happens in Unseasonably Cold Weather?
For the most part, the show goes on at Walt Disney World, no matter what the weather conditions are. There are, however, a few situations where events or attractions will be cancelled due to cold. Notably, the Spirit of Aloha Luau can be cancelled due to cold. If this happens during your stay, you will be offered either a refund or a rebooking on another night. Also, if temperatures won’t make it out of the 50s, then generally the Disney water parks will be shuttered for the day. If you’re visiting during a cold snap, ask the concierge at your hotel to call and confirm that specific outdoor activities will be operational.
The Pool Situation in Cold Weather
The Walt Disney World resorts only have outdoor pools. These are heated to approximately 83 degrees, year round, I have often seen parents sitting on deck chair wearing sweatshirts and scarves, while their children happily splash in the pools. If you or your kids like to swim, bring your suit, regardless of the temperature.
Dressing for the Cold
It’s all about the layers. During the winter months at Walt Disney World, I typically wear jeans or capri-style pants rather than shorts. I’ll start the day wearing a long-sleeved tee, covered by short-sleeved tee, covered by a fleece or sweatshirt and possibly gloves and a hat. As the day warms up, I’ll pull of layers and stash them in my backpack. If you have a large family wearing multiple layers, you may want to rent a locker at the park so you’re not carrying an entire closet worth of gear with you at all times.
I grew up in Maine and have a pretty high tolerance for cold, but I have seen winter Disney World visitors in full parka-and-Uggs ensembles. If that’s what it takes to get you out in the parks during a cold snap, then I say go for it.
When It’s Hot, It’s HOT
The temperatures can reach into the upper 90s at any point in May through September. Couple this with the inevitable zillion percent humidity and, yes folks, it’s going to feel hot. If you’re traveling during the summer, be sure to take all the usual precautions for outdoor warm weather activity: wear light and light-colored clothing, wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, spend the hottest part of the day indoors, etc.
Take special precautions with members of your traveling party who may be particularly susceptible to heat exhaustion such as older people, babies, and individuals with medical conditions.
Also consider how you’ll be getting around the parks and your resort. For example, I’m generally fine now with an August visit to Walt Disney World, but those years in which I wore my children in a front carrier on August trips were brutal. This may be the trip that you bring an fan or umbrella for your stroller or that you rent an ECV for grandma who is prone to shortness of breath.
One thing to consider – even in the middle of the summer, you may want to throw a light sweater into your park bag. In my experience, the restaurants may be over air conditioned, causing a chill in comparison to the heat outside.
The Rain Situation
The wet months at Walt Disney World are June, July, August, and September. During that time, you can expect that it will rain almost every day. Most of the time you will get an intense drenching for an hour in the late afternoon which then passes quickly. Do not panic if you look at the forecast just prior to your summer trip and see rain predicted every day. Chances are this will have negligible impact on your touring. Just pop into a long, show-style attraction (Carousel of Progress, Hall of Presidents, etc.) or a quick service restaurant and wait out the downpour. Or better yet, throw on a poncho and proceed as if the sun is shining.
Of course there are situations where the rain is steady throughout the day. The best course of action is to have a “Singing in the Rain” attitude and hit the parks anyway. Chances are the crowds will be thinner than normal and you’ll get some extra time on the rides.
What Happens When it Rains?
As with other adverse weather situations, the vast majority of Walt Disney World will continue to function in prolonged steady rain. A few of the attractions with outdoor components might temporarily halt operations (Dumbo, Test Track, etc). Parades and fireworks may be postponed, abbreviated, or cancelled in driving wind or rain. Outdoor character greetings may be cancelled or have a location adjustment in long-term rainy conditions. Fantasmic and the Spirit of Aloha Luau may be cancelled due to heavy rain. Stop by guest relations for up-to-the-minute updates.
Some attractions that continue operating in light rain may be halted due to lightening. For example, anything involving water will be closed if there has been a lightning strike within a six mile radius. This includes resort pools, water park attractions, water recreation at the deluxe resorts, and even water-based transportation such as the Friendship boats between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios or the boats between the Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness, the Contemporary, and the Magic Kingdom. If boat transportation is suspended for more than 15 minutes, buses will be dispatched to service that route instead. If you’re experiencing a storm which includes lightning, ask a cast member about which mode of transportation is operational.
