Making the best of a Hurricane at Disney World
Since moving to Florida three and a half years ago, we have learned one thing with certainty – the weather will impact your Disney plans at some point! Some people just brace for the fact that inclement weather will ruin their plans at some point or another, while others learn to dance in their ponchos in the rain. However, one weather event that no one can ignore are hurricanes. Hurricanes pose a unique threat to the Sunshine State affecting millions of people living here and thousands and thousands of vacationers and their plans. If you are one of the thousands of people who will be traveling to a Disney resort during hurricane season, this post is for you.
The number one rule for a successful Disney vacation during a hurricane is MAKE THE BEST OF IT! I know hurricanes can literally put a damper on your vacation, but remember it’s also putting a damper on the cast members’ ability to provide the usual magical experience they are trained to give. Oftentimes, these adjustments and cancellations can provide the best family memories to look back on. Laugh things off, marvel in the storm preparations around the park and have fun watching the storm related meltdowns from other families who are not making the best of it. : )
Disney Prepares and You Should Too
I know making the best of it is sometimes easier said than done, especially if you are worried. Whether you find yourself on vacation during a hurricane or you find yourself looking for somewhere to ride out the storm as a local, know that Disney is prepared. While most visitors to Orlando might experience a once in a lifetime hurricane-while-at-WDW scenario, the fact is that Disney deals with this EVERY YEAR. It’s not called Hurricane Season for nothin’! Each year there are threats of hurricanes or tropical weather events that are worth paying attention to starting June 1st lasting technically through November 1st. You should at the least, mentally prepare for the possibility of a hurricane affecting your plans.
WDW has an Emergency Operations Center that prepares formal hazardous weather plans and training for cast members. WDW is also the first park to be certified under the NOAA StormReady designations given in Florida. (https://www.weather.gov/StormReady) An important distinction that demonstrates Disney’s commitment to safety and the comfort of their guests that I appreciate.
The good thing about Hurricanes is that you get plenty of advanced notice that they are coming. Days- or even weeks- before the hurricane or tropical event actually hits, you’ll see weather reports. This will give vacationers plenty of time to decide whether or not to carry on with their vacay or put their handy dandy trip insurance to work. If you do decide to proceed with your vacation, know that you may experience a bit of an altered experience than if the weather was prefect. Days before the hurricane is scheduled to hit, you will notice cast members preparing all over the WDW property. You may notice tables and chairs being taken away or umbrellas or other décor being removed or tied down.
If you are planning a vacation or staycation during a hurricane at a Disney with children, prepare for some downtime. Bring additional items to occupy their minds while waiting. It’s possible you might be locked down in your room for a period of time with the possibility of power outages so pack accordingly. While some Disney resorts will provide flashlights or other magical pixie dust, it’s not guaranteed. An inexpensive trip to the dollar store before your trip to get flashlights, games, etc. could save your family during an electricity free lock down.
WDW Official Hurricane Policy https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/faq/hurricane-policy/
Park Savers sells discounted tickets to Walt Disney World and provides coverage for Walt Disney World tickets incase of a hurricane. Either change your dates for free or cancel if needed.
Disney is in Central Florida – which is INLAND
An important factor is Disney’s location. Disney is located in Lake Buena Vista Florida which is INLAND. The majority of destruction and concern from hurricanes come from flooding or raised water levels. Evacuations seldom occur for the risk of high wind alone. If a Hurricane is projected to hit Southern Florida, many times it’s the high schools and public municipalities in and around Orlando become storm shelters – the place where people are evacuating TO, not fleeing from.
Disney resorts and property were built with this in mind. They are built to withstand hurricane force conditions for properties built inland. Being inland pretty much guarantees no ocean storm surge flooding in the Disney area. While Disney could very well be in the direct path of a hurricane in the future, this placement inland allows for a very good chance of the wind weakening by the time it would arrive to the WDW area.
Additional precautions are taken into account for guests staying where there are non-traditional hotel/motel style accommodations such as the Treehouse Villas of Disney Saratoga Springs Resort and the Fort Wilderness Resort Cabins as well as those staying at the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds either in tents or in an RV. They will have to move to a different resort, they cannot make the best of being exposed in a hurricane on Disney property, understandably. 🙂
Making the Best of It!
You are going to be at the most magical place on earth, so with a little preparation, you can leave the worrying up to the cast members and make the best of your time here. Part of Disney’s emergency planning includes what do to with guests and guest amenities during times when guests are either on lock down in their rooms or times where there are limited attractions and venues open because of the storms and guests are simply stuck with nowhere to really go. Disney may reduce services and amenities to accommodate the preparations needed. This could include anything from limited food and beverage services, reduced activities or amenities (think pool closings), and the like. On the flip slide, the parks will remain open as long as possible and you will definitely find some reduced crowds.
