Theme Park Insider

Monday Irma update: Disney and the parks take a direct hit

September 10, 2017, 11:42 PM · Hurricane Irma made its final landfall Sunday afternoon near Marco Island, then made an unexpected turn due north, taking direct aim at central Florida's theme park resort area. Irma weakened to a Category 1 hurricane by the time the remnants of its eye wall reached Lake Buena Vista and the Walt Disney World Resort around 1am this morning. But that still meant sustained winds around 85 mph and gusts around 100 mph in some areas.

Local meteorologists reported gusts of 90 mph at Disney's Contemporary Resort, where Disney had parked two of its monorail trains and sealed the track entrances to provide protection from the storm. Power outages affected millions of households around the state, but even if the power stayed on, the roar of the storm's winds made it a rough night for just about everyone in the state.

Fortunately, the parks - and the rest of the community - seem to have come through the storm about as well as could have been hoped, with damage limited to downed trees and some power lines.

Disney sent characters into all of its resort hotels on Sunday to entertain guests forced to remain inside due to the storm and the county-wide curfew meant to ensure the safety of all in the community. Orange County's curfew began at 7pm Sunday and was scheduled to continue until 6pm Monday, though officials will make the final decision when to lift the curfew based upon damage assessments and lingering effects of the storm.

Irma's wind field is massive, more than 400 miles wide. At one point Sunday evening, tropical storm-force winds extended all the way from Jacksonville to Key West. If you're not familiar with Florida geography, that's pretty much the entire state. So even though the remnants of the eye of the storm has passed, dangerous winds and rain can continue for hours longer.

Disney and Universal have said that they will reopen as scheduled on Tuesday. SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa have announced that they will take another day off to clean up and remain closed Tuesday. Legoland Florida lost power and has not yet confirmed a reopening date.

If you are in Florida, please post in the comments or tweet us your photos and video to us @ThemePark.

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Replies (21)

September 11, 2017 at 3:33 AM · My daughter is part of the Disney graduate program and was part of the ride out crew working at The Polynesian resort. Hoping she and everyone there are safe. Liz Radesich
September 11, 2017 at 7:31 AM · Living in Brandon and with a Cat 3 or 4 predicted to hit Tampa, we took refuge at Disney's All Star Music resort with our two boys. The staff has been amazing and communication has been fantastic. Even though we still ended up getting hit by the storm, everyone is safe. A huge thank you to Disney for going the extra mile.
September 11, 2017 at 8:34 AM · I am at the MK right now, It is awesome, no lines...

All I had to do was climb over a few fences.....
I have the entire park to myself!!!

Just Kidding....

September 11, 2017 at 8:40 AM · Hi. I'm currently at the Art of Animation Resort and everything's been smooth sailing here. I live in the Sanford area, and even though I didn't have to evacuate like Southern Florida residents, I like staying here because it's kind of like being on vacation. Plus, my wife feels less antsy.

The arcades are all free during hurricane time and food service was more organized and less pricey than last year. They sold an italian sub style sandwich with chips, Dasani, and an apple for 6 dollars. We stayed here because of the central hallways, but if it was up to me, I'd do an all star resort like I did last year. The walls here are awfully thin and you can hear people running upstairs nonstop and all the conversations of people walking in the hallways. It was a nightmare trying to get my kids to sleep because the murphy bed is near the room entrance. That having been said, kudos to the friendly staff. It has been a really fun stay. Plus, I really appreciate having power and running water when so many locals are without.

September 11, 2017 at 8:38 AM · On a side note, there were a lot of rooms available Friday night. Many vacationers were no shows and didn't bother to cancel their reservations. Makes me feel bad for those evacuees trying to get a room.
September 11, 2017 at 9:31 AM · God bless those workers helping folks out there.
September 11, 2017 at 9:56 AM · We are in the Caribbean Beach resort and the staff has been lovely! The walls must be thick because we heard very little noise, just the wind last night. Thank you for the movies on the TV! Helped keep the kids busy! The lunch packs were very full, tasty and not expensive! We didn't have any characters visits here but I suppose you need to be in the more expensive resorts for that.. the staff here is cleaning up and many guests are helping!
September 11, 2017 at 10:27 AM · We are the Caribbean Beach Resort. It has been remarkable watching Disney plan for and deal with the hurricane. They had palettes of bottled water available for purchase at the Magic Kingdom exit Saturday night. Snack boxes and bottled water were left in our room while we were at the park. Lunch boxes and hot meals were available until 3pm on Sunday, when the local curfew required us to return to our room (that curfew was just lifted). Disney even suspended its policy about having pets in the room so that people could evacuate here from other parts of the state. I have see many faces of cats and dogs peering out from windows from buildings here in the Jamaica section.

