Our Experience with Hurricane Irma at Disney World
If you followed our updates on social media, you might know that we were stuck at Walt Disney World during Hurricane Irma. Many readers asked for us to share the experience, so I thought I’d recount the story of how we get stuck, Walt Disney World’s handling of the situation, and other details.
Being at Walt Disney World during Hurricane Irma was definitely a learning experience for us, and hopefully this is helpful for someone else in the future as intense storms occur with increasing regularity due to climate change. Be warned, the first page of this is me ranting about why you should cancel a Walt Disney World trip and complaining about Delta Airlines. If you want to skip my bellyaching and get to the actual hurricane report, jump ahead to Page 2.
I hesitated a bit before deciding to write this, because I’m concerned about how this might be perceived, and because of the takeaways readers might infer. Since I think there is value in sharing our experience, I’m going to do so, just with a number of caveats…
First and foremost, the safest place to be during a hurricane definitely is not Walt Disney World. If a hurricane is approaching Florida, there are 49 other states that are safer places to be. This may seem glib, but I think it’s important to underscore.
In the lead-up to Hurricane Irma, when we explained how we were effectively stranded here, I lost count of how many people told us that Walt Disney World was the safest place to be. Now, I realize that most of these people were well-intentioned, trying to be reassuring. I get, and appreciate, that.
However, I’ve noticed this sentiment online, and it has become pervasive in a sense that is not just reassuring for those lacking better options. It’s also used by those who don’t want to cancel vacations, and still want to head to Walt Disney World even when they could cancel and stay at home.
Whatever mental contortions people might attempt to justify traveling to Florida prior to a hurricane, Walt Disney World is not safer than Chicago, New York, etc., during a hurricane. It’s safer relative to coastal areas of Florida and apartment complexes in the area, but being in the path of a hurricane is never safer than not being in the path of a hurricane. Unless there’s also a Sharknado, and then nobody is safe.
To the extent that Walt Disney World is safer than other parts of Florida (and it certainly is), keep in mind that Floridians are often evacuating their residences to safer locations in Central Florida. Walt Disney World pulled a lot of its hotel inventory early in the week prior to the hurricane, with large blocks set aside for displaced Floridians–peopled truly in need of them.
I know that will not be enough to convince some people. Some people spend over a year planning their Walt Disney World trips, spending hundreds of hours reading blogs like this one, expending a ton of effort planning. It takes work to score an exceptional discount, the best ADRs, FastPass+, etc. I know it’s beyond disheartening to cancel and have all that time go down the drain.
My response there is that you’re not out all of the time you spent researching and planning. The primary fruit of all that planning is not a tangible itinerary, but the knowledge gained in the process. You can apply what you learned to any trip you take, whether it be during a hurricane or a month later. Actually, you could apply that knowledge better on the later trip, as not much planning info covers ‘what to do to have fun during a hurricane.’
When it comes to the ADRs, FastPass+, discounts, and so on, most of that can be rebooked. If the trip is a month down the road, perhaps you won’t get that Be Our Guest Restaurant or Frozen Ever After booking, but if you’d potentially miss those during the storm, what’s the difference? And really, how much is that coveted ADR worth? Some of the absolute best restaurants at Walt Disney World can be booked inside of a week and you never need a FastPass+ for Country Bear Jamboree.
When it comes to discounts, the economics still do not work in your favor. Since hurricanes primarily impact fall bookings, Free Dining is probably what most people do not want to forfeit. Depending upon the size of your party and resort, Free Dining works out to be about a 0-30% savings above and beyond other discounts you could’ve booked. (Factoring in the opportunity cost of another discount.)
If Walt Disney World’s theme parks, Disney Springs, and its resort restaurants are closed for 2 days of a 7 day trip, you have lost 29% of the trip. That is, unless your ideal vacation involves being stuck at a hotel.
As a result of Hurricane Irma, the parks and Disney Springs closed early one day and were closed entirely for 2 subsequent days. During that time, you are not able to do attractions, effectively use Disney Dining Plan credits, or experience anything beyond limited offers in your hotel. And that’s the best-case scenario.
