Here’s How Hot Walt Disney World Really Gets in Summer
I spent the evening in Pandora a few days ago to see how it’s all aged over the summer. (Short answer: reasonably well.) But the big thing I noticed was how hot it was. At 7 p.m. the temperature read 89℉, but fam, it felt much hotter than that. I wanted to know why.
Now, I’m an expert on a lot of things. You know that. I know that. But temperature is not one of them. So I did some research.
Air Temperature Is A Lie (Sort of)
The first thing I learned is that temperatures are measured in the shade, not in the sun. So when your iPhone weather app says it’s going to be 95℉ in Orlando tomorrow, it’ll be 95 in the shade. It’s worth pointing out that most of Walt Disney World isn’t, you know, cool shaded pathways. It’s worth asking how much hotter it’ll be in the sun.
To answer that question we enlisted the help of TouringPlans’ own Brandon Glover, to serve as our ceremonial rotisserie chicken. We equipped Brandon with two digital thermometers – one white and one black – to measure the temperature you’d feel standing in direct sunlight and wearing light or dark clothes. And we sent Brandon to the Magic Kingdom.
Here are the temperatures Brandon recorded at various places around the Magic Kingdom, and their difference to the air temperature as reported by WeatherUnderground:
Not sure what’s happening with that Stitch measurement. I suspect aliens. Outside of that, though, the temperature you’ll feel in the sun averages 2.2 degrees warmer than reported, and up to 8 degrees warmer in some places.
It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity
Another thing I learned is that meteorologists have an index similar to winter’s wind chill, but for summer. It’s called the Heat Index, and it takes humidity into account. The Heat Index tells you how hot it “feels like“, factoring in both the air (shade) temperature and the relative humidity. We’ve used NOAA’s Heat Index Calculator to determine the Heat Index in direct sunlight.
Here’s a graph showing the air temperature in the shade, the average temperature recorded by our thermometers, and the Heat Index in the sun, for the same places in the Magic Kingdom:
The Magic Kingdom can feel up to 30 degrees warmer than the reported air temperature, factoring in sunlight and humidity. For this one day in the Magic Kingdom, the “feels like” temperature averaged above 110℉ for much of the afternoon. It even felt hotter than 100℉ in the shade once humidity was considered.
This is just one day in the Magic Kingdom, but summer heat and humidity are fairly consistent in Orlando. It’s reasonable to prepare for average “feels like” summer temperatures in the Magic Kingdom of 115℉ or more. That includes lots of water, light-colored, loose clothing, sunscreen, and hats, and taking advantage of shade and air-conditioning where possible.
One last tip: the ground absorbs a lot of heat, and can be significantly warmer than the air in the afternoon. If you’ve got kids in a stroller, they’ll be closer to the ground and its radiant heat. (We’re measuring this for a follow-up blog post.) Keep a close eye on the kids, making sure they’re hydrated well and get a chance to cool off.
First published August 23, 2017. Updated July 25, 2021.
28 thoughts on “Here’s How Hot Walt Disney World Really Gets in Summer”
Radiant heat from the concrete on the ground is the biggest hidden heat danger at Epcot, with its enormous size and nearly total lack of shade. That’s why you might feel fine from a day at Magic Kingdom only to end up with golfer’s rash around your ankles the next day in Future World. Sometimes you can just feel the waves of heat coming up in that park, and if you’re not mindful of it, it starts getting to you before you realize it.
Thanks Michael – we’re going to follow up on this for another post. I appreciate the idea.
WowZERS! I always check the humidity levels and the feels like temps, but I don’t think I ever remember seeing 122 degrees on my app! That’s insane!
This is why everyone should subscribe to Touring Plans. Len and company (no, I am not related to anyone on staff) have given us information that we get from nowhere else (Deb Willis being a close second). Thanks so much Len for that information regarding kids in the stroller. While my grandkids are older, I will definitely pass on that information to people asking me about Disney World.
We normally go to WDW in October or November, but a few years ago we went in July. Never Again!! It was so hot that my wife and I both got a heat rash around our ankles that stayed for several days. Also our feet and lower legs were swollen. We tried to keep hydrated, but that did not seem to help. I do agree that Epcot with all the concrete is the worst.
Thank you for that Ellen quote! Made my whole morning.
I thought I was being a big baby about the heat in WDW lately. This article made me feel so much better. The heat felt so oppressive and my app would say it was 85 degrees. I didn’t know about the shade calculations at all.
Now I am better prepared for my September trip. Thank you for a great article!
