One downside to summer & fall vacations at Walt Disney World is that it’s rainy season. With Hurricane Matthew approaching Florida this week, here’s what you should do to enjoy your visit and stay safe as Hurricane Matthew bears down on Florida. This post has been updated with info on that hurricane, plus tips & ideas for staying safe during tropical storms and other storms, and not letting them ruin your Walt Disney World vacation.
There is ample reason for concern if you’re currently at, or about to visit, Walt Disney World: Hurricane Matthew is the most powerful Atlantic storm since 2007, and has the potential to make landfall in Florida later this week. While its impact on Florida is unclear, meteorologists are comparing it to Hurricane Floyd in 1999. That hurricane required the evacuation of millions of people across Florida and other states. It was also the first time in history that Walt Disney World’s parks closed to guests for a full day.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for all Florida counties, and experts are predicting this will be a major hurricane event for Florida and states potentially north through the Carolinas. Scott has advised evacuations for those on Florida’s coast, and mandatory evacuations could begin as early as Wednesday.
October 5, 2016 UPDATE: Meteorologists were originally forecasting Hurricane Matthew to come within 50 miles of Florida on Thursday as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane. However, the latest projections show it moving farther inland, potentially making landfall in Miami. In several areas, hurricane watches have been elevated to hurricane warnings as a result. If the hurricane’s trajectory continues to move west, the impact on Walt Disney World could be greater.
For its part, Walt Disney World has issued a prominent notice on the main page of its website, and is waiving cancellation fees for guests with travel dates that include October 5-13, 2016. (Some pre-paid experiences–like Cinderella’s Royal Table–are not officially included in this cancellation fee waiver policy, but we suspect Disney will issue refunds there, as well.) Additionally, guests already at Walt Disney World are receiving voicemails and information at their hotels pertaining to Hurricane Matthew.
Right now, the statement indicates “Walt Disney World Resort is currently operating under normal conditions as we continue to monitor Hurricane Matthew.” There’s also a mildly warning about the potential for rain and wind on Thursday, October 6, 2016. That could change (and the parks could close) as the hurricane nears Florida.
Fort Wilderness will have a mandatory evacuation, with guests needing to leave the resort by 2 p.m. on Thursday, October 6. Blizzard Beach will also be closed on Thursday, and possibly (probably) on Friday as well.
Walt Disney World has not yet announced closures at any other parks, but there is a reasonable chance the 4 theme parks will close on Friday. In fact, our prediction is an early closure Thursday, followed by an all-day closure Friday. That is, unless Hurricane Matthew changes course at the last minute.
SeaWorld has already announced its parks will close, and it’s likely Disney is waiting until more details about Hurricane Matthew’s path have solidified before making any irreversible decisions. Safety is obviously priority #1, but Disney also is mindful of the tens of thousands of its guests who are currently vacationing at Walt Disney World.
UPDATE October 6, 2016 – As things continue to get worse, we have posted a dedicated Hurricane Matthew Cancellations & Closures at Walt Disney World post to monitor Disney’s response to the hurricane and the weather.
Now back to your normal storm season planning tips, aimed (primarily) at less intense storms…
Beyond Hurricane Matthew, here’s general information and tips about visiting Walt Disney World during storm season…
It has already been a busy storm season, with Tropical Storm Hermine creating nasty weather for Florida earlier in the season. Even if you aren’t visiting during Hurricane Matthew, this is good information to know, as experts are predicting 2016 will be a “busy” hurricane season due to La Nina.
Hopefully, these dangerous storms don’t affect your vacation (afternoon showers are a fact of life in Florida), but if you’re visiting during the storm season months of June through November, it’s good to have a plan in case of the worst.
For starters, it’s important to know that these storms can be dangerous (safety information if you’re visiting Walt Disney World during a hurricane or tropical storm is near the bottom of the post). While prolonged rain or storms have the potential to put a ‘damper’ on your day, with some preparation, you can roll with the punches and have a great time, despite the weather.
What you need to know for rainy days versus during hurricanes and tropical storms is radically different. With the exception of certain attractions and entertainment that might shut down for regular storms, it’s business as usual for Walt Disney World during the rain. That’s not the case during hurricanes and tropical storms, when operations can be brought to a screeching halt. Luckily, that’s very uncommon.
Although the prospect of visiting during rain or hurricane season might be unsettling, there also is some upside, as you’ll read…so it’s not all bad. Let’s take a look at how to prepare for, and deal with, summer storms at Walt Disney World; from regular small storms to tropical storms to even hurricanes…
Storm Season Packing
When packing for a trip during storm season, you’ll want to make sure you come prepared in terms of rainwear and footwear. In terms of rainwear, you could pay $79.56 (slight exaggeration–only slight) for a poncho in the parks, or you could bring your own. You should instead get a cheap 10-pack of ponchos that are serviceable before your trip (or two 10-packs, depending upon how many people are in your group).
