Surviving the Florida Sunshine
Florida seems to have a special kind of sunshine that is both more powerful and blinding than other tropical destinations, which I’m sure is artificially amplified by reflection off the shiny surfaces and miles of pavement at Disney World. I can’t emphasize enough how intense the sun is and the damage it can do to your skin while touring the parks or lounging around the pool all day. Nothing can sideline you quicker than a sunburn and who wants to spend their vacation suffering in the hotel room while the rest of your group is having fun? Here are some important tips for surviving in the Florida sunshine.
The first line of defense against the blistering Florida sun is a good layer of sunscreen and it’s always one of the first things I pack for a Disney World trip. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad spectrum sunscreen which will protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Use one with a minimum SPF 30 rating, though I tend to go with 50+ for my Scandinavian skin. During the summer months it will be very hot and humid, so buy a water resistant sunscreen that won’t easily wash away while you sweat. Sunscreen is not recommended for infants under 6 months of age, so take extra care to provide sun-resistant clothing, a broad brimmed hat, and avoid prolonged direct sunlight.
Apply a good layer of sunscreen before you head out from your hotel in the morning. It takes 15 minutes or so for the sunscreen to soak into your skin. Make sure to apply to ALL exposed skin, not just your face. Shoulders, behind the knees, and ankle area tend to get hit hard.
Take a bottle of spray sunscreen, and a stick for faces, with you to reapply at the park; especially if you have active kids in your party. If you bring hand applied lotion, some wet wipes are also a good companion for cleanup. The AAD recommends reapplying sunscreen every two hours for maximum protection, even more often during swimming or other water sports.
Other Sun Protection
A wide brimmed hat will provide some decent shade while walking around, but even a baseball cap can help protect your head. I usually go with a sawgrass panama or gambler style golfer hat when not riding a lot of coasters. They provide shade and are breathable to help dissipate the heat. Some have sun resistant materials and can even be soaked to help with cooling.
Several manufacturers now offer beach gear and shirts for both children and adults that resist UV rays. Go with clothes that provide cover and are also loose fitting to help regulate heat. Outdoor brands like L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer offer shirts designed allow good air flow and materials which dry quickly. The most common burns I see at Disney World are ruby red shoulders on older men with sleeveless tees and girls with racer back tops.
Don’t forget your sunglasses! The sunshine can be blinding in Florida, plus even your eyes can take damage from too much UV exposure. If you forget to bring your styling specs, replacements can be found in gift shops and Disney World also has a few new Sunglass Hut locations.
Pay attention to your skin. As soon as you see pink it’s time to get out of the sun; you’re already heading towards sunburn at that point. Cool off indoors and apply aloe gel to heal your skin. H2O+ provides a great Solar Relief Gel at Disney World. If you’re in a Deluxe resort you’ll find it with little collection of toiletries; otherwise it can be purchased in the gift shops. Outside of Disney, aloe gel can easily be found at any convenience or grocery store. A cool shower or bath can also help with discomfort. Try to avoid direct sunlight to help your skin heal. As always, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Severe sunburn, also known as sun poisoning, can also cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness. If you experience these symptoms and/or large patches of blistering it is recommended you see a doctor for treatment.
Tips on Keeping Cool at Disney World
Disney World has lots of places to get in out of the heat, so take advantage of that for some bits of downtime when the temperature soars. I grew up with annual summer trips to Cedar Point amusement park in northern Ohio and will never forget baking two hours at a time in unshaded queues for each ride on their amazing roller coasters. At Disney World they do a much better job of providing shade and you’ll often find cool mist fans in the open queues. Inside the buildings the AC is always cranking; enough that some guests complain about it being too cold!
Take a mid-day break at your hotel to escape not only the heat, but the crowds. Catch a quick nap, have lunch, sit by the pool, then head back to the parks when it’s cooler and many people have given up for the day. My typical touring plan is rope drop a park in the morning, lunch at my resort or another hotel, then head back to the park in the evening. Not only is it cooler and less crowded, but Disney parks offer a whole different atmosphere with everything lit up and night time entertainment.
If not heading back to your hotel midday, schedule reservations at a sit-down restaurant for lunch instead of dinner. It’ll be a welcome break in the day, a chance to cool down, and are typically not as busy as dinner time. As a bonus, some meals are cheaper at lunch time.
Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! If you are in Florida from May through September you are going to sweat. A lot. Make sure you’re replacing those fluids constantly. Keep a good water bottle at your side. To save space when flying into Orlando, I often just buy a pair of the ubiquitous Dasani water bottles when I arrive at the hotel to refill all week. Keep one in the fridge and take one with you. You can get free ice water at most counter service locations and there are several drinking fountains around the parks to keep your bottles filled. For some variety, bring along a flavor concentrate for your water; also a good way to keep kids away from sugary drinks or juice overload which doesn’t help hydrate as well. If you don’t like the taste of Disney water, bring along a filter bottle to neutralize the taste, such as these from Brita.
Take a hand-held fan. Find one that fits in your pocket or backpack easily and pull it out when you’re waiting in a sunny spot or anytime on those humid days. These are also important when you have kids in strollers for long periods of time since they don’t get much airflow; just be sure to purchase one that has a guard to keep little fingers away if it will be mounted on the stroller or held by kids. This fan is really versatile and can be clipped to a stroller too.
Magic Kingdom and Epcot both have splash areas where kids can run off some steam while getting sprayed with water. Of course there are also great water rides like Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom and Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom for us older kids. Refreshing, but you’ll need to carry along a change of clothes and appropriate shoes, such as flip flops or Crocs. Trudging around in wet shoes isn’t worth the quick cool down.
It may sound silly, but an umbrella can provide a lot of shade and is perfect for those daily rain showers that always seem to pop up out of nowhere during the summer months. Choose an umbrella that fits your needs. Go for a compact model if you need your hands free for the kiddos and store it in your backpack, or a nice wide umbrella with a comfortable grip that can also be used as a walking stick. I’ve found golf shops to be great places to find umbrellas.
Cooling wraps are a popular new item for keeping cool. The most popular brand is Frogg Toggs Chilly Pads, but several others are now on the market. Simply get the wrap wet, wring it out, and place it around your neck or on your head. Wide brim ‘soaker’ hats are another option. Like cooling wraps, these also cool through evaporation and will also provide some shade.
Remember to stay cool, protect your skin, and have a great vacation!