Published On: Wed, Sep 6th, 2017

Florida Theme Parks Brace for Irma

PHOTO: Universal Orlando City Walk at night. (photo by Eric Bowman)

Luckily, many families have just gone back to school, so fewer crowds are expected at Orlando’s theme parks over the weekend. Yet, that doesn’t mean there aren’t numerous families and individuals headed to the area’s resorts amid months of planning to get there.

So what does Hurricane Irma mean for visitors?

As the Category 5 storm barrels toward Florida, theme-park goers will be happy to know that they are free to change their plans. According to the Orlando Sentinel, most resorts allow guests to cancel or reschedule in the event of a hurricane.

“We have an affirmative, no-questions-asked policy for guests who tell us they want to change plans or seek a refund because of a named storm involving the Orlando area or where they are traveling from,” Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said.

Universal Orlando Resort’s official Severe Weather Policy states: “If a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area or for your place of residence no more than 7 days before your scheduled arrival date, you can call in advance to cancel or reschedule your Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations hotel accommodations and Universal Orlando theme park tickets without any cancellation or change fees imposed. Additional elements including air, car rental or other theme park tickets are separate and not part of this policy.”

Walt Disney World Resort also allows people to cancel their plans in the event of a hurricane: The resort has an entire web page dedicated to questions and answers regarding hurricanes.

Their official policy states: “If a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area—or for your place of residence—within 7 days of your scheduled arrival date, you may call in advance to reschedule or cancel your Walt Disney Travel Company Magic Your Way vacation package and most room only reservations (booked directly with Disney) without any cancellation or change fees imposed by Disney.”

(This policy also applies to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Florida’s Atlantic Coast as well as Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort.) 

SeaWorld Orlando’s “peace of mind” hurricane policy says that it will refund or reschedule vacation packages and park tickets.

A statement from SeaWorld Orlando says: “At SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica, we are closely monitoring the progress and track of Hurricane Irma. Our parks have comprehensive weather preparedness plans to ensure the safety of our guests, employees and animals. We have an extensive list of precautionary measures based on the proximity and level of the storm, including such safety procedures as securing outdoor equipment and inspecting foliage throughout the park.

“At this time, we have not made any adjustments to our operating schedule, but we encourage guests to check our website regularly for updates.”  

WATCH: Mark Murphy on What Travelers in Irma’s Path Can Expect

The same goes for Legoland, but Polk County, where Legoland is located, is not currently under a hurricane warning.

The resort issued the following in a statement: “With Hurricane Irma currently making its way toward the United States, we know that many people are understandably concerned about its possible impact to upcoming LEGOLAND Florida Resort vacations. At this time, we are closely monitoring the storm’s status and will proactively communicate any changes in operating hours or policies should the storm be predicted to impact our vicinity.”

For diehard park-goers who are bucking warnings and want to visit anyway: The resorts don’t take closing lightly and when they do, it’s for good reason.

If the storm isn’t severe, there is a good chance that the parks will remain open. 

Many Orlando theme parks did, however, close last year for Hurricane Matthew. Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando closed in the afternoon and did not reopen for another day after the storm hit. 

As of right now, Irma would hit Florida on Sunday. 

No matter what happens, it’s a good idea to be prepared as Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement: 

“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared.”

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