If you want something more robust that will keep you dry and is re-usable, get this rainsuit. It’s the one I’m wearing above, and I swear by it for rainy days in the parks. It’s a lightweight material that doesn’t get too hot, and keeps me totally dry. I’ll readily admit that it looks totally dorky, but my priority when it’s raining is to stay dry, not be a fashion icon. I recommend this rainsuit over even an umbrella, as it’s simpler and more effective (and less likely to break in the sometimes high winds in the parks).
Second, footwear. Nothing is worse than walking miles around Walt Disney World in wet shoes. Trust me. Popular options to avoid this problem are traditional Crocs cogs. Personally, I prefer Crocs sandals because they don’t quite scream “80 year old hospital patient” quite as much. If you’re more serious about your footwear, consider hybrid water/athletic shoes; the best options we’ve found here are the Teva Churn (for men) and RYKA Hydro (for women).
Finally, accessorize with a Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad. This isn’t for the rain itself, but the heat and humidity that come once the rain leaves. Trust me on this once. These things do wonders for cooling you down, and readers of this blog are big fans of them, as can be evidenced by the comments to our Unique Disney Parks Packing List post.
There’s a real-world adage that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. If applied to Walt Disney World, that adage would probably be that the only certainties are a 3 o’clock parade and an afternoon shower. Short afternoon showers are fairly regular in Walt Disney World any time of the year, but during the summer and early fall, they are especially common. Plus, unlike the spring showers that might last for 10 minutes before the sun returns, summer storms can be marathon downpours that don’t relent for a few hours.
The prospect of rain should not keep you out of the parks (let alone from not visiting Walt Disney World during these months), as proper packing will make touring during rainy season a breeze. Plus, the rain will scare plenty of other guests away, so a nice afternoon shower might be just the thing to lower those crowds for you. (Although rain isn’t nearly as effective in Walt Disney World as it is in Disneyland–a light sprinkle there and all of the SoCal locals run for the exits!)
If it’s raining when you get up or the forecast is calling for a lot of rain on a particular day of your trip, we recommend going about your day as you normally would. We know, we know, this flies in the face of the “visit DisneyQuest” or “head to Disney Springs” advice that many people parrot, but we think that’s simply not good advice. First, unless video game graphics from the 1990s are your cup of tea, you’re likely to be disappointed by DisneyQuest.
Second, going to Disney Springs in the rain instead of a theme park doesn’t make a ton of sense. Besides the huge World of Disney, which is approximately twice the size of Manhattan or something like that, you’re going to spend less time in each shop than you would in a single attraction. This means just as much or more time outdoors in the rain than at a theme park.
If we weren’t going to go to the regular parks, we’d go to the water parks. I mean, why not? You’re going to get wet there anyway, so what’s a little rain? We’ve been to Blizzard Beach when it started raining, and for some reason, the place cleared out! If you don’t want to go to a theme park or a water park, consider your hotel’s pool. If you really, really hate the rain, wander around your resort (have a meal?).
Unless you’re from SoCal and are thus scared of rain, there’s no reason to let the rain completely derail your plans. If it’s raining, lots of other guests won’t be in the parks, so you’ll be able to do more than normal! If you do want to go to the parks, but don’t want to get wet, here are some things to do in the parks while it’s raining to minimize your outdoor exposure.
- Carousel of Progress – rarely has a line meaning you can ride repeatedly if you’d like.
- Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover – depending on the demand, you might be able to ride repeatedly; gives you a birds’ eye view of rain status.
- Country Bear Jamboree – grab a snack or meal at Pecos Bill after, as the attraction dumps you out right there.
- Hall of Presidents – grab a waffle sandwich or dessert at Sleepy Hollow and take it to the covered seating area after.
- Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room – shortest show on this list, but it has a covered pre-show, too.
- Enchanted Tales with Belle – A New Fantasyland addition, this interactive show is fun for kids, and has a decent-length pre-show, maximizing your time inside.
- Ellen’s Energy Adventure – possibly the longest attraction at Walt Disney World, the pre-show plus the show here can easily eat up an hour.
- American Adventure – another place that can eat an hour when you combine the Voices of Liberty with the show. If it’s still raining after the show ends, go back in to take a look at the art in the lobby gallery.
- The Land Pavilion – in Future World, Innoventions is a popular pick for a place to go during storms, but the problem with that is that Innoventions is far less enjoyable than wandering around in the rain getting soaked. Go to The Land, instead. In an ideal world, you’d redeem your Soarin’ Around the World FastPass+, do the other two attractions in The Land, and have a meal at Sunshine Seasons or Garden Grill. If you have a bit of money, the Behind the Seeds at Epcot tour is a GREAT (and relatively inexpensive) way to kill an hour and a half or so, too. Doing all of those things is a good way to kill nearly half a day in one pavilion…which is hopefully enough time for the rain to pass!
