By Daniel Trotta
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida (Reuters) - Not even a hurricane could keep tourists from the happiest place on Earth on Saturday.
With Hurricane Irma looming over the entire state of Florida, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom remained open until 9 p.m. on Saturday night, well before the storm was expected to threaten the area but close enough to fray a few nerves.
The four Disney parks just southwest of Orlando were due to shut down on Sunday and Monday, the company said in a statement, allowing guests, many of whom made plans months in advance, to enjoy the rides, parades and actors dressed as cartoon characters until the last minute on Saturday night. A few attractions operated on modified hours.
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A number of competing theme parks in the area including Universal Studios, Legoland and Sea World also stayed open on Saturday, when the weather was balmy, and were set to be closed on Sunday and Monday, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Irma was expected to reach Central Florida starting on Sunday, bringing hurricane force winds and soaking rains.
"I'm a mom, so I'm very nervous. My stomach is a mess," said Elizabeth Pokaly of Worcester, Massachusetts, as she left the Magic Kingdom with her daughter, 11-year-old Nyia Gonzalez.
Nyia appeared far less nervous, still beaming from her day at the theme park.
"This is the safest place to be," she said.
Another group of Disney visitors from Israel also got stuck in the Orlando area a few extra days, lamenting that it shaved time off the next leg of their holiday, in New York. One said their tumultuous homeland prepared them for a hurricane warning.
"We're from Israel," said Dor Amir, 24, "so we're not afraid."
(Editing by Frank McGurty)