Hurricanes and Your Disney Vacation

In addition, to being a Disney fan, I also like to track hurricanes in the summer months.  As the calendar moves from July to August, hurricane season starts to pick up steam.  Many people are only able to travel to Disney during school breaks and other similar periods.  The final weeks of summer vacation also coincide with the beginnings of the peak of hurricane.  Today, I’m going to talk a little about hurricanes in general, Disney’s hurricane policy, and where you can go if you want to track these storms yourself.

photo courtesy of hurricane science
photo courtesy of hurricane science

Hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30.  However, the season doesn’t really get started until August 1 when it starts to build to its peak in early September and then slowing down in mid October.  An important to note about this graphic, this graphic includes all hurricanes and tropical storms that form not storms that only hit land.  Not every storm hits land.  Some storms “harmlessly” churn away in the Atlantic and become “fish storms.”

classic example of a "fish storm" Hurricane Fabian 2003.  photo courtesy of weather underground
classic example of a “fish storm” Hurricane Fabian 2003. photo courtesy of weather underground

Let’s me say that Florida does get hit by hurricanes.  They have in the past.  They will in the future.  Right now, Florida has gone eight years and nine months with having a hurricane make landfall in the state – one of the longest stretches in recorded weather history.  This means that Florida is overdue for a hurricane but it does not mean that the next hurricane that forms is going to hit Florida.  Weather doesn’t work that way.

Walt Disney selected Orlando as his Florida park location for a reason.  Orlando is one of the most inland communities in Florida.  This means most hurricanes that do make landfall will lose some (not all) of their punch before reaching Orlando.  The last major hurricane to hit Orlando was Hurricane Charley in 2004 and before that Hurricane Donna in the 1960s.  Two other 2004 hurricanes impacted Orlando but aside of from that Orlando does not get hit by many hurricanes.

As a result, Walt Disney World does not close very often for hurricanes.  It has closed in 1999 for Hurricane Floyd which passed off the east coast of Florida before hitting the Outer Banks of NC.  It closed three times in 2004 (Charley, Frances, and Jeanne).  All of these storms made a path through central Florida and directly impacted Orlando.  The last closure was in 2005 for Hurricane Wilma which cut through southern Florida.  The 1999 and 2005 closure, in my opinion, were for safety reasons surrounding the guests while the three 2004 closures were for the direct impact of the hurricanes.  That’s five closures in the 42-year history of Walt Disney World so about once every eight years.

Even with only five closures for hurricanes, Disney does have a hurricane policy for incoming reservations.  If there is a hurricane warning within seven days of your arrival, you are allowed to reschedule or cancel with no change or cancellation fees applied.

Disney Hurricane Policy FAQ

Disney will not cover any change or cancellation fees to your airfare even if you booked your air travel as part of your Disney vacation.  The airlines, themselves, may cover this through a “travel waiver” which gets issued in cases of forecast severe weather impacting an area and the surrounding airports.  Or you can cover this yourself by purchasing travel insurance which covers weather though this tends to be more expensive than standard travel insurance.

One caveat to Disney’s hurricane policy, guests may lose any free dining or other special offers if they decide to reschedule their vacation and the offer is no longer valid.  Disney will transfer the cost of your current reservation to any new reservation and the guest would pay the difference if it ends up being more expensive.

One thing I want to explain.  There is a difference between a Hurricane Watch and a Hurricane Warning.

From the National Hurricane Center:

  • Hurricane Watch:  An announcement that sustained winds of 64 knots (74 mph or 119 km/hr) or higher are possible within the specified area in association with a tropical, subtropical, or post-tropical cyclone. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds.
  • Hurricane Warning: An announcement that sustained winds of 64 knots (74 mph or 119 km/hr) or higher are expected somewhere within the specified area in association with a tropical, subtropical, or post-tropical cyclone. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds. The warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force.

The biggest differences between the two definitions are “winds possible” and “winds expected” and the time frame 48 hours for a watch and 36 hours for a warning.  A hurricane watch in the morning can easily become a hurricane warning by the evening.

I’m still worried about my vacation. Is there anything I can do to track these potential storms?

Yes.  There is a wonderful website called the Central Florida Hurricane Center.  This website will track storms from their “birth” to their “death” whether or not there is any impact to land.  When storms are active it will update when the National Hurricane Center releases updates at 5 am, 11 am, 5 pm, and 11 pm.  When a storm is going to impact land, the updates occur every three hours (2 am, 5 am, 8 am, 11 am, 2 pm, 5 pm, 8 pm, and 11 pm).  On the left hand side of the website, it will have all active Atlantic storms listed and a five-day forecast map.

forecast path of hurricane arthur (2014)
forecast path of hurricane arthur (2014)

The best advice I can give you is Orlando and Walt Disney World are rarely impacted by the full brunt of a hurricane unless you want to travel back in time to 2004.  Walt Disney World is prepared to handle incoming, current, and outgoing reservations for when a hurricane will hit Orlando and the parks.  Yes, it may delay your Disney magic by a day, a week, or even a few months but the park will still be there for your to enjoy that Disney magic in the future.

I hope this article shed some light on hurricanes in general and how Disney will handle your reservations should a hurricane impact the Orlando area.

Remember that you can joining the Dad For Disney Facebook group which is now just a few member shy of reaching 400 members.

I can also be followed on twitter: @DadForDisney.

Thanks for reading!

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