Florida and Central Florida have always been known as the entertainment capitals of the Southeast corridor of the United States. It has also seen its fair share of hurricanes and storms. What happens when you combine the two?
Full hotels and foul weather made for unusual experiences for tourists waiting out Hurricane Matthew in Central Florida.
Hyatt Regency Orlando played host to a diverse group including a nurses convention, a delegation from China and a group of disappointed attendees in town for Spooky Empire, a horror convention set for this weekend but canceled Thursday.
“There were some costumes yesterday evening,” Tom Smith, area vice president for Hyatt Hotels, said Friday. “The atmosphere was quite light. The weather hadn’t gotten heavy so people were milling around and having fun. They said ‘We’re in Orlando, so we’re going to have fun.'”
The Chinese visitors — who speak little English, Smith said — are in town for the Jeunesse Expo, arriving late Thursday.
“We’re very blessed to have two associates who speak Mandarin and Cantonese, so we have them in strategic spots communicating with them in their native language,” Smith said.
His International Drive hotel, which did not lose power ahead of Matthew, opened ballrooms and set up TV and board games for the guests. Keeping track of rooms was a juggling act between early departures, cancellations and folks who couldn’t get a flight out.
Some guests wouldn’t check out of the Hyatt Regency until they get on the plane, Smith said. Then, before takeoff, they’d call in.
“Then we’d hear the captain’s voice in the background,” he said. “They didn’t want to give up their room, which is understandable because there were no rooms in the area.”
Misty Moore flew from Memphis, Tenn., into Tampa and drove to Orlando on Thursday, just before the curfew started. She and her family are staying at Portofino Bay at Universal Orlando for 10 days. Matthew was her first hurricane.
The hotel had set up an Italian buffet in a conference room and set up activities and games for kids as well as movie screenings, Moore said.
“They were playing cornhole in the hallway,” she said.
She had heard that some hotels had limited dining options as the storm approached, so she bought food while in Tampa.
“I’m a nurse. I’m used to working through storms,” Moore said. Her husband works in TV news. “It’s unusual for us not to be at work in a natural disaster,” she said.
Eric Meyer’s business trip to Walt Disney World was extended by the storm. He was scheduled to fly back to Cleveland on Thursday, but that has been pushed back. He and his family are staying at Disney’s Contemporary Resort until Sunday.
In the meantime, the hotel screened Disney movies, thrown dance parties and organized art and crafts activities for guests, Meyer said.
“The restaurants are booked solid,” he said. Room service was suspended for a day, he said, allowing the kitchen to concentrate on table service.
“The staff has been really incredible. A lot of them just stayed here,” Meyer said. “They had them coming in shifts.”
Contemporary visitors had the unusual occasion to watch Disney officials seal off two monorail trains inside the hotel before the storm, Meyer said.
“There are a lot worse places to ride out a storm than at the Contemporary at Disney World,” he said.