Travel is Back! But it’s Tricky…
Can you feel it? The excitement at the prospect of getting out of the house? The thrill when you realize adventure is just about within reach again? As more & more people are being vaccinated, various locales around the world are starting to open to visitors again & as hard-hit travel professionals, we could not be more thrilled! And we aren’t the only ones. It seems quite a few people are interested in exploring the world again, which is great! Except…things are actually quite tricky and you may need help. Let me explain.
Earlier this year, we wrote a blog post about “The Evolution of COVID Travel.” Written in February when vaccines were not available to everyone yet & there were incredible travel deals to incentivize people to get out & go, we predicted that demand would out-weight supply as the year went on & we encouraged everyone to book sooner rather than later. Little did we know how soon that prediction would become reality. In as early as March, we started having clients who could not get what they wanted simply because there wasn’t enough availability. We specialize in Disney travel (though we do everything else too), and we have had more than a dozen groups not end up booking a trip at Disney World because there simply wasn’t enough availability. While I don’t fault Disney for how they are managing things, it is making traveling there very tricky.
Okay. So, don’t go to Disney, right? Sure! Of course! There are many options around the country & we’d be happy to help you with that. Except…we are finding travel is tricky in local markets as well. Let me give you a personal example. A few days ago, I found roundtrip, non-stop airfare from Salt Lake City, Utah to Fairbanks, Alaska for $118.00. I’m sorry, what?! I thought it was perfect. We went on an Alaskan cruise a few years ago & loved it & I’ve wanted to explore the interior of the state for quite some time. It seemed like a personal invitation to come to Alaska.
Now, realizing there is a lot more involved in planning a trip than just airfare (see our blog called ‘Help Us, Help You’), I wanted to do some more research before actually buying that non-refundable, albeit cheap, plane ticket. I searched for hotels & things to do & got myself thoroughly excited at the prospect of going. And then…I looked for rental car options. And do you know what I found? NOTHING. I searched & searched & could not find any availability on any of the many websites I have access to as a travel agent or as a normal human who can use Google. Finally, I found a compact car being rented from a local company and guess how much they wanted to rent it for four days? Oh, only $1,700.00. I nearly choked. There was no way I was going to pay that kind of money for four days of a rental car. I could buy a car & use it for a few days cheaper than that. Needless to say, I was very sad & I thought the trip was a bust.
Fortunately, our persistent friend who is traveling with us got creative & started looking at websites for RV & camper rentals & I’m pretty sure we found the one & only car still available in the interior of Alaska this summer. It was only available for three days, but it only cost us about $500 & bonus! It comes with a bunch of camping equipment, so we’ve decided to skip the hotel when we have the car & camp in Alaska instead.
Now, camping in Alaska may sound like a horrible idea to some of you, but for us, it turned out great! However, getting to the point where we felt like the pieces had fallen into place was STRESSFUL. Travel is absolutely possible, but it is tricky right now. Besides the obvious challenges associated with COVID-19, you also have to contend with limited supplies and an over-anxious population aching to get out and travel. So, what can you do about it?
First, USE A TRAVEL PROFESSIONAL. In the best of times, using a travel agent to plan your trips can save you loads of time & often money too (see our blog about ‘Why Use a Travel Agent’). At this point though, you don’t just have the normal travel concerns. You now have the added challenge of COVID requirements & restrictions which often lead to limited availability. I’m a professional & it took me hours & hours over two days to figure out this trip to Alaska. If that doesn’t sound like something you want to take on, you don’t have to! We will do that for you. The travel industry will continue to evolve as it recovers & if you have a travel professional in your corner, you can always be confident you’ll get the best information possible.
Second, PLAN AHEAD. Knowing that demand is currently outweighing supply, it just goes to show that planning ahead is in your best interest. As outlined in my blog ‘Plan in Advance, Pay Over time,’ there are a number of great reasons to plan your trip several months in advance. Often last-minute deals (like my cheap airfare to Alaska), can come with added expenses because it is last minute (like a $1,700 rental car). The further ahead you can plan, the more likely you’ll be able to get what you want at the price you want. That being said, we are already seeing limited availability into the fall of this year for many areas. Which brings us to our next point.
