Hurricanes to Protests: Every Time the Disney Parks Have Closed

in Disney Parks

Guests wearing face masks at Disneyland Resorts

Credit: Disney

If you can count on one thing in this life, it’s that at any time – somewhere in the world – someone is currently running around a Disney Park, donned in Mickey ears and trying to figure out the next ride in a hectic day of Disney fun.

From Anaheim to Tokyo, Disney currently boasts six theme park resorts across the globe. For some, their presence has become a staple of everyday life. That’s why, on the odd occasion that they do close, it is a big deal. Disney doesn’t just close one of the world’s most efficient money-making machines for nothing. It takes a lot to slam the gate shut to Guests. In fact, it’s only happened a handful of times in living history.

Adult and young Guest at Magic Kingdom
Credit: Disney

The history of Disney Park closures

Disney Parks close very rarely – and only in situations where it’s deemed unsafe for its Guests to remain in the Parks. From natural disasters to global terror, these are the incidents that forced Disney Parks shut.


On September 11, 2001, the entire United States was grounded after planes struck Manhattan’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington D.C, and a field in Pennsylvania.

With New York in chaos, other national landmarks feared they could be next. Even before the FAA cleared United States airspace from coast to coast, Disney announced via ABC that all Disney Parks would close. A message was broadcast across Magic Kingdom, declaring: “Ladies and gentlemen, due to circumstances beyond our control, Walt Disney World is now closed. Please follow the instructions of Cast Members and move to the nearest exit.”

A rainbow crosses the sky over Magic Kingdom's Cinderella Castle
Credit: Disney

Cast Members followed emergency protocols, which involved linking hands to form “human walls” and systematically sweep through the Parks, clearing each area of Guests. They did not inform Guests unaware of the ongoing incident in New York why the Park was being cleared. To entertain Guests confined to their hotels, the likes of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were dispatched for spontaneous meet-and-greets. Disney also provided each Guest with a complimentary ticket as they exited the Parks.

Disney World reopened the next day but with strict new security measures. Bag searches were set up at tables outside each Park, supervised by Orange County Sheriff’s deputies. A no-fly zone was also established over its Parks.

Over on the West Coast, Disneyland Resort didn’t open either of its Parks – Disneyland or California Adventure. Instead, its food and beverage stations across Disneyland property remained open for onsite Guests, free of charge. AMC Theaters at Downtown Disney also showed Disney films for free.

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park with Disney100 celebration decorations
Credit: Disney

The company’s then-CEO, Michael Eisner, issued a statement to the company’s Cast Members on 9/11 in regard to the closures. “Finally, let me say our company around the world will continue to operate in this sometimes violent world in which we live, offering products that reach to the higher and more positive side of the human equation.”


Two of Disney’s Resorts – Disneyland Resort and Tokyo Disney Resort – are situated in earthquake hotspots. In the 1990s, Disneyland was forced to close following the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake on January 17, 1994. The quake hit Los Angeles at approximately 4.30 a.m., forcing Disney to shut the Park to inspect each attraction for safety reasons.

However, the validity of this closure is disputed. Yesterland reports that the “Park was open for business, although each attraction opened only after it was thoroughly inspected. Newspapers at the time reported that Disneyland stayed open. The mistaken ‘fact’ that Disneyland closed that day has taken on a life of its own on the Internet in recent years.” Judging by Disney’s response to more recent earthquakes – including those in 2010, 2014, and 2019 – this does seem to be its go-to protocol, making this supposed closure a question mark.

A view of Pixar Pier at night, overlooking the lake.
Credit: Disney

One closure that definitely isn’t a question mark is that of Tokyo Disney Resort in 2011. On March 11, Japan was hit by the Tōhoku earthquake – a monstrous 9.1  quake that triggered tsunamis and left at least 19,759 dead. Other than some flooding to the Resort’s parking areas, the physical impact on Tokyo Disney was very minor.

Despite the fortunately minor damage, the Resort still shut down. At least 20,000 of its estimated 69,000 visitors that day spent the night inside the Parks as Tokyo’s public transportation systems closed. Tokyo Disney Resort officials announced that it would remain closed for at least 10 days to allow for safety inspections and repairs. Ultimately, Tokyo Disneyland reopened on April 15, 2011, just over one month later. Tokyo DisneySea followed on April 28, 2011, just in time for the start of Golden Week – a week of public holidays in Japan and one of the Resort’s most popular periods.

