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What was it like to stay at a Walt Disney World hotel during Hurricane Irma?

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During Hurricane Irma, the world’s longest-lasting powerful hurricane, AllEars.Net provided frequent updates about changes occurring at Walt Disney World as well as details from Founder Deb Wills about her preparations from Davenport, Fla. We hope you found those informative and helpful.

But did you wonder what it’s really like to stay at a Walt Disney World hotel during the storm? As a local living in Orlando, I hadn’t really considered evacuating to the hotel, but plenty of Florida residents did. AllEars.Net reader Sarah Rodenbeck was kind enough to share her family’s experience at the Art of Animation hotel.

Sarah has lived in the Tampa area for a decade with her husband, and now, two young children and dog Charlie (who you might have seen pictured on the AllEars.Net Instagram account over the weekend). She had this to say about her family’s decision to take shelter at Walt Disney World:

“We were originally planning to ride out the storm at home -- sandbags filled, supplies procured, cars filled up with gas, etc. But as the models changed and Irma kept shifting west, Tampa Bay was in her sights and Saturday morning it was announced we were now in a mandatory evacuation zone.

“The thought of driving north with two kids and a dog, stuck in traffic, with no guarantees of finding gas or lodging when we might need it was almost painful, and local shelters that took pets were rapidly filling up. So as my husband and I packed, the thought of finding a room at WDW came up and would be the answer to our dilemma - safe space, further inland, not too far from home. We knew their resort buildings were built to the highest code, they had backup power sources (generators and solar), and would continue to offer their usual level of service. What made it ideal was when it was announced the resorts were welcoming evacuees AND their pets!

“Checking online showed zero availability, but I was determined. Every time I passed the iPad I would hit refresh, hoping that someone would cancel so we could snag a room. Still no luck. So I started calling in between refreshing with the first two calls yielding no availability, but the third time was a charm -- a room just opened up in the Little Mermaid section at Art of Animation! I was so thankful; the stress of prepping, keeping calm for the kids, being under a mandatory evacuation order, and not knowing what would await us upon our return was taking its toll on me. As cliche as it sounds, I really needed that win.”

Once they checked into the hotel on Sunday, Sarah said everything was very well-run, as guests expect at Walt Disney World.

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“Disney was great at keeping its guests informed (both on TV and with voicemails). Because the parks were closed, they brought the magic to us -- characters, dance parties, bingo, coloring. There was never not an activity happening. And all the arcade games were free!” (In-room movies were free, too.)

Some might wonder how everyone staying at a hotel with almost 2,000 rooms is fed during a hurricane – especially because supplies can be in short order when the storm is projected to affect residents throughout most of the state. When Sarah and her family arrived at the hotel on Sunday, they were able to purchase boxed lunches in the food court for $6 apiece. Each lunch included a choice of turkey or Italian sandwich, chips, a protein bar, a chocolate chip cookie, an apple and a bottle of water.

For dinner, the food court had only one entrance to minimize cutting and confusion, and switchbacks stretching back to the arcade were set up to accommodate guests. Sarah reported that boxed meals were still available as well as hot foods such as hamburgers, chicken tenders and pizzas. You can imagine how long the pizza line was! Still, Sarah said everything was handled efficiently. Guests also were able to make selections of sides and desserts from the coolers.

Guests had to observe a resort curfew of 7 p.m., which matched Orange County’s mandatory hurricane curfew. They were asked to stay in resort buildings after 7 p.m. but were not confined to their guest rooms. Once the hurricane threat was imminent that night, guests did stay in their rooms and were not cleared to come out until mid-morning Monday, when it was deemed safe.

“I never felt unsafe, and our room felt very secure,” Sarah said. “Even as the eye wall was overhead, we never lost power. Our windows never rattled, the door never shook, and save for some gusts of wind, we didn't hear a thing. If it wasn't for our building's alarm going off at one point, I have no doubt the kids would've slept through it all.

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“The next morning we awoke to upended trees and landscape debris scattered about, but by mid-morning it was well on its way to being cleaned up. We were instructed to stay in our rooms, but nature called for the pets and many of us were out walking our dogs before curfew was officially lifted.

