Dress for Success: Top 5 Must-Pack December Clothing Items and Special Tips

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Disney World has truly spectacular offerings during the holiday season.

It’s no secret that I dress for success when I plan my outfit choices in Walt Disney World – no detail is left out. While this usually refers to some light DisneyBounding, it means something a little different in December, when a cute dress and Mickey ears isn’t enough to get you through the cold evenings in the parks. Thanks to the fantastic holiday offerings, December is one of the most exciting times to visit Disney World. You’ve got Magic Kingdom’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP), Epcot’s Candlelight Processional, and Hollywood Studios’ Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. On top of that, the resorts and parks are decked out in their holiday finest, so even if you don’t want to spring for the extra cost of a party ticket to MVMCP, you can still enjoy the ambiance during the day. Just make sure, as you’re planning for your holiday trip, to give serious consideration to the weather. As unlikely as it sounds, Florida gets COLD at night in December!

I know what you might be thinking, “I’m from [insert cold state here — mine is Michigan]; Florida doesn’t even know what cold is! I walk eight miles uphill both ways through six feet of snow just to get to the Disney Store!” Okay, that might not be exactly what you thought, but it is pretty close to my viewpoint on the subject before my first December trip. Luckily, I followed the advice of others and (even though I scoffed) I packed for the cold weather. And thank goodness I did! Based on that experience, I’m going to give you a breakdown of my 5 must-pack items for cold weather, some tips specific to nighttime holiday entertainment options, and a few final pieces of advice so you can dress for success on your holiday adventures in Disney World!

Weather

Before we launch into the items, I want you to take a look at the weather averages for Walt Disney World in December. I know that looking at this it doesn’t seem so bad – the low temperatures are around 50! First, keep in mind that these are averages. It could conceivably be much colder than that. During our trip last year we had some nights that were in the low 40s, which was very different than the 50s we’d expected. Second, I don’t know if this is a perception thing, but it felt much, much colder to us than the actual temperature. I’m not sure if that has something to do with the high humidity or if those sunny days knocked our internal temperature gauges out of whack, but there were definitely times that we were cold. So take the published temperatures with a grain of salt.

dress for success
Weather averages for Disney World in December.

Top 5 Must-Pack Items

#1 – Packable Down Jacket

dress for success
This was the least goofy picture I could find featuring the jacket. You’ll notice it’s pretty thin; you don’t need a parka.

My number one pick for dressing for success in December is a packable down jacket. They’re warm, lightweight, and they don’t take up a ton of space in your luggage (like basically every other kind of coat). They’re easy to find by searching on Amazon, but when I went about finding one for myself last year I chose a different route. I started with Amazon, but conflicting reviews and some high prices made me a little gun shy. In the end, I went to Burlington Coat Factory with the goal of simply finding one in my size that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I was very successful with this approach, and I would recommend trying this yourself. Whether you try a Burlington Coat Factory, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, or other name-brand discount store like this, you’re sure to find something that will work. Usually stores like this drive me crazy (not enough organization for my tastes), but I saved about 75% and got something that worked extremely well for my needs. You don’t need a parka by any means, but finding a warm jacket that doesn’t eat up a lot of space should be a high priority.

dress for success
Anything that covers your ears will work!

#2 – Hat, Ear Muffs, or something else to cover your ears

If your jacket doesn’t have a hood, make sure you get a hat or something similar to cover your ears. Believe me, when the wind picks up and your ears turn into ice cubes you’re going to want to ditch the Mickey ears and put something warm on your head. A hat is the ideal choice, since it will keep the greatest amount of body heat in, but if you don’t care for hats at least opt for ear muffs or one of those ear covering headbands. Walking around with your hands over your ears isn’t the most effective option, especially if you don’t have…

#3 – Gloves

I know, I know; I sound like I’m giving everyone advice about what you need to wear when you go out to build a snowman. Gloves are another one of those things that you might think you can do without, but that will save you when you’re walking around the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights or MVMCP. Don’t think that having pockets means you won’t need gloves. How will you enjoy a delicious Mickey pretzel if you get frostbite while trying to eat it? One thing to keep in mind is that even though it will be chilly, it isn’t actually the arctic tundra, so you can leave the ski gloves at home. It is important to have gloves, but you can easily grab some of those $0.99 pairs of stretchy gloves from your local dollar store or Target. Have some on hand for each family member and you won’t regret it.

