Our Experience with Hurricane Irma at Disney World
As part of another whirlwind resort tour (six hotels over the course of our trip), we were checking out of Coronado Springs Resort and into the BoardWalk Villas on Friday. This 1-night stay at BoardWalk was booked a couple of days earlier by our friends at DVC Rental Store (as soon as we knew we’d be staying at least until Saturday), so at least we were set for part of our extended stay.
At that point, the airport still had not announced an earlier closure, but it had leaked out on social media that they’d be closing early on Saturday. With that in mind, we decided to take a Minnie Van from Coronado to BoardWalk early in the morning and talk to someone at the front desk.
Even a couple days ahead of the storm, there were several managers assisting with check-in at BoardWalk Inn. We told one of them about our dilemma, they advised us to book through Monday and just cancel whatever we might not need on Saturday if our flight happened.
They gave us the option to pay cash at a 40% off discount or use Disney Vacation Club points. Switching to another resort with a cheaper rate was also an option. We were advised that literally every resort on property had availability, as most guests were canceling their trips. Disney had also blocked out the hotels from online booking so they’d have the capacity to accommodate guests leaving coastal areas like Miami.
As any regular readers of the blog know, we’re normally pretty frugal, and the low rates at Port Orleans French Quarter and Pop Century were really appealing. However, I’m also hyperactive, and I tend to go stir crazy being cooped up in a room, so we figured a hotel with interior hallways was a much better option. We opted to stay put at BoardWalk, using DVC points for the duration of the stay.
It took the back office a bit of time to get the details with our DVC rebooking squared away, so we sat in the lobby and waited. While the front desk was really busy, it was mostly with guests leaving early. The front desk was fully staffed and Cast Members were doing an exceptional job accommodating everyone. “Walt Disney World Cast Members doing an exemplary job” would be the theme of the weekend, and after our experiences with Delta, this was a breath of fresh air.
Realizing there was at least a 50/50 shot our flight would be cancelled, we walked over to the Speedway gas station and grabbed some supplies. Seeing that they had gas, we also toyed with the idea of renting a car from the Swan & Dolphin and doing a one-way rental to Atlanta. With too many unknowns, we ruled this idea out after a little deliberation.
This Speedway (formerly the Hess Station) had cereal, water, and snacks, mostly. We normally recommend this as an option of last resort in our Tips for Buying Groceries at Walt Disney World post, but in this case, it was pretty much our best option. We didn’t anticipate any of this being strict necessity, and were reassured by Cast Members that we’d be taken care of at the hotel, but we had concerns about long lines and high prices, so we figured it was better to play it safe.
After that, we headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Halfway through our day, the airport provided an update that it’d be closing early, effectively cancelling our flight.
We immediately got on the phone with Delta and spent the next several hours in this corner of the Sunset Ranch seating area.
There were two upsides to this: I discovered a shocking-good Fried Green Tomato Sandwich on the menu here, which is probably the best counter service item available in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The second “upside” is a backhanded one…at least we were at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and not a better park while dealing with this?! 😉
Continuing on the topic of food, we opted to dine at Todd English’s bluezoo at the Swan & Dolphin that night, taking advantage of their Magical Dining Month menu. It was an excellent meal, rivaling the meal I had at Flying Fish earlier in the trip. (Full review to come.)
Following dinner at Todd English’s bluezoo that evening, we did the parks the following morning. Since the parks were going to be open anyway, we decided to go, but leave midday so we weren’t indirectly causing any Cast Members to be working when they could possibly be leaving early otherwise.
We started in Magic Kingdom, before hopping to Epcot for all of about an hour. It was interesting to see the various ways the parks were securing loose objects. Lots of cellophane and rope!
One of the reasons for going in the first place was our very “clever” idea to order a Mezzo Metro pizza from Via Napoli to go, so we’d have something to eat for the next couple of days. To our surprise, Via Napoli wouldn’t sell us a Mezzo Metro pizza to go. I figured this was just a request they don’t regularly/ever get, so I asked to speak with a manager, who gave the same response: that we should dine-in, and have the entire thing boxed up after it arrives to our table.
