Hurricane Dorian Disney World Closures & Impacts: Should You Reschedule or Cancel?
Hurricane Dorian has caused closures and cancellations around Walt Disney World. We’ll update you on the storm’s impact on WDW operations, what you can do if you’re scheduled to travel to Florida in the near future to help you decide whether to reschedule your trip, cancel entirely, or ride out the storm at a hotel. (Updated September 2, 2019 at 12:15 pm.)
We have been tracking Hurricane Dorian with updates in our Tips for Storm Season at Walt Disney World post, but that’s generalized tips about the Hurricane Policy and historical info about closures. Since most storms this time of year are not Category 5 hurricanes, most of the advice in those tips pertains to making the most of your vacation time on rainy days or when the weather is inclement during storm season.
Hurricane Dorian is obviously different, and should be taken more seriously. Now that it’s becoming apparent that Hurricane Dorian is likely to impact operations at Walt Disney World to some degree, we want to share some of the closures and cancellations that have already been announced, and what else is likely to happen before the impacts of Hurricane Dorian are felt in Central Florida…
For starters, the National Hurricane Center updates its Hurricane Dorian Advisory every few hours, at which point it shifts the ‘cone of uncertainty’ representing the range of possibilities for the storm’s center that extends up to five days into the future. The cone of uncertainty predicts the hurricane’s path, but even outside of the cone, ferocious winds, storm surge, heavy rains, and other intense weather can be felt.
On Sunday, Hurricane Dorian grew to the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall (in modern history), with 185 mph sustained winds and 220 mph gusts. Overnight, it continued battering the Bahamas, leaving one dead, several injured or missing, and huge damage to property and infrastructure.
In its 11 a.m. update, the National Hurricane Center indicated that Hurricane Dorian’s sustained winds are now being recorded at 155 mph with guests up to 190 mph, dropping it a Category 4 hurricane. The storm continues to inch over Grand Bahama Island, about 110 miles east of West Palm Beach.
Hurricane Dorian has slowed to a glacial speed of only 1 mph, delaying projections of when it’ll finally reach Florida. Nevertheless, the National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for parts of Florida from Deerfield Beach up to Sebastian Inlet and a hurricane watch from Deerfield Beach south to Golden Beach.
Central Florida, including Lake, Seminole, Osceola, and Orange counties now have tropical storm watches issued, with tropical storm force winds arriving late on Monday. These areas also remain in the cone of uncertainty, with Hurricane Dorian likely having the biggest impact on these areas throughout Tuesday.
Currently, the official forecast and latest models for Hurricane Dorian from the NHC are pointing towards an offshore Florida track. However, overnight the 3-day cone of uncertainty shifted west, and now more inland areas including all of metro Orlando including Walt Disney World are still within the cone.
The 5-day projection includes more of Florida, but the consensus now has Hurricane Dorian headed for landfall near the border between South Carolina and Georgia. The forecast calls for the storm to slow down after today and make the shift from west to northwest and eventually turn to the northeast. The current track keeps the storm within striking distance of Florida’s east coast, projected to be a Category 4 hurricane with sustained 140 mph winds and 165 mph gusts when it reaches Florida by late Monday.
Typically, hurricane-force winds extend out 30 miles from the storm’s center with tropical storm-force winds extending out 105 miles. If Hurricane Dorian slowly moves up Florida’s coast as a Category 4 storm, it’s still going to significantly impact Walt Disney World for several days–and that’s the best case scenario. Landfall in Florida remains a distinct possibility.
The Walt Disney World area is projected to feel tropical storm force winds beginning on Sunday night. Even if the hurricane stays off Florida’s coast, heavy rains remain likely, with 6 to 12 inches of rain as a result of Hurricane Dorian likely in Central Florida, and up to 18 inches in some parts of the state. This level of rain could trigger life-threatening flash floods, per the National Hurricane Center.
