Monday, January 14, 2013

Here Comes Isaac!

Illuminated only by the dim light of our bathroom at the Beach Club Resort, I feverishly scoured the Internet on my cell phone in a desperate attempt to obtain any solid information about the trajectory of Hurricane Isaac.  After a brutally early (but successful) morning at the Magic Kingdom, we'd returned to our hotel for a refreshing midday break.  Then, we'd hopped over to Epcot's World Showcase for another relaxing evening of street performers, character meets, Agent P Missions, delicious cuisine in the Italy Pavilion, and a Grand Marnier slushie (or two) in the France Pavilion.

Slurping spaghetti in the Italy Pavilion
After dinner and some requisite face painting, we staked out our spots along the World Showcase lagoon and waited for IllumiNations, Epcot's spectacular nightly fireworks show, to begin.  Just as we were breaking open the popcorn, I overheard a disturbing conversation behind me.

"I'm glad we're leaving tomorrow," a woman commented to her husband. 

"Yeah, no kidding," he replied.  "Looks like the Florida coast is going to take a direct hit from Isaac this weekend."

I felt my stomach drop to my knees.  When we booked our Disney trip for late August, we were fully aware that we were taking our chances, as the height of the Florida hurricane season runs from mid-August to October.  Nevertheless, the odds of a hurricane actually hitting Florida while we were in Disney World were relatively slim, so we decided to risk it.  Now, I was beginning to regret our decision.  Although Disney World is far enough inland that it rarely takes a direct hit from a hurricane, if a tropical storm even grazes the Atlantic Florida coast, Orlando can still be inundated with torrential downpours and high winds...for days.  We'd barely begun our trip (it was still only the first full day); we weren't schedule to depart Orlando until Monday.  Even worse, we'd planned to spend the last two days of our trip at Disney's Vero Beach Resort...on the ocean!

The streetlights of Epcot's World Showcase dimmed, and the narrator's voice filled the air:  Good evening. On behalf of Walt Disney World, the place where dreams come true, we welcome all of you to Epcot and World Showcase.  Normally, an electric atmosphere of excitement accompanies these words, but I just could not shake the feeling of dread that was consuming me.

At least the kids enjoyed IllumiNations!
After IllumiNations was over, we strolled through the International Gateway and began the short walk back to our room at Disney's Beach Club Resort.  The kids were tired but happy, chattering away with my mom.  My husband was aware of the impending storm, but he is able to compartmentalize much better than I am; he'd decided that, since we had no control over the hurricane's path, he was simply not going to worry about it.  Unfortunately, the nature of my personality prevents me from adopting such a carefree attitude; consequently, as soon as I tucked the kids into bed for the night, I whipped out my cell phone and began researching.

So that I wouldn't disturb my sleeping family, I moved "Operation Isaac" to the bathroom.  I read weather article upon weather article and viewed multiple projected paths of the storm.  I learned that Tropical Storm Isaac (although it was projected to become a hurricane, it wasn't one yet) was most likely going to hit the Atlantic Florida coast sometime during the weekend.  It would then decrease in intensity as it moved across Central Florida, bringing high winds and extremely rainy conditions in its wake.  So, I refreshed myself on Disney's hurricane policy, and I decided upon Plan B (and C and D) in case we were stranded.   

At about 3:00am, my phone battery reached a critically low stage, and I decided to call it a night.  As I stood up and glanced in the mirror, I suddenly became fully cognizant of my temporary insanity.  While it's prudent to have a backup plan in case of inclement weather (and to always understand the policies of the resort at which you are staying), I knew in my heart that my husband was right: what was going to happen was going to happen, and we had no control over it.  In that moment, I made a crucial decision.  I'd spent months planning this vacation, and I was going to enjoy it.  I was going to treasure every sunny moment for the next few days, and when the storm hit, I was going to make the best of that, too.

Tip Time: When visiting Disney World during hurricane season, familiarize yourself with their hurricane policy.  At the same time, keep in mind that hurricanes rarely impact Orlando directly.  Disney World has only closed a handful of times due to a tropical storm, and it always reopens quickly.  If a hurricane does hit the Florida coast while you're in Disney World, it will likely cause extremely rainy conditions in Orlando.  Don't let this deter you from visiting the parks, though!  Many of the attractions at Disney World are indoors.  If you can brave the wind and rain, you will most likely enjoy nonexistent waits in almost-empty parks!  And you'll have a great story to tell!

I finally crawled into bed, exhausted but content with my resolution to place Hurricane Isaac on the back burner..for now.   A mere four hours later, my family started to stir.  And by stir, I mean Jack leaped out of his bed and jumped onto mine, yelling "It's Hollywood Studios day!!!".  Hollywood Studios is my son's favorite park, and his enthusiasm was contagious.  Fueled by adrenaline, I bounded out of bed with him and began the painful process of cajoling my sleep-loving daughter out from under her covers. 

Tip Time: I am a strong proponent of arriving at Disney's theme parks early every day.  You will accomplish more in the first hour of the day than you will in the entire afternoon.  Nevertheless, if you simply cannot get up that early, you can still have a successful trip if you have a solid touring plan.  The one exception to this is Hollywood Studios.  Hollywood Studios is smaller than the other parks and has fewer attractions, so crowds are more concentrated and build more quickly.  To enjoy the attractions at Hollywood Studios without spending hours in line, you must arrive before the park opens (30 minutes early during the regular season and 45-60 minutes early during the peak or holiday seasons).  

After a quick breakfast, we were off to Hollywood Studios!  We arrived at about 8:15am, making us one of the first groups in line at the turnstiles.  I brought a small arsenal of activities to occupy my children until the park opened, so the time passed quickly.  Before we knew it, the turnstiles were opening, and we were making an ecstatic mad dash to our first attraction!   

Excited for a fun day at the Studios..with no waiting in line!
Tip Time: Bring small activities to keep your kids occupied while waiting in line for the parks to open.  This is especially crucial at Hollywood Studios.  Many of the attractions at Hollywood Studios are scheduled shows and require you to arrive 20-30 minutes prior, meaning that you will have a lot of downtime.  One of my favorite activities is Melissa and Doug's Flip-to-Win Memory game.

Next Up: Enjoying the attractions at Hollywood Studios with no wait!.

Meredith McCutcheon
Disney Specialist at Ginger's Getaways
Find me on Facebook or on The Patch

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