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Disney World cared for thousands of guests during the storm: Here's how the theme park handled the hurricane

Sept. 29, 2022
11 min read
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest information.


As Hurricane Ian swirled toward Florida this week, residents prepared for the storm by stocking up on necessities like food, water and fuel. People who were visiting Disney World, however, had a different list of decisions to think through, like whether they should return home early and what to do if they got stuck at Disney. And of course, some had that decision made for them when their flights home were canceled as Orlando International Airport (MCO) shut down for the storm.

Related: Bonus vacation or choppy nightmare? Here's what it's like on a cruise ship stuck at sea during a hurricane

When Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Florida's southwestern coast Wednesday, reports quickly came in of flooding, power outages, high winds and dangerous storm surges on the coast. While the Orlando area is not on the coast, the storm’s impact was still felt in Central Florida.

Guests who ended up riding out the storm at Disney World shared updates on social media that showed not only how the weather affected the resort, but how Disney steps up to support (and even entertain) through a storm.

Here’s a look at the current situation for guests at Walt Disney World -- and those who have a trip booked in the coming days.

Current Hurricane Ian closures at Disney

Since opening in 1971, Disney has only closed eight times due to hurricanes. Closures have lasted anywhere from a few hours to several days, with the longest weather-related closure coming during Hurricane Frances in 2004 when portions of Disney remained closed for three full days.

Related: Disney World celebrates 50 years today: Here’s what has changed, and what has stayed the same

Disney World closed its theme parks along with some other offers on Wednesday, Sept. 28, and Thursday, Sept. 29. The park will begin a phased reopening on Friday, Sept. 30.

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The theme parks will reopen on Friday, Sept. 30 with some opening times coming later in the day than is typical.

The water parks remain closed and the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue performances have been canceled at least through Sept. 30 as Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground remains closed. The Starcruiser Hotel will reopen on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.

Disney will provide further updates on its dedicated “Weather Updates & Information” page.

Guests were told to shelter in place at their hotel

Disney requested that all guests check in to their hotel by 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28, and then shelter in place at their resort for the duration of the storm. They also made guests aware that dining options would be “very limited” and dining reservations were not necessary at restaurants that were open.

Based on reports on social media, Disney made boxed meals available in the Disney resorts, with prices that range from $5-$7 for sandwich and wrap boxes. Guests reported long lines that snaked on for a couple of hours at some locations for packaged meals and dining.

Flashlights and tarps were also delivered to guest rooms to accommodate power outages and leaks, and outdoor patio furniture was brought indoors, sometimes into guest rooms and hallways.

Disney still made guests smile during the storm

Believe it or not, the Most Magical Place on Earth can still sprinkle in touches of magic if you are stuck there during a hurricane. Of course, Disney’s first priority is the safety of guests and cast members, but the experience is not without a bit of pixie dust.

While guests were sheltering in place at their hotels, Disney arranged for indoor activities at the resort hotels like movie marathons, games, crafts and more.

Disney kept the pools open as long as was safely possible, likely to lessen the crowds inside the hotel buildings and to keep guests occupied until they were forced inside.

In lieu of visiting characters inside the parks, Disney brought the characters to the hotels to entertain guests. In some cases, it looked like the characters were having just as much fun as the guests.

At Disney's All-Star Sports Resort, Chip, Dale, Goofy and Goofy's son, Max, were seen watching Mickey cartoons with a group of children in the lobby.

While Disney can’t control the weather, it still wants to make your vacation as magical as possible by keeping spirits high, and providing fun activities to combat boredom (and, frankly, hurricane anxiety) by bringing Mickey and his friends directly to you for as long as possible.

It's very possible some of the parents were actively working on keeping in touch with family members or homes in the path of the storm, but thanks to Disney, the kids got to focus on characters and cartoons.

Disney is one of the safer places to be during a hurricane

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

If you are forced to shelter in place, there aren’t many better places to do it than Disney World. Though far enough inland to dodge the most severe tropical weather events, Central Florida is no stranger to hurricanes and tropical storms. As such, Disney has a detailed plan for inclement weather — and yes, even the castle is built to hurricane standards.

Should you ever be in this situation, it's still important to get some supplies ahead of time as some hotel rooms at Disney require a walk outside to get to the lobby, which may not be possible during the worst of the storm when you need to shelter in place in your room.

Most Disney resorts, save for Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, Copper Creek Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, the Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and the Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, are well equipped to weather a hurricane. When those locations closed this week, guests moved to other Disney resorts.

Reports from overnight and this morning show debris, flooding and some damage around Walt Disney World Resort.

The parks usually aren't as crowded when they reopen

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

With Ian tracking toward the Orlando area, many guests understandably canceled their trips or pushed them out to a later date.

Related: What to do when it rains at Disney World

Because of this, guests who do visit when the parks reopen likely won’t be dealing with the large crowds of people that are common on a Disney vacation.

Disney has a hurricane policy if you need to change your plans

WALT DISNEY WORLD

Guests who did choose to wait for sunny skies to return before visiting Disney World were able to take advantage of Disney's hurricane policy. The policy went into effect as soon as a hurricane warning was issued for the Orlando area. Any guest with a planned arrival date within seven days of the hurricane warning was able to call to reschedule their Disney vacation package or hotel reservation without cancellation or change fees.

Guests are still responsible for any rate differences, and discounts or special offers may not apply to new dates, but you will not be charged Disney’s standard cancellation fee: $200 per package if you cancel between two and 29 days prior to arrival (after that you are responsible for the full package price). Changes made 30 days or less prior to arrival are typically subject to a $50-per-package fee.

Guests with tickets to the Sept. 29 Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party that was canceled were automatically refunded.

This, of course, only applies to tickets and hotels booked directly with Disney. If you purchased tickets through a third-party vendor or you are staying off-property, you would need to contact that company directly.

In addition, Disney is not enforcing cancellation policies for dining and other experiences (like building a light saber at Savi’s Workshop or getting a princess makeover at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique) until further notice.

If you do have a partially used multiday theme park ticket that is affected due to the park’s closure, Disney is automatically extending the date by which you are allowed to use the remaining unused ticket days through Sept. 30, 2023.

Also keep in mind that regardless of what the parks do, the airports and roads were seriously affected by storms — and related evacuation traffic. If you are planning to visit in the days after the parks reopen, be sure that your flight wasn't affected and that the roads in the area are safe.

Currently, Orlando International Airport (MCO) is still closed and there are no flights scheduled on Thursday, Sept. 29. Flights may resume at some point on Friday, pending damage assessments. Roadways in the area also experienced heavy flooding and many are closed to traffic.

Bottom line

Disney World — along with other major Orlando-area theme parks — closed its parks this Wednesday and Thursday due to the hurricane, though it cared for thousands of guests in its resort hotel rooms during that time.

While the theme parks will likely begin to reopen on Friday, it is possible things will take a bit longer to return to truly normal operations. For example, the resort hotels are not currently available for new reservations until Oct. 3.

While experiencing a hurricane while at Disney World is far from the ideal scenario, Disney not only has safety precautions in place, but it never totally runs out of pixie dust … even during a hurricane. From lobby character appearances to the arcades switching on the "free" switch, it’s probably the most fun you -- or at least your kids -- can have while weathering a storm.

Featured image by GREGG NEWTON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

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  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023