Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Toddler Travel: When the Happiest Place on Earth Feels Like the Hottest Place on Earth

 

[Edit: This post was written in September 2015. Since then, there have been some major changes at Disneyland and DCA, from the closure of Tom Sawyer's Island and Rivers of America to allow for construction of Star Wars Land, to the end of the Aladdin show and the rechristening of Soarin' Over California. We've been back three times since this post was written and I will update my tips -- especially now that Toddler X is tall enough for the "big kid" rides -- asap. In the meantime, be sure to check park maps and schedules, as not all of the hot weather options mentioned below are still available. Enjoy!]

We just returned from Toddler X's fourth trip to Disneyland in the past year and a half, and we're already planning trips #5 for October and #6 for January (hey, gotta use those annual passports!). For a Northern California kid, that's a whole lot of Mickey time! I'm starting to feel like something of an expert when it comes to traveling to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (DCA) with a 2 or 3 year old, and I'm excited to pass on some of that knowledge to you in this series of Disneyland posts.

Today's topic, derived from the 97+ degree temperatures that defined last week's trip: surviving -- nay, thriving in -- a heat wave at Disneyland.

A few days before our trip, when I realized the temperatures we'd be facing, I asked my Facebook readers for suggestions of ways to cool down at Disneyland and DCA. I then incorporated their ideas and my own past experiences into a wonderful (but sweltering) four days in the parks with Toddler X, with no fainting, heat stroke, or meltdowns to mar our trip. Below are my tips and those of my readers.

(Incidentally, many of the strategies for managing a hot day -- at least those pertaining to indoor rides, attractions, shops and restaurants -- apply to cold or stormy days too, so read on if you're heading to the parks when wintry weather is in the forecast!)

If you find this post helpful, please consider doing all your pre-Disney shopping via my affiliate links -- it helps me out, at no extra cost to you. You can find Disneyland guide books, autograph books, Disney princess costumes (much cheaper than you'd find in the parks!), colorful glow sticks (bring your own, and your toddler won't bug you for one at the parade), even Mickey or Minnie ears, as well as everything else you could need to prepare for your trip, on Amazon via these links. Thank you!

Now for the tips:

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Any Disney trip goes better with some advance planning, but a trip that features multiple theme park days in 90+ degree heat requires a bit more preparation than usual. Here are a few things you should purchase in advance of your trip, pack from existing supplies, or stock up on as soon as you get to Anaheim:

  • A fan/spray bottle combo. While a fan and water individually are great, you just can't beat the cooling power of the two combined (if you do just bring a stroller fan, plan to carry a wet washcloth too to achieve maximum cooling). Many readers suggested that I purchase one of Disney's battery-operated fan/spray bottle combos, and I did so the minute I entered DCA on our first morning at the parks. Fantastic investment.


    Disney's product is great -- it's Disney cute and has a large capacity water bottle, soft fan blades that can't hurt a toddler, and a strap to hang it on a stroller. There are, however, a few negatives that might lead you to purchase a spray fan elsewhere (Amazon has a whole page of them). Here they are:

    • Size/Branding: The large capacity is nice because you never run out of water, but it also makes it kind of onerous when you don't have your stroller with you -- yes, it has a strap, but it's so big that it kind of feels ridiculous if you put it around your neck. Running out of water is a non-issue anyway, as there are plenty of fountains for re-fills.

      If you just plan to use this item for your Disney trip, it's great, but if you think a spray fan is something you might like for future use -- for hikes or walks on hot days, the car, or city vacations -- or if you don't plan to be near your stroller at all times during your Disney trip, you may want a more compact product (check out some of the ones on Amazon, like this highly-rated personal misting fan or these tiny little misting fan devices that run about $6 each). (Another note: the Disney one is very "Disney" -- a bright blue bottle with yellow fan blades and a character design -- so consider if you might want something a bit more understated for future use.)

    • Toddler self-management: Toddler X loved this thing from the moment we got it (what kid doesn't love whirring blades and squirting water?), but we quickly realized one issue: he could only spray it outwards. Something about the size of the bottle relative to his little hands and the spray mechanism made it really hard for him to spray himself. We had to constantly break to spray him, and we had to watch to make sure he wasn't spraying other park-goers from his stroller. A couple of the hand-held ones listed on Amazon look like they'd make it a lot easier for a toddler to spray himself.

    • Cost: A big tip here: the same item is not necessarily priced the same throughout the Disney parks. I bought my spray fan from the little garage store to the left, just as you enter DCA, and the list price was $17.59. With tax and then my passholder discount, it came to around $17. Just a few hundred yards further into the park, I came across a cart selling popsicles and the exact same spray fan...for $2 more!

      Either way, at $17 or $19, this product isn't cheap. It is worth the money, but it's not cheap. If you have two kids, and know that you'll be dealing with constant fights if you don't get each their own spray fan, it may make sense to go with something cheaper, even if it's not quite as well made. Take a look at the Amazon reviews before you buy, however -- they offer a variety of misting fans at a range of prices, but the reviews suggest the prices correlate pretty well with their quality (the most highly-rated one, which looks really nice and is less bulky than the Disney one, is on sale for $23.99).
    

    • Frog Toggs Chilly Pad: This was a product that multiple readers recommended, but that I'd never even heard of before. Wow -- what a great idea! Frog Toggs offers chilly pads, towels, bandanas, headbands and more, that absorb water and then maintain their cooling effect for hours without getting you wet. I have no idea what mechanism Frog Toggs uses to do this, but it sounds awesome! I didn't see the Frog Toggs recommendations from my readers until the day before we left for the trip, so I didn't have time to order via Amazon and ended up going with the more low-tech cooling system described below, but I am for sure going to get a few of these to have on hand for hot day hikes, sporting events, amusement parks (we were SIZZLING at the Boardwalk a few weeks ago), and yes, future Disney trips. Thanks to all who made this suggestion!
        

    • A lightweight towel. Since I didn't have time to order the Frog Toggs before our trip, I went with a decidedly low-tech alternative: I packed a hotel hand towel in the stroller, soaked it at a water fountain when it really started to get warm out, and used it to cool pulse points on our necks, inner elbows, wrists and behind our knees, to wonderful effect. For a while, Toddler X chilled -- literally -- in his stroller with the wet towel draped over his head -- he looked like an exhausted prize fighter. The negative of this option compared to the Frog Toggs described above, of course, is that you get soaked by the towel -- for it to work, it must be wet, and if it's wet...well, you are too. All the same, if you don't have a chance to order some Frog Toggs before your trip, I can attest that the cold wet towel feels fantastic and reinvigorating all day long.