Thanks Mukta! You and I thought the same thing! When I was in the AK and my weather app said, you know, 89F, I thought I was just out of shape or something. Nah. It’s the humidity. And I’m sure AK is warmer than MK.
Last year we went in September. We really try to avoid crowds at all costs. Doing our research we knew it would be really hot during this time, but we went anyway. I’m a mailman in New Jersey for 25 years, so I’m no stranger to extreme temperatures both hot and cold. My wife is a cook, so she is also no stranger to heat. We both found the heat to be too much. We still had a great time, and really enjoyed the light crowds and easy Fast Passes and ADR’s, but we will never go this time again. Our next trip in 2019 will be the last week of January and the first week of February. Probably won’t get any pool time, but no matter what time you go there will be some sacrifices.
As I’ve heard Neil deGrasse Tyson explain MANY times on his StarTalk podcasts, the sun doesn’t heat up the air. The sun heats the ground, and the ground heats the air. That’s why the hottest part of the day (afternoon) comes a few hours after peak sunlight levels (noon), and the hottest month (August) comes two months after the summer solstice.
However hot the air is, the ground (in an unshaded area) is hotter.
Good point, Andy. I’ll mention this in the follow-up.
Also, you can’t swing a cat in NYC without seeing NdGT. Imma ask him about this the next time I do.
We generally visit in August – as we have northern school schedules to work around. My kids melt in the heat, so we have adapted to a schedule that means we always rope drop (shorter lines AND cooler), an early air conditioned lunch (11:00am), and then leave the parks before 1pm. We aren’t interested in the heat that was charted. We then make our way back for dinner after 5pm – staying into the evening. The bonus on the schedule is that we also avoid the afternoon thunderstorms. This isn’t good for pool visits, so we schedule a non-park morning after a late night and hit the pool mid-morning before the afternoon thunderstorms close the pools.
We visited in late Aug 2015. We determined pretty early in the trip that it was like exploring the sun, only more humid. One good thing came out of it – we started calling ourselves The Solarnauts. I’m pretty sure that’s going on a t-shirt for next time.
We have always gone in August as we live in the Northeast. After the first visit we decided that sit down meals for lunch were the best idea to beat the heat. We follow that up with some of the indoor stuff and shops. We then stay later because we are not so work out from the sweltering heat.
Even though Epcot may have less shade than magic kingdom, the nice thing is that it has pavilions where you can spend 45 minutes to an hour in air conditioning. For example, the land and sea pavilions both are good places to spend large chunks of time. This is much less true at magic kingdom, where you’re mostly just outside, except when actually riding certain attractions. I also think that’s why people think animal kingdom is the hottest park. There’s actually plenty of shade there, but almost all of the attractions are outdoors (with the notable exception of the two new pandora rides), so there’s little chance to get into air conditioning. In any case, it’s clearly incredibly hot in Disney world in the summer, so finding as much ac time as possible is key to keeping it an enjoyable experience.
We usually go to Disney during Thanksgiving and the week after. Well, last November we bought annual passes. We knew we would be visiting twice within the year and it was economical to buy AP’s. Well, since we had the passes we decided to take a smaller five day trip to see the Mouse. We went 8/14-8/18/17. We had fun but it was hotter than the pits of Hell. I never knew I was capable of that much sweat! I think we’ll stick with the Fall. Weather, crowds and Christmas decorations are beautiful!
“I never knew I was capable of that much sweat” sounds like the opening line of the best vacation story ever. I may quote this.
You may want to also look at the temperatures in the theme park parking lots or the temp in a car that’s been parked in the sun for several hours. The closest I ever came to passing out at WDW was a few years ago when my daughter and I couldn’t locate our car in the Epcot lot in early September. Waves of heat radiating off the pavement. For this reason, I’ll sometimes rent a car in the winter, but not in the summer.
ROTFLMBO @ “ceremonial rotisserie chicken”!!!
But yes…as a former Florida native, I’ve grown to respect the heat she emits and stay the heck away from there in the summer months! Luckily, I’m a child-free woman who doesn’t have to cater to the kid’s school schedule, so I definitely prefer to go in the late Fall or early Spring. I’ve met many people here from Georgia [where I’m at now], who think they’ve got the FL Heat under control when they head South to the “pits of hell”. And then FL hears that and says, “here, hold my beer”.
I think this article is great to help the unenlightened FL newbies to really understand that FL Summers are no joke! Hopefully, people will take heed and plan for the cooler months vs. taking the chance and ending up roasting on Donald’s spit. And no…Roasted Tourist is NOT on the Dining Plan!
