By Price Atkinson, republicEn.org
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but my kids love Walt Disney World. And, of course, my wife and I do too.
Yes, we’ve been captivated by the Magic, making annual returns to see Mickey and Minnie. It’s in our blood and not going away anytime soon. Or at least not until my fifth and seventh grader graduate from their yearly desires to pin trade, ride Slinky Dog and experience the thrills of Space Mountain.
Living in South Carolina, we’re pretty used to the heat. But instead of building trips to Walt Disney World around the parks’ crowd levels, we are prioritizing the time of year and likely weather patterns we’ll feel over the wait times in line. And if you live in Central Florida, I don’t have to tell you what the summers feel like.
Of course, August through early fall brings the height of hurricane season in the Sunshine State. Effects are felt from coast to coast with hurricanes causing millions, even billions, in annual damages.
While hurricane frequency and the cost of storm damage is going up like sea-level rise on both coasts, soaring summer temperatures are hitting Disney’s guests and the company’s bottom line.
The National Weather Service had never issued an excessive heat warning for Orlando until last year — when they issued four in August 2023 for Orange County.
Paramedics at Disney World received 441 calls from guests experiencing heat-related medical issues last summer (one in five calls had people taken to a local hospital), according to data Florida Politics obtained from the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District through a public record request. That’s a 2% increase from the summer of 2022 and more than double from five years ago.
While the normal August high is around 92 degrees, Orlando was in the upper 90s most of the month and on Aug. 12 even hit 100 degrees (the heat index almost touched 120 degrees) for the first time since June 2015. It was the warmest month on record for Orlando, going all the way back to 1892 when record keeping began.
When the temperatures soar so high that guests begin to suffer, do you think people will continue spending money to have “fun” in the sun?
My family and I got lucky at the Walt Disney World parks right after Labor Day last year. Our three-day trip fell during a cool front when temperatures were in the low- to mid-80s. Full disclosure: We didn’t have a choice on trip dates due to our Colorado family members’ schedules. But we all know we had dodged a major weather “bullet.”
Weather and climate change are not only posing risks to their guests. A theme park’s business and bottom line are impacted when closing for a hurricane or guests simply opt to go somewhere else. Parks are now beginning to compensate by building more shaded structures and added splash zones. Some even offer a free return ticket when local temperatures hit extreme levels.
Last summer, SeaWorld Orlando instituted a new “Weather-or-Not Assurance” program. This new consumer-friendly policy provides guests with a return visit to the park free of charge if:
- Inclement weather causes early closure or negatively impacts the park’s operating hours
- Rides are closed for more than 60 minutes due to lightning, strong winds, heat, rain or snow
- Park temperatures reach a heat index of 110 degrees or above
Even though business “friendly” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could care less about Disney’s bottom line, it’s probably safe to assume he does care about the state’s coffers being hit when having to cover more and more damage due to the increased frequency and intensity of storms because of climate change.
Businesses continually adapt to consumers’ buying and purchasing habits. It happens everywhere or else you aren’t around long as an owner or employee. Whether it’s a department store in Omaha or Disney World in Orlando, retailers are constantly responding to changing consumer behavior because their livelihood depends on it.
Our country and the state of Florida should be run like a business. When something isn’t working, it’s time to change. This is why we need a robust climate policy at the federal level to help mitigate the effects of climate change.
My kids’ and their future depend on it. Plus, I want my grandkids to hopefully one day experience the Magic like we have over the years without my wife and I stuck in an Epcot cooling center or having to sip umbrella drinks all afternoon in a shady spot at Hollywood Studios.
Price Atkinson is the communications and programming director for republicEn.org, a growing group of conservatives who care about climate change.