The damage hurricanes can cause is unpredictable, and all it would have taken is a couple of strong gusts of wind during the storm to have caused additional damage in one or more of the parks, precluding that or those parks from reopening for another day or two. Suddenly, in addition to the two full days of closure, one or two of the parks are closed for additional days. During this time, capacity is reduced significantly, and guests are crammed into fewer parks, causing longer lines and heavier crowds.
Or, maybe there’s significant damage to Orlando International Airport, and flights are canceled for several days after the hurricane, and you are forced to extend your vacation and stay in Orlando. There’s a cost to that, too.
I think you get the point. I’m 1,000 words into this post and have spent a lot of time explaining why people should cancel their trips when a hurricane is forecast to impact Central Florida. To me, it seems like such a patently obvious, no-brainer decision. To each their own, I suppose.
With all of that said, I’ll cut to the chase here. Well, actually, not quite to the chase…to a few days before, as we tried to deal with Delta to avoid this whole scenario in the first place. Originally, our plan was to stay at Walt Disney World and do Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party before leaving on a Halloween on the High Seas cruise on Friday, then flying back to Los Angeles the following Monday.
That cruise was cancelled late Tuesday night. First thing on Wednesday, we called (or should I say, started calling) Delta to get our flight rebooked. At that point, all they had was Saturday evening–still a day in advance of Hurricane Irma’s projected Central Florida arrival–so we took it. We knew there was a chance the airport would close early, so we kept trying for other flights after getting that rebooked.
Our experience with Delta was frustrating and a bit embarrassing, actually. Normally, we are the savvy travelers who know the right things to do or we are persistent until catching the right break. We had three days to get our flight rescheduled. We made over a dozen calls to Delta, and yet, absolutely nothing.
Since the hurricane, I’ve replayed what we did in my head, wondering how things could’ve gone differently. If we had asked to speak to a manager on a particular call or been more tenacious when asking to be rebooked on a different airline, we could’ve gotten home. I’m convinced of this–I know Delta added flights and I have no doubt that people who called after us were able to get out. They just were luckier or savvier.
It is a bit concerning that this is the second consecutive trip with serious flight cancellation problems, and serious issues dealing with the airline (United & Lufthansa and now Delta) CSRs with obstinate attitudes. In our Norwegian Fjords Disney Cruise Report, I wrote that we had more cancelled flights on that trip than during our previous years of flying combined. Well, we ended up having just as many cancelled flights on this trip.
The cancellations are not Delta’s fault, but the response and customer recovery to said cancellations certainly was. Around half of the CSRs with whom we spoke before the trip didn’t even seem to care or realize that a hurricane was approaching Florida. Orlando was not originally on Delta’s list of airport waivers (for 2 days–despite the airport already having announced it would likely be closing), which was probably part of the problem.
Once our rescheduled flight was finally cancelled (hours after MCO announced it would be closing early), Delta messaged us with rescheduled flight info: they had rebooked us on a flight that would be occurring during the height of the storm, on a day MCO would be closed. I found some humor in this, figuring it was an automated thing and Delta’s system was just slow in updating, so I tweeted out a screenshot.
“Thanks” @delta lol pic.twitter.com/JfYUo4xSWr
– Tom Bricker (@Tom_Bricker) September 8, 2017
DL2057 was canceled due to the Hurricane Irma. Our passenger’s safety will ALWAYS be our #1 priority. *AFM
– Delta (@Delta) September 8, 2017
That exchange pretty much illustrates everything you need to know about how Delta bungled this. Believe me, I could write paragraphs more about specific face-palm encounters we had with them, but I’m guessing most people aren’t reading this for some diatribe about Delta.
Normally, after such an abysmal customer service experience, most people wouldn’t deal with said company again. If you’ve watched the news lately, you know this is sort of the MO of legacy U.S. air carriers. It’s not as if United and American Airlines have sterling reputations right about now.
Unfortunately, Delta has a lot of routes we like, they are investing a ton into LAX, they fly internationally, and are in a major code-sharing alliance. If we only flew domestic flights, we’d take our business to Southwest or JetBlue. In this situation, voting with our wallets simply isn’t feasible. Hooray industry consolidation with antitrust rubber-stamping from the Department of Justice! On Page 2, we’ll check into our hotel, do some hurricane prep, and then ride out the storm at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. Click here to continue reading…
This story was not dull at all. I had to cancel my trip, and had friends in WDW that ended up leaving (drove back to Canada).
