A visit to Disney World is not fun when you feel awful, and dehydration is one of the most common causes of a medical interruption to your day. Whether you’re looking to tackle the roller coasters or the PeopleMover, our guide to hydration at Disney World will help you stay refreshed and ready to go.
Tap on any of the links in the table of contents below to jump straight to that topic.
Three reasons to stay hydrated at theme parks
The best things to eat and drink for hydration
Where to find water at Disney World
Hydration tips for touring – adults and kids!
Signs of dehydration – when to seek help
The Importance of Hydration
Yah, yah, you’ve got lots of planning to do, why should you spend a few minutes reading about hydration? Here are three big reasons why you should care.
Reason #1: Feeling bad sucks. Headache, nausea, dizziness, charley horse, and more can all be signs of dehydration, and none of them are pleasant. Ever had a hangover? That’s mostly dehydration you were feeling.
Reason #2: You’ll have more energy to tackle the parks. Like most things in life, hydration is a spectrum. Even mild levels of dehydration can contribute to feelings of exhaustion and fatigue, and that’s the last thing you need in a theme park.
Reason #3: You’re less likely to get sick. Mild dehydration over a few days can impact your immune system, making it more likely that you’ll get sick during your holiday.
What to Eat and Drink to Stay Hydrated
Hydration equals fluids and fluids equals drinking, right? Wrong. About 20% of the water we need usually comes from food, and including food in your hydration plan is helpful because fiber and other nutrients make it easier for your body to absorb the water you’re taking in.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to buy everything you eat and drink in the parks. Guests are allowed to bring food and drinks into the theme parks at Disney World. Hydration packs are also allowed, as are backpacks and coolers that are within the size limits and don’t contain loose or dry ice.
The Best Foods for Hydration
Watermelon is pretty much a cliche. But more picks with more than 90% water content include other melons such as cantaloupe, along with cucumbers, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, and zucchini. One that was a surprise to me? Strawberries. Just down in the next tier at 80-90% water are most other fruits that we think of as being juicy: citrus fruits, grapes, and stone fruits like peaches and pears.
I hope it goes without saying that I’m talking about fresh fruits and vegetables: a dried cherry is, well … dehydrated. But even starchy fruits and vegetables like bananas or avocados still have a water content of 70% or above. And you don’t have to stick to produce either. Dairy products such as yogurt and cottage cheese, soups, and other semi-solids such as applesauce can all have 80% or more water content.
What to Drink – Water, Sports Drinks, and More
Over a day in the parks, we’re not going to get all the fluids we need from food alone. The recommendation from health professionals of all kinds is to drink water. If you don’t like the taste of water, you can make it more palatable using flavorings that don’t add a lot of sugar.
Sports drinks such as Powerade or Gatorade are touted for hydration, but they’re not always better than water. What sports drinks are good at is replacing fluid at the same time as electrolytes that have been lost through sweating. What does this mean for you? Well, if you’re visiting in the summer then sports drinks or other electrolyte replacement might be a good choice for some of your fluid intake. If you’re visiting in the winter and you’re not sweating a ton, you’ll still need to drink but you might want to stick to water.
Sugary drinks such as sodas or juice get a mixed review on the hydration front. If you’re otherwise in good health, the main disadvantage is that if you’re drinking a lot to stay hydrated then that’s a lot of sugary calories too.
Colas are where sugary drinks cross over with caffeinated beverages such as tea and coffee. Caffeine is a mild diuretic (it makes you pee more) and for a long time the word was that coffee, tea, and soda were dehydrating. But science says the effect is mild enough that you generally don’t need to worry about it unless you’re using caffeine pills instead of drinking a beverage. Energy drinks often contain more dehydrating additives, and you shouldn’t rely on them for hydration.
That brings us to alcohol. Your preschooler won’t need to worry about it, but as adults, we sometimes like to indulge. Alcoholic drinks will be dehydrating: your net intake of water will be negative. If you’re drinking lower alcohol content beverages like beer or cider, you might not notice it as quickly. But a good rule of thumb is to drink at least an extra glass of water for each alcoholic drink you have. And that’s just to keep even – if it’s hot and you’re sweating a lot, you’ll need to do more.
Finding Water at Disney World
Unless you carry in a hydration pack or several individual bottles, at some point you’re going to be looking for something to drink. You can buy bottled water throughout the parks; many vendors also sell Powerade. In the parks, bottled water runs about $3.50-$4, or if you’re using the Disney Dining Plan you can pay with a snack credit.
There are two places to get water for free: water fountains and Quick Service restaurants. Both will be Florida tap water; the main difference between them will be the temperature. Many people aren’t fond of the taste of Florida’s water. If that’s you, you can carry added flavoring such as small packets of Crystal Light or Mio, or powdered electrolyte packets can be used if you’re looking to avoid paying for sports drinks as well. Or, you can use a filter bottle: Brita and LifeStraw are popular brands.
Bottled water is easily found throughout Disney World. Every snack cart or snack stand sells it, as well as many stores and Quick Service locations. Due to Disney’s agreement with Coca-Cola, the water you find for sale will almost always be Dasani. SmartWater may also be available, usually at a higher price.
