Hurricanes at Walt Disney World: 5 Things You Must Know!
There is not a bad time of year to plan a Walt Disney World vacation, but it’s important to plan ahead and become educated on what each season may bring when traveling there. That includes exponentially high crowd levels, and severe weather. As many who have summered at the most magical place on earth already know, vacationing there in the excessively warm months inevitably comes with precipitation. Rain is one thing, most people can handle a few days of gloomy skies, sogginess, and lower park crowds, but major storms are another. Florida is the Sunshine State and visitors see, and feel, plenty of it, but the state also has a penchant for cyclonic storms, and extreme weather can be a result.
Florida’s official hurricane season is approximately 183 days long. It begins June 1st and ends November 30th, and peaks on September 10th. Walt Disney World opened in 1971, which means they’ve endured thousands of hurricane season days. Disney hasn’t had to close its gates often because of a hurricane, but it has happened. Past hurricanes such as Matthew, Floyd, Charley, Francis, Ivan, Jeanne, and Wilma have resulted in either entire day park closures or modified park hours. Of these hurricanes, Charley hit Orlando the hardest, yet there was no irreversibly devastating impact to Walt Disney World specifically, although some attractions bore structural damage in need of repair. With history revealing only a small number of actual Disney Park closures, and because of the favorable geographic location of Walt Disney World within the state of Florida (more on that later), the chances of having a trip completely ruined due to a hurricane or storm are slim. That does not mean that hurricanes shouldn’t be treated as the destructive and often fatal forces of nature that they are. Every storm, from tropical depressions to high category hurricanes, should be taken seriously and treated with precautions in place. Just because Walt Disney World hasn’t faced a truly cataclysmic storm doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. If you are planning a vacation during the hurricane months, the best advice is to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. What can you do to prepare in advance when traveling to Walt Disney World during hurricane season? Here are some things to consider.
- Know Your Cancellation Policy
If a hurricane begins a projected path towards Florida and appears to simultaneously coincide with your upcoming Disney vacation, it’s time to consider the risk and determine whether or not traveling to Disney is wise. Unless there is a mandatory evacuation notice issued by state officials, the decision of whether or not to attempt to travel falls solely on the vacationer. Luckily for those who have booked their vacation package directly through the Walt Disney Company, there is an option to cancel your trip without any penalties. According to the official Walt Disney World website:
“If a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area, or for your place of residence, within 7 days of your scheduled arrival date, you may call in advance to reschedule or cancel your Walt Disney Travel Company Magic Your Way vacation package and most room only reservations (booked directly with Disney) without any cancellation or change fees imposed by Disney.”
This cancellation policy does not apply to third-party suppliers such as airlines, hotels not booked through Disney directly, car rental companies, etc. If you are working with a travel agent, contact him or her to find out what the cancellation policy is.
Remember, though, that the biggest threat of a storm disrupting or ruining your Walt Disney World vacation might be travel related. Flights could be canceled and airports could shut down due to an impending storm, and roads sometimes close as a result of storm surge or flooding. In addition, for good or bad, the aftermath of a storm could result in the extension of your vacation as you and hordes of other travelers make arrangements to get back home after a previously canceled flight.
- Consider Travel Insurance
For peace of mind, travel insurance seems like a no-brainer to some. For others, it’s not even a consideration due to the expense. If you are planning a Walt Disney World vacation during hurricane season, especially in August, September, or October, travel insurance might be worth a second thought.
- Do Not Panic
If you are at Walt Disney World when a major storm hits, you can find some measure of comfort in knowing that there is an elaborate and thorough system in place to help ensure the safety of each and every guest. If you have already arrived on property when a strong storm arrives, there are certainly worse locations where you could find yourself. As far as safety goes, in 2009 the NOAA issued Walt Disney World Resort a Storm Ready designation, meaning that you are in very capable hands should the worst occur. Cast Members are ready to follow procedures to safeguard your protection. Walt Disney World was built with the knowledge that Florida sees severe weather, including hurricanes, and has been reinforced to resist and withstand hurricane damage.
Although it would be foolish to completely rule out the possibility of being hit directly by a monster hurricane, the geographic location of Walt Disney World within Florida couldn’t be more favorable as far as weathering hurricanes goes. It is far enough inland that tidal surge is not a worry, and storms typically break up quite a bit by the time they reach the central part of the state.
- The Closing of the Parks
The Disney Parks are generally open 365 days a year, and rarely see an unexpected closure. As mentioned previously, however, there have been hurricanes that were serious enough threats to cause Disney to close the gates for the safety of their guests. The closure could also be because of a curfew in Orange and Osceola Counties, ordering non-emergency vehicles to stay off of the roads. When Disney closes the parks, guests are asked to stay at their resorts for the duration of the storm. In the past it has been reported by guests that Disney amps up the resort activities by providing a refreshing distraction that includes lobby games, character meet and greets, movie marathons, etc. Food will also be available, although resort restaurants may not be open. Previous accounts claim that each resort room had a detailed instruction sheet slipped under the door, erasing any confusion and answering questions that guests might have had about what to do and how to proceed during the storm. Stories are few and far between of previous guests who found themselves miserable while hunkering down at their Disney resorts. Many guests state that they wholeheartedly enjoyed the unusual circumstances they found themselves in during a hurricane lockdown, and they were pleased with the measures that Disney took to not only ensure their safety and well-being, but also to create an environment free of chaos and panic. Disney magic was provided, even in the midst of the storm.
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- When the Parks Stay Open
If a hurricane is not a direct threat to the Walt Disney World Resort area, there is a good chance that the parks will remain open. Keep in mind that although the parks may be open, many, if not all, of the outdoor attractions will be closed during inclement weather. Periodic spells of high winds and heavy rain can be expected if a storm is moving through the state, even if Disney is out of the direct line of impact. As a result, certain low-lying areas prone to flooding could be roped off. Much of the entertainment is moved indoors, and you’ll see far more indoor character meet and greets on a stormy park day than you’d experience on a sunny one. All in all, as long as safety is not compromised, guests are permitted to come and enjoy the indoor attractions, restaurants, character greetings, stores, etc. Disney will do everything in their power to ensure that you have a great experience. The magic doesn’t die just because Mother Nature throws an angry tantrum outside. The guest experience is of the utmost importance to Disney, and they strive to exceed your expectations, regardless of whether or not the sun chooses to shine that day.
Have you ever been at the Walt Disney World Resort during an imminent hurricane threat? Share your experience with us below!