    • A soft cooler. While the Disneyland website says that outside food and drink can't be brought into the parks, I have never seen that rule enforced. Last week, we brought a soft cooler full of cold snacks and drinks every single day, the cooler was checked at bag check every day, and they waved us through every day -- as they did with every other cooler-carrying family I saw. (I'd be interested to hear whether any of my readers have had a different experience.) Having our own supply of food and being ready to get calories in Toddler X at a moment's notice was wonderful on a super-hot day.

      We kept our cooler bag under the BOB during our time in the parks, so a hard cooler would have been impractical -- this Coleman 9 Can Soft Cooler with Removable Hard Liner was perfect and allowed us to reach for chilled apple slices, baby carrots, yogurt, berries, chocolate milks (for X) and Coke Zeros (for us) to keep us going throughout the day. We ate healthier because we didn't turn to ice cream whenever we needed a cool treat (though we did occasionally -- it's Disneyland, after all!), and we certainly saved money as well. (Note that you have to take out the removable liner to smush teh Coleman cooler under a stroller -- well, ours, at least -- but since we use ice packs rather than actual ice, that wasn't a problem.) If you have a larger family, there are bigger Coleman options -- a 16 can or even a 30 can size. The 9 can size is actually on sale right now for 53% off -- $13.99! -- and the 30 can size is heavily-reduced as well, so if you're interested, I don't think you'll find a better deal.

      (As an aside, we brought non-perishable foods into the parks as well -- we tucked them in the cooler if we had room, or else just in the back of the stroller. If I have one tip about keeping a toddler happy at Disneyland, it is to always have snacks available!)

          

    • Sunblock/Hats. I am a very aggressive sunblocker with Toddler X -- he got his dad's fair skin rather than my darker color, and I'll do all I can to keep him from burning. Given that two of my pointers above involve applying water to the skin (which obviously reduces sunblock's effectiveness), and we were actively seeking out other water adventures (and sweating!) throughout the day, I applied a new layer almost every hour -- we went through more than a bottle of sunblock between the three of us! After four days in the blazing heat, though, not a sunburn in sight -- way to go, mom!

      A reader also suggested sunhats with brims, and I couldn't agree more. You may have noticed that Toddler X is almost always in a hat, and I particularly like brightly-colored ones because they help me keep an eye on my whirling dervish of a child. We all wore hats all four days at Disneyland (ears at night!), and I think that helped reduce sun exposure and kept us happy. Wet your hat in a water fountain and put it back on -- incredible feeling!

      Note that both of the iPlay hats linked below come in multiple colors/patterns, including things like bright orange, yellow and pink. It's a great way to make keeping an eye on your toddler easier!
          

    • Lots of water. Seriously, bring lots of it. There is ample water available at fountains and restaurants throughout the park for refills (including big jugs at Starbucks), but even so, I recommend starting the day with four or five full bottles and refilling all of them at any opportunity. Thirst can come on suddenly, the whole family can get thirsty at one time, and you may get thirsty at a point when it's not easy to refill (in the middle of a long line, for example, or while waiting for a parade to start). If you have just one water bottle that you plan to re-fill, you'll be in trouble. Bring several. (Or, as one reader suggested, a good-size CamelBak.)

      On our first day, to make sure we remembered to stay hydrated (by the time you're actively thirsty, it may be too late), I set the timer on my phone for every hour throughout the morning -- whenever we heard the bell, we'd pause and each take a few sips. By day #2, we were just drinking constantly and no longer needed the reminder, but it was nice to get us in the routine of drinking frequently.

      A great tip from one of my readers: Freeze some water bottles overnight before a day at the park (assuming you have access to a freezer) -- then you have great ice packs to keep the food in your cooler chilly, and ice-cold water as they thaw.

      If you're looking for a toddler drink container that actually keeps drinks cool for an extended period, I can't recommend the Thermos Foogo Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel 10-Ounce Straw Bottle enough! It's pretty good about not spilling -- at least better than anything else we've tried -- and it keeps cold drinks cold for hours.
      

    • The Disneyland App. There's a free Disneyland App available on the App Store that I found really helpful on our trip, primarily with its listing of park hours, parades, and shows each day, but also because it shows current wait times for rides all over both parks, in either a map or list format. Unlike many other apps, this one is actually maintained by Disney, so I trust its information (and I assume it's the same as the ride wait time board within Disneyland itself, though I haven't checked). The app includes information on restaurants, stores, and even where certain characters are for meet and greets at any given moment. Definitely worth the free download!

      2. Seek out the "dark rides" -- ideally those with indoor or shaded waiting areas.

      While some Disney classics are situated outdoors, there are many great rides that involve entering an indoor realm -- a covered, air-conditioned indoor realm. On hot (or rainy) days, these can be lifesavers.

      One thing to be aware of, though: the coolest, most air-conditioned ride in the world isn't worthwhile if it involves a 30 minute wait outdoors in the blazing sun (or pouring rain). Therefore, check out the line situation when considering the utility of cooling down on the ride itself.

      Here are some of Toddler X's favorites (and ours) for hot days -- the following don't have any height restrictions, but some have content that may be a bit scary for some toddlers.

      At Disneyland...

      Toddler X's favorite ride ever
      • Winnie the Pooh (Critter Country): Located across from Splash Mountain (a hot day favorite for the over 40" crowd), Winnie the Pooh is, without a doubt, Toddler X's favorite ride at Disneyland. It's an indoor ride, appropriate for all ages, that is perfect for escaping hot weather -- it actually starts with a depiction of a "blustery day" that includes a very welcome breeze and rain simulation.

        The line is very rarely longer than 10 minutes (often less than 5!), and if it is, some of it is under an overhang that will provide welcome shade. The ride itself isn't very long, but it is very cool. If there are no lines as you approach the exit station, ask if you can just stay on and ride again -- sometimes they'll let you ride without getting out of your honey pot, and other times they'll direct you to get out but let you go through a little side gate to return to the starting point. We've ridden Winnie as many as five times in a row on hot days, and it has been enough to reinvigorate us for the rest of the park.

