Wednesday, November 22, 2017
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UPDATE: Disney joins Universal, Busch Gardens in closing before Irma nears

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Theme parks in Florida are closing their gates and canceling special events this weekend because of Hurricane Irma, a decision that will cost them millions even before the first wind gust.

Walt Disney World was set to close early today due to Irma and aims to reopen its theme parks Tuesday at the earliest. It's just the fifth time in Disney's history that the parks have been closed.

SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay are planning to close by 5 p.m. today, and will be closed Sunday and Monday.

Universal Orlando will close its theme parks Sunday and Monday and expects to be back in operation Tuesday, the company said.

Aquatica Orlando and Adventure Island will be closed today through Monday. Discovery Cove will be closed Sunday and Monday.

Universal went ahead with Friday's Rock the Universe Christian music concert, but canceled today's show.

Disney canceled today's Night of Joy concert and Sunday's edition of Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. The Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground will be closed and campers were told to have their cars out by 2 p.m. today, the company announced.

It cost Walt Disney World $40 million to close for a day and a half last October when Hurricane Matthew was heading toward Central Florida. Disney CEO Bob Iger told investors the theme park giant suffered little to no damage but turning away customers and canceling Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party had a financial impact of $40 million in lost sales.

Epcot and Magic Kingdom will close at 9 p.m. today; Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios close at 7 p.m. today. Illuminations, Fantasmic!, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, and Rivers of Light are all canceled tonight.

For vacationers, Disney's policy is that if a hurricane warning is issued for the Orlando area — or for your residence — within seven days of your scheduled arrival date, you may reschedule or cancel your visit without any fees imposed by Disney. For more details see disneyworld.disney.go.com/faq/hurricane-policy.

Since opening in 1971, the park has only been closed four other times, all in anticipation of hurricanes.

Disney World shuttered its gates on Sept. 15, 1999, for Hurricane Floyd; Sept. 4 and 5, 1999, for Hurricane Frances; Sept. 26, 2004, for Hurricane Jeanne; and Oct. 7, 2016 for Hurricane Matthew. It also evacuated all its parks worldwide after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, but the parks were not closed beforehand.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

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