Travel Tips | Staying Safe (and Sane) During a Florida Vacation Hurricane

First downpour of Hurricane Matthew, seen from walkway leaving Universal City Walk

We knew that the storm was going to be bad, but we had no way of knowing that if it hadn’t “wobbled” just a little to the right toward the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Matthew could have been the worst hurricane to hit Florida in a century.

Arriving for a long Columbus Day weekend consisting of a few days each at Walt Disney World (Food & Wine Festival!) and Universal Resorts (Halloween Horror Nights), we could sense an unease in Orlando that we hadn’t experienced before. By the time we touched down on Wednesday afternoon, newscasts were already beginning to predict the worst and some channels had even switched over to continuous coverage of the storm. The rolled-up weather people’s sleeves were the cue that this was the real deal.

We enjoyed the festival at Epcot Wednesday night before finishing our evening with a ride on the all-new Frozen Ever After, the Frozen-themed ride in the Norwegian Pavilion of the World Showcase. Waiting in the 45-minute line, zigzagging through the town of Arendelle in an area that used to house the boring but lovable Norway film at the exit of Maelstrom, we thankfully had time to read the weather reports warning that Thursday and especially Friday were going to be bad. Internet whispers started to speculate the unthinkable – that for the first time since 2004, the Orlando-area theme parks might actually close for the day.

Thursday morning we went to Universal Studios to check out the new King Kong ride (Skull Island: Reign of Kong, and yes, it’s FANTASTIC). As we snaked our way through the elaborately themed (and scary) queue, we started to frantically refresh our Twitter feeds until the news finally came down: all Universal and Disney parks would be closing at 5 pm that day and remain closed until Saturday morning. Whoa.

Admittedly, this was not the first time that it should have crossed our minds about how we were going to get through the next few days if the worst happened, but it was. The Downlow team went into overdrive – where would we get water? Food? What about tickets for events that scheduled during the closures? We weren’t staying “on property” (code for a Disney or Universal hotel) for the first time ever, so we while we slowly inched our way toward the Kong ride vehicles, we started to devise a plan. We were lucky – we were able to order a few pizzas before we left City Walk and we found a convenience storm that was still open and only a few minutes from our hotel. We should have been more prepared, but we learned a valuable lesson AND  we took notes!

So, here are are the Dis Downlow’s tips for surviving a hurricane while on your dream vacation!

  • If there is a chance that inclement weather is going to hit during your vacation, stay updated on what is happening. You’ve got weather apps, internet, television, etc. There’s no reason to be caught unaware.
  • Find a store ahead of time where you can pick up the essentials. As mentioned, we stayed off property during this particular trip, but even if you are staying on property, you’ll still need the essentials. Water, snacks, food, medicine (if necessary), batteries. Consider what you might need if you are stuck in your hotel room for a day or two. There’s no shame in being prepared.
  • If and when you’re at a park and an early closure is announced, leave the parks well before closing time! You’ll need the extra time to safely get to your destination (see next bullet) and frankly, there are THOUSANDS of cast members who also need to get home as soon as possible. Be respectful of that.
  • Be safe on the roads. Water will accumulate quickly and these roads will likely be unfamiliar to you. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go.
  • Keep those electronic devices charging for as long as you can. We were worried about losing power and with that, the ability to charge our telephones. This is an important safety step to keep in mind – use the electricity while you have it and charge those devices.
  • Then with those fully charged devices, let the folks at home know what’s going on! The people at home can only go by what they see on CNN and in the case of Hurricane Matthew, they were literally seeing catastrophic weather forecasts. Take a few minutes to keep the family and friends at home updated on your situation.
  • Follow orders from park and hotel staff, as well as local officials. The park staff we encountered were so gracious and helpful in a rather difficult situation. Respect that. If you’re staying at a resort hotel, you will likely be given some instruction or guidance from hotel staff. Respect that. And in the case of local officials, they may give orders to keep drivers off the road during very bad storms. RESPECT THAT!
  • Don’t get down; things happen. This one can be tough because let’s face it, money. You’ve spent a lot of it to get here and you want to have the perfect vacation. We would just caution you to remember, as we absolutely had to remind ourselves, that there are countless people along the Florida coast who are more likely to be in life-threatening situations during these kinds of storms. Count your blessings that your home isn’t being flooded or that you’re likely not spending the night in a shelter.
  • Plan what you want to do when the skies clear! After Hurricane Matthew turned slightly toward sea, we knew that the Orlando area was going to be spared. We were grateful and eager to get moving, but the county still had a curfew/driving prohibition in place. That meant we would be stuck in the room for another few hours, eager to get on with our vacation. Instead of pouting, we devised a plan to enjoy what was left of our evening! With Disney and Universal still closed for the day, we decided that after the driving ban was lifted, we would drive an hour west and visit Busch Gardens Tampa! That turned out to be the hidden gem of our trip and we wouldn’t have done it if we hadn’t kept our heads up while sitting around during the storm.

Obviously, these tips are meant to helpful and only a little bit tongue-in-cheek. We wouldn’t even begin to claim expertise in important storm preparation like filling bathtubs with water or boarding up homes. If you ever find yourself at a beach rental or a similar location during a terrible storm, please be sure to visit the Florida Division of Emergency Management website for helpful safety tips!

At the end of the day, Central Florida was largely spared and we were very grateful for the experience. Inclement weather will always be a concern at the Florida parks and if you’re ever stuck in that position in the future, stay safe and remember some of these tips!

Interested in a free Disney/Universal quote?

Ang Bertugli Spece, one half of the Dis Downlow team, is a travel consultant with Simply Enchanted Travel and would love to help you get started planning a dream vacation!

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