What Was Disney Like for Guests during Hurricane Ian?
Now that the worst is over at Walt Disney World, we can circle back to the fascinating parts of the experience.
Many guests plan their Disney vacations months, if not years, in advance. So you can imagine how shocking and disruptive this weather event was to them.
How did they spend their days when they couldn’t go to the parks? What was Disney like for its guests this week?
Let’s start with the negatives so that you’ll better understand the situation.
Walt Disney World closed its four theme parks, one currently open water park, ESPN Wide World of Sports, and Disney Springs.
These closures lasted Wednesday and Thursday, but they really started on Tuesday for most guests.
People deduced early on that Central Florida couldn’t avoid Hurricane Ian entirely.
So, guests had to decide whether to stay in Orlando or leave the area for a safer locale.
Due to the sheer size of Hurricane Ian, which was massive, escaping it meant a drive of what would typically be six or eight hours.
Since so many others were fleeing the storm, those drive times tripled.
Helicopter traffic reporters and drones suggested bumper-to-bumper traffic for 60+ miles on I-4.
— Chris FL Tornado (@ChrisFLTornado) September 27, 2022
For all the jokes about daily I-4 congestion, this past week’s traffic was historic in scope.
Meanwhile, Orlando International Airport closed at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, but its flight plans were already chaotic on Monday and Tuesday.
Many travelers who arrived in Orlando early in the week decided to wait out the storm at Walt Disney World.
In doing so, they quickly realized that their Disney vacation would primarily involve the confines of their hotel, at least for part of Tuesday and all of Wednesday/Thursday.
Management expected residents to shelter in place as Hurricane Ian approached on Wednesday.
Similarly, Orange County’s Mayor asked everyone to remain inside for roughly 12 hours after the storm passed.
Rain and high winds blocked many of the primary roads in the Central Florida area. So naturally, Disney wasn’t about to operate its buses in such conditions.
For these reasons, guests who stayed at the resorts were effectively trapped by Hurricane Ian.
Passing the Time
Those of you who have read my writing over the years may recall that I often suggest Resort Days.
That’s when you spend one of your vacation days visiting the various official Disney hotels rather than going to the parks.
Infrequent Disney guests think that sounds crazy. Many regular Disney visitors nod their heads knowingly at the suggestion, though.
The resorts usually offer tremendous shopping and dining opportunities and some other unique amenities…usually.
During the pandemic, those options changed dramatically. Disney opened some of its pools Wednesday morning for a while, which stunned me.
Don’t get me wrong. This decision was perfectly safe, as everyone recognized Hurricane Ian wouldn’t arrive until late at night.
Still, that’s what qualifies as risky behavior at Disney resorts, where caution and guest safety drives every decision.
Many of the activities that guests enjoy at the resorts, like spas, tennis courts, golf courses, and beachfront walks, were non-starters.
Cast members didn’t physically block anybody from going outside, but they did everything humanly possible to prevent people from leaving.
So, the kind of Resort Day I suggest wasn’t an option during Hurricane Ian. Instead, guests had to pass the time as best that they could.
Thankfully, Disney has proven its resorts are ideal places to hole up during a hurricane.
The Hidden Benefits of Disney Resorts
This seems like a good time to mention that Disney has methodically upgraded its Wi-Fi infrastructure over the past three years.
As MickeyBlog has mentioned, 5G mini towers look eerily similar to lampposts. You’ll find them throughout Disney resorts, but you’re not supposed to notice them.
Guests were thankful to have them, as the Wi-Fi demands were comically high during the hurricane. People checked the storm and tried to stay in touch with loved ones.
Also, folks streamed videos to pass the time. And some decided to turn their trip into a work vacation since they weren’t doing anything else.
That idea would have sounded crazy before the pandemic, but many employees are permanently working from home now. This past week, home was Walt Disney World!
That newly added bandwidth proved crucial to the sanity of many guests. In fact, some pictures and videos of hotel lobbies are absolutely hysterical.
They show people sitting in these impeccably themed Disney resort central locales, yet they’re not even looking up from their phones, tablets, and laptops.
\Obviously, the storm pulled plenty of focus, as guests wanted to stay informed. However, those new episodes of She-Hulk and Andor proved tempting, too.
Speaking of the lobbies, here’s a hidden benefit of staying at Disney. Imagineers constructed the check-in areas as centerpieces.
Most Disney resorts include some form of restaurant and shop within 200 feet of the check-in desk.
Similarly, you’ll find ample seating here as well. So, the lobbies became communal hangout spots for guests.
I Hope They Liked Group Activities
Disney leaned into this by having costumed cast members appear frequently.
MickeyBlog has posted several images and videos of the Country Bears, Chip ‘n’ Dale, and members of the Sensational Six putting on a show for guests.
There’s always a killer bit where the Disney characters pretend like they’re in charge of Guest Services and try to help the guests.
My favorite thing about this joke is you’ll occasionally notice the one customer who is completely over it. They’re tired, frustrated, and want help.
Somehow, the costumed cast members always charm them in the end anyway. It’s truly magical.
In a 48-hour period, we watched a Country Bear interact with a Star Wars droid, do the Macarena, and put on a hula skirt.
Meanwhile, Chip ‘n’ Dale cheated at checkers, got tired, and sat down to watch some cartoons with guests.
All of this sounds crazy, but it was perfectly normal for guests at Disney resorts during the hurricane.
In fact, as this image below shows, the activities at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort never stopped.
Seriously, something was happening every minute of the day while guests were ostensibly sheltering in place.
You’ll notice that Disney showed movies continuously throughout the day as well.
In doing so, management kept guests in a centralized location that they knew had held up well during previous hurricanes.
As cast members distracted guests, Disney protected its customers from danger without giving any indication of the tactic. That’s a magic trick right there.
The Dining Options
Onlookers obsess about the dining options whenever the hurricane season disrupts the parks.
People know about those meal kits that Disney unveiled a few years ago. So, they’re curious about what’s on the menu each time.
However, Hurricane Ian’s timing caused additional problems. You may have forgotten it, but we’re not that far removed from supply chain issues.
I wince at the thought of this, as my new home almost came without a kitchen cabinet door. The term “loaner refrigerator” was tossed around, too.
While you may not know that there was a garage door shortage this year, Disney officials are acutely aware of such aggravation.
The people who order dining ingredients for a living have struggled with Disney restaurant menus all year.
This time, Meal Kits proved challenging due to the unprecedented demand.
After a while, some Disney resorts sold out their Meal Kits and were forced to reopen specific restaurants. That’s a first in the decade I have covered Disney.
Thankfully, Disney cuts the prices of its restaurant menus during hurricane weather.
Many restaurants were serving dishes for 50 percent less than usual, sometimes even lower.
For example, the bottom breakfast skillet at Whispering Canyon Café, the Heritage, ordinarily sells for $24. It was $12 on Wednesday and Thursday.
Also, the daily specials menu for that day led with mimosas and other alcoholic beverages.
Disney knew that its customers needed a drink. During a hurricane, it’s five o’clock everywhere.
Overall, guests who found themselves stranded at Walt Disney World by Hurricane Ian universally indicated that it was the best place to be in that situation.
Please remember that if you ever find yourself in such a situation.
There’s a reason why Central Florida residents often book rooms at Disney hotels during hurricane weather.