Now that Hurricane Irma has passed, and everyone I know who was worried about folks in the path of the storm can let out a sigh of relief, I thought it might be fun to reminisce about the time, almost exactly one year ago, that I got stuck in Disney World because of Hurricane Matthew. This past Sunday and Monday were only the fifth and sixth days in the forty-six year history of Walt Disney World that the parks have been closed, and my dad and I were there on the fourth day, in October 2016.
We try to get down to Disney every fall for the Food and Wine Festival (we don’t like the wine, but we sure love the food). We go for only two full days, and we have our schedule down to a science—no wasted steps, no detours, we spend maybe an hour in the hotel room every day and then only use it to sleep. We hit the parks early and we don’t leave until Jiminy Cricket comes over the loudspeaker to kick everyone out.
My dad is in his 70’s and has survived open heart surgery, and he is immensely proud of the fact that he can dash around the Magic Kingdom at 2 in the morning when teenagers are hitting the wall.
So when we landed at the Orlando Airport on a Tuesday and saw this cloud heading right towards our plane, we were undaunted.
“No ominous clouds can stop us!” said Dad.
We landed just in time, because we weren’t even off the plane yet when the rain began. I noticed right away that the airport was not nearly as crowded as usual, and the bus to the hotel was maybe a quarter full.
The sky was dark grey and it was pounding rain as the bus pulled away. Being a Disney diehard, I immediately checked my favorite message boards, only to see that the top threads were not about the new rides or the Food and Wine Festival at all.
“Hey Dad?” I said. “Did you know there’s a hurricane watch for Orlando?”
“Get out,” said Dad. “I checked the weather every day! The forecast just said there’d be some thunderstorms!”
“There’s a Category 4 hurricane coming right for us,” I said. “People have been canceling their Disney trips all week. That’s why there’s no one on this bus. On the boards, they’re saying they might even close the parks.”
“Oh, they’d never do that,” scoffed Dad. “Walt was prepared for this. Hurricanes never make it as far as Orlando. The entire state could be underwater and the parks would still open on time.”
I always take a picture of the official Disney entrance sign, but I couldn’t see it through the pouring rain. This was not your usual Florida cloudburst.
“I hope I packed the ponchos,” I said.
“It’s not stopping us from getting on Soarin,'” muttered Dad.
We got to our hotel, and were relieved to see that the 91-year-old man who greets people in the lobby was a) still alive and b) still working. He tipped his hat to us, and we stopped to say hello. He didn’t seem worried about the weather, so neither were we.
The rain let up just as we entered the parks. It was the perfect set-up to a trip. The parks weren’t crowded at all, we made great time getting around, and we got Dole Whips.
“Hurricane or bust!” said Dad, eating half of mine.
We started flagging just a bit before Epcot closed for the night, so we went to Morocco and split a chocolate baklava. I had my doubts that the singular Disney baklava could be improved upon with chocolate, but the chocolate baklava was kind of like having a firework go off by your head, in a delicious way.
Dad said, “That baklava made me feel like I could walk to Disneyland.”
We only had eleven minutes until the park closed, but now that our feet were attached to rockets, we walked on waves of euphoria to Nemo.
We were totally alone on the ride—there were empty clamshells as far as the eye could see. Some cutesy hurricane-related signage in the aquarium area caught our eye. But surely this hurricane wouldn’t be a big deal, right? The dolphins were swimming around and the manatees were sleeping! They weren’t worried about this storm, and they live in the ocean!
Listening to the chatter of the crowd as we made our way through the exit, it was clear that people were already switching flights and telling family members from other parts of Florida not to make the drive to Disney. The message boards were ramping up—people were now fully freaking out about the Halloween parties on Thursday and Friday, while enterprising folks were grabbing all the dining reservations that had been popping up like crazy as people canceled their trips.
“Are you worried about this storm?” I said to Dad. He replied with a broad smile.
“It’s adventure time! Everybody’s going to be worried about us—this is cool!!”
Back at the room, we had a voicemail from the front desk informing us that normal operating hours were still in effect—for now—and that they were monitoring the hurricane situation and would keep us updated.
I turned on the local news to find a lot of wide-eyed weathercasters talking about this storm.
Dad stood in front of the TV and said, “Where was this thing yesterday?! This wasn’t on my weather report!! Whoosh whoosh whoosh!!”
The next morning, I woke up to a frantic but cheerful voicemail from A about staying safe and having fun, but mostly staying safe.
On the TV, the governor of Florida said, “We have to prepare for a direct hit.”
There was a very nervous-looking bride in a wedding dress in the hotel lobby.