Disney, Universal close for Hurricane Ian; Rosen Hotels host evacuees

Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando will close Wednesday and Thursday as Hurricane Ian approaches Orlando, the theme parks said Tuesday afternoon.

Universal announced its closure around 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, with Disney following just before 4 p.m. The major theme parks trailed SeaWorld and Legoland, which had already declared they were shutting down on Wednesday and Thursday.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the closest theme park to the hurricane’s projected landfall, closed early Tuesday, extending its previously announced two-day shutdown.

Orlando’s theme parks have cut their operating hours or closed entirely during storms in recent years, depending on the weather’s severity. Disney and Universal both closed for two days during Hurricane Irma, which brought 85 mph winds to the Orlando area in September 2017, but operated with reduced hours during Hurricane Dorian in September 2019 as the storm skirted Florida.

Disney and Universal’s hotels are remaining open for guests during Hurricane Ian. Disney will stop accepting new guests on Thursday and will ask guests checked in by 3 p.m. Wednesday to shelter in place during the storm. Universal’s hotels are currently at full capacity.

Disney transportation will stop operating Tuesday night after the theme parks and Disney Springs close, but guests with prior breakfast reservations will be able to use the resort’s Minnie Van and taxi service, according to the resort.

Before the theme parks announced their closures, visitors flocked to them Tuesday to take advantage of lower-than-average crowds as Hurricane Ian approached.

Visitors to Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park appeared unbothered by the impending storm.

Atlanta resident Damian Pressley, 31, said the storm could shorten his weeklong family trip that was scheduled to end Saturday, but it had not had an effect so far.

“Until [the rain] starts coming down, it’s business as usual,” he said.

The only issue his family had because of the storm was finding bottled water at a local Walmart, Pressley said. The family had already stocked their hotel room with groceries for the trip.

Two days shy of his flight, Montreal, Canada resident Alex Tracey decided to cancel his weeklong theme park vacation Monday after weather reports showed Hurricane Ian angling closer to Orlando.

Seeing Florida residents post on social media about bottled water shortages and other storm preparation worries was the “final nail in the coffin” of the trip, which was supposed to include outings to Disney’s theme parks and both Disney and Universal’s Halloween events.

Both Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights are canceled for days the parks are closed.

Tracey, 36, planned to spend over $2,000 on the trip and is working with the theme parks to get his money refunded.

“Things happen. That’s all you can say, right? It’s just going to be that much more fun next year — and hopefully we won’t have a hurricane,” said Tracey, who runs a theme park-oriented YouTube channel.

Disney said guests with partially used, multi-day theme park tickets would be able to redeem their unused tickets to return before Sept. 30, 2023. Universal is also working with guests to reschedule or cancel their trips.

Elsewhere in Orlando’s tourism corridor, Rosen Hotels saw an influx of bookings across its properties as Florida residents took advantage of its Florida Distress Rates while evacuating from the hurricane’s path.

Rooms had sold out at all Rosen properties by 4 p.m. Tuesday. Earlier that day, spokesman Robert Hubler said all of Rosen’s properties were at or near capacity but rooms were opening up as tourists and events cancelled.

More than 500 families had booked rooms under the discounted rate, which started at $69 per night and reached up to $119 a night, by noon Tuesday, Hubler said. Many guests were from the Tampa area, where officials have declared various evacuation orders.

“Mr. [Harris] Rosen is sincere in making sure, during tough times or times of need, that people are taken care of and we do everything in our power to make sure that happens,” Hubler wrote in an email.

The hotel chain has emergency generators at its properties and maintains on-site security and engineering to keep guests safe, Hubler said. Hotels with convention properties — Rosen Shingle Creek, Rosen Centre and Rosen Plaza — are opening their ballrooms as a gathering space for guests seeking updates on the storm.

Rosen is also offering glow sticks to guests to supply lighting if the power temporarily goes out and is allowing pets to stay on property for free during the storm.

“Our goal is to make sure people and their pets are as safe as humanly possible,” Hubler wrote.

Looking for theme parks’ hurricane policies?

Orlando’s theme parks allow guests to reschedule or cancel their trip without fees as long as their trips start within seven days after the National Hurricane Center issues a hurricane or tropical storm warning.

Disney’s policy is available at disneyworld.com/weather. The theme park also has suspended its cancelation policies for reserved experiences, including dining reservations.

Universal’s severe weather policy can be found at universalorlandovacations.com/general-information/severe-weather.

SeaWorld Orlando’s inclement weather policy, available at https://seaworld.com/orlando/help/inclement-weather-policy/, lets guests receive a complimentary ticket valid for one year if a storm affects their visit. The park is releasing updates specific to Hurricane Ian at https://seaworldentertainment.com/park-updates/.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is allowing guests with tickets for dates during the park’s closure to return before Dec. 31. Annual passholders with passes expiring Sept. 30 will be allowed to visit through Oct. 16, according to Busch Gardens. Details are available at https://seaworldentertainment.com/park-updates/.

Legoland Florida’s hurricane policy is accessible at legoland.com/hurricane.

krice@orlandosentinel.com and @katievrice on Twitter