What is it like to be at Walt Disney World in a hurricane? Whether you are stuck at Disney World in a hurricane during a vacation, or you are evacuating to stay at Disney World for safety during a natural disaster, you probably have a lot of questions about safety and what amenities are provided during an emergency.
We stayed on Walt Disney World property during Hurricane Dorian. As Florida residents, we decided to evacuate from our home and go to someplace where we heard was one of the safest places to be during a hurricane.
This is our story, and many helpful tips and hints, of staying at Disney World during a hurricane.
Evacuating to Disney World
So, why, as Orlando residents, did we evacuate to a Walt Disney World hotel for a hurricane?
- We’ve heard Disney is one of the best places to be during a hurricane (see below for more information).
- There was a Category 5 hurricane that had developed off the coast of Florida that was pretty much right across from Central Florida. Hurricane Dorian was estimate to be one of the most powerful hurricanes to make landfall. We didn’t want to take any chances.
- We live in a rental home on the second floor. We have essentially a wall of glass windows and sliding doors that are not hurricane proof. They leak during a heavy rainfall. We could not board up the windows and doors (didn’t have a ladder tall enough and couldn’t drill into the side of a building). And there is an oak tree just outside the window that could have sent branches flying into our home.
- Concerns over lack of power during a hurricane are a big worry. We were concerned about the above-ground power supply in our area being devastated during a storm.
Here is Disney World’s official Hurricane Policy Page, which talks about cancellation fees, rescheduling, etc.
Is it Safe to Stay at Walt Disney World During a Hurricane?
As former Cast Members and long-time residents of Orlando, we have always heard that one of the safest places to be during a hurricane is at Walt Disney World.
Is it true?
It depends on your circumstances.
There is no 100% safe and secure place to stay during a hurricane. The best place to stay is out of the path of a hurricane.
This traveler’s story about being in a hotel room during this same hurricane in Cabo will have you question whether you want to willingly stay on vacation during a hurricane. But sometimes you might not have a choice about getting out in time.
However, not everyone can evacuate to another part of Florida or another state as a hurricane approaches.
Here is why staying at Walt Disney World during a hurricane could be a smart idea for you:
- Walt Disney World has a Hurricane Ride Out crew. This means that cast members are chosen to live at the resorts and stay 24 hours a day to help keep the hotels and theme parks safe and secure. They cannot prevent weather problems and disasters, but they can respond to them.
- Disney has its own power supply, and it is underground. This is different than a power supply from Duke Energy or a power grid that is above ground (those hanging wires that you see feeding electricity to neighborhoods). With high winds and flying debris, above ground power grids can go down more easily and take longer to repair.
- With a wealth of restaurants and stores on property, you might have better luck finding food and water while on Disney property than trying to navigate the empty aisles at Publix. (Here’s our video of the empty food aisles in the grocery store before a hurricane in Orlando.)
- If your home cannot be secured properly to sustain hurricane force winds or potential flooding, then evacuating to a safer location is a must. You can go to shelters, or you can pay for a hotel room.
- Mandatory evacuations within a driving distance of Disney means that it might be the best place to stay if you are not able to stay in your own home during a hurricane.
Do hurricanes hit Walt Disney World?
A major hurricane has not yet hit and severely damaged Walt Disney World.
But that is not to say that you will avoid catastrophic damage during a natural disaster simply by staying at Walt Disney World.
Imagineers, contractors, builders, engineers and all of the people that it takes to construct hotels in Orlando and Walt Disney World must build according to building codes that account for hurricane force winds, flooding, impact resistant windows, etc.
But no hotel could ever be fully 100% hurricane proof.
There is a rumor that Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom can be dismantled for a hurricane. Here’s the truth of taking apart Cinderella Castle for a hurricane.
Staying in a Hotel During a Hurricane at Walt Disney World
One of the major benefits of evacuating to a Walt Disney World hotel is that there is plenty of entertainment (and often food) to keep you occupied. And not going stir crazy being cooped up inside is something that really needs to be considered!
*Be sure to look for Florida resident rates or hurricane distress rates if you are evacuating from within the state. Rosen Hotels (not on Disney property) is great at offering hurricane distress rates during natural disasters.
We decided on staying at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel (a Marriott property on Walt Disney World property) for many reasons:
- Less expensive than the Disney-owned and operated hotels in the area that we wanted to be in. (Our resort fee was waived during the hurricane.)
- It was centrally located among many other facilities on Walt Disney World property.
- We could walk around outside a lot when the weather was nice. There was plenty of pathways leading to Epcot, the Boardwalk, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
- Easy access to the theme parks. We could walk to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Which meant not having to worry about driving and parking. It was also nice knowing that as soon as the theme parks opened after the storm, we could be there immediately and get out of the hotel and have something to do (with fewer crowds since so many people would need to drive in to get to the parks).