This struck us as more than a little awkward, but we debated doing it anyway. Then the debate itself turned awkward, as we weighed doing this in the lobby of the restaurant as they were prepared to seat us. We decided against doing it, and then a few moments after leaving Via Napoli, realized we made a mistake, but we were too embarrassed to go back.
With pizza from Via Napoli eliminated, the obvious alternative was eating cardboard. Err, Boardwalk Pizza Window pizza.
We weren’t the only ones with this not-so-clever idea, and there was a huge line at Boardwalk Pizza Window. The above photo is early on–later in the evening, it was exponentially longer. (Don’t worry, I’ll have a full review of this pizza later. 😉 )
After obtaining that pizza, we had dinner at Trattoria al Forno. Not nearly as good as bluezoo the night before, but still very good. Again, full review to follow.
Walt Disney World was advising guests via the My Disney Experience App and in-room television messages to have a meal before returning to their rooms, which was good advice, but still had an unsettling quality to it.
Above is an awkward Facebook Live video we did to provide an update.
As you can see, it was another beautiful evening on the Boardwalk.
After that, we spent as much time as we could just wandering around the Boardwalk. Knowing we’d be in the hotel for the next 2 days, we wanted to get as much fresh air as possible prior to (potentially) being on lockdown. On Page 3, the storm arrives at Walt Disney World. Click here to continue reading…
Hi Tom! I want to call out Tarah on her post. I totally agree with you. When we arrived at MCO we found out the hurricane was on the way. We had only booked 4 days in the park so we lost 2 days. We were staying at Caribbean Beach in a ground floor, corner, pirate room where the water was rising fast. We were in Epcot when we found out the parks were being close the next day. We went to Les Halles Boulangerie and stocked up on food that we thought would stay good for a few days. When we arrived back at our hotel a small bag containing some food items (cereal, milk, bars) had been left in the room. Food was totally unavailable the next day. On the second day we walked over to the main food area. They had a buffet set up. That was it. We lost 2 days of the Disney dining plan and we also had to fight to get our money back for the 2 days we lost in the park.
I’m sorry but the post is pure crap . I was there at the exact same time and exact same hurricane and I call bull shit on you statements . I stayed at the Yact club p retry much right where you stayed . We had an amazing experience and riding out hurricane Irma at Disney World was amazing . Disney was amazing . There was plenty ty of food and water and cheaper prices . I never once felt scared or in harms way . We got to walk on to e dry ride Saturday at the Magic Kingdom. We got dinner reservations at Be our guest and had a fabulous night at the Magic Kingdom . And just clarify . You are wrong Disney did NoT close early on Saturday night as my family was there at the Magic Kingdom until 9 pm . So please don’t give false statements in your post . Disney was only closed for Sunday and Monday and was fully operational as of that Tuesday . Orlando airport closed at 5 pm on Saturday . Just to correct your false statements. You should be ashamed for postering false statements . I think if someone is stuck in Florida they should evacuate to Disney World Asia IS the safest place to be during a hurricane in Florida. My family evacuated from Miami . If you discourage people from going you will be putting g people in danger . Shame on you . And also to clarify another comment you made that you clearly know nothing about . The staff at Disney during the hurricane were people who were specially signed up for their hurricane staff . They knew full well they would be working during a hurricane as they set this up at the beginning of each year . I asked . So please , if you are going to write a post , be accurate and don’t make statements you clearly don’t know the actual truth about . I experienced this exact hurricane in almost the exact location and you are wrong and make inaccurate statements .
I realize you wrote this coming on three years ago now, but you wrote your very rude post over two years after Tom first posted this article. Are you *very* sure you were there on the same dates he’s referring to?
No one mentioned Trip Insurance, When hurricane Sandy that hit more north, we were stuck at the Grand Floridan, not a bad place to be,,,and could not get home for 3 days. Grand Floridan hopped us around to a few different rooms, but accommodated us just fine. Of course we had to pay a lesser of a room fee. but Travel Insurance paid $400.00 a day for lodging and food. Would not think of not getting it, especially if you are booking during Hurricane season.