Even with the reduced crowds being a plus, it still could be disappointing to not have access to all of the amenities you expected or planned for while on your vacation. Disney hotels will, at times, refund resort fees or other amenities fees. During Dorian the Swan and Dolphin did not charge their resort fee for our stay. There was no in room dining, no housekeeping, no Dolphin Club Kids Club activities, no swan boats and the pools closed for a large period of time. Conversely, some Disney hotels may add amenities or loosen some of their rules to accommodate this special circumstance. For instance, Disney hotels will usually allow dogs during times when there is a declared emergency.
Most Disney hotels will offer additional character appearances throughout the hotels and reduced meals are often quietly offered to guests. During Hurricane Dorian, several of the character buffet restaurants offered deeply discounted meals for those stuck on property. For example, Chef Mickey offered their full buffet sans characters for $12 for adults and $6 for children. (Yes, you read that correctly.) This was also reported at several other resort buffets. Characters appear in lobbies and restaurants to entertain children of all ages. Dance parties may bust out in the lobby. It’s great. No matter what the situation, know that Disney will do it’s best to sprinkle pixie dust around.
If you find yourself with some extra downtime, and not on lockdown in your room, it’s also a great time to explore the resort property, take advantage of photo ops and have fun just being outside in the windy conditions. Make documenting your hurricane vacation will be part of the fun. With reduced crowds it’s the perfect time to get access to some photo pass spots that are usually a long wait or areas around the parks where crowds can gather. Think about how great it would be to be able to take your time posing in front of the purple wall.
Another amazing advantage to lower crowds is restaurant availability. With the My Disney Experience App, you can snag yourself a hard to get restaurant reservation the day of. This is priceless and a great way to make the best of your time in the parks if some rides are down due to lightening in the area or other weather related issues. We were able to grab a spot at our favorite Epcot eatery Via Napoli, a place we have trouble getting into and ran into a bunch of our local friends who were doing the same! A great hurricane memory for sure!
Some resorts have some fun food areas or shops to take advantage of. At the Swan and Dolphin, there is even a fun Fro Yo bar to enjoy if stuck inside. It’s inside their quick serve store, FUEL and offers a wide array of treats for children and adults alike. There is even a full, beautiful candy store, coffee shop and adult beverages. In addition to food fun, many resorts have an in house arcade, caricature artists and other fun activities indoors to take advantage of. I find these moments in the arcade can be some of our best memories.
When you can venture back into the outside world again, we have found the best hurricane time for rides and lines is the day immediately following the storm. This is when only those who are on property seem to be around and the crowd levels are great, line waiting times are low and characters are itching to interact with guests. This alone may make up for losing a day or two to a storm.
One of the most important things I feel I need to mention that helps me make the best of any situation is to make sure to keep yourself informed of all of the official announcements from WDW. Making the best of a hurricane will only be possible if you know the facts and can plan accordingly. It is imperative to make sure to read all posted signs and written communication from your resort, check the My Disney Experience App often and pay attention to Cast Member cues. Make sure you get information directly from your airline carrier, other transportation companies or directly from your travel agent. Remember, each resort has their own team on hand to deal with the storm as it will affect their resort directly so trust the cast members where you are. If they say they are closing at 3pm, get out by 3pm. The My Disney Experience App is a must have communication tool. WDW will push announcements, and info directly through the app. During Hurricane Dorian, the parks were scheduled to close at 2pm or 3pm. Once the storm passing over us looked likely, they adjusted certain park hours and remained open by pushing a message out through the app.
Download the My Disney Experience App
If you find yourself at a WDW resort hotel during a storm like this, here are a few other things to keep in mind to keep your visit magical and not tragical:
- Most parking is outside and uncovered lots. Maybe try to park away from trees, but just know that in a tropical event, there will be debris and it may hit your car.
- WDW Transportation will STOP completely at some point so make sure to pay attention to all information that is announced. You don’t want to get stuck somewhere. If you DO get stuck, make the best of it and ride in style in a Minnie Van which will probably stop running after the buses do. (Although, not by much!)
- Check with your travel agent, airline or airport for information regarding cancelled or delayed flights. Follow their directions and contact WDW should your arrival be impacted due to the storm. Maybe try to arrive early to squeeze in a few non storm hours to your visit.
- The WDW App will push out info and alerts before during and after the weather event. Make sure you have that downloaded with notifications turned on.
- Listen to the cast members giving you directions. If they tell you to go to your room, go to your room. If you can explore your hotel, do so. Remember, Disney Magic can happen anywhere and your favorite characters just might be hunkering down at your hotel as well!
- Pack a small “hurricane kit” in case you are stuck in your room on a lockdown. It’s quite possible to lose power during these storms, so flashlights, portable phone chargers, games, etc. might come in handy. (It’s much cheaper to bring these items than buy them at the resorts.)
Stay safe and have a magical time!
– Stephanie Sacro @magicalmemoriesandmayhem @sacrolife
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.