Theme park cast member stories: Beating the heat at Walt Disney World
Published: September 27, 2010 at 10:56 AM
It's Santa Ana season here in Southern California, when hot desert winds blow into the Los Angeles basin, pushing temperatures up into the 100s in the valleys. But whenever I think of really ridiculous hot weather, my thoughts always turn instead to... working in an Orlando theme park in the summer.
Now that's hot. The combination punches of heat, humidity and sun knock down thousands of tourists each year. And more than a few cast members, as well. My first summer, working inside the relatively mild conditions of the old Mickey's Mart store in Tomorrowland, I passed out on my way to break one evening, overcome by the heat and my failure fuel up by eating a decent lunch before my shift.
That incident left me sharply aware of the need to take care of one's body in the heat.
Every location I worked at in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom had a big Igloo cooler - and whoever was first into work in the morning was responsible for filling it with ice and water from the nearest food location. Next to each cooler you'd often find a stack of clean, white hand towels. On break, we'd often soak a towel in the icy water and wrap it around the back of our neck, while also drinking a cup of water. In Central Florida's sauna, your body demands a constant flow of hydration in order to keep the sweat flowing. If you don't keep the water coming, your body temperature will be soaring.
While I grabbed every cup of cold water I could when working the Tom Sawyer Island rafts, or any other outdoor location at Disney, I actually tried to avoid air conditioning whenever possible. Why's that, you ask?
I found that moving in between hot and cold air more uncomfortable than simply acclimating myself to the heat. Too much time in the A/C slowed down my body's internal air conditioner. Rather than be like a car that's always stopping and starting, I figured I'd rather just let my body's cooling system cruise at highway speed, and stop pretending that I didn't live in someplace so terribly hot.
At home, I kept the thermostat at 85. I shopped at a 24-hour grocery, so that I could go only after midnight shifts, when the contrast between the cold store and outdoor air was at the minimum. When taking breaks, I stayed in lead offices rather than walking down to the stronger A/C in the tunnels.
While I embraced the heat, I continued to do my best to avoid the sun. Sun and heat are two different challenges, as anyone who's gotten sunburned on a ski slope in winter should know. I always put on my sunscreen when I got dressed for my shift. And I tried to follow the best advice ever given me by a Florida native: Always stand (or park) in the shade.
With my pale, freckled skin, I can't afford what would likely end up a blistering mistake if I didn't protect myself from the sun.
What's your strategy for managing the heat in the Orlando-area theme parks? Please share your story in the comments.
For more stories from Robert about his time working at Walt Disney World, please visit themeparkinsider.com/stories.
Published: September 27, 2010 at 11:11 AM
I have the same strategy when working on location in cold temperatures. I stay away from the portable heaters and their false sense of security.
Last Nov/Dec I was working in Chatsworth from dawn until 10pm, outside. Always took a break around 5pm to go put on the long underwear so my body could start heating itself for the low 40 temps that were soon to be upon us.
For staying cool, I use the portable AC units to get a nice breeze every now and then. Have a hat with a large brim all the way around. And a nice cooling bead neckerchief (it absorbs an insane amount of water) to keep the neck/arteries cool.
Of course my methods can't always apply to a cast member who is in costume.
Published: September 27, 2010 at 12:20 PM
Mr. Niles, you got your house temperature at 85??? That's too high! But I understand that the change of temperature can be challenging. I live in Tampa and I know very well how hot and humid the Summer can be here (I envy you for living in south California for the great weather that you have).
I try to avoid going to Disney World in summer because of everything you said. Having said that, last year I went there in October, and the temperature climbed to the 90s (like summer)and it was just awful.
We Floridians have two options:
1) Drink a lot of water
2) Go to Disneyland where the weather is great in the summer!!
Published: September 27, 2010 at 12:27 PM
I would not want to work outside in the heat, but I love going to Walt Disney World in the summer because it is vacation, not work. I get hot and sweat easily. I just deal with it. I drink alot, go in air conditioning when possible and go in the pool when possible.
Published: September 27, 2010 at 4:42 PM
Our strategy is to visit the parks before noon, then come back to our resort to take a break until around four or five in the evening. You never know how drained you feel until you sit down in your room for a break.
Published: September 27, 2010 at 5:08 PM
When my wife and I moved to Orlando in 2003 we were just giddy with the aspect of going to the park year round, BUT vacationing in Orlando in July the year before we moved here taught us a great lesson which is:
Let the tourists have the parks from June until October! Now don't get me wrong, we still go to the parks almost on a weekly basis, but we go there to ride a ride or two and eat lunch and then leave! We do a lot of indoor things in the summer. Heck, we don't even go to the water parks until fall!
If you are going to brave our summer weather you need to be prepared and in shape! If you are overweight and have no cardio endurance to speak of, then you should only plan 4-6 hour days of theme park activity here and take advantage of your resort or hotel's pool. We see people every year come down in July and try to pack 10 days into 5 and leave with the most miserable memories one could have on a vacation!
As others have stated, go to the parks at rope drop and enjoy the coolest part of the day (which in the summer is still darn hot and humid!) and it is quite often the slowest part of the day because many people eat breakfast at the resorts and get a late start.
I would also make priority seating arrangements before your trip and make meals a part of your vacation! The eateries at all the parks in Orlando are wonderful and I remember lunchtime being a fond vacation memory for us each year.
Go ahead and come down in the summer and take it all in....just not all in one day!
Published: September 27, 2010 at 6:41 PM
My strategy at any park is to get there a few mins before opening get a few rides done then leave around 12pm and go and grab something to eat and return in the later afternoon.
I also agree with not going in out of the cool ac.
Plus water water water water and sunscreen every few hrs.
Published: September 27, 2010 at 9:28 PM
My strategy? Work at DAK, as opposed to Tomorrowland.
When I worked in Tomorrowland, CMs had to wear long pants at all times. Only at Speedway did they have the luxury of shorts, though they had the blistering heat and fumes to deal with. There was little shade if one was at a greeter position, and if you got stuck at Astro at the wrong time of day... forget it. That was one place that the cooler was allowed relatively onstage.
Contrast that with DAK. I was allowed shorts, the greenery allowed for shade, and if you were in the sun where I worked (Everest) it was because you weren't smart enough to find shade. Also we had these great things called fans there, something that didn't hit Tomorrowland until I left there.
Published: September 28, 2010 at 12:44 AM
I remember my first Orlando trip in 1995. Our group had a guide and he told us the sun is not that bad but the humidity is just awful. You'll feel sticky all the time. I have to say he was right! To compare I live in the Caribbean. In P.R. to be precise, and believe it or not here the sun is even harder that at Orlando. Plus I live in the southern portion which is even hotter! I always get jealous still when I look at the weather and it says that is 89 degrees, heat index 90 in Orlando. Then look at ours and it says 90 degrees , heat index 97. (You get the picture)
So I never got really burned in Orlando. (Even though my skin is really pale too) But it always amazed me those people that where red, (tomato-like) even with blisters and kept at it. I know what happen to them, more than likely they thought the Orlando sun was as tame as the one they had were they lived. Boy are they wrong!!
I wonder if the locals have a name for these folks?
I always go with a cap, glasses, sun proof lip balm, I put on sun screen before and another time during my stay there so I haven't really gotten burned badly.
But I do remember my first time at IOA, the year they opened, I got a case of Insolation. I couldn't sleep, my mind kept going and I felt like I was on a roller coaster in bed all night! It was bad!
But the next day I felt better and we went on with our trip, we still had like 4 days to go. It was like our 5th day on a twelve day trip with parks on nine of those days. Yes, we were troopers!
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