Be Prepared with Disney Hurricane Strategies
Okay, anyone who follows the news at all understands that a hurricane is headed straight for Orlando, Florida. We must remain cognizant of the fact that even if that part of Florida is unaffected, far too many people have already had their lives disrupted by Hurricane Irma.
Non Sequitur about the Best-Laid Plans for a Disney Trip
Keeping that in mind, this article will discuss The Walt Disney Company’s hurricane readiness program. Before we get started, I want to offer a personal anecdote. Last year, my wife and I were celebrating our 15-year anniversary of our first date. As is always the case with our celebrations, I had wrapped a slew of Disney gifts to present to my wife at our dinner date at the restaurant.
Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.
A college student watched the gift exchange from her family’s table. She headed over to get a better look at some of the Disney Princess dolls my wife had received. She then explained why she felt so happy to see a Disney display like this in her hometown. Her entire family had scheduled that particular day to fly to Orlando, Florida, for a six-day visit to Walt Disney World. Hurricane Matthew had disrupted their plans. They’d grudgingly had to cancel their entire trip and spend a staycation at home instead.
Suffice to say that she was crushed. In fact, we felt so bad about her plight that we offered her this Lilo doll that my wife had just unwrapped. And if you understood how much my wife loves Lilo & Stitch, you’d appreciate how generous this was of her. The co-ed’s eye lit up and after vacillating a moment about whether she could accept a gift from a stranger, she decided the doll was too cute to refuse. It was nowhere near an even exchange for the loss of a Disney vacation, but it was the best that we could do at the time.
Her family had faced an impossible choice: go to Walt Disney World during a hurricane or stay home and feel resentful about something utterly beyond their control. They wisely chose the latter option. Folks, you can ALWAYS find a way to get to Disney if you’re so inclined. There’s just no reason to stare down a hurricane in order to have a Dole Whip. You wouldn’t even enjoy it because the rain would make it all slushy.
Disney in the Eye of the Storm
That anecdote is emblematic of a frequent issue with fall visits to Disney. Jimmy Buffett described the situation as Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season, and he’s right. The time from June 1st to November 30th is technically hurricane season for Florida, but late August through the end of October seems to be the danger zone. Walt Disney knew about this issue when he bought the land for the Florida Project. After his death, Imagineers performed exhaustive research to assure the safety of guests at Walt Disney World.
To this day, safety is the driving force in countless Disney business decisions. Their theme park attractions have more safety measures in place than any other rides on the planet, and the parks themselves have systems in place to protect guests in the event of extreme weather events.
Make no mistake on this point. Hurricane Irma is an extreme weather event. The storm isn’t merely a Category 5, which is already the strongest designation for a hurricane. It’s also the second-most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. Multiple weather monitors have recorded winds of 185 miles per hour, an almost incomprehensible amount of force. Ordinarily, I’d use humor to deflect at this point, referencing the movie Twister or something about a wind tunnel, but there’s just nothing funny about this situation. It’s a horrifying real-world tragedy that has placed countless lives at risk.
That’s the bad news…and yes, it’s absolutely terrible.
The good news, if such a thing can exist in such a situation, is that Disney is all prepared for the worst. They constructed their amazing landmarks to withstand the worst that nature has to offer. No hurricane has ever done significant damage to the Disney World campus, a statement I’m hoping I’ll get to reiterate next week. Still, those are just words. Let’s talk about the specifics of how Disney deals with impending weather events.
Disney’s Hurricane Rules
Let’s get the caveats out of the way first. Every hurricane is different, and Disney park strategists understand this. They treat each weather event as its own entity, adjusting park hours and resort practices as applicable. One of the things that you should understand is that Disney rarely closes. I exhaustively researched this for an article I wrote last year, and I could only unearth a handful of times when Disney closed because of the weather.
