I spent four rip-roaring days riding out Hurricane Irma at Walt Disney World. I was warned- expect the worst. There won’t be enough food. Or personnel. Brace for misery, said they. What I experienced was the best- the absolute best side- of The Walt Disney Company.
As they say, it was not my first rodeo. Having lived on or near the Long Island shoreline for thirty years, I had weathered seven hurricanes of significant strengths. Hurricane preparedness and a daily check-in with the Weather Channel and Jim Cantore is second nature. Likewise, this was not the first time hitching my wagon to The Walt Disney Company; “it’s a small world” lassoed me me in during the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair. I understand exactly what faith, trust, and pixie dust means.
How to Survive a Hurricane at Walt Disney World
So when my flight out of Orlando was cancelled 24 hours prior to Hurricane Irma’s impact, and I knew I would be riding out the storm at Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, I was not alarmed in the slightest. I stocked water, food, snacks, adult libations, and entertainment. I registered with the Florida Department of Health, ESF8 Heath and Medical Team to assist with special needs shelters. And waited. Well, waited in the Disney parks. Four in one day. As I traveled via Friendship Boat from Epcot to Disney’s Hollywood Studios I met Loretta, Cast Member extraordinaire. And I quote: “If you love Disney now, just wait; the team really shines in times of crisis.” Boy, did you steer me straight skipper.
The Brain of Disney
The preparations set in motion were very clearly well thought out and the product of meticulous disaster planning. Garbage cans were picked up and stored days before zero hour, vulnerable signage (particularly at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Global Marketplace kiosks) was removed, lighting fixtures wrapped, and refurbishment skins taken down. ALL of the Halloween Micky Mouse heads were put away. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Animal Keepers stocked and secured the animal dwellings (they get the same VIP treatment us Guests do!) and inhabitants of the Savannah were “migrated” off-stage over the period of days. This giraffe was one of the last to be evacuated, and his expression seems to say it all.
This massive undertaking was smart, strategic, and no doubt the product of years of mastermind coordination. And most importantly, all completed by Cast Members with a “whistle while you work” attitude.
The Gut of Disney
I will be honest. I read several posts about the company’s care of their Guests during last year’s Hurricane Matthew. Many friends messaged me with dire warnings and forecasts. Beware of hour-long waits for a boxed lunch, they said. Tempers will be high and things will get ugly, I was advised. Go home- you will be taking a room away from Florida residents who would become dispossessed. I was determined to remain self-sufficient if necessary and not strain the internal system. I donned my Rose Gold Ears, expected the best, but prepared for the worst. It never came. Not by a runDisney mile.
Though completely aware of the suffering and shortages elsewhere in the state, my Disney Deluxe Resort seemed like the land of plenty. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Mercantile was fully stocked before, during, and after the hurricane. (Where my Annual Passholder 20% discount got quite the workout.) Though Geyser Point was closed for this period, Roaring Fork was not only open 24-hours a day, lines were typically non-existent! When I arrived for breakfast on the morning of September 10th, I hoped for coffee and a cold slice of toast. Without a word, I received profuse apologies from my server Chuck. “I regret that all we can offer you is an all-you-can-eat full breakfast skillet this morning.” Of course, this came at the adjusted price of $12. That’s TWELVE dollars!!! Oh, and he speedily filled my request for a breakfast Mimosa.
That same overflowing skillet came out again for lunch and dinner. Guilt-ridden, I slithered from one such meal to the next. Artist Point offered an all-you-can-eat buffet for lunch (412) and dinner ($15). Furthermore, the wine list was quite extensive, under the circumstances. In between meals (what else could I do???) the Territory Lounge acted as a commiseration watering hole for all us “abandoned” Bambis. No reservations were required for any of these spots, and I simply walked right in each time.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
My hotel maxed out at about 50% capacity, so there was never a back-up of any kind. I was informed by a cast member that many in the formalized “Ride-Out Crew” were moved to off-duty status because servers outnumbered the Guests. (They were of course still welcome to stay in their safe homes-away-from-home in Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.) Never was there a hint of rumbly in the tumbly. There was, however, a distinct post-Irma Pooh belly in the making… No bother.
The Heart of Disney
If all of the above experiences were answers to the wish my heart made, the following was beyond that second star to the right. Forget everything you thought you knew (and loved) about Disney customer service. After seeing the mouse operate up close and personal for 53 years, I can crow that what I saw Cast Members achieve at Walt Disney World Resort the past 4 days was to infinity and beyond. Just when you think you can’t possibly be impressed any longer… Not. Loretta was so right! I will share some highlights, but I am certain they will not do justice.
Hurricane Irma at Walt Disney World
These Cast Members were the beating heart of the company’s response to Hurricane Irma; beyond a smiling face, helpful hug, or a kind word, they were the lifeblood of the moment. I confess that I spent most of my time at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge with a tear in my eye.
So, to “my” ride-out crew, “welcome home” will forever more be where the heart is.
You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.