Enjoy Disney World even when the weather is bad
So your park tickets and airline reservations were bought months in advance. Then you arrive at Disney World and realize that you should have paid more attention to the second word in "Florida usually has great weather."
Some of our family had an opportunity to go to Orlando for a few days in early February. As the date got closer and closer it became apparent that our visit would be cold and rainy. Instead of preparing to be disappointed we prepared to enjoy it anyway. And we succeeded. But we were surprised at the vast number of visitors who were not prepared and suffered as a result.
One image was especially moving to my wife. A poor pathetic looking young father was pushing a baby stroller through a light rain wearing shorts, sandals and tank top, struggling to be warm with a small pink baby blanket clothespinned over his shoulders.
Proof your Disney World vacation against bad weather
WDW provides many choices for being out of the weather: Most attractions and shows at Disney World are indoor and most lines to those attractions are under cover. Disney planned for rain or shine. We managed to be under cover every time the rain was more than a light sprinkle. And there is always an indoor spot at the exit of each ride (usually a souvenir shop with the ride's theme) where a non-rider can wait comfortably...well, sort of comfortably. With some exceptions the only seating is outside. However there is indoor seating at eateries and some other places where a non-rider can rest and be met after a ride. Another option is to go on the gentler rides while daring family members take on the thrill rides.
Warm up with Disney World hot chocolate: Their hot chocolate is amazing. I had to get more later even though I wasn't cold. This does not apply to the hot chocolate from the Starbucks in Epcot which was not as good for my taste (bitter, less smooth). But the hot chocolate at Magic Kingdom, at least that at Cosmic Ray's, is worth a special trip.
There is still no avoiding walking in the rain, so prepare for it. Your biggest friend is a reasonable quality, reasonably heavy duty rain jacket with hood. Heavy duty because the sheet of plastic wrap that is used to make light weight ponchos will do nothing to help you stay warm and does not breathe well. Bring a day pack to carry the jacket and long sleeve shirt (for layering) when they are not needed. I wore a ball cap under the hood, so its bill acted as an umbrella for my glasses and kept my dome top warmer.
There is an advantage to going when the weather is not ideal: shorter lines. My wife also pointed out that an overcast drizzly day adds a whole new perspective and atmosphere to attractions like Cinderella's Castle, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and The Haunted Mansion.
Make sure your rain jacket is long, long enough to sit on. It will still probably not be long enough. We wish we had each brought a small heavy duty plastic "sheet" or equivalent protection to sit on and a small towel to wipe them off after use. Our rain jackets extend well below our waists but not quite enough to keep our pants from getting wet when sitting on a wet curb or bench.
We really wish we had had those plastic sheets when we left Hollywood Studios for Magic Kingdom. We arrived at the bus stop just after the bus departed so we had to wait about 4 hours (ok, just 20 minutes by watch time) for the next one. We were very tired and really wanted to sit while we waited, but the benches were wet. With all the care WDW invests in an all-weather environment I am surprised that the bus stops at Hollywood Studios are uncovered.
Day pack that is water resistant: We found a perfect day pack at REI for about $25. Very light weight, it has a convenient inside mesh zip pocket at the top that I used for car keys and mini USB battery charger, plus a long pocket to separate wet/dry (or whatever). The top opens easily with a draw string that includes a small leather flap to cover the top when it is closed. We removed the extra support straps that would have just gotten in our way. It even has outer loops that you can use to tie things to the case or hang with carabiners.
Cell phone waterproof case: If it is raining hard, consider having along a waterproof case for your phone. A ziplock bag works, but I have an Evecase that is waterproof to 30 meters (which I plan to test on a scuba dive). See the photo below. It comes with detachable neck strap and arm band. Photos and videos (including sound) come out well even though the phone is enclosed. I use it every day after a gym workout to read a Kindle book while in the Jacuzzi. Note: my LG G2 currently has a bug related to the proximity sensor that requires me to bring the phone out of sleep mode before I put it in the case because it won't turn on while in the case.
Plan meals before or after rush hour times: You're at the Magic Kingdom and you're ready for lunch during lunch time traffic. In our case the only nearby "full meal" choice was Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café (but our experience may be the same at other restaurants). The restaurant was packed. Even most of the floor space was in use with people sitting for an ad hoc middle-of-the-floor picnic. And this was off season with smaller attendance. Granted, the lunch time crowd was probably exacerbated by the periodic light sprinkling of rain. But the lesson is clear. Prepare to not be hungry at normal meal times. Shift your meal schedule by an hour before or after to avoid being a sardine in a can. I passed through the restaurant again about 1:30pm and it was wide open seating then.
