If you’re visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland during winter (pretty much November through February), what you will need to think about packing will be different than visits throughout the rest of the year. In this post, we’ll offer tips to prepare for unseasonably cold weather in Florida.
I was reminded of this today when I checked the weather forecast and saw a low of 37º tonight. Later in the week, the forecast is calling for highs of 87º, a swing of 50 degrees that really underscores just how much temperatures, and weather generally, fluctuates in Florida this time of year.
Most tourists envision sunshine and warm weather when preparing for trips to Walt Disney World, but the reality this time of year is that you could experience a veritable roller coaster of weather in a single day. With temperatures in the 30s and 40s possible at any point through February, it’s important that you’re prepared for winter weather (minus the snow…hopefully!) at Walt Disney World.
The cold weather at Walt Disney World can be good news if you’re properly prepared, as crowds tend to be significantly lighter when the temperatures drop. Between locals who don’t own the clothing for colder days and tourists who don’t pack appropriately, a drop in temperatures results in a drop in crowds.
This is especially true in the evenings. A familiar story plays out with regularity this time of year at Walt Disney World: around lunch, the temperature is in the mid-70s, perhaps even the 80s, which is t-shirt and shorts weather for most people. By sunset, the ‘feels like’ temperature drops considerably, to around the low 50s. An hour or so after sunset, Magic Kingdom really clears out. We’ve had Extra Magic Hours evenings when the park is a ghost town (we’ve seen Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with a 20 minute wait on nights when the park was previously very busy during the day!), as the cold weather drives a lot of guests away.
Even if you’re from a cold weather state and are used to cold weather, you should not ignore these huge variances in temperature, thinking it’ll still feel fine. First, Florida cold is far worse than Northern states due to the humidity that comes with it. (The day before we left for this trip, we were in sub-zero temperatures in Indianapolis–today’s weather feels worse.) Second, your body will become acclimated to those 70-degree Florida daytime temperatures pretty quickly, making double-digit temperature drop once the sun goes down feel even more pronounced.
The difficulty of packing for Walt Disney World or Disneyland this time of year is the large variances in the weather. You could experience four seasons of weather during your trip…in a single day. Daytime temperatures could be in the 70s, whereas nights and evenings could be 20 or 30 degrees below that. That swing in a single day is a huge difference.
Most people aren’t going to want to carry the luggage that would be required to pack for every weather scenario, making what to bring a tough question. This post will cover a few things you should take on any winter trip to the Disney Parks, plus some additional items to consider when the weather is expected to be unseasonably cold.
While temperatures in the 40s in Florida and Southern California are the exception and not the rule, the weather can and does get this cold. Being caught off-guard by frigid temperatures in the parks sucks. Don’t think it can’t happen to you. As much as I hate to admit it, this has happened to me a couple of times, and I’m very diligent about checking the weather forecast.
For those of you reading this at the last minute (if you’ve already arrived at Walt Disney World and are surprised by the cold weather), you do have one option: heading to UNIQLO at Disney Springs and purchasing a coat and some warmer clothes.
UNIQLO is your least-expensive option on Walt Disney World property, and they normally carry sweaters, coats, jeans, etc. (Note that UNIQLO sizing runs small, so be sure to try things on before buying. Most of the time, you’ll need to size-up by one size.)
Alternatively, if you have a rental car and don’t mind venturing off-property, there are several outlet malls within a short drive. We favor Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets for a few reasons. First, they have a diverse range of stores (from Old Navy to Burberry). Second, there are plenty of options for inexpensive winter-wear (Columbia, Levi’s, Gap, Nike, etc.). Finally, there’s a Disney outlet that features deep-discounted items from the parks.
Of course, the best option is preparing with what you need before your trip. That’s where the rest of this list comes in handy. Note that this list only covers items specific to winter travel. For our full all-seasons packing recommendations, check out our Unique Disney Packing List post, which contains a lot of innovative and cool things for your trip that you otherwise might not have considered.
Now, let’s check out what you should pack for Disney during those winter months. First, some practical stuff, and then fun options to get in the festive spirit (in the event you’re visiting at Christmas-time)…
HotHands Hand Warmers –An absolute essential this time of year, and perfect when you’re standing around outside waiting for a parade or the Happily Ever After fireworks. These hand warmers are cheap and excellent when you’re waiting around for a parade or fireworks, and last longer than a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. These might seem over the top for a normally warm-weather destination, but when the sun goes down, it can get cold.