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“We were asked to stay in our rooms until it was safe, so no breakfast. But late morning (11 to 11:30) they opened the food court to serve burgers and at noon offered even more hot food selections. They were well-stocked and the lines moved well.

“As far as experiencing a hurricane while staying at Disney ... I wouldn't recommend having to go through it, but if you must, Disney is the way to go."





The previous post in this blog was SeaWorld Orlando helps evacuate dolphins from Florida Keys before Hurricane Irma arrives.

The next post in this blog is Orange County (Calif.) students can apply to be Disneyland Dreamers and Doers .

Comments (12)

"They were asked to stay in resort buildings after 7 p.m. but were not confined to their guest rooms."

How does this work at a Value/Moderate resort where the only way to get to the main building/any other building is to walk outside from your room?

I mean, it sounds like the main building closed for the curfew at 7 anyway, so it's not like you would have had anywhere to go anyway. But I was just curious.

KRISTIN: Sarah said the buildings, including the main building, stayed open until 10 p.m. and guests were asked to stay indoors except when traveling between buildings. She said most guests were in their rooms well before 10 p.m. because of deteriorating weather. However, the 7 p.m. curfew meant all outdoor areas, such as pools, bars, play areas, etc., were closed at that time.

Mary Barry:

Just curious (we are also from the Tampa area and we're wanting to ride out the storm at Disney but did not because of our dog), when, where, how was it communicated that pets would be accepted at the resort hotels? For future reference I'd love to know when and where this info was relayed. I had a room booked but then did not finalize it because it hit me we would not be able to take our dog only to find out later hotels were accepting pets. Thanks for the article!

KRISTIN: I think the news first came out anecdotally on social media, and then WDW released a statement with with the requirements for the hotels accepting pets. I know that was posted on the Disney Parks Blog, and those stories are usually promoted on Twitter and Facebook.

Ken Pocsi:

We spent an extra two days following our vacation at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Living near the shore in Palm Beach Gardens we thought it best. It was a wise decision even though the weather was actually worse at WDW than at home.There was a curfew Sunday and Monday. We were not confined to our rooms and there was plenty to do. Characters for the kids in the lobby, fun and games even for the adults. Free Disney movies around the clock. The restaurants were very accessible even though there were tons of people there. The cast members were awesome and gracious with lots of freebies. Never lost power and if I had to do it again I would not hesitate.

Paul Kern:

I was at Port Orleans French Quarter during Hurricane Charley. I think Disney (and most of southeast/central Florida) were taken off guard by this storm. The staff was great and kept their cool. The guests were very demanding. I think they gave out snack food for free, but we weren't confined as long with that storm. It was fairly short (the storm hit overnight.) They closed the parks mid-afternoon I think, and opened by noon the next day. I was super impressed with how well they cleaned up Epcot. I can only image how hard the park staff worked in the morning.

The worst part, though, was the staff at the hotel who were working that afternoon had to stay to work through the evening and the next morning, and many of them had damage at their homes that they didn't discover until the next day. It was also sad to see that so many guests didn't see the staff as people with needs as well.

I felt super safe in the hotel. They are built extremely well. Thank you concrete and rebar.

I actually remember having a lot of fun. It was our vacation, so we had to make the best of it. We were with friends who had a room next door, so we kept going back and forth to see what was going on outside. We were told to stay in our rooms after a certain time. We thought hugging the wall was 'OK' - definitely more OK than the guy on the lawn trying to walk against the wind for fun!

In the end, however, Disney was awesome at keeping us posted and providing what they could on such short notice and with a small staff. We definitely had a better experience than people to the south side of Disney; they got hit harder.

Silvia:

Similar experience coming from Pinellas County with 2 cats and a dog. Stayed at Coronado Springs and it was wonderful! Felt so safe. First responders and linemen were staying there also. Arrived on Saturday to a wonderful hot meal. Very thankful to the amazing Disney cast members. And just ate my apple from Sunday's to go lunch a few minutes ago :)

Jerry:

We were in Pop Century during Hurricane Frances in 2004. Similar experience: very competent actions by all staff and a voicemail to everyone saying when the airport would be open (even when TV anchors did not have the correct information). And people from Florida were also checking into the resort.