#4 – Layers

dress for success
Layering; all in a day’s work.

Okay, this might not be a specific item, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Dress yourself and your family in layers. It is very possible that during the day you and your family will be rocking t-shirts and shorts, but if you’re in the parks very early in the day or at the end of the day, you’ll certainly need more than that. The trick is finding ways to layer that don’t eat up a bunch of space in your backpack or stroller.

Everyone in the family can benefit from those pants that have zip-off sections that turn them into shorts (search “zip off pants” on Amazon to get an idea of the options). You can also wear a long-sleeved t-shirt under your t-shirt. When it gets warmer just pop into the restroom and remove the layer underneath. Same for when the temperature drops – you can run to the restroom and re-layer. Women and girls can still wear cute and easy dresses or skirts so long as they pair them with leggings (the fleece-lined kind would be ideal). The way I approach layering in Disney World is a bit different than the way I approach it elsewhere. I want every piece to be as small or lightweight as possible, which is one reason I often avoid full-fledged sweatshirts. I’d rather carry around two smaller pieces of clothing (like a long-sleeved t-shirt and a windbreaker) than be weighed down by a bulky sweatshirt. This is just a personal preference, and something different might work for you, of course.

#5 – Sensible Shoes

My last must-pack item is sensible shoes. I generally attire my feet very wisely in Disney World (I’m all about pairing athletic shoes with adorable dresses), but I really don’t mess around in December. I highly recommend that you shy away from sandals or flip flops at this time of year. You never know exactly when the temperature might dip, and if you think cold hands are an issue, wait until you have cold toes! Along with choosing your shoes sensibly, make sure you do the same with your socks. I like to wear running socks when I’m at Disney World, as they give me a little extra cushion. They’re great in December when you want to keep your feet warm at night, but you don’t want them to overheat during the day.

Bonus Item – HotHands Hand Warmers

I can’t resist throwing in this bonus item. Last year we purchased some HotHands hand warmers on a whim (they sell them everywhere in Michigan in the winter) and we had them on hand for the duration of our trip. You just break the package open and keep the warmers in each of your hands, and they do wonders for warming you up. The best time to use these is when you’re waiting for parades, fireworks, or other shows – basically any time the kids in your family have enough time to realize that they’re cold. (They’ll also make you beloved to strangers who didn’t know to pack gloves, assuming you’re in a sharing mood of course!)

Special Event Tips

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Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – (c) Disney

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Most of the entertainment offered at MVMCP is outdoors, and you need to plan for that accordingly. From the castle lighting to the Holiday Wishes fireworks to the parade to the various stage shows, you’re undoubtedly going to be spending the bulk of your time roaming around and soaking up the beautiful holiday ambiance. This is definitely an event that you want to layer-up for, as it lasts until midnight. The last thing you want to do is call it an early night because everyone is freezing (Elsa is supposed to freeze the castle, not the people). This is also one time that I would say you should err on the side of caution and pack or carry a little extra around the park with you. You’ll kick yourself if you have to leave the party early due to cold, especially after the cost of those tickets.

When you’re at the party make sure you take advantage of the hot chocolate stations around the park. You’d be surprised at how much warmer you’ll be sipping on hot chocolate, and besides, don’t you want to take advantage of this party perk? If you or the kiddos really need to thaw out you can always take a whirl on one of the indoor attractions – it’s a small world, Haunted Mansion, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, among others. (But if you dressed warmly and followed my must-pack list, you probably won’t need to!)

Candlelight Processional

dress for success
While the experience is wonderful, the Candlelight Processional can be a bit chilly!

The Candlelight Processional at Epcot is quite a bit different than the experience of MVMCP. First, the Candlelight Processional only lasts approximately 40 minutes. Second, you’re seated for the show. Don’t take the fact that the show is only 40 minutes as a sign that you don’t need to be as prepared for this event. I’ll tell you right now, I was colder last year at the Candlelight Processional than I was during the entire night of MVMCP. Those benches are COLD. It was so cold during this event that a woman and her (adult) daughter sitting next to my husband and I asked if they could snuggle up against us for warmth. Yep, we snuggled with strangers. And we used those HotHands hand warmers. I’d have given just about anything for a blanket to sit on (and wrap myself in), but I can’t imagine toting that around Epcot for just my husband and myself. If you’ve got a family and a stroller you can easily stash it in, it might be worth bringing.

