If ever there were a boogeyman hovering over Disney World and Disney Cruise vacations, surely it would be hurricane season. For those not from an east coast or gulf coast state, hurricane season can seem like a time of impending doom during which only the most foolhardy travelers dare to set foot in Florida.
Not so. We believe that based on the odds, it’s generally safe to plan a Disney vacation during hurricane season.
Why do we feel that way? Let’s investigate the facts about hurricane season, so you can determine if you’re comfortable planning your Disney Cruise or Disney World trip during hurricane season. We’ll also talk through what to expect if a hurricane actually happens during your vacation.
When is Hurricane Season at Disney?
Many people are surprised to learn just how long hurricane season really is.
The Atlantic hurricane season, which can affect Disney World and Disney Cruises from Florida, lasts from June 1 through November 30th.
Yep, every single person who has ever planned a summer vacation at Disney World has traveled to Florida during hurricane season.
Surprised? You’re not alone. That’s probably because when most folks think of hurricane season, they’re thinking of, say, September and October.
Statistically speaking, hurricanes are more likely to happen from late August through late October, with mid-September being the peak — but they can happen anytime from June through the end of November. They can even happen in the other months of the year, but that’s much more rare.
But even during the peak of hurricane season, there are far more days in Florida without hurricanes than with hurricanes.
Here’s a graphic from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) showing the average tropical activity per year, based on roughly 75 years of data. Remember, this data covers storms anywhere in the entire Atlantic Ocean — not just at Disney World.
Do Hurricanes Ever Hit Disney World?
Hurricanes do occasionally impact Disney World, but not that often — and they’re usually significantly weaker by the time they get that far inland.
Hurricanes derive their strength from being over warm water, so even if the center of the storm goes straight towards Disney World, it has to cross at least 60 miles of land to get there.
That’s not to say that a storm can’t still be powerful by the time it reaches Disney. But that’s certainly more of a historical outlier.
To date, the actual center “eye” of an active hurricane has not passed directly over Disney World in the time since it opened in 1971. In 2001, Gabrielle’s center passed directly over EPCOT, but the system had weakened down to tropical storm strength before reaching central Florida.
But hurricanes are much larger than just their center point, and bad weather can stretch out for more than 100 miles from the center. Disney World has certainly had its fair share of hurricanes passing close enough to impact the area.
Remember: it’s really not a question of whether a hurricane can hit Disney World — it’s a question of whether a hurricane will hit Disney World during your vacation, with enough strength to negatively impact your experience.
Worried about a hurricane impacting your Disney vacation? One of the easiest ways of getting some peace of mind is to book using a Disney Travel Agent.
Obviously, even the best Disney travel agent can’t actually control the weather. But they can handle any last-minute impacts to your vacation. And because they know Disney’s hurricane policies inside and out, they’ll help you figure out your options should a storm threaten.
And their services are free to use — so why not book through them?
Contact The Vacationeer today for free help planning your Disney Vacation.
Does Disney World Close for Hurricanes?
Disney World does close for Hurricanes, but it’s not common. Since 1971, twelve hurricanes/tropical storm have caused Disney World theme park closures or schedule changes, affecting 18 of the parks’ 18,000+ operating days.
Disney World Hurricane Closure History
- Hurricane Elena (August 31, 1985): Magic Kingdom and EPCOT (the only Disney World parks at the time) closed earlier than normal due to the approaching storm.
- Hurricane Erin (August 2, 1995): The storm caused all three theme parks to open a few hours later than originally scheduled.
- Hurricane Floyd (September 14-15, 1999): All four theme parks closed early on the afternoon of September 14 in preparation for the storm. Animal Kingdom reopened to Disney Resort Hotel guests on the afternoon of the 15th, but the other three parks remained closed. Normal operations resumed on September 16th.
- Hurricane Charley (August 13, 2004): the 2004 hurricane season was notoriously cruel to central Florida, with Hurricane Charley marking the first of three Disney hurricane closures over a seven-week period. Animal Kingdom was closed on August 13th due to the additional logistics needed to prepare the park’s animals for the storm. The remaining three theme parks opened as scheduled, but closed early around 1PM. The parks reopened the following day.
- Hurricane Frances (September 4-6, 2004): Hurricane Frances struck the Disney World area just a couple of weeks after Charley, prompting what was at the time the most extensive hurricane-related closure in the parks’ history. All four parks were closed on September 4 and 5. Magic Kingdom and EPCOT reopened on September 6th; the other parks remained closed an additional day, reopening September 7.