While Walt Disney World issued some closures and warnings over the weekend (see above), the current ‘Weather Updates & Information: Important Information on Hurricane Dorian’ statement on DisneyWorld.com now simply says the following:
“Walt Disney World Resort is operating under normal conditions. We are closely monitoring the path of the projected weather, as nothing is more important than the safety of our Guests and Cast Members.“
Although not mentioned there, Walt Disney World is quietly allowing changes and cancellations with no penalties for guests arriving between now and September 5, 2019. This includes Disney Vacation Club Members or those booked using DVC points. Disney Vacation Club has also closed Vero Beach and Hilton Head Resorts for a yet-undetermined amount of time.
Walt Disney World resort hotels have also lifted the pet restriction policy for arrivals between now and September 3, 2019. This is done because Disney’s resorts are a popular relocation option for coastal Floridians who must evacuate from their homes. (During Hurricane Irma, we met several families from the coast who brought their pets–seeing all of the pups was easily the biggest silver lining of being stranded here.)
Disney Cruise Line announced modifications to two itineraries between now and September 6, 2019 due to Port Canaveral being ordered closed by the U.S. Coast Guard in advance of Hurricane Dorian. The Coast Guard set what’s known as “Hurricane Condition Zulu” at the port, effective at 8 a.m. on September 2, 2019.
Disney Dream’s current sailing was scheduled to return to Port Canaveral on Wednesday, September 4, 2019. Now, with Port Canaveral closed, DCL has (again) extended this sailing and the Disney Dream will return to Port Canaveral one day later, on Thursday, September 5, 2019.
Another sailing on the Disney Dream has been cancelled entirely due to this latest extension. Guests are eligible for a full refund of their voyage fare. Additionally, Disney Cruise Line is providing guests with a 20% discount on a future cruise.
Finally, some DCL Crew remained on Castaway Cay. As forecasted, sustained winds on the island did not extend beyond tropical force strength and DCL Crew has returned to their living quarters after spending a few hours in our storm shelter yesterday.
Elsewhere around Central Florida, Orlando International Airport announced that it will *not* close, reversing its previous announcement that it would cease operations on at 2 a.m. on Monday, September 2, 2019. (Orlando Melbourne International Airport will be closing Monday, but that’s not a popular airport for Walt Disney World guests.)
Per Orlando International Airport’s official @MCO Twitter account, key airport, airline, and federal agency representatives will continue monitoring the weather and determine whether any future closures may be necessary. The airport has advised travelers to check with their airline regarding flight information and schedules.
Currently, none of the Central Florida area theme parks have announced any closings. If past precedent is any indication, Walt Disney World, Universal, etc., will all wait for a Hurricane Warning to be issued, and issue closures if or when that occurs. The only major Florida attraction closure at this point is Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, located on the coast, which will be closed Sunday and Monday.
Should You Cancel or Reschedule Your Walt Disney World Trip Due to Hurricane Dorian?
That’s a personal question and the answer largely depends upon your arrival and departure dates, expectations, and myriad other factors that are unique to your specific trip. Rather than being presumptuous and making broad and sweeping statements, we’ll offer thoughts from our experience being stranded at Walt Disney World two years ago during Hurricane Irma. From that, you can reach your own conclusions.
That hurricane caused Walt Disney World to be closed for two full days and resulted in some damage around the resort. We got stuck in Walt Disney World after our Disney Cruise Line Bahamas sailing was canceled. The cancellation of this itinerary occurred relatively last minute, and rather than being proactive and cancelling the trip ourselves, we took a wait and see approach.
That was a mistake, and one we immediately regretted. By that point, we were unable to rebook our flight due to the mass exodus of people trying to leave Florida. We spent countless hours on the phone with Delta, and checked constantly as flights were added and modified, but kept coming up empty.
If you’re on the fence about whether to cancel or reschedule a Walt Disney World vacation right now, we’d strongly encourage you to read our more detailed Our Hurricane Irma Experience at Walt Disney World, which covers what we did to prepare for the storm, how Walt Disney World’s “ride out” Cast Members handled operations, and much more.
One thing we will here (which is also in that post) is that, contrary to popular reassurances, Walt Disney World is not the safest place to be during a hurricane. Wherever you live–where the hurricane isn’t–is safer. While the latest National Hurricane Center update is positive news for those visiting Walt Disney World, it’s also not definitive or set in stone.
