As if anyone needs reminding, back in late August, a category five hurricane blew (understatement) its way through the Bahamas, causing devastation and seemed to be heading right for Walt Disney World.
In these situations, there seems to be a heated debate about whether people should just cancel their vacation or carry on as normal. Therefore, I do feel I should explain why we chose not to cancel our trip. This holiday was booked at the 11-month window, and our flights were booked shortly after. We would be arriving into MCO a few days before the worst of the storm was due to hit. Coming from the UK, we thought it would be a bit over-dramatic to cancel the whole 14-night vacation. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t starting to get a little nervous about it. We spent a lot of time following the news and our airline as to whether they would be flying.
Thankfully, we have friends in the Orlando area. I was able to reach out and get advice from those who live there and have experience in the subject. Those people that I did speak to all said the same thing. “You will be here before the storm hits, and you’ll be in the safest place in Orlando.” We found that very comforting, to say the least. Ultimately, this was due to happen within the first few days of our vacation. It shouldn’t have too much of an impact overall. We pressed ahead. My last thought on it was that if my friends were not telling me to cancel, we would be fine.
In the first couple days of our vacation, we found that any official mention of the hurricane was kept to a minimum. Disney did not seem to be talking about it at all. The only real clear message was that they were monitoring the situation. Naturally, we were watching the news and trying to stay informed of the hurricane path projections and so on. Ultimately though, we were not too concerned, given that Disney themselves seemed to have everything in hand.
It was on September 2nd (the day before the hurricane was expected to arrive in Orlando) that we noticed changes were being made. We received messages through My Disney Experience to tell us that there would be limited opening hours for the Parks the following day. At this point, all of the parks and Disney Springs would be closing at 3 pm. This did also mean that dining reservations would only be honoured up to 1-hour prior to park closing. In addition, any resort dining reservations after 5.30 pm would be cancelled. Thankfully, this was not an issue for us, with only one reservation being cancelled for September 4th. Our reservation was very promptly rescheduled for us by the concierge at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
The Magic Kingdom
September 3rd was an unusual day, to say the least. We continued on with our plans, making our way over to the Magic Kingdom. It was certainly notable that the park was quiet. We arrived at the car parks and were directed to the Aladdin lot. The Aladdin lot is the one right next to the underpass, which leads to the Ticket and Transportation Centre. Neither of us had EVER been parked this close before, so there was a certain novelty about it. I remember thinking it was just bizarre but totally understandable.
As you can imagine, the park itself was also very quiet. It was the quietest I have ever seen any Disney park, and I visited Disneyland Paris in the early years! There was a distinct and eerie feeling about it all. Walking around the parks, I could see where they had been making preparations for the storm. Signage had been roped down, for instance:
Our day continued much like any other, aside from the fact that we were able to get so much done. We managed Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s A Small World, Under The Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid and giving the baby a feed all in less than an hour. We had certainly never experienced anything like that before!
Eventually, when it was time to leave, we were fully expecting to head back to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It wasn’t until we were in the car about to leave when we saw an update from The DIS. Some amendments to the park opening times had been made. Epcot would now remain open until 7 pm and Disney Springs 8 pm. I note here that the update was from The DIS because it came through before anything on My Disney Experience. With this news coming through, we made a last-minute decision to head over to Epcot. We could take a calm walk around the World Showcase.
While we were at Epcot, we did note that many of the attractions were still closing at 3 pm. This was all as per the original limited opening hours, so it was not entirely unexpected. In addition, many of the Food & Wine Festival stalls remained closed or closed up earlier. That is not a criticism, by the way. We were more than happy to just enjoy the World Showcase. I just thought it was of note that while the park itself remained open, some attractions were still limited.
After a casual stroll and a brief pause to watch Born To Polka (who were fabulous by the way) in the Germany Pavilion, we decided that as we did not have a dining reservation, we would head down to Disney Springs for food and then head back to the hotel.
Much like the parks, Disney Springs was the quietest we had ever seen it. It occurred to me that while we all complain about how crowded the parks can be, there is a trade-off. With the parks and Disney Springs so quiet, it lacked a sense of atmosphere. Of course, the threat of an incoming hurricane is most definitely going to have an impact on the atmosphere anywhere. It did make me wonder. If the parks were this quiet on any given ‘normal’ day, would it mean there was a lack of atmosphere?
As much as we may wish the crowds were less, would the parks be as enjoyable if they were empty? It is so rare to see the parks in this way that it gave me pause for thought when it comes to crowds. I hasten to add that I would still prefer for there to be slightly fewer crowds, of course, but it certainly made me rethink it a bit.
Back At The Hotel
The biggest ‘surprise’ came when we arrived back at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Much to our little girl’s excitement, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Rafiki were in the Kidani Village for an unscheduled meet and greet. Of course, we had heard that it is common practice for the resorts. In the event that the parks have to close early, the resorts will add in impromptu activities to keep guests entertained. That being said, we did not take anything for granted, and so it came as the most joyous surprise. The character interactions we had that evening were among the best that we had for the whole entire trip, and I really appreciated that ‘bonus.’
When all is said and done, cast members across the Walt Disney World resort have the same concerns in their own lives. They have their own homes to worry about. Yet, here they are, in great number, making sure that the guests are still enjoying their vacation as best they can. They do not have to do any of it, but they do. I can’t speak for any other companies and how they would operate in these situations, but it speaks volumes about how the many cast members of WDW do. As ever as before, my appreciation for just how incredible Disney cast members are is huge.
Coming from the UK, we don’t really experience hurricanes too often. The last one I actually remember happening was in 1987. I was four years old. It is safe to say that what the beginning of our vacation was going to be like was a complete unknown to me. However, as a result of the way in which Disney handles these situations, I was at no point scared, panicked, or even anything more than mildly concerned. To me, that says a lot about how much I trust Disney. Even in the most unusual of circumstances or potentially devasting situations, they exhibit that Disney difference.
Before I close out, I do want to add one note, given the level of debate that I saw on social media during Hurricane Dorian. Each of us is different, has a different situation, different concerns, worries, or confidences. There was a lot of negativity aimed at people who decided to continue with their vacation being called reckless or inconsiderate. There was an equal measure of negativity towards those who did cancel their trip being accused of hysteria and panicking. I do not want this article to open up that particular side of the discussion. However, what about you? Have you experienced Walt Disney World in a situation like this? How did you find it? Let us know in the comments down below.
As always, thank you for reading. If you have enjoyed this, why not come check out the vlog series for our most recent trip:
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