Note: Hurricane forecasting and tracking is an inherently dynamic situation. Hurricane information is based on NOAA and National Hurricane Center data available at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, October 5, 2016. The Thursday Update relies on data as of 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 6.
Late Thursday/Early Friday Update
Disney Cruise Line is playing it cautious with the Port Canaveral re-opening (and, I suspect, the reopening of MCO). The Disney Fantasy’s next sailing, scheduled to be a 7-Night Eastern Caribbean Cruise out of Port Canaveral, has officially been reduced to a 6-Night Western Caribbean Cruise out of Port Canaveral, departing a day later – Sunday, October 9, 2016. Guests booked on the scheduled October 8 departure are being given the option of a pro-rated refund and a $100 onboard credit or the opportunity to cancel and rebook on a future cruise by the end of 2017, with a 20% discount. The rescheduling acknowledges the possibility that Port Canaveral will not be reopened in time for the Disney Fantasy’s scheduled October 7, 2016 return.
New data overnight seems to be suggesting that Hurricane Matthew will push farther inland than initially predicted. The puts the Orlando area closer to the middle of the storm, and more likely to be subject to significantly stronger winds. NOAA’s updated forecast is now puts it at about a 50% chance that Orlando will experience hurricane force winds, in excess of 74 mph. Most projections now have the strongest winds arriving early Friday morning, with the storm clearing the area late Friday night.
Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Closings
We’re finally getting word from the two biggest theme park players in town regarding their hurricane closure plans.
- Universal Orlando is closing Wet & Wild at 2:00 p.m. today. The theme parks will close at 5:00 p.m. today. And they will be closed all day on Friday, October 7 (including cancelation of Friday’s Halloween Horror Nights). They expect to return to normal operations on Saturday.
- Walt Disney World has not released an official announcement. But word is circulating that the theme parks will be closing at 5:00 p.m. today, Thursday, October 6 and remain closed all day on Friday, October 7. They expect to return to normal operations on Saturday.
We’ve been fielding questions all day from clients with questions about Hurricane Matthew and its potential impact on their vacation plans. At this point it appears clear that Florida will be affected by a significant severe weather event. The questions really come down to when it’s likely to arrive, how severe the storm will be, and what impacts is the storm likely to have on vacation plans.
Walt Disney World
The map at left shows the National Hurricane Center’s predictions of how likely it is that hurricane force winds will be generated at various points along Hurricane Matthew’s expected storm track over the next five days. What you can see from this map is that Orlando/Lake Buena Vista is far enough inland that the chances of it being hit by hurricane force winds (in excess of 74 mph) are pretty low – it’s in the middle green band, which would place the chances of hurricane force winds at roughly 20%-30%. On the other hand, the Walt Disney World area is considered about 70% – 80% likely to be hit with tropical storm-level winds exceeding 39 mph.
Due to those high winds, Walt Disney World has already evacuated guests from Disney’s Fort Wilderness. The relatively lighter construction of the Fort Wilderness Cabins and the presence of the campgrounds, in a heavily wooded environment, raises guest save concerns when sustained winds are expected to exceed 30 mph. Initially, guests were contacted and offered alternative accommodations at a Moderate category resort, or in a Family Suite at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort if their party size was too large to be accommodated in a room at a Moderate resort. But that voluntary move was a mandatory evacuation by late Wednesday afternoon. The bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort (the ones that extend out over the water) have also been evacuated as a precaution (likely related more to flooding concerns and the piers that connect them to the rest of the Polynesian Village Resort). The only other closings already set by Walt Disney World are fairly obvious ones for heavy rain conditions (let along high winds) – Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park are closed for Friday, October 7 along with outdoor dinner shows like the Spirit of Aloha luau at the Polynesian Village Resort and events at Fort Wilderness like Mickey’s Backyard BBQ and Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue.
Any other impacts on park operations will be determined in light of the actual circumstances on the ground. Walt Disney World has closed parks in the past due to hurricanes, but only a few storms in the last 40 years have resulted in theme park closures or modified theme park hours. It appears likely that Hurricane Matthew will add to the list, but specific closures have not been announced. Disney communicates any park closures or changes in operating hours to on-property guests via telephone messages and/or letters delivered to guest rooms. When parks do close, they work to provide additional entertainment opportunities and food service at the resorts. On rare occasions, guests have been asked to shelter-in-place briefly and remain in their resort hotel rooms, particularly guests at resorts with rooms that open directly to the outdoors.
The NOAA forecast currently predicts that the storm will hit the Walt Disney World area hardest from about 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday, October 7 (when sustained winds begin exceeding 20 mph, with gusts to 25 mph) through 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, October 8 (when sustained winds drop back below 20 mph, and the gusts drop below 25 mph). At its peak, NOAA is now predicting sustained winds in excess of 50 mph and gusts approaching 70 mph. Of course wind isn’t the only danger. Sustained heavy rain is likely to lead to flooding, especially in low-lying areas with as much as 10 inches of rain falling in a 24-hour period. While area residents are being warned of likely power outages, Walt Disney World has largely been able to avoid power delivery problems, thanks to a combination of generating its own power and running power lines underground. For guests concerned about the weather who wish to change their travel plans, Walt Disney World’s official policies are quite generous about allowing cancellations and rebooking without penalties when a hurricane warning has been issued, however Disney will not guarantee that the vacation can be rebooked at the same price.
