As Hurricane Dorian charged toward the Florida coast over Labor Day weekend, the Walt Disney Company faced a tough dilemma: How to keep guests safe without ruining the magic of a typical – and expensive – Disney World vacation?
The emergency “Hurricane Rideout” teams at Disney World sprang into action. Lucky for Disney World-goers, the Category 2 hurricane swept past Florida on Thursday, September 5th, bringing rain and wind but no damage to the theme park.
What happens at Disney World during a hurricane threat?
Disney World theme parks closed early on Tuesday, September 3rd afternoon (3pm) and reopened normally on Wednesday morning.
Cast members and security staff in the theme parks and at all the resorts on property tied down signs, landscaping elements, and lighting fixtures.
Anything that could become a projectile in a high velocity wind was removed or secured.
Signs advised guests to stay indoors, and doors were secured with heavy zip ties to prevent access to outdoor areas.
Outside the parks, battalions of utility trucks were in place in Orlando waiting to restore power if needed (the power did not go off).
Emergency storm operations began over the weekend at the Wilderness Lodge. Workers closed off all public balconies and removed all furniture from guest room balconies as well. Pools remained open through Tuesday afternoon. The lifeguards that usually manned the swimming areas were charged with entertaining guests as the pools closed. An impromptu game and activity station was created as cast members prepared to entertain and engage with the high volume of guests returning to the resort.
Special Character Visits at the Resorts
The Hurricane Rideout Team at the Wilderness Lodge was charged with staying voluntarily for the duration of the storm. Cast members had to commit to staying onsite until Thursday, September 5th regardless of the impact Dorian had on the area. The resort was fully staffed and Disney characters roamed the lobby, engaging and interacting with guests.
Though rides and attractions weren’t available Tuesday evening, other amenities at the resort were. Up on the seventh floor, the concierge team at the Old Faithful Club planned for a busy night, preparing treats and decanting wine. Many guests opted to stay for additional nights to wait out the storm as 1,000s of flights into and out of the Orlando International Airport were cancelled. The normally quiet lounge and seating area was full with both kids and adults played board games, and keeping an eye on the flat-screen TV display showing Dorian’s progress up the coast.
The clatter of claws on the polished floor was heard throughout the lobby; evacuees from all over Florida arrived at the Wilderness Lodge, and pets were welcome to shelter at the resort during the storm. Several leashed dogs roamed the lobby, while a few unhappy cats howled from travel bags. The pets, like their owners, had arrived from the south, following the evacuation routes outlined when Dorian began to roll toward Florida. Other guests came from the Disney Cruise Line; the closure of the Miami seaport, which reopened Tuesday, meant many cruise guests were getting temporary accommodations at Disney World to ride out the storm.
Down in the lobby, a huge Jenga set and some oversize board games were set up, and lifeguards ran activities through the night for kids of all ages. Teens and young children abandoned their phones and mobile devices to take part in a game of hide and seek. Disney characters playfully engaged with guests and kept the lobby lively into the late evening.
Special Buffet Set Up for Guests
A few steps away, the character dining experience at Artist Point restaurant was ready to serve up Mickey Mouse waffles and other treats instead of their normal fare. This impromptu buffet ($12) was designed to eliminate waiting at the resort’s other dining locations.
Even the gift shop team was ready, rapidly restocking pantry items, filling shelves with reading materials, toys, and snacks to help pass the time.
Despite the closure of rides, Disney World worked to keep resort guests entertained. Many guests enjoyed the disruption of the normal hotel routine. The youngest guests were delighted with the change, making new friends and settling in for fun activities and snacks.
Guests that opted to stick out the storm saw a huge reduction in theme park crowds on Wednesday and Thursday with all the parks experiencing very light crowds.
Historically, tourist attendance drops within the five days after a major storm or hurricane. New arrivals typically cancel or delay their trip as air and ground transportation is disrupted.
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Have a magical day!