Hurricane Irma: Cancellations, Closures, and What to Expect

by on September 7, 2017 20 Comments

Filed under: Weather

 

Please note, TouringPlans will continue to post updates as they come in.
LATEST HERE

Current Theme Park Closures and Cancellations

CLOSED: Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and Legoland beginning Saturday evening through Monday. Currently scheduled to reopen Tuesday.

CLOSED: Blizzard Beach will be CLOSED starting Friday, September 8 through Saturday, September 9 at a minimum — closures beyond those dates have not yet been announced.

CLOSED: Orlando Sentinel is reporting that Fort Wilderness campers need to leave Fort Wilderness by 2 PM on Saturday. Also asked to leave their accommodations are people staying in the Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs.

CANCELLED: Night of Joy for Saturday, September 9. Per Channel 6 news.

Disney said guests with tickets for Saturday can attend Friday’s event instead by exchanging their ticket at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Box Office starting at 4 p.m. Friday. Refunds can be processed by calling 407-939-7818 by January 31, 2018, or email at ticket.inquiries@disneyworld.com.

CANCELLED: Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party for Sunday, September 10. Call 407-939-7818 or email ticket.inquiries@disneyworld.com for ticket exchanges and information.

Hotel Information

Contrary to a popular meme going around, Walt Disney World resort hotels have not lifted the ban on non-service animal pets. Should you need a pet-friendly hotel, your best bet is to call around for availability. A pet-friendly hurricane shelter will be opening at Kissimmee Middle School, 2410 Dyer Blvd., Kissimmee. This is your nearest evacuation shelter to WDW. Please bring supplies (medicine, food, water, clothing, bedding, etc.) and if you are bringing pets, keep small pets in a carrier, muzzle dogs that are not in a carrier, and bring food for your animals.

Availability of hotel rooms is dwindling as mandatory evacuations have now been issued for parts of the coast of Central Florida.

Airport Information

This morning, Orlando International Airport posted and rescinded a statement that the airport would be closing on Saturday, 5 PM. Although there are no official statements about closures as of this post, that would be a very likely time to close. Keep up with local news for the latest, and contact your air carrier for the most up-to-date information.

UPDATE 9/7/17 (12:30 PM): MCO is reporting that all parking garages at the airport are FULL. Please follow the signs to the Economy Lots and allow a little extra time to get to the terminal.

UPDATE 9/7/17 (4:39 PM): WFTV is reporting that the airport will be closing to commercial flights on Saturday, 5 PM ET.

Car Travel

Interstates going southbound are currently open, however this may change as evacuations reach their peak. Florida has the ability to change all southbound lanes to northbound lanes to facilitate evacuations. Tolls are currently lifted for the entire state to speed the evacuation process. Many gas stations throughout Florida are low on gasoline, and some are completely out. Use an app like GasBuddy to coordinate how to fuel your vehicle, and fill up your tank sooner rather than later if you are starting to run low, as it may take time to find a station with fuel, and waits for fuel can go for an hour or more. If you are renting a car, make sure you know your rental car insurance coverage.

If You are Riding Out the Storm

There are several items you should have on hand if you are riding out the storm at a hotel.

  • Flashlights. In the past, Disney has provided some for guests, but there is no guarantee
  • Cash. ATMs and credit card transactions may not be possible immediately following the storm
  • Water and non-perishable foods. During Hurricane Matthew, Disney offered box lunches for sale. The price was around $13 each, the food was pretty substandard , and lines to get the food stretched for hours at some resorts. If you are able to have your own food on hand, you’ll be doing better than most. Currently, most stores in the area are sold out of water and are low on perishable foods. Use social media to help locate food and water.
  • Ziploc bags. Should your hotel room experience damage that causes leaks, put your electronics (including electronic car keys) in a Ziploc bag to avoid damage. Also put travel documents, insurance cards, and other important item in a Ziploc bag to avoid damage.
  • Closed-toe shoes. Even when the all-clear is given, a lot of debris will be down, and there’s potential for “displaced animals” (snakes, fire ants, etc.) to be in debris that you may be walking through.
  • Bug spray. After a hurricane, the mosquito population booms.
  • Baby wipes and cooling towels. It is possible that you will be in a stuffy hotel room with no a/c and no ability to shower for a few days. Baby wipes and cooling towels make it more bearable.
  • Non-electronic entertainment. The time during a hurricane when it is not safe to go outside can go for more than 24 hours. During that time, you may lose power. Also note that many Disney hotels use satellite TV, and so you likely will not have TV even if the power stays on during the storm.
  • First aid kit and medical supplies.

