Rain is an unavoidable fact of life down here in Central Florida, and it causes a lot of people to head for the park exits. However, if you can stick it out and keep going, you’re going to find shorter lines at park attractions when the rain comes.
While there are many ways to deal with the rain if (when) it comes up during your time at Walt Disney World, I can tell you one thing: you will come through the situation better if you have given it some thought ahead of time and if you have prepared yourself with the tools you are most comfortable using.
Here’s a rundown of some of the strategies and items I’ve found most helpful in dealing with Florida’s liquid sunshine.
Ziploc bags/plastic shopping bags
These are actually some of the most useful items to have with you in the rain. They are great for keeping your portable electronics or souvenirs (like autograph books) dry, but they have many other uses as well. Once the rain stops, they’re great at segregating your wet items from your dry ones. Someone ended up with soaking wet socks that they wanted to take off? Pop them in a Ziploc to keep the water from getting all over your other things. It is so easy to pop a folded gallon bag or two in your pocket or at the bottom of your park bag when you’re heading out.
If you are really stuck and you don’t have anything with you, you can go to a WDW merchandise location and throw yourself on their mercy. They will oblige you with a plastic bag to help you out, but don’t take advantage of this (or they’ll eventually start telling everyone no!)
Walt Disney World sells adult and child sized ponchos in nearly every merchandise location throughout the parks and resorts. These are fairly reasonably priced (for a theme park, where prices for nearly everything are inflated) and are a good buy if you are at the parks in a downpour and you don’t have else anything with you to help you keep dry.
You can plan ahead before your trip and bring your own ponchos, of course. You can find very thin, single-use ponchos starting at about $1-$2 at dollar stores or discounters like Big Lots. You can also head out to your local sporting goods store to find thicker, more durable, re-usable ponchos. I have also found ponchos of this type in the accessories section of Target, where they also sell umbrellas. If you’re planning to tour through the rain, pick up a few of these before your trip and bring them with you. In their original packaging, they take up almost no room in your luggage or park bag, and they’re nice to have with you as an insurance policy.
If your rain strategy is primarily based on using ponchos, you’re going to want to move quickly once the rain hits. Wearing a poncho over already wet clothes is ridiculously unpleasant. If you are re-using ponchos, shake off some of the water (not onto other guests! I see this all the time!) and roll them up. Rolling them helps to keep the water from getting on the underside of the poncho. Put them in a Ziploc bag or a plastic shopping bag to keep the water away from your other items.
If you have trouble with the hood of your poncho not staying on your head, I have found that wearing a baseball cap under the poncho’s hood helps keep it in place.
You’ll also see some umbrellas come out when the rains hit. Compact umbrellas work best in the parks, since they are easy to carry when not in use and are small enough that you’re less likely to inconvenience your fellow guests around you by poking them with it. Watch out for wind gusts, though. You’re not going to float gracefully like Mary Poppins, you’re going to get blown around. Some storms at WDW are definitely not conductive to umbrella use.
Decide quickly what you’re doing and where you’re headed
Rain in Florida can be hard to read sometimes. A storm can look absolutely awful, dark skies, heavy rain, and high winds, and then be over in a half hour or less. It can also hang on for hours. Your best bet is to make a quick decision once the rain hits. The longer you stand around, the wetter you get and the more unpleasant your experience will be. Many indoor attractions also have indoor queues, and some of them are excellent places to hide out and wait out a rainstorm–if you are ahead of the crowd thinking the same thing. Head for something close by and get there quickly. Some lines get miserable and people get cranky in the rain. You want to be ahead of the fray. However…
Don’t queue for an attraction that will shut down if the rain gets heavy or if there’s lightning
There are some attractions that are bad choices as places to wait out the rain. Dumbo and the Dumbo-type rides tend to shut down in heavy rain, for example. (Many outdoor attractions are extremely unpleasant to ride during a heavy rain as well, even if they do keep operating.) If there’s lightning within a certain distance of WDW, some rides like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain shut down for safety reasons. Ask a cast member (there is always a cast member at the entrance to a queue) on your way into the ride if that attraction is likely to shut down due to the weather if you aren’t sure.
If there’s rain in the forecast, keep this in mind when you’re getting dressed in the morning. If squishy, waterlogged socks and sneakers aren’t your thing, opt for sandals. Many varieties of sandals dry quickly once the rain passes, and your feet will also dry off faster. If you are strictly a sock and sneaker sort of person, do yourself a favor and bring a change of socks (or two!) with you in your park bag. If you get some dry socks on, even fairly wet sneakers will be less miserable.