We roasted in Southern California one March, and our youngest son got dehydrated and was sick (he was in a stroller). We had been drinking a lot of water, but the medics at the park gave him Gatorade to recover. The rest of our trip, the whole family bought a Gatorade or Powerade at about 10 am, right around the time we started feeling tired. It was a real pick me up, and we followed that advice again touring the Southwest this June. When you sweat that much, you need to replace the salt you are losing. Also, avoid alcohol as it is dehydrating (sorry to bum you out).
We have two school age children and my husband is a teacher so we are therefore limited to the summer season. We have found that going right after school lets out (ie: early to mid June) is the best way to still go in the summer but avoids the sweltering heat of July and August. The earlier you go also avoids the bigger crowds as some schools are still in session. We do have more afternoon rain to contend with but planning indoor rides and shows in the afternoon avoids the ride shut down dilemma.
Interesting post. As a scientist who’s job it is to know how temperature and solar radiation affects things like the performance of telescope mirrors and domes, here are some friendly comments on your methodologies:
1) Were the thermometers calibrated and known to be accurate to, say, 0.1 degrees (not very challenging given current technology)?
2) Were the thermometers used known to respond linearly with change in temperature? If not, the results would be suspect.
3) When Glover was wearing the thermometers, were they always in direct sunlight, or were they sometimes in the shade of his body?
4) Likewise, were the thermometers mounted far enough away from Glover’s body such that his body heat had no effect on the readings? There is a boundary layer near the skin where the air is heated by the body. When this layer gets blown away by wind, you feel colder, hence “wind chill”.
5) Being a statistics guy, I’m really surprised you didn’t do any error analysis of your results taking into account the inherent accuracy and linearity of the thermometers you used.
You’re a scientist after my own heart, Lee. When we do this experiment again, you mind if we run it by you first?
1) We didn’t calibrate the meters first, mainly because we don’t have a reference thermometer handy. The accuracy of the thermometers was +/- 1F for one, and +/- 2F for the other.
2) Not sure about whether they respond linearly.
3) Direct sunlight
4) They were at arm’s length. There’s probably some effect from Brandon’s overheated hand.
5) We can do this.
For this first post I was primarily interested in seeing whether anyone cares enough about this topic, before we invest a lot of time and money into it. It seems like they do. For follow-up, we’ll add rigor and detail.
I’d be honored if you choose to run your next experiment by me :). One way to calibrate thermometers without having a reference thermometer is to use an ice water bath using ice made from distilled water and distilled water in the bath. That gets the low end. For the high end, you can use the boiling point of water, but you have to take into account changes of the boiling point with elevation above sea level and the current barometric pressure (which is of course related to elevation).
Testing linearity is trickier, for that you need a known linear standard thermometer to compare against, or a set of temperature standards.
Also make sure to take into account the response time of the detector when moving from, say, an air conditioned environment to sunlight. These things don’t immediately give you the correct temp, they take a bit of time (which depends on how the probe or housing is designed) to come to equilibrium.
Over all, a really cool experiment on heat 🙂
One way to easily make sure your thermometer is linear is to just invest in one that has been tested by the manufacturer and is known to be linear. Then you only need to check its calibration with the ice/boiling point techniques. However, you’ve got to have a thermometer with a water-tight probe for these kind of calibrations.
A temperature logger (perhaps with the addition of humidity logging) can be had for cheap on Amazon (<$100 for a decent one). For example, this unit has external sensors and can be had for around $40:
We have been lucky enough to have been at WDW every month of the year. Took us many years to accomplish this! We think that July and August are the most challenging months due to the excessive heat, the thunder storms and the enormous crowds. We thought it must be hotter if there are larger crowds giving off heat. It feels to us that Animal Kingdom is the hottest and there is an explanation in one of these comments above – we thought it could be the heat coming off all the animals (and people) but we’re not experts in this field. I think my favourite time to go is January/February but my husband likes to go when it’s a bit warmer than that as even we Brits needed fleeces on in the evenings. He likes to go September/October time.
When I saw the headline I knew there would be some science and you didn’t disappoint. And Lee up above me really goes to the next level. I was hoping you would also talk about dew point as that is a really good indicator of “comfort” I know that above like 70 starts to get uncomfortable and 75 is really uncomfortable. Really the reason I was hoping you would touch on dew point is I hoped youcould explain dew point in a way I can understand. Wikipedia is nice but I’m a little dense at times.
My husband thanks you Ruth (not a true statement) – now I have a new goal… going to Disney in each month of the year. We have only been in 5 different months due to school schedules.