I can't begin to tell you how impressed we have been with all of the cast members here. Many of them volunteered to come in and stay on sight 24 hours a day. Without exception, they have been kind, patient and helpful.

When the storm did hit, it was almost a non-event. If I hadn't gotten up at 1 AM to watch the eye pass over, we would have slept through it. The buildings here at CBR are very solid. We felt perfectly safe the whole time. Outside the wind was roaring, but we could only hear it when I opened up the door to briefly stick my head out. We never lost power, water, phone, cable or WiFi service.

When the dawn came, we could see that there was some damage to the landscaping. It is now 1PM and most of that damage has already been cleared. There were no flooding issues. We have just been notified that the resort restaurants already have reopened and the parks will open on schedule tomorrow.

On a humorous note, we received a message yesterday from the CBR management apologizing that housekeeping might be delayed during the hurricane. I think I can cope with that. The eye of a hurricane passed directly over us, and Disney is apologizing that our room might not be cleaned at its usual time, and even then they set out people to go from door to door to collect trash until the weather made impossible!

I am incredibly impressed with how well Disney handled this storm. On behalf of all the evacuees and tourists who are staying at the Caribbean Beach, I offer a hearty BRAVO! to the Walt Disney World cast members. You folks somehow turned riding out the eye of a hurricane into a minor inconvenience. Well done.

September 11, 2017 at 10:47 AM · Don Lancaster - if you get to the food tent, could you ask Jiten how he and his family are and how they did during the storm. We worried about him. Tell him that Catie from Wisconsin said extra prayers for them this weekend.
September 11, 2017 at 11:21 AM · Glad to hear. We are headed to that resort in the am and you answered my question.
September 11, 2017 at 12:19 PM · @Don L ...... Try telling my friends, and all the Orlando residents who have structural damage to their homes & personal belongs, and are without power for who knows how long, Irma was a 'non event'. Enjoy your bubble that is Disney, but please remember outside the borders of Disneyworld there are those of us who live in the real Orlando, and now we have to somehow get past this and move on.
...... and just to let you know the eye of Irma did not 'pass over', we were hit with the right side of the eye wall which was the worst side for us.
September 11, 2017 at 1:03 PM · @Makorider - From numerous accounts Irma appears to have been a YMMV type of storm. I have a friend who's entire first floor was completely flooded while his neighbor was high and dry despite no noticeable topographic relief between their properties.

Being a theme park website, I think it's important to hear how the parks handled the disaster, and about general guest conditions during the storm. I don't think there was any slight to the millions of Florida residents and visitors that are now without basic utilities, homes, and property that may have included you and/or your friends/family. Positive stories like the one Don posted are often what keep people going in the face of adversity, and while I doubt everything for every person hunkering down at WDW was as rosy as portrayed, it's great to hear that in general the parks appeared to have fared well thanks to lots of advanced planning and the dedication of their cast members.

