It was October 2016 and my husband and I were excited to not only be taking our first family vacation as a family of four, but we were also bringing our two boys to Walt Disney World and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party for their first time. Although it was hurricane season, a hurricane was the farthest thing from our mind.
We planned to load the kids up, drive to Florida (at the time, we still lived in Connecticut) and arrive in Daytona Beach. We would spend 5 days there and head to Walt Disney World for Columbus Day Weekend. Mother Nature had other plans. It was maybe the second day into our beautiful beach trip that reports of a hurricane fast approaching the East Coast of Florida would threaten our family vacation. Soon this hurricane had a name and an area of impact- Hurricane Matthew was coming right to Daytona Beach and surrounding areas.
For a day or so, we debated on what to do. My husband is the more laid back one and insisted the weather people were making this bigger than it was. Needless to say, I’m not the laid back one and was a wreck. I can look back and laugh now but at the time there were two of me- because I was legitimately beside myself. At the time, the only storm we had ever dealt with was a Blizzard and even those are done after a day or two and the snow is plowed and roads are clear. Determined not to let this ruin our family vacation, or interfere with our time in Disney World, we decided to evacuate Daytona Beach 3 days earlier than we were supposed to leave and headed to Walt Disney World. Our evacuation plan was that we could get ahead of the storm (and the traffic of everyone having to evacuate), and hunker down in the Happiest Place on Earth.
We were scheduled to check into the Yacht Club for our trip, but this was 3 days before and of course, we hadn’t budgeted for 3 extra nights at a Deluxe Disney Resort. We searched for a Disney hotel and one with a reasonable rate. That’s where we came across a handful of Disney Springs Resorts on Hotel Plaza Blvd and ultimately settled on the Best Western Lake Buena Vista. We had previously stayed at the Hilton on Hotel Plaza Blvd so we were familiar with the area and knew we would be safe from Hurricane Matthew.
As we were driving to Orlando, the news reported that Hurricane Matthew was now going to hit Orlando. You have to understand how rare this is, for a hurricane to impact Orlando. The Walt Disney World Resort is located in Central Florida, approximately 40 miles from the ocean at its closest point, so it rarely gets shut down for hurricanes – in fact, it has only happened five times in over 40 years because hurricanes lose strength and speed as they travel across land. We took the news in stride and put on a calm face, especially for our kids. About an hour or so later, we arrived at the Best Western and checked into our home for the next 3 nights.
The hotel lobby was hustling and bustling from all the weary travelers looking to check-in (some, extending their stay) and seek a safe place for themselves and their families. We got up to our room and within a half-hour, the hotel staff had arrived to clear off anything that was on our hotel balcony. My husband kept the kids happy and occupied as I unpacked all of our clothes and the multiple bags of food we brought to make sure we would be good with food and water for a few days. Usually, we bring some snacks and water to our hotel rooms, but before we left Daytona, we made sure to stock up on enough water and everything else we might need for our stay in Disney during the hurricane. As I was opening the second hotel dresser drawer and putting away our food and snacks, it hit me the danger we could be in. Again, we had never been in a storm situation like this and Hurricane Matthew was gaining strength by the hour. Much like most of the families at Disney World, we were guests of the resort and the state of Florida, so this was a first for us just like (almost) everyone else.
Matthew wasn’t supposed to hit until the following evening. We went to Disney Springs in an attempt to get the kids out of the hotel room, knowing we could be in the room for a few days. Disney Springs was like a ghost town. There was this eerie feeling, and you could sense it was the calm before the storm. That night, Walt Disney World had announced that all their Parks and Disney Springs would be closing early and their entire resort was to close completely the next day.
We came back to the resort and to our surprise, the Best Western managed to create some magic during this scary situation. Every meeting room at the hotel was transformed into family and kid centers. One meeting room was a “carnival.” There were several games kids could play and prizes to be won. Another room became a movie theater, streaming free movies for the next 3 days with fresh popcorn coming from a fancy popcorn cart. The hotel restaurant remained open long past its scheduled hours and the grab and go store in the lobby had stocked up on snacks and drinks. For the first time since hearing the news of Matthew, my husband and I could breathe. A sense of calm came over us and we knew we would be okay, we just had to get through the next night- the night Hurricane Matthew decided it was going to be a guest at Wat Disney World.
