First of all, I am not a meteorologist. I don’t even play one on TV.
That being said, I have thirty years of experience in Orlando weather, including doing extensive research on hurricanes.
The 2014 hurricane season has begun, and the year marks the tenth anniversary of Orlando’s “Year of Three Hurricanes”. In this article, I’ll cover the issue of hurricanes and Orlando’s famous thunderstorms as well as how to avoid them and vacation around them.
Orlando street view the morning after Hurricane Charley in 2004. Photo by Thomas Cook
Officially known as “tropical cyclones” but colloquially as hurricanes, the massive summer storms are one of the most powerful and dangerous natural events on earth. The amount of energy released in one day by an average cyclone in producing rain (which is 400 times greater than the wind energy) is equal to the yearly energy production of the U.S.
So you’re thinking hurricanes and Florida go hand-in-hand like Vermont and snow, right? Well, sort of. Florida is a big state. Not only in terms of square miles, but it’s long. For instance, it takes 12 hours to drive from Key West to Pensacola.
Of course, every mile is a potential hurricane target, but Walt Disney World is only some 40 miles square. Additionally it’s in the center of the state, relatively far from the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico. This means every time your local news tells about a hurricane in Florida, it’s unlikely to be passing close to Disney world.
The U.S. government started regular tracking of tropical cyclones in 1851. Looking at those statistics gives excellent news: The frequency of a hurricane passing through the Walt Disney World area in any year is 1 in 10. A 10% chance each year is all local have to worry about. Want even better news? If you’re visiting for a week or two, you have an even smaller chance of having to deal with one of nature’s super storms.
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You know the old saying, “April showers bring May flowers”? Well, here in Orlando the showers start in April but don’t really end until some time in September or later! And if you’ve been watching the weather you know that we’ve gotten apocalyptic rain for the last week. So what do you do if the clouds come out for your Disney World vacation? Well, you don’t have anything to worry about because I’m going to give you all the inside tips on how to have fun rain or shine!
1) Head towards the big, angry clouds. When most people see huge storm clouds looming over the parks they make their way to the exit. I feel the exact opposite about those massive, grey clouds. When I see a monsoon heading for Disney World, I’ll go out of my way to stop by. It’s fun to be one of very few people heading in, as tons of people can’t exit quickly enough. Most attractions are indoors and suffer no interruption during the rain. The only difference is the considerably shorter lines when there’s a little liquid sunshine!
Yep- I suggesting you head TOWARDS this!
2) The rain normally passes quickly – or misses all together! Those big clouds aren’t a very good indicator of when or where the rain will actually fall. I’ve spent entire days at Disney under thick, grey clouds without a drop of rain. Or storms will often pass by quickly. In these cases it will just pour buckets for a hour or so then it will be like nothing ever happened. The sun will come back so ferociously that the wet pavement will actually steam! The first hour the sun is back out is a magical time to be in the parks. Since most guests left before the rain started it takes a while for them to trickle back in, leaving you to enjoy the park.
3) But if it sticks around you’ll need a rain outfit. The best advice I can give anyone wanting to try Disney in the rain is to put together their rain plan before they get to the park. There’s nothing worse than an overpriced Disney poncho or flimsy umbrella. If you’re planning to go the poncho route then pick some up at the dollar store before your trip. They pack very easily and you don’t have to feel any guilt tossing them. If you’re planning to go the umbrella route… don’t. Crazy, sideways, Florida rain thinks your umbrella is cute but will soak you anyway. Personally, I’ve invested in a good rain coat, Crocs, and a baseball cap. With that combo I’ve been able to stay dry even touring in the worst rain.
4) Special rain only experiences. Yes – this is really a thing! Of course, there isn’t anything “official” or “published,” but cast members will go out of their way to not put guests out in a storm. When I go to Disney in a downpour I tend to head for The Haunted Mansion. My record is getting to ride this six times in a row to avoid wet weather! I didn’t even have to exit my Doom Buggy for two of those rides! How many people can say that?
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Many years ago, I traveled to Walt Disney World with a friend who derisively called it, “A mall with a cover charge.” To that I say both, “Bah, humbug,” and “Well, maybe he has a point.” In addition to the incredible rides, food, entertainment, and general merriment at the Disney parks, there are indeed, many, many, many shopping opportunities. Merchandise is available everywhere at every price point, from $1 pencils to several thousand dollar art and jewelery. You can find items as diverse as underwear and teapots emblazoned with the image of Mickey Mouse, as well as completely unembellished French perfume, designer clothing, and Italian wine. Basically, unless you’re the most austere of minimalists, you’re going to find something you want to buy. And yes, so will your children.