JFK’s assassination

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on a political trip to Dallas, Texas. The next day, November 23, Disneyland closed its gates as a sign of respect. A sign was posted outside the entrance, reading: “In observance of our national mourning, Disneyland is closed today, Saturday.”

Black and white photo shows two girls standing next to Mickey and Minnie in front of Disneyland Castle
Credit: Disney

This marked the first time any Disney Park faced an unscheduled closure. The day also has other significance in Disney history, as it was on November 22 that Walt Disney finally scouted the perfect location in Central Florida for his next theme park – Magic Kingdom. Walt discovered the news about President Kennedy right after flying back to California.

Bad weather

Disney World isn’t exactly in a prime location, severe weather-wise. Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom have closed multiple times for hurricanes over the years. Surprisingly, it went 28 years before its first hurricane-induced closure occurred in 1999. Hurricane Floyd forced the Resort’s four Parks – as well as its water parks and Disney Springs (then Downtown Disney) – to close early in the afternoon of September 14.

Photo Credit: Disney

Guests staying in low-lying areas, such as Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, were evacuated to other hotels in case of flooding. The Resort planned to remain closed on September 15, too, but opened Animal Kingdom and the Disney Springs after Hurricane Floyd’s path made unexpectedly changed direction.

Five years later, in 2004, Walt Disney World was hit by not just one more hurricane but three. The first came on August 13, when Hurricane Charley became the strongest hurricane to hit southwest Florida in recorded history. Less than a month later, the Parks Hurricane Frances forced the four Parks to close again on both September 4 and September 5. Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Typhoon Lagoon reopened on September 6, while Hollywood Studios (then Disney-MGM Studios), Animal Kingdom, and Blizzard Beach remained shut until the following day. Yet another storm hit on September 26 – Hurricane Jeanne – which closed the Parks for a third time.

The following year, on October 24, 2005, Walt Disney World closed again due to Hurricane Wilma. All four theme parks closed for the morning, with Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Downtown Disney reopening at 1 pm. Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, the golf courses, and Disney-MGM Studios remained closed until the next day.

Three guests on a waterslide at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon.
Credit: Disney

Walt Disney World went 11 years before its next hurricane: Hurricane Matthew. This forced Disney to close the Parks October 6 and October 7, 2016. In September 2017, Walt Disney World closed due to Hurricane Irma. The Parks and Disney Springs all closed by 9 p.m. on September 9 and remained closed for the next two days. The Parks avoided heavy damage, but multiple trees fell around the Resort, and there was flooding at EPCOT.

On September 3, 2019, Disney World closed early due to Hurricane Dorian. That afternoon, however, the storm changed direction away from Central Florida, with the Parks reopening as usual the next day. And finally (for now), the Parks closed on September 28 and September 29, 2022, due to Hurricane Ian.

Cinderella Castle at nighttime in Tokyo Disneyland
Credit: Tokyo Disney Resort
Over at Tokyo Disney Resort, Typhoon Hagibis forced the Parks shut on October 12, 2019, and reopened at midday the following day. Hong Kong Disneyland has also faced typhoon closures. In 2018, Typhoon Mangkhut caused enough damage that the Park was closed on September 17, while Typhoon Nalgae closed the Park in November 2022.

Yippie Protests

Back in 1970, Disneyland was invaded by members of the Youth International Party – AKA Yippies. The group was famous for their pranksterish “protests” – for example, threatening to levitate the Pentagon – and hit the happiest place on earth with a doozy. Its demands? Free admission, the ‘liberation’ of Minnie Mouse, a wage increase for Frontierland’s Native American dancers, and a makeover of Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen into a Black Panthers-themed breakfast spot.

Sleeping Beauty Castle in Black and White
Credit: Inside the Magic

On August 6, the Park was visited by 300 members of the group, who totally took over Tom Sawyer Island. They also arched upon the Park’s Bank of America branch – something riot police were forced to intervene and stop, considering the group had previously torched another branch at the University of California Santa Barbara in a separate anti-war protest.

As the protest gradually became more violent, police were forced to evacuate the Park. Disneyland also introduced a strict new dress code targeting “Yippies,” forbidding any male Guests with long hair and beards and anyone wearing a tie-dyed or slogan-bearing t-shirt. This dress code has, of course, been repealed in the 53 years since.


