Disney World During A Hurricane
The Walt Disney World Resort is located in Central Florida so it rarely gets shut down for hurricanes- it has only four times in over 40 years. Here is timeline of happened when Disney World did shut down for Hurricane Matthew was predicted to reach the Orlando area on Friday, October 7, 2016:
3-Days Prior to Expected Hurricane:
Voluntary evacuation of Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground: Because RVs, tents, and the Fort Wilderness Cabins are not secure enough to withstand hurricane force winds, the staff at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground contacted each guest at the resort and gave them the option of leaving early or moving to one of the regular hotels. They were informed that the evacuation would change from voluntary to mandatory once the expected winds reached 30 miles per hour.
Disney posted this announcements on their websites: “Walt Disney World Resort is currently operating under normal conditions as we continue to monitor Hurricane Matthew. Recent forecasts indicate that there could be rain and wind in the Central Florida area as early as Thursday evening, October 6, 2016. Please continue to monitor news outlets for the latest weather information.”
Thursday, Oct. 6th –
- Disney announced that resort (hotel) and restaurant cancellation fees would be waived for Thursday and Friday.
- The Disney World theme parks, Disney Springs, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Disney Miniature Golf Courses all closed at 5:00PM.
- The Orlando International Airport (MCO) & Sanford Airport (SFB) announced that operations would cease and a regional curfew prohibiting non-emergency travel was announced began at 7:00PM on Thursday, October 6th.
- Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort changed to mandatory evacuation status and all restaurants, including the Hoop Dee Do Revue dinner show, were closed.
- Disney stopped accepting new hotel reservations for a few days immediately following the hurricane as rooms were being held for guests at the campground, guests who would have to extend their stay due to cancelled flights, and the possibility that they might need rooms for Disney Cruise Line guests.
- Disney began their very fast and efficient tie-down process of securing loose like chairs, umbrellas, garbage cans, etc. They also used frequent recorded phone messages to alert guests of current conditions and any restrictions on movement or activity.
- Universal’s Halloween Horror Night and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom were cancelled; guests with tickets were given the option of exchanging tickets for a different party night or receiving a refund. Disney sent an email to party guests where email addresses were on file; announcements were placed on the website alerting all others that they could exchange their party tickets at a guest services window or by calling a phone number that would be available beginning the following Monday.
- Most resort based restaurants remained open on Thursday evening but a few, like those at the Fort Wilderness Campground and the Spirit of Aloha dinner show at the Polynesian Village Resort, closed on Thursday evening.
- Disney World and Universal Orlando announced that all theme parks, water parks, and shopping districts would be closed on Friday, October 7th. SeaWorld and Legoland also closed. Busch Gardens in Tampa remained open.
- The Disney World resort hotels warned that guests might be confined to their rooms during the worst of the storm and distributed a flashlight to each room in case of power loss.
- The Disney World hotels brought in box lunches containing a sandwich, ships, fruit, a muffin and beverage for purchase for $12.99 (or one Disney Dining Plan quick-service dining credit). Lines were long but efficient to purchase the box lunches. “Grab-and-Go” items in the resorts’ food courts quickly sold out and there were long lines for pizza-to-go.
- For guest who purchased airfare as part of their Disney vacation package, Disney worked with the airline companies so that guests could contact either Disney or the airline to reschedule cancelled flights. Ordinarily, the airlines would have referred the guest back to Disney to make changes and adjustments.
- Disney organized board games, indoor movies, and similar activities in the public areas of the resort hotels.
A lot of confusion: Although Disney announced that cancellation fees were being waived, there was a lot of confusion about how refunds would be handled for those who left early. Many people were told that their room fees would be refunded but that any remaining tickets and dining plans would not be refunded unless the guest had trip insurance. This was later clarified and guests were given a phone number to submit their claim for a refund on dining and tickets.
Guests whose flights were cancelled were given the option of extending their stay at their existing resort but were surprised to find that they would have to pay rack rate as their packages could not be extended.
Frustrations with Trip Insurance: We had once client who waited on hold for two hours to initiate a claim against her trip insurance (purchased through her Disney vacation package) for the cost of an additional night because her flight was cancelled and was given incorrect information that those nights would not be covered because her trip insurance expired on the original departure date but this was inaccurate.
This was the official announcement on the Disney World website: “Based on the most recent forecasts for Hurricane Matthew, Walt Disney World theme parks, water parks, Disney Springs, miniature golf courses and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex will be closed through Friday, Oct. 7. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom Theme Park is also canceled for tonight and tomorrow.”
Friday, Oct. 7th – Day of Hurricane impact
- Orlando wasn’t as badly hit as feared with most winds being at tropical storm levels with gusts at hurricane levels.