- If Marriott was unable to provide adequate supplies, we figured having three Disney-owned resorts (the Boardwalk, Yacht Club and Beach Club) nearby would help us out.
- We already had a reservation at the Walt Disney World Dolphin during that time frame, anyway, so we modified our existing reservation. We considered canceling the reservation and booking at a Disney resort, since cancellation fees were being waived and the hotels were allowing guests more flexibility. But in the end we saw the value of being where we had originally planned on staying for a night.
Is Food Available at a Disney Hotel During a Hurricane?
But with exceptions.
And Disney strongly advises eating a meal before leaving the theme parks or areas with normal operating hours. They don’t want you to come back to the hotel during a hurricane expecting to have lunch or dinner at a restaurant while riding out the storm.
Dining reservations that are during a time when Disney World has officially closed its theme parks will automatically be cancelled with no cancellation fees.
When I logged into My Disney Experience app, this is the message that appeared:
During Hurricane Dorian, we were advised to watch a TV channel in our room to find out what restaurants on property were open and when.
Here is an idea of what was available and what times they were available:
Room service dining was NOT available at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels during the hurricane.
We had a mini refrigerator in our hotel room, so we brought some perishable items from home with us (yogurt, cheese). There was also a microwave located near the ice machines that we could have used.
At Disney World resorts, the availability of food was a little different. I have many friends and fellow Disney bloggers that were visiting or staying in Walt Disney World Resort-owned hotels. Here’s what they were reporting during Hurricane Dorian (all of these reports are for the same day):
- Port Orleans Riverside was only offering boxed meals for dinner. There were no restaurants open.
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom had dinner available at Boma for just $15 for each guest.
During a hurricane at Disney World, be fully prepared to only eat a boxed meal (if available) during the storm.
Entertainment in a Disney Hotel During a Hurricane
Disney fully knows that families are there on vacation and not planning on riding out a disaster. They want to take your mind off of the worry and create a happy, less-stress environment during your stay. No matter what’s going on outside.
This is what we did as a Disney Cruise Line crew member, too, when I was working with the Cruise Director. If there was bad weather outside, we would double or triple the amount of indoor entertainment for guests by offering activities and character meet and greets that were not regularly scheduled.
You will find that there is a lot of indoor activities scheduled during a hurricane or other disaster while in a Disney Hotel. These are generally done by the recreation or characters staff.
Here’s the extra entertainment that was available at the Walt Disney World Dolphin during our hurricane stay.
The pools were open intermittently during hurricane preparation times, as well:
Other amenities, such as Swan boat rides, s’mores campfire, etc. were not offered. For this reason, our resort amenity fee was waived during our stay.
At Disney World resorts, we saw reports of the following additional entertainment:
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom had a family-friendly dance party in the lobby. Guests had plastic animal-themed hats, beating on drums, and doing line dancing with recreation staff (still dressed in their lifeguard uniforms).
- Character visits were at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, including Mickey and Minnie Mouse together, Rafiki, Goofy, etc.
- There was a dog parade at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
- Unlimited free arcade game plays, according to our friend at Raising Whasians who stayed at Disney World during a hurricane
- Free Disney movies on the television, according to this report of staying at Disney World during a hurricane
Keep in mind that normally scheduled entertainment at Disney World could be stopped during a hurricane because of wind and rain.
During our stay, fireworks were cancelled on the night before the day the hurricane was expected to hit.
Transportation Available During a Hurricane at Disney World
During Hurricane Dorian, we were actually surprised to find out that the Disney World boat transportation system was not operating the day before landfall was expected. This was due to high winds.
Depending on the weather conditions, you might expect the monorail not be operational. If the weather was bad enough to stop bus transportation, though, I would expect the parks and all guest services to be closed on Disney property.
There are a variety of Disney transportation options in Orlando. So you can pick and choose from what’s available.
When it comes to flying, that’s a whole other story. You will need to work with your individual airline, and also pay attention to when airports in the Orlando area close (MCO, Sanford and Daytona were closed during Hurricane Dorian).
What about your own car? We were concerned about having our vehicle in an open parking lot subject to high winds, flooding, and flying debris with no protection.
There are very few places with a parking garage on Walt Disney World Resort property to store your vehicle. And, quite honestly, I don’t know if those places with parking garages would make you move your car during a hurricane (I doubt it, but can’t confirm it).
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Hilton Bonnet Creek both have parking garages, which would offer protection from winds and flooding. We were thinking about moving our vehicle to one of those and paying for parking there, rather than surface parking at Walt Disney World Dolphin, and then taking an Uber back to the hotel. However, we decided not too.
What about RVs? Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort did evacuate RVs from the campgrounds and help relocate the families to Disney hotels. We did see that there were a lot of RVs parked in the Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside parking lot.
We hear that Disney guests evacuating from Fort Wilderness had a choice of cancelling their reservation or lodging in locations such as Port Orleans, Caribbean Beach Resort or Coronado Springs Resort.