BE FLEXIBLE. If you’re only willing to visit one place & you only have a handful of days to go there that can’t be changed, you may end up being disappointed. Rather, have a few locations in mind that you’d like to visit & try to be as flexible with your dates as possible. Sometimes even just moving your trip a few days will open up the availability you need to have a great vacation. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I advocate for making a plan (see the blog ‘Planning Never Hurt Anyone’). However, you may have to be flexible while making that plan just due to the nature of the travel industry right now.
Lastly, KEEP DREAMING. As previously mentioned, the travel industry is evolving quickly and constantly. This post isn’t intended to discourage you from traveling, rather to make you aware you may face some challenges that simply didn’t exist prior to the pandemic. That’s okay! There is still plenty of the world to explore. You just may end up exploring a part of it you didn’t expect or in a way you didn’t expect. But what a great time for a new adventure! As always, we are here to help you. To request a quote for your next trip, visit our website: https://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
The Evolution of COVID Travel
They say that the only constant is change, and wow! have we had to learn that lesson this year! It’s strange to think that only a year ago (though it seems longer), the travel industry was thriving. Oh, the difference a year can make. It is no secret that the travel industry has been deeply & severely impacted by the COVIID-19 pandemic. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel with the introduction of vaccines. Additionally, the industry has evolved to help meet the challenges of today & it is my belief, that the industry will come back safer & stronger than ever in the coming months & years. It is for this reason that I believe now may be the perfect time to start planning your own return to travel. Let me explain.
First, safety standards in the travel industry are higher than ever. We have witnessed this first-hand. As the owners of a travel agency, we have felt it incumbent upon ourselves to continue traveling during these hard times. Now, don’t freak out. We have taken all of the necessary personal safety precautions & have been disciplined in our adherence to local regulations wherever we went. However, as travel professionals, we felt the need to experience for ourselves what it was really like to travel during COVID. To be the “guinea pigs,” if you will, so that we can truthfully speak from first-hand experience what it is really like out there with the intent to bring ourselves & our guests the peace of mind we all seek when there are so many unknowns.
As we have traveled, we have found that airlines, hotels and tourist attractions are doing really great things to keep their patrons safe. As mentioned, the travel industry has suffered greatly, and no one in the industry wants to compromise a safe & healthy return to service. Our jobs and livelihoods are on the line. We’ve watched our friends & colleagues lose those very things. I think it is for this reason, and because it truly is the responsible thing to do, that safety standards in the travel industry are currently very high.
It is my belief that many of these standards will remain for the foreseeable future & honestly, I’m kind of excited about it. Take for example the Walt Disney World Resort (WDW). We traveled there in early November & I wrote a blog about what it was like to travel there during COVID. You can check it out here. We returned to WDW again early this month, & those standards have remained in place. If anything, it’s going better now than it did several months ago, because the guests are now so used to it, there is not much deviance from the standards they have in place. I personally, have LOVED that there are sanitizing stations going into & coming out of every attraction. I LOVE that there are markers on the ground in queues to make sure people stay socially distanced. I prefer not to have people in my bubble and I love the convenience of being able to sanitize often. These are just a few of the safety protocols in place. It is these & many more safety standards that I believe will remain in place for the foreseeable future & I feel great about that! I felt safer at WDW than I do going to my local grocery store. As mentioned, the industry wants to be responsible & bring back guests safely & so far, they are doing a good job & I believe that will continue.
Besides the on-the-ground safety measures, we can’t underestimate the value of vaccinations. Whatever your political views, the fact is, the number of cases is dropping & I’m sure the vaccinations are the driving force behind that. In our state, our governor has announced that he believes every adult who wants a vaccination will have the opportunity to have one by the end of May. Whether his timeline is correct, remains to be seen, but regardless, most of the population will have access to a vaccination if they want one within the next several months. This is exciting news for many reasons! With the rollout of vaccines, plus the safety standards already outlined, you will soon be able to travel with the confidence we have lost over the past year.
It is for this reason, that we anticipate a surge in travel coming soon. People have been stuck inside for a year. Travel is important to mental health & we believe it will be an important part of people’s “healing” process as we come out of the other side of this thing. If you feel like you are going to be one of those people, we now offer you the best piece of advice we can: BOOK YOUR TRIP NOW.
As mentioned before, the high safety standards of the industry will likely remain in place for some time even with vaccinations rolling out. One of these standards is decreased capacity at hotels & tourist attractions. If capacity is down, but demand is up, that is going to drive prices up. If you book a future trip now, you lock in the price as it is today. Additionally, if capacity is down, but demand is up, that may prevent you from being able to book what you want at all because there just isn’t anything available. It will take time for everything to get completely ramped back up, and that may mean you won’t be able to get what you want when you want it if you wait.
