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JOE INSIDER - Hurricane Wrap-up

Brief details on the damage done to Central Florida's major theme parks by Hurricane Charley.

Written by Joe Lane
Published: August 17, 2004 at 6:31 PM

JOE INSIDER – Hurricane Wrap-up
Storm Hits Close To Home

Friday, August 13 2004 will be a date to remember for millions of Florida residents and tourists. It's a day where Mother Nature showed just how unpredictable she can be. Not only did Hurricane Charley alter his course as predicted by the National Weather Service and countless meteorological organizations, but it strengthened from a Category 2 to a Category 4 in a mere matter of hours. Winds increased from 110 to 155 mph, with storm surges growing from eight to eighteen feet. The resulting chaos left 19 dead and more than half a million without power or homeless.

Charley carved a path north-northwest through the state of Florida, taking it right through Orlando. Immediate concern is naturally for the safety of the people, however, once the ordeal has subsided, theme park fans might hold some interest in how the Orlando parks fared in the high winds of a hurricane. The good news is, the parks withstood the storm surprisingly well.

While Busch Gardens Tampa had been closed all day Friday in anticipation of a direct hit from Charley, the Orlando parks planned on closing around 1 or 2 in the afternoon.

General consensus at all the major parks involved minor damage, mostly to landscaping and other superficial elements, not to mention scattered debris. News reports and articles are easy to come by, if you search for them. Phone lines were jammed this past weekend as Guests called in to ask about park operating hours.

At the Walt Disney World Resort, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and the Disney-MGM Studios were open on time Saturday morning. Animal Kingdom remained closed, reportedly due to the fact that there weren't enough Cast Members to keep all four parks fully staffed. Universal Orlando parks opened about thirty minutes late while workers cleared debris. SeaWorld opened three hours after their normal operating hours, because they suffered some damage on the theater seating area for their Fusion water sport show. The show did not perform Saturday. Discovery Cove was closed all day Saturday as workers went to great lengths to fix the damaged landscape, including restocking beach sand.

For more information, check out the Readers' Hurricane Charley Reports here on Theme Park Insider.

Readers' Opinions

From Adrian Walker on August 18, 2004 at 1:42 AM
I'am glad to hear that the theme parks are okay for the moment. From my trip report "back from florida" I was thinking, if we went there a little later well...It would have been our first hurricane experience.
From mark walker on August 18, 2004 at 2:23 AM
Adrian, I'd rather not have a hurricane experience. Twister at USF is enough. Anyway at least the theme parks didn't suffer destroyed rides.
From Ray Schroeder on August 18, 2004 at 9:46 AM
I'm glad the parks remained relatively intact. No more hurricanes. I don't want my trip in October spoiled. Too bad that ugly EPCOT sign on Spaceship Earth didn't blow down.
From jennifer harris on August 18, 2004 at 12:12 PM
My husband, 3 year old son, and I got just got back from Orlando. We had to stay 2 extra days because of Charley. We stayed at the Wilderness Lodge and I cannot say enough good things about how well they took care of us, all of us, to ensure our safety. It should also be worth noting that it is quite impressive that all of the parks, with exception to the Animal Kingdom, were all open the very next morning, and you could not tell that a storm had passed over us. The jungle cruise was closed for all of Saturday because they had sustained a lot of damage. Terminal A at Orlando International Airport sustained some HEAVY damage. Friday the 13th was our 10 year anniversary and we were stuck in our room but it was still a great trip.
From John Franklin on August 18, 2004 at 10:01 PM
Joe, I read over at Screamscape that Cypress Gardens was damage to such a degree that the grand reopening of the park has been delayed again. The park sustained damages of $3 million.
From Joe Lane on August 18, 2004 at 10:37 PM
I'll see about digging up some information on Cypress Gardens over the next month or so--not just on the damage, but also details on what the new opening may be like--it's worth an article or two.
From Joe Lane on August 19, 2004 at 10:40 AM
SaveDisney.com has some real gut-wrenching emails from CMs, former CMs and FL residents regarding Disney being back in operation after Hurricane Charley.

I wonder how Universal and SeaWorld employees feel about their respective parks being open the very next day?

From Jason Moore on August 20, 2004 at 7:04 AM
I can't seem to find the letters you mention, and the link you posted says "oops! page can't be found." Do you think someone decided it was in bad taste? Having not read it I have no idea why they might have removed it.
From Joe Lane on August 20, 2004 at 8:22 AM
I'm not sure at all why the letters were taken off the site. Here's at least one from an employee, but there's no telling if this one will stay on the site for long or not.

A lot of the letters are from Cast Members who were held against their will past closing for undisclosed reasons, or those who came into the parks the following day and told to prune up damaged trees with handsaws before posted opening time. Meanwhile, many employees have their own problems to deal with at home. Part of it is a question of CM safety in the parks, part of it is a question of a lack of humanitarianism towards the hurricane victims.

From Robert Niles on August 20, 2004 at 10:56 AM
When I was at Disney, the company signed cast members up for a "hurricane ride-out crew." You had to be single, with no kids, to sign up, so that people with family commitments would not be kept at the parks.

The ride-out crew would prep the park for the storm by bringing benches, chairs and other portable equipment indoors or into the tunnels underneath the Magic Kingdom. They the crew would hunker down in the tunnels during the storm. After the storm passed, the crew would assess damage in their areas, request repair assistance where needed, clean up debris and return those benches and portable equipment to their proper place.

Most single folks like me I knew in attractions signed up for the duty, though the ride-out crew was never called during my years with the company. We figured there weren't any safer places in Central Florida to ride out a hurricane than the Magic Kingdom tunnels. Plus, under the contract rules at the time, the overtime and double-time pay would add up very quickly if you were stuck at the park for 24 hours or more.

From conor williams on August 22, 2004 at 5:25 AM
i was on holiday in florida at the time of the hurricane.my family and i went down to tampa four 3 days we booked into a hotel and went to busch gardens the next day.when we got back we watched the local florida weather report on a news channel and seen that charley was going to come to tampa so we went to orlando thinking it wouldnot do too much damage to orlando and then it ended up hitting orlando worse than tampa.it was very powerfull aswell palm trees snapping and 1 area near wonderworks(the upside down bulding with attractions)paving slabs had ben thrown up and trees had fell down badly.
From Cody Cromarty on August 22, 2004 at 5:42 PM
I live in Lake Mary, so the Hurricane went right over our neighborehood. This tree was uprooted on a nearby street and landed in the road. The neighborehood across from ours had a truck crushed by a tree and a fence turned into a boardwalk LOL.
From PM 24-7 on August 23, 2004 at 6:06 PM
I thought that Cypress Gardens closed down in April 2003...

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