My daughter and I took her boys, ages 6 and 4, to WDW on 9/15 after the storm and stayed until 9/19. We had a wonderful time, the only big drawback from the storm was that the Jungle Cruise at MK was down while we were there, and I had really looked forward to seeing the boys enjoy it. Ironically, it opened back the morning we had to leave!
One other aggravation was having to make a long detour to get from the Africa side of AK to the Aisian section, dyecto a tree leaning over the walkway. Not a major issue, but I wondered why they hadn’t just taken the tree down.
We talked to many cast members about their experiences during the hurricane, and most reported little to no damage, and didn’t even lose power. Coming in on the Magical Express, and on property, it seemed to me that there was less damage in Orlando than what we had in Upstare SC when Irma brushed by us. We had a couple of trees down and broken limbs from that ingracious lady’s brief visit!
Thankful our trip was a success, but I would never go to FL intentionally if a hurricane was predicted. I saw the aftermath of Hurricane Camille in MS and that of Hugo in Charleston, and i don’t want to he anywhere near one!!!
My wife and I had a mandatory evacuation from Naples Fl . With most hotels in the areas within 130 miles radius of us without generators we chose Disney for safety and security it was a no brainer they would have food water and backup generators Disney took great care to take care of everyone if you had a problem with anything they were there to help Great Job Disney Cast members by the way the cast members that stayed volunteered to be there they were the best remember The Florida was in a state of emergency no complaints I am an annual pass holder
We were planning to be in Orlando when Hurricane Frances cancelled our trip in 2004. I was so happy that the airline, Disney, and another pre-paid event for the Tom Joyner Family Reunion were happy to refund our money in-full. We were notified two days prior to departure by Southwest–don’t bother. They were using all of their aircraft to get people out of–not into Orlando! Glad we didn’t have to experience what you did. We were able to rebook our trip for a later time (with the exception of the Tom Joyner Family Reunion–which only happens over Labor Day weekend).
I’m from Houston and have been through Ike and Harvey. I know from experience that the news likes to sensationalize things and it can really freak you out. That being said, you should avoid areas being hit by hurricanes at all costs. Resources in affected areas can be really strained and the last thing locals need thrown into that situation are a bunch of inexperienced and I’ll prepared tourists mucking things up. Why put yourself in a bad situation and make yourself a burden when you can just stay home and be safe?
I completely agree and couldn’t have said it better myself.
Years ago my husband, myself and our son who was then about 5 years old, had flown from NY for a family vacation on Captiva Island. Unfortunately we had unwittingly arrived from NY not knowing a major hurricane was on the way to Florida. It was the front desk clerk who told us we would need to keep a close eye on the weather channel. Yes, there it was!! The approaching storm was not much covered in NY, and we had not known what we were walking into. The next day dawned bright and sunny–the proverbial calm before the storm. Captiva is a low barrier island with one road in and out from the mainland. We were advised that if we did not evacuate , the national guard would remove us. Off we went. But where do you go to escape a hurricane??? We hunkered down in a hotel on the mainland in Fort Meyers, and weathered what turned out to be Hurricane Andrew. The day after the storm we discovered that our resort on Captiva had sustained damage, and had no electricity. Returning there was not an option. Looking to salvage our vacation we called Disney and discovered that they were ok there, and we scored a room at the Polynesian. It was a 4 hour drive to Disney, but I was never so grateful to arrive at any location in my life. The hurricane was gone and we were all safe. In speaking with cast members I discovered that , indeed, Floridians often “evacuate” to Disney in times of storm. The place is sensible and well run and the staff looks after it’s guests. In addition I have been told that the buildings there are built to far exceed the minimum building codes, ( and I have no idea if that is true) which again makes being there a safer bet than otherwise. My lasting feeling of “I am safe ” at Disney since that experience has carried with me all the years. Doubtless even on a subconscious level it is part of why I ALWAYS feel so positive about Disney and its employees. They do their utmost even under horrible circumstances. The rest of the country should be so well trained!! Would I deliberately fly into a hurricane zone?? NO, no, no!! Far too dangerous and not worth the risk. But if I were stuck there and could not flee, this is where I would want to be.