Disney Cruise Line
The Disney Wonder is safely in drydock in Cadiz, Spain, in the midst of a major refurbishment. But the rest of the Disney Cruise Line ships are all currently in the Atlantic Ocean, and they’re all being affected by Hurricane Matthew. Both the Disney Fantasy and the Disney Dream call Port Canaveral their home port, and Port Canaveral is closed as of Noon Eastern Time on Wednesday. The United States Coast Guard closed the port, and the local Port Authority closed all ground operations. No ships can dock at Port Canaveral until both the Coast Guard and the Port Authority determine that it is safe to re-open the port.
The Disney Fantasy is in the middle of a Western Caribbean Cruise at the moment, and departed Falmouth, Jamaica essentially as scheduled on Wednesday. Though no announcement has been made, it’s clear that the Disney Fantasy will spend the next two days at sea, rather than one sea day followed by a stop at Castaway Cay (which is its usual itinerary). The reason that we can be relatively certain that there will be no Castaway Cay stop is that there have been reports that almost all of the crew that operates Castaway Cay was evacuated from the island this past Sunday, aboard the Disney Dream. That is, however, the only expected alteration to the itinerary for the Disney Fantasy. It is currently expected to return to Port Canaveral on Saturday, October 8. By that time, the storm track should have taken it well north of Port Canaveral, so Disney Cruise Line expects to be able to disembark the Disney Fantasy and re-load it for her October 8 7-Night Eastern Caribbean departure. If Port Canaveral does not re-open as expected, my best guess is that the ship would be re-routed to Fort Lauderdale, as Port Everglades can handle ships the size of the Disney Fantasy and will likely have had a day longer to get back up and running than Port Canaveral at that point.
Disney Cruse Line has made more formal announcements regarding the schedules for the Disney Dream and the Disney Magic. The Disney Dream was scheduled for a 4-Night Bahamas cruise when it departed on Monday, October 3. The impending storm to the east transformed it into the first-ever Western Caribbean cruise for the Disney Dream, with a port of call at Cozumel, Mexico. Because Port Canaveral is not expected to be reopened by its scheduled return on October 7, the itinerary was extended another day. The Disney Dream is expected to return to Port Canaveral on October 8. As a result, the 3-Night cruise on the Disney Dream that was scheduled to embark on October 7 has been canceled. Guests booked for that sailing automatically received refunds, and are being offered a discount on a future cruise (reportedly a 20% discount, that must be used by the end of 2017). The Orlando Sentinel has reported that the Disney Dream was being re-routed to Fort Lauderdale, but Disney has not confirmed that in any public statement.
Meanwhile, the Disney Magic is currently well north of the storm track, in the midst of a Canadian itinerary that sailed out of New York. But that cruise is scheduled to return to New York on October 7, when it was supposed to head south on an 8-Night Bahamas itinerary. In order to avoid sailing directly into the approaching storm on Friday, instead the Disney Magic will sail a newly-created 8-Night Canadian itinerary, with ports of call at Sydney, Halifax, and Saint John. Guests who were already booked on the 8-Night Bahamas cruise on the Disney Magic have been given the option of keeping their booking, and receiving a $100 stateroom credit for use on the new Canadian itinerary, or canceling for a full refund and a 20% discount on a future cruise, to be used by the end of 2017.
Random Additional News & Notes
1. Disney’s Vero Beach Resort is said to be closing at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 6. Guests are being moved inland to Walt Disney World.
2. SeaWorld Orlando has announced that it will close at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 6 and be closed on Friday, October 7.
3. Orlando International Airport has issued a statement on Twitter (for some reason, it appears nowhere on their website). The statement essentially says that the airport itself does not plan to close. However they anticipate that the individual airlines will make the decision to cancel flights, especially on October 6 and 7, and then begin returning to normal operations on October 8.
4. Several airlines, including United, Delta, American, and even Spirit Air have announced that they will waive the usual change fees for hurricane-related airfare rebookings. Spirit, United and Southwest (which never charges change fees) are also waiving the price difference for rebooked airfare. Such waivers always have limitations, terms and conditions attached, so check with your airline before making assumptions about changes.
5. Folks, THIS is why we always recommend travel insurance, but especially if you’re traveling during hurricane season. The destinations are going out of their way to be accommodating, but (for example) even if you’re permitted to extend your stay at Disney’s Yacht Club resort after your checkout date, do you have the extra $375/night in your travel budget? Full disclosure: we may earn a commission when you purchase travel insurance, either as part of a vacation package or when you click through the link on our website. But whether you buy the travel insurance through us or elsewhere, the peace of mind is worth building the relatively small cost of travel insurance into your vacation budget.