Sunday, October 9, 2016

Hurricane Matthew

As many Disney fans know, Hurricane Matthew has caused quite the commotion at the Walt Disney World Resort over the past few days.  Eliot and I were actually right in the middle of the shuffle, as we were scheduled to leave the Orlando area Thursday night- which ended up being right before the storm set in.  I thought I'd share a little about our experiences so you can know what to expect should this ever happen to you.

First and foremost, you should know that Disney will go above and beyond in a situation like this.  When Eliot and I weren't sure if we would even be able to leave Florida as scheduled, Disney told us there would be plenty of rooms for us to stay in should we need to extend our stay.  They also told us that we'd have a place to stay if we arrived at the airport only to discover that our flight was cancelled.  That was a huge relief, but that's getting a little bit ahead of the story... 

My family, Eliot and I had been watching Hurricane Matthew before it was officially a hurricane.  Before we left Maine, we were aware of the tropical storms forming.  All of my Key to the World travel agent friends were also watching it- you tend to do that when you know you'll be out at sea for a few days!  We were lucky that the storm stayed far away from our cruise.  The only less than perfect weather we got was a thunder and lightning storm during the afternoon at Castaway Cay.  Last Monday, we arrived back in Orlando relieved that our cruise went off without a hitch.

But we knew Matthew was going to follow us.  In fact, the Disney Dream cruise after ours, was changing their itinerary and being diverted to Mexico to avoid the Bahamas and the storm completely.  (Side note: After the fact, we also found out they had to stay at sea longer than expected because Port Canaveral was closed and they couldn't dock.  They also had to start rationing food.  But we also heard that they flew in extra entertainment and did whatever they could to make people comfortable.)

By Wednesday, we knew the storm was coming towards Orlando and everyone was getting prepared.  Eliot and I went to the local Walmart to check out some of the Disney merchandise.  We kept getting hurricane warning cell phone text alerts from the National Weather Service.  Everyone at Walmart was stocking up on food, water, batteries, and other necessities.  Gas stations were crazy busy with people filling up.

For Eliot and I, preparing for a storm is old hat.  In Maine, each winer we get many winter storms that cause us to prepare to be hunkered down at home.  We're used to stocking up on water, batteries, filling the bathtub with water, and preparing to lose our electricity.  I had to remind Eliot that people in central Florida are not used to that phenomenon.  You could cut the tenseness with a knife.  People were panicked, and with a category 4 or 5 hurricane coming towards us, I really didn't blame them.

However, Eliot and I weren't panicking.  Jeremy left Wednesday morning as he was originally scheduled.  Mom, Dad and Nana were planning to leave Thursday morning as planned.  Their only change of plans was to drive up as far west as they could to head towards Tennessee in order to avoid I-95.  Eliot and I were the last scheduled to leave.  Our flight was at 6:02 pm Thursday night.

We didn't start to worry until Wednesday night.  Hurricane Matthew was all anyone was talking about.  We started to talk to a few people while waiting for the Main Street Electrical Parade.  I slowly started to worry more.  Eliot had his phone out every few minutes checking the forecast.  The panic in the air was slowly seeping in.

Eliot and I went about our business and tried to keep the real world out of our Disney experience.  To no avail, it still snuck in.  There was a lady at the Emporium basically playing 20 questions with the cast members at the register.  The poor cast members didn't have the answers she wanted, so she kept prodding them.  It was clear that they were trying their very best in a tough situation.

We returned to Pop Century and went straight to the front desk.  We'd heard rumors that Pop Century was completely booked.  After getting reassurance that we'd have a place to stay either way, we were feeling a little bit better.  (Also, it's proof that you should never listen to rumors.)

We went to bed Wednesday night knowing that our flight should be ok provided the hurricane stayed on it's current track.  Thursday morning, it looked like we were still going to be ok.  Eliot and I helped Mom and Dad pack the car up.  We bid farewell to them and Nana.  Then, we packed our own bags and got ready to go have a few more hours of fun at the parks.

On the way to the buses, I noticed that the trash cans at Pop Century had all been tied to the poles.  At the Magic Kingdom, all of the pumpkins and most of the Halloween decor had been taken down.  The park wasn't busy since so many people were preparing for the storm.  The line for Space Mountain was only about 20 minutes.  Eliot and I only had about 3 hours there, and we had already made FastPass+ plans.

Eliot and I went about our business.  Shortly after arriving at the parks, I saw a notice on Facebook from all of my travel agent friends.  All the Walt Disney World theme parks were closing at 5:00 pm, and they were also going to be closed on Friday.  At the time, Eliot and I already knew that the Halloween Party had been cancelled.  But for Walt Disney World to close all of it's parks for a day, that's almost unheard of.  In fact, this is only the fifth time the parks have been closed since they opened in 1971.  (3 times for other major hurricanes and on 9/11/2001.)