Despite losing around 3 days of park time (and that’s not counting the hours spent wandering around Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios essentially doing nothing while on hold with Delta), our experience with Hurricane Irma turned out fine. Cast Members were great, we felt safe throughout our stay, and Disney went above and beyond to make the most of the situation via entertainment and activities.
The hurricane itself didn’t cause much damage beyond some downed trees, which meant everything was back up and running quickly. Things could’ve gone worse; the parks could’ve been closed longer or attractions could’ve gone down, etc. Moreover, MCO could’ve stayed closed longer, and we could’ve had more difficulty booking a return flight home.
The point is that our experience with Hurricane Irma represents what’s more or less a best case outcome given the circumstances. With Hurricane Dorian, the best case outcome is the path continuing to shift east, and the biggest effect on trips being several days of torrential rains and heavy winds at Walt Disney World, but no theme park closures.
Things could’ve just as easily been far worse for us, and could still be worse for Hurricane Dorian. Unfortunately, that’s something truly unknowable in advance. Walt Disney World is located in Central Florida and is less likely to see the same levels of devastation as coastal areas, but that doesn’t rule out catastrophic damage.
It seems that whenever there’s a hurricane forecast to impact Walt Disney World, it’s met with a lot of positive wishful thinking and people touting the best case scenario outcomes. This is probably a mix of reassurances to those who are freaked out, and naivety about the potential dangers of hurricanes. We’re not here to fear-monger, but we’re also not here to offer rosy platitudes about the magic of Disney or safety. Whether to cancel or reschedule is obviously your call, but traveling to Florida when a hurricane is forecast is a decision you should not make lightly.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, 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 clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Are you currently at Walt Disney World or Central Florida? Have you visited during past hurricanes? Any additional info, thoughts, or first-hand experiences to share about riding out a hurricane at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
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We are waiting to see if Thomas cook cancel our flight tomorrow. Under the understanding if cancel then it’s not safe to go. BUt am I being silly, should I take the decision to amend our plans myself. The waiting game is so stressful. Of course it’s not just me it’s hubby daughter and her boyfriend. We have saved and planned for a whole year and I’m reluctant to make the decision. Think I’m living in cookoo land and need to work out what’s best for my family.
Alison, I live in Stuart Florida and Dorian was about 90 miles east of us, while it was still a Cat 5, when it stalled . Impacts here were minimal, my weather station registered a peak gust of around 25 mph, although we have had a lot of rain. I would keep checking with the Airport as they will err on the side of caution. Right now the storm is moving North and gaining speed and shouldn’t impact Orlando other than some blustery wind and rain bands and moving away quickly. Most of the really bad weather in a Hurricane is fairly close to the center depending on size. Personally I would not change my plans other than maybe trying to fly into Tampa if Orlando is closed and driving from there. You should be fine. Been through 4 Hurricanes and spent enough Money in Disney World to build one of their hotels.
Just got back home, yesterday and did NOT want to try our luck! Could have stayed 2 extra days but will keep that for our next trip, scary indeed, good luck to those who are braving it out!!
Wishing the best and stay safe to Tom, Sarah, and all the vacationers, Floridians and Southerners impacted by the potential hurricane.
I was at Coronado for Irma and saw you and Sara- the only time in real life. Thought about asking for a selfie but your faces were saying no!! (You looked stressed and were pulling suitcases.) We rode it out at the Coronado- our trip extended by 3 days. Our 7 day hoppers were over anyway so we didn’t miss any park days, just had a couple chill resort days. It was interesting to see Disney go into hurricane mode. We have a universal trip 9/8-9/12 hoping everything is normal and not extra busy due to crowds being pushed out a week.
One other point to find out: How the cruise ship islands have survived Dorian. Disney’s Castaway Cay didn’t get the eyewall, nor did Royal Caribbean’s Coco Cay, which is further south, However both have been under constant wind and rain from Dorian. The longer structures are under these sustained conditions, the more damage they take. That’s a Captain Obvious type of statement, but often there’s a time factor that gets ignored for structural rating by the general public. Meaning a structure rated to sustain X mph winds might not be built to sustain those winds for the duration of this storm.
