Everything you need to know about Disney World and hurricanes

August 12, 2016, 11:01 AM · A Theme Park Insider reader just wrote to ask about visiting the Walt Disney World Resort during hurricane season. The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through November 30, but late August through September typically seems to be the peak time when hurricanes strike Florida and the rest of the US east and Gulf coasts.

With many US schools heading back into session in mid- to late August, the next several weeks after that tend to be one of the better times of the year to visit Disney, if you're looking to avoid those big summer crowds. But what about those hurricanes? Let's take a look at some of the things visitors ought to know about Disney World and hurricanes.

1. Yes, Disney World can close during a hurricane

But it almost never happens. The Walt Disney World theme parks have closed for hurricanes in 1999 and 2004. The longest the parks were closed on any one of those occasions was for two days. That's less than a week of lost operation in the nearly 45 years that the resort has been open.

Florida's a big place. While you might read about hurricanes hitting Florida every year, if you pay close attention you'll probably notice that each one always makes landfall someplace different in the state. While the effects of a hurricane may be felt throughout Florida (and the entire southeast!), a direct hit on any one specific location that causes it close is relatively rare.

Especially for a place that is located inland. Remember that the Walt Disney World Resort is located in the Orlando area, nearly an hour inland from the coast. When a hurricane hits land, it begins to lose strength quickly. In practice, when a hurricane is forecast to hit Florida, many Floridians living on or near the coast where the hurricane is forecast to make landfall will evacuate to... Orlando. The huge number of hotel rooms available in the Orlando area during what is typically a slower than normal time for tourism make it an attractive place to retreat and ride out the storm.

2. Even if Disney closes, people still will be there

If the theme parks close, Disney won't kick people out of its hotels. You'll be able to remain there to ride out the storm. And thousands of Disney cast members will remain on the job, staffing the hotels and "battening down the hatches" in the parks and throughout the property. Cast members will remove or secure anything that could blow away or become damaged in the high winds of a hurricane, then remain in place to begin preparing the resort to resume normal operations as soon as possible after the storm passes. Don't expect a full range of services, of course, but you won't be left to fend for yourself in an abandoned resort.

3. If a storm comes, you'll get plenty of warning

Hurricanes aren't earthquakes. Thanks to weather satellites and modern weather forecasting, they no longer strike without warning. You will know days in advance if a hurricane is on track to hit Central Florida, giving you time to adjust your travel plans, if necessary. So watch those forecasts!

4. You can get a refund, if necessary

Walt Disney World's policy is to allow people to cancel without penalty a Walt Disney Travel Company vacation package or room stay booked with Disney if a hurricane warning is issued for the Orlando area - or for your hometown - within seven days of your scheduled arrival. You won't be charged a cancellation or change fee if you cancel, and you will get a full refund of what you've paid. If you wish, you can reschedule to another date without a change fee, although your new reservation will be subject to availability.

If you've booked anything outside Disney, such as airfare, rental cars or rooms elsewhere, you're on your own for those. Check with those providers for their hurricane policies, or consider a travel insurance policy that covers hurricanes. The Universal Orlando Resort has pretty much the same policy for its vacations as Disney — no cancellation or change fees if there's a hurricane warning issued for within seven days of your arrival.

If you decide to take your chances, do prepare for rainy weather. A hurricane might officially miss the Orlando area, but that just means that part of the storm where wind speed reached 75 mph or more failed to hit the community. Wind and rain from the outer bands of the storm might still hit the area. As anyone who's been to Disney during a summer thunderstorm can tell you, some attractions close in stormy weather. Bring a poncho and be ready to be flexible with your plans each day.

5. Florida's used to this

Like we said, Disney will assign cast members to prepare the resort for an incoming storm and to get it ready for normal operation as soon as possible after the storm passes. Businesses and communities in Florida have hurricane plans, and the experience to get through the storm. While places on the coast that sustained the direct hit might be out of commission for a while, that tends not to be an issue in the Orlando area. While you might choose to cancel if your vacation was scheduled for the same week that a hurricane hit, you probably don't have to worry about a vacation scheduled for even a week later. Yes, airlines will need time to work through schedule disruptions, just as they do for a wide variety of summer rain and winter storms. But Disney recovered quickly after the few times in closed in the past and has plans in place to be up and running quickly after the next hurricane strikes, too.

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Replies (9)

August 12, 2016 at 12:45 PM · I was on vacation with my young (at the time) kids in Disney in 2004 when Hurricane Frances hit. I believe the parks were closed for 2 days but the resort (where we stayed) was open.

Disney handled everything very well. We received 2 day park passes to use at any time in the future to make up for the 2 missed days. The resorts staff still kept everything running smooth.

I always half jokingly tell people that the best time to visit Disney World is the few days before a hurricane is going to hit. There were no crowds in the parks and we saw and did more in the 3 days that we were there than we normally could have done in 5 days. We went on our favorite rides as many times as we wanted with hardly any wait.

