At this time of year, those of us in the U.S. southeast (and beyond) keep an eye on tropical weather. In case you’ve been under a rock, or not at all watching weather forecasts, Tropical Storm Erika was bearing down on the U.S. (as I’m writing this I see that the storm has apparently broken up – whew!). Earlier this week, models had it going up the Florida peninsula, and I couldn’t help but think of the terrible storm season Florida faced in 2004.
You’ve probably asked yourself where you’d go if a bad storm were coming, or if you had to shelter in place, where would you want to be? My answer to both questions, with 100% certainty, is Walt Disney World. And I know from experience.
Our 2004 trip was our first family trip, and so it’ll forever rank up there in our top memories. We had a lot of great moments – first trip as parents (a great parenting moment to watch your kids see the Castle for the first time), first stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge, doing EPCOT DiveQuest – great times. But the trip remains special because we got to see what it was like to ride out a hurricane at Walt Disney World.
Florida had already been hit 3 times by Hurricanes in a ridiculously short period – blue tarps were everywhere as we rode in from the airport. A year later we would see blue tarps all over our part of the south after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But as you’d expect, Walt Disney World looked, well, like the happiest place on Earth. And it was.
If I have my dates right, September 25, 2004 was the day before Hurricane Jeanne made landfall. WDW management, in a predictable (and right) call, closed parks early to prepare, and also to protect guests and Cast Members. The parks would be closed all day on September 26, so guests were told to stock up on food and drinks, and at resorts with detached rooms, stay indoors all the next day.
In our case, we were lucky because we had the benefit of being able to leave the room, go to Jambo House lobby for food and drinks, and basically wander around. And we did. We were blown out from touring the parks for several days – so the down time wasn’t all that unwelcome, because we knew we were in a pretty good spot and needed the rest.
We had movies on resort TV, pizza, and available sit down service in the resort restaurants, albeit with reduced menu items – but so what? We hung out in the lobby, watched cartoons on the lobby TV’s, and basically lived it up with live entertainment and characters. I expect guests at Walt Disney World resorts had much the same experience if they had interior corridor access to lobby and restaurant areas.
Also unsurprisingly, the Cast Members did a great job of taking care of guests – always smiling, and no complaining. If I’d have been in the same situation, I would probably have been too concerned with my own personal situation to have been any use around there.
As an engineer, I’d love to see how the resorts are constructed from a behind-the-scenes perspective. Other than some gray skies outside, rain and wind, and a bit of wind noise, the storm never caused any harrowing moments for us. The lights never flickered.
It’s no accident that you won’t see too many above ground utilities around Walt Disney World. Other than engineers like me, architects, contractors, and other people who like this kind of stuff, people don’t like looking at utility poles and pipes. And putting those things underground reduce the likelihood of damage and utility interruption during calamities like storms. Once again, the Walt Disney Imagineers showed their smarts and forward thinking by burying the utilities – other areas were hard hit, and damaged utilities are difficult to repair on a good day, much less after a storm.
The next day, other than leaves and limbs on the roads, you couldn’t tell the storm had been anywhere near Walt Disney World. We had a few days left in our trip, so we went right back to Walt Disney World business as usual. That trip, and the shelter and care we received at Animal Kingdom Lodge are things I’ll never forget.
Anyway, it looks like this storm has faded. But if I know we’re going to have to make it through a significant weather event, I’m going to think pretty hard about going to Walt Disney World. Even tropical storms and depressions can cause significant damage. And sometimes bad weather events can make every day living in the area kind of annoying because common decency sometimes disappears with the fall of the first raindrops. Sounds like a good excuse for a quick family trip to Walt Disney World.
If you have a trip planned soon, you probably know we’re still very much in the season where severe weather can occur. So keep an eye on forecasts, and if plans change, check with airlines, hotels/resorts, and park schedules for policies regarding date changes, reservations, and closures.
Do you have any Disney weather event stories?