        (Toddler note: There's nothing really scary in Winnie the Pooh, though the psychedelic "heffalumps and woozles" room kind of creeps me out. There's one spot that's really dark, as Winnie falls asleep, but it's short. If your child enjoys the classic The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh movie -- Toddler X loves it -- they'll adore this ride, which follows the story line to some degree.)
      • It's a Small World (Fantasyland): Disney's most famous ride is a hot day favorite for its cool, relaxing darkness and its length -- you feel like you're in there forever. It's a great ride for everyone -- I can't imagine any toddler not liking it. That being said, it has one big issue on hot days: the line is entirely outside, and almost entirely un-shaded. On crowded days, they operate both sides of the loading dock, and the line moves relatively quickly, but if you're waiting for 20 minutes in the sea of asphalt that is the back part of Fantasyland, you're going to be baking -- at that point, the coolness of the ride won't be worth the heat of the line.

        (Toddler note: This is probably the least scary ride in the world, unless you're terrified of dolls or repetitive music. It's never even fully dark. Any toddler should enjoy this one. If your toddler is familiar with Dizney and Pixar movies, have him or her keep an eye out for Alice in Wonderland, Ariel, Nemo, Lilo and Stitch, Woody and Jessie among the dolls.)
      • Pirates of the Carribean (New Orleans Square): Pirates is a great cool-down ride because it is really long, and really dark. You're on a boat, which offers a cooling sensation itself, and there are even two minor (very minor) splashes in the small descents at the beginning of the ride. It's a great place to take a breather, and I saw more than one mom with an infant riding it alone on the 100 degree days -- I'm guessing the families were off doing other rides, and these moms were just looking for dark, quiet and cool. That's what Pirates gives you.

        One issue with Pirates, though, is the line. While we lucked out and literally walked through the line both times we rode last week, there are other times when the ride requires a 25 minute wait, most of which is outdoors in sort of an enclosed courtyard. It can get really stuffy and claustrophobic on a hot day. I wouldn't wait more than 10 minutes if the temperatures outside are uncomfortable.

        (Toddler note: This is a ride that I could see some toddlers not liking -- one of our best pals won't ride it. The pirates are very pirate-y, and there are burning buildings and cannonball splashes and ghostly heads and the like. Our little pal doesn't like the two short drops at the beginning of the ride; because it's very dark, your toddler can't see them coming, so it may be worth paying attention -- you can sense when you're getting to the top of one -- and giving your toddler a heads up.)
      • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (Tomorrowland)We love this ride because it's totally interactive -- you're doing something the whole time, shooting at targets, spinning your car, etc. From a hot and tired parent's perspective, it's great because it's dark and relatively lengthy, as dark rides go. Buzz has the added bonus that most of the line -- if the wait is, say, 10 minutes or less -- is indoors, though the outdoors part (if the line extends that long) is all asphalt and could be scorching.

        (Toddler note: Buzz is tons of fun, but it is about battling the villain Zurg, and the large Zurg images can be frightening to some toddlers, particularly if they haven't seen the movies. Toddler X -- who loves the Toy Story movies -- was actually kind of scared when he first encountered this one. But when he crawled into the little car and realized that he had control of our family's spinning, he decided he loved it and it's now one of his favorites.)
      • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Fantasyland): Alice is another good hot day ride, and one of Toddler X's favorites. It's all indoors and very dark, and the line area has some reasonable shade if there is a wait (I never wait longer than 15 minutes for Alice). It's a favorite of Toddler X's, but again, he liked it much better after he saw the movie -- if you have the chance to watch the movie before going, your toddler may enjoy it more.

        (Toddler note: Kids who love the movie will love the ride -- others may not feel great about the Cheshire cat, the marching cards, or the creepy Queen of Hearts.)
      • The Haunted Mansion (New Orleans Square): This is a great, lengthy cool-down ride IF (and yes, that's a big "if") your toddler is comfortable with the content. Toddler X was totally fine with Haunted Mansion on our first Disney visit at just over 2 years -- however, when we returned at almost 3 years old, he flipped out in the antechamber before we even got on the ride (when everyone screamed), and we had to sneak out an emergency exit (first time I've ever done that!). This past trip, at 3 1/2, we rode it again, after showing him YouTube videos at home so that he could see that it wasn't really that scary, and this time he enjoyed it (and felt very satisfied with himself for making it through). If you think your child won't mind the ghosts and ghoulish voice, this is a good hot day ride. (Note that Haunted Mansion has a Fastpass option -- the line is outdoors and only partially shaded, so if it's a hot day, only go if the wait is under 10 minutes, or grab a Fast Pass and return later.)
      • Other indoor rides without height restrictions at Disneyland, but which we rarely ride for one reason or another, include Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (it's not Toddler X's favorite -- I think he's kind of scared -- and it's actually not all that cool in there), Peter Pan (the wait gets long and is outdoors -- I say not worth it), and Pinocchio and Snow White (too scary for Toddler X -- we've actually never ridden these) in Fantasyland; and Roger Rabbit's Toontown Spin in Toontown (kind of weird and psychedelic -- though the line is indoors, which is nice, and it does have a Fastpass option).
      • If your child is older, Space Mountain and Star Tours (both in Tomorrowland, with 40 in. minimum height) and Indiana Jones (Adventureland -- 46 in. minimum) are other great hot day indoor options.
      At DCA...
      Indoor, fast-moving line for Little Mermaid
      • The Little Mermaid (Paradise Pier): Perhaps Disney's best hot day ride, the Little Mermaid combines everything you'd want for cool-down purposes into one undersea adventure. The line moves very rapidly because the ride loads continuously -- you step onto a people-mover and climb into a sea-shell just inches behind the one ahead of you, and you're off, with no stopping to load individual cars. The ride is a good length, and it's dark and cool (after all, you're supposed to be under water). The "Under the Sea" room scene is one of the most fun of all the Disney rides I've ridden. Best of all, the quick-moving line is partially indoors and the outdoor portions are fully shaded. We rode this every day of our recent 100 degree trip -- on a couple days, 3 times in a row!