Having acknowledged that, Disney DID close for Hurricane Matthew last year. If Irma turns out to be what’s currently predicted, history will almost certainly repeat itself this year. Anyone who is determined to visit Walt Disney World right now needs to know a few things about the situation. For starters, Disney has a useful FAQ page about their rules for hurricanes. They’ve also taken the step of making a news update page just for Hurricane Irma. (I apologize for all the links, but I want you to have all possible information available to make a more informed decision.)
The most important rule is that Disney will HAPPILY reschedule your vacation in the event of a hurricane. Again, safety is paramount to the company. They’d rather not endanger their guests. Any money that you’ve spent toward your vacation goes toward the next trip. If you completely cancel, Disney will refund your money. The last thing that they want is to make an already-lousy situation worse by nickel-and-diming you on cancellation policies. Should you have any questions, just contact a Disney customer service agent and ask for help. That’s what cast members do best!
A Different Kind of Disney Vacation
Should you choose to visit Walt Disney World, you should know that your trip could turn out quite different than you expect. I’m going to use last year’s Hurricane Matthew as an example although again, each situation is different. When the storm approached the Florida coast, Disney took the requisite steps to protect its customers and property. This led to some truly odd situations.
For example, with the parks closed, vacationers from out of town didn’t have a lot to do. After all, most guests rely on Disney transportation, which wasn’t in operation for the safety of cast members. With no means of travel, they were stuck at Disney resorts. Park planners were aware of this issue and did the best that they could. Cast members offered entertainment in the various hotel lobbies, some of which was apparently quite good. They also broke out every board game on the entire Disney campus. Plus, Disney movie marathons passed the time in a way that made everyone feel included and safe. Some of the descriptions of these events actually sounded lovely and, in an odd way, these unorthodox forms of entertainment became memorable Disney experiences for travelers.
Let’s be real, though. Nobody wants to spend a Disney vacation in the hotel lobby.
Also, the food situation is dire during a hurricane. Disney rightfully received a lot of negative attention for their rainy day meals. The sign at that link is from a Disney resort. Guests basically have no choice but to pay $12.99 for a meal that looks like something that you’d pack for a school lunch. Nobody loves Disney more than me (except my wife), but I have to be honest that it was a bad luck for the company. They seemed like they were profiteering off a weather event. They would have earned more in positive branding if they’d just given those boxes of food away for free.
But What about the Parks?
Okay, if nothing discussed thus far has deterred you from making a trip in the face of a hurricane, I honestly admire your pluck and passion for Disney. Here’s what you need to know about Disney preparations.
The obvious difference is that some attractions will close. Anything that wouldn’t perform well in rain or high winds is going to shut down and remain out of operation until the weather improves. Similarly, Disney will likely close its parks early; they may open late, too. Everything depends on the weather forecasts for next Sunday and Monday.
Currently, the situation is grim, and that includes your attempt to get to Orlando in the first place. The Orlando International Airport is on Storm Watch right now, and they may cancel flights in and out of the city in the event of inclement weather. If you’re currently scheduled to fly into the city on Sunday or Monday, you should explore rescheduling to Friday, Saturday at the latest. That’s the only way to guarantee that your flight arrives on schedule.
Similarly, if you’re at Disney right now, you should consider flying out sooner than expected. Otherwise, you might get stuck in Orlando, which could cause two different problems. The first is that you’ll spend more than expected on your vacation by adding two or three more days. The second is that you may not find a room available. Even though a lot of people are cancelling their trips, many locals actually book rooms at Disney resorts since they have such a sterling reputation for hurricane safety.
This practice might sound crazy, but it’s based in sound logic. In 2006, Walt Disney World became the first theme park ever to receive the National Weather Service’s coveted StormReady® designation. Experts deem Disney one of the best prepared and safest places in Florida when weather events are imminent.
If you’re interested in what else Disney does in anticipation of storm events, you can watch video of some Hurricane Matthew prep work at Magic Kingdom here.
Stay safe, everyone. Please.