Due to JetBlue’s inefficiency, lack of customer service and pure deceit, our family ended up extending our vacation at the Contemporary through 9/13/17. Although it was stressful being there during the hurricane, your article couldn’t be more spot on. Disney rocked it in more ways than one and we couldn’t be more pleased with all of the preparation, staff dedication to exemplary customer service and more….JetBlue should be ashamed and take some lessons from the happiest place in the world. Great article!
Thank-you for your report on Irma – I was wondering how WDW fared during the storm. I admit that I watched the Weather Channel for 2 days as well, but from the safety of my home in Canada. My interest was due to the fact that we cut short our vacation last year due to Matthew and although we were certain at the time that we had made the right decision, there was a tiny bit of doubt. After reading how WDW handled that storm and reading your experience, I agree that getting out is the best option if it is available. I sympathize with your airline problems. Our experience was the complete opposite. We spent 15 minutes re-scheduling and got out 10 hours before the airport closed. Delta was exceptionally helpful and it only cost us $15 total for the change to both tickets.
We just finished our trip (9/18-9/26) and while the storm had no impact on our trip, aside from losing our Caring for Giants tour in AK because of damage, what we learned from other guests was incredible. One family drove in from Indiana, opting to keep their booking that started on 9/12. One day they made 150 miles in 10 hours. Then they ran into curfew issues in GA. They lost the first 3 days of their trip. Another got stranded when the ran out gas in GA and lost a day. Like you, they had only really positive things to say about Disney staff. I think your message was a good one. The crowds from our trip were super low. We did the Star Wars guided tour (loved it!) The cast member said normally they had 40 people per tour. We had 17. Just one example. Both MNSSHP we did were low crowds. It was great. A family member lives on the west coast of FL had a lot of damage to his home and neighborhood so we stayed on the last couple of days to help him and his neighbors. All in all, a great trip.
We were there through the entire storm, 4 days before and 4 days after. We had an absolutely amazing experience and would totally do it again. I will add we were a party of 2 adults, a 6 and 9 year old. We start at all star music, the staff was beyond helpful, and very accommodating. We were able to get a refund for the days that the parks were closed, so no real money loss there other than a hotel night. On the following morning after the storm, the pool was opened up as soon as possible, with many activities happening on the pool deck. The arcade was free the entire time and disney characters walking around the resort. The only time we had to remain in our room was from 7pm Sunday night till about 10am on Monday morning. We didn’t notice it much as most of that time we were sleeping. We had to move our flights as well, and Southwest was awesome. NO problem moving flight and no extra fees. We would totally go back to Disney World again during a hurricane (I mean we wouldn’t plan to, but we wouldn’t cancel either)
Here’s the thing. You’re just looking for an outlet to complain about WDW because you think you’re popular and a celebrity. Maybe you think you should live in the Magic Kingdom. You may have planned your vacation months in advance, but you knew the chances of going to WDW in Orlando during hurricane season. You could’ve gone earlier in the year or later. You feel WDW mistreated you because it used hotels for possibly its employees because you were at WDW. Floridians are smart enough to know to get out. Your suffering and inconvenience is nothing compared to what the locals had to go through. They’re more important than you. You’re no Mickey but you as hell are Goofy thinking you’re owed something. Sorry. You’re just out to be that hurt person. You’re not. Sorry.
I’m not sure where you got all that, but I don’t think Walt Disney World or its Cast Members mistreated us at all. To the contrary, they were amazing. My only complaints lie with Delta.
It’s pretty clear Mark did not read your article at all.
I don’t know why you haven’t just deleted his post.
Great article Tom, Thank you.
If only Mark had spent as much time actually reading the post as he did trying to come up with a clever comment.
What is up with the amount of trolling Tom has been getting recently?
Honestly people, if you have enough spare time to mess with a guy writing a Disney blog, maybe reassess your life and priorities.
This one is clear they didn’t read ANY of the post at all, it almost looks like it was pre-written assuming what was going to be said.
Apparently, Mark is just an asshat with a severe twist in his panties and an attitude problem who likes to give opinions on articles he has obviously not read. Geez. Someone give him a laxative (or an enema) before he explodes.