        (Toddler note: Most of this ride is not the least bit scary, but there is one scene with Ursula the Sea Witch, singing "Poor Unfortunate Souls" before a crystal ball. Toddler X doesn't seem to mind it, but do be aware that it's coming if your toddler is sensitive.)
      • Monsters Inc. (Hollywood Land): Monster's Inc., with it's somewhat hidden location near the Frozen stage, is a great under-the-radar indoor ride that rarely has a long wait. Toddler X refuses to watch the Monsters, Inc. movie, but he enjoys the ride, as do many toddlers (some might find parts of it scary). Adults will love its clever touches (the smell of ginger as you enter the sushi restaurant is classic) and funny one-liners. It's another great hot day ride because a good portion of the line is inside, and the outdoor portions are shaded. The ride itself is cool and dark, with occasional air blasts that feel great when you've been sweating outside.

        If you are at DCA at opening and head straight for Monsters, Inc., you may get there in time to see them hold a "scream off" among the kids waiting to ride the ride -- winner gets a picture with Sully and a certificate entitling his or her whole party to go to the front of the Monsters, Inc. line all day long. On a hot day, that's quite a prize!

        (Toddler note: This one will be scary for some toddlers -- even the little carside TV screen turning on at the very beginning could startle them. There are loud noises, flashing lights and bursts of air as monsters in hooded spacesuits come in to decontaminate Monstropolis, and of course there's the fact that every single character is a monster -- a silly-looking one, but a monster nonetheless.)
      • Toy Story Midway Mania (Paradise Pier): Like Buzz Lightyear, this ride is totally cool because it's fully interactive -- it's more a series of games than a ride. Oh, and did I mention that it's in 3D? It's a lengthy ride, as dark rides go, making it a nice cool break on a hot day. The big issue is that the line is outdoors -- though most of it is shaded by the overhang, it gets pretty muggy -- and the wait gets long pretty soon after the park opens (it's one of the only really popular rides at DCA that doesn't have FastPass), so plan to hit it first.

        (Toddler note: There's really nothing scary here, but know that the ride swings around really quickly at several points -- if you're motion-sensitive, it's pretty intense and jerky. To fully enjoy the attraction, your toddler will have to wear the 3D glasses. You don't have to know the Toy Story movies to enjoy this ride, but you'll catch a few more of the jokes if you do. )

      • If your child is older, Soarin' Over California (40 in. minimum height) is an awesome and totally unique indoor ride.

          3. If your child is tall enough, hit the water rides.

          Disneyland and DCA aren't really geared toward water rides, with only one significant splasher at each park.
          • Disneyland's Splash Mountain is a great ride, but requires riders to be 40". Definitely use FastPass on this one, as the standby wait can grow to 45 minutes or more on hot days. I can't really write a review because I haven't ridden Splash Mountain since pre-Toddler X, but as soon as he hits the 40" mark, know that we'll be on it!
          • DCA's Grizzly River Run is a real soaker, but requires riders to be even taller, 42". That one, too, I haven't ridden in a very long time, but I'm absolutely looking forward to it! There's a Fast Pass for this ride too, and it's worth using, as on hot days the lines can get very long.

            4. If your child isn't tall enough for the water rides, find other watering holes.

            Toddler X is drawn to water like a fish, and the fact that he's not tall enough for the big water rides doesn't deter him at all in his quest to get wet. Here are a few options for parents who don't mind their kid splashing about (you'd be surprised how many parents I heard tell their children, in 97 degree heat, not to get wet at these two spots!). Pack water shoes if you'd prefer to keep their main shoes dry (shoes are required).

            • Princess Dot's Puddle Park (Bug's Land, DCA): I didn't know this splash pad area technically had a name until our most recent trip, but it's always a stop for us -- hot weather or no -- because Toddler X loves splash pads, and this is a good one. It's situated in the middle of Bug's Land, where everything is scaled to reflect a bug's eye view, so the water feature represents a gigantic hose, spigot, and sprinkler -- lots of fun. Be sure to check out both side of the water play area -- one faces the bathrooms, and the other faces the Tuck and Roll bumper cars -- because I've seen one side be off and the other on; in other words, don't despair if water isn't flowing in one of the two areas.


              Note that you will see kids running around these areas without shoes, but it's not technically permitted, and Disney employees will come over to request that parents shoe their shoeless children. Walking around all day in wet shoes can be miserable, even when it's hot outside, so we always keep a pair of Crocs in the stroller for just this reason (along with a full change of clothes at all times). When the weather is hot enough, you'll find both parents and kids cooling off in the spray.
            Kids and adults alike appreciate the spray!
            • Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (DCA): This is one of our favorite areas of the park for all the creative physical play offerings, as well as the cooler, greener setting. But one of Toddler X's favorite parts, at least on the hotter days, is the little water area (you can't even call it a creek -- maybe a puddle?) situated in the far back, left-hand side of this section of the park, close to the rock slides and the "Spirit Animal" cave (also a Toddler X favorite). Toddler X had a blast splashing around there and was able to cool off a bit before we headed out for more rides.


            • The spectator area for Grizzly River Run (DCA). Walk around the back side of the Grizzly River Run ride, and you'll find yourself on a little deck where you can watch the rafters plummet into the surf below -- a pleasant spray from the ride will help you cool down, and it's fun to watch all the bigger kids getting soaked. To avoid the smoking area situated behind the ride to the right (when facing it), walk around from the left-hand side, near where the big bear with an oar is.