Additionally, there are some GREAT deals for travel right now. Because the industry is struggling & trying to recover, airlines, hotels, attractions & cruise lines are all offering great deals. Many of those deals extend into the early summer, but some extend clear to the end of 2021. We are talking things like BOGO 60% off for cruises, or 35% off stays at resorts like Aulani. Now may be the time to book the dream vacation that you normally wouldn’t think you could afford. We anticipate as the industry recovers though, these deals will be short-lived as supply & demand shift. However, as previously mentioned, if you lock your price in now, you can take advantage of these great deals even if you don’t travel for several months.
As with everything associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel industry continues to evolve. We are optimistic about the future & want to make sure you have the information & tools you need to feel safe as you return to travel. There are a lot of safety measures in place already & with vaccinations rolling out, travel will make a comeback. As you think about how you’ll return to travel yourself, consider making plans now, even if you won’t be traveling until later this year. We are here to help! We would be happy to walk you through everything. Send us a quote request by visiting our website: https://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
Our Travels – Oahu, Hawaii During COVID
Aloha! In our second “Our Travels” installment, we will be discussing what it was like to travel to the island of Oahu in the beautiful state of Hawaii right now. We recognize that COVID has a lot of travelers concerned (rightfully so), but you can still travel safely if you pay attention to local regulations & follow them. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed traveling to Hawaii right now because there simply aren’t the crowds there normally are. But let’s start from the beginning – getting there.
Before You Arrive
As mentioned, we had a great trip to Oahu last week, but I’d be lying if the preparation to arrive there wasn’t a bit stressful. As with everything COVID-related, the State of Hawaii & their policies are constantly evolving. The requirements changed twice between us booking our trip at the end of October & actually traveling at the beginning on December. As of right now (12/17/20), they are requiring a negative COVID test in-hand upon arrival to Oahu, Maui & Hawaii, which was taken no more than 72-hours before the final leg of your flight. If you do not have that negative test in-hand, you will be required to quarantine for 14 days, no exceptions. If you want to visit Kauai, they are requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine even with a negative test. That being said, things will continue to change, I’m sure. You can find the most up-to-date information about travel to Hawaii on this website: https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel/
What hasn’t changed, is that every traveler to the islands must create a Safe Travels account on the state’s website. Once you’ve logged in, you can register for your trip, upload your negative test results & complete the mandatory health questionnaire that will be available to you 24-hours in advance of your trip. You will find the Safe Travels website here: https://travel.hawaii.gov/. There is a helpful video imbedded into the homepage with more information.
The trickiest part for us, was getting a Hawaii-approved COVID test within 72-hours of the last leg of our flight into Hawaii. In fact, it was kind of a nightmare because there simply aren’t very many places offering approved tests where we live. I don’t need to rehash it all here, but if you’d like to hear more about that experience, check out our blog, “Handling Stress on Vacation.” I don’t believe our experience is the norm, but if it happens to you too, I’ve got some advice outlined in that blog post. You can find a list of approved Trusted Testing & Travel Partners on this website: https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel-partners/.
As you go through this list of Trusted Testing & Travel Partners, pay attention to the timelines each company provides. Our flight left on a Wednesday morning, so 72-hours prior to that would have been Sunday morning. However, not very many places are open for testing on Sunday. That meant that of the few options we had in our area, most wouldn’t have been available to do the test until Monday, which was only 48 hours before we left & they couldn’t guarantee we would get our results in time. You have to pay attention to what you are choosing so you can make sure you will have those test results in hand. It is worth doing your research.
Arrival to the Islands
As previously mentioned, it was stressful trying to make sure we were prepared to arrive in Oahu. However, everything worked out. We had our negative tests in-hand, we had filled out the health questionnaire & we were ready to go. Once we landed in Oahu, we had to present our documentation. As we exited the plane, I noticed two military personnel monitoring people’s temperatures as we disembarked. We must have walked under a sensor that was checking our temperatures because they didn’t stop you unless they saw something off. We watched as they stopped a little girl in front of us and double-checked her temperature using a handheld touchless thermometer. I think most people wouldn’t have noticed them at all, but because they stopped the girl in front of me, I paid more attention. We were then filed into a line to wait our turn to present our documentation.
