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Image via Flickr user Jennifer Lynn

Fall is on its way to Walt Disney World, and is bringing cooler temperatures, festive decorations and lighter crowds to the parks. Though this sounds like the perfect time to plan a visit, there’s one uniquely Floridian problem that can throw a wrench in even the most meticulously laid plans: hurricanes. Though hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through November 30, the most activity (at least on the US east coast) tends to happen between mid-August and mid-September (so, right when you might be planning your perfect visit!)

Walt Disney World does benefit from being smack dab in the middle of the state (and therefore not at risk for things like storm surge), but high winds, heavy rain, hail, and other hurricane-related maladies can still make a visit to the parks downright dangerous if a hurricane makes its way across the state. Though Central Florida hasn’t been the target of a direct hit from a hurricane in nearly a decade, recent weather reports indicate that this trend may be ending in the next few days.

While no amount of pixie dust can control the weather, there are a number of things that happen at Walt Disney World when a hurricane is projected to hit central Florida

1.  Refunds for those who haven’t traveled yet

If a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area within 7 days of a guest’s scheduled arrival date, those affected can contact Walt Disney World's guest services to cancel room reservations, dining reservations and of course, unused theme park tickets, with no cancellation charges. If affected travelers would rather reschedule their trip, Disney will work with them to find alternate dates, but guests will be responsible for any difference in cost. 

2. Closed attractions

If you’ve already arrived at Walt Disney World and a hurricane strikes, one of the first effects that guests will see in the parks is closed attractions. During a low level tropical storm, all outdoor attractions will be closed by default, even if the park itself is still open. Of course, this not only applies to completely outdoor attractions like Dumbo, but also partially outdoor attractions like Test Track, Splash Mountain, the Peoplemover and The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. If there is selected flooding in certain, low-lying areas of the park, whole sections of the park may be roped off as well. 

Interestingly, while rides are often closed during inclement weather, outdoor entertainment isn't always cancelled. You can check out this video taken during the Disney Dreams Come True parade that ran during Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 (though you'll definitely want to turn the sound down first). 

3. Limited park availability

If a storm is expected to be very intense during a specific period of time, Walt Disney World may restrict the operating hours of some of its parks. Back in 1995, category 1 Hurricane Erin hit Walt Disney World in the early morning hours, delaying the park opening until 11AM. Though the rain from the storm continued throughout the day, the weather wasn't severe enough to impact regular operation, and even though some attractions were closed, most guests enjoyed what they could on a very soggy day. 

While this example saw the park opening early, Walt Disney World may also elect to close its parks ahead of schedule as well. In 2004 during Hurricane Charley, all parks were closed by 1PM the day before the hurricane was scheduled to hit in order to prepare for the imminent category 4 storm. 

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Comments

My family was also finishing up the last of our week at the Beach Club when Charlie hit. I was amazed at how efficiently run everything was...from the 1pm closure (which is when it actually started raining...how did you DO that WDW???), to the movie marathons, the phone messages and notices under our room door with instructions, the organized lobby entertainment while we were "captive" in the hotel, and onto the very-well organized plan to FEED everyone via timed seatings and pagers. Early the next morning, they were already outside with tree trimmers, chainsaws, jeeps, etc., conducting cleanup. As our departure was to be that evening, it was trying to get through for airline info that was a mess. Miraculously, our evening flight was one of the few that was NOT cancelled, but the airport was an absolute travesty. Untold numbers of people had been forced to stay there overnight, and between the looting of the stores and food stands and the confusion, THAT was the nightmare. The plane had no food, either, as it could not be restocked. BUT, Disney definitely held up their end of the bargain, and safety was never compromised.

what arrangements are made for those camping at Fort Wilderness Resort? What if they have pets with them?

In reply to by Marylou (not verified)

Disney has a plan for that as well.

In reply to by Marylou (not verified)

We were staying at Fort Wilderness when Charley hit in 2004, they constantly kept us updated about the status of the storm and came by site by site to inform us the storm was imminent and we were being moved to French Quarter for the duration of the storm. All RVs and trailers were allowed to park in the resort parking lot you were sheltering in and once it was over you were welcome to go back to Fort Wilderness barring any damage, which there was minimal. Friends of ours got to stay at Old Key West after being evacuated so I'd imagine they put the Fort Wilderness guests in the resorts that are not fully occupied and move down the line. All in all we were very well taken care of during the storm, never lost power once!

I was at WDW during Hurricane Charlie. Animal Kingdom was the only park that was closed for 2 days. We went to Magic Kingdom the day the storm was scheduled to hit. They opened early that morning and we got to spend from 8 AM to 1 pm in the park. Spent the night at Pop Century and had a good time getting to know our neighbours during lulls in the storm. The next day the 3 parks opened as normal although there was a little visible storm damage. That had to be my most memorable trip to the World!

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