            5. Check out the indoor shows/attractions.

            Indoor shows and attractions can be a LIFESAVER on a terribly hot (or rainy) day. They last a lot longer than the average ride, are fully air-conditioned, and can breathe life back into a tired toddler (or parent) or, conversely, give said tired toddler/parent a chance for a nap. Here are some great options:

            At DCA...
            • Disney Junior Live (Hollywood Land): This show is one of Toddler X's favorites, primarily because he is a big Disney Junior fan. If you never let your toddler watch TV...well, you're a better parent than I am, and you may not enjoy this show as much. If you do let your toddler watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse...and Doc...and Sophia...and Jake...well, this is the show for you! It takes place at intervals through most of the day, and the line leading up to the ride is mostly shaded and features tv screens showing Disney Junior favorites, which is a huge relief to parents tired of entertaining their kids. If the line isn't particularly long, don't bother waiting in it at all -- at showtime, they open up the doors and everyone files in, with those who didn't wait in line at all strolling in after the line, and still having plenty of space (there are no really "bad" seats on the floor).
              Bubbles falling from the sky!!
              The show itself takes place in a large, cool, dark room, with benches around the perimeter (great for nursing moms!) and a huge floor space in the center. It features puppets of Disney Junior favorites, well-known songs (if you're a toddler...or a SAHM), and fun special effects falling from the sky. It's a great break from the sun or rain, and I highly recommend it if your kids are familiar with the Disney Junior characters -- if they're not, this many not be worth your time (but would still be great for cooling down).
            The Disney Animation entry room -- heaven on a hot day!
            • Disney Animation Entry Room (Hollywood Land): Located just a few buildings down from the Disney Junior theater mentioned above, this room is the entry point to the Animation Academy, the Sorcerer's Workshop, Anna & Elsa's Royal Welcome, and Turtle Talk with Crush. But even without those attractions, this room is an oasis for hot and tired park-goers. It is dark, it is cool, it is huge, and it offers massive screens with a constantly changing mix of musical clips from Disney and Pixar favorites (watching Elsa sing from her ice castle on massive tv screens is sure to give you a chill). You're allowed to have drinks in there, and one of our cool-down tricks is to grab a smoothie or frozen mocha from Schmoozies, the smoothie shop directly across the street, then grab a seat (a cushioned bench if we're lucky, or just a spot on the floor along the wall) in the entry room for 10 or 15 minutes to bring our body temperatures back to normal. From this room, you can go to Turtle Talk, the Sorcerer's Workshop, Anna & Elsa, Animation Academy or whatever your heart desires -- but sometimes, just relaxing in here is all you need to recuperate and return to the rides.

              A tip: I didn't try to take our stroller inside Disney Animation, but from what I understand from reader tips, they no longer allow strollers in there at all, so don't plan on using this as a cool place for your toddler to enjoy a stroller nap.
            Crush, swimming over to chat with Toddler X
            • Turtle Talk with Crush: This is SUCH a fun activity, particularly if your toddler is familiar with Finding Nemo. A screen in the front of the theater shows a massive Crush (the super cool turtle who hangs out on the EAC in the movie) who amazingly interacts with the audience, identifying audience members by what they're wearing and asking/responding to questions in classic Crush-talk (lots of "Duuuude!").

              Kids can sit on the ground up front (with a parent, if they want) or back in the seats -- if your child is outgoing and would want to ask/answer a question, have him or her sit up front or near an aisle, where the host with the microphone can access him or her easily. Toddler X sat in the front at last week's show and was the first one to be called out by Crush ("Hmm...I see a little dude in the front, blond hair and a reddish shirt. What's your name, little dude?") -- he got lots of laughs as he answered Crush's questions and learned to "talk turtle."

              Tip: The show takes place at intervals throughout the day, and in the 15 minutes or so leading up to the show, people begin to gather in the big chamber outside the auditorium (right off the main Disney Animation entry hall described above). There are some cushioned benches, as well as plenty of floor space. When they ultimately let you into the auditorium, it will be through the doors at the end of the room on your left, so if your toddler really wants to sit up front and have a better chance of talking to Crush, you may want to wait closer to the doors (most people wait back in the larger open area). You're not allowed to bring food or drink into Turtle Talk.

            • The Sorcerer's Workshop (Hollywood Land): Another attraction accessed through that main Disney Animation entrance, this part of DCA is so cool. We actually didn't go down there during the past two trips, for whatever reason, but on our first visit, Toddler X really enjoyed it. Most of the interactive exhibits down there are designed with older kids and adults in mind -- drawing and then animating a cartoon, for instance -- but Toddler X really enjoyed the exhibit where you take a photo of your face and then get inserted into a fairy tale of sorts (I can't remember the particulars, but it was fun). It can get crowded down here, and there are a limited number of spots to try each exhibit at any given time, so if you have a younger, impatient toddler, it might not be a good fit.
            • Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome (Hollywood Land): This, too, is accessed through the main Disney Animation entrance, but I can't tell you anything more about it because we've never gone in. If you have little Frozen lovers in your family, though, it almost certainly will be a hit. This attraction has a Fastpass option.
            • Frozen Sing-Along (Hollywood Land): Another attraction that we've never visited (can you tell that Toddler X isn't into Frozen?), but that seems to be a hit with all the little Anna and Elsa-lovers out there. I'm pretty sure this is exactly what the title suggests. This one, too, has a Fastpass option, so take advantage of that if you can.
            • It's Tough to be a Bug (A Bug's Land): We actually haven't seen the DCA version of this show, though Mr. X and I enjoyed it quite a bit at Disney World several years ago. My recollection of the Disney World show, though -- and the reviews suggest that the same is true of DCA -- is that the show can be a bit intense for a toddler, with 3D insects going every which way, loud noises, and special effects. The show has actually been closed during our past two visits, but I'm not sure if Toddler X would enjoy it anyway -- he's not a huge fan of bugs, so we'll probably skip this one for a few more years. If your toddler loves insects, though, this could be a great hot day activity.
            • Aladdin (Hollywood Land). Though I've never seen this show (and have always intended to go -- more urgent now, as it apparently is soon to be replaced by another Frozen show), this was a recommendation of several readers for hot and sunny days. The show itself is apparently fabulous (Broadway-worthy, said one reader), and the theater is a cool respite from the heat. Though it's a longer show than some toddlers (probably including mine) would be able to manage (45 minutes, I believe), I hear from readers that if you sit in one of the balconies in aisle seats, it's relatively easy to sneak out. Reader Stacy cautions that a big snake comes out over the audience at the end of the show (obviously not a real one), so if that would frighten your little one, this may not be the show for you.
            At Disneyland...
            • The Tiki Room (Adventureland) Sadly, Toddler X hates this attraction -- I think the talking totem heads really concern him -- so we haven't been there since our first Disney trip a year and a half ago, but the Tiki Room is generally recognized as one of the go-to options for staying cool or dry in a Disney heat wave or rain storm, respectively. The show is funny and light, and most kids seem to love it (no idea what is up with mine). There's rarely a wait beyond the length of one show. Plus, it's located mere feet from the Dole Whips, which makes it a perfect sunny day stop.
            • Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (Main Street USA). Another reader suggestion, I've actually never been in here (though I've enjoyed its Disney World counterpart). I understand, though, that it's indoors, air-conditioned, and generally pretty empty. Sounds like a winner on a hot day to me!
            • Main Street Cinema (Main Street USA). I've been meaning to stop into this little theater, located just inside the entrance on your right, for four Disneyland trips in a row, and have yet to do it. Reader Karie recommends it for the early Disney movies that they play, the air-conditioning, and the lack of crowds -- again, great features on a hot day!
            • Mickey's and Minnie's houses (Toontown). We've actually never been inside Minnie's house, but we check out Mickey's house at almost every visit to Disneyland, and Toddler X could spend hours in there. There's lots to see in Mickey's various rooms, and parents will have fun spotting little touches that toddlers won't even notice. It's a nice place for a cool break.

