ORLANDO — There was magic in the air again Tuesday in storm-squeezed central Florida.
Walt Disney World, the mega-entertainment complex and cherished theme park billed as “the most magical place on Earth,” reopened its doors in Lake Buena Vista — two days after Hurricane Irma began its historic assault on the state.
The Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center were running their normal business hours. Also up and running: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Disney Springs.
The complex’s water parks remained shut, but Disney said it hoped to reopen later this week.
On Tuesday, Disney lovers were eager to ride the dizzying Tea Cups, travel under the sea with The Little Mermaid and brave Thunder Mountain. At Space Mountain, one of the park’s most popular rides, guests only waited 10 minutes. Usually, the wait is around an hour.
Paola Pedroso, 28, traveled from Brazil to visit Disney with her bridal party. They flew into Miami on Sunday and stayed at a hotel near Universal Studios during the worst of the storm.
“But it wasn’t scary. We thought it would be,” said Pedroso, a white Mickey Mouse house hat and veil atop her head. “Our family and friends (back home) were scared more than us because everybody was talking about it. I thought it was going to be a huge thing, but it wasn’t.”
Even cooped up in a hotel before hitting the Magic Kingdom — where they took time to stop for foot-long hot dogs and gooey cheese dip — they still managed to have a good time.
“We had a lot of fun in the hotel,” Pedroso said. “The hurricane didn’t stop us.”
Pedroso was among tourists from foreign countries and the U.S. who flocked to the park in a bid for a return to normalcy after the shifting and ferocious Irma caused havoc in the central corridor of the state with potent winds and torrential rain.
Irma made its first landfall in the lower Florida Keys early Sunday morning as a Category 4 hurricane before striking land a second time at Marco Island in the west later in the day. The storm then shifted east, passing west of Orlando early Monday as a Category 1, with winds of 85 mph.
Disney never lost power but was slammed with winds and rain that caused trees to topple and water to seep into some buildings. Disney resort hotels remained open during Irma, but the parks were closed Sunday and Monday.
But strolling down Main Street to Cinderella’s Castle on Tuesday, you’d never know a villainous hurricane had just ripped through the state. There’s no debris on the pristine roads, no flooding near the ferry boat docks and not even a chip in Cinderella’s glass slipper or the Beast’s beloved encased rose — housed inside Disney’s crystal figure shop.
Almost all of the rides and attractions were open when the theme park began greeting guests, with the exception of the railroad. Workers were still busy clearing debris from the storm off the tracks. The railroad was expected to reopen Wednesday.
The park’s restaurant lines filled out quickly as visitors craved something besides the peanut butter sandwiches, protein bars and water they’d been living on during the storm.
Andrea Brian, who lives in Winter Garden about a half hour from Disney, said her daughters were “restless and ready to get out of the house” after hunkering down for Irma.
Since her family has annual passes to Magic Kingdom, she figured it was the perfect time to come.
“We were cooped up in the house for days, and I knew the lines wouldn’t be too long,” she said, taking a break underneath Rapunzel’s castle with her daughters Addison, 6, and Mary Kate, 4.
Faced with Irma and a spooky ride on Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion — her favorite — Addison wasn’t fazed.
“I slept through the whole thing without a peep,” she said of Irma. She managed to stay awake on the Haunted Mansion ride.
But Brian called it “the most horrifying thing I’ve ever been through,” although she’s thankful she never lost power and her house had no damage.
“I’m from Tennessee originally, and there I’ve never experienced wind like that before,” she said.