Some other tips.

  • Follow the directions of emergency management and cast members–they are there to keep you safe.
  • During the height of the storm, emergency management officials, first responders, and cast members will not be able to come to your hotel room. You will need to be self-sufficient.
  • Should your hotel door or window be breached, proceed to the bathroom and get as low as possible in the bathroom and bath tub with a pillow over your head.
  • Inform family members of your travel plans, but also inform them that you may not be able to check in during or immediately after the storm. Cell networks will be overloaded and cell towers may be down. Text messages are more likely to make it through than phone calls or social media posts.
  • Should the electricity go out to your hotel room, some power-assist toilets may not flush. Not a thing anyone can do about that, so you may want to pack air freshener with you.
  • After the storm, be aware of downed power lines and loose tree limbs. Just because the storm has passed doesn’t mean that the danger is over–many fatalities occur after the storm has passed due to blunt force trauma from falling tree limbs or electrocution from power lines.

But it’s *only* supposed to be….

I’ve heard many comments about how Orlando will be spared this hurricane because it is always spared, and how the worst that Central Florida might get is “only” a category 3. Please keep in mind that even in tropical storms, we do end up with fatalities. There’s no such thing as an “only a category x” hurricane. The hardworking folks at NOAA and NHC do their best to provide accurate information, but a hurricane has a mind of its own and can change direction and wind speed at the last possible moment.

If you’ve never ridden out a hurricane, here’s some of what you can expect.

  • As tropical storm force winds start rolling in, it will feel like a fairly gusty day. There may or may not be much rain with the storm in the outer bands, and the storm will come and go.
  • As hurricane force winds start coming in, it will get very noisy. The whole “a tornado sounds like a freight train” bit applies here.
  • Speaking of tornadoes, hurricanes often spawn tornadoes. Have your cell phone handy and if you see notifications of tornadoes, take cover in your hotel bathroom.
  • Expect that you’ll have 6-8 hours when the worst of the storm will be at  your location. Your window and doors may rattle. You may hear objects striking the building. Your hotel windows will not be boarded up, and so if they are hit with something, they will likely crack or shatter. Please stay away from the windows and doors. If the storm peaks overnight, you probably won’t get a lot of sleep.
  • Do not use open flames in your hotel room, even if the power goes out.
  • Severe flooding is not likely with this storm at hotel locations, however early rainfall estimates are around 8″ expected. If debris blocks the storm drains, you may see localized flooding at resort hotel grounds.
  • Transformers on power poles are sensitive to weather conditions brought about by hurricanes. During the storm, you may hear explosions — It is likely that will be the noise of transformers exploding. Please do NOT go out to check.

How long will it take for the parks to open?

At all times in the storm, Safety is key. Some Cast Members will be sheltering at Walt Disney World (and give mad props to them–some of them are leaving their families alone at home during the storm!). Once the all clear is given, Cast Member spring into action removing large debris. Special crews must assess the structural integrity of show buildings and look and repair damages. A variety of safety checks must be done on every part of the facility. This. Takes. Time. It cannot be rushed. Also, roads may be closed and so Cast Members who are not sheltered on property may not be able to get in. This may affect services like food and beverage and housekeeping. Although many Disney resorts have underground power sources and backup generators, power outages are still likely. Should power be out for a certain amount of time, refrigerated foodstuffs may have to be thrown away for safety. As a result, not all restaurants may open.

With the current track and expectations, I would hazard a guess that the parks will close late on Saturday afternoon and will not reopen until Tuesday afternoon at the absolute earliest. Wednesday is much more likely, but it could be Thursday or Friday (or longer) before parks resume normal operations depending on impacts to services in the area. Also, when parks reopen, some parks will likely open sooner than others. Transportation may be limited because roads may be closed and boat/monorail service will need to be inspected and cleared. As always, pack your patience.

