Walt Disney World is poised to open Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at the end of August in steamy Florida.
It’s a much hotter environment than the identical land that opened at California’s Disneyland in May, where numerous reviewers noted the lack of shade in a rock canyon setting.
Excitement is palpable in Florida for the $1 billion expansion at Hollywood Studios, but there’s another question sizzling on travel blogs and fan sites. Are visitors at risk of dropping from the heat?
“There’s little shade. Even at just 75 degrees, you start to melt fast in this new land,” Brian Pinsky wrote on MiceChat.com. “We feel sorry for the cast members who have to stand around in all those layers of clothes for hours on end. But what’s going to happen when this land opens in Orlando? If we are uncomfortable in the moderate Southern California weather, just imagine what Florida will be like!”
Rest assured, Disney officials say, they have done this before and will be ready.
“For decades, we have operated our parks in all types of weather, and because of our experience, guests can make the most of their Disney vacations no matter when they choose to visit,” Disney officials wrote in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.
A look at Disney’s safety precautions shows a robust system of first aid services at every theme park and resort. But there are no federal safety regulations for rides and attractions. The state of Florida years ago made a deal with Disney, Universal and other major theme parks to file quarterly reports of incidents and injuries instead of getting state inspections.
Considering the millions of visitors, the number of incidents is fairly low.
According to the reports filed in January, in 2018 there were 42 injuries and illnesses at Central Florida’s theme parks that required at least a 24-hour hospital stay, including one death at Disney’s Blizzard Beach (a heart attack). The majority are things such as an elderly guest falling or getting dizzy or, as happened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Feb. 2, a 30-year-old man with a pre-existing condition having a seizure at the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster.
Reviews of Galaxy’s Edge in California praised its shabby-futuristic aesthetic that looks like it came right out of the films. The space outpost on the desert-like planet Batuu is set in a canyon with tall rock spires inspired by the petrified forests of New Mexico. The craggy rock walls and earthy color scheme are influenced by field trips to Istanbul, Turkey and Morocco’s circuitous bazaars.
Len Testa loved Star Wars land in California. But the founder and president of Touring Plans, the vacation planning site that calculates wait times at theme parks, also worried about what the Florida heat will do to visitors.
“Coming from Florida, I thought the temperatures at 75 were fairly pleasant, but it still got hot,” he said of his Disneyland trip. “It looks like a dry desert. But it’s going to feel like a humid desert here. It can feel like 110 in Florida in summertime.”
Some things will improve with time and attention, wrote Summer Hull of the Points Guys travel site, but the heat won’t be one of them.
“There’s not a ton of shade in Batuu during the heat of the day, so consider an early or late visit if you can,” Hull advised.
The Disney staff in California braced for crowds with extra fans and water stations and even handed out free ice cream bars one busy day. Guests can bring water bottles from home and refill at numerous fountains and any restaurant will give a guest a free cup of ice or water.
As the world’s most popular resort complex with an estimated 58 million Florida visitors last year, Disney has a strong incentive to keep its remarkably good safety record. But accidents can happen.
So what happens if something goes wrong?
At the first aid stations, nurses are available to offer over-the-counter medications, bandages and other quick remedies for free. And Reedy Creek Fire and Rescue — the exclusive government agency of Walt Disney World properties in Florida — can dispatch customized golf carts outfitted with emergency medical equipment and staffed with paramedics to better get around the unique architecture and constant crowds of Disney World.
The Reedy Creek service calls are far from ordinary, from families stuck on rides to parade dragons engulfed in flames. But medical calls, particularly dehydration or heat stroke, occupy these emergency workers more than most EMS units, the agency has reported.
The average summer “feels like” temperatures are significantly higher than other Disney parks around the world, thanks to Central Florida’s persistent humidity.
Take Toy Story Land, which opened last summer at Hollywood Studios. There’s little shade in that colorful play zone and it can get miserable in the afternoons. On opening day, actor Tim Allen came on stage as a surprise guest. But many media members recording it for Facebook Live had a blank screen as their phones shut down in the extreme heat at 11:30 a.m.
“With little to no shade and tons of crowds, Toy Story Land has an adorable theme but, the Floridian heat and overwhelming amounts of people kind of ruin the experience,” wrote Heather Concannon, a travel writer for Insider.com.
What happens when things go wrong? Numerous fan sites have outlined the experience, each with very similar stories:
Workers hover while help is on the way. They offer anything — soda, water, ice, misting fan — and take notes to alert the guest’s hotel to offer further service. They put park tickets in the guests’ pockets as they leave for the hospital.
Kuleen Lashley’s 72-year-old father fell and broke his arm at Hollywood Studios, she wrote on the Traveling Mom blog in 2016:
A worker “asked where we were staying when we had arrived at the park, what kind of tickets we were using, and a bunch more questions. He also kept handing me slips of paper which I shoved into my purse. Later, I decided to pull out all the papers I was given to see what they were. There was a set of taxi vouchers to cover the cost to and from the hospital. Then I pulled out two sets of park ticket vouchers which were each good for two people to enter Disney Hollywood Studios at any time in the future. The last thing I pulled out was six FastPasses that we could use at Hollywood Studios any time in the next two weeks.”
Disney hasn’t announced it, but Testa predicts it will make use of the “virtual queue” system that has been successful in California to cut down on long outdoor lines. Similar to restaurants with a long wait, guests put in their name and get a text message to come back in a few hours.
There are indoor attractions, such as the full-size replica of the Millennium Falcon, which has an extended queue. The upcoming Rise of the Resistance ride won’t open until Dec. 5. The rest of the shaded or indoor places are restaurants or stores.
The market area of the land features shops that sell toys, clothing and souvenirs in a setting that looks similar to outdoor markets in the Middle East, with streams of rope and cloth billowing overhead.
“The trellises and canvases that run overhead match similar structures in the medinas of places like Marrakesh and Fes,” wrote Albert Lam of the Westcoaster site, “where the summer sun can raise temperatures well into the triple digits, and shade is of utmost importance.”
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at email@example.com. Follow @SharonKWn.
What’s a Star Wars fan to do? If you are willing to brace the heat, here are some tips for any Disney trip in sweaty Florida:
• Pack your own water. Disney allows guests to carry a cooler no larger than 24 by 15 inches wide. If you freeze an eight-ounce water bottle you will find that a big chunk of ice may remain throughout the day as you refill it from the park’s many water fountains.
• Every quick-service restaurant will give you a free cup of water or ice when you ask.
• Umbrellas and parasols are allowed so you can bring your own shade, or a floppy foldable hat.
• Consider bringing your own battery-powered fan, or even better, one that spritzes water.
• Bandana style neck wraps, also called cooling towels, can be soaked in water and do a good job of cooling down.
• Alert a worker if anyone in your party is showing signs of dehydration or heat stroke.