It honestly amazed me how ignorant some guests were.  The family behind us on the train were still making their plans to go to Hollywood Studios on Friday.  Eliot and I turned around and told them the parks were closing early, and going to be closed Friday.  Their answer was "that sucks."  I wanted to yell, "you are aware that there's a major hurricane coming straight for us," but I held my tongue.  I know Disney is everyone's happy place, but the real world still exists outside of it.

Our time at the Magic Kingdom flew by, and before we knew it, we were getting ready to leave.  Eliot checked the 2pm National Weather Service update and it still looked like the outer bands wouldn't be arriving in the Orlando area until about 8:00 pm.  At this point, we had enough information to finally make the decision to catch our Magical Express and try to get out of there.

Meanwhile, everyone at the resorts were told to prepare to be stuck inside all day Friday.  People were stocking up on food and water.  The line at the check in and guest services areas of Pop Century were insane.  The line for guest services was twice as long as the queue was set up.  People were checking in, checking out early, getting refunds for the Halloween party.  It was crazy.

Eliot and I caught our bus and it was almost empty.  You could tell that most people had already left or their flights were cancelled.  Eliot told me that Delta, United and Southwest had all cancelled a lot of their Orlando flights.  JetBlue cancelled all of theirs after 8:00 pm.  We were going to be one of the last flights to leave.

The airport was eerily quiet.  We took our time and had dinner before going through security.  The line for security was the shortest I've ever seen at MCO.  A lot of the airport employees were leaving early if they could.  MCO had decided that they were closing at 8:00 pm Thursday, and that the airport would be closed all day on Friday so it was down to just the people who needed to be there.

Getting onto our flight was interesting.  The skies looked a bit ominous, and it had started to rain.  Everyone was a little bit restless and uneasy.  Our plane from New York arrived and we were told that our flight was going to try to get out of there.  The crowd around the boarding gate was insane.  No one was listening to the JetBlue attendants and I'm pretty sure I unintentionally ran someone over with my suitcase trying to get through to board the back of the plane.  (JetBlue boards from back to front.)  It was not a pretty scene.  If everyone listened, we probably would have gotten on the plane a lot faster.

Finally, everyone was on the plane.  It was still raining and I happened to see a bunch of fire engines and an ambulance driving down the tarmac to a gate a few down from ours.  I don't think it had anything to do with the storm, but it added to my unsettled feeling.  I said a few quick prayers for our safety, texted my brother and parents and took a few deep breaths.  After what felt like hours, we were taxiing down the runway and third in line to take off.

Take off was a little bumpy, but no where near as bad as I was expecting.  Once we were at about 30,000 feet, we leveled off and I looked out to see the clouds below.  We had in flight wifi, so I updated my friends and family on my Facebook status.  When we were over Maryland and I could see the sunset, I knew we were going to be ok.

Being at Disney in the middle of preparations for Hurricane Matthew was definitely an experience.  However, I have the upmost confidence in Disney, and not once did I ever feel unsafe.  I was a little uneasy at the airport, but Eliot and I knew the two safest places for us were probably on Disney property or at the airport.  We knew both locations would take good care of their guests, and they both would have proper emergency procedures in place should the need arise.

At the end of the day, Eliot and I were both ok.  I wish I could say the same for our east coast communities and the people of the Bahamas and Haiti.  My thoughts and prayers are certainly with all of them.  Hurricanes are serious business, and they're always a possibility if you vacation during hurricane season- April to November.  If you ever find yourself at Walt Disney World during a hurricane, stay calm, listen to cast members, be prepared, be informed and watch the local weather forecasts.  Finally, Disney's first priority is always guest safety, so you can be sure that it's a safe place to be.  °o°


  1. I arrived at Disney on Thursday, Oct. 6th. We flew at 6:10 A.M. out of Portland to Baltimore and from Baltimore to Orlando. We later heard that our flight was the last flight to leave Baltimore for Orlando for Southwest Airlines.. We were able to go to the Magic Kingdom until 5-the rain started about 4:45. As usual, Disney was its usual model of preparedness.

    1. Ooh, you were just arriving when we were leaving! I know they cancelled a lot of flights going into Orlando. I'm glad you got to enjoy the parks for a little bit before the storm came in! Disney was definitely prepared. I knew they would do everything they could to keep their guests safe! I'm glad you had a good experience and are home safe too!!! :-)