Evacuating with Pets and Staying in a Disney Hotel
If you are leaving your home to come to Disney World for a hurricane, then you might have pets you don’t want to leave behind.
We don’t have pets, so I was a little surprised to check in to our hotel and see lots of people with dogs. It just didn’t occur to me that there would be pets in the hotel, but I’m glad that people could bring them.
A dog next door to us in our hotel room barked all day long. I’m not sure what the situation was there. But keep in mind that pets are scared, too. So be sure to bring their toys and comfort items.
If you are allergic to dogs or don’t want to hear barking dogs, it might be wise to ask if there is a floor without dogs. I don’t know if that is even possible, but those with allergies will want to check ahead.
What to Pack to Evacuate to a Hotel
There is always so much that you want to bring when leaving your home behind in an emergency. Such as paperwork, important documents, medications, etc.
I won’t focus as much on disaster prep for those ideas. But, rather, what we brought to a Disney Hotel for a hurricane.
- We brought an entire suitcase of all of the non-perishable foods that we had at home. Yes, Disney has food during emergencies. BUT, you can’t guarantee what kind of food it will be. And if you have any food sensitivities or concerns, you will need to bring as much of your own food as possible to make sure you have something to eat for as long as the hurricane could last.
- If you don’t have food, but want to stock up just in case, consider using a food delivery service. Amazon Prime Now will deliver from Whole Foods in 2 hours (there is a Whole Foods close to Walt Disney World Resort on Turkey Lake Road).
- A portable cooler was brought, too. Yes, there was a refrigerator in our hotel room. But if the power went out it would only stay cool for so long. With a portable cooler, we could keep things cold if we had ice. And we could keep ice in the room (the ice buckets were too tiny to really hold much).
- I filled insulated water bottles that I usually use at Walt Disney World with ice cold water. Plus, we brought a case of bottled water. The Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel did supply bottles of water in our hotel room, but I didn’t want to depend on them supplying water in case of an emergency.
- I had considered bringing our Life Straws. These are emergency water purifiers that turn nasty water into safe water (even toilet tank water, pond water, etc.). It seems crazy after a hurricane has gone through and you didn’t need them. But if it was bad and there was not enough water to supply everyone, you’d want one of these. And they can be shipped to your hotel front desk.
- Our hurricane supply kit also included a flashlight. Emergency generators would supply lighting in the hallways, but in your room you would want your own light if the power was to go out throughout the hotel.
- I had fully charged all of our portable battery packs used for cell phones and brought all of them with me.
Do Hotel Rates Go Up During a Hurricane at Walt Disney World?
No, we didn’t find this to be the case. And we did tons of research into a hotel room during the same week before the hurricane formed.
If anything, we found that the rates might have actually dropped a little bit.
When my sister was planning a vacation down at Disney to see me, it was during the week before Hurricane Dorian would hit. And my husband and I were planning on escaping crowds for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge by staying at a Disney hotel the week of Labor Day (the week Hurricane Dorian did hit) and using the Extra Extra Magic Hours.
So I had been looking at hotel rates during that time, too, and continued to keep checking to get the lowest price.
However, the hurricane wasn’t formed at the time of looking for these hotel reservations. So I know what room rates were like before Hurricane Dorian was a threat, and after Hurricane Dorian looked like it would be a Category 5 hurricane coming right over Orlando.
I had priced out rooms all across property. We had found that the Walt Disney World Dolphin was among the cheapest with the best location.
On Wednesday, August 28, 2019 – which was almost a week before Hurricane Dorian was projected to impact Central Florida – the room rate at the Walt Disney World Dolphin was $146 for a standard category room.
(I got this deal after double checking the website. We previously had a hotel room for $176 reserved. But I cancelled that reservation and rebooked at the lower rate that popped up online during my search afterwards. Check out our Walt Disney World Dolphin room tour video.)
On September 3, 2019 – the day that Hurricane Dorian was to impact Orlando and Disney World the most – we had already had a room reservation for the $146 rate.
However, in preparing for Hurricane Dorian as local Central Florida residents, we were concerned at the Category 5 hurricane that looked like it would hit the East coast at our latitude. Projections had it showing edging westward which meant that if it turned, it could be a direct hit.
So we made plans to evacuate to Walt Disney World. I started looking at the room rates. I was surprised to see they were about the same:
- Walt Disney World Dolphin was $176 a night (as a Marriott Bonvoy member). This was comparable to the room rate I had seen a few weeks earlier.
- Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter was $221 a night (which might have actually been a bit lower than the room rates that I found previously for the same time)
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort was $221, as well
- Staying at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort was $159
In the end, Hurricane Dorian did not affect Central Florida very much. There was very little rain and wind inland. So while we stayed at Disney World during a hurricane, it wasn’t catastrophic (thank GOD!).
What has been your experience staying at Disney World in a hurricane? Please let us all know ion the comments below!