We are from Houston and originally had planned to be at WDW Sept 3-10th. We had to change our flight to leave from Dallas due to our original flight being cancelled due to Harvey. When we arrived Sunday in FL Irma was still a week out and they weren’t sure where it would go. By Wed, I too was on the phone in the Poly for a couple of hours trying to change our flight. Luckily I was able to get a flight out Friday the 8th. It was a bummer to lose two park days, plus all our ADR’s and lose lots of dining credits, but I agree it wasn’t worth it to put my family’s safety in jeopardy. I would argue, that I didn’t even fully enjoy our Thur night at MNSSHP because being a naturally anxious person, I was worried the whole time that Irma would intensify and possibly cancel our Friday flight (having just lived through Harvey my nerves were already shot). Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll ever travel during hurricane season again. LOL!
I will say having to call WDW customer service after returning and having to hold 2 hours to get a refund was annoying. I wish they could have just refunded at the Poly when we checked out 2 days early.
My husband and I were supposed to be there the 4-11 but we’re able to leave on the 7th. Like you, i am very anxious as well so it was impossible to even enjoy Wednesday as our last day. Disney wasn’t the greatest about correctly refunding and not really offering much for guests that would like to return and make up for lost time 🙁 this was my husbands first trip so hopefully next time around will be smooth sailing!
If y’all ever want to do a post about WDW with 3 young kids, I’m your woman 😉 I think it’d be an amazing write up people would definitely love to hear about.
Not to mention how amazing our 2nd trip would be with you two!
My family and I were at Disney the week leading up to Irma. We were originally scheduled to check out Sunday (9/10) morning, but since we drove down from IN we decided to leave Saturday morning instead. We were super bummed to lose a day at the parks, but we were afraid of traffic and trouble finding gas (both of which still ended up happening, but not as badly as we anticipated). All the hotels up I-75 were completely booked so we ended up having to drive straight through (14+ hrs). It was a long day/night.
Despite that, I appreciate hearing about your experience staying on property during the hurricane. It further convinced me that we made the right decision to leave, since we were at Coronado Springs and wouldn’t have even had the option to roam the halls/common areas/meet cute puppies. We would have gone crazy being cooped up in our room, especially with our three-year-old, who would have undoubtedly spent the entire time asking when we could go to Animal Kingdom. Yikes. Anyway, sorry you and Sarah got stuck and had and awful experience with the airlines, but I’m glad you made it out safe!
Also, fun side note, I saw you at Magic Kingdom one night that week (Wednesday maybe?), shortly after the fireworks. I wanted to say hi but you were lugging your tripod and looked like you were in a hurry, so I didn’t want to stop you. So hi!! And thank you! Your blog was invaluable in planning our vacation. It’s extremely well written and organized, and the fact that you keep all the posts updated makes me confident that everything I read here is timely and accurate. Thanks!!
Please spare us the political undertones about climate change causing more hurricanes unless you are able to provide evidence. I’ve only heard assertions that climate change increased Irma’s intensity, and the data I’ve seen indicate that the number of hurricanes has not increased over time. Agree completely, however, on “joy” that working with Delta is.
WDW did great with all the people and Hurricane Irma. We were at AOA and they had boxed lunches and entertainment for everyone. Unfortunately, we did not know this until after the fact. I think everyone had some point of frustration. We were on the DCL when they cancelled it and it was chaotic mess! We waited hours in line to use a phone to be told there were not any flights available. CM’s did not know was going on and a lot of activities were cancelled or weren’t done to the true Disney magic. It has us rethinking ever cruising with them. We had been on a previous DCL and really enjoyed it. Our biggest lesson we learned is to not hit Disney when most hurricanes occur (Sept/Oct).
We’ve lived in Hurricane prone places since 1989. We dealt with tropical storms while we lived in Houston, and have been in North Carolina since 1994. Names like Fran, Floyd, and Matthew are part of the local vernacular and family history. We also have two kids who are CMs, which isn’t to name drop, but to mention that we have a personal investment in Florida.