Check with your cruise lines for the condition after the storm, but expect alternate destinations for some time after the storm passes.
The key to watch is when and where will Dorian turn north? As of the 10:00 am advisory, it was still heading west at 1 mph, 30 miles NE of Freeport, Bahamas. As of know, it’s projected impact on the Orlando area will be into Wednesday, finally gaining speed on that day and moving just off South Carolina by Thursday at 7:00 am, having started Wednesday south of Jacksonville, possibly off Daytona Beach.
Dorian is powerful, but not very large. Meaning that the worst of the winds, even sustained tropical storm force winds might not reach WDW. Bear in mind that rain bands can contain violent weather, spiking with winds above tropical storm force at times. However, with it coming into contact with land, we see that moisture that’s been caught up in the advance of the storm is causing rain bands to develop well away from the storm, bands which are presently going through much of Florida, including Orlando. So, even if it stays offshore, expect a LOT of rain in the coming days. But right now, it might just be an almost constant rain event, with it unclear whether Orlando International Airport will close. It remains open as of 12:15 pm EDT. If you have a flight scheduled today or tomorrow, kept constantly checking.
While still not the largest of storms, Dorian has grown in size, and as of 9:30 EDT, has taken an elongated shape, with the bulk of rain that is not in bands, one of which is going through the Orlando area & WDW ATM, is to the north and eastern sides of the storm. Again, we’ll have to see what this means as the storm’s motion increases, because if it were to even out, the Florida coast would be taking much more of a beating. However, hurricanes don’t always have a perfect circular shape with bands extending out. Hopefully, that will remain the case, though this could be bad news for Georgia and the Carolinas.
The north and east sides of the storm are the “dirty” sides and extend a long way from center. To the west and south, things are much less intense at similar distances.
We ended up pushing our trip back 2 weeks. We didn’t want to risk it
Two yrs ago we were on the last flight back to Missouri ahead of Irma. This time I wasn’t paying attention to the news and weather and will have to stay at Disney for this one.
We are pushing our family trip back 1 week, we already have ticket cards, will they be honored? I understand that we can go to guest services and have the dates of use moved on them when we arrive 1 week later, any thoughts?
call them and be prepared to wait on hold awhile. but i would call before you go to get everything sorted.
Our trip was for aug 28to sept 2. We ended up leaving on aug 31 at 8:30 in the morning. We decided it wasn’t worth the worrying to stay.
NOAA updates every 3 hours, not every 2. It’s a small detail, but prospective visitors should know to check every 3 hours instead of reloading every 2!
At this point (a day after this blog post was written) it still looks good for an offshore passing. Tropical storm force winds may be possible for the Kissimmee area, but it will be the west side of the storm. Two days ago when it looked to be a landfall hit, I called and pushed our 9/5 arrival 2 weeks into the future. Fortunately there was still room availability for 9/18. On Monday if the projections keep the storm well offshore, I’ll probably reschedule back to the original 9/5 arrival. Hopefully there will still be space available. I’m betting the parks won’t be anywhere near as busy with so many people scared away.
but yet sunday morning, orlando is back in the cone due to the storm slowing down so much. if it slows enough, it won’t make as drastic of a turn and florida landfall is still probable. it’s the weirdest storm i think i’ve ever seen. they’re telling everyone not to let their guard down yet. we were supposed to arrive yesterday, we pushed to 9/7 to be safe.
We were at Disney World just before Irma hit and also spent the better part of a day on hold with Delta. When we got nowhere with them on the phone, we made the decision to take a chance and went to the airport at 4:30 am and ask them to put us on a plane. Which they did with no trouble whatsoever. We didn’t cancel our hotel room at the resort until We were safely in Atlanta later that morning and Disney was good to refund the remainder of our stay. If you find yourself in a similar situation, it’s a strategy that paid off for us.