Surviving Matthew, Thanks to Mickey
With hardworking employees, endless back-up generators and a little pixie dust, Disney kept me safe during Hurricane Matthew.
By Riley Heruska, Austin College
When people tell me they’ve been to Walt Disney World “a lot,” I always raise my eyebrows in skepticism.
A lot? Try me. Over the past eighteen years, I have traveled to WDW with my family sixteen times. Almost every year, when October rolls around, my parents, my five siblings and I all make our way to Orlando to partake in some pixie dust, fantastical rides and shows, and, of course, food that pretty much has to end up on Instagram. Oh, and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Parties, because who doesn’t want a little Disney in their Halloween celebrations?
This year, most of my family headed to Disney World a couple of days before my sister and I did. I had a few exams and projects to finish up at school, as did she, but we planned to fly down and join them shortly. However, Hurricane Matthew threw a bit of a wrench in the plan. Our flight was cancelled, and we needed to hop on an earlier one to make it to Florida before the hurricane approached. As I was packing, I turned on the news and watched as one of the largest hurricanes to potentially ever hit Florida hurtled toward the area I was supposed to be flying into very shortly. My sister and I were supposed to arrive in Orlando on Thursday afternoon, and Hurricane Matthew would supposedly hit Florida early Friday morning.
“What am I doing flying into a category four hurricane?” I asked myself as I frantically shoved t-shirts and tennis shoes into a bag. The rest of my family (all seven of them) were texting and calling, demanding that I catch the flight and join them as soon as possible. My roommates and friends on campus, on the other hand, begged me not to go. “Are you crazy?” they asked, shaking their heads.
I deliberated for quite a while. What would it be like to bunker down in a Disney World resort during a hurricane? What if the storm really did hit hard, and my family was there without me? Was it even worth the risk? How would Disney protect its guests?
In the end, after many pleas from our younger brothers and parents, my sister and I got on the plane. My father kept telling me, “It’s Disney. They always know how to handle things.” I held onto this belief as we landed in a very rainy Orlando.
That’s when Disney and its cast members came into play.
Cast members (Disney employees) quickly guided us onto a bus, where my sister and I were immediately informed that Walt Disney World has its own power source and back-up generators that never fail, and that all guests were expected to stay in their resorts until Friday night when the hurricane would most likely have passed. Our bus driver smiled at us and said, “Yes, the attractions are closed tomorrow, but don’t worry: Mother nature doesn’t mess with Mickey that much.”
After a little research, I discovered that Walt Disney World had only closed due to weather four times, including during Hurricane Matthew. In other words, most Floridians know that if Disney closes, something bad is on its way.
After a thirty-minute bus ride, my sister and I arrived at Walt Disney’s Contemporary Resort where our family embraced us with open arms. We gave our bags to the bellhop, who said cheerily, “Oh you can pick these up anytime. I’ll be here for the next 35 hours!”
35 hours? My sister and I gaped at the man. We then learned that when the happiest place on earth prepares for dangerous weather, many of the cast members volunteer to remain on the site until the threat has passed. Dozens and dozens of employees at our hotel were prepared to pull extraordinarily long shifts to ensure the contentment and safety of every guest.
Despite the rain and impending hurricane, most guests were all smiles as everyone ate dinner and retreated to their rooms early. A constant stream of Disney movies played on every TV, which was enough to placate most of the younger guests. A promising schedule of fun (indoor) activities for the next day was posted around the hotel.
Around 10:45 at night, I was jolted by the shrill sounds of machines. I stepped out into the hall, which overlooks the lobby, to discover that the monorail entrances to the hotel were being sealed. Large planks of wood and sheets of plastic were administered to the openings and tightened down. Nervously, my family looked on as large groups of cast members gathered to discuss how guests would receive food or clean towels over the course of the storm. Every Disney employee seemed ready to batten down the hatches and weather out the storm, all with smiles on their faces and Mickey logos on their nametags.
In the end, Hurricane Matthew failed to hit Florida as intensely as Haiti and other places. Friday brought gusts of wind and sheets of rain, but overall, inland Florida had very little damage. Still, guests were required to stay in their hotels until roads reopened and more Disney cast members returned to help facilitate transportation.
What could have easily been an extremely boring day spent cooped up in a hotel quickly transformed into an entertaining and relaxing event. The resort provided games, movies, dance parties with Donald Duck and other characters, free food and so much more to entertain the anxious parents and energetic little ones.
Even though Walt Disney World sustained very little damage from Hurricane Matthew, it was incredible to watch the place go into action at the sign of danger. From late night construction to the dedicated hotel staff, the entire operation functioned like a well-oiled machine. The magical destination is the world’s largest single-site employer, with more than 62,000 cast members. Each person serves a specific purpose. Even in the face of hurricanes or other threats, the machine continues to function. Cast members cooked food, stayed the night, pulled long hours and did everything they could to make Hurricane Matthew as safe for guests as possible. Guests also received refunds for missed days at the parks due to weather-induced closures.
Don’t get me wrong: Hurricane Matthew was extremely dangerous, and my heart goes out to everyone who was affected by the devastating storm. Having said that, I was thoroughly impressed by the Contemporary Resort and Walt Disney World in general. If had to choose a place to ride out a hurricane, Mickey Mouse’s well-protected and intensely-staffed playground seems like a good one to pick.