The 7 Days Disney World Closed Down

Since its 1971 opening, Walt Disney World has been the ultimate vacation destination for millions of people from all over the world.

Each of these Walt Disney World guests has left the troubles of the real world behind to, as the sign says, enter worlds of “yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” However, there have been seven occasions when the outside world has intruded on Walt Disney World, forcing the “Most Magical Place on Earth” to unexpectedly close.

Given how often hurricanes and tropical storms strike Florida, it can be considered a minor miracle that Disney World went nearly 28 years without an unscheduled closure due to weather. However that streak ended in September 1999 thanks to Hurricane Floyd.

Magic Kingdom during Hurricane Floyd in 1999

 

With the storm bearing down, Disney closed all four Disney World theme parks, Downtown Disney, and the waterparks early in the afternoon of September 14, 1999. At the time, the company announced that they would be closed on the following day as well. However, after Floyd’s path took an unexpected change, Disney did end up opening Animal Kingdom and the Downtown Disney area the following day.

The most well-known unplanned closure of Disney World came just under two years after Hurricane Floyd, in the wake of the September 11th attacks in 2001. While the parks had already opened for the day, management decided to close them after the scope of the attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania became known, due partially to fear that Disney World could be the next target.

Without informing guests what happened unless they specifically asked, cast members formed “human walls” to gently push guests out of each of the theme parks. Each guest received a complimentary ticket as they exited, and Disney went out of their way to accommodate stranded travelers. The parks reopened the following day, albeit with a slew of new security features at their entrances, many of which remain today.

Read Editor Deb Koma’s experiences during her post-9/11 park visit here.

Walt Disney World was hit with three more weather-related closures in the summer and fall of 2004. The first came in August of that year, when Hurricane Charley forced the closure of Disney’s parks on August 13.

Hurricane headed to Florida

Less than a month later, Hurricane Frances forced closure of the parks on both September 4 and September 5. The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Typhoon Lagoon reopened on September 6, while Hollywood Studios (then known as the Disney-MGM Studios), Animal Kingdom, and Blizzard Beach remained shuttered until the following day. Finally on September 26, the resort’s parks were closed due to Hurricane Jeanne.

Cast member’s “hurricane pass” during Hurricane Frances

 

Following the trifecta of 2004 closures, Walt Disney World wouldn’t see another unexpected shut down until October 2016. Hurricane Matthew forced the parks to close at 5 p.m. on October 6. The parks remained closed on October 7.

Hurricane Matthew’s path

 

The following year,  Disney was once again forced to close due to Hurricane Irma. The parks and Disney Springs were all closed by 9 p.m. on September 9 and remained closed for the following two days.

Disney used Twitter to get out info to guests during Hurricane Irma

While we never like to see Disney closed for any reason, obviously there are some situations outside of Disney’s control that makes unplanned closures unavoidable.

Mickey at the eye of the storm!

Have you been at Disney World when it had to close unexpectedly? Share your memories of the experience with us below!

And be prepared for what happens if you should get caught in a hurricane or just a week of really rotten weather during your vacation by checking out:

 

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20 Replies to “The 7 Days Disney World Closed Down”

  1. You missed October 2005, I was married on Oct. 22, 2005 and honeymooned at Disney World. It shut down for one day of our trip due to a hurricane.

    1. Hi Rosalie, you’re right that the parks were closed on October 24, 2005, due to Hurricane Wilma… but just for the morning. Magic Kingdom and Epcot reopened, along with Downtown Disney, at 1:00 p.m. that day, so technically Disney World was not totally closed down that day.

  2. We were there for Jeanne. We are locals that survived the previous hurricanes that year. Charley really impacted our extended family so we decided we needed a break from the storm recovery. We booked our room at all star music and as we are preparing to go have fun, Jeanne decided to visit the same time. We brought a cooler full of food with us because we figured the power would go out at home. We had a blast. My kids will have stories to tell their grandkids. Cast members did a great job. Turns out Disney could have saved our lives as a tornado touched down on our road right by our house. We couldn’t go home for days. We couldn’t work because power was out at both of our jobs. So we ended up staying at Disney. Instead of 2 days we were there for 10. They gave us a huge discount because we were refugees.