August 12, 2016 at 1:34 PM · A hurricane hasn't hit Florida directly in nearly 11 years, so "used to this" is relative. There are lots of new folks to Florida since then.
August 12, 2016 at 4:58 PM · As a former cast member I experienced working during a tropical storm that hit Orlando in 2008. While obviously not the intensity of a hurricane it was still 2-3 days of crazy strong winds and pounding rains. And the parks were open with just outside attractions and shows closed. The message we were being communicated by managers was that the guests had committed a good deal of their time and money to come to Disney and have a great vacation. so as cast we were to try and make their experience still awesome even in the storm. It was a unique couple of days. But both guests and cast made the best of it. And not surprising ponchos were big sellers. Umbrellas were fairly ineffective due to the wind.
August 13, 2016 at 9:52 AM · Agree with above. Complete apathy has set in amongst the population, since it has been so long since FL's last storm.
August 13, 2016 at 2:53 PM · We went through hurricane Jean about 11 years ago. At the time it was quite scary. We had been watching the path of Jean for about a week before we travelled, in the hope it would miss Orlando but in the end it passed directly over Orlando. The eye of the storm passed about 2 am in the morning, and we spent the day before at seaworld which closed early that day, by the time we left the park at about 5.30 anything that could be moved had been including chairs, tables, litter bins and anything else not fastened down. The wind was starting to pick up but not too bad. When we returned to our hotel we had been given a letter with instructions for the hurricane, we were to fill our bath with water, keep the curtains closed and sleep in the bed furthest from the window. All the sun loungers at the hotel had been sunk to the bottom of the pool. Our room was protected from the worst of the winds but it was still a worrying night. I remember standing on the balcony at about midnight and having to hold the handrails as the wind was very strong. Next morning the sight that greeted us was pretty amazing, there was leaves and rubbish all over traffic lights and lampposts had been brought down, large tree branches had been ripped off trees and in one case had gone through the window of a car. We were not allowed to leave the hotel for 2 days to give the city workers chance to get out and make repairs and make sure things were safe. All parks were closed for the 2 days ( but that was more state law made it an offence to be out on the roads if you did not need to be there) on the third day we went back to Epcot the journey there presented more evidence of the storm, fallen trees, destroyed signs etc.. When we got into the park you could have been in a different state, there was not a leaf or flower out if place. Every flower bed had been replanted and not a thing was out if place, we found this in all the parks we visited after the storm. I will say that everywhere we went before the storm there was never any panic everybody took things in their stride and went about their jobs with a very professional attitude. We were informed at all times of what to do, and the hotel provided everything we needed. Our experience would not stop us visiting Orlando during hurricane season again and in fact we have since been back 3 times during October, but have not experienced another hurricane since.
August 13, 2016 at 5:42 PM · We were staying in a cabin in Fort Wilderness in 2005 when a hurricane in the Gulf turned towards Orlando. Our experience with Disney was unbelievably bad, to the point that we don't book in Fort Wilderness during hurricane season. Things to note:

1. Our evacuation room was at the far end of All Star Sports, in a building filled with creepy-looking Katrina refugees, and cut off from any means of feeding our kids for a 12 hour period until the storm winds subsided.

2. Food service at All Star Sports was beyond minimal. We finally ventured out and fed our kids at the McDonalds near Animal Kingdom, where the utility workers stage for deployment in Central Florida.

3. Housekeeping helped themselves to the food in our cabin during the evacuation. Management claimed that this was a "precaution" against spoiled food contaminating the refrigerator, but the cabins never lost power. Hope the maids enjoyed the steaks; they left the hamburger.

4. The $79 night at All Star Sports was billed as a night at the $200+ cabin since we accepted evacuation instead of checking out.

5. No apologies, passes, refunds, etc. at checkout.

Florida has not had substantial storms in 10 years. Disney reaction to recent tropical storms is not necessarily the same response they will have to a *hurricane* like we experienced.

August 14, 2016 at 2:56 PM · I think what Robert meant wasn't that we had become used to hurricanes specifically, but really terrible thunderstorms in general. If you've lived in Florida long enough, you kinda develop this superhuman ability to sense when rain is coming. The minute you see a collection of clouds in the distance, or feel the wind starting to pick up, you know to prepare for the worst. But we can still be taken by surprise by just how severe a storm is. Tropical Storm Debbie for instance. Yikes.
August 14, 2016 at 5:54 PM · We lived 11 year in Florida 5 minutes down the road of WDW. We had during that period a few hurricanes but as soon as they come on land they die down into a tropical storm most of the time or loos mayor strengt.
In the parks (Disney or Universal) you are safe. Everything is build to withstand enormous force unlike most of the general homes in the state.
It's best to stay at your resort and listen to instruction from the staff.
And don't take the news to seriously. They report it if the world will come to an end, it doesn't.
August 16, 2016 at 3:50 PM · I went to Animal Kingdom during a tropical storm in 2012. The storm just missed Orlando so everything was open. The longest we waited was 5 minutes for Dinosaur.

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