Saturday Irma update: Prepare for the worst and hope for the best

September 9, 2017, 10:27 AM · Busch Gardens Tampa and Legoland Florida did not open this morning, as the forecast path for Hurricane Irma continues to slide to the west, now targeting Florida's Gulf coast for landfall. East up Interstate 4 in Orlando, theme park fans are enjoying nearly empty parks at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, where the parks will close this evening before a planned two-day shutdown.

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.

More storm coverage on Theme Park Insider:

Replies (11)

September 9, 2017 at 12:46 PM · Good luck everyone. I fear you may need it.
September 9, 2017 at 3:32 PM · In St. Augustine, Florida currently, ready for the storm to come. I attend a university in South Florida, so am very thankful for any prayers or thoughts to go with them!
September 9, 2017 at 4:05 PM · Praying for all in that state.
September 9, 2017 at 6:29 PM · Sending my prayers to everyone in Florida or who's running away from the hurricane. I can't imagine how it's like, but it can't be easy.
September 10, 2017 at 4:50 AM · I sitting here safe in Ohio, but have a question that I hope someone somewhere can answer for me. I follow a blogger from Orlando who said that Governor Scott of Florida wanted everyone to be in their place of shelter by 5 p.m. Saturday, yet MK and Epcot were open until 9 p.m. That meant that park employees should have been home or in shelter four hours earlier, and to me that seems to be forcing them to be in a risky situation. As important as Disney is to people, it's not an emergency shelter nor a hospital. The employees should not be put at risk to keep some people entertained. How does Disney justify this?
September 10, 2017 at 6:29 AM · @James I did not hear or see any comments from Governor Scott, however, my opinion for what it is worth is that the state of Florida is fairly long (~450 miles). To think as the hurricane has yet to even hit the keys (Sunday morning) that people in central or north florida should already be sheltering in place seems like a stretch. Everybody should definitely have a plan by then but I don't see it as a risky situation for Disney cast members or feel Disney is putting anybody at risk to keep some people entertained as you say.
September 10, 2017 at 8:49 AM · I got a friend in Boca Raton who is watching it physically as we speak (obviously he's not in the direct line anymore). Maps suggest its just touching the everglades now.
September 10, 2017 at 10:07 AM · It's been raining all day here in Orlando and as the storm moves further north we will start to see the TS, then hurricane, force winds. It's supposedly going to come overnight, so the view at 7pm tonight may be a whole lot different when compared to 7am on Monday. All we can do is watch this thing pass by and do what we have to do to move on after Irma makes her way north and away from Florida.
September 10, 2017 at 8:01 PM · I ask a nice, polite question, simply asking for information, and I get insulted. Theme Park Insider used to be a place for civil conversations. Dr_Venkman understands this. ultimaterollercoaster seems to have missed that part of the TPI culture.
September 11, 2017 at 1:55 PM · OK, this is the last time I bother commenting in here because obviously I'm not as smart as some people, but I do work for a "deep-pocketed employer" and I have been told that if I do not come into work during a severe weather situation when the highways are not safe to drive on I can and will be terminated. Some employers do not care about their employees' safety as much as profit.

Now I'm afraid you'll need to take your all-knowing name-calling elsewhere. I'm finished in here.

September 13, 2017 at 10:26 AM · Sorry about that, James. I have deleted ultimaterollercoaster's account, which means his comments are now removed.

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