  3. We were there when WDW closed for the first time ever during Hurricane Floyd. As we’re from England it was shocking to us that something was bad enough to close parks that had never closed before. It was also a bit scary as we’d never experienced a hurricane as again, they aren’t something that happens over here. The day before, we did the Keys to the Kingdom tour & our guide said it was looking bad & they were already herding in the animals at AK early as they were worried for them. My in laws were with us this trip. They were also there for the 2nd time WDW close on 9/11.

  4. We had reservations to stay at Pop Century from 9/7 – 9/13 during Irma and decided to go despite the forecast. The plane had only about 60 people on it when we left Baltimore. The weather and the crowds were great the first 3 days before Irma hit. We had hardly any waits on any rides. We never felt in any way scared while we were locked in our room during the worst of the storm Sunday night. When the parks reopened on Tuesday there was little sign of damage and we once again had no waits on rides. It was a trip that my wife and I will always remember and I would do it all over again.

  5. I took the kids to Disney the Friday before Irma hit because I knew it’d be mostly empty. Most enjoyable, uncrowded day at Disney EVER!

  6. We knew Irma was coming, it was the day we were due to fly in. We took an earlier flight to get to Animal Kingdom Lodge just as she came through the Keys. we felt very safe as Irma passed through during the night.

  7. We were in the MK on 9/11 and met other members of our family at the tables outside of the Plaza Restaurant for a late breakfast. My mother mentioned hearing something on the radio about a plane hitting the WTC. Not knowing any other details at the time, we assumed it must have been just some freak accident with a small plane. I remember riding Splash Mountain a little while later with my dad and brother-in-law. When we exited the ride, my sister ran up to us saying that we needed to find the rest of the family because the park was closing. Cast members were calmly directing people toward the exit, saying that the park was closing for reasons beyond their control. There were periodic announcements on the PA that basically said the same thing and also instructed the CMs to implement a code number, which I assume was some sort of emergency procedure. All the guests in the park were ushered down Main Street to the waiting ferries and monorails. It was not a panic by any means. Just eerily quiet with alot of confused and concerned people who were slowly starting to find out bits of information about what was going on in the outside world from people who had cell phones. (Hard to believe now but cell phones were not nearly as ubiquitous then as they are today). We were given one-day comp tickets upon exiting the park and then stood in a very long line for the ferry. While we were waiting on the dock, the Dapper Dans set up shop there and sang to the crowd. Not until we made it back to the parking lot and our rental car were we able to turn on a radio and find out what had happened. Rather than driving away right away, we just sat in the car for quite a while listening to the reports in stunned disbelief. We were staying at Coronado Springs, where I believe Disney was offering to let people extend their stays for free while the airports were closed. We opted to reunite with the rest of our family who were staying at an offsite suite hotel. The next day, the parks re-opened, so with nothing else to do, we spent some time in Epcot and returned to MK. That was a surreal day, trying to find some measure of distraction from the terrible, still-unfolding events in what would normally be a very happy place. On Main Street, the Town Square flag flew at half-mast and in Epcot, we saw a pair of low-flying military helicopters flying over Future World. I really have to give alot of credit to WDW and especially the cast members for how everything was handled on those days.

  8. We were there on 9/11 at Animal Kingdom. We were on the safari when they started closing the park. We came off the safari to find everyone walking toward the exits and didn’t know why. Not until we found a man with a cell phone (rare in those days) did we find out what happened. We spent the rest of the day at our resort Coronado Springs. The tickets given out when leaving the parks were only for people with one day tickets, not those of us with multi day tickets. The rest of the week WDW was like a ghost town as most people found ways to get back home by land. We ended up staying and on Friday of that week there was the threat of a hurricane so parks didn’t open until that evening. We had to stay an extra day until the airport reopened so Disney paid for our room that night.

