Hurricane Charley Closes Florida Theme Parks

The storm's arrival on Florida's Gulf Coast prompted most local theme parks to close early Friday afternoon, while Disney's Animal Kingdom and Busch Gardens Tampa never opened for the day.

From Robert Niles
Posted August 13, 2004 at 2:44 PM
Hurricane Charley's arrival on Florida's Gulf Coast prompted most central Florida theme parks to close early Friday afternoon. Disney's Animal Kingdom and Busch Gardens Tampa never opened for the day, according to park publicists.

Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando closed in the early afternoon and parks hotel guests were urged to stay in their rooms. The parks previously closed for a hurricane in 1999 when Hurricane Floyd hit the state.

Members of theme park ride-out crews are encouraged to post about their experiences, as well as any visitors to Florida. (Hey, if you're stuck in your rooms, you might as well post....)

Update, Saturday, Aug. 14 -- TPI reader Sunshine Davis sends along this account, with photos of light damage at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom....

My East Orlando neighborhood escaped major damage, and amazingly I never lost power, though we did experience the 100 mph winds. The trees are small here and the power lines underground, and that made the damage minimal. At 10am I headed out to see Disney, the roads were littered with tree limbs, all traffic lights were out and almost every road sign was bent backwards so it couldn't be read, even the ones on Disney property.

In Hunters Creek, a neighborhood 2 miles from Disney, all the homes had roof damage, all pool screens were demolished, and many roofs were missing, so I expected a similar sight at WDW.


Left, Hurricane Charley bent the flagpole atop Pecos Bill's in Frontierland. Right, a damaged tree on the hub in Main Street, U.S.A.

I was amazed at the lack of damage at Magic Kingdom, especially since they have so many large trees. Cast members told me there were some roofs ripped off of backstage buildings, but in the park the signs of the storm were hard to spot. Lots of crooked signs, trees with broken branches, and a few uprooted trees, but no structural damage was visible at all.


An uprooted tree lies at the entrance to Adventureland.

Tom Sawyer Island was closed, it had a lot of damage from fallen trees. The park was very crowded, I spoke with a lot of guests and many were passholders like myself who had lost power and water and wanted to get to a place with food and A/C, so they chose Disney. About 1pm, a tornado hit the area, so we left and hid out in a nearby hotel until it was clear again.

The Disney crews worked from 11pm when the storm ended until park opening, and the degree of cleanup they completed was amazing. Shows were running as scheduled, the only difference was the monorail from the TTC to MK and Epcot was not working, and the Fastpass system was completely turned off, so lines were especially long.

From Jeff Arons
Posted August 13, 2004 at 3:46 PM
That was a major turn that Charley made. Heading right towards Fort Myers. Like the meteorologists on the Weather Channel said, "These peoples' lives will never be the same."

From Robert Niles
Posted August 13, 2004 at 4:07 PM
E-mail me if you have photos, and I'll give you an address to send them to.

From Jeff Arons
Posted August 13, 2004 at 4:37 PM
No photos (I haven't seen a single drop of rain today), but I can give you some information. On my local news (one of the few local channels that I get through DirecTV), the reporter said that this could be the greatest disaster since 9/11. I highly doubt it, but the brunt of it is heading at Orlando and Lake Buena Vista. Even if the brunt of the hurricane doesn't get them, the tornadic activity associated with hurricanes might. And if it hits some roller coasters and damages them, then THAT would easily make it the worst disaster since 9/11.

From mark walker
Posted August 14, 2004 at 1:45 AM
Just imagine if it did hit the florida parks. There would be no more revenge of the mummy, no more worlds first inverted dueling coasters and even worse, no more spider-man. If Spidey gets damaged then there would be no more number one attraction.

From Jeff Arons
Posted August 14, 2004 at 5:57 AM
No more Mythos! No more Balsamic Chicken and Mozzarela! What a HUGE loss! LOL.

It didn't hit, although Elissa Alvey of ThemeParkReview.com and Westcoaster.com says that her friend Derek lives half a mile away from IOA, and says that Derek says that the lighthouse is still intact, and that the eye passed right over him.