 

We’ll be updating here as new information comes in (and between boarding up our own homes). No matter what you have opted to do, stay safe.

Posted on September 7, 2017

20 Responses to “Hurricane Irma: Cancellations, Closures, and What to Expect”

  • Outstanding, informative article, Julia! Until I saw your byline here, I didn’t realize I was messaging with an “official” on the Touring Plans blog yesterday 🙂

    We’ve now cancelled our trip for 9/11-9/15. With the likelihood that you described of scarce gasoline and food and impossible traffic on top of the obvious weather issues, it really doesn’t make sense to venture there with children. Thank You for your knowledge and insight.

    If WDW closes, maybe they will credit us with the days on our annual passes.

    • by Julia Mascardo on September 7, 2017, at 12:03 pm EDT

      Thank you so much for thinking about safety first!! The advice that always comes out is that things can be replaced, but lives can’t. Same holds true for vacations. I’d absolutely ask Disney to see if they can help out with the extra days. If they don’t, if you can get a message to me after the all clear, I’ll see if there’s at least some way to get some pixie dust for you and yours!

  • Our trip is planned for sept. 17-23. Should I be thinking about changing our plans? We are driving so flights are not an issue.

    • by Julia Mascardo on September 7, 2017, at 12:21 pm EDT

      By about Tuesday, September 12, there will be updates coming out about the state of things, and that will provide guidance about cancelling future vacations. If all goes well, you should be fine by those dates. Not sure what your driving plans look like, but after Matthew, sections of I-95 were flooded out for days (something like 50 miles or so), so that would also be something to keep an eye on after the storm rolls through if your travel plans include I-95 in South Carolina and Georgia. You can find information about I-95 road closures and delays here:
      http://i95coalition.org/511-travel-information/

    • by Heather Norton on September 7, 2017, at 1:20 pm EDT

      Thanks for asking those are the dates for our trip too. We will be driving from NC.

  • Heading to Orlando on the 14th. Positive thoughts for all who live in the area and that this storm does the unexpected and heads out to sea once it makes landfall.

    Hoping our trip can still happen but wish everyone a safe few days!

  • We are scheduled for AKL on 9/25. Do you think thinks will be back to normal by then? Enough for even our car rental/roads to be available and grocery stores/gas to be back up & running?

    • by Julia Mascardo on September 7, 2017, at 5:40 pm EDT

      It’s very hard to say. Earlier tracks of the storm put it going up the coast, so we’d get tropical storm winds here inland, which would be easier to clean up from. The current 5 PM track has the eye going over downtown Orlando as a category 3 storm. Recovery from that will take longer.

  • Today I cancelled our 11th – 19th trip. So, adding days to our annual pass would be nice. I appreciated not being charged a cancellation fee, but DCL is offering its guests 25% off? Be safe everyone! Praying the storm lessens and turns back out to sea. Loss of life and property trumps a vacation any day.

    • Deborah, did you speak to anyone at WDW regarding the extra annual pass days? I’m thinking if they close we might have a better case, but to be continued..

  • I live in Houston and the Red Cross tornado app was a huge help during Harvey. It had the projected path and kept it updated faster than the emergency alerts on my phone.

  • I saw this Universal Orlando announcement: As of now, our regular park operations and hours are continuing as normal. Rock the Universe event will take place as planned on Friday, September 8. However, due to Hurricane Irma, the Saturday night Rock the Universe event will be cancelled. We are also cancelling the early morning Sunday Worship Service. Guests with tickets for Saturday night are welcome to attend Rock the Universe on Friday night.

    For more details visit us at http://bit.ly/2j8rpmc

  • What a wonderful blog! We made the decision to divert to Texas for a week after reading this and hopefully we can resume our once In a lifetime trip from Australia next week. Thoughts and prayers go out to all those that have been and will be affected.
    As devastating as our plans changing are, my kids’ wellbeing is so much more important. We hope to meet mickey soon.
    Keep up the great work you are doing – your website is amazing! We greatly appreciated the pre-travel planning and now updates during our holiday.

  • Thank you for the information. We cancelled our 9/9-9/16 trip and are hoping all our friends in Florida remain safe.

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