Hurricane Frances 2004 Reports from Guests at WDW During Francis

Barbara in Pennsylvania Shares 9/6/04

We just got back last night (Sunday) from a trip to Florida. It began beautifully with 3 days in Key West, during which we watched the weather reports, but were generally untroubled and had a wonderful time. On Friday, we started driving up toward Orlando, with a stop in Ft. Lauderdale. After finding a gas station that still had gas – not hard, but some were closed – we got back on the Florida Turnpike (which had no tolls because people were using it to evacuate) and got to Orlando in the late afternoon. The parks were open, but we were advised upon checking in to the Pop Century resort that Downtown Disney would be closing the shops at 6:00pm and the restaurants at 9:00.

We went over anyway and had dinner at our favorite fast-food substitute; Wolfgang Puck’s Express. The shops did not close at 6:00, so we did a little shopping and then returned to the resort to try out the pools and unpack. That evening all guests were notified that the theme parks would be closed the following day (Saturday), and that guests should be prepared for extended stays in their rooms. I bought a small foam ice chest ($2.00 – standard size ones were $4.50) and some of the “Hurricane Meals” they put together in the shops – 24oz. Dasani water, a Nutri-Grain bar, 2 PB&J “Uncrustables”, 2 boxes of raisins, a bag of chips, and “dessert” (we got Twinkies).

Saturday morning began sunny but windy. Since the parks were closed, we lingered over breakfast, and then went for a walk around the resort, looking out at the unfinished “other half” of the property. Currently there are 10 buildings with 288 rooms each, and “Classic Hall” which houses the front desk, a big arcade that the kids enjoyed extensively, and “Everything Pop” the dining and shopping area. It is food court style, but has a nice selection. There are 3 pools, and really nice theming throughout.

We did the arcade and swam in two of the pools, got some lunch, and went back to the pools.

Rain bands began to pass intermittantly, and the wind was increasing. Disney workers removed all the chairs from all the pool areas in the early afternoon, and announced that the shopping/dining area would close at 4:00pm and that the parks would not open on Sunday.

We were advised again to prepare to be in our rooms for up to 30 hours. Pop Century has outside walkways, and even though our 2 adjoining rooms were on the leeward side of the storm, we found that the stairs could get very slippery, as I managed to slip and fall down several steps in the wet stairwell after a squall.

Our original plan was to leave Disney World on Sunday afternoon and drive to Tampa to catch a 6:55 flight back to Philly. By Saturday afternoon we knew that was not going to work. Frances had not yet come ashore, and Disney was being locked down. We knew the parks would not open Sunday at all. Several phones calls later, we came up with a plan to get a flight out of Atlanta on Sunday evening; both US Airways and Dollar Rent-A-Car allowed us to change our plans with no penalty fees. We decided to make a run for it, and packed up and checked out of Disney around 6:30pm. Disney even refunded us for the night that we didn’t stay! They advised us against leaving, however, because of planned curfews that would go into effect at 9:00. Leaving Disney World was really eerie – it was still light, and it was totally empty on the roadways and intersections. I-4 was also almost empty, as was the Florida Turnpike. Often we were the only car on the road in either direction as far as we could see. We went north, listening to the radio news, and managed to leave the last county that invoked the curfew just before 9:00. We ended up in a hotel in Valdosta, GA, the first fair sized town over the state line, around 10:30 (made amazing time on the empty road; hit very few rain bands) and got one of their last empty rooms.

So; Sunday morning we were safe and had only 225 miles to drive to find the Atlanta airport to catch an evening flight. We were very relieved.. Frances is a storm we will never forget. I've attached some pictures to illustrate my story. Hope they give some insight to others.