One downside to summer & fall vacations at Walt Disney World is that it’s rainy season. With Hurricane Irma now approaching and a state of emergency being declared in Florida, here’s what you should do to stay safe during the 2017 storm season at Walt Disney World.
Let’s start with Hurricane Irma. While the exact path of this hurricane is not entirely certain, the hurricane is wider than Florida, and Central Florida is in its path. After the devastation in Texas, it seems everyone wants to err on the side of caution and prepare for this potentially catastrophic storm in advance.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday for every county in the state in anticipation of Hurricane Irma possibly making landfall, which was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 175 mph.
Florida’s Division of Emergency Management to has begun executing the state’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and other response, recovery and mitigation plans to cope with the emergency. Walt Disney World has not yet started advising guests to take any action, but we are here through the end of the week, which is when Hurricane Irma could make landfall. We’ll keep you posted on all the updates on our Hurricane Irma Walt Disney World Closures page.
If you are on the fence as to whether you should come to Florida in the next few days on vacation or cancel, our personal recommendation would be to cancel if you have the ability to reschedule. While it’s possible that Hurricane Irma will head further east, even if it does not hit Central Florida directly, there will be heavy wind and lots of rain for days. That’s the best case scenario.
Worst case: you’ll be stuck in your room for days, the parks will be closed, and you could be in real danger. Whether this particular hurricane will be the best or worse (or somewhere in between) case scenario remains to be seen.
If you don’t have to risk it…why risk it?
Beyond Hurricane Irma, there is ample reason for trepidation if you’re thinking of visiting Walt Disney World during storm season. As Hurricane Matthew demonstrated last year, these Atlantic storms have the potential to dramatically alter a vacation. Since 1999, Walt Disney World has only closed for full days due to two hurricanes: Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Last year, Hurricane Matthew ended up weakening before hitting the Florida coast, and did not have significant impact on Walt Disney World. However, this was not before Walt Disney World proactively closed its parks for the day. If you’re interested in reading more about how this scenario played out, read our Hurricane Matthew Cancellations & Closures at Walt Disney World post to learn more. The past is the best predictor of the future, so seeing how Disney dealt with last year’s hurricane could be helpful if you’re concerned about a hurricane impacting your 2017 Walt Disney World vacation during storm season.
Last year was a busy storm season, with Tropical Storm Hermine creating nasty weather for Florida earlier in the season followed, of course, by Hurricane Matthew. Unfortunately, this does not mean we are in for a reprieve in 2017. Experts are predicting 2017 will be a “busy” hurricane season due to a weak El Nino and other conditions, including above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region.
As a result, the NOAA is forecasting 11-17 named storms during this year’s storm season, while the Weather Channel is predicting 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that any of these will make landfall at Walt Disney World, but even storms hundreds of miles off the coast can make for long, rainy days–rather than the normal afternoon showers that are a fact of life in Florida during the summer and fall.
With that said, if you’re visiting Walt Disney World 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.
- 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.
- Walt Disney Presents – 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.
- Avatar Flight of Passage – not so much a long attraction…but an attraction with a really long, indoor queue. That’ll work!
- ??? – 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 six occasions. It closed in 1999 for Hurricane Floyd; in 2004 on separate occasions in a six-week span for Hurricanes Frances, Charley, and Jeanne; in 2005 for Hurricane Wilma; and, finally, in 2016 for Hurricane Matthew.
That’s an average of about one closure per decade. Suffice to say, 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!
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!