Braving gusty winds and drizzly weather, tourists packed ponchos and umbrellas to take advantage of less-than-usual wait times in Orlando’s theme parks as they reopened Thursday following Tropical Storm Nicole.
Walt Disney World’s theme parks reopened in phases Thursday afternoon, with Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs opening their gates at noon, Epcot and Animal Kingdom at 1 p.m. and Hollywood Studios at 2 p.m.
Universal Orlando reopened its Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks and CityWalk district to hotel guests only Thursday afternoon “with limited experiences.” Normal operations were set to resume Friday.
Crowds flocked to a blustery Disney Springs on Thursday afternoon, many sporting Mickey-branded ponchos in the light rain. For most, it was just a typical rainy afternoon in Central Florida.
Visiting from Springfield, Mass. for her daughter Paisley’s 6th birthday, Jen Muche said the storm had little effect on her trip, but it delayed a friend’s arrival.
“You make the magic yourself, right?” Muche said.
Because of the delayed flight, Muche’s friend was going to miss the group’s plans to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom on Thursday evening.
Muche said she had a difficult time getting reimbursed for the additional ticket. Though employees offered her credit toward future park tickets or events, she said she wanted a direct refund and had been unable to get one yet.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” she said.
A Disney spokesperson said Disney works with guests on a case-by-case basis to accommodate requests for future credit or refunds.
New York residents Amoret Moore and Craig Stein said they learned the storm was heading to Florida the day they arrived at Disney with Stein’s family on Nov. 4.
“By the time the storm hit, we had already done everything I’d wanted to do,” Moore said. “… I’m having fun, I mean, we’re at Disney!”
The only thing the couple missed out on was a performance of the nighttime spectacular “Fantasmic” at Hollywood Studios on Thursday evening. The resort canceled all Thursday performances of the show because of the storm.
Greg Antonelle, a travel agent who lives in Windermere, said the late afternoon crowd at Magic Kingdom was sparse.
“I’m on Main Street, and I’m looking down both ways right now. There’s not a person on either side of me for about 15-20 yards both ways,” said Antonelle, an annual passholder who said he goes to Disney five or six times a week.
“It’s pretty quiet. … I’ve been in the park, you know, in the last year, at least 20-25 times where the weather is a lot worse than this,” he said.
Elsewhere in Central Florida, Gatorland was closed Thursday but had avoided any major storm damage, said President and CEO Mark McHugh.
The attraction closed for two weeks after Hurricane Ian flooded the park, breaching a berm that had protected Gatorland since the 1960s, McHugh said. The park was covered by 18-24 inches of standing water after Ian.
“We didn’t have any damage to any of our exhibits from falling trees or anything. We’ve got just general leaf litter and small limbs all over the park that we’re sweeping up,” McHugh said after Tropical Storm Nicole passed. “All the animals are good. … We rode this one out really well.”
Gatorland will reopen to the public Friday.
Legoland Florida reopened Thursday at noon. SeaWorld Orlando remained closed Thursday but will reopen Friday at 10 a.m.
[email protected] and @katievrice on Twitter