What to do when a hurricane strikes your Orlando vacation?

August 28, 2019, 7:34 PM · Hurricane Dorian is aiming to arrive in Central Florida by the end of the weekend. So this is as good a time as any to remind Theme Park Insider readers traveling to Florida what they should keep in mind — and do — if a hurricane or tropical storm threatens their vacation.

First, keep an eye on the National Hurricane Center website. This is your best source for tropical weather information. Heck, it's where almost all those TV weather people get their information, anyway. Click on the storms on the front page map for more information about each. The most important page you want is the "Warnings/Cone" image for the storm. That shows you the "cone of uncertainty," which is the projected path of the storm, with estimated storm intensity and times of arrival along that path.

Dorian's cone has it hitting the Orlando area as a hurricane on Monday afternoon, which is a big change from its recent forecast to limp into the area as a tropical storm or even a depression (one level below a tropical storm) on Saturday. The storm is slowing and gathering strength in the Caribbean and expected to be a major hurricane — Category 3 or above — when lashing through the Bahamas this weekend, which is prompting several major cruise lines to juggle their itineraries.

But as many Florida residents say, from experience, nobody really knows what a hurricane will do. That's why you watch the NHC website and prepare to be flexible when a storm is on its way.

The biggest threat to your vacation as a Florida visitor is to airline schedules. When a storm is imminent, airlines will cancel hundreds of flights, disrupting air traffic across the country. But airlines won't tell you if they are thinking about canceling your flight. It's either on or off, and if it's off you won't know until it is canceled.

If the NHC issues a hurricane warning for the Orlando area (or your home) within seven days of your planned arrival, both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando will allow you to cancel or reschedule your vacation booked directly through them without any cancellation or change fees. (Universal's policy also applies to tropical storm warnings.) Both resorts have allowed guests with date-specific tickets to Halloween parties to use them on other nights when storms cancel those events, too. See the resorts’ pages for more detail, including phone numbers to call:

If a storm is imminent, airlines will want to minimize the number of passengers they will need to move after canceling flights. So call to see if your airline will wave change fees if you cancel or reschedule or your flight, if they haven't offered you that already.

And now is when we suggest that travel insurance that covers weather such as hurricanes might not be a bad idea for especially expensive vacations to Central Florida during heart of hurricane season (August through October).

Also now, some perspective. The Orlando-area resorts stand many miles inland from the coast, where storms are most intense over land. Orlando is where many Florida residents evacuate to in a storm, so you likely will be in very little or no physical danger here.

That doesn't mean a storm won't disrupt your visit, should both you and the storm manage to get here. Parks might close and you might have to ride out the worst in your hotel room, with limited food and services available. And if you're planning to hit up Publix for supplies on your way to your hotel... well, everyone in Central Florida will be doing the same. If you do get caught out, though, remember that cast and team members will be doing their best to try to help... and that they are human beings who might very well most help those who are helpful to them. (In other words, as always, don't be an entitled jerk to cast and team members.)

But if the storm does not hit the parks directly as a hurricane, you might end up getting to enjoy some of the emptiest parks you ever will see, with no more inconvenience than bands of rain showers throughout the day, if that. As we said, no one really knows what a storm will do.

So stay informed, consider your options, remain flexible with your day-to-day plans, and if you do get caught in a situation you did not expect, be as nice as you can to those around you. After all, you'll be in this together... and together is the best way to get through it.

Replies (6)

August 28, 2019 at 10:19 PM

Thank you for this information, Robert. I do have an Orlando trip planned for next week and appreciate having these details handy.

August 29, 2019 at 8:56 AM

FWIW we were staying at the Poly during the run up to hurricane Irma, and they were great. The staff handled everything as if it was just another day. We did get a couple printed out notifications in our room and on our door about the impending closures, but they were printed out and presented in a way that felt official and routine. While dining at Kona, we overheard a few older couples talk about how they booked the stay last minute to ride out the weather. It felt like everyone was in a safe space and the storm was just a thing that would blow over.

I'm glad it mostly did for us.

August 29, 2019 at 9:28 AM

If you are staying in Fort Wilderness, do not let Disney evacuate you to an All Star resort if you can help it. We had that happen about 15 years ago during a storm, and while "safe" technically, cut off from our food, we were unable to feed our kids until the storm reached a lull and we took things into our own hands, striking out for the McDonalds near Animal Kingdom where the utility trucks muster for post-storm depolyment. Only 40 mph winds at that point according to the radio.

Yes, the McDonalds was open. They never close.

Even a Motel 6 out on 192 with Waffle House in the parking lot would have been preferable to the All Star. No apology or compensation from Disney -- we still had to pay the cabin rate for the night -- and the maintenance staff securing the grounds at Fort Wilderness helped themselves to our food in our absence.

August 29, 2019 at 11:28 AM

The best trip to Orlando I ever had was back in 2004 after a big hurricane had swept over central Florida. Our flight there was delayed a day because of it, but once we got to the parks they were empty because everyone else had cancelled their vacations. We kept seeing the same handful of families throughout our stay. But honestly, did feel guilty on the ride from the airport seeing all the devastation. Had to keep reminding myself that tourism was good for the economy.

August 29, 2019 at 9:41 PM

As someone who has been through one too many Florida storms, I totally agree with Robert. Great advice.

August 30, 2019 at 9:40 AM

Thank you for all your info. We have a trip planned for the week of the 12th, hope everything is good by then. Stay safe everyone. We were down disney during Irma the cast members were phenomenal.

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