In August, there’s only one certainty in Orlando: the heat.
It is always there, damp and overpowering. Morning, noon and night. There is no escape from it. The only respite — if you can call it that — is the late afternoon thunderstorm. In the immediate aftermath of the lightning, thunder and torrential rain, there are small moments of relief, of coolness and of dryness.
And yet, Orlando is home. We love it here. Our children were born here and as unbelievable as it may sound, people come here. They come here on purpose.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Disney in August is everything you would expect. There are crowds, there is heat, there is humidity. And yet, it is one of our favorite times of the year to visit the theme park.
This year, the main attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was Frozen Summer Fun LIVE! There’s a Frozen gift shop, an indoor ice-skating rink and a Frozen sing-along, complete with a parade.
If you have a seven-year-old daughter, you can’t deny her this. You are going to Disney and you are going to belt out “Let It Go” at the top of your lungs with her. Otherwise, you’re in the running for the Worst Father of the Year award. Do you really want that?
In some ways, summer is Orlando’s winter. We close the doors, lower the shades and turn up the air conditioning. We live in the dark while we wait for the heat to pass. Except on Sundays, when the locals get into their air-conditioned cars and drive to Lake Eola Park, where they do yoga and shop at the farmers market.
On Sunday morning there are no tourists. They are either sleeping in or trying to catch one last day at Universal Studios or Disney World before they fly home. But, in a sense, this is the real Orlando. This is where you go for the locally-grown, organic vegetables, seasonal fruit, all-natural ice pops, or home-grown entrepreneurial pepper sauce and hummus vendors.
By the way, Winter Park, in the Orlando suburbs, also hosts a decent farmers market on Saturdays, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s a little more upscale and touristy, hosted on the grounds of the historic train depot. Vibrantly colored potted plants and orchids lure shoppers toward beekeeper honey, peddlers of garden vegetables and Indian River fruit juice stands.
Inside, the cavernous station is lined with boutique vendors selling baked goods and confections. That’s where we go for fresh baguettes, pastries and lots of other decadent treats.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard supposedly in-the-know travel experts say that the last place they would want to be on an August day is Orlando. But I’m willing to bet that it’s at least 10 degrees cooler here than it is at some spots up north, where summers can be even more intense and uncomfortable.
The experts are wrong. Orlando is the place to be.
August is just a prelude to September, which is an absolutely dead month in the Magic City in terms of, well, everything. That’s when many restaurants band together to host Magical Dining Month, deeply discounting their menus for anyone who dares to come here during one of the hottest months of the year.
I’ve lived in almost every climate, from subarctic to subtropical, and I keep coming back here, although I’m not entirely sure why. It can’t be the torrential rainstorms that strike like clockwork every afternoon. No, it’s not the ridiculous humidity that smothers you, making your clothes cling to you like cellophane, and it’s definitely not the triple digit, character-building heat.
Perhaps it’s the payoff that comes later. During the winter, while everyone else is covered under a blanket of snow, it feels more like late spring in Orlando. All the windows are open — no need to run the air conditioning. Life is good…. very good.
But strangely, inexplicably, people here do miss the summer. They look forward to it, even though they know what comes with it. It’s the trade-off — fewer tourists, but hotter weather.
And for all the fathers of seven-year-old girls, there’s also the Frozen sing-along.
Thanks, Uncle Walt.