The second day, the day Matthew was coming, everyone stayed in the hotel. The hotel Cast Members were working tirelessly to make sure the hotel was ready for the storm and that all of its guests were happy and felt safe. At one point, we rode the elevator with the hotel manager. She was on her way up to her room carrying a to-go plate of food from the restaurant downstairs. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days, and in fact- she hadn’t. We thanked her for her hotel being so accommodating to us and how much we appreciated her team. She smiled, said thank you, and mentioned how this was the first time in 3 nights she was going to get some sleep. At this point, she had a room at the hotel and was staying there, rather than being with her family.
That night, we kissed our boys goodnight and watched them as they fell asleep. I don’t think my husband and I slept for one second that night. Outside our slider door, the winds whipped around and howled. We could hear trees blowing, debris flying and as loud as all of that was- it was still eerily quiet. You don’t realize how serious something is until you see a place like Walt Disney World completely shut down. Not a creature was stirring in the entire kingdom, not even Mickey Mouse.
I’m happy to say we made it through Hurricane Matthew, and so did Disney World. The storm had weakened as it traveled from the coast and didn’t hit Orlando as strong as they thought it would. Walt Disney World remained closed the entire next day. As always, the safety of their guests is the most important thing and everything had to be checked to ensure it was safe for guests to walk into their parks again.
Aside from the fact that Disney is located in Central Florida, a place that’s rarely affected by hurricanes, it remains a haven for those looking to seek shelter and safety from the Florida weather during Hurricane Season. Walt Disney World’s Resorts are built to sustain the winds of a Category 4 Hurricane. Every single window, door, or glass slider is hurricane-proof and ready to withstand those winds and possible debris from the storm.
Through it all, my husband and I were as prepared as we could be for riding out Hurricane Matthew at Walt Disney World. We brought as much food and beverages as we knew our hotel room could hold. Keep in mind, your room will most likely have a small refrigerator. This will be useful for storing milk, but especially for mothers who are nursing and need to store breast milk. As I previously mentioned, the dresser drawers became our snack pantry and our room didn’t seem that crowded at all. I even planned out a trip to the hotel laundry room before the storm rolled in. We brought extra blankets and pillows from our condo in Daytona, to make sure our little ones were comfortable and didn’t suspect an ounce of something being wrong. Parents, I’m sure you’re already aware of this little “parenting hack”- but if you’re calm, your kids will be calm. It’s all about putting on our best game face and making the most of the situation.
The biggest draw of evacuating to Disney is that they rarely lose power, and if they do, it’s not off for long. When you’re a Florida resident and could potentially lose power for weeks at a time, it’s not even a question you would go to a place where you would have power. The Walt Disney World Resort operates on its own power grid. They do a good job of keeping it running during and after a storm. During Hurricane Matthew, we didn’t lose power, even for a second.
It’s also important to remember that dining locations operate on a modified schedule and menu while the parks are shut down. Typically the restaurants will offer more buffet options, and even grab and go style meals. Be prepared to wait longer than usual for a table or your meal. Keep in mind, everyone is doing the best they can to make sure all guests are being fed. Not only are hotels operating at full capacity, but every single guest is in the hotel and wants to eat around the same time.
Above all, I realized one very important thing- Cast Members are legitimately amazing. During a major storm, Walt Disney World operates its resorts with “ride-out crews.” The Cast Members on the ride-out crew choose to stay during hurricanes and work extremely long hours. Some of them leave their own families and loved ones just to make sure that guests of Walt Disney World are happy, entertained and above all- safe. They go above and beyond to help guests under challenging conditions. Please be patient with them, and show them the support and appreciation they deserved during these times. When you think about it, these are people who are choosing to stay at Walt Disney World and serve guests with a smile on their face, rather than attend to their personal property during a storm. It’s amazing, but somehow these Cast Members still managed to serve up the Disney Magic, even during a hurricane!
Hurricane Matthew was terrifying because of its size, especially for a storm so late in the Hurricane Season. On a personal level, it terrified us as vacationers who had never been in a storm like this. We had no idea what to do, but once we got to Walt Disney World, our worries were eased. No one ever wants to find themselves in the middle of a hurricane, but if it’s something you’re facing, Walt Disney World is the best place to be to go through it. Every resort has different activities to keep you entertained, they will accommodate you to the best of their ability if you need to extend your stay due to the storm, and are constantly keeping you up to date through the My Disney Experience App, Social Media Sites and even through simple signs in the resort lobbies.
Looking back, my husband and I smile when we think about our 3 nights at the Best Western Lake Buena Vista. Those memories hold a special place in our heart of a time when we were scared as parents, but our children knew nothing else other than they were at Disney. It’s amazing how not even a hurricane can stop Disney from creating magical memories for families.
For Walt Disney World’s Hurricane Policy- click here.
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