Hurricane Irma, which has already caused the cancellation of three Disney Dream cruises, is now sparking concerns that Disney World could be forced to close if the storm moves toward central Florida.
Since being opened nearly 50 years ago, the Walt Disney World Resort has closed only four times due to hurricanes, most recently in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew.
But the Orlando resort is preparing for the possible onslaught of Irma, which could affect the area — and many families looking forward to magical vacations — within the next several days.
Disney World has a policy in place regarding those who have vacations booked when a hurricane watch is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area, or a visitor’s area of residence, within seven days of the traveler’s scheduled arrival.
Would-be visitors can reschedule or cancel their vacation packages and most room-only reservations without incurring a cancellation fee.
The company noted, however, that the policy “does not apply to certain special events or dining experiences.”
Ever since Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, Disney World’s continuously staffed disaster relief center has been on alert, with trained professionals ready to respond should Irma become an imminent threat.
Staff at Disney World resort are prepared to advise hotel guests how to react to a shelter-in-place warning in the event of a direct hit by Irma. The resort has a number of disaster command posts that are capable of dispatching personnel and supplies to ensure that guests receive adequate care during a storm.
Universal Orlando Resort spokesman Tom Schroder said the park is maintaining normal operating hours as it monitors the storm, while still accommodating changes in travelers’ plans.
“We have an affirmative, no-questions-asked policy for guests who tell us they want to change plans or seek a refund because of a named storm involving the Orlando area or where they are traveling from,” Schroder said.
Meanwhile, SeaWorld Orlando’s “peace of mind” hurricane policy allows customers to reschedule or receive a refund on vacation packages or park tickets without incurring any fees.
Theme parks in storm-prone areas often take a financial blow during hurricane season.
“During this time of the year, particularly with the Halloween events going on, literally millions of dollars can be lost,” Dennis Speigel, president of the International Theme Park Services consulting firm, told the Orlando Sentinel in 2016.
Disney is currently hosting Mickey’s Not-So-Scary-Halloween at Magic Kingdom and the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights and SeaWorld’s Halloween events are scheduled to begin later this month.
Hurricane Irma, which is now the size of France, is so powerful that it is registering on devices designed to detect earthquakes.
On Wednesday, scientists detected background noise from the storm on earthquake-detecting seismometers, likely from winds moving trees and the crashing of ocean waves.
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