This year we took a family vacation to Disney World in August with our 4 kids ages 5, 7, 9, and 15 for 6 days. My sister and her 4 year old daughter flew in from California and joined us as well. Here’s what we did to make this trip a success.
Surviving Disney World In August:
Step 1: Don’t Go To Disney World In August. Newsflash, I know this may come as a shock, but Florida in August is hot. like really hot. It reached 98 degrees on two of the days we were there. Add in 100% humidity. I was coated in sweat before leaving the hotel at 8 AM. If at all possible arrange to miss school and take the kids in February. Florida is nice that time of year. If August is your only option, then do the following:
Adjust your schedule before your trip. You want to arrive at the park at least 30 minutes before the park opens every single day and go back to the hotel in the middle of the day, say 1230 – 5p. Go back to the park in the evening. On the days we arrived early we got through 75% of the rides we wanted to do by 11 AM. Most people are at the parks between 1030 and 6. This is because most people don’t get their butts moving in the morning and it is a pain to leave and come back. Don’t be like them. Using this strategy you tend to beat the worst of the heat and the worst of the crowds. ACTUALLY REST when you go back to the hotel. Don’t go for a walk, don’t go swimming, stay out of the heat and at least try to take a power nap. The only exception to this is the Magic Kingdom. It is SO much more difficult to get there and come back than the other parks and it may be worth toughening it out for the duration of the day. Take a rest at the air conditioned Hall of Presidents.
You also want to check out the Undercover Tourist Crowd Calendar to decide which days to visit which parks. In general you want to avoid parks that have extra magic hours if you are not staying at a Disney hotel.
Pack all the fluids. We had 8 people total and we were running low on fluids most days. I packed a small cooler with around 10 drinks and we also packed 1 water bottle per person. I attached a shoe hanger to the back of our stroller for these. Since we have to fold our stroller to get on the tram I have the kids carry their own water bottles. We had bought a set of 5 waterweek water bottles that came with a carrying hook. This came in handy for getting through the tram and security. The lids are screw on lids, which prevented leaking.
Ask for cups of water on a tray. All Disney restaurants will give you free cups of ice water. Order 2 per person in your group and they will give you a tray.
Plan to do indoor rides / attractions in the hot part of the day. If you are staying past 11 then arrange to be inside during the worst heat of the day. Every park has attractions and shows that are air conditioned.
General Tips Outside of Heat Management:
- Focus on primary needs: Bathroom breaks, snacks, hydration, shade/AC.
- When visiting Magic Kingdom go to the park via bus rather than Monorail. There are much shorter lines to get on the bus and it is less crowded.
- If you stay for fireworks plan on hanging out in the park for another 45 minutes. There is a mad rush to get out and it is hellacious. This may be a good time to go on some rides with short wait times.
- Use your Fastpasses and use them well. Plan ahead and book Fastpasses once your window opens up (7AM eastern time 30 days prior for those not staying in Disney Hotel). Keep an eye on Fastpasses as people cancel and change them throughout the day.
- Use your app to track wait times. Be a creature of opportunity and go to rides when wait times are ridiculously low. I found that several rides had waits that ended up being only around 2/3 of the posted wait time. 5 – 10 minute waits usually means you can hop right on!
- Order food through the app. My sister noted that we waited longer in line for chicken nuggets than we did for most rides. You can use the app to order food in advance, then tell the app when you are physically at the restaurant and they will alert you when your order is ready. WAY better than standing in line.
- While dining secure a table first before getting your food. it’s a pain in the butt to have a bunch of food and realize there is nowhere to sit. It’s also a good idea to eat off schedule from most humans. Seating fills up quickly around the normal lunchtime hours.
- Don’t order a full meal for everyone, especially if you have young kids, it’s just a waste of money and most of it will end up in the trash. If you find you are finishing up the food you originally ordered, order some more on the app and it will be ready in a few minutes.
- Plan your day and your Fastpasses around geography. Your day will be much more pleasant if you work your way around the park in an orderly fashion rather than zig zagging a half mile back and forth all the time. I wore a fitbit for most of our trip and had multiple days where I walked over 10K.
- Pick up a physical map. The Disney app isn’t very battery friendly and the beating sun makes it impossible to see your phone if you aren’t in a high display mode.
- If using Photopass save your QR code to your phone as the lock screen. This saves a lot of time.
- If using Photopass also take some of your own photos. We had a few photo sets not make it through.
- Keep your ticket card on you. Mrs C. carried all of our cards, but we split up some times. I regret not having my card with me because when pictures are taken on a ride you can scan your card in front of your ride picture outside of the ride and the picture will get linked to your Photopass account.