As mentioned, 24-hours before arrival, you must complete a health questionnaire in your Safe Travels account. Once you have, they email you a QR code. You will present that QR code to the authorities in the airport. We uploaded our negative tests as well, but they hadn’t been reviewed yet, so they asked us to produce a physical copy. We did & they approved us & we were on our way in just a few minutes. Honestly, the process once we got there was pretty quick. Granted, we were some of the first off of the plane, so we didn’t have to wait in any sort of line, but I’m sure they moved through the line quickly as there were several agents waiting to check people’s documentation.
I will mention, as easy as it was to be cleared since we came prepared, they didn’t have any bathrooms available to you until after you had been approved to enter. We were grateful we didn’t have to wait in line because we had to go! You may have to wait in line though, so I’d recommend going on the plane before you start your final descent into the islands. That way you’re not crossing your legs doing the potty dance while waiting to be cleared.
We were so relieved once we were cleared to enter (& went to the bathroom). Theoretically, once you’ve been cleared at the airport, you should be fine to roam about the island without any restrictions. This is true, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to verify you’ve been approved again. Specifically, when we picked up our rental car & when we checked into our hotel, we all had to have our Safe Travels account up & show them we had been approved to enter the state. They are simply wanting to make sure no one slipped through the cracks, which I totally understand. Just make sure you know your username & password for your account & can sign-in on your mobile device to show your status. Your status will change in your account once the authorities clear you. Those were the only two times we were asked to verify our status. Otherwise, we really were free to roam the island as we pleased.
Enjoying the Island
I’m a firm believer that if you have a crappy time in Hawaii, it’s your own fault. There is so much to do even with COVID restrictions! We were on the island of Oahu, which is where Honolulu is located. It’s the most urban of the islands with major attractions like Pearl Harbor & Waikiki Beach available. As of right now, most tourist attractions are open including: Pearl Harbor, Haunama Bay, Kualoa Ranch, Waimea Valley, all beaches & most hiking trails. The only places we would have liked to go that aren’t open yet are Diamond Head & the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). However, the PCC is scheduled to open in January.
Hawaii just started welcoming visitors back last month, so they are slowly opening up more & more. Even without some of the major tourist attractions, there is plenty to do on every island, most of which won’t cost you anything. The places we enjoyed on our trip include: relaxing at the resort (we stayed at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa – I HIGHLY recommend it), Haunama Bay, Halona Blow Hole, Waimanalo Beach, Manoa Chocolate Factory (free walk-in tastings!), Maunawili Falls, Kailua Beach, Tropical Farms Macadamia Nuts, Aiea Loop Trail, watching big-wave surfing on the North Shore, Kahe Point Beach Park, Pearl Harbor (including tour of the Arizona Memorial), Waikiki, several shave ice establishments & Leonard’s Malasadas (multiple times), etc. Point being, there is SO MUCH to do.
That being said, are there things you may not be able to do? Yes. The one that was most notable for us, was the number of restaurants that are still closed. Unfortunately, I suspect many of the closed restaurants will never re-open. However, those that are open are offering a variety of safe options including take-out & delivery. Sit-down restaurants are not allowing more than groups of five to sit together, so keep that in mind if you have a group traveling together. We were also asked to fill out our info on a form for contact tracing whenever we chose to sit-down at a restaurant. Some may be annoyed by that, but I was reassured that they really are doing all they can to make traveling to their state a safe experience.
As with most places across the country, they also require face coverings to be worn in public spaces. However, you don’t have to wear them in the pool or on the beach. In fact, we found most everyone to be really respectful in keeping their distance in these places so we could all relax without our face coverings while swimming or lying on the beach. Since we’ve been wearing masks for nine months now, it really wasn’t a big deal to continue that habit in public.
So, is traveling to Hawaii during COVID worth it? I can say for us, it was a huge, resounding, YES! Is it different than what we have experienced in the past? Yes. Was getting our negative test beforehand a bit of a pain? Yes. Was what I had to go through worth it? YES. Are the islands just as beautiful & wonderful as they have been in the past? Yes! If you are willing to jump through the hoops before arrival, a trip to Hawaii during COVID can be as great as it ever has been. This was our fifth trip to the islands & I can honestly say it was one of the most relaxing & fun.
If you’re interested in booking a trip to Hawaii, we would love to help you! Feel free to request a quote here: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php Aloha!