  9. Our first family trip with our two young sons to Disney World was in 2004 when Hurricane Charley came through. We were camping at Fort Wilderness Campground and got a notice that we would be put up at Port Orleans French Quarter before the hurricane hit. We needed to pull our trailer out too and park it in the resort parking lot. It was quite an experience and the cast members all worked hard to make us comfortable. Hurricane Charley left a mess of broken trees all over the place but we were safe and sound in our room at the time watching the storm reports on TV and seeing it out our window. We made the best of it and after a few days got to go back to the campground. We found a nice card on our trailer door the next day, welcoming us back along with a Fort Wilderness Campground pin. We ended up extending our stay for a few days. It was a memorable first Disney trip for sure and we have been back almost every year since.

  10. I wasn’t there for any of the closings but I was there a day or two after several of them, including 9/11. While I didn’t wish for any of these disasters to occur, I have to say that the parks were virtually empty. It was like we had the place all to ourselves. After 9/11 we rode all the mountains in the MK over and over without ever having to get off. I have photos of Main Street where there is not a single person in the photo. Characters were walking with us, holding my daughters hand, and Pooh and Goofy even rode on rides with us. I’m pretty certain that my family was the only ones in the stretching room at the Haunted Mansion and walking World Showcase was almost like walking down a deserted street.

  11. We were there for Hurricane Matthew. We were to arrive in Florida Saturday during the Hurricane. Our flights were being cancelled. Looked at the next 2 days, no available flights. Our group regrouped and decided to fly in a day ahead of time. We all managed to get rooms somewhere on property for the extra day. We arrived only hours before Orlando airport closed down, checked into our resorts. We went to Hollywood Studios and spent several hours until they closed the parks at 4.bwent to our rooms. Normally stay at DVC resort, we got a Pop Century room for night. We were notified by phone message we were to be on lockdown in our rooms for next 24 hours and not to leave rooms. Had opportunity to go to quick service at resort to buy boxed lunch which was slapped together bread with a slice of meat and cheese, a cookie, a apple. Cost $50 for 4 of these. Took 2 hours to weave through the cafeteria to get and pay for.
    The short of it, the hurricane went 50 miles further east then predicted and we only had heavy winds overnight. Not much damage at all. Cafeteria opened by 9 am but the Parks stayed closed for day.
    You could see the cast members were taxed hard, but for most part kept it together the best they could. Since it was state of emergency, no one cold come or go, so most cast members were there 24-36 hours.
    Friends stayed at Saratoga Springs Resort had really good boxed lunches that we’re brought to them. Made a difference where you stayed apparently! No regrets though. Had excellent weather after the storm moved north!

  12. We lived in Orlando at the time and were headed into MK when everything started to happen. We were waiting in the foyer of Cinderella’s Royal Table (if that was the name back then) and were waiting..and waiting.. to be seated when they advised us they were closing the parks. I remember looking at all the people, you could see some knew and some didn’t and were wondering. The parking lots were crazy, closing all parks and all guests leaving at once. There was a photo in the ORLANDO sentinel and hen in People Magazine showing people leaving MK. My husband and I are in the front of the crowd in that pic. It took a long time before we tried to eat at that restaurant again because of the memories of that day.