If I understand your story correctly, what you’re saying is if I didn’t cancel my vacation during the hurricane weekend there was a chance I could have met you at Pop?
We were at Pop Century earlier in the trip, so you might’ve seen us depending upon when you arrived.
We were there at Pop and opted to leave Friday a.m. I was very disappointed as not only did we lose a day but also ruined our Thursday and MNSSHP calling around and trying to make a decision what to do. But it the end, decided not to spend the money on being stuck in a room and closed parks. The drive home was awful. But the locals found out we were from Indiana and advised us to get out as we wouldn’t like being in a hurricane much! We had fun the days prior, but will not go in September anymore. January, here we come!
My boyfriend, his parents, and I were at the Boardwalk Wednesday September 6th through Saturday September 16th, so we were also there during Irma – I saw you and Sarah a few times, including at dinner on Sunday night, but didn’t want to bother you! – and I couldn’t agree more on the fantastic cast members and the top notch breakfasts, lunches, and dinners they provided – where can you get an all-you-can-eat buffet with dessert on WDW property for only $15 a person? Nowhere! And the food the first night was definitely exceptional – I was talking to the executive chef the first night, and he said that they had food prepped for the exterior restaurants that would have otherwise gone to waste, so that might explain the difference in menus Sunday and Monday night – and the yummy cupcakes from the Boardwalk Bakery that we were given for dessert! We did get a little stir crazy staying in the room all day Monday, but we enjoyed the character entertainment and seeing all of the cute dogs and other pets – I got to pet a gorgeous Russian Blue cat! – and we had the free Disney movies, Tower of Terror Clue, and card games to keep us from getting too bored. It was also nice to meet some of the other tourists that were stranded by the storm, and some of the Floridians who had fled north during meals, and every one that I talked to agreed that we could definitely have been worse off.
We were at the Contemporary during Irma and our experience was great thanks to the hardworking cast members. Three major themes of my trip that you didn’t mention in your trip report-
1. How scary and stressful Thursday was as we read each hurricane update. We were trying desperately to get a flight out, kept hearing about gas shortages and gridlock on the highways, and had an overwhelming feeling of being trapped/stuck. My husband and I paid a fortune for a Kids Night Out babysitter and spent our ‘date night’ worried to the point of nausea. I’m from the east coast and no stranger to hurricanes but I’ve never felt trapped like that before.
2. Irma blew our budget!!! By Friday we had extended our stay rather than chance our luck in a rental car, and our 4 nights in Disney turned into 8. We got 40% off our room but a theme park view don’t come cheap so it was still ridiculously expensive. The Contemporary had buffets at Chef Mickey’s and The Wave for $15 a person ($7.50 for kids I believe) on Sunday-Monday and we certainly appreciated the discount, but feeding a family of 4 for those 4 extra days was expensive even at “only” $15 a head.
3. I hate to say it but the nonexistent crowds pre-hurricane almost made the whole thing worth it. Just about every ride was a walk-on and I didn’t need most of my fast-passes. My kids are small so we were very concerned about their ability to wait in long lines, but thanks to Irma my daughter rode the Barnstormer 8 times in about 20 minutes. For both the Barnstormer and Winnie the Pooh, there was no one in line behind us so we were able to stay seated and ride the ride again without getting out. That may be a Disney World first! I absolutely agree that you should cancel your trip rather than come meet a hurricane, but for those of us who got stuck there, the insanely low wait times were a nice silver lining.