If you end up with wet sneakers and don’t have a change of shoes for the next day, you can buy a newspaper in one of the resort shops, ball up a few pages of the newspaper, and stuff them into the shoes. Change the newspaper once it’s too damp to soak in any more water. This will get your shoes dryer faster than just letting them air-dry on their own.
In trip pre-planning, I definitely recommend packing several pairs of extra socks and bringing at least two pairs of shoes you’d be happy to spend a day in.
As far as clothing goes, keep in mind that there are many areas inside WDW where water drainage isn’t great and large puddles can form. Wearing jeans in the rain at WDW is not particularly comfortable in my opinion. There’s something about denim that gets rough and abrasive when it’s soaked with water, and it doesn’t dry very quickly.
If the weather is warm enough (and for about 85% of the year, it is) I recommend shorts or capris if there’s rain on the way. You’re going to splash through some puddles, and your skin will dry faster than just about any fabric.
There are also some athletic-wear fabrics that have quick-dry properties. Fabrics like Coolmax are used in all sorts of styles of shirts, and they dry faster than other fabrics. Consider buying a shirt or two made of this sort of fabric prior to your trip and you’ll have a solid choice if you have a rainy day.
Washcloth or hand towel
Okay, you’re looking at me funny now, aren’t you? Well, on my daughter’s first trip to WDW in May of 2009 (we were not locals yet, and I’d never been at any Disney park in the rain before) we had just about the rainiest trip you can possibly imagine. We had one day where it only rained for about two hours, but it rained almost non-stop every other day of our trip. We pushed through and still had a good time, but there was one thing we did that helped more than anything else.
My daughter was three at the time, and while she’s pretty good at going with the flow, we found out early in that trip that she really didn’t like when her face got wet. A wet face led to a sad little child who couldn’t focus on all the great stuff around her. We kept a washcloth (borrowed from our resort hotel room with a note left for our Mousekeeper explaining why it was missing) in a Ziploc in our park bag and we were always ready to combat the problem.
Someone in your family is going to have some rain-related reaction that can be solved with a dry washcloth. They’re going to hate having wet feet, wet arms, wet face, something. Either that, or something you need to stay dry will get wet, like your smartphone or your child’s autograph book. One dry hand towel in your bag will let you fix it right away instead of running around looking for napkins.
Consider bringing a change of clothes if there’s a high chance of rain
This might be overkill for adults (our clothes are bigger and bulkier to pack) but you might find that having a change of clothes for kids is worth the trouble. Sometimes just having a change of shirt or an extra pair of shorts/underwear can save the day. You can roll up the extra clothing tightly, put them in our old friend the Ziploc bag, and then squeeze out the air when closing the bag to make the clothes take up as little room as possible.
You can buy all kinds of clothing items in park merchandise shops, but if paying theme park prices for clothing you might not have purchased otherwise makes you break out in hives, you’ll want to plan ahead and try to avoid that particular pleasure.
Our natural reaction to walking in the rain tends to be a tucked-downward chin. It’s harder to watch where you’re going, harder to see obstacles in your way. I’ve seen people trip over things they would never have missed in the sunshine. People bump and bang into each other simply because it’s hard to see who is where. You’ll be dripped on by someone removing a poncho or putting the edge of their umbrella over your head, just because people are distracted in the rain. People get cranky and make bad choices in the rain. Be careful and pack your patience.
Speaking of making bad choices…
Don’t gum up entrances/exits
One of the most difficult situations that occurs in the parks in the rain is how the entrances and exits gum up with people dealing with their umbrellas or ponchos. I’ve been stuck inside attractions before because of everyone standing around blocking the exit, either trying to wait out the rain or getting out and putting their ponchos on before leaving the building. I’m all for staying dry and keeping as dry as possible under your poncho, but exits just can’t be blocked this way. Get your ponchos out while you’re waiting to exit the ride, take a step or two to the side once outside the ride (many rides have an outdoor overhang) and quickly pull on your ponchos. Don’t wait until you get to the exit to rummage around in your bag, that just gums up the works.
Maybe it’s not a bad time to rest at the hotel
I know, I know. Everyone talks about the lovely short lines at the attractions in the rain. I’ve seen it, I know the lines get short and that people leave the park in droves when the grey clouds come. But you know what? There are times for bravery and persistence, and there are times to retreat and regroup. If your group is already tired and cranky when the rain hits, really think before you forge ahead. You might see twelve attractions during the rain or you might get to ride Space Mountain five times in a row with no wait, but if everyone is cranky and upset with each other, those aren’t going to be good vacation memories. Take a quick survey of the people you’re with if the rain hits and make sure everyone’s on board. Maybe this is a good time for a quick service lunch back at your resort instead.