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

This is the last year for the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, and I highly recommend that you take the time to visit them if you have the opportunity. Staged on the Streets of America at Hollywood Studios, this spectacular display is something you should linger over. Although it is entirely outdoors, you’re on your feet and you are moving much of the time that you’re viewing the lights. As a result, I found it easier to stay warm viewing the lights than I did at either of the other two events. (The times I got cold at MVMCP were the times I was stopped and waiting for shows, fireworks, etc.) With the Dancing Lights, I could traverse the Streets of America in one direction and then make my back through again. Keep in mind that the Streets of American are packed during this time, so if you have a larger family you may find it difficult to use movement as a means for warmth. On the upside, since there are so many people packed back there, it actually feels a little bit warmer, assuming you aren’t claustrophobic. I also recommend grabbing some hot chocolate before making your rounds of the lights.

dress for success
Ignore my stylish hat for a moment and pay attention to the people in the background. That’s what I call being prepared for the cold!

Final Tips

Now that I’ve advised you on what to wear and how to keep warm during the cold Disney nights, I want to give you a few miscellaneous tips that might come in handy. I know I suggested that you wear/take a lot of items with you in the parks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to carry the items with you all day. If you are going into a park in the morning and you are 100% certain that you will be returning to your room before night falls, leave the items you don’t need behind. Pick them up when you come back to the room later on, prior to heading out on your evening adventures. If you aren’t 100% certain that you’ll be returning, take the items with you. You’ll be happy when you don’t have to buy a $50 sweatshirt later that night. (Not that I would know anything about that…)

If you have a stroller, see if you can reconfigure how you pack it so you can store your evening items in it. With packable jackets and a few small accessories (depending upon other items you need throughout the day), it is possible to make everything fit. Our party did it on more than one occasion, and we consisted of four adults and one child. It was kind of like playing Tetris, but it worked.

When all else fails, rent a locker. I know spending additional money isn’t ideal, but for $8 (and a $5 refundable deposit) you have a place to stash all your wintery gear for the day. If you’re hitting the park early in the day and you’re planning on closing the place out, spending $8 for a locker is worth it, particularly when the alternative is to spend the day acting as a pack mule. This is a solution you can use even if you park hop. If you rented a locker in one park and then move to a second, just show your initial receipt at the locker rental of the second park and you can get a key for a locker in that park at no additional charge ($5 deposit still required).

One final thing to note; the threshold for when to expect the drop in temperature each day is when the sun just begins to dip below the horizon. It isn’t quite as easy as saying that it gets cold when the sun sets, but if you pay attention to when it gets close, you’ll see what I mean. I felt like it went from comfortable to cold almost instantly last year.

Now for the big question: Will you freeze to death if you don’t pack appropriately for the cold weather in Disney World? Probably not. But is it worth being miserable, or annoyed, or extra irritable, or just plain fed up? I don’t think so. I encourage you to be prepared (did Jeremy Irons just burst into song in your head, too?) for the possibility that it might be just a bit colder than you expected. If you do, you’ll have everything you need to keep the cold from being a negative factor on your trip!

Do you have any special tips for combating the cold in Disney World? Suggestions for more efficient layering? Please share how you dress for success when you travel at the chillier times of year!  

dress for success
Happy Holidays, my friends! Pack well, dress for success, and enjoy your December adventures in Disney World!

Angela Wilhelm

I am a confessed Disney World addict who will do anything I can to build up anticipation for upcoming trips and extend the magic after I return from my adventures in the World. This means I'm always crafting new accessories and outfits for my Disney Bounding, as well as editing photos (amateur Disney photographer) and creating photo books from previous trips. (It's not like there is anything else to do in Michigan!) My husband and I are subjects to three very demanding cats, who are benevolent enough to let us take several trips a year, as long as we pay them appropriate tribute. I work full-time as the Development Director for a local non-profit, which is something that absolutely I love. For random thoughts on Disney and geekery of all kinds, follow me on Twitter @Angela_Wilhelm!

22 thoughts on “Dress for Success: Top 5 Must-Pack December Clothing Items and Special Tips

  • November 16, 2015 at 7:35 am
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    Such a perfectly timed article, we are coming from the UK for the first two weeks in December, travelling with a 2.5 year old, so trying to figure out what to pack without ending up taking everything we own!! Thanks for some really useful tips.