Thank you for the great information. I was wondering if you have more information about Disney taking rooms out of inventory and holding them for evacuees. Did a cast member explain to you the process for booking one of these rooms? My husband and I are new to Florida, and Irma was our first hurricane. We are on the west coast, and like so many gulf coast residents, found out late that the storm shifted and we were in the path. After much difficult deliberation, we decided against evacuating because we have animals and did not want to get stuck on the congested roads. When we finally saw late on Saturday that Disney was pet friendly for evacuees, we tried to book a room. My thought was if we can’t get out of Florida, Disney is our next best option. By Sunday morning, I was getting worried about the storm, and I checked the website again for a room. Inventory was constantly changing on the website, and when I tried to book a room, the room disappeared before I could complete the transaction. Also, the reservations call center was closed due to the storm. I had a number to Saratoga Springs and called to speak to cast member on property. I was told that the only way to find and book a room is through the website, and that cast members on property could not look up inventory for the resorts. Honestly, it was a very non-Disney, “sorry, we can’t help” response, and I was very disappointed. Any information you can give about booking a room in such a situation would be so very helpful. Your blog is the first I’ve heard of Disney pulling rooms out of online inventory for evacuees, and I would love to know what to do if, heaven forbid, it happens again. I just want to be prepared. Thanks so much! And keep up the amazing work!
I enjoyed this blog post and I did not find boring at all. It was very informative about what Walt Disney World is like during hurricane. The only time I have read deadlines about hurricanes was Lee Cockerell’s book. I am glad to hear Sarah and yourself made it out safely. Now if a hurricane is in the forecast in any of my future Fall trips, I will definitely reschedule.
I am also happy to see the positive tone of the commenters and acknowledging the wonderful job done by the cast members during the hurricanes.
Oops I jumped the gun. Replace “deadlines” with “anything detailed”
I’m a passholder in Tampa (not an original FL native!) and I enjoyed reading your experience on Disney during a hurricane. I was curious what the experience would be like from a vacationer at Disney. I 100% agree with your thoughts to reschedule if a known hurricane is coming. Not worth the risk and you wouldn’t be able to do what you intended to enjoy on your trip anyway with the closures. 1 wrong turn with that storm isn’t worth your life. We were supposed to be a direct hit that turned and headed your way near Orlando instead! It’s of course thankful news you were not harmed. Great post.
Love the post and great perspective. We are pass holders and went to Magic Kingdom the day before it closed…noticed that there were two main groups of people…international travelers (who couldn’t cancel) and pass holders. Lines were crazy short…20 minutes for 7 Dwarves! I wrote a Irma recap on my happygosunny page and mentioned Disney and I totally appreciate your review from the hotel standpoint. I was appreciative Disney was open…as we had done a week straight of hurricane prep, my mind was fried! Definitely agreed though, if cancelling is an option, I’d do it in the future.
Great post. My wife and I just moved to Southwest Florida and when the reports indicated the eye was tracking that way, we decided to evacuate to Disney BC. GOOD DECISION !! This decision was made because we happened to be vacationing at the Poly years ago when Hurricane Charlie rolled through. Disney did a superb job then and they did it again during Irma. One of the biggest concerns is the loss of power and in both storms they never did. Cast members were great and we learned many were housed on Disney property to assist with guest and aid in the recovery. Only thing I wish we knew going into this was that we could of brought our dog instead of making other arrangements. BTW, the day after the storm we saw you and Sarah on the bridge leading from BW to BC taking pictures. Always working!!!
We were at Pop during Irma and I actually sent an email last night complimenting the way things had been dealt with. We are from Scotland and never encounter this severity of weather and had basically no option but to put our faith in Disney and I’m glad we did.
Incidentally we got a bus from a park back to AoA on the Saturday and the queues for food court there were HUGE compared to Pop.
I’ve had endless questions since I got home about OMG, the weather… But I’ve told everyone I never once felt in any danger and wouldn’t hesitate in booking another holiday at this time of year in the future.
Incidentally the dogs were great, but the luggage trolley full of tubs of Guinea pigs in the hotel in I-drive wins the cuteness comp!
Agreed, we stayed at Pop and felt very safe there.
We had already started half of our Florida vacation earlier in the week at Universal, so had no choice but to stay at Disney for the last half of our vacation. We also struggled with canceled flights as well as almost paying $1000 for flights on Frontiers website THAT DID NOT EVEN EXIST. I completely agree with your frustrations when it came to both attitudes and motivation (or lack there of) to help us flee the city. So we had theee days scheduled at Disney, Saturday through Tuesday . This was our first Disney experience and we were down to o e half a day in the park. We made the most of it, power walking throughout all four parks just to say that we at least saw it. After that we went back to our room at Pop Century and that is where the pandemonium began. As those rooms have exeterior doors, we were told to grab all the food you need for two days because at midnight that night the main part of the hotel (and the cafeteria was closing.) People were crazy! Buying five, six, ten boxes of (cardboard) pizza, boxes and boxes of boxed lunches (turkey sandwich, bag of chips, piece of fruit) and all the Disney desserts they could carry. So when in Rome, do as the Romans do. We spent our highly coveted Disney dining plan on stale pizzas, pop tarts, chips, bottled drinks etc.
