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!
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.
Top 5 Must-Pack Items
#1 – Packable Down Jacket
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.
#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
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
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!)
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.
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!