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Tropical Storm Emily – What you need to know about severe storms while in Orlando

With Tropical Storm Emily’s track shifting slightly west today, it appears that Walt Disney World and the eastern part of the Florida peninsula are likely to encounter high winds and possible severe storms starting Friday and lasting through Saturday. Technically, the forecast includes a cone of possibility that could mean a direct hit for Orlando with strong tropical force winds directly impacting the attractions, but it’s more likely Emily will stay off the east coast of the peninsula providing great waves for surfers and some coastal erosion. No one knows for sure yet, but it’s best to be prepared.

With that in mind, it’s time to break out the annual hurricane preparedness post.

First check the National Hurricane Center and see if your destination is in the potential path of the storm. If it is, call your travel agent and see what the possibilities are for rescheduling. If you booked online, it’s important you check the fine print of your reservation regarding cancellation or re-booking fees.

If you are flying into central Florida during hurricane season you may want to consider travel insurance. Read the policy carefully to make sure it covers rescheduling due to storms. Some airlines will let you cancel or reschedule ahead of the storm, but unless you’re paying full fare, you’re likely not eligible. No-frills airlines make it very difficult to change your plans without huge fees. The right type of travel insurance will cover this.

Staying on Disney property over the next few months? You’ll want to make sure you read the Walt Disney World 2011 Hurricane Policy to fully understand your options. Basically, if WDW is under a Hurricane watch and your arrival is less than a week away you may be eligible to rebook the Disney portion of your vacation without fees.

What to do if you are in Orlando on vacation already and a storm comes through? Following safety instructions provided by the hotel is always the first step. Generally, you’ll want to stay indoors with the window and shades closed for the duration of the storm. You may be asked to gather in an interior room (often a ballroom, as they seldom have windows). If you have a smart phone (or unlimited SMS) use Twitter to follow CFNews13’s twitter weather service @cfnews13_wx or the National Hurricane Center’s twitter account @NHC_Atlantic.

Be prepared with 3 days of packaged food that does not require refrigeration and water for everyone in your party. Some glow sticks or flashlights are a good idea in case the power goes out (especially if your room opens to an interior hallway) and a battery operated radio as well. Of course, you’ll want some thing extra to entertain yourself and the family during this extended down time. A deck of cards or a book of word games can go a long way to help pass the time.

To stock up, if you’re on property without a car, I recommend making your way to either a DVC property where they have a little store near the lobby, or one of the two Hess gas stations on property. There is one walking distance from the Boardwalk Inn. If you have a car there is a Winn-Dixie, Publix, and Walmart all within a few miles of Downtown Disney along the 536.

Disney takes safety seriously and, when a storm impact is imminent, may close all or some of its parks for part or all of a day just to be extra cautious and allow staff to be with their families. If the storm veers away from Central Florida, Disney has usually been quick to re-open at least one park.

When a storm does score a direct hit on Central Florida, expect Animal Kingdom to be the last to open and EPCOT to be the first. In either case, you’ll enjoy some of the lightest crowds ever at the parks as many will have rescheduled their vacations. You’ll also see a lot more character interaction, which Disney will sometimes bring out right to the resorts if the parks are closed. After safety issues are resolved, Disney really sees this as their chance to shine with exceeding guest expectations when times are the toughest and they usually do a great job.

What questions do you have about Disney and severe storms? If you’ve been on property during a hurricane, we’d love to read about your experience.