My family was booked to travel to Disney World at noon of October 6, 2016. Our journey is approximately 12 hours. According to the media, Hurricane Matthew was scheduled to hit Orlando at 2 AM meaning we would arrive in Orlando only 2 hours before the storm. As a result, we decided to leave early so we arrive hours before the storm hit. The new schedule worked and we arrived at 8 PM on Thursday night, hours before the storm was to arrive.
We knew that Friday was supposed to be all storms all day, but hoped that following the storm, we would have our remaining days in the parks as usual. Orlando braced for the big hit and closed the parks on Thursday, October 6 at 5 PM and would not be open on Friday, October 7th at all. Nothing is more daunting than driving down to Florida in the southbound lanes as the remaining traffic (in many places stopped traffic) heads north and also knowing that Disney has pulled the plug on Friday in anticipation for the huge storm. We made record time in the drive since most people were smart enough to not head to the storm, but away from it!
We went to sleep and on Friday morning woke at 6 AM to check outside and the television to see the damage. We found that it was sprinkling outside but the television still reported that the worst of the storm would soon arrive. They said to brace for the storm, anticipate power outages, etc. What we found was that we were certainly lucky that the storm did not arrive as it did later cause so much devastation to the north.
Being in Disney World during the storm, here is what I quickly found out:
- How Hilton Property Reacts – We were very excited to be staying on this trip at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando – Disney Springs. We have stayed at this resort many times and love the amount of space you are given there to include a kitchenette, den area and separate sleep area. Being a bit freaked out by the impending storm, I called the hotel to make sure that their employees would still be available for guests checking in the resort. The phone receptionist ensured me that the hotel would remain open, ready for guest’s needs during the storm. The hotel was storm built, included generators in case the power went out and also had a fully equipped kitchen for the storm. All during the storm, the staff was helpful and lighthearted with the guests. In fact, the staff stayed at the resort during the entire storm! They were wonderful.
- How Disney World Resorts Reacted – My cousin was staying at the All Star Sports during the storm. On Thursday, the guests were informed that the restaurants at the hotel would not be open. Their staff would not be at the resort to sell meals. To help out the guests, they offered storm meals for the cost of $12.99 per bag which included a turkey sandwich, apple, chocolate chip cookie and a bag of pretzels. He bought a couple in anticipation of not having any available meals the next day. Cast Members were available at the front desk which was inundated in upset guests wanting their money back for one reason or the other. To help people find something to do, the resorts opened their arcades for free play.
- Disney’s Reaction to Cancelled Party – Disney had a schedule Mickey’s Not So Scary party for both October 6 and October 7. Guests who called to get a refund for October 6 were encouraged to get tickets for October 7th’s party or a party for future dates. Once the party was also cancelled on October 7, an email came out to guests stating the following:
Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, Friday evening’s party has been canceled for the safety of our Guests and Cast Members. We apologize for this inconvenience and invite you to exchange your tickets for one of the following:
Tickets to attend another Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party*.
Tickets to attend an upcoming Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party*.
1 Day Magic Your Way Tickets with Park Hopper Option*, to be used within the next two years.
Receive a full refund for your party tickets.
- The Aftermath of the Storm at the Resorts – When the storm did not show as strong as anticipated, Disney opened Disney Springs to their resort guests only. While Disney Springs was open, not all of the stores and restaurants were open. My cousin called to see if we were interested in going to eat dinner with him at Disney Springs once it opened. We arrived right as Disney Springs opened. The crowds quickly gathered in the open stores. Within minutes, the lines for the restaurants began to form. The line for T-Rex wrapped around many buildings before the restaurant opened. Having a Landry’s Select Club membership, I called T-Rex to see if I could use the Select Club benefit of getting a table without a reservation. I was told that the Select Club would not be honored on that Friday. So, we headed over to Portobello Restaurant where I had a Levy Loyalty Card membership. They stated that they would honor their Loyalty Card membership benefit of being seated without a reservation. While waiting for our table to be ready, we were informed that the wait for a table was over 4 hours. We were seated within 10 minutes. We were excited to get in for a table so quickly but also were excited to be able to use the other Levy Loyalty benefit of $25 in your birthday month!
- How were the crowds following the storm? – The next day, the storm was gone. We had hoped that the parks would have reduced attendance on the day following the storm. We thought perhaps people would leave due to fear or due to the locals not being in the area to visit the parks. What we found were CROWDS. There were so many people the next day in Epcot attending the Food and Wine Festival it was difficult to be able to walk through the World Showcase. So, know that even if you brave the storm, there will be many others willing to also do the same!
The remaining time in Disney World was wonderful. The weather was perfect! Of course, the crowds were still strong but we had anticipated the crowds when we originally booked the trip. I hope that these observations help you prepare for your future vacations to Disney if a Hurricane is anticipated.