External mini battery chargers for your cell phone (which acted as our camera): My LG G2 has a great camera for high resolution still shots and video (good at least for regular vacation photos vs. pro shots). But the battery will not last all day when I'm actively using it for phone, camera, email, and web browsing. The battery will last a lot longer, though, if you keep it in airplane mode when you do not need it for calls or data. Still, I found that a miniature USB battery charger or two was a necessity. I would simply plug it into my phone and let it charge in my day pack when I didn't need it for a stretch. Worked out great.
Later: I have discovered Anker external batteries which I am looking forward to using on our next trip. They have an interesting selection. For my purposes the Anker Astro Slim2 4500mAh External Battery seems ideal. I'll let you know in later articles.
My Disney Experience mobile app: This was useful to find out the real-time status of wait lines for all attractions and to have ready access to maps and attraction descriptions. Soon you'll also be able to use it to manage your FastPasses (a biggee). You have to be on site (GPS detection) for it to work fully.
FastPass: At Disney World (I understand it works differently at Disneyland) each person is allowed to schedule up to three FastPasses that let you bypass the long lines. Keep in mind that you are limited to three per day inclusive of all the parks. So pick them carefully. We took strategic advantage of the My Disney Experience mobile app to let us know wait times for attraction at all the parks. We set top priorities for our most wanted rides that have long wait times. Then we focused our attention on other desired attractions with shorter wait lines. It's also a good idea to avoid scheduling FastPasses back to back to widely separated attractions. We loved the FastPasses and did not envy (too much) those who used them while we were in a regular line. It's an even playing field. But it sure was great walking right past hundreds and hundreds of people in line for Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and other popular rides for the few days we were there.
Helpful Disney Cast (employees): You can get help from any of the many Disney employees at the parks. In fact at Magic Kingdom the restaurant we had gone to for lunch was closed. We were looking uncertain about where to go when a young lady cast member came right to us with a smile and asked if she could help. Hearing that we were headed to Space Mountain, she gave us directions to Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café. It doesn't always work out as expected though. After lunch I was having a lot of difficulty finding a FastPass kiosk. I asked a cast member and was told they didn't have FP kiosks at Magic Kingdom, that you had to go to each ride to get a FastPass. Not understanding why MK would be different from the other parks (it isn't), I followed that lead and a string of others, covering about half the park before finally arriving at a FP kiosk. Fortunately there were no lines and I was able to get our reservations and head back to meet the family at the Café...thoroughly worn out. The person at the FP kiosk made the good suggestion to schedule FastPasses in an orderly progression for walking from one to another, but then scheduled ours so that we ended up walking back and forth across the park. Moral of the story: find the places on the map yourself and make these decisions accordingly. Hmmm... I wonder if FP kiosks show up on the My Disney Experience app maps?
Main Street Electrical Parade at Magic Kingdom: After riding more rides and enjoying more WDW hot chocolate, that evening I staked out a good spot on main street while the family enjoyed the stores. I managed to reserve a section of prime curb space for the four members of our family by putting a backpack at one end of my five foot section of real estate and me standing at the other end...and then keeping an eye out as people tried to surreptiously scoot the bag over.
We ended up moving it anyway to allow a child from the family next to us to have a place to sit. It continued to lightly sprinkle rain. The damp streets caused a delay of the Main Street Electrical Parade for the safety of the performers (presumbly because the wet streets can be hazardous to the dancers). After a delay of about 45 minutes the show went on, though the streets were not any dryer. We were one with the kids all around us in enjoying this exciting parade. The performers would come right up to the kids to acknowledge them to the delight of the kids and parents. It was a thoroughly enjoyable performance that was not deterred by the damp conditions. Just keep in mind that real rain probably triggers a cancellation of this parade.
Of special note... Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin: I would never have chosen to take this ride unless our children were young. As it turned out I am glad our adult children suggested we go on this ride. It was a lot of fun playing one-way laser tag in a target rich environment.
For our women readers: My wife noted that if you bring the wrong shoes for the weather, there are shoes for sale at WDW, but she found that there are few in small women's sizes. Our daughter was unable to find anything smaller than a size 8.
Our focus this trip was on Epcot and our DiveQuest adventure, but we made sure to share a day with abbreviated visits to Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith are must-do rides. On previous visits I hadn't learned that Tower of Terror randomly changes up the final drop(s) giving you a different experience each time you go. Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is a can't-miss-it because of that initial acceleration. Love it! We also again enjoyed the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, this time from prime front/center seats.
We missed Studio Backlot Tour and the cool stunt driving because it was cancelled due to weather conditions, but we very much enjoyed it on our last visit. We tried out The Great Movie Ride this time but found it pretty boring.
Ready to move on to The Magic Kingdom, we found ourselves going in very long and tiring circles trying to find our way out. One of the main streets was effectively closed with a live performance. We finally asked a cast member who showed us a shortcut side path to where we needed to go.