            As good a place to rest as any!

            6. Stick to areas with lots of trees, as they tend to make everything feel cooler.

            Tom Sawyer's Island
            Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Cars Land are seas of concrete, and on a hot day, the heavy crowds there will make you feel like you're baking in an over-packed oven. Head over to Critter Country or Tom Sawyer's Island in Disneyland, or the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail area in DCA, however, and temperatures will seem to go down by a few degrees right away. Trees will do that for you.

            Critter Country trees
            Redwood Creek in DCA

            7. Seek out areas of shade for a quiet break.

            Indoor attractions are great, but if you don't want to wait for a show to start or just want a shorter break, finding a shaded place to sit and enjoy a drink, a snack, and some people watching (or even a snooze!) can be the ticket. The ones below are a few of our personal favorites and those of our readers -- there are many, many other shaded benches and tables throughout the parks.

            At Disneyland...

            Ramp down to the lower level of the Hungry Bear
            One of our favorite retreats, particularly on hot and sunny days, is the lower level of the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country, right next to Winnie the Pooh and across from Splash Mountain. Both levels are nice, actually, but the lower level sits right next to the water of the Rivers of America, looking across to Tom Sawyer's Island, and is totally shaded by the upper deck. There are plenty of tables down here, and it's never over-crowded. The restroom located on this deck is the closest one to Winnie the Pooh, Toddler X's favorite ride, so we're down here a lot, and it's always pleasant. Bring a snack or a sleeping child (there's a ramp for strollers) and relax while you watch the riverboat steam by. (The burgers from the restaurant upstairs are quite tasty as well!)

            Relaxing on the lower deck of the Hungry Bear,
            watching the riverboat cruise by.
            There's a nice little parklet in New Orleans Square, right in front of the train station, that includes a circle of benches surrounded by trees. With the shade from the trees and the proximity to the water of Rivers of America, plus being set back a few feet from the crowds, it's a nice place to chill for a bit and people-watch.

            On Tom Sawyer's Island, there are several areas that have shaded benches, and, as I mentioned above, the combination of water and trees just makes it feel cooler there.

            Over in Toontown, there are some great shaded or partially-indoor spots around Goofy's house, the shaded playground next door, and Donald's boat.


            Every time we visit on a hot day, I notice the shade over this benched section behind Donald's boat -- it's at least 5 degrees cooler here than out in the Toontown sun!

            A shady bench behind Donald's boat
            There's also a little Toontown city park with several shaded benches, where we frequently enjoy a snack.


            At DCA...

            There are lots of benches with good shade within the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail area, with lovely scenery as well.

            Ahhh...shade at Redwood Creek.
            For a shady meal break, we really enjoy the Garden Grill restaurant, right by Goofy's Flight School. It has great, healthy Mediterranean food (we returned there for two meals on a four day trip!) and lots of shade, with trees and shelters that feature fans. It's a great place to stop for a midday break.
            Shade, fans and healthy food = a winner!
            There are some good shaded benches in Bug's Land, under the big top-style tent at the Tuck and Roll Buggies (bonus there is that the ride itself is also shaded, though not a lot of wind moves through this area, so it can get kind of stagnant and muggy).

            There are also several benches, shaded at various points of the day, under the Silly Swings ride, looking out over the water at Paradise Pier. Conveniently, this spot is right near Bayside Brews, which has several tasty beer from a local brewery on tap.

            Other readers have recommended the shade at the Wine Country Trattoria and wine bar at DCA -- which has the added bonus that you're located at a wine bar. :)

            8. Duck into one of the park's air-conditioned shops, restaurants or indoor areas.

            At Disneyland...
            • Main Street USA features a whole street of air-conditioned shops, which carry every Disney-related item you could imagine. On the lefthand side of the street (as you face the castle), there are four or five shops in a row that are actually connected indoors -- meaning, you can wander for a good amount of time without ever having to set foot in the sun.
            • Main Street USA also offers a Baby Center (towards the end of the street on the right, as you face the castle), which I've never used but have heard rave reviews about from readers (though apparently DCA's is nicer). The Baby Center has chairs for relaxing, areas for nursing, diaper-changing supplies, a microwave to warm bottles, and -- most importantly -- AC.
            • Most indoor restaurants will cool you down a bit, but multiple readers specifically recommended The Golden Horseshoe for ice cream and air conditioning. 
            At DCA...
            • Like Main Street USA, Buena Vista Street has a bunch of shops, and several of the ones on the lefthand side of the street (facing into the park) are connected, giving you more time indoors.
            • DCA also has a Baby Center, located between Cars Land and the wharf area. It's apparently nicer and more modern than the one at Disneyland, and they have toddler-sized potties -- a good excuse for a visit!
            • Again, any indoor restaurant will allow you to cool down, but many people specifically recommend the Carthay Circle bar for cool drinks and AC (and apparently some pretty good queso).

            9. Find low-key outdoor activities.

            Sometimes in hot weather, you just need to slow down. Here are a few suggestions from readers of places where you can just relax for a while at Disneyland.
            • Take a ride on the Disneyland Railroad for, as one reader put it, "like, an hour."
            • Visit the Big Thunder Ranch, with its petting zoo, shade, and quieter feel, as well as character appearances and shows. (Multiple readers recommended this.)

