Hurricane-force winds are expected in the Orlando area Sunday morning, according to the latest National Hurricane Center forecasts. Guests staying at the hotels at the resorts may be confined to their rooms for much of Sunday and Monday as the storm moves through the area. Disney and Universal have urged their guests to stockpile food and water in their rooms and told them not to expect housekeeping services during the storm. Both resorts have planned to provide limited food service on Sunday and Monday and have cast and team members on site to provide what other support they can.
Flights will stop at 5pm today at the Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World has said that it will stop all resort transportation by 10pm tonight. The last theme parks to close will be Epcot and the Magic Kingdom at 9pm, and those will be hard closes - not the usual "if you're in line at close, go ahead and ride, then take your time as you stroll out of the park" close.
Not that there will be many people to shoo away. Crowds have evaporated at Disney and Universal as the storm moves closer to Florida. Visitors yesterday reported nearly empty pathways and even a five-minute standby queue wait for the normally-ever-crowded Soarin' ride at Epcot. State officials have urged people to complete their storm preparations and to be sheltered by 5pm, and it seems that the vast majority of visitors at Disney and Universal are heeding that advice instead of playing in the parks.
But for locals and tourists who have their supplies in place and safe place to ride out the storm, the Disney and Universal parks yesterday and today have provided a place for a momentary break from the stress of the approaching storm. With Irma raising the stakes for the community, what you can or can't get to in the parks really doesn't matter right now, allowing the few people who are out in the parks to just enjoy a few moments of literal calm before the storm.
If you are in the parks today, please offer your thanks to the cast members there supporting you. They are central Florida residents with their own homes and families to care for, too, and deserve your support as they do what they can to support you. If you are at Disney, tweet helpful cast members' names to @WDWToday with the hashtag #CastCompliment. At Universal, tweet helpful team members' names to @UniversalORL.
And despite the resort's rules against tipping, we wholeheartedly support pressing a few bills into employees' hands today. They are supposed to refuse three times, so insist, if you do. The people of central Florida are going to be facing immense expenses to repair and rebuild next week, so the more money that tourists leave behind in the community — in the hands of the people who live there — the faster the community can recover.
Again, if you are in Florida today, we would love to hear from you. Leave a comment or tweet us @ThemePark. Everyone in the theme park community around the world is sending their best wishes to you today and throughout the storm.
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