- Bonus for Pokemon Go Players: You can catch 2 regionals in and around Disney that you won’t find in most of the U.S, Corsola and Heracross.
- Disney is Chaotic, keep a good eye on your little ones. Disney cast members do an EXCELLENT job of looking out for lost children and scared parents.
- Link your child’s ticket to your finger print. Several times we had delays because our kids fingers didn’t work on the scanner. after the 3rd time this happened the cast members offered to link my finger to their tickets. This greatly streamlined our entry process. Very important if you have little ones.
- Don’t skip the autographs. I originally thought the autographs were a waste of time, since you are getting a picture with the characters anyways, however some of the characters have really cool signatures, like Pluto draws a paw print and Jake the Pirate draws a sword. Make sure you have a sharpie and open it for the characters.
- Don’t walk into the art gallery at EPCOT with children. I did this and our kids were well behaved, however it is nerve wracking to see paintings with several thousand dollar price tags in arms reach of a 5 year old.
What To Bring To Disney World in August:
I lugged around a heavy backpack each day and we ended up not using a lot of what I was lugging around. Here’s the stuff you actually need:
Stroller – Unless you have no children under 7 this is super important. Tiny legs will get tired. The stroller is also nice to have for putting your stuff in. I bought a double stroller off of craigslist years ago for around $30. This is about what it costs to rent a stroller for 1 day at Disney.
Hat – On your head, preferably white. I also brought a bandanda with that I secured under my hat to shade the back of my neck from the sun.
Water bottles – back of stroller
Cooling Towels – Back of stroller, store with water bottle. I thought these were gimmicky, but they are well worth it.
Quarters and pennies – Back of stroller in medicine bottles, you have 8 slots.
Sunscreen – Back of stroller.
Battery pack for phone. – Pocket.
Cooler – Under stroller: We used a medium sized soft sided cooler that fit under the stroller.
Snacks. – Plastic bag next to cooler under stroller. Kool-aid flavor packs were very popular and we mixed them with water throughout the day.
No backpack needed!
That’s it. I brought ponchos each day, but we never needed them.
- SHADE. Disney is the land of Imagineers, where dreams come to life. It boggles my mind how little thought is put into the Engineering of the spaces to protect from the Florida sun. The most glaring example is the security check in lines at every single Disney park. ALL of them are in open sun. The lines can be very slow moving as well. Universal with less than 5% of the land Disney has puts their security lines in a big building. (NOTE: After writing this Mrs. C. found an article stating that Disney is renovating these areas and shade is coming!) Pro tip: Go to the extreme right or left and you will have shorter lines. Each park has small tables at diagonals off to the side. Everyone crowds to the middle like lemmings and waits in super long lines. Here’s a visual representation of what I’m talking about:
- Walk from your car instead of taking the tram, you are more likely to arrive sooner and not have to fight a crowd of 60 people to the tables. This also prevents having to fold up your stroller. A double stroller will only fit in the front and back tram sections that are larger. It saved me a lot of stress the days I walked instead of took the tram.
- Restrooms: This drove me crazy. Disney is geared towards small children, yet in every restroom there is a bank of maybe 10 urinals with ONLY ONE being the height for a kid under 6. This is extremely strange because EVERYONE can use a short urinal, but the little kids, who are the most likely to have a bathroom emergency can only use the short ones.
- Food: We ate at several quick service spots and there are very few choices for family meals. Most QS restaurants have a meal of 8 chicken nuggets and fries for around 10 bucks. We would order 2 of these and some extra fries to split around the table. We originally flirted with the idea of packing a lunch and bringing it in, but it was just too much work.
- Hollywood Studios is bleak for younger kids. I can only imagine how bad it was before Toy Story World opened. Toy Story World is completely devoid of shade.
- Labels and directions: Even with the app it is easy to get turned around and lost at Disney. Disney does an AMAZING job of labeling the roads to get there with giant purple signs, yet in the parks signage is subpar at best, especially to the restrooms.
- Character meets: I thought the Star Wars character meet at Hollywood Studios and the Mickey/Goofy/Minnie character meet at EPCOT were both done very well. The characters and the lines are inside and the lines move fairly quickly. Other characters are stuck outside and are occasionally shaded, but the lack of air conditioning is torchurous, I can only imagine how the characters feel.
This was our 2nd family vacation to Florida, we went to Universal Studios in 2016. We are tentatively planning to do another Florida trip in the summer of 2021, but we have not ironed out the details of if we are going back to Universal, to Disney, or both.
Have you taken a family vacation to Florida? What tips do you have for surviving a summer trip?