Temperatures in Central Florida today are dropping faster than a train up the Iron Gwazi Rift Hill. Overnight lows may drop to below freezing as an arctic storm sweeping across the United States caps off a frosty trip across the country with a visit to Walt Disney World.
But with no precipitation in the forecast, it looks like only “Snoop” will fall from the skies in the Orlando area this chilly Christmas. But those of us with long memories may remember it snowing at Disney World before.
And there I was.
So, in solidarity with our guests and Cast Members who are gearing up for the cold weather this weekend, we bring you this chapter from Theme Parks Insider’s book The Day It Snowed at Walt Disney World.
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Even in December, the weather in Central Florida is pleasant most days. But once every ten years, he says, a severe cold front passes through the state, freezing orange trees, tourists, and even residents.
On the morning of December 23, 1989, one of those fronts was brought. Temperatures were forecast to drop into the 30s, and he pulled out his Chicago winter coat from the back of Hall’s closet. I’m glad I did too. I was staying warm watching the other opening shift cast members shivering in jean jackets and sweatshirts…you shouldn’t be doing this.
That day, I was driving a raft across the river at an opening on Tom Sawyer Island. The crowd didn’t expect much. It was Saturday, two days before Christmas. Most people who come on vacation go on a trip for the day, so it’s going to be a busy day at the airport, but not at Walt Disney World. will not.)
Frozen is not the way to reach the north, and it gradually gets colder over the course of several weeks in the 30s and 20s, leaves change, and the warmth slowly escapes the ground. Instead, Arctic air blows hard into Florida, blanketing still-warm water and soil.
What happens when you drop a blanket of Yankee winter air over the warm waters of Florida?
It will be foggy. A very thick fog.
In fact, the morning fog when I arrived wasn’t too bad. Effortlessly drove the crew working at the snack stand on the island. No, you couldn’t see all the way from the middle of the river across Frontierland to the Country Bear Jamboree like on a clear day, but you could see from the dock on one bank to the other bank. I really need it.
So we opened up the island to a small band of shivering guests in winter coats they never thought they’d wear in Florida. Everyone put their shoulders over their ears that morning.
After that, the temperature continued to drop to 30 degrees, and then to the low of the day, in the mid-20s. The fog thickened. After the second or third crossing, when the raft was moored on the mainland side, I heard the whistle of a riverboat. I turned to signal the riverboat to clear…and I couldn’t see it.
Lake Buena Vista, something went wrong.
My lead called the supervisor to let them know we were down and found out we weren’t the only ones making the same call. As it continued to speed up, Big Thunder Mountain could not open at all. The Jungle Cruise is also down. As did People Mover, Dumbo, and just about every outdoor ride in the park.
However, there were still a dozen guests on the island. The riverboat had to dock while I crossed the guards to help the remaining Tom Sawyer Island crew clear the island. Frankly, the guests seemed happy to have gone. Half of them had already gathered at the dock for the return trip. The rest we found had gathered in one of the caves, trying to stay warm.
No one relieved me from driving the raft. (Eh, why not?) So, on our final journey back to the mainland, we sailed blindly through the mud. Cheeky raft drivers say you can make the journey blind. I have to prove it.
Two friends from other attractions were waiting for me when we arrived. With half of the park’s rides closed, Reed was freeing cast members who wanted to leave early. I also took an early release to let people know they can’t.
We decided to hang out in the park, but somewhere indoors. We chose Zalande his pavilion at Epcot. As it turns out, it was the most popular day in all of Walt Disney World, with more crowds than fog.
On my way to the tunnel to change and go to work, I felt something catch my eye. bug? I blinked involuntarily and put my hand over my eye to wipe anything. Then I felt the problem spots dissolve in the water instead. Standing in the middle of Frontierland, I looked up at the sky…and saw snowflakes.
It was snowing…at Walt Disney World.
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Happy holidays to everyone in Florida, across the country, and around the world. If you’d like to read more of my story about working at Walt Disney World Resort and support my efforts with Theme Parks Insider, purchase a copy of my story from Theme Parks Insider for an after Christmas gift. And thank you to everyone who already has one, especially those who have left positive reviews.
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