            10. Take a break in Downtown Disney or at the Disneyland Hotels.


            Taking a break in Downtown Disney was the answer for us several times during our scorching Disney trip -- I think we may have spent time there every single day (no, the long-sleeved pictures here were not from this trip!). In addition to the fun fountains (the spray will cool you down) and all the restaurants that have indoor seating (we seriously have not had a bad meal in Downtown Disney), there are several other cool-down options:

            • ESPN Zone: Not just a restaurant and sports bar, ESPN Zone has an arcade upstairs as well. We haven't taken Toddler X up there yet (because if we did, we'd probably never leave), but readers have recommended it.
            • The movie theater: Is there any cooler way to spend a hot day? 
            • The Lego Store: There are a couple of outdoor building tables near the racetrack (one of Toddler X's favorite spots at Disney), and they're shaded by umbrellas on sunny days (and a total preschooler hang out at night -- see above!), but there are also a few building tables inside, and those offer AC. A great way to cool down.
            Racing in the shade at the Lego Store
            Indoor building tables
            • The Rainforest Cafe: We ate there for the first time on our most recent trip (it was the only time I've seen it without an hour-long wait), and although the food was fine, the big draw was the cool rainforest-ness of the place. Even if you don't plan to eat there, you may want to check out the store, where there are lots of moving animals and fun things to look at.
            • The huge World of Disney store: You could get lost in this place -- and, on a really hot day, it actually might be nice to do so. It's massive and it's air-conditioned, with tons to distract and interest kids. Toddler X could spend an hour just looking at -- okay, trying to climb into -- the wall of plush Disney characters. It's a nice break.
            • Grab a cool treat at Haagen Dazs, Jamba Juice, or Starbucks.
            And at the hotels:

            Awesome, under-the-radar little screening room
            • Visit the quiet little TV room in the Disneyland Hotel, right next to Goofy's Kitchen and Steakhouse 55, which shows classic cartoons, including favorites like Goofy Sports. We eat at Goofy's Kitchen every visit, and it's hard to drag Toddler X out of this tv room afterwards. There's rarely anyone else in there, so it feels like your own little screening room. This is one of our favorite hidden gems at Disney.
            • Explore the beautiful Grand Californian and relax in the lobby.

              11. Cool down with an ice-cold treat.

              Disneyland is a world of treats, and on a hot day, the cool ones are particularly attractive. The most famous Disney frozen treat is the Dole Whip, offered at a stand just outside the Tiki Room (I personally love the Dole Whip Floats -- the Dole Whip frozen yogurt in a cup of pineapple juice). The line can get ridiculously long (which is hilarious, when you think that there is never any line at the stand serving the identical menu at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz -- how many northern Californians walk right by the Santa Cruz one, but wait in line for 20 minutes at the Disneyland one, just because it's what you do?), but when you want a Dole Whip...well, you want a Dole Whip.

              Another favorite cold treat for us is a milkshake at Flo's in Cars Land in DCA. They crumble Oreos on top -- delish! Schmoozies, the smoothie place directly across from the Animation Academy building at DCA, has delicious drinks as well, including a mocha freeze.

              Readers recommended the ice cream at the Golden Horeshoe (mentioned above), the lemonade slushies outside the Jolly Holiday (and elsewhere in the park), and the Minute Maid frozen lemonade cups (which may be the same thing -- those were recommendations from different readers). There's also the Carnation restaurant on Main Street USA for ice cream, and of course, Starbucks in both DCA and Disneyland for your Frappucino needs.

              For healthier fare, there are great fruit stands right next to the Jungle Cruise and on your righthand side as you enter DCA that sell a variety of cold fruit and drinks, including coconut water (a favorite of one of my readers). (There are fruit stands throughout the park -- I've bought from ones in Main Street USA, Tomorrowland and New Orleans Square -- and all have cool, delicious fruit and veggies, but these two seem to be the most substantial.)

              Healthy and cold fruits and veggies, right by Jungle Cruise

              8. Balance Planning and Flexibility.

              You booked a Disney trip four months ago, and you've been anxiously awaiting it ever since. You've been planning the rides you'll enjoy, the sights you'll see, the schedule you'll keep. And then, a week before your trip, you glance at the Anaheim weather forecast and see this:

              Our park days were Tuesday - Friday. Ouch.
              Uh oh. 

              Don't despair -- you are still going to have a wonderful trip! Using the tips above, you'll have the items you need to keep you cool and hygrated (a spray fan, Frog Toggs, a cooler, a hat, sunblock and water -- lots and lots of water), and you'll know the places where the shade is shady and the AC is frigid. 

              But while every day at Disney with kids -- heck, every day with kids, period -- requires a balance of planning and flexibility, that balance can become a bit more precarious, and has to be more carefully managed, when the park temperatures top 90 degrees. 

              Here are my thoughts:

              One thing you DO want to plan: take advantage of the coolest hours of the day (such as they might be -- on our recent trip, it was already 90 degrees each day when we walked to the parks at 9 a.m., and was still in the 80's when we headed home at closing each night, but that was the best we were going to get).

              Open, open, open! (Note: this was a December trip!)
              For us, that means planning to be there at rope drop every day of our trip. ("Rope drop" refers to the practice at Disneyland and DCA of letting guests through the front gate before the posted opening time, but then "holding" them in Main Street USA/Buena Vista Street, with cast members holding ropes to prevent access to the parks. At opening hour precisely, the ropes drop and the fun begins. We plan to be inside the gates well before that time.)

              The time the parks open varies day to day -- I've been there on days when the parks open at 8, and I've been there on days when the parks open at 10 (unfortunately, that was the case during most of our scorching trip last week -- what a waste of the coolest hours of the day!). Regardless of the opening time, we always get there about 45 minutes beforehand, and by the time they drop the ropes, we're well inside the gate. That early 45 minute wait at the gate or on Main Street USA/Buena Vista Street, at a time of day when Toddler X is very low key, sitting in his stroller eating his breakfast, saves us a ton of ride line wait time in the hours to come. We do this all the time, but on hot days it's especially crucial, because (a) ride lines are far more miserable in the heat, so anything you can do to avoid them is very worthwhile, and (b) your kids' park tolerance may be far more limited, meaning you should get in as much as you can as early as possible, before it really starts to blaze.
              • Related tip: Many of you probably already know about Magic Morning/Magic Hour, where people who have purchased 3-day or more passes (in advance, not at the gate) or people who are staying at Disney properties get into one of the two parks early each day. (For those who purchase passes, you get one Magic Morning during your trip.) If you are not taking advantage of a Magic Morning/Magic Hour, I recommend you start your day at the park that is not offering it that day. For example, if Disneyland has Magic Hour/Magic Morning, I recommend being at DCA at opening time instead, and vice versa. Otherwise, you'll show up early and wait at the gate for entrance into the park...which is already full of people who have been riding rides and building lines for an hour. Head to the other park first, then switch over later (assuming you have Park Hoppers).
              Besides the first two hours of the day -- in which you can really get a lot done if you're already in line at opening time -- by far the happiest time to be at Disneyland in a heatwave is after the sun has gone down. Parades, fireworks, illuminated attractions, and a certain happy buzz among no-longer-roasting park goers are your rewards for making it through to the evening hours after a scorching day at the park. (See my next suggestion regarding naps and downtime.)


