Hurricane Matthew has caused a number of closures and cancellations around Walt Disney World. While we have been keeping track of Hurricane Matthew with updates in our Tips for Storm Season at Walt Disney World post (which is otherwise more aimed at making the most of your vacation time on rainy days during storm season). We wanted to post some additional info and warnings here out of an abundance of caution, particularly for those of you out-of-towners (like us) who have no firsthand experience with hurricanes.
At the time of this post (see the “Updates” section for current info), the eye of Hurricane Matthews is less than 200 miles from the Florida coast; it is forecast to gain strength, making landfall as a category 4 hurricane overnight Thursday night into Friday morning. The storm will continue moving north towards Orlando early Friday, with models differing as to the extent it will impact the area. (We are seeing wind predictions of 85-130 MPH in Orlando…even the low end of that range is deadly.)
Overnight last night, Hurricane Matthews strengthened, with forecasts continuing to show it as one of the most potentially-devastating hurricanes to approach Florida in decades. Florida Governor Rick Scott has pleaded with coastal residents to heed evacuation orders, warning that the damage will be catastrophic, and that “this will kill you.”
Meteorologists were originally forecasting Hurricane Matthew to come within 50 miles of Florida as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane–but not make landfall. The latest projections show it moving farther inland and likely to make landfall on the Florida coast. While it’s not presently expected that the storm will hit Walt Disney World directly, it is expected to be close enough that winds and rains will pose a significant danger. (Orange County currently has a hurricane warning.)
This website’s official position on science (and I’m told meteorology is a form of science) is that “it’s bad,” so I won’t continue playing amateur meteorologist here. I’m just trying to underscore how serious this is, and that you shouldn’t take it lightly just because you’re at–or are going to–the ‘most magical place on earth.’
You can find the latest updates on Hurricane Matthew on the National Hurricane Center’s website or on your weather station/website of choice. While computer models are differing slightly on the details, the prevailing theme among forecasts is that this will be the worst storm to hit Florida since 2004.
Hurricane Matthew could end up drifting east from the coast, but not treating this as a serious threat would be foolish.
UPDATE (October 6, 2016 – 12:05 p.m. EST) Information is trickling out via Cast Members that all Walt Disney World parks will close at 5 p.m. tonight, will stay closed all of Friday, and won’t reopen until Saturday morning at the earliest. We have not yet received any official confirmation of this (so it’s rumor at this point), but it’s highly plausible.
Additionally, the voluntary evacuations at the Poly bungalows and Saratoga Springs Treehouse Villas (discussed below) have now turned mandatory.
UPDATE (October 6, 2016 – 12:48 p.m. EST) Above info confirmed. See screenshot below.
UPDATE (October 7, 2016 – 8:00 a.m. EST) Hurricane Matthew weakened to a Category 3 hurricane overnight. It also shifted slightly to the east, and is now not projected to make landfall in Florida. The storm will likely stay 20 to 30 miles offshore, which means Orlando will more likely than not be outside of the hurricane’s main cone, which is great news for those at Walt Disney World. This does not mean that the weather is okay–just that the potential for catastrophic damage inland is now unlikely.
The Orlando International Airport closed at 8 p.m. yesterday and Orange County remains under a curfew until 7 a.m. Saturday morning, so travel to and around Walt Disney World will remain impacted/impossible until Saturday. Unless the storm loops and returns to Florida next week (as some models suggest), the worst should be over by midday Friday.
Many readers have reported long lines at the food courts at resorts to purchase boxed lunches and other food. While these waits when you’d prefer to be having fun in the parks are irritating, please be mindful that front-of-line Cast Members have no control over staffing. Additionally, they are away from their homes and families during a very stressful time, so make sure to not take out your frustration on them.
UPDATE (October 7, 2016 – 2:45 p.m.) Disney has announced that all theme parks will reopen tomorrow at 8 a.m. Additionally, there are persistent and reliable tumors that Disney Springs will reopen at 5 p.m. (the curfew has been lifted) to resort guests only. This would mean no parking structures will open; it will be bus transport only. Reopening Disney Springs seems logical, especially since demand at hotel restaurants has been intense, leading to long lines.
UPDATE (October 8, 2016 – 1:40 p.m.)
The parks are all open and operations have returned to normal. Although we expected heavy crowds today due to pent up demand, wait times actually have not been too bad. Unless the storm loops back, this is our final update!
We’ll keep you posted with further updates at the top here…
Walt Disney World’s Response
Walt Disney World has issued a notice on the main page of its website, which provides info on the current status of Hurricane Matthew and advises guests to monitor news outlets for the latest weather information.
Disney is also waiving cancellation fees for guests with travel dates that include October 5-13, 2016. (Some pre-paid experiences–like Cinderella’s Royal Table–are not officially included in this cancellation fee waiver policy, but Disney will issue refunds there, as well.) For more information on this, read Walt Disney World’s hurricane cancellation policy.
If you are scheduled to visit Walt Disney World in the next several days, we’d encourage you to rethink those plans. We hear a lot of talk about the hurricane safety, and how Walt Disney World hotels are rated to withstand high-intensity winds and storms. That very well might be true, but you’re still undoubtedly safer in Chicagoland or New York (or wherever) during Hurricane Matthew than in Central Florida.
In short, if you have the ability to reschedule, that is probably the best option. With that said, here’s an update on the latest cancellations and closures at Walt Disney World…
(Graphics courtesy of the NWS/NOAA.)
Fort Wilderness has a mandatory evacuation, with guests needing to leave the resort by 2 p.m. on Thursday, October 6. Following that, Fort Wilderness will remain closed through Sunday. This includes all restaurants and entertainment at the campground, including Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ.
The Spirit of Aloha dinner show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort has been cancelled for Thursday and Friday, and guests in the Poly Bungalows are being encouraged to (voluntarily) move to accommodations at other resorts.
Blizzard Beach is closed both October 6 and October 7, 2016. Typhoon Lagoon will close only October 7. The Characters in Flight balloon at Disney Springs is closed through Sunday; other merchants at Disney Springs might have reduced operating hours, as well.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party has been cancelled for October 6, and guests are being given the option to switch to an alternate Halloween Party date, switch to a Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party date, receive a 1-day Park Hopper ticket, or receive a full refund.
As noted above, the four theme parks at Walt Disney World closed on Thursday (by 5 p.m.), and will remain closed all-day on Friday. Universal Orlando and SeaWorld have announced similar closures of their parks, as well.
By closing Thursday afternoon and all day Friday, Disney has erred on the side of caution. I know it stinks for those in the midst of their annual or even once in a lifetime trips to Walt Disney World, but guest and Cast Member safety are priority #1. Being proactive and keeping guests apprised of the weather situation is the best course of action. I know it’s not the best marketing, but guests occasionally need a reminder that Walt Disney World also exists in a place called “Realityland.”
We will continue to monitor Hurricane Matthew’s progress and update this post as more information becomes available. If you’re currently at Walt Disney World and receive and updates directly, please share in the comments!
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? Post any of your thoughts, questions, or anecdotes in the comments.