A History of Orlando Theme Park Closures

As concerns surrounding the Coronavirus continue to grow and more positive cases come to light, something we may have joked about only a week ago is now a reality–Orlando theme park closures are happening.

Walt Disney World Resort was the first to announce its closure last night. The announcement came just a few hours after its original counterpart, Disneyland Resort, announced it would be closing its doors beginning tomorrow, March 14. Universal Orlando Resort quickly followed suit, announcing the closure of its two theme parks as well. (Its California counterpart, Universal Studios Hollywood, will be closed beginning tomorrow, March 14, and anticipates reopening on March 28 according to their website.) Just a few minutes ago, SeaWorld also announced its theme parks will cease operation beginning March 16.

As of now, every major theme park in Orlando will be closed from March 16 through the end of the month. Legoland and Busch Gardens will also cease operations, which means every major theme park in Florida will be closed for the remainder of the month.

I’ve only witnessed a handful of Orlando theme park closures since moving here in 2012, so I decided to do a little digging to find out just how many this has happened since these parks opened.

According to Wikipedia, Walt Disney World has closed a total of nine times. This total includes the upcoming closure and early closures as well. They are as follows:

  • September 15, 1999, due to Hurricane Floyd
  • September 11, 2001, due to the September 11 terrorist attacks
  • August 13, 2004, due to Hurricane Charley
  • September 4-5, 2004, due to Hurricane Frances
  • September 26, 2004, due to Hurricane Jeanne
  • October 7, 2016, due to Hurricane Matthew
  • September 10-11, 2017, due to Hurricane Irma
  • September 3, 2019, due to Hurricane Dorian (The theme parks did not fully close on this day, but they did adjust their operating hours)
  • March 16-31, 2020, due to the Coronavirus pandemic

I also discovered that Magic Kingdom and Epcot closed early on August 31, 1985, due to concerns regarding Hurricane Elena. Additionally, DHS and DAK did not reopen on September 6, 2004 after Hurricane Frances due to staffing issues.

While I imagine Universal has closed every time Disney has, these are the official closures according to Wikipedia:

  • September 15, 1999, due to Hurricane Floyd
  • September 11, 2001, due to the September 11 terrorist attacks
  • August 13, 2004, due to Hurricane Charley
  • October 7, 2016 due to Hurricane Matthew
  • September 11-12, 2017, due to Hurricane Irma
  • March 16-31, 2020, due to the Coronavirus pandemic (This wasn’t previously listed, but I added it this morning. You’re welcome.)

I also discovered that Universal closed early (6pm) on September 3, 2004 due to Hurricane Frances. However, I wasn’t able to find out if they actually closed the way Disney did.

Now this is where it gets a bit dicey. Unlike Disney and Universal, SeaWorld does not have a closures section on their Wikipedia page. This required a little further digging and these are the closures I was able to find:

  • September 15, 1999 due to Hurricane Floyd
  • September 4, 2004 due to Hurricane Frances
  • October 7, 2016 due to Hurricane Matthew
  • September 10-11 due to Hurricane Irma
  • September 3, 2019 due to Hurricane Dorian

I was unable to find if SeaWorld closed on September 11, 2001, but I would safely assume they did. They also closed early in anticipation of Hurricane Charley, but no additional closure was indicated.

What we are currently experiencing is unprecedented. Orlando theme park closures are not taken lightly, and these will be the longest closures since they opened their doors. And because of that, I encourage all of you to exhibit an even higher level of kindness and patience when interacting with any theme park employees over the next several weeks.

Many of them have the same information as we do. In fact, we may even have more information than they do at times. (News outlets often break the news faster than companies can release a statement due to a host of variables behind the scenes.)

So if you plan on visiting the parks before they close or trying to reschedule your visit, please bear in mind that they are under an extreme amount of stress and pressure. Don’t be the guest that makes this situation any more difficult than it already is.

And, please, if you do nothing else, wash your hands, sanitize, and keep your kids from licking every possible surface known to mankind.

 

 

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