- All flights were cancelled in and out of Orlando International Airport (MCO) & Sanford (SFB). Other Florida airports continued operations but many flights were cancelled.
- All of the Orlando area theme parks remained closed throughout the day.
- Guests in hotels with interior hallways were allowed to leave their rooms and utilize the public areas of the resort and restaurants in these resorts were serving guests.
- As winds continued to die down, guests in buildings with exterior walkways were allowed to leave their rooms by mid-morning. Disney staff, many of whom has spent the night on cots at the resort, organized activities and there were even character meet-and-greets at the resorts.
- The regional curfew prohibiting non-emergency travel was lifted at 2:00PM on Friday, October 7th
- Select Disney Springs locations re-opened later in the afternoon and guests were able to experience DisneyQuest with all pay games on free play mode.
Saturday, Oct. 8th (After the hurricane) –
- All of the Disney World, Universal Orlando and other Orlando theme parks and Disney Springs were back to normal or close to normal hours.
- All flights resumed in and out of Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Sanford (SFB).
- Certain events at ESPN Wide World of Sports were cancelled because participants were unable to arrive due to flight cancellations.
- Disney World began issuing non-expiring 1-day tickets good for a future visit to Disney World to guests at the resorts. If the guest expected to visit again, this was a much better deal than receiving a refund as each additional day of tickets decreases in price to the point that the last day of ticket may cost as little as $15.
Disney World Hurricane Tips:
- Don’t panic if you hear about a potential hurricane hitting Florida. The Walt Disney World Resort is in central Florida, not on the coasts, and has only closed four time for hurricane since opening in 1971: Hurricane Floyd -September 15, 1999/ Hurricane Frances – September 4 & 5, 2004 / Hurricane Jeanne – September 25, 2004 / Hurricane Matthew – October 7, 2016. Don’t disappoint the kids by rushing to cancel trips scheduled after a predicted hurricane because Disney gets things cleaned up and reopened very quickly.
- If you have trip insurance, contact them as soon as you know that you will need to make a claim. Do not cancel any flights on your own; wait for the airline to cancel them. We spoke to someone who re-booked her flights before her original flight was cancelled; then the airport reopened and her original flight went as scheduled and her trip insurance refused to pay for the extra night at the hotel.
- Stay in touch with the front desk of your resort: They should have the most up-to-date information and will be best equipped to help. Please remember that the people working at Disney World also live in the area and may be worrying about damage to their homes or, if schools are closed, scrambling to find childcare even while they are taking care of you. Getting angry won’t help; you’ll get farther by kindly and calmly prefacing your question or request with, “I know that you didn’t cause this and you’re doing everything you can to take care of people. Can you tell me….” If the person is unable to satisfactorily address your need, just say, “Thank you for doing all you can for me; I need you to direct me to your manager”. Check your room phone regularly for recorded messages.
- If you decide to leave early: Do not just leave your resort or hotel without checking out with the front desk; for safety purposes, they need to have an accurate count of all guests currently staying at the hotel and they will appreciate knowing that the room is available for anyone who may need it. The front desk may also be able to arrange for a refund for unused tickets and prepaid hotel accommodations and help you cancel dining reservation to avoid “No-show” fees. It may be harder to get a refund on those things after you leave. Remember that, if Orlando is being impacted, evacuations are undoubtedly occurring all along the coastal areas so traffic may move slowly and gas and hotel accommodations may be hard to get until you get out of the region.
- Food Tip: If there is a strong probability of your trip being impacted by a hurricane, you may want to use a taxi or Uber early in the day to go to the store for food items, beverages and bottled water. Disney sold box lunches for $12.99 for guests to take to their rooms; that’s a cost of that would cost of $51.96 for one meal (sandwiches, chips, fruit, muffin & beverage) for a family of four. You don’t want to buy too much stuff as you probably won’t have to stay in your room too long but, even with taxi fare, you’ll probably save money if you’re planning for more than one meal.
- Remember that you’re still making memories: Having a hurricane impact your vacation plans can be disappointing, frustrating and stressful but you don’t want your loved ones to look back on the trip and only remember your upset reaction and your children’s anxiety in the situation will be impacted more by your emotional state than by the weather. If you can stay positive, they may actually have great memories of the time you spend together even if you end up staying in your room, watching TV.
- Book your trip through a Travel Agent who specializes in Disney Destinations - During a hurricane, there will be certain things that are best handled at the front desk of your resort but those lines get long and there may be things that a travel agent can handle on your behalf - things like cancelling dining reservations or putting in a refund request. There was a lot of confusion and conflicting information during Hurricane Matthew so it is good to have a travel agent who can pursue issues farther when you're not sure you're getting the right answers to your questions. Our travel agents special in Disney Destinations so that we stay up to date on all aspects of the trip planning process so we're a big help even if you don't need to worry about a hurricane.