    Reply
    • November 16, 2015 at 11:44 am
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      The little one we traveled with was a huge fan of his hooded sweatshirt. It was great because we didn’t have to worry about keeping track of an extra hat for him, and his little sweatshirt took up no room at all in our bags during the day. I hope you have a fantastic trip!

      Reply
  • November 16, 2015 at 9:12 am
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    Hi Angela,
    Thanks so much for this VERY timely post. We leave for WDW in just 16 days. Seeing lows of “just” 50s, I had about decided to leave the hat and gloves at home; you have convinced me how wrong that idea was. Also definitely like the idea of putting a survival bag in a locker for the day. And hand warmers: I never would have considered that.
    Great post!

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    • November 16, 2015 at 11:36 am
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      Thank you! The cold definitely comes out very suddenly, and if we hadn’t been prepared last year I can say with certainty that there would have been nights we would have gone back to the hotel early to get away from the cold. I hope you have a great trip!

      Reply
  • November 16, 2015 at 9:56 am
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    Excellent points! Our first winter Disney trip back in the 80’s involved my parents buying sweatshirts they hadn’t budgeted for and even so we froze to death on a night time cruise around Seven Seas Lagoon.

    We’re taking 20+ next December (2016, and every single person is getting a matching yet personalized fleece jacket that I’ll be making during the next year. Based on your recommendations, I may change to a hoodie/hooded jacket, at least for the kids.

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    • November 16, 2015 at 11:49 am
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      I would definitely recommend a hoodie for the kiddos! I didn’t realize until I went back through our photos, but almost all of the early morning and all of the evening/night photos featuring my nephew showed him wearing a hood or a hat. The personalized jackets are such a cool idea! I hope your 2016 trip is AMAZING!

      Reply
    • November 3, 2019 at 12:09 pm
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      How was the cruise? My adult son and future daughter in laws birthdays are during our visit and I was wanting to do one for them. I would love to know how u liked it or if it was worth it.

      Reply
  • November 16, 2015 at 10:52 am
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    This article is great! We were at Disney World exactly a year ago, and the weather went from shorts weather to fleece jackets (with gloves, hats and scarves) during the day! We just layered and used the lockers to store all the layers during the warm part of the day. We loved the fact we could park hop and still use a locker at the second park.

    I still remember the folks who were wearing their summer clothing with a fleece blanket (the pwp deal that week) wrapped around them because they thought Florida was always warm.

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    • November 16, 2015 at 11:52 am
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      It’s crazy how much the temperature would fluctuate from day to night! I’d be running around in a tank top and skirt during the day, and then had to bundle up at night. There was something oddly satisfying about breaking out the warm clothing bundle and being good to go for the rest of the night, though! 🙂

      Reply
  • November 16, 2015 at 11:29 am
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    It often helps to check the Orlando weather forecast a day or so before your trip. While no forecast is particularly accurate more than a couple days out about when or if it will rain at a particular time or things like that, a forecast can give you a pretty good idea of what the general temperature trends will be for most of the next week. IF it looks like it will be an unusually chilly stretch, you’ll know to pack more warm clothes. If temps are looking more moderate, you can minimize the heavy clothing.

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    • November 16, 2015 at 11:55 am
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      Great point, Joanne! If you start packing earlier than that, you can set aside your extra warm clothing. Once you get a more accurate idea of the weather, you can either pack them directly in your suitcase or put them back in the closet. Just make sure you have at least one set of warm stuff just in case the weather unexpectedly dips while you’re there! Having a jacket, hat, and gloves should be at the top of your packing list.

      Reply
  • November 16, 2015 at 12:49 pm
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    The first time I went to WDW in December, I actually lived in Florida (but South Florida, which is really completely different in December). I didn’t own any warm clothes and thought I was going to freeze until I opened my birthday presents from my mom and she had thankfully sent me sweaters that saved me! The next time I went in December I was living in Colorado and brought all of my winter gear because I had to wear it to the airport anyway. I was very glad to have my winter coat, hat, gloves, and scarf. I am going in December this year and am having a hard time figuring out what to pack because I am going on a cruise and to WDW and Universal. The cruise is my biggest questionable area for clothes in December.