              Obviously, the feasibility of staying long past sundown will depend on how rigid your child's sleep schedule is, and the time of year -- sundown was a lot earlier for us in early September than it would've been for people dealing with a similar heatwave in June. Toddler X is a night owl to begin with, and when we plan for a three hour nap mid-day (see my next point below), he can easily stay out until 10 or 11 p.m. It's those evening hours, when everything is lit up (Cars Land is especially magical!) and when the sun is no longer beating down, that a heat wave can start to feel sort of...well, nice.


              And if you can make it all the way to closing, you may find you have the park practically to yourself, as Toddler X and his buddy did during our trip last May.
              Fantastyland at closing...all to ourselves!

              Another thing you DO want to plan: downtime, ideally outside the park. Given that we plan to be there at rope drop each day, and we usually are there at closing each night (the two best parts of a Disney day, in my opinion), there's no feasible way we're staying at the parks the whole day. Not only will Toddler X need a nap (and he doesn't nap in his stroller anymore), but I need some downtime too! We're all much happier when we take a midday break from the parks, usually from around 2-5:30 or 6:00.
              Naptime, Disney-style.
              I think a break is something you need to plan, and you need to stick to. "Go with the flow" works great for many things, but like a puppy, a toddler very rarely will want to rest while he or she is still having fun. If you let your child push past the exhaustion point, it will be hard to recover, and you might end up turning in at 5 p.m. and missing the entire (cooler, and very fun) evening period at the parks. Definitely do be flexible -- sometimes you have to be opportunistic when you see a short ride line or a character you really want to get a picture with  -- but have it set in your head that by 2:00, for example, you will be walking out the gates to head back to the hotel. A nap, a swim, some water to drink, and even a cold shower will have you and your toddler in a better mood upon your return to the parks, and ready to take on the night ahead.

              For us, our daily downtime must take place outside the parks -- Toddler X just wouldn't be able to fully settle down with the excitement of Disneyland surging around him, and I personally like a real nap in a real bed every afternoon of a Disney trip, as well as a shower before heading back to the parks for the evening hours. But for those of you who are a bit more flexible, still do plan for downtime inside the parks, particularly on a hot day. Many of the indoor shows and attractions mentioned above, as well as the Disneyland Train or a corner of a cool restaurant, will allow you and your little ones to unwind and chill out.

              A third thing you DO want to plan: sustenance. As I mentioned in the opening section above, we brought more food -- perishable and not -- and drinks with us into the parks on our recent 97 degree trip than we ever have before, and it was a godsend. In crazy heat like that, hunger and thirst can hit suddenly, and the ability to make good decisions can plummet. When everyone is hot and tired and meltdowns (parent or child) are imminent, the last thing you want to do is decide (and agree on -- ha!) what everyone wants to eat, find an appropriate restaurant, wait in line, search for a seat indoors or in the shade (everyone else is doing the same), etc. Being self-sufficient, with a cooler of chilly snacks and drinks available at a moment's notice, can mean the difference between a restful pause and a complete breakdown. At the end of that pause -- before you've even gotten off your shady bench -- take a minute to plan when and where your next actual meal will be -- it's always easier to make good decisions when you're cool(er) and well-fed.

              But aside from those three things -- taking advantage of the cooler hours of the day, and planning downtime and sustenance -- I really do recommend handling your days as flexibly as possible.

              A Disney agenda -- there are books with whole lists of them -- can be helpful for time management on an average day, but trying to fit everything in, and not paying attention to the food, beverage, rest or downtime needs of both the kids and adults in your party, is a recipe for disaster when temperatures are high. During our heatwave trip, we generally entered the parks each morning and returned each evening with one or two things we really wanted to do in that segment of the trip firmly in mind -- beyond that, we glanced at show schedules and wait times (that Disneyland app I mentioned above is fantastic!), were opportunistic when we saw a particularly short line, rode indoor rides whenever we could, used Fastpasses when possible, rested when we needed to rest, and took it slow.

              We had a blast, and you will too. And who knows -- the next time you visit Disneyland, you just might be dealing with rain instead!

              Our Disney trip last December -- the opposite end of the weather spectrum!

              Wishing you all a wonderful Disneyland vacation! Let me know if you have any questions, and I'll be glad to try to answer them. I'll be heading back to Disneyland a month from today, and will be hoping for decidedly cooler weather!

              Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please consider doing all of your pre-Disney shopping -- indeed, any online shopping at all -- via my affiliate links. I greatly appreciate your support!




              4 comments:

              1. Your post is a lifesaver and not just for hot days!! We are caravanning to Disneyland next month (a week before you) with three littles and five adults, and over half the group has either never been there or hasn't visited in over 20 years. Thank you, thank you for the incredible advice and pictures! This is a great companion to the guidebook I've been memorizing for several weeks.

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              2. Great post - thanks for all the awesome tips! One thing to remember with Amazon is that you can ship anywhere. You could have ordered those Frogg Toggs and had them delivered to your DL hotel on the first or second day.

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              3. Hey! Love all the info in this post and site! Just moved from LA and already miss Disneyland. How do u make having the passport manageable from living up here? Meaning, do u go for a few days at a time and stay at the hotels? Where do you stay? Do you fly and rent a car? Or drive down (long drive!) ? I was just about to renew our passes before we deduced to take a job up here. Thanks so much!

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              4. I may have missed this, but where do you recommend staying?

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