I must preface this next part with the fact I chose Pop Century because we were not planning to do anything in our room besides sleep and shower, so the value was hard to turn down. After our experience of spending over 48 hours on lockdown in a very small, uncomfortable room (not one of the updated rooms) we will next time spend extra for one of the moderates. Two full sized beds for our family of three (our kiddo is eleven) just does not make for a comfortable experience. We had no microwave in the room so were forced to eat our cardboard pizza that sat on the counter for two days. We were blessed to at least have a very small refrigerator to put a few drinks and desserts in. I agree with your observation of the cast, they were AMAZING and devoted to helping out in any way at they could.
We will try to go back to Disney to actually experience the Happiest Place on Earth with my family, but will definitely avoid Hurricane season and value resorts!
We are in 100% total agreeance with if we are ever in that situation again we will cancel our trip and re-book. We spent a ton of money on a Disney experience that was chalked up to six hours in the park and two days of being locked in an uncomfortable room eating stale room-temperature pizza. We never felt like the situation was unsafe, just very very boring. We booked though a Disney travel agent and prior to leaving we asked if we should just cancel and re-book (as we have no hurricane experience ourselves being from the Midwest), we were told “oh no. Don’t cancel Disney rarely closes and it’s the best place you can be!”
Popping in to say I will absolutely contribute to the Disney Tourist Blog Dunderball tournament kickstarter page when that gets put up.
We were also at Disney for the hurricane. We were on the Fantasy for a 7 day Halloween on the High Seas cruise that was cut short. Then American cancelled our 2:30pm Saturday flight home (I feel this was unnecessary, but it is what it is). We were unable to get out earlier (the cruise brought us back on Thursday) so we stayed for 5 days at Saratoga Springs. I felt we were very well taken care of, although now that I see your posts, we didn’t have it as nice as Boardwalk guests. Being on “lockdown” for two days was a bit boring but I did manage to successfully complete a challenging 1000 piece puzzle, rewatch Classic Mickey cartoons and see several Disney movies. We could barely hear the wind in our room, but it did manage to uproot several smaller trees. Thank you for sharing!
My first hurricane experience was in 2004 when our flight to Orlando was cancelled. I recall sitting in the travel agents intending to re-book only to be told there was another hurricane on the way at which point I burst into tears! We decided to play safe and rebooked for the following April and as everything else was already paid for, we decided to go all out and plan our wedding out there. It made for a wonderful trip and honeymoon combined. We are heading back for the umpteenth time this November but in all honesty wouldn’t book during hurricane season again to avoid the disappointment and angst of waiting to see what would happen. We always joke that we blame that hurricane for us getting married!
Ah yes, Florida in 2004. I live in SW Florida, and that was a tough year. We had just got power restored when they announced another hurricane.. I cried. Then we got 2 more.
My first hurricane experience was Andrew in 1992. I was on my honeymoon and first WDW trip ever. Being from the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t really comprehend what a hurricane really was. I ended up living in south Florida from 2003-2009. Going through the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons was awful and if I never go through a hurricane again, it will be too soon. Hurricane Wilma in 2005 we were without power for weeks. That being said, I have taken 3 trips to WDW during hurricane season. I do always buy trip insurance knowing that you never know what might happen.
Thank you so much for this post. You really hit the nail on the head regarding cancelling vacations and safety being the priority. I also applaud you for not staying in the parks until the bitter end on Saturday. I saw a lot of posts on social media from (mostly locals) reveling in the parks and Disney Springs as late as possible. As a relative local preparing for an evacuation and a first responder family, I found it disheartening to say the least. I appreciate your post for the seriousness with which it treated the hurricane. Thank you.
