Potentially catastrophic Hurricane Irma is barreling toward the Caribbean and Florida with winds topping 185 mph, making it the strongest storm ever to form in the open Atlantic waters. As it heads toward land, businesses in Florida are prepared to take a hit.
Tourism is Florida’s top resource, so closures at central Florida theme parks including Walt Disney Co.-owned Walt Disney World, Comcast Corp.’s Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s SeaWorld Orlando could dampen a usually busy pre-Halloween season. Further south, cruises leaving Florida ports and venturing into the Caribbean have been cancelled, rerouted and cut short.
Disney World doesn’t close often, but it shut its gates last year when Hurricane Matthew hit. Matthew sucker-punched the Orlando area in early October. If Disney has to shut down operations for any period of time, it’s expected to announce plans before the weekend.
Before it turns to park closures, Disney has an extensive emergency management plan in place. Disney World operates a disaster relief center, which is currently on alert with Florida under a state of emergency. The relief center employs trained professionals who are preparing for the worst-case scenario and will mobilize to secure guests as soon as Hurricane Irma becomes an imminent threat.
When a hurricane watch is in place for any part of central Florida within seven days of your planned visit, Walt Disney World waives the typical cancellation fee. If you booked your Disney World trip with an airline package, you’ll need to get in touch with your airline provider to consider cancelling, as Disney can’t forgive fees from other firms.
Universal Orlando Resort has an “affirmative, no-questions-asked” policy for guests seeking a refund or free cancellation because of a named storm affecting the Orlando area or the guests’ origin, a spokesman told the Orlando Sentinel.
SeaWorld Orlando also offers a “peace of mind” policy that allows guests to reschedule or refund vacation packages or park tickets free of charge.
But offering such policies as a potentially seriously damaging storm approaches central Florida can be costly. “During this time of year, particularly with the Halloween events going on, literally millions of dollars can be lost,” International Theme Park Services president Daniel Speigel told the Orlando Sentinel.
In south Florida, cruises leaving the ports of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Cape Canaveral could be derailed.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. said it plans to cut two Caribbean cruises short this week to avoid the massive storm heading into their path. The voyages aboard the Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Escape will return to Miami on Thursday instead of the planned Friday and Saturday disembarkations. Guests will get a refund for missed vacation days and a discount on future Norwegian trips, the company said in a statement.
Carnival Corp. has not yet cancelled any trips, but has revised the itineraries of four sailings to stop over in western Caribbean ports instead of eastern Caribbean ports. The company is “watching Irma closely,” a spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. will also reroute a ship into the western Caribbean and is currently evaluating five trips in the Caribbean, Cuba and Bermuda.
Hurricane Irma, which is roughly the size of Ohio, is expected to tear through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico starting Thursday and hit Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and Cuba later this week, the National Hurricane Center said.