Disney World in Orlando could be forced to close its doors to visitors as Hurricane Irma looms ever closer to the Florida coast.
The nearby theme parks at Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando are also keeping a close eye on the constantly-developing weather situation as the Category 5 storm – said to be the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm ever - wreaks havoc across the Caribbean.
Disney has already altered the itineraries of some of its cruises to take account of the storm, with some journeys either being cut short or cancelled altogether. One cruise was forced to return to port two days earlier than scheduled, while passengers on another had the final day of their trip cancelled.
This wouldn't be the first time that Disney World would have been forced to close because of storm conditions – hurricanes have forced it to close four times in its 50-year history, and the park shut up shop last year as Hurricane Matthew passed the east coast of Florida.
What to do if you’re due to visit Disney
Walt Disney World Resort's policy does allow customers to cancel or reschedule their holiday in the event of a hurricane, although this does not apply to certain special events or dining experiences.
Disney's website states: “If a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area – or for your place of residence – within seven days of your scheduled arrival date, you may call in advance to reschedule or cancel your Walt Disney Travel Company Magic Your Way vacation package and most room-only reservations (booked directly with Disney) without any cancellation or change fees imposed by Disney.
“If you have products and services provided by third-party suppliers included in your vacation – such as airlines, hotels, car rental agencies or vacation insurance companies – you will continue to be responsible for any non-refundable payments as well as cancellation or change fees assessed by those suppliers. The policy does not apply to certain special events or dining experiences.”
Universal Orlando Resort has also said that visitors will be able to reschedule or ask for a refund as a result of the storm conditions.
The UK government’s official advice on travelling to the area states: “Hurricane Irma is forecast to bring hazardous sea and weather conditions to Florida from the evening of Friday, September 8. The authorities have declared a state of emergency. You should follow the advice of the local authorities and any evacuation orders.”
Huge financial blow
It would be a major financial blow for the theme parks if they are forced to close – Walt Disney World is already gearing up for Hallowe’en.
Hurricane Irma – which is the size of France and features winds of up to 185mph - has already caused devastation on the islands of Barbuda and St Martin, and is currently heading towards Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.
Officials in Florida are taking no chances, however - a state of emergency has already been declared in the region, with evacuations under way in the Florida Keys. Schools have been cancelled and supermarket shelves cleared of provisions as local residents prepare for the worst.