From Chuck Campbell
Posted August 14, 2004 at 10:12 AM
Williamsburg took a nasty hit from Hurricane Isabel last fall, but the pictures coming out of Florida make Isabel look like a spring shower.

From Jason Moore
Posted August 14, 2004 at 7:21 AM
I live in the Tampa Bay area, directly where we all thought it was going to hit. We had to evacuate inland to my inlaws' house and though we Floridians are quite used to the threat of such storms, many of us were more scared than usual this time. There is a long history of taking all the precautions, making all the closures and evacs only to have it turn and miss us. This has led to many people not taking these situations very seriously, but this time was different. You could truly tell that most people thought our "luck" had run out, and this was the one that would finally take us out. Than kfully for us, it turned and hit to the south of us. What we suffered was some rain and a bit of a breeze, not nearly as bad as most Summer afternoon showers. At the end of the day Friday we had one of the most beautiful sunsets I've seen in a long time. It left us with a somewhat eery feeling. We were relieved that we had survived without a scratch, but we had also seen what could have happened. I truly feel for my fellow Floridians who were not quite as lucky as I was.

I have seen plenty of footage from the area where the storm landed, as well as from the rural center of the state. I have been trying to find some info on what kind of damage was sustained in Orlando area, does anyone know how bad it was over there?

From Jeff Arons
Posted August 14, 2004 at 10:21 AM
Like I said, the IOA lighthouse wasn't damaged at all. Orlando Intl had hangar and bush plane damage.

From Joe Lane
Posted August 14, 2004 at 11:15 AM
My family and I were blessed. I left my Tampa apartment and went home to Mulberry (just south of Lakeland and west of Bartow). Power went out at 6PM Friday but was restored by 1AM Saturday, and we only suffered down cabbage limbs and four or five shingles from the ceiling, otherwise, we came out practically unscathed, unlike some of our fellow Floridians. Our hearts and prayers go out to those who have suffered loss or damage because of this storm.

If I recieve any information from our Florida parks, I'll be sure to forward it.

From Matthew Armstrong
Posted August 14, 2004 at 11:45 AM
I live due north of Disney in a town called Ocoee. We're about 20 minutes from all of the major theme parks. Damage from the winds has resulted mostly in tree and tree related issues. I've spent all morning helping my neighbors replant trees that had blown over but at least had their root structures still intact. Many, though, were snapped completely and had to be cut up.

All things considered, those of us on the west side had it easy. The theme parks likely sustained similar damages to what happened in my community which means fallen trees. Hopefully, although I haven't see any pictures of damge from any of the theme parks yet, none of the trees hit buildings causing structual damage.

Having lived through numerous earthquakes in California, including the Northridge quake, this really wasn't too bad. By the time the storm hit the west side of Orlando, it had dropped to a Category 2 hurricane which means that the winds would not likely cause any damage, but anything being carried by them likely could.

Please keep the folks around Fort Meyers in your prayers because they got the worst of it. There hospital was so badly damaged that they are transferring all of their patients to other locations (my brother is a medic at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where patients keep streaming in). There reconstruction efforts will probably take quite a while.

From Matthew Armstrong
Posted August 14, 2004 at 12:09 PM
Here is an update regarding the theme parks and attractions in the central Florida area from WESH, Channel 2:

The three major theme parks -- Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld -- were open for business Saturday. Disney's Animal Kingdom was closed because park officials said they didn't have enough staff to work at all the parks. SeaWorld offered Saturday's guests a free second-day ticket that must be used within seven days. Busch Gardens in Tampa operated under normal operating hours Saturday.

Also, Port Canaveral is open and all cruise ships will depart as scheduled. The Kennedy Space Complex visitors center is also open.

From Robert Niles
Posted August 14, 2004 at 1:04 PM
My parents live in Celebration and report Charley uprooted many recently planted trees, but that they did not lose power as cables there are buried, not above ground. But parts of Kissimmee and St. Could with above-ground power lines have lost power and expect to be without it for days, not hours.