September 11, 2017 at 1:23 PM · Russell brings up a great point as so many times, a storm (and not just hurricane) can be odd with an area. I've been in a couple of periods of tornado hitting my town, I'm okay with just power and fine whereas a house just a block away is destroyed. Or the recent hard rains hitting Chicago area, my place high and dry and just blocks away entire streets flooded. Storms are funny like that so it's easy to think an entire area is okay just because your place looks fine.
September 11, 2017 at 1:36 PM · @Makorider...I have to agree with the previous two. If you experienced any devastation due to this than I am sorry. However, Don was simply sharing his experience at Disney and the great job they seemed to do in keeping everyone safe and happy. There is no need to be offended by his comment. This is a board about theme parks and the title of this very article makes no mention of anything but theme parks.The man is telling his story. Let him tell it.
September 11, 2017 at 1:59 PM · As we saw from Don's comments Disney is a million miles from reality in more ways than we might think. Even Jeff H hunkered down at WDW instead of staying at home in Sanford. Sadly the Disney magic does not extend beyond the property borders, particularly during a very powerful hurricane.
Sorry to hear about the flooding at your friend's house. So far I have escaped the wrath, but a neighbors car is hardly noticeable under a huge fallen tree and 2 of my friends are without power. My neighborhood is a sea of branches and debris, but that can be cleaned up. I don't think Irma was as bad as Charley, but it came pretty darn close.
I have nothing but admiration for all the park employees who worked thru last night, and thru today to get everything back to normal.
Maybe they can come and help us now to clear up the mess ... :)
September 11, 2017 at 2:29 PM · Yes, exactly what the hard working employees who just went through all they did to ensure guest safety want to do. Forget going to their own homes and assess damage but rather go help you clean up your neighborhood. I know that is not what you meant but for someone quick to take things out of context...that was a swing and a miss.
September 11, 2017 at 3:00 PM · Good point Barry, and I stand corrected. No harm meant.
All employees at our 3 major parks who were on duty last night need our thanks, but being a Seaworld passholder my personal thoughts and thanks go to those at the park who stayed on to look after their family of animals.
September 11, 2017 at 3:42 PM · I believe we actually have a some footage of Disney workers on their way to clean up the damage
right here
September 12, 2017 at 12:26 AM · Well played, Chad. Many thanks to the Disney cast members who helped (most) people still enjoy their vacation -- I did see a reply to a news article on the Orlando Sentinel saying that their WDW Resort (they did not specify which) only had turkey sandwiches and chicken nuggets for two days, no movies (as an IP-address poster above mentioned having), and "nothing planned" for guests.

Kinda makes me think that a Kissimmee Super 8 is where they were staying based on the above comments (side note: on my first WDW trip I stayed at the Super 8 in Kissimmee and it was miserable -- they only provided transportation to the parks after you sat through a long time-share presentation each day, and the last bus back from Epcot left when the park closed -- and also when Illuminations started).

But, again, your mileage may vary. Maybe it was someone who wasn't in the know about the options available to them. Could also be one of those "let me speak to your manager" types who look for things to be wrong and ignore the things that are right because they love to complain.

Or, they could be on the ball, and had a genuine bad experience. Perhaps Caribbean Beach was fantastic, and one (or more) of the All Stars wasn't so good (you know, like when it comes to bus service to/from the parks during busy seasons, where moderate/deluxe resorts tend to have quicker service than the value resorts).

All I can say is that those cast members who stayed on site for the hurricane to try to help guests still have a good time, even through a hurricane, and no matter which resort they were at, are fantastic people for doing so, and did the best they could under trying circumstances.

September 12, 2017 at 12:26 AM · Well played, Chad. Many thanks to the Disney cast members who helped (most) people still enjoy their vacation -- I did see a reply to a news article on the Orlando Sentinel saying that their WDW Resort (they did not specify which) only had turkey sandwiches and chicken nuggets for two days, no movies (as an IP-address poster above mentioned having), and "nothing planned" for guests.

Kinda makes me think that a Kissimmee Super 8 is where they were staying based on the above comments (side note: on my first WDW trip I stayed at the Super 8 in Kissimmee and it was miserable -- they only provided transportation to the parks after you sat through a long time-share presentation each day, and the last bus back from Epcot left when the park closed -- and also when Illuminations started).

But, again, your mileage may vary. Maybe it was someone who wasn't in the know about the options available to them. Could also be one of those "let me speak to your manager" types who look for things to be wrong and ignore the things that are right because they love to complain.

Or, they could be on the ball, and had a genuine bad experience. Perhaps Caribbean Beach was fantastic, and one (or more) of the All Stars wasn't so good (you know, like when it comes to bus service to/from the parks during busy seasons, where moderate/deluxe resorts tend to have quicker service than the value resorts).

All I can say is that those cast members who stayed on site for the hurricane to try to help guests still have a good time, even through a hurricane, and no matter which resort they were at, are fantastic people for doing so, and did the best they could under trying circumstances.

September 13, 2017 at 7:51 PM · @Makorider - I am truly sorry to hear that so many in Orlando suffered such great damage due to Irma. I apologize if I seemed insensitive. My wording was unfortunate and I can understand how I could have been easily misunderstood. As others have stated, my intent was not to say that Irma was a non-event for everyone, but rather to show how much Disney's hard work and preparation was able to make it a non-event for those of us staying at the CBR.

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