- Hurricane Jeanne (September 26, 2004): The last hurrah of the 2004 season, at least as far as park closures goes, was Hurricane Jeanne. All four parks closed for one day, September 26.
- Hurricane Wilma (October 24, 2005): All four theme parks were to be closed on October 24 in anticipation of the Wilma’s arrival, but its impact was minimal. Magic Kingdom and EPCOT were able to reopen by 1PM, but the other two parks remained closed for the entire day.
- Hurricane Matthew (October 6-7, 2016): Disney closed all four of its parks at 5PM on October 6th in preparation for the storm. The parks would remain closed on October 7th, and a Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party was canceled. The storm wobbled a bit east and skirted up the eastern shore of the state, lessening local impacts; the parks were able to reopen on October 8th.
- Hurricane Irma (September 9-11, 2017): Irma remained a powerful hurricane as it approached Disney World, and its impact led to the most significant hurricane-related closures in Disney World history. Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom closed at 7PM on September 9, with Magic Kingdom and EPCOT closing at 9PM the same day. The center of the storm passed a few miles west of the parks during the overnight hours, and there was significant tree and road signage damage around Disney World. All four theme parks remained closed on September 10 and 11, and some special events such as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and the Night of Joy were also canceled. The theme parks reopened on September 12 (though some individual attractions within Animal Kingdom remained closed). The water parks remained closed for several more days, with Blizzard Beach reopening September 14 and Typhoon Lagoon reopening September 16. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground did not reopen until September 20.
- Hurricane Dorian (September 3, 2019): Dorian was a particularly difficult system to forecast, and there was initially some concern that it would directly impact central Florida as a major hurricane. As a result, Disney World’s theme parks closed earlier than scheduled on September 3. Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom closed no later than 3PM; EPCOT was supposed to close by then as well, but its hours were extended until 7PM (which was still earlier than a normal closing time) as the storm delayed its approach. The storm eventually stayed offshore and parks were able to reopen as normal the following morning.
- Hurricane Ian (September 28-30, 2022): Due to the approach of Hurricane Ian, Disney World decided to close its four theme parks, Disney Springs, and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on September 28 and 29. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party on September 29 was cancelled, as were the September 28/29 performances of Cirque du Soleil. The theme parks reopened in phases on September 30, starting with Magic Kingdom which opened at 8AM for Resort Hotel Guests and 10 AM for the general public. EPCOT opened next (9AM/11AM), followed by Hollywood Studios (10AM/noon), and finally Animal Kingdom (11AM/1PM). Disney Springs reopened later than normal on September 30. Typhoon Lagoon water park was closed starting September 29 and did not reopen until October 2 (Blizzard Beach was already closed for the season). Most hotels remained operational, but no one was permitted to check-in between 3PM September 28 and 3PM September 30. The September 27 and 29 voyages of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser were cancelled. Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground closed on September 28 and did not reopen until October 7. The Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs, waterfront Bungalows at Polynesian Village, and Cascade Cabins at Copper Creek were also briefly closed.
- Hurricane Nicole (November 9-10, 2022): Due to the nighttime approach of Hurricane Nicole, which was expected to weaken to tropical storm strength at around the time it reached Disney World, all four theme parks and Disney Springs closed earlier than scheduled on November 9. Animal Kingdom closed at 5PM; Hollywood Studios closed at 6PM; Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Disney Springs closed at 7PM. Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs reopened at noon on November 10, followed by EPCOT and Animal Kingdom at 1PM, and finally by Hollywood Studios at 2PM (with Fantasmic! being cancelled). Typhoon Lagoon water park was closed on November 10 (Blizzard Beach was already closed for the season). The November 10 voyage of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser was cancelled. The Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs and the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground were also briefly closed.
You’ll notice that most of those closure dates happen to line up nicely with the typical peak of hurricane season.
Tropical storms, which are weaker than hurricanes, usually are not strong enough to force the closure of theme parks. But it’ll be quite rainy and maybe a bit windy, and some outdoor rides may not be operating. Luckily there are plenty of indoor attractions that you can still enjoy despite the wet weather — something that’s handy to keep in mind even for Florida’s regular summer thunderstorms.
Water Parks and Recreation Hurricane Closures
Disney’s Water Parks, Golf Courses, and outdoor events are much more susceptible to closures for bad weather. They regularly close due to typical thunderstorms, excessive rain, and even cold temperatures.