Epcot and DiveQuest
We love Epcot. It is our favorite of all the parks. There is never enough time to see all we want to see of Epcot World Showcase and enjoy all the great food options at the many represented countries, so we'll just have to keep returning. Shucks.
We got to revisit some of our favorite attractions including:
Turtle Talk With Crush: I love the way they are able to animate the graphics to go along with live conversations Crush has with the kids seated at the front.
Soarin: A magnificent and thoroughly enjoyable ride. I can't wait until the video that riders are "embedded" within can be made higher resolution.
Test Track Presented by Chevrolet: almost cancelled by threatening lightning but we made it.
Spaceship Earth: relaxing entertainment with a fun ending.
Mission SPACE: an enjoyable experience with one of my favorite actors, Gary Sinise. A special connection for me since I once worked as an engineer on Atlas/Centaur rockets. An elderly guest slipped into the wrong spacecraft so I switched from the commander's seat to the pilot's seat.
Living with the Land: an avid vegetable gardner, this is always one of my favorite attractions. One of these visits I have got to take the backlot tour of the soil-less gardens and fish farms.
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth: Sadly, this time we missed this grand fireworks and laser show. Now there is a FastPass that offers reserved seating for this show. I'll have to try that. To get a decent view otherwise you have to stake out a spot early in the evening and park there for an hour or so.
If you are a scuba diver and go to Disney World, you are really missing a bucket list opportunity if you don't experience DiveQuest at what is now The Seas with Nemo & Friends (formerly The Living Seas) with its over 6,000 sea creatures. The Seas is so large that Spaceship Earth could fit inside with space to run around the perimeter. At 203 feet in diameter by 27 feet deep it contains 5.7 million gallons of salt water that is filtered every two hours and 43 minutes by an enormous filtration system in several huge tanks nearby.
DiveQuest cannot be compared to open water diving. It is obviously a completely different kind of dive and is enjoyed for its unique merits. The DiveQuest experience takes about 3 hours. The dive itself is about 40 minutes. It is a shallow dive so the air in the tank lasts longer. Before the dive the 16 divers are treated to a back lot guided tour of the educational and research work taking place, observing first hand the magnitude of operations at The Seas. It is a fascinating experience as you walk past offices, research areas, and holding tanks for large sea creatures that are moved in and out of the facility via the roof, taking advantage of rising floors, and hydraulic lifts with harnesses.
I was interested in the food preparation area. A white board has the names of the variety of sea animals, and even the names of individuals for large creatures like the dolphins, sharks, and manatees. The board showed the recipes and volumes consumed by each animal type. Divers feed the animals in separate groups, the animals having been trained to individual audible signals to come eat. Interestingly, the food standards for feeding these creatures exceeds FDA standards for feeding humans.
We learned that the manatees are rescued animals, one having been injured by boat propellers. In fact we were told that one of them had been rescued, restored to health, released, and rescued again.
After the tour we were directed to a lounge room where we could relax a bit, get some instruction, sign our lives away, and then off to assigned lockers to get into wet suits before heading upstairs above the water level for final instructions and putting on tanks. We were supposed to have an opportunity to get on video with our family on the other side of the glass but my son and I waited and never saw the videographer, so I missed having that part of the experience recorded. Divers are not allowed to bring their own cameras.
There were a couple of other aspects of my previous DiveQuest experience that I thought were better by a small measure. On my previous dive the divers were made to feel a little special by being informed that they are part of the Disney World cast. It was also nice to have an opportunity to spend a little time with the family before going upstairs to don the rest of the equipment over the wet suit. That was not included this time. This time seemed a little rushed compared to the way it was done before.
Still, we had a great experience. I loved sharing the dive with my son. In addition to the fun of diving amidst a captive group of an amazing array of sea life in an "always perfect" environment, there is another captive group behind huge windows to entertain the divers. Many in this group, humans, are even related to the divers. It makes for an interesting and fun photo opportunity. The video taken by our family on the air side of the glass was interesting to see. My wife put her hand to the plexiglass and I did the same from the other side. The video made the 8-inch plexiglass thickness apparent. It was also really cute when a little girl from another family put her hand to the glass, too, so I reached up to hers.
One of my favorite things to do is to swim over to the large picture windows with a view into the restaurant. It is fun to go above the windows out of sight and then come down upside down to wave at the kids who are eating in booths at those windows. Asked nicely the restaurant guests will even offer to share their food with you, albeit a bit difficult to get to it. One of the young children was fascinated by a shell just outside the window and signaled for me to let her see it more closely. Uncertain whether it was ok to do so, it was just a shell, so I picked it up to show her and then placed it back where it had been. She was pleased by the attention which pleased me.
This time the DiveQuest experience was extra special, getting to do the dive with our youngest son and with our very happy youngest daughter and her mother following us with video cameras.
Here is a 48 sec video segment from our dive at DiveQuest: