How Walt Disney World Takes Care of Guests in Hurricane Weather

Hurricane Idalia appears poised to disrupt Walt Disney World visits this week. Tampa officials are preparing for a Cat-4 hurricane with violent winds of at least 130 miles per hour.

Thankfully, other reports indicate that a Cat-3 hurricane is more likely, with the Weather Channel stating as of 2:30 p.m. on Monday that a Cat-2 is most likely. 

In that scenario, Tampa, Florida, and other parts of the coastline would face wind speeds of 96+ miles per hour. 

Tampa International Airport has already announced an early closure on Tuesday, August 29th. The airport will “suspend all commercial operations beginning at 12:01 a.m.” In other words, no one will fly into Tampa tomorrow. The weather forecast is that grim. 

We do have some recent history that shows what Tampa is like during these extreme weather events. Here’s a tweet with video of people evacuating the city last September during Hurricane Ian:

Obviously, vacations aren’t at the forefront of our thoughts as we worry about friends and loved ones in Florida and other impacted parts of North America.

Still, many of you likely wonder how Walt Disney World takes care of guests in hurricane weather. Here’s what I can tell you from recent history. 

Recent Hurricanes Closures at Walt Disney World

Since 2016, Disney officials have proactively closed the parks early or entirely to protect guests from inclement weather. We have four recent examples of when Walt Disney World shut down due to hurricane conditions.

The 2022 weather event, Hurricane Ian, qualifies as one of the worst weather events in Florida’s history. Due to its high-quality construction and meticulous hazard planning, Walt Disney World survived the events relatively unscathed. 

Before that, Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Hurricane Irma in 2017, and Hurricane Dorian in 2019 forced Disney to close the parks. These decisions left guests in an odd spot wherein they were on a Disney vacation but couldn’t go to a theme park. 

While Disney Vacation Club members know about the joys of resort days, the vibe isn’t the same when you have no other choice. For this reason, park officials have gone out of their way to provide guests with entertainment during their downtime.

Disney Entertainment during Hurricane Park Closures

When guests cannot enter the parks, Disney transfers more cast members to the resorts. They gain temporary assignments to feed and distract the guests who are stuck. 

Photo courtesy of Disney Tourist Blog

Some of them don costumes at the resorts. Yes, Disney hosts costumed character interactions to pass the time. You’ll often find these characters in the hotel lobbies, entertaining children and adults alike. 

Here’s a video from Disney’s Contemporary Resort during Hurricane Dorian:

That’s Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy greeting customers at Bay View Gifts. Much of what you’re watching is improvisation. The costumed cast members play a game of Hide and Seek for the enjoyment of a handful of guests. 

This visual alone demonstrates that you’ll never have better access to the Sensational Six than during a hurricane day at the resort. It’s all hands on deck for cast members with character training. 

I’ll make two other points about this video. The first is that it’s theoretically a terrible time for these guests. They’re stuck in a different city during a possible hurricane. 

The smiles on their faces belie the tension of the surroundings. Also, the crowd gradually forms as people realize this rare character interaction opportunity. This is pure Disney magic. 

Disney will also break out the board games and other interactive competitions. In fact, some lucky guests during 2017’s Hurricane Irma played against a celebrity. 

The fabulous Kristen Bell, Anna herself, played bingo with other hotel guests. There’s still a picture on her Instagram feed.

Disney Entertainment during Hurricane Ian

Last year, Disney resorts outdid themselves during Hurricane Ian. I had multiple friends vacationing at Walt Disney World during this event.

They relayed stories of scheduled events in and around the hotel lobby. For example, at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, guests could participate in activities like:

  • Descendants Mania
  • Disney Trivia
  • Make Your Own Spanish Jewelry
  • Mickey’s Spooky Bedtime Stories
  • Name That Attraction Trivia
  • Winifred’s Cauldron Toss

I’ve excluded countless others, but you get the point. Caring cast members turned the resorts into entertainment centers for people trapped inside due to inclement weather. 

Even better, Disney sent many more costumed characters to the resorts than during previous hurricanes. Several rare characters made appearances across the various Disney properties.

For example, the Country Bears held court at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Here’s a delighted girl dancing with one of the Country Bears:

Chip ‘n’ Dale and all the members of Disney’s Sensational Six held court at the resorts as well. Pluto even tried to learn how to play Checkers, although I hear it didn’t go well. 

As mentioned, Disney’s strategy during hurricanes is to bring the magic to the resorts so that guests forget their frustration over the bad weather. 

While missing out on a park visit is never fun, some of the memories guests make during the hurricanes sometimes become the most unforgettable ones. 

How often do you get true one-on-one time with costumed cast members in normal circumstances?

Dining during the Hurricane

The park closures leave guests without access to countless Disney restaurants. So, the resort eateries must pick up the slack, and Disney also sells box lunches.

During recent hurricane events, guests could buy Hurricane Meal Kits for $12.99. These packages usually include some sort of sandwich/wrap, chips or carrots, and a dessert. The packages vary and often contain fruit options as well. 

Breakfast menu items have cost less, sometimes as little as $8. However, Disney has raised the prices on most items since 2019. You should expect to pay a bit more during Hurricane Idalia, as was the case with Hurricane Ian. 

Also, keep in mind that a family of four would pay more than $50 for a single set of box lunches, which are basically glorified Lunchables. Therefore, you should view this as a last resort. 

Thankfully, the hotel restaurants serve terrific meals at discounted prices. For example, in 2019, Disney’s BoardWalk Villas sold a breakfast buffet for a modest $15 per person, a vastly superior deal to the box lunch.

Photo courtesy of Disney Tourist Blog

Similarly, Whispering Canyon Café ordinarily sells its bottomless skillets for $34.99. However, during Hurricane Dorian, management sliced the price to $14.99 per person. That’s a tremendous value for anyone staying at the DVC properties at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. 

The My Disney Experience app should update the prices for all the available menu options this week. So, keep an eye on it to discover the best meal deals. 

Dining during Hurricane Ian

Last year’s dining didn’t work as smoothly as in previous years. Disney still suffered from supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. Similarly, the parks hadn’t fully re-staffed at the time.

So, the dining options weren’t as robust. At breakfast, adult boxed meals cost $5 each and included a guest’s choice of items like bagels, cereal, fruit, and morning beverages like milk and ice cream.

Then, at lunch, people could buy $7 sandwiches. Options included roast beef, tuna salad, ham and cheese, and a vegan wrap. Disney sold drinks and chips separately. 

Since many meal kits and entrees sold out at the grab-and-go locations (it was a real problem at some resorts), Disney reopened various restaurants. 

In those instances, the restaurants typically offered their cuisine at 50 percent discounts. For example, Whispering Canyon Café sold its bottomless breakfast skillets for $12. Keep in mind that the $14.99 I referenced in the previous section was for lunch/dinner, though. Those meals were a couple of dollars more expensive in 2022 than in past years.  

Customer Service

Disney will do everything possible to take care of any guests impacted by Hurricane Idalia. The company has been terrific about this during other hurricanes, and I expect the same this week.

Photo courtesy of Disney Tourist Blog

Still, the first thing you should check is whether you bought travel insurance. If so, that’ll make the process painless for you. Just tell the cast member that you do and contact your insurer immediately.

Otherwise, you should expect to stand in line for a while at your Disney resort. Cast members can assist you with tickets, DVC stays, and other incidental issues arising from the weather event. However, it’ll take a while since everyone else in line faces the same problems. 

Remember that you don’t need to resolve everything during your trip, either. You can always contact DVC member services after you return home.

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