They are therefore much more likely than the theme parks to close — and to be closed longer — due to hurricanes and tropical storms.
Disney Resort Hotel Hurricane Closures
Disney Resort Hotels typically remain open even during hurricanes. Not only is this necessary to maintain a safe shelter for the thousands of hotel guests who may not be able to get flights out of Orlando, but many Floridians also choose Disney hotels as their primary evacuation destination after fleeing the coast. In the past, Disney has also opened up its hotel space to house utility workers who have traveled in from other states to assist with local recovery efforts.
Fortunately, Disney has underground utilities, on-site power generation, and local water purification services; utilities typically stay up and running even during the worst of the storm. As you might imagine, resort services may be drastically reduced during a hurricane — but they do try to keep Guests entertained with movies, activities, entertainment, and character visits as long as it’s safe to do so. There will, of course, come a point during the storm that a sort of curfew will be in effect and Guests will be required to remain in their rooms as the worst of the storm rages outside.
Guests in some particularly vulnerable resort accommodations, such as the campsites at Fort Wilderness Campground or the over-water bungalows at the Polynesian Village resort, may be moved to other accommodations before the storm approaches.
Best Friends Pet Care, a pet boarding facility on Disney property, may stop accepting new arrivals but staff will remain on-site to care for animals staying there during the storm.
Disney’s two beach resorts along the Atlantic coast (located at Vero Beach, FL and Hilton Head, SC) are, of course, more susceptible to closing during hurricanes as they are located in evacuation zones.
How Do Hurricanes Affect Disney Cruises?
If your Disney Cruise sails from Florida during Hurricane Season, there’s always a chance that your sailing will be affected by a tropical system. And with many cruises sailing through the heart of the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands, the storm doesn’t have to hit Florida to affect your cruise.
There are so many variables involved with cruising, it’s hard to say exactly how your cruise would be affected by an approaching tropical storm or hurricane. But here are some examples of things we’ve seen happen in the past:
- The ship sails as scheduled, but the cruise changes its itinerary to avoid the storm. This might mean changing the order in which ports are visited, completely missing some scheduled ports in favor of more days at sea, or even completely changing itineraries — such as becoming a Western Caribbean cruise when you had booked an Eastern Caribbean cruise.
- The ship sails as scheduled, but the cruise is either cut short by one or more days — or extended by one or more days — to avoid the worst of the storm at its departure port.
- The cruise is completely canceled, either because of direct impacts to the sailing, or because the cruise immediately before it had to be extended by one or more days.
- There is no active storm, but some ports are unavailable for an extended time due to damage from a prior storm.
- Everything happens exactly as scheduled, but passengers experience a bit more “turbulence” than normal due to a distant tropical system causing high waves.
These decisions are rarely made more than a few days before your cruise is set to begin. Be sure to keep in touch with your travel agent or regularly check DCL’s severe weather updates page should a storm threaten your voyage.
Does Disney Give Refunds for Hurricanes?
Disney is rather generous when it comes to modifications and cancellations due to tropical weather.
Disney World Hurricane Policy
The official Hurricane Policy for Disney World Vacations allows for cancellations and modifications once a Hurricane Warning has been issued for Disney or for your home.
If a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area — or for your place of residence — within 7 days of your scheduled arrival date, you may call in advance to reschedule or cancel your Walt Disney Travel Company Disney Resort hotel packages and most room only reservations (booked directly with Disney) without any cancellation or change fees imposed by Disney.
If you have products and services provided by third-party suppliers included in your vacation—such as airlines, hotels, car rental agencies or travel insurance companies—you will continue to be responsible for any non-refundable payments, as well as cancellation or change fees assessed by those suppliers. The policy does not apply to certain special events or dining experiences.
If your trip involves Universal Orlando Resort, you’ll be happy to know they have a similar policy.
Of course just because you can cancel or modify without penalty doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily be easy. The hold time to reach Disney’s call centers before, during, and after an approaching hurricane can be several hours.
If you’ve booked your vacation through a Disney travel agency such as The Vacationeer, all you need to do is contact your travel agent; they’ll make the necessary phone calls for you. They can also walk you through travel insurance options, which can be surprisingly affordable (well under $100 per adult and less than $10 per kid).
Disney Cruise Line Hurricane Policy
Disney Cruise Line’s Hurricane Policy isn’t quite as clear cut as the policy for Disney World. Decisions are typically made on a cruise-by-cruise basis and sometimes based on an individual cruiser’s circumstances.