How to Find Water Fountains at Disney World
As a general rule, where there is a restroom you will find a water fountain nearby. The reverse isn’t true, but restrooms are listed on the park map in the My Disney Experience app and water fountains are not. If you’re looking to refill a HydroFlask, a Yeti bottle, or the like, a few locations in each park have water bottle refill stations. You can also refill bottles at the fountain drink stations, though not all Quick Service restaurants have them. For a complete list of good places to refill your reusable bottle, see Water Bottle Refill Stations at Disney World.
Free Water from Quick Service
You can get a free cup of ice water at any Quick Service restaurant, even if you’re not buying food. One thing that’s often a source of confusion is that these need to be actual Quick Service restaurants, not snack carts or snack stands. If there’s no dedicated seating for diners, then there’s no free ice water at the counter either.
You’ll often see advice to “never pay for water at Disney World” because you can get free ice water at Quick Service. But one thing I’ve found is that time is money: sometimes it’s faster to grab a bottle from a nearby snack cart with no line than to wait in the queue to get to a counter and ask for the free water.
Hydration Tips for Touring
The biggest tip I have for staying hydrated while traveling around the parks is to have a plan. We all have different touring styles and some strategies will suit some groups better than others. But if you just assume it’s going to happen, there’s a good chance that it might not.
It’s more effective to take in small amounts of water frequently than to go for a few hours and chug a bottle at once. Kids especially need to hydrate often since they are more susceptible to dehydration, and seniors may not feel thirst as rapidly in response to dehydration. For both of these groups, offer water on a routine basis. If you’re using Lines to make a custom touring plan, one of my favorite tricks is to always set the walking speed to the slowest setting; this automatically builds in some slack time for snacks, bathroom, and water stops.
Here are some specific tips and strategies that my family and others have applied over the years. You won’t want to do all of them (and I think some are even mutually exclusive!), but there should be a few that strike your fancy as something your group could take in stride.
- What goes out, goes in: drink every time you stop to use the bathroom.
- Drink every time you pass a water fountain (even if you’re not drinking from the water fountain).
- Drink whenever you get off an attraction where you waited more than 20 minutes in line.
- If you’re in an outdoor queue for more than 10 minutes, pass around water or small snacks. (Snacking and drinking may or may not be allowed in indoor queues. My experience has been that passing around a water bottle or a small packet of Goldfish is not an issue, but YMMV.)
- Have a small snack or a meal at least every two hours. You don’t have to stop touring; eating carrots in line counts.
- Have at least one glass of water with every meal.
- At Table Service meals, have a single serving of soda, then switch to water. Or, drink only water until your food arrives at the table.
- At Quick Service restaurants, send someone for cups of ice water as you’re clearing up. Use these to top up any refillable bottles that you’re carrying.
Signs of Dehydration
When it comes to dehydration, prevention is the best approach. But nobody’s perfect, so it’s good to know the warning signs that tell you it’s time to top up your fluid levels. Dizziness, nausea, and headaches are very noticeable, but there are less obvious symptoms that can be easy to overlook.
Thirst, dry mouth, or chapped lips. This seems like a “no duh” entry on this list. But be aware that your sense of thirst in response to fluid levels can decrease with age, and don’t wait until your thirst is extreme to do something about it.
Muscle cramps. It can be easy to write off a small cramp or discomfort as a result of your day’s unaccustomed exercise. Don’t. Even if exercise is a contributor, staying hydrated will reduce the impact.
Fatigue, irritability, or confusion. Theme parks are pretty stimulating, and you might be inclined to write off crankiness or fatigue to how much you’ve been doing. But these symptoms can be a sign that you’re dehydrated, and they can also be a sign that you need some food.
Lack of sweat, dry eyes, or blurry vision. If you’re not used to Florida’s humid climate, you’ll find yourself perspiring a lot, especially in the first few days while your body adjusts. If you were sweating earlier in the day and now you’re not, that’s a sign that your body doesn’t have the fluid it wants. Dry, itchy eyes or blurry vision tell the same story: your body doesn’t have enough water to go around.
Your pee – less of it, less frequently, or color changes. It’s common wisdom that dark-colored urine is a sign of dehydration, but you need to put that in context. Your pee can take on a wide range of colors influenced by everything from medications to what you eat. Still, you know what’s normal for you. Take a look in the toilet when you pause for a bathroom break; if your pee is darker than normal it’s likely a sign that you’re dehydrated. If you can’t remember when the last time you stopped for a bathroom break was, that’s probably not a good sign either.
Dehydration in Kids
Everything above applies to kids too. But it’s on you to be extra alert as they may not be old enough to communicate well or understand why they feel lousy. For infants, be wary if the soft spots (fontanelles) or eyes appear sunken, and take note if diapers don’t need to be changed as often or aren’t as full. Arms or legs that feel overly cool with dry-feeling or mottled skin should be a cause for concern, and if you press your child’s fingernail and the white doesn’t fill back to a healthy pink within 2 seconds, that’s another sign. Over the course of a few days, unusual constipation can signal low-level dehydration.
Where to Get Help
If your symptoms are mild you should be able to get yourself rehydrated. Get out of the sun, sit down, and take in some fluids. But if your symptoms are more serious or you have other signs of heat-related illness, head on over to the First Aid center. They see a lot of it, and the nurse there will either be able to help you get back on your feet, or triage you over to more advanced medical assistance.
When you visit the parks, how do you plan to stay hydrated? What are your best tips? Let us know in the comments!