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.
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!