What happens to your vacation if a hurricane hits Florida?

September 5, 2017, 5:06 PM · A week after Hurricane Harvey inundated Texas' Gulf coast, the Category 5 Hurricane Irma is roaring through the Caribbean, with a five-day tracking cone that puts its target on Florida.

Right now, Irma's eye is forecast to hit the Florida Keys and spare the state's mainland. But a storm this massive brings damaging winds and rains far beyond its core. Much of south Florida will get hit with major hurricane-force winds if Irma keeps to its predicted path. And central Florida's theme parks are not out of danger, should the storm bear just a little to the north.

What does this mean if you have planned a Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando vacation for the next week or so?

First, both Disney and Universal have policies that allow you to cancel or reschedule your vacation booked through them without penalty should a hurricane warning be issued for the Orlando area (or your hometown) within seven days of your scheduled arrival date. (Here are the details for Disney and for Universal.) Right now, there is no hurricane warning for the Orlando area, though schools in the Miami area are calling off classes for later this week, as people there prepare for the storm's possible arrival.

Call +1-407-939-7675 for Disney and +1-800-711-0080 for Universal to cancel or rebook, if a hurricane warning is issued and you don't want to travel to the area. Do note that anything not booked through the resorts, including airfare, rental cars and tickets for other attractions, is not included under these guarantees. You're still on the hook for those. And if you booked your own deal, not through the resorts, you're also on your own.

Beyond that, last year during hurricane season we detailed Everything you need to know about Disney World and hurricanes, and that information still applies. Yes, the parks can close, and will, if hurricane force winds are anywhere near the parks. People will remain on staff at local hotels, but food options might be severely limited during the storm. Keep checking the National Hurricane Center for forecasts, and if you are in the area when a storm is forecast to hit, stock up with the food, water, medicine, and entertainment you will need to get you through the storm, should you lose power and access to other utilities.

Irma is forecast to hit the Keys on Sunday afternoon. A Category 5 storm (on a scale of 1-5) with sustained winds of 185 mph, Irma right now is more powerful than Hurricane Andrew, which obliterated many areas south of Miami in 1992. (And provided many of those permanently twisted palm trees you now see in Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure, because I have to slip in some theme park trivia here.)

And don't overlook Hurricane Jose, now hanging out in the Atlantic Ocean behind Irma. Jose's tracking cone has that storm heading north up the coast and avoiding Florida, but it's really too early to tell where, or if, that storm will hit land.

On a personal note, I have a reservation to fly to Orlando at the end of next week for the opening of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando on Sept. 15. I'm not canceling anything right now... but I am paying attention to the NHC, just as many Florida residents are. If you are planning a trip to the state this month, you should be watching the tropical forecasts, too.

Replies (18)

September 5, 2017 at 5:53 PM · Great write up Robert.
To add to your advice ... most of Orlando is in panic mode with bottled water, bread, chips and numerous other food items impossible to find. Gas stations, especially Costco and Sams are 5-6 deep with cars filling up. I have friends who work at Publix and they say they can't keep anything on the store shelves. It's totally insane here right now, but anyone coming needs to know what they are going to be facing once they touch down at OIA.
We will know for sure later in the week just what will be coming our way.
September 5, 2017 at 6:27 PM · Thank you for the timely information. My wife and I were scheduled to drive to Florida from SC Friday at noon for the weekend and the DVC Animal Kingdom party next Wednesday night.

We have been watching this and I was going to look up disney's policies on storms tonight.

HHN starts next Friday? Might have to stay an extra couple of nights if we end up going. I missed it last year and regret it.

September 5, 2017 at 8:52 PM · I was living in Jacksonville in 1992 when Andrew hit and even though we were far off, we still got effects of pouring rain and such. Also was at Disney World in Thanksgiving, 1988 when Keith threatened although by the time it reached land, it was downgraded to tropical storm. Still, a slew of rain and wind hitting just as Epcot was getting out. It can be rough as even a "light" storm is something in Florida and if folks as inland as Orlando are worried, imagine the coasts.
September 5, 2017 at 8:59 PM · Just a heads up that Universal will now let you cancel your reservation if you are coming this weekend even though a Hurricane Watch has not been formally announced. This morning it looked like it might be hitting Florida on Saturday, so we cancelled our reservation that was to start Friday without any problems.
September 6, 2017 at 1:58 AM · We lived in Orlando for 11 years and I always was amazed about the hype the media produced about the hurricane's. But most people who lived there their whole life where pretty laid back about it. Florida has the most advanced weather prediction system I know. Due to cape canaveral and their rocket launches and also due to these weather phenomenons. More problematic are the twisters that can happen in an instance so the advice is to keep away from windows and stay inside. You always should be prepared to have food and water in home wherever you live, make sure you have enough medications etc. Use your brain and don't get intimidated by the media (except for Robert who did a great job here).
September 6, 2017 at 3:46 AM · I agree that the media LOVES to hype even the smallest storm and whirl everyone into a frenzy. It's a TV ratings and web click gold rush for them. But I think some of the hype here is justified with Irma. This is a powerful storm. People that have lived here a long time (myself) and even "lifers" are keeping a close eye on this storm. I don't think any of us really want to be part of the first major field test for how well the post-Andrew Miami-Dade building code holds up.