When Matthew was looking like it was going to hit Cape Canaveral as a Cat 3 storm with hardly any lessening of winds in Orlando, I told my kids to listen to Disney and be very respectful of this storm. During the day before it hit, Matthew changed course by a couple of degrees and came ashore in the Carolinas. As can happen, the outer bands caused plenty of damage, but the worst was averted in Florida and my kids reported that they were underwhelmed, which was fine with all of us. Better to be over-prepared than otherwise. A day and a half later, *we* lost power for 53 hours. Such is the nature of storm forecasting.
Also of note. We live less than 3 hours from Santee, SC, to which we traveled to watch the Solar Eclipse a month ago. It took us 9 hours to get home. The whole time I was driving I95, I thought of the poor souls who took a similar trip from Houston to Dallas years ago, but with Hurricane Rita in their rear-view mirrors. Florida is even harder to get out of than Houston.
So when we were finalizing our packing for a September 4 to 14 trip, I happened to look at Weather Underground’s blog, which had forecast models, the boldest lines of which indicated Irma would go straight up the middle of Florida and be Cat 2 as it passed through Orlando. Twenty-odd years’ experience told me to take it seriously but it was pretty unlikely to follow a path so exactly when it was forecast 10-14 days out. Given Disney’s hurricane policy, we bought travel insurance and drove down as planned.
That forecast didn’t change much over the next week, but we kept an eye on the satellite and forecasts until it got to be Thursday and Disney’s policy kicked into place. At that point our choices were to ride it out or cash in on the hurricane refunds and try our luck on the roads, but our eclipse experience was just too recent. No one was saying to evacuate from Orlando, but roads were already crowded from evacuations from coastal regions. Then our son told us he was on the Magic Kingdom ride out crew and we pictured our daughter in her apartment versus a Disney-built room at BLT. Meanwhile, the likelihood that Irma would do damage to us at home was very real. So we followed Disney’s directions to us to the letter and stayed, getting a few snacks for ourselves as well as a 1000 piece puzzle to put together in our room.
Plenty of other people have described the actual hurricane, and it was pretty much the same as our experience of Fran in 1996 when we lived in Durham, NC, except that we’ve never been through a storm that strong without loss of power before and it was REALLY nice to be able to watch the TV and use the internet. Oddly enough, Irma passed Orlando with Cat 2 winds on early morning Sunday. I can’t recommend Weather Underground strongly enough if your travels take you someplace hurricane-prone.
I’m not going to advise anyone to ride out a hurricane anywhere when there better options. I feel like we made the best decisions we could for our family, and I appreciated Disney’s accommodations for the hurricane. I also suspect that people like my family who paid their normal fees to be there were part of what enabled Disney to offer special deals for those who were fleeing the storm. The people in our group who were on 10 day tickets got their two unused days refunded for use another time, which was nice, and we were able to extend our stay one night instead of leaving the property and finding a room elsewhere in Orlando or on the coast. For us it was a positive experience.
Thanks for sharing your story! The more we thought about driving, the more the idea worried us. The prospect of driving for a while, getting low on gas and being unable to find anything and then getting stuck in a shady motel, was really concerning.
Given that and everything else you describe, I’d say you made a good decision!
Thanks! Yes, driving was not a good solution by the time the hurricane policy went into effect. I think, based on the fliers they left in our rooms on Friday that Disney would have refunded/put our DVC points back on the days we didn’t stay had we left on the 9th, but we were too spooked by our eclipse experience and memories of watching the Rita evacuation to attempt it. Then, too, should we take I95 up the east coast and directly home or I75 up into the Appalachians? (I have a sister in the mountains north of Atlanta). The storm tracks suggested that both ideas were bad ones, especially if we got caught on the road, and of course we now know that pretty much all of Georgia got severe damage. My sister was without power for 92 hours, which is the new family hurricane record, while my house about an hour and a half from the coast saw below tropical-force winds and a drop or two of rain.
(As an epilogue of sorts, the drive home on Thursday the 14th required a bit of flexibility as we occasionally needed to go to the next exit to get a meal and gas when our first exit didn’t pan out due to lack of power or gas, but even that was so much better than it might have been that our feeling is gratitude that it otherwise went so easily. The trip takes us 8 to 12 hours and we did it in 9 to 10 hours that day.)