We were there on Wednesday the 6th and scheduled to check out on Sunday, but my husband in NC convinced us to leave on Friday and start back home. :-( We were very thankful that the employees informed us that instead of losing all of our meal plan we could cash them in for snacks! Definitely not the same as eating at Le Cellier, Be our Guest etc....but at least we didn't feel like we were going home with nothing after spending MONTHS getting the reservations! Thank goodness we decided to get some pre-made sandwiches, salads and fruit to take with us too, as most things were SO packed we were unable to wait that long for a table.
I am glad they allowed your pets to stay, and wish they would allow it in certain hotels all the time...
Glad you all had a good adventure that worked out well. I hope your home in Tampa fared well also.

Patti Hricak:

I am looking for the final answer to this question: Does anyone know if Disney removed the spires on Cinderella's castle before Irma hit?

I read in one place that there is no way they could, but then read elsewhere that they did!

Thank you and hope you all fared ok with Irma!

Catherine:

We were supposed to arrive at Pop on Fri, Sep 8th for 10 night but chose late the evening of Sep 7th to cancel. One of the things that helped get me through the disappointment of cancelling our trip (now booked for Jan) was knowing that hopefully a local person who was trying to take refuge from the storm would get out room. While you were at AoA, I hope our room opened up space for another Floridian to have a safe place to stay as they rode out the storm.

Thank you also for sharing how things went at a value resort with all the separate buildings. So much of what I read talked about the moderate and deluxe resorts so I was curious.

While I still can't say that I would choose in the future to fly into the path of a storm as big as Irma was, I know that if one were to hit while we were staying at Disney (we visit every September) that we would be safe and well cared for!

Don Purney:

My wife and I stayed at the Wilderness Lodge during Irma. We had tried to get a flight out of Orlando a few days before but our airline had nothing available. We moved on to plan B. Our airline rescheduled us for a Wednesday after Irma departure.

A wonderful Wilderness Lodge cast member named Gorgio helped us get a three day extension to our stay. Originally we were supposed to leave Sunday morning but the airports were closed and Irma wouldn't let us out anyway. The days we extended were at a much reduced rate compared to our original days.

If you must weather a hurricane Wilderness Lodge is the place to do it. The lobby was set up with many games and play areas for children. The Country Bear Jamboree characters were in attendance. The restaurants had all you could eat buffets for breakfast ($12), lunch and dinner ($15) and it was delicious. The bar and fast food areas were open and the store remained open 24 hours.

The cast members that worked through the hurricane were wonderful. We could not tell that staffing had been reduced except that we kept seeing the same faces. Cast members were fabulous.

Disney's reputation for excellence is well-deserved.

We had made our reservations for AKL more than 6 months earlier and even though we were keeping a close eye on NOAA, we had determined that our vacation timing would be OK. Coming from Indiana we actually were looking forward to experiencing Irma at Disney. No, we're not crazy. We arrived on the 7th and departed on the 16th. Both flights were only 1/3 full. It was lovely. The trip was planned with a park day followed by a "Free" day. That's how we do Disney. As a result, the only thing we missed was MNSSHP on Sunday. It was disappointing, but understandable. The night Irma hit, my husband filmed from our balcony for 3 hours. No rain in the room, only a toad. The next day while the curfew was still going on, we wandered outside and photographed Irma's impact. One of our best trips ever. I can't say enough about Disney. Due to all the extra people stranded at the resort they cut Boma's price in half for both breakfast and dinner. We had the dining plan, but it was good to see Disney action. Best way to celebrate our joint retirements.

JW:

I was going to rough it out at home. As the storm got close, my wife was getting apprehensive. All hotel rooms were booked so I called Disney and got a room at Saratoga Springs. I am a cast member so with my discount it was not that expensive. They were prepared with plenty of food and refreshments. They are a class act!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 14, 2017 5:28 AM.

The previous post in this blog was SeaWorld Orlando helps evacuate dolphins from Florida Keys before Hurricane Irma arrives.

The next post in this blog is Orange County (Calif.) students can apply to be Disneyland Dreamers and Doers .

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