The big one. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, Disney Parks were gradually forced to close their gates for months on end. With the pandemic starting in Wuhan, China, the first to buckle were unsurprisingly Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland. Both closed on January 25, 2020. Tokyo Disney Resort followed on February 28.

Mickey and Minnie outside train station
Credit: Hong Kong Disneyland

The remaining Resorts – Disneyland Paris, Walt Disney World, and Disneyland Resort – originally announced plans to close starting March 15. Disneyland Paris moved that closure forward overnight to shut down a couple of days earlier, leaving hotels open until this date to accommodate those who found themselves stuck at the Resort. At first, the plan was to remain closed until the end of March, but the closure was extended indefinitely on March 27. From the week beginning April 20, 2020, over 100,000 Disney Cast Members were placed on indefinite unpaid leave, saving the Walt Disney Company $500 million.

On May 11, Shanghai Disneyland became the first Park to reopen, introducing strict new safety protocols such as limited capacity, social distancing measures, temperature checks, and face masks.

Guests in Mask
Credit: Disney

Disney Springs reopened at Disney World on May 20, kicking off a staged reopening for the Resort. That June, while Disney Parks were off limits to most Guests worldwide, Walt Disney World hosted the NBA Bubble for the 2019-2020 season of the National Basketball Association. Players stayed at Disney Resorts.

Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom reopened on July 11, and EPCOT and Hollywood Studios on July 15. Temperature screenings were introduced at the Park entrances, and Guests were requested to wear masks and socially distance, with Park staples such as FastPass and Single Rider Lines removed to make this easier. The Parks also introduced a Park reservation system to control attendance. That year, Walt Disney World Resort operated at just 25% capacity and laid off 6,500 Cast Members.

Cast Members waving down Main Street, U.S.A, at Disneyland Park in Disneyland Resort
Credit: Disney

In November, Disney World increased capacity to 35% at all four of its theme parks. On May 13, 2021, Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek announced another capacity increase, effective immediately (but didn’t clarify the exact capacity). In mid-June, temperature checks and mask mandates were lifted before being reintroduced in late July for all attractions and indoor areas following new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control as the delta variant gained strength. These mandates were lifted for good in February 2022, and as of April 2022, masks are no longer required on Disney World transportation.

Disneyland and California Adventure originally planned to follow in Disney World’s footsteps on July 17 – Disneyland’s 65th Anniversary. However, this was delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation in California, which had implemented stricter restrictions than Florida. After nearly four months, Downtown Disney reopened on July 9, 2020.

Tokyo Disney Resort planned to reopen on March 15, 2020 but pushed the date back multiple times before finally reopening Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, and Ikspiari (the Resort’s Downtown Disney equivalent) on July 1.

Guest and Security Cast Member wearing facemasks at Tokyo Disney Resort
Credit: Disney

Meanwhile, Disneyland Paris opened its Gates to Guest on July 15 before reclosing on Halloween that same year as France entered a second nationwide lockdown. Hong Kong Disneyland also faced multiple reclosures and reopenings, with the latter spending more than six months of 2022 closed – although, somehow, still managed to beat its all-time local resident and Annual Passholder visitor record that year.

Shanghai Disney Resort closed for a second time when COVID-19 cases resurged in China on March 21, 2022. It later reopened for a second time on June 30 before closing again on October 31. Another closure came on November 29, 2022, before the Park reopened for good on December 8, 2022, when China decided to ease its “zero COVID” policy after country-wide protests.

Duffy and Friends topiaries at Shanghai Disneyland
Credit: Disney

In February 2021, Disneyland announced “A Touch of Disney,” a limited-capacity, ticketed event where Guests could shop and eat at Disneyland Resort from March 18 to April 19, 2021. Disneyland Resort opened its doors for good on April 30, 2021, more than a year after Disneyland and California Adventure first closed. The following week, Disney announced DisneylandForward – a plan to expand Disneyland Resort with more rides, restaurants, and shops over the next few years. On June 15, Disneyland and California Adventure (as well as other theme parks in California) were granted permission to return to full capacity. Disneyland Paris opened on June 17, 2021, marking the first time that every Disney Park worldwide was in operation at the same time in 17 months.

Were you there for any of Disney’s unexpected Park closures? Let us know in the comments!

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