Handling Stress on Vacation
Vacation is one of those things that when it’s good, it’s usually really good. However, when it’s stressful, it can be REALLY stressful. Case in point: We have an upcoming trip to Hawaii.
We knew this trip to Hawaii was going to be trickier than when we have gone in the past due to COVID-19 restrictions. To prepare, we have been diligent in keeping track of Hawaii’s requirements & making sure we have everything in order. As is fairly common knowledge at this point, one of their requirements is that you have to have a negative COVID test in hand when you arrive. The trick is, you can’t take it more than 72-hours before the departure time of your final flight into Hawaii. They also state they will only accept tests from organizations certified by the state of Hawaii. So, we did our research, made our appointments with Walgreens (the one & only place certified by Hawaii in Utah that could get us our test results in time), & we were ready to go get our test yesterday afternoon.
When we arrived, there was a vague sign in front of the testing area stating they were not doing tests & giving their corporate number. We panicked. What do you mean I can’t have my test? I have a confirmation number & I’m here when YOU told me to be here. Why didn’t you notify me my appointment was cancelled? Are we going to have to cancel our trip because we can’t get our tests? Why aren’t they doing tests? Are they going to be back open tomorrow? Can we get it somewhere else? The questions flew fast & hot. We called corporate, sent my husband in to speak with store management about options, called other locations, etc. For TWO HOURS we tried to get somewhere with someone & ultimately all we got was told “F— You” by the assistant store manager. That’s not a metaphor. My husband & several others in the EXACT same boat as us who had gone in for help (and who, by all accounts, were all quite calm) literally got that yelled at them in addition to a very special viewing of some “birds.”
It was bananas. And those that should have been helping us, were definitely not. We went home last night defeated, angry, stressed & unsure if this trip was going to happen. After talking about it, making online reviews, tweeting about it, etc., we decided the only thing to do was to show up on the doorstep of the one & only other Walgreens location in the state (45-minutes away) right when they opened this morning & hope that they would squeeze us into their already full schedule. So, that’s what we did. We were nervous wrecks. Fortunately, my husband had made some friends yesterday of people in the same boat & they were there too, a few cars ahead of us. They pulled up; the workers took their information & they gave them the test! We were so relieved. Then it was our turn. Same thing! They gave us the test! Yay! And! We got the results back within an hour. Good news – we are negative for COVID! Our trip is back on track!
This experience though has reminded me of other extremely stressful situations we’ve had on vacation: lost luggage, being given an already occupied room at a hotel, really terrible service, etc. The list could go on & on. As with life in general, not everything goes smoothly while on vacation. I’m of the opinion that the better you plan, the less stress you’ll have (see my blog on “Planning Never Hurt Anyone”), but things happen that are simply out of our control. So, what can you do when you’re in the moment & things seem to be falling apart? Here are my suggestions:
Place Blame Where It Belongs
When things go wrong, it’s easy to accost the nearest employee and demand they make things right. Although not completely inappropriate, keep in mind that most often, the first person you come in contact with, has limited ability to fix your problem. These poor front-line employees don’t get paid enough for you to be rude to them. By all means, let them know of your problem & hopefully they can help solve it, but don’t be a jerk. If they can’t solve it, it is important not to “lose it” on them & lay blame to them if it is literally out of their hands. In our situation yesterday, their machines broke down. It’s obviously not anyone’s fault, so it wouldn’t have done us any good to yell at the poor cashier inside because they were the first person we saw. That being said though, problems still need fixing & asking for someone in a management position to help you is not inappropriate. Likely though, even the manager isn’t to blame, so make sure you’re being respectful. Remember the old adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar”? That is particularly relevant when trying to resolve issues. You will almost ALWAYS get better resolution to your problem being respectful rather than rude.
Politely Stand Up for Yourself
Don’t be deceived. Being polite & respectful does not mean you can’t stand up for yourself. Some people don’t like conflict and are willing to take a loss to avoid it. This will not serve you well when you travel. When I say place blame where it belongs, that also means not unnecessarily taking it upon yourself. If your luggage is lost by an airline & now you have no clothes for your week-long trip, ask for compensation to buy replacements! If your food comes out cold or has a hair on it, ask for a new one! If one Walgreens location won’t give you a test or help you reschedule, show up on the doorstep of another one! It is your job to make sure you’re politely standing up for yourself & things are put to right as best as possible. Sometimes the only advocate you have is yourself. That is definitely what we experienced with our testing issues yesterday. After two hours of trying, they claimed no one could help us, so we had to take matters into our own hands.
