Walt Disney World: A Haven in the Hurricane - Disney Elite
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Walt Disney World: A Haven in the Hurricane

Hurricane on the Way…

When my family and I learned that Hurricane Irma was churning its way straight toward us, seemingly growing more powerful and dangerous day by day and hour by hour, we knew our September 10th Disney plans were likely not going to happen. Our family from out of state cancelled their flight to Orlando, saying they hoped to come down another time. Our dinner reservations at Rainforest Cafe for that Sunday in Animal Kingdom were scrapped, too. My Disney-loving self was resigned to the fact that this was one WDW weekend that probably wouldn't happen and that my family and I may even need to evacuate the area. With Governor Rick Scott declaring a State of Emergency to prepare Florida for the impending hurricane, I concentrated on readying my family and our home.

By Sunday we were as prepared as could be: windows boarded, food and water ready and suitcases packed in case of evacuation orders. We hunkered down and waited. Meanwhile, the weather outside remained fairly calm, with a bright sun and just a slight, suspicious breeze. It was surreal, knowing what was barreling our way. The news was on nonstop; around lunchtime I checked the hurricane status; Irma would not hit us until the next day. So, I mentioned as nonchalantly as I could to my kids' dad, Bryan, "We're all ready...the hurricane won't be here until tomorrow. Do you want to try to go to Disney for just a couple of hours?" I added, "I'll bet the line for Flight of Passage is short…" His birthday was the next day and the Disney weekend was intended to be part of his celebration. Knowing that we had time to go there and come back, it was not a difficult decision to make. We got the kids together and started on our way.

Animal Kingdom Before Irma

There were still some light crowds at Animal Kingdom when we arrived, but I could see they were moving out as the sun went down. Parking and getting through security was quick. Modified hours were in place, too; the sign at the entrance read "The Park will be closing tonight at 7:00 p.m." The live animal exhibits were closed, of course, but a few rides were still open. Fortunately for Bryan, my teen Morgan and son Rowan, the Banshee ride was one. I took my youngest, Elowen, to Dinoland, since she is not tall enough for Flight of Passage (and it's too intense for her, anyway). Unfortunately the Boneyard, which was the one place she wanted to visit and play, was closed. We tried the Primeval Whirl next, but she wasn't tall enough for that yet. So, we spent some time in Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures shop, leaving with a triceratops toy. Thankfully (I guess!) my youngest enjoys shopping and perusing stuffed toys as much as going on rides.

Throughout Dinoland, we practically had the streets to ourselves, which was a bit eerie at times. Restaurantosaurus (my favorite paleontologist-themed eatery) was totally devoid of customers; it felt really strange being the only person in there, but needless to say the Quick Service was indeed quick service! As I walked around that section of the park with my little one, WDW cast members were at almost every corner, waving and smiling despite the gray clouds starting to move in. I talked to some who said they were ready for the hurricane; a few lived close by and others said they were staying at the resorts.

Soon Bryan texted me to say they were out of Flight of Passage. It was as exhilarating an experience as expected; the line was short, the exhibits in the attraction were fascinating and the "flight" itself was awesome. We met at the Tree of Life to watch "It's Tough to be a Bug" with all the kids, but unfortunately it was too scary for both the 7 and 4 year old! A very kind cast member escorted us out and we made our way to the park exit. As we walked out of Animal Kingdom, hurricane prep was calmly happening all around us. Loose items were secured and bags of sand now served as barriers in front of shop doors. If there was a sense of urgency among the cast members, they kept it hidden well.

Disney's Beach Club Resort Before Irma

Our last stop before going home was the birthday dinner. Bryan wanted to eat at Captain's Grill, one of the restaurants participating in the current 45th Anniversary Passholder Discount promotion. We still had plenty of time to get home and wait for Irma, and with the 30% discount promotion happening at the time, we decided to go ahead to the Beach Club (where Captain's Grill is temporarily located) and see if they had any availability for us.

At the Beach Club Resort, I could really see the efforts by cast members in creating a safe and entertaining environment for families as Hurricane Irma grew closer to Orlando. Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto played games, danced around, played jokes and gave hugs to children and adults. Cast members in the Beach Club garb stayed a constant, smiling presence, managing to add even more comfort and cheer, whether in the lobby or in the Marketplace shop.

It was crowded, but not unbearable; in fact, it seemed that the guests, both young and old, wanted to be around each other at that time. Parents who were stressed couldn't help but smile when their kids played peek-a-boo with Pluto or twirled hula hoops with a cast member. Guests walked around with their furry family members, too - dogs on leashes - and not just service animals...since Walt Disney World allowed guests who needed to evacuate their homes to bring their pets along. The atmosphere was busy for sure, but rather than looking stressed and scared, guests seemed relieved, comforted and happy.

Not surprisingly, the Captain's Grill was able to seat us very quickly. We were among a handful of tables getting service that night. The kind and cheerful service by cast members continued there; as servers stopped to chat with the little ones, even quietly dropping an extra (and very delicious) cake "Push-Pop" onto the table (see the pictures - and look for hidden Mickeys)! As far as birthday dinners go, it was nicely done. Although I didn't eat the desserts, I appreciated the presentation, with touches of Disney and Mickey and chocolates with "Happy Birthday" messages. I even had the pleasure of a chance meeting with one of my college students there, who was busy doing her best as a Beach Club employee, making sure that the Disney magic was all around during the hurricane preparations.

After dinner we walked outside as we headed toward the lobby to leave and go home. Outside was where the reality of the resort's hurricane preparation really hit, with chairs tied down, entries closed and locked and other evidence of emergency readiness underway. By this time it was dark and the wind was picking up. Back in the brightly lit lobby though, the atmosphere was the same as before: noisy, fun, slightly crowded with people, Disney characters and furry friends, with everyone together waiting for Hurricane Irma.

A Haven in the Hurricane

Now that Irma has passed through Florida, it is easy to look back and reflect on how the state dealt (and is still dealing) with such a catastrophic event. Most of us know how the hurricane devastated so many lives and homes. At Walt Disney World, and where I live in Orlando, I am beyond thankful for how fortunate we were this time. Miraculously, I was one of the few who didn't lose power. Walt Disney World also kept its power, but still experienced some minor damage throughout the parks and resorts, which is evident in the debris still needing clean-up and certain areas that remain closed (like the Jungle Cruise - my favorite ride). While Walt Disney World is engaged in its own recovery efforts, the Walt Disney Company has also committed $2.5 million to help aid humanitarian relief throughout Florida, the Caribbean and other areas impacted by Irma.

I would like to offer a heartfelt thanks to Walt Disney World's hardworking and ever-smiling cast members. As Irma barreled her way toward us in Florida, locals and guests to the area were understandably scared and worried and didn't know what to expect, but were fearfully ready for the worst. At Walt Disney World, cast members did their utmost to mask their own concerns while striving to offer both entertainment and comfort to guests and their families, whether they were there due to already planned vacations or because of evacuations. Indeed, cast members certainly embodied Cinderella's famous words: "Have courage and be kind."

So, ears off to you, Cast Members! You were the ones who provided a haven in the hurricane to those of us there. Walt Disney World's magic can't happen without you, during calm or storm.


For more about Walt Disney World and Hurricane Irma's impact, view these other posts and sites:

Disney World Reopens After Hurricane Irma by Melissa Ariel

Behind-the-Scenes Pics Show How Disney World Prepared for Hurricane Irma by Suzy Strutner

Information on Hurricane Irma Walt Disney World 

Disney's Toy Story Land Opens in Summer 2018
Pixar's The Incredibles: An Exploration of Charact...

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