Generally speaking, it’s unlikely you will receive any substantial compensation if you still sail but your cruise changes its itinerary due to weather. That said, missing a port due to bad weather might net you a small refund — likely less than $20 per person — equivalent to the port taxes/fees for that particular missed port.
If the length of your cruise is substantially impacted, such as being shortened by one or more days, you may receive some sort of compensation, either in the form of a partial refund or a future cruise credit.
And of course, should your cruise be completely canceled, you’ll get a full refund; you might also receive a discount or credit to use towards a future cruise.
Again, these are general guidelines based on what we’ve seen DCL do in the past. Check the Disney Cruise Line website or with your travel agent for details if you think your cruise may be affected by tropical weather.
Of course, travel insurance is a wise investment, especially if you’re cruising during hurricane season. The cost of Disney Cruise travel insurance is based on a percentage of your voyage fare, typically around 8%. Ask your travel planner for details.
Should I Cancel my Disney Vacation Due to the Hurricane?
This is a question that only you can answer.
Relatively speaking, Disney World is one of the safer places to ride out a hurricane thanks in part to its strong building codes, on-site utility generation, and other on-site services.
But you’ll need to be aware that your vacation might not look exactly like you’d imagined, with park closures a legitimate possibility.
And there is always an inherent risk with severe weather; even relatively weak tropical systems can spawn tornadoes, lightning, and flash flooding.
Like any other major decision, you’ll need to decide how much risk you’re comfortable with, and how willing you are to “roll with the punches” on your vacation. Forecasts can change suddenly, meaning that the weather can be better or worse than was expected even twelve hours prior.
Read the latest forecast guidance from the National Hurricane Center, look over any operational updates from Disney, discuss things with your family and your travel agent, and decide what’s best for your situation.
Going to Disney During a Hurricane
If you decide to go ahead with traveling to Disney during a hurricane threat, here are a few suggestions:
- Be savvy with your hotel choices. Pick those which have internal hallways (such as Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge or Disney’s BoardWalk), as opposed to those with smaller individual buildings where your room door opens directly to the outside (such as Disney’s Old Key West Resort or Disney’s Pop Century Resort). This way, you’re more apt to be able to safely move about despite the rain and wind. Speaking of rain and wind…
- Be prepared for rain and wind. An umbrella is barely helpful in a tropical storm, and useless in a hurricane. You’ll want a poncho at the very least, and more likely a rain suit or similar quick-dry clothing. An extra pair of shoes would probably be welcome, too.
- Be ready for lots of changes with little warning. Parks may close and re-open with little advanced notice, and even those adjustments might not happen exactly as announced. Outdoor activities could be canceled. Pools and other facilities may close well in advance of the weather getting bad so that crews can begin securing loose equipment. Restaurants might be closed or consolidated into centralized dining experiences in banquet halls, serving less than a full menu.
- Transportation may be effected. Monorails, busses, watercraft, and the Skyliner all have their own operating limits, usually based on sustained wind speeds. Be prepared to reroute as directed.
- If the storm does hit, be prepared to be “on your own” for maybe 6-12 hours. This might involve being confined to your hotel room, possibly with whatever snacks or food you purchased ahead of time. Your in-room television should still be up and running, and you’ll likely find plenty of Disney movies on screen (though you’ll likely be more interested in watching hurricane coverage). Disney World’s own in-house TV channels will also provide plenty of information about the status of the parks and any urgent info you need to know. You’ll likely also want to have a few diversions with you such as board games or puzzle books.
- Be realistic about how quickly your vacation can return to normal. Once the storm passes, theme parks might not reopen right away, depending on damage, staffing availability, and other considerations. When they do reopen, some entertainment such as parades and fireworks might not be immediately offered, and some attractions might take longer to reopen than others.
Visiting Disney during a hurricane can be a unique experience; if you’re open to experiencing it for what it is — rather than what a traditional Disney vacation should be — you’ll likely come back home with quite a story to tell! But, as always, you alone must make the decision about whether it’s something you want to do and feel safe doing.
Disney Hurricane FAQs
Do They Really Dismantle the Castle for Hurricanes?
No, Disney does not take the turrets off of Cinderella Castle due to hurricanes. This is a pesky urban legend — usually “proven” by old photos of construction cranes installing Christmas lights or doing some other normal refurbishment work — which seems to rear its head every time a storm threatens Disney. Cinderella Castle, like everything else at Disney, is built to a strict building code which takes into account hurricane-strength winds.
Do People Work at Disney During Hurricanes?