A work colleague of mine reported spending hours on the phone Friday morning booking her parents, who live in the Tampa Bay area, a hotel in Orlando.

Ooops.

From Deborah Davis
Posted August 14, 2004 at 1:20 PM
A lot of people ran to Orlando from the bay area.

We're in the TB area and live less than 2 mile from the Gulf, yet we weren't in an evacuation zone, so we stayed put. If I had known that it was going to strengthen to a cat 4, I might have tried to leave. As it turned out, we hardly even got any rain and no wind at all. It was beautiful here yesterday. (The original forecast had it coming ashore right where we live, but they are always wrong.)

Just one more funny note: the Times had an article about people trying to visit Busch Gardens during the evacuation and were surprised to find it closed. They thought that the approaching hurricane would keep the lines short.

From Robert Niles
Posted August 14, 2004 at 3:33 PM
Theme park fans. Gotta love 'em.

From Adrian Walker
Posted August 14, 2004 at 11:14 PM
I've only heard this from British news, apparently the wind speed topped 145Mph and was catagory 4 hurricane. Could an American please confirm this?

From Deborah Davis
Posted August 15, 2004 at 6:15 AM
Yes, that's true. The scary part is that it went from cat 2 (110 mile winds) to cat 4 in less than 90 minutes. What's even scarier: Tropical Storm Earl has formed and appears to be taking the same track that Charley took.

From mark walker
Posted August 15, 2004 at 10:47 AM
Oh c***.

From Dave Bradley
Posted August 15, 2004 at 5:08 PM
As of today, SUNDAY Aug 15, ALL PARKS , resorts etc. were running up to par. With only one exception, Fort Wilderness Camp Ground at Disney. They told me today that they had alot of tree damage, and extensive cleanup to do. They expected it to be reopen Wed, maybe Thur. Driving through there today you can see alot of uprooted trees, signs blown over, and debris on the roadway still.

Cast members were all working to try and clear it out, but it is time consuming. I did not see any windows blown out, or an major damage.

Riding down 417 to I-4, we noticed alot of shingles gone from roofs , and some roofs missing as well. Riding on Universal Blvd, we noticed a couple of hotels with windows blown out, but when we got inside of USF, you couldnt tell that there was any damage.

From Alfonso giordano
Posted August 15, 2004 at 7:56 PM
I live in Fort Myers, and I was at my parents' house in Cape Coral with my brother when the hurricane struck. The screen porch and ceiling over it was totally destroyed, along with most of the shingles up and down the street. Any non-palm trees were basically destroyed. Even worse our family restaurant and my one major job is totally destroyed. My other job is at Fedex, and the roof is gone over the airport building. Power is still off and I'm in Ft Lauderdale at my Aunt's house. My brother stayed and drove through Punta Gorda which is destroyed, which sucks because my third job playing in their symphony is probably delayed/over since I bet the new hall is damaged. Friends in Tampa were evacuated, but no evacuation was given here. I had just waken up and saw the local weatherman with a stunned look on his face when Charley's path turned right to us. What a bad Friday the 13th, and my middle name is Charley!

From Daniel Gunter
Posted August 15, 2004 at 10:31 PM
As a Disney Cast Member I can tell you that most damage to the parks and resorts themselves was minimal. Operations ran quite smoothly over the weekend despite extremely low staffing levels. Unfortunately many of my fellow cast members didn't fare well with housing and transportation issues. Guests have been quite understanding for the most part and Disney is treating us cast members extremely well and seems to be very understanding of our troubles. I was one of the "lucky" cast members that got to stay at work on Friday night to help ensure the safety of our guests and I'm happy to report that my work location was very lucky with the exception of quite a few uprooted trees and numerous "leaky" rooms. All Walt Disney World theme parks will operate as normal on Monday, August 16 and Fort Wilderness campground will begin serving meals at the Trail's End Buffet.

From Robert Niles
Posted September 1, 2004 at 10:09 AM
J. Dana's submitted a guide to how Disney World prepares for a hurricane, in advance of the possible arrival of Hurricane Frances.

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