When Hurricane Irma visited Disney World

September 19, 2017

Visiting Walt Disney World during the early fall has its benefits, including smaller crowds and opportunities to experience Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. But early fall is also smack-dab in the middle of hurricane season and there’s always at least a small chance that your Disney vacation can be impacted by inclement weather.

Just over a week ago, Hurricane Irma plowed through Florida, with Disney World in her path. Coincidentally, the day Irma passed through central Florida was to be the day our Disney World vacation ended. Due to some quick action earlier in the trip, with anticipation of problems traveling home, we arranged to extend our visit by two days—​meaning we were there when Irma visited Disney World.

Now that we’re back home, we thought we’d share how we rode out Hurricane Irma while in Walt Disney World.

Hurricanes are a serious matter. Although our experience with Hurricane Irma was positive, this article in no way intends to make light of the situation. We extend our sympathies to those that were displaced or harmed by Irma and Harvey this hurricane season.

Please stand clear of the hurricane; Por favor manténgase alejado del huracán

We had planned to spend Saturday, September 9th in Epcot, sampling some of the delicious fare offered at the Food & Wine Festival booths. We had already visited Epcot on another day of our trip, but had missed a few items we were eager to try. But when Disney announced that they’d be closing the parks on September 10th and 11th, we decided to cut our Epcot visit short and try to experience as many things as possible on our last day before the storm.

Disney announced Irma park closures and modified hours via the My Disney Experience app.

Fortunately, the crowds were even lower than projected on that day, enabling us to experience many of our favorite attractions with minimal wait. We rode Soarin' and then literally walked right back on from the exit to ride it again. The posted wait time as 15 minutes, but as anyone who has ever ridden Soarin' in Epcot before knows, most of that time is what is required to walk down the insanely long concourse from the entrance to the ride.

A 15 minute wait for Soarin'.

After Soarin', we visited with Joy, Sadness, and Baymax at the character spot before designing and testing an award-winning car at Test Track. We then hit up a few of the Food & Wine Festival booths we had missed (the Teriyaki-glazed SPAM® at the Hawai’i booth was delicious!).

Teriyaki-glazed SPAM® from the Hawai’i booth at Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2017.

In our quest to see as much of Disney World as possible before Irma hit, we made our way to the International Gateway and took a boat over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. After a few rounds of Toy Story Midway Mania, where again, the lines were incredibly short (as low as 5 minutes), we took an adventurous ride through space on Star Tours flight 1401.

A rare sight indeed: 5 minute wait at Toy Story Midway Mania.

We also noticed that many of the tarps that normally would hide construction work for the new Toy Story Land and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge were down, giving us a peek into what is to come for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

A peak at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and the new Grand Avenue area under construction.

Before leaving the park, we settled in on Sunset Boulevard to watch the Citizens of Hollywood. This included one bit where a few of the citizens (Paige Turner, Phoebe Bizarre, and Montgomery Dash) were "hunkering down" by tying themselves to park benches to weather out the impending storm.

Paige Turner and Montgomery Dash "hunkering down" in preparation for Irma.

After Hollywood Studios, we caught a bus back to our resort to drop off some of our gear and then headed over to the Magic Kingdom to end our day. There would be no fireworks that night, so we took a quick round of rides on some of our favorite attractions, including Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the world famous Jungle Cruise. As with the other two parks, the crowds were very light, so we walked on most of these attractions with minimal wait.

As the day ended, we stopped by the Main Street Confectionary to pick up a few hurricane snacks, including various flavors of bagged popcorn, pretzels, and some ginormous Mickey cookies. Everyone else in the Magic Kingdom had the same idea and the lines at the confectionary were easily the longest lines we waited in the entire trip. We then returned to our resort (Wilderness Lodge) to brace for the storm.

Keep your hands, arms, feet and legs inside the resort

With the parks closed and storms brewing, we had little choice but to stay at our resort for the next couple of days. We started our first hurricane morning at Whispering Canyon Cafe for breakfast. We have eaten at Whispering Canyon for lunch and dinner before, but had already made a reservation to try it for breakfast. Not only was it incredibly delicious (the biscuits were amazing), but they had also applied a hurricane discount for those not using the dining plan ($12 for adults and $6 for children).

The breakfast skillet at Whispering Canyon Cafe.

After breakfast, we returned to our room to catch a morning nap (to recover from our previous visit to 3 out of 4 Disney World parks) and spent a few moments enjoying the Disney movies on the television in our room.

Mid-afternoon we ventured our to the lobby where the cast members were keeping the lock-in fun with a variety of activities, including dance parties, arts & crafts, and games. The best part of it was when Br’er Bear and three of the Country Bears (Big Al, Shaker, and Liver Lips McGrowl) visited the lobby to join in on the fun.

Big Al joins the conga line.

Later that evening, we visited Whispering Canyon again for dinner. Although the menu was limited to only the skillet (which is what we’d have ordered anyway), the prices were once again discounted ($15 for adults and $8 for children). The food was, as always, quite tasty. What made dinner extra special was when the bears stopped in! Whispering Canyon isn’t normally a character meal experience, but apparently it becomes one during hurricanes! All four bears visited our table for photos and hugs. But the highlight of the evening was when Big Al and Liver Lips brought more ketchup to our table!

Big Al and Liver Lips bring more ketchup at Whispering Canyon Cafe.

After time dinner ended, the wind and rain had picked up considerably outside. We went back to our room, made sure all of our devices were fully charged, and settled in to sleep through the storm.

By morning, Irma had mostly passed through. There was a little lingering rain and wind, but it wasn’t long before we were able to step outside of the resort to see what damage had been done. There were a few trees that had been broken or uprooted and the entire ground was carpeted with leaves that had blown from the trees. But overall, Wilderness Lodge had made it through the storm largely unscathed.

A tree downed by Irma near the boat docks at Wilderness Lodge.

The parks would remain closed another day while any necessary cleanup and repair was performed. For us, this meant a near-repeat of the previous day, including more meals at Whispering Canyon and encounters with the Country Bears.

Gather your personal belongings, take small children by the hand, and watch your head and step as you make your way back into the parks

Originally, we had planned to visit the Magic Kingdom on September 10th, which was to be the last day of our trip. But due to Irma’s visit, we shifted those plans to September 12th, the day after the storm.

As was the case before the storm, the crowds were exceptionally light, enabling us to experience nearly every attraction in the Magic Kingdom, some of them multiple times, without waiting in long lines. We obtained FastPasses for many attractions, but they weren’t strictly necessary on most rides.

The post-storm impacts we noticed were that the Liberty Belle and the rafts to Tom Saywer Island were closed. And due to some downed trees along the rivers of the Jungle Cruise we were told that the attraction would be closed for nearly a week of cleanup.

We ended our final day with Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (which we were originally planning to attend on September 10th). By the time we had filled our trick-or-treat bags with candy, Irma was a fading memory.

Even though Irma forced us to make quick adjustments to our vacation plans, she was unsuccessful in ruining our trip. By applying flexibility in our plans, we had an amazing time, in spite of the storm. In fact, with low crowds and special activities at the resort, we were able to experience things we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. In no way are we suggesting that you should try to align your next Walt Disney World vacation during a hurricane, but if it happens, you couldn’t possibly be in a better place to ride out the storm.

Have you visited Walt Disney World during a hurricane? Were you there during Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Matthew? We’d love to hear your stories! Leave a comment and tell us how you rode out the storm.

comments powered by Disqus