Alex is a self-proclaimed Disney expert who enjoys expanding her culinary skills in her free time.
The Most Magical Place for Hurricanes
Everyone knows that Walt Disney World Resort is the most magical place on Earth. It says so right on the entrance sign. However, it is also the most magical place to ride out a hurricane. Wait, what?
It is almost amazing that it took so many years, about 23 rounds of annual visits, to finally have a trip be impacted by a hurricane. And boy, did we get a doozy. Hurricane Ian, in late September 2022, was a Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall in southwestern Florida, about an hour or so away from the Walt Disney World Resort. Of course, this occurred right in the middle of our scheduled stay. Here's what to expect from Walt Disney World's resorts if you get stuck in a hurricane as we did.
Leading Up to the Storm
I will say that this was a very chaotic time. While the local news stations and national weather services were starting to narrow down the forecasts and were all in agreement over Walt Disney World's area being impacted by the storm, the management at the Disney property was not in agreement about what to do.
We had attempted to extend our stay at our resort by a day, as to ensure the storm would be out of the area when we left. At that time on Tuesday when we attempted to make the change, we were told we were not within the 48 hour window before the storm and couldn't make any changes to our reservation.
We were also told that since we were only in a tropical storm warning that it would be business as usual. That conversation did not age well. In fact, it aged as well as milk left out on a hot day. Not even five hours later we all received notifications on our phones that all theme parks would be closed on Wednesday and Thursday and a shelter-in-place order would be enforced at the resorts on property. Less than an hour after, the Walt Disney World Resort was officially under a hurricane warning.
Thankfully, the storm took a different path so we didn't need to extend our stay after all. Unfortunately, that different path meant we would be getting more of an impact.
Hurricanes are unpredictable. Up until late Tuesday night, the forecast showed the storm making landfall north of Tampa Bay which would have meant only minimal impact for the Walt Disney World Resort area. Around 8 p.m. Tuesday night it was clear Ian would make landfall well south of Tampa, would, in fact, have a direct impact on Walt Disney World, and was moving very slow.
If we had known this information only ten hours sooner we could have left and avoided the storm, but by the time the storm changed paths it was too late and we were stuck.
The Work to Prepare
The night before the storm there were maintenance crews covering outdoor trash cans with plastic wrap to keep contents inside from flying around in the storm, moving any outdoor tables and seating that weren't bolted down, while securing other outdoor fixtures that could move. This was quite a daunting task as there are dozens of resorts on the property, two mini golf courses, two water parks, four theme parks, and hundreds of food carts and restaurants on the property.
We were very lucky in that we were staying with a large group in a grand villa at Saratoga Springs. This meant we had a full-sized kitchen, and we were relatively close to the shops outside the Disney Resort area. One person from our group was not feeling up to attending Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party so he went and got some food so we could ride out the storm. However, this route would not be available to all guests as many come to the resort via the airport and the non-DVC resorts do not have kitchens.
Riding Out the Storm
Riding out the storm itself wasn't too bad. Being at Saratoga we did have the same issue that all the value and moderate resorts have: all our rooms have an outdoor walkway. On top of that, the resort itself is rather large and the distance from our room to the main lobby (where the food and activities are) was about a 10 minute walk without a hurricane.
The lobby remained open for the normal 24 hour service. There were scheduled activities for kids. They had a coloring station that was open nearly the entire time. There were various arts and crafts activities at different times as well. I saw nearly 100 children running around with masks they had just made when we went for breakfast on Wednesday morning. They were having a blast! Several characters made appearances for dance parties in the lobby. There were Disney movies and Mickey Mouse cartoons playing on the TVs. The resort made sure the kids had fun and felt safe.
I was actually pleasantly surprised with the offerings for the kid's activities since the lobby at Saratoga is small and you have to travel outside to get to the different buildings on the property. Saratoga offered the same activities as all the other resorts. The pools were even open, with lifeguards, until around 4 p.m. Wednesday. To give you an idea of the weather conditions at that time . . . we were getting dinner from the cafe to have in our room but the wind and rain had picked up to the point where I didn't think we should leave the room.
The cafe was open and fully staffed. The wait times were long, but everyone was so nice. At breakfast, there were plenty of options and we could see signs of the infamous hurricane sack meals getting ready. We grabbed dinner around 4:30. It took nearly an hour to get all the meals ready for us to take back to the room.
By that time the kitchen was out of nearly half of the menu items from the regular selection, and many of the grab-and-go sack meals were gone. The cast member I had spoken with told me they weren't sure how much longer they would be able to offer hot meals as they were running out of food.
In the gift shop, there were several options for board games and puzzles, all Disney themed of course. We bought a few games so we would be able to do something if the power went out. Many people had day bags and were spending the day in the lobby area; I imagine many of these guests were staying in studios so they didn't have much living space in their rooms.
The fitness center at the resort remained open for its normal 24 hours. We went to check if it was open around 3:30 and were surprised to see many people using it. The arcade was also rather busy as was the DVC activity room. In all, the resort was buzzing with activity. I would imagine that all the other resorts were the same.
There was a channel on the room TVs that was activated and played Disney movies 24/7 during the storm. This was great because we did lose more than 70% of the channels during the storm, but all the special Disney channels stayed active.
There was a resort lockdown in place for all of Wednesday and Thursday. There was no Disney transportation running after Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party ended on Tuesday night. There was no moving between resorts allowed, even if you had your own car.
Through the My Disney Experience App, I could see what food and activities the other resorts had. The Contemporary had grab-and-go steaks, at a much lower price, than the steakhouse. They even opened the buffet at Chef Mickey's for $20 per person. At Animal Kingdom Lodge they opened the buffet at Boma's for $20 per person, which is an amazing price considering it is normally around $60 per person.
The food courts at the All Star Resorts were still allowing mobile ordering long after Saratoga had to stop since they were running out of food. Honestly, the lobbies at the value resorts are very large and they have the most variety of food selections. The only downside would be the fact that you would have to commute through the storm to get to the dining and lobby areas as everything is outside.
All in All
I felt very safe at our resort. In fact, I felt safer at our resort than I do when we get hurricanes back home. We could see some trees had fallen and there was some minor flooding; one person we talked to had a first floor room and said they had water coming in under their door during the night.
Disney was very accommodating and really put in a lot of effort to make sure the guests were taken care of. A larger number of lower-lying resorts were evacuated prior to the storm's arrival, like the campground and the treehouse villas. In addition to that, a large number of cast members stayed at the resorts to make sure the concierge desk, gift shop, dining areas, and maintenance could be fully staffed. This means the resorts are all fully occupied during the storm.
While I would prefer to not have a hurricane come through on our vacation again, it was not the most awful experience. In fact, it was rather memorable.