  13. We were there for Hurricane Jeanne! It was a surprise stay at the Wilderness Lodge and we had a pool view! There was a tree right outside the window and we remember it bending in the wind so far it touched the ground. We watched the rain go “up” the roof over the lobby than blow sideways! The lodge was so prepared. We had food, shelter and entertainment in the lobby! Mickey, Minnie and some friends visited for the kids that were there and all the restaurants were open buffet style so no one went hungry! The cast members were fantastic especially those whose families couldn’t get to the world, and they had their own homes and family on their minds. While we couldn’t go outside obviously there was not reason! Ever since when in Florida, if there is a storm coming we head to the world. Safest place to be!! (P.S. The tree did not break and amazingly – it is still there and strong as we check each time we go!) 🙂

  14. While my new bride and I were celebrating or marriage in the summer of 1995. Hurricane Erin made landfall on August 2. On August 1st in anticipation of Erin –who was heading straight for Disney property at the time– the three parks all closed early on the 1st. The Fort Wilderness campground was evacuated and all guest staying there were brought into the Contemporary Convention Center to “ride out” the storm. The Contemporary Cafe was staffed by devoted cast-members who had been on duty since very early in the morning. The Arcade was packed all night long with evacuees. Cast-members were asked not to leave and could bring their families onto property for safety purposes. I remember talking with quite a few Magic Kingdom Cast-members, who where full of rumors, the most prevalent was that there was an active plan to remove the top of the Castle to prevent damage. This turned out to be totally untrue, but was fun to talk about.
    One Cast-member drew a map of what the property would look like in the morning. The EPCOT Ball blown to inside the Magic Kingdom, the MGM-Studios Water-Tower relocated to inside EPCOT, you get the idea.
    Of course during the evening the storm turned course and headed away from property, so all was safe and the parks opened a few hours late on August 2nd. This certainly made for a memorable Honeymoon, that I will never forget.

  15. We were there during the Hurricane Jeanne closure. We were staying at Pop Century, so we were basically quarantined in our room for close to 24 hours with a toddler. I remember the food court sold a ton of pizzas before the closure, and there were a lot of styrofoam coolers around, too.

    I was glad they were open the next day, and it was impressive to see what a good job the crews had done with cleanup.

    The biggest shock for us was on arrival to Florida, where we could see all the roofs and trees damaged by the two previous hurricanes. Was quite a year there.

  16. Was there during Matthew. Not Disney’s finest moment. We were staying at Port Orleans French Quarter which was under renovation. Disney had no plans for what to do with guests staying at a hotel with no restaurant. We couldn’t go anywhere for food and there was no restaurant. They eventually brought in disgusting box/styrofoam lunches and charged everyone a kings ransom for them after they waited in line for over a hour to get one. This really infuriated those of use on a meal plan. The gift shop was picked clean of food by those willing to spend even more. The folks who got it the worst were the poor souls who made it in from the Disney cruise line after battling the storm at sea, only to get it treated terribly on land. The staff was very good and tried their best under the circumstances (I am thankful for their willingness to stay during the storm). This was a management SNAFU. We got the fees for the box lunches reversed after dealing with a customer service person the next day. On a positive note, the rest of the trip had virtually no lines due to the evacuation.

  17. was there for 9-11 along with my daughter, sister and 2 friends for an all girls trip. We were actually at Animal Kingdom when Disney announced over loudspeakers that the park was closing. All of my party except me was on the ride Dinosaur so they didn’t hear the announcement.When the ride was over I told them all we had to leave, at first they thought I was joking because I couldn’t give an explanation as to why we had to leave. The cast members were fantastic. They ushered everyone out calmly. When we were almost out the gate, someone asked a cast member what the problem was and he told us the World Trade Center had been attacked, but assured everyone that all precautions were being taken. I never saw a park empty out so quickly and efficiently. The buses were all crowded of course, there was silence on the buses and I never remember being in such crowded buses where there was such silence. When we arrived back at the hotel,(staying at DVC Boardwalk)we were glued to the tv watching the horror that unfolded. WDW was wonderful helping people with accommodation because of grounded flights, and whatever else was needed. We ended up having to rent a car and drive home to NJ. In a situation that could have become chaotic the Disney cast members kept everyone calm.

  18. We were there during hurricane Irma , we stayed at the animal kindom lodge, they did a very good job at entertaining everyone. A+.