    Reply
    • November 16, 2015 at 1:39 pm
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      I wish I could help with the cruise part, but I haven’t actually been on one myself, much less one in December (a Disney Cruise is on my list for sometime in the next couple of years, though!) I wish I had some tips for that, but one thing might be to invest in some packing cubes – something like this: http://www.amazon.com/Shacke-Pak-Packing-Organizers-Laundry/dp/B00R280UZ8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1447699007&sr=8-1&keywords=packing+cubes – then you can segment out your clothes a little more when you pack. If nothing else, they’ll help give you a little more space in your luggage so you can pack for more contingencies.

      If anyone has any tips for this specific situation, it would be great if you could throw in your ideas, too!

      Reply
      • November 16, 2015 at 2:23 pm
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        Thanks for the suggestion of the packing cubes. I might try that. Thankfully I’m flying Southwest and can take 2 suitcases if needed for free. Just need to figure out how to drag them around! Also, I forgot earlier to mention that you are definitely someone I can relate to: I absolutely HATE stores like Ross, Marshall’s, etc. and even sales racks in ANY store because there is no organization. It just gives me a headache. I’d rather pay more money to not have to deal with that!

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        • November 16, 2015 at 5:22 pm
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          Don’t you just love Southwest?! But you’re right on dragging the luggage through the airport… not the easiest to do when you’ve got two suitcases and a carry-on.

          And I’m glad I’m not alone in my dislike for Marshall’s-type stores! Some people love to bargain hunt, but I’ll pay a little extra for organization any day. 🙂

          Reply
    • November 16, 2015 at 2:02 pm
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      I went on a cruise last year at the end of January. Part of the time it was cold! (jacket & hat felt good on deck) and part of them time it was hot (sundress and umbrella hot). Don’t know if that is unusual, but I would suggest covering your bases.

      Reply
  • November 16, 2015 at 12:51 pm
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    One suggestion I might make is that if you are coming from a cold weather state wear some of your heavier clothes to the airport vs packing. You will also be glad to have them for your return. I wore a pair of Uggs boots. It sounds crazy but boy where they coveted by others on extra cold nights! Another thing I took was a fleece scarf/wrap. Could pull it over my head, wrap around my legs, sit on for parades….you get the idea. Can you tell I’m always freezing? And I come from the heart of the Midwest but Florida is a damp cold. I have talked to many Northeasterns who voiced the same opinion. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Thanks for the warning.

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    • November 16, 2015 at 1:41 pm
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      Great tips, Kris! I completely agree with you. Anything you can take that does double-duty like a fleece wrap will save you some more space in your luggage. And if you’re flying in from a colder state, wearing your winter gear is definitely the way to go!

      Reply
  • November 16, 2015 at 6:55 pm
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    We went in January of this year. I’m a pretty thorough (ok, maybe anal…I HATE to have to buy stuff I already own) packer and had all the bases covered…hats, gloves, layers, scarves, etc… And we’re from Ohio so we know cold. Anyway, it was so cold when we went that my youngest had on all of her stuff, her sisters coat (over hers) and she even confiscated my scarf. She was still cold. I had to end up buying on of those “if you spend x amount of money you can get this blanket for $20” blankets. She completely wrapped herself in it and was still cold. I have to admit, it was a bit chilly. I pretty much never get cold but I really wanted my scarf back, lol.

    One thing though is I didn’t bring enough pairs of pants. I thought 4 pairs per person for an 11 day trip would be fine but my girls ended up wearing pants almost every day all day long. I had to wash in the middle of the trip but it worked out well…it was a hot day and they went swimming while I ran back and forth from the comfort station (we stay at Fort Wilderness) to the pool area. I actually like this so much that I’m planning on packing less clothes next time and just washing once or twice.

    Reply
  • November 17, 2015 at 2:04 pm
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    Or if you’re Canadian, shorts and swimsuits.

    We went to Typhoon Lagoon in early December last year, and the cast member at the front gate asked us “Where in Canada are you from?”

    Reply
  • November 19, 2015 at 4:14 pm
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    Yes, the humidity definitely makes 50 degrees more bone-chilling, as will any wind/breezes. Especially after a relaxing evening meal, make sure your party will be warm & comfy to enjoy the night’s festivities 😉

    Scarves and dollar store gloves pack light and make a huge impact on warmth. I’m assuming you’re already wearing your Disney hat, right?

    Reply
    • November 19, 2015 at 4:20 pm
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      Hand warmers: YES. We use these all the time. Buy a box of them, any extras will come in handy at some point.

      Reply

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