To add to @Makorider's account of the full-on freak out happening here in Florida ... traffic is unimaginable and will just get worse

September 6, 2017 at 9:17 AM · Ok so I have a question for you locals. I'm scheduled to go to Universal on the 12th, which should be two day the hurricane hits. Now I know there is no way to know the exact impact of the storm until it happens, but should I reschedule? What should I expect if I don't/can't change my plans? Are attractions typically shut down after a storm? Is it possible HHN be on 09/15 will be cancelled?
September 6, 2017 at 10:11 AM · Great write up. Thanks for providing this thoughtful, practical information.
September 6, 2017 at 1:25 PM · I mean a category 3 hurricane would still be huge but the media loves to proclaim a category 5 hurricane will hit florida still as a category 5.
September 6, 2017 at 5:14 PM · Anon, as Roberts other blog explains, Orlando is inland and tropical storms dissipate fast over land. Their longest park shutdown was 2 days.

Ultimately what happens with attractions is down to the storm - what it damages, whether power goes out, whether access is blocked, etc. It's a big bundle of unknown.

I have a friend who works on a golf course down to the south and the last direct hit slugged them for 12 days... but they don't have a Disney budget and are coastal.

I would suggest taking the fact that an official watch hasn't been called to your advantage and ensure you have travel insurance that will cover cancellation or early abandonment of your trip in the event a storm watch is called.

September 6, 2017 at 1:52 PM · Be aware that, in a hurricane, Disney will evacuate the Fort Wilderness cabins to a "Value" resort, specifically one of the All Star buildings, unless you bargain with them and are willing to pay the difference for a better hotel on the property.

I speak from experience when I say that you do *not* want to be out in one of the All Star buildings in a hurricane. Unlike the much-publicized storm accommodations at the high end and mid-tier resorts, food service provided will be minimal, and you will have to walk outside in the wind/rain to reach it.

September 6, 2017 at 3:25 PM · Sunday and Monday are forecast to be the worst 2 days. Everything seems set for a relatively normal central Florida Friday but it potentially goes downhill fast after that. Where Irma makes its predicted north turn will determine how much Orlando will be effected. It's such a large and powerful storm that even if it heads up the east coast we are going to get strong winds and plenty of rain.
Seaworld has cancelled its passholder picnic for Saturday and just a moment ago the local news showed photos of cranes at the MK taking the spires off Cinderella's castle ... so Disney is getting ready as well. With all the evacuees heading in our direction its only going to get more and more packed on the roads in central Florida !!!
If anyone is scheduled to arrive at OIA either Sunday or Monday then be prepared for flight cancellations.
September 6, 2017 at 5:35 PM · My family and I are scheduled to arrive in Orlando on the 16th. I've never been to Florida. I'm hoping and praying that there won't be any problems since its five days after the hurricane hits.
September 7, 2017 at 11:58 AM · My family and I were going to Disney World Sept 9th - 15th. I called and I guess due to the state of emergency the Disney operator said they are granting full refunds. We did have to wait at least an hour on hold to get through. Do not know if this applies to the Halloween Party. We were given a different phone number since that is a different booking and I have not been able to get through. We were schd. for Sept 10th, I imagine it will be cancelled but will have to wait and see. In the future I think we will wait to book those tickets until it gets closer. We were going to drive so no airline to deal with.
September 7, 2017 at 9:06 PM · I am scheduled to arrive on the 16th. Anyone know, given moderate damage to Disney and of course, the area, if there would be food or supplies? Could Disney still be closed by the 16th, or should they be reopened by then?
September 8, 2017 at 10:22 AM · Flying out September 16th AM from Seattle area and planning my BD weekend at Universal for the 17th (my BD) and the 18th and returning that night. Wild two day party. Not changing plans as of now but have checked into policies at Universal as I booked directly with them to stay at the Royal Pacific and then Alaska Air. Looking forward to partying next weekend and maybe bump into Mr. Niles as we'll be at the Halloween Night on Sunday the 17th also.
September 8, 2017 at 10:23 AM · Flying out September 16th AM from Seattle area and planning my BD weekend at Universal for the 17th (my BD) and the 18th and returning that night. Wild two day party. Not changing plans as of now but have checked into policies at Universal as I booked directly with them to stay at the Royal Pacific and then Alaska Air. Looking forward to partying next weekend and maybe bump into Mr. Niles as we'll be at the Halloween Night on Sunday the 17th also.
September 10, 2017 at 3:58 PM · Supposed to fly in to Orlando Wednesday 9/13/17 for 10 days at Disney. Should we cancel? Will flight even being going in to Orlando??

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