Plush toys are a popular souvenir
With all the eye candy just crying out for acquisition, you’ll be in much better shape both emotionally and financially if you create a souvenir-buying plan before you hit the parks. Of course this may not prevent every Veruca Salt-like outburst, but it can go a long way toward preventing family discord.
Questions for the Adults
Before sitting down with your kids, it may help to sit down with your spouse or other adults in your traveling party to make sure you’re in agreement about general strategies. Some questions to ask each other are:
- Will we give the child souvenir money or will she be expected to spend her own funds?
- Will all the children in our group be given the same budget? (If you’ve got a four year old and a fifteen year old, their needs will not be the same.)
- What is the maximum total dollar amount we feel comfortable having the child spend on souvenirs?
- Are there any categories of items that are off limits for practical reasons? For example, snowglobes are problematic with airline travel and TSA restrictions. Similarly, the four-foot-tall plush Mickey won’t be able to make it home without his own seat on the plane.
- Are there any categories of items that are off limits for personal reasons? You can’t stand toys that make noise, for example.
- Will you give the child access to his complete budget at the outset of the trip, or will we ration the money daily?
- Will we allow the child total purchase control within the budget or will the child be required to have particular purchases approved?
Preparing the Kids
You can involve children even as young as two or three in some of the decision making about their souvenir budget. Start before the trip by telling them that there will be lots of enticing merchandise at the parks. Explain that on vacation, just like at home, it’s not possible to buy everything we want. Then, do a little advance planning to help them narrow the scope of the things that they will want. Try taking a look together at the merchandise on disneystore.com. This website does not even begin to approach the variety of items available in the parks, but it will provide a basis for talking points. Ask your child:
Pins make an inexpensive collectible
- Is there something you’d like to collect? Pins, Vinylmation figures, and pressed pennies are all inexpensive collectibles. The trading possibilities of the first two items may also be interesting to an extroverted child.
- Do you have a favorite character? Focus on buying only items with Mater or Daisy Duck on them.
- Do you want to have items only available at the parks, not at a local Disney store or other retail outlet? You’ll likely only find an “I survived the Tower of Terror” tee at the Tower of Terror.
- Is it important for you to have a wearable item to show your friends at school? Then it’s better to allocate your spending on a tee rather than on a toy that will have to stay at home.
- Do you already have enough of something at home (plush animals, for example), so you don’t need to get more at the parks?
- Do you want things that are personalized or that you’ve had a hand in creating? Many in-park items can be made one-of-a-kind, from embroidered Mickey ears or build-your-own-lightsabers.
- Are there no cost souvenirs you’d be happy with? Maps can be made into room-decorating posters, for example.
A few pointed questions like this can get the child thinking about specific items of interest, rather than having an “I want it all mentality.” If your child goes into the vacation with the realistic view that, “I’m going to get one tee shirt featuring my favorite ride and find four Donald Duck pins for my collection,” you can more easily steer him away from the giant model monorail.
Deciding on a Dollar Amount and How to Manage It
I know there is a school of thought that advises saving money by purchasing Disney-themed items at discount stores at home and giving those items to the children during the vacation. I understand that from a short-term financial perspective, this makes sense. You can find a Minnie Mouse tee at Walmart for $10 that might cost $20 at the parks. However, you’re missing out on some wonderful learning opportunities by doing this. Planning a budget and making purchase decisions within that budget is an invaluable life skill. Your child won’t have a chance to practice and learn if you just hand him items that he had no hand is selecting. Even having control over a few dollars can be very empowering.
Personally embroidered hats are a popular item
For some families, a child might be allotted a five dollar budget for the entire trip. I have one friend who gives her children $50 to spend on each day of their Disney vacations. The exact amount will vary depending on the child’s age, the family’s means, and the general souvenir strategy developed by the family during planning discussions.
Once you’ve arrived at a dollar amount – and communicated that dollar amount to your children. Figure out how you’re going to physically manage the souvenir money. Will the child hold his or her own cash? Will mom hold cash for the child? Will mom pay for the items and the child reimburses at another time? Would giving the child a Disney gift card loaded with the budgeted amount be safer? Should an older child be allowed charging privileges on his room key?
Again, working out as much as possible in advance, and getting all members of the family on board, can help turn a greedy whine-fest into a productive lesson about money management.
So what’s worked for you? How do your kids manage money in the parks?