- Impressions de France – the same could probably be said for the other World Showcase films, but this is one we can watch again and again; it’s so great that we consider it one of Walt Disney World’s most underrated attractions.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid – the outdoor stage shows are likely to be canceled in the rain, so this is a next-
- MuppetVision 3D – awesome pre-show and awesome post-show; consider dining at Pizza Planet or Mama Melrose after the show to avoid rain.
- Great Movie Ride – one of Disney’s longer rides, linger in the queue looking at the displays if you want to kill time.
- One Man’s Dream – possibly the best option in all of Walt Disney World if you’re a serious Disney fan and it’s raining; you could easily spend a few hours in here combing over the displays and watching the film.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Finding Nemo: The Musical – the wait for this is outdoors, so show up no more than 10 minutes before a show is scheduled to start; you should have no trouble getting in when it’s raining.
- Festival of the Lion King – a long, indoor show; covered character meet & greets are nearby to kill time, too.
- ??? – if you can avoid going to Animal Kingdom when it’s raining or a lot of rain is in the forecast, that might be best. It’s definitely most enjoyable in nice weather.
Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
Let me preface this by saying that I can only find evidence of hurricanes having caused Walt Disney World to close on five occasions. It closed in 1999 for Hurricane Floyd; in 2004 on separate occasions in a six-week span for Hurricanes Frances, Charley, and Jeanne; and, it closed in 2005 for Hurricane Wilma.
That’s an average of about one closure per decade. Unless you are currently visiting during Hurricane Matthew (during which a closure Wednesday and/or Thursday–October 5 & 6, 2016–does seem possible), the odds are against your trip to Walt Disney World being severely impacted by a hurricane.
I’ve heard of some travel agents strongly encouraging guests to purchase travel insurance if visiting Walt Disney World in late summer or early fall. I can’t say that I agree with that advice, but then again, I’m not risk averse. We only purchase travel insurance when going abroad, and that’s only in case I get in a fight with a monkey and have to be hospitalized. With that said, here’s what you need to know if a hurricane or tropical storm is forecast during your visit…
Walt Disney World has a Hurricane Policy that will allow you to get a refund on any package booked through Disney. Of course, this won’t cover your airfare. Fortunately, recent storms have caused significant changes in severe storm policies among major airlines, so that shouldn’t be an issue, either. If that leaves any gaps in expenses you’ve paid for, any decent credit card will have you covered.
If you normally purchase travel insurance anyway, or you still want travel insurance specifically for hurricane season, make sure you get coverage that actually will do something for you in the event of hurricanes or storms. Most basic policies do not provide coverage for weather, so you’ll want to actually read the policy before you buy. In most cases, you’re going to have to purchase a more expensive policy that allows cancellation for any reason.
Beyond monetary loss, there’s the issue of safety, particularly during hurricanes. In terms of safety, Walt Disney World was built for strict compliance with hurricane readiness standards and has earned “StormReady” status from the NOAA. for this type of thing (regardless of how uncommon they are). In terms of preparedness, Disney is absolutely on the ball.
You literally wouldn’t be able to leave your room without receiving a status update (on your door) of what’s going on, how operations will be affected, and what to do in case of an emergency. Likewise, the in-room televisions have more information than you’re likely to need on Disney’s information channels.
Disney errs on the side of caution with this stuff, and you’d pretty much have to bury your head in the sand to not know what’s going on. You really won’t need anything beyond the information Walt Disney World will provide to you in order to keep safe, but if you want to be especially safe, we recommend reviewing FloridaDisaster.org’s information, including on evacuation routes.
Additionally, we recommend having at least a three-day supply of food, water and medicine on hand. Also, before the storm approaches, ensure cell-phones and other devices are fully charged (including external battery packs) in case of electrical power loss.
The closest we’ve ever come to a real tropical storm at Walt Disney World was during our August visit nearly a decade ago. Tropical Storm Fay made its way through Florida at the end of our trip, and although it only really affected us in terms of rain and some crazy-beautiful post storm skies, we did get to see some of Disney’s emergency preparedness firsthand. Based upon that experience, I’d have no hesitation to take a Walt Disney World vacation during a hurricane or tropical storm. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the absolute best places to be.
A good attitude to have when the weather gets bad (or when anything goes wrong, for that matter), is that a rainy day at Walt Disney World is better than a normal day at home. Roll with the punches, improvise, and have a good time. Just think, at the very least…rain makes the parks less crowded.
For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides”are great for determining what to do and when to do it.
For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
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Do you agree with our mentality about visiting Walt Disney World when it’s raining? Which activities or attractions do you recommend when it’s raining? How do you feel about the controversial subject of travel insurance? Share any of your thoughts or questions in the comments!