The Pool Situation in the Rain
During light, or even heavy rain, the resort pools will remain open to guests. As noted above, if there is lightning nearby, the pools will be closed. My children have decided that going for a swim is one of their favorite activities during the inevitable summer afternoon downpour.
What to Wear in the Rain
To keep dry you basically have three choices: jacket, poncho, or umbrella. I’ve tried them all in every combination. My personal preference is a jacket/umbrella combo. I’m not a huge fan of ponchos. I find that the hood tends to slip off, leaving my head wet and water dripping down my neck, but maybe that’s just me. I also never figure out what to do with a wet poncho once the rain has stopped. On the other hand, you can’t beat ponchos for ease of packing, most fold up into tiny squares that can be stored at the bottom of a day pack.
Disposable ponchos are available from discount stores like Walmart for just a dollar or two. Disney ponchos are available at most gift shops. They are not usually displayed unless it is actively raining. If you want one and don’t see them available, just ask. During October 2012, adult Disney ponchos were sold in the parks for $7.98 plus tax.
My favorite piece of rain gear for Disney is a pair of rubber flip flops. After ruining many a pair of shoes in rain at the Disney parks, I’ve learned that when it starts to pour, I take off my regular footwear and store it in my back pack, using the flip flops instead. This tip can be particularly helpful for children who complain about walking around in wet shoes/socks.
How Disney Handles Hurricaines
Disney has its hurricane policy explicitly stated on the official Walt Disney World website. The key part of the policy states:
If a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area or for your place of residence no more than 7 days before your scheduled arrival date, you may call in advance to reschedule or cancel your Walt Disney Travel Company Magic Your Way vacation package and most room only reservations (booked directly with Disney) without any cancellation or change fees imposed by Disney. This policy also applies to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort or Disney′s Hilton Head Island Resort in the event a hurricane warning is issued for those destinations.
There is lots of fine print that goes along with this. If you’re making plans to travel during hurricane season, I encourage you to read the website carefully. This may also be a time to consider purchasing trip insurance.
If you’re at Walt Disney World during an actual tropical storm or hurricane, the theme parks and other attractions might cease operations entirely. You will be given safety instructions via your in-room television, printed materials, and cast member announcements. In the event that you are confined to your hotel, the Disney staff will bring in extra food and entertainment. This might include movies, characters, and games in the lobby. While a hurricane is no one’s idea of a good time, there are certainly worse places to experience this than a Disney hotel.
How Disney Handles Snow
No, I don’t mean snow at Walt Disney World itself. Even when the temperatures dip below freezing, you’re unlikely to see any real white stuff falling from the sky. But your Disney vacation may be impacted by snow in other areas of the country. In 2010, a Christmas blizzard in the Northeast US forced the cancellations of nearly all flights in and out of the Northeast US. This meant that my family was forced to spend four unplanned days at Walt Disney World. (You’re crying, I know.)
Disney cast members were extremely helpful finding us alternative accommodations, moving our copious luggage twice, and rebooking our Magical Express transportation several times as each of our planned flights was cancelled. Try not to panic when situations like this happen. Your inability to leave also means that other guests will not be able to arrive, making rooms available even in hotels that were fully booked. Be as patient as you can and try to enjoy your extended stay.
Other Special Circumstances
Your visit to Walt Disney World may include special events such as runDisney races, concerts, parties, ESPN Wide World of Sports competition, or other happenings. Each has their own weather related policies and procedures. Some that I’ve encountered have included: curtailment of an in-progress runDisney event due to heavy rain and lightning in the area, temporary suspension of service at the outdoor Epcot Food & Wine Festival booths due to rain, and earlier-than-normal shut-down of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios due to heavy rain. If you’re concerned about the status of an event, stop by your resort concierge desk or any park guest relations office and ask them to call and verify operations.
So my fellow weather watchers, is there anything else you’d like to know about the weather situation at Walt Disney World? Have you had any experiences with heat/cold/rain/storms that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.