Touch Screen Gloves –Post photos of Cinderella Castle lit up for Christmas to Facebook or Instagram without removing your gloves. Priceless. These gloves will keep your hands warm while allowing you to use your touch-screen smartphones.
Microfleece Travel Blanket– This is a really versatile option, and it’s worth grabbing a few. Thanks to its incredibly thin material, it packs easily in your backpack, and can be used to keep warm before parades/fireworks (or, if it’s not that cold, you can sit on it) to wrap around you on a chilly night, etc. The super cheap price makes this something you don’t have to worry about getting dirty!
Mountain Hardwear Windstopper Winter Hat – You can find cheap knit winter beanies just about anywhere, but I’m serious about my winter hats. I love this Mountain Hardwear hat with a wind-stopping layer; I’ve worn it in the mountains in sub-zero temperatures and it has kept me warm–it can handle Walt Disney World just fine.
Thermal Shirt– Packing a lot of cold-weather clothes can take up a lot of room in your suitcase, so instead of heavy coats and thick sweatshirts, we recommend inexpensive and lightweight means of keeping warm. Thin thermal shirts that keep your body heat close to you and can be worn under another layer of clothing are a great option. We recommend this one for men and this one for women.
800-Fill Down Coats –Our pick here is specifically an 800-fill goose down coat because it compresses really well and takes up barely any suitcase room. It’s smaller and warmer than fleece, and although a bit pricey, these last a long time and are perfect for cold weather.
In Florida or California, a down coat is more than enough to keep you warm even on colder nights. If you’re going to Disneyland Paris or Tokyo Disneyland in the winter, you should also pack a proper winter coat and use the down coat as a base layer. In France and Japan, temperatures drop below freezing on a regular basis (both parks get snow a couple of times per year), and a down coat alone will be insufficient for those cold nights.
Waterproof Shoes – These are probably overkill. I bought a pair for our first visit to Disneyland Paris a couple of years ago because I read that December in France is cold and rainy, and I was vindicated as it was cold and rainy, and my wet stayed warm and dry, but there’s a difference between Paris winter weather and Florida or California winter weather. I don’t typically wear these to the parks during the winter months (they are far from stylish), but they are a great option if you want to play it safe.
Long Pants – For some of you, this is a no-brainer; even in the summer you wear jeans. For those of you like me who savor the feeling of the wind rustling your leg hair, jeans are not something you typically pack when visiting Florida or California. The most practical option is convertible pants like these ones for men or these ones for women, which are great for hot or cold weather (and are nice for storage)…but are not exactly the most stylish option.
If you’re visiting during the winter months, regardless of the forecast, you will want to pack at least one pair of long pants as a safety net: you’re likely to encounter at least one sub-50s day on a weeklong trip in the winter. Unless you’re keen on the idea of dropping ~$50 on a pair of Disney sweatpants (and are okay with then wearing sweatpants to the parks), just bring a pair of long pants.
Finally, and once again, other packing “rules” for Walt Disney World remain in effect for the winter. For instance, not packing disposable ponchos is a cardinal sin if you’re visiting Walt Disney World any time of year (and down jackets do not take well to rain). Depending upon your sensitivity to cold weather and/or style preference, there are also other accessories you might want to pack. Some people love scarves, I find them to be an inefficient hassle. Some people love thick socks, I view these as ill-advised “moisture sponges.”
Now, for some things to pack specific to looking festive for the Christmas season…
Every year we attend the party, we wear new “ugly” (or some might say super stylish) Christmas sweaters. Above is one year I wore a dinosaur Christmas sweater and Sarah wore the manatee Christmas sweater. We got a ton of compliments on these. While the sweaters we got are sold out, you can check Amazon for Blizzard Bay Ugly Christmas Sweaters and Alex Stevens Ugly Christmas Sweaters for other hilarious (and surprisingly stylish, in some cases) designs.
Not necessarily related to winter packing, but if you’re visiting for Christmas, consider packing some lights or other decorations to put in your hotel room window if you have the space in your luggage. A lot of people do this, and it can be fun! For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
What you recommend packing for a winter Disney trip? Do you have any experiences with unseasonably cold weather at Walt Disney World? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!