Yes, each location has a detailed hurricane response plan that includes employees (“Cast Members”) who are part of a so-called “ride out” crew.
Their job is to “ride out” the storm at their location — they prepare the location for the storm, shelter in place on-site during the storm, and then begin surveying damage and starting recovery efforts.
So the next time you hear about a storm bearing down on central Florida, spare a thought for the Cast Members who have volunteered to work long shifts during the storm to make sure the parks can re-open as soon as possible.
And if you happen to be at Disney during a hurricane, please be extra kind to the Cast Members who are there — hurricanes can be tremendously stressful for Floridians, and they’re away from their homes and families helping to salvage your vacation! Disney does its best to take care of these Cast Members, but a kind word from you will go a long way, too!
Here are some of the terms used by the National Hurricane Center to describe tropical weather features. Understanding these can help you better judge the impact any potential storm might have on your vacation.
A Tropical Cyclone is a weather system originating over tropical/subtropical waters low pressure area, showing convection (rain and thunderstorms), and having winds which are swirling around a well-defined center point. A tropical cyclone might be designated under one of the other names shown below depending on the speed of the winds around the center of the storm.
Potential Tropical Cyclone
The NHC uses the term “potential tropical cyclone” to describe disturbances that are not yet considered a tropical cyclone, but which pose the threat of bringing tropical storm or hurricane conditions to land areas within 48 hours.
A tropical depression is a tropical cyclone which has sustained winds of 38 miles per hour or less.
A tropical storm is a tropical cyclone which has sustained winds of 39 mph – 73 mph.
Tropical Storm Watches and Warnings
- Tropical Storm Watch: An advisory issued for an area where a tropical cyclone is expected to produce winds of at least 39 mph within 48 hours, but where maximum winds are not expected to exceed 73 mph
- Tropical Storm Warning: An advisory issued for an area where a tropical cyclone is expected to produce winds of at least 39 mph within 36 hours, but where maximum winds are not expected to exceed 73 mph
A hurricane is a tropical cyclone which has sustained winds of 74 mph or higher.
Hurricane Strength Categories
Hurricanes are classified by wind speed using the Saffir-Simpson scale:
- Category 1 Hurricane: 74 mph – 95 mph winds
- Category 2 Hurricane: 96 mph – 110 mph winds
- Category 3 Hurricane: 111 mph – 129 mph winds
- Category 4 Hurricane:130 mph – 156 mph winds
- Category 5 Hurricane:156 mph or higher winds
Hurricane Watches and Warnings
- Hurricane Watch: An advisory issued for an area where a tropical cyclone is expected to produce winds of at least 39 mph within 48 hours, and where maximum winds may possibly exceed 74 mph by the time the storm passes
- Hurricane Warning: An advisory issued for an area where a tropical cyclone is expected to produce winds of at least 39 mph within 36 hours, and where maximum winds are expected to exceed 74 mph by the time the storm passes
Final Thoughts on Planning a Disney Vacation During Hurricane Season
Absolutely no one can say for sure whether a hurricane will strike Florida on a specific date several months into the future; it’s not even really possible to make that prediction more than just a few days in advance.
The only real way to judge the risk to any potential vacation you might plan is to look at the odds. There are infinitely more days in Florida without hurricanes than with hurricanes, even during hurricane season. In other words, the odds are in your favor that your vacation will go off without a tropical threat, even if you plan it during hurricane season.
In the unlikely event that a hurricane does threaten Florida exactly during the week you’re there, you can rely on Disney’s hurricane policy (and your travel insurance) to give you some flexibility and peace of mind. You’ll be able to decide if you still want to make the trip, or just cancel and rebook for a later time.
There’s a lot of hype and worry every hurricane season, but arming yourself with the facts is a great way to eliminate the fear and keep moving forward!
Still unsure? Trust an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner to help you make the right decision. We recommend The Vacationeer, an Earmarked Diamond agency.
Why The Vacationeer? You’ll have a single, dedicated travel agent as your main point of contact from start to finish. That’s one person to handle all your trip planning for you — hotel reservations, theme park tickets, dining reservations, activity planning, and more.
And if a storm forces you to change your travel plans, you won’t be stuck on hold for hours explaining your situation over and over to different Disney Cast Members. Just get in touch with your travel agent and let them handle it for you!
There’s no charge to use their planning services and there’s never any obligation to book.
So reach out to them today for a free quote on your Disney vacation (and ask about adding travel insurance to your booking — just in case!).