Regarding airlines, I don’t know how convenient flying out of San Diego is for you, but Alaska Airlines has a non stop from SAN to MCO that I believe they run daily. I love this flight, the flight times are good, no stopping and changing planes which I HATE and Alaska service is pretty good. I don’t think they fly non stop from LAX though. We live somewhere between those two airports so I always check both and I always find the cheaper deals and better flights from SAN. And if you prefer first class, Alaska first class prices and check in upgrade are pretty good. We were able to upgrade to first class on our last trip from MCO back to SAN for only $100 per person. And San Diego is a much smaller, less crowded and easier airport to navigate than LAX. Anyways, thanks for all your blogs and wonderful pictures. We are happy you survived Hurricane Irma and are back safe to tell the tale.
Enjoyed reading the post! (especially the part about all the dogs in the lobby!) We were scheduled to fly in on Monday, but that was obviously out of the question, so we pushed back our trip to start until Wednesday…and we were amazed at how it almost seemed as if nothing had happened. I do need to give a shoutout to Frontier Air though. They started allowing flight changes super early…and I was on hold for less than 30 minutes, followed by literally, a 9 minute conversation, changing our flights to different days with no trouble or added price at all. They have a direct red-eye from LAX (which I prefer) and for being a “budget” airline, their customer service was great! We also had great cast member interactions throughout the trip and overall were just so impressed with how Disney was handling everything post-Irma.
“…. hopefully this is helpful for someone else in the future as intense storms occur with increasing regularity due to climate change. ”
Great post. We were scheduled to be there Sept 9-16. It was our 20th anniversary trip. We wound up cancelling. Dealing with both Southwest Airlines and Disney was great, everything was refunded without any problems. The only complaint was the hold time to talk to someone at Disney, and that really wasn’t too bad at all. Rescheduling was not really an option due to work constraints. It was a bummer, we had been planning for at least 10 months, had free dining, ADR’s, Keys to the Kingdom tour, and of course fast passes…but cancelling was the best thing to do. Being from Texas, and just recently dealing with “Harvey”, we had no desire to also have to deal with “Irma”.
Tom is right, if you can cancel do so.
We wound up throwing together a last minute, quite literally, trip to Banff. We had a great time in Canada. Completely the polar opposite of Disney World, but well worth it.
Thanks again for sharing your “Irma” experience. Maybe we can plan a trip to Disney World for our 25th anniversary.
We were at the Boardwalk from Thursday to Wednesday of the storm as well. I recognized many of the same things from your pictures (including the pugs and the bearded dragon)! The puppy parade they put on in the lobby Monday morning was such a clever idea and a great example of the impromptu Disney magic that Disney is so good at! I was incredibly impressed with all of the cast members and their willingness to help as well as their wonderfully helpful and positive attitudes. Other than some unconnrallabe changed plans (Night of Joy being cancelled on Saturday and missing out on our Be Our Guest dinner reservations) my husband and I had a wonderful trip-our first one ever without our kids! We look forward to our next trip back to Disney World!!
We were at Pop Sept. 5-12. When we left on the 5th there were still a lot of questions about the path of the storm. I think we made the right decision to go. We had to move some things around but were still able to do all four parks and keep all our ADRs. We were even able to reschedule our Be Our Guest ADR from Monday to Friday.
Everything was closed the lady two days but to be honest the down time was welcome after touring the parks for over 12 hours for days in a row with a two y/o.
Yes, the staff were awesome. They kept the food court open as long as possible, there was plenty of food, and everyone was very kind to us. We just watched movies all day on a laptop on Disney Movies Anywhere. The storm wasn’t that bad to us (living in Tornado Alley) and we too slept through it Sunday night. We never felt like , were in danger. Honestly we were most worried about possibly losing power.
On Monday, the day before we went home, we just walked around the resort, enjoyed the pool a little bit, and relaxed. Several characters were at the resort interacting with guests which was cool.
We were still able to fly home on our scheduled flight Tuesday as well. Overall, we still had a great vacation. Yes, maybe we did get very lucky, but we’re glad we decided to go and not try to reschedule everything.
Loved reading this as well as anything you write! Thanks for sharing your experience, and glad you and Sarah were safe!