Use the Resources Available
Speaking of taking matters into your own hands, it is imperative that you use the resources at your disposal. As mentioned before, with our issues yesterday, we called the corporate phone number they had on their sign, we went in to talk to store management, we called other Walgreens locations, we did everything we knew how to do. Was it time consuming & sucky? Yes. Would it be worse to not go on our trip? Definitely. When those things didn’t work, we started reaching out to the company in different ways. Both of our friends going with us tweeted Walgreens about our experience and guess what? They responded almost immediately. My husband messaged them through Facebook and guess what? They responded! Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Businesses do not want bad reviews or to be tagged in negative posts. Point being, use the resources available to you. Again, you don’t want to be a jerk, but being honest about the issues you’re experiencing through multiple platforms can yield results.
Acknowledge Corrected Mistakes
Being gracious goes a long way. Last night, in addition to the social media posts, we also left some negative reviews for the Walgreens location we had so much trouble with. I do not think this is inappropriate as long as you keep it classy. However, if you’re going to leave a negative review when a mistake is made, you need to leave a positive review when it is corrected. As we anxiously waited to see if we would get tested this morning, our friend said, “If this works out, I’m going to leave a great review for this Walgreens.” And he did. Acknowledging when wrongs have been righted is powerful. It shows other potential customers that although issues came up, they were also fixed. We all deserve forgiveness & recognition for when we rectify a situation. Please make sure you adequately thank those that help you whether in person, online, or in any other way you can. As already eluded to, often the people with the ability to fix your problem are NOT the ones who created it in the first place. Give credit where credit is due.
Overall, stay classy out there. Stand up for yourself, but don’t be a jerk. Two wrongs never made a right & just because you’re stressed about the issues that WILL come up during vacation, doesn’t mean you have to ruin someone else’s day too.
If you need help relieving some of the stress of planning a vacation, we’d be happy to help you! Feel free to request a quote through our website: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/
Our Travels – Walt Disney World During COVID
The following is the first installment in the “Our Travels” portion of our blog. We travel quite a bit & want to share with you our experiences about specific places in addition to general travel advice. Enjoy!
We finally made it back to the most magical place on earth – Walt Disney World! Normally we make at least three or four trips to both Walt Disney World & Disneyland each year, but with the current circumstances being what they are, we have not been back to Disney World since January. We know there are a lot of questions about safety & what it is really like in the parks right now, so here we are! To talk about just that.
First, let me say that we had a great time. This was probably the most enjoyable trip to Walt Disney World I’ve had in years. It’s not that I love wearing a mask all day, or that I could do without FastPasses forever, but rather, it’s the fact that I did have such a good time in spite of those additional changes. There is always good if you look for it & our experience, in my opinion, speaks highly to the fact that there is still magic there & you can still have a great time if you choose to.
That being said, there are a number of additional safety procedures in place at Walt Disney World to make sure the spread of COVID-19 is limited. I appreciated the efforts of the company & I believe it is because of these efforts that we were able to have such a good time & relax in spite of everything. Take a look at what our experience was with those procedures below.
Our experience with the new health & safety mandates started long before we traveled to Florida. This is because to enter a park at this point, you must have a park reservation in addition to your purchased park ticket. These reservations can be made through your My Disney Experience account. Our experience with this process was overall, very positive. The online reservation system is fairly straight forward and easy to use. Simply link your tickets & pick your park for the date you want. We do, however, recommend making park reservations immediately after purchasing your tickets as the capacity of the parks is currently limited. The current trend with these reservations is that, for Hollywood Studios especially, reservations can fill up quickly and fairly far in advance. You can always make changes to your plans if there is availability, but it is best to make those reservations ASAP so you don’t miss out on a park you want to go to. Some may feel this extra step is just one more thing to deal with, and although that’s true, I have to say, we enjoyed knowing that the capacity of the parks was limited & controlled.
As has become common practice nearly everywhere these days, Disney World does require that all patrons & cast members wear appropriate face coverings at all times unless you are eating or drinking while stationary. For us, we anticipated this requirement was going to be the hardest part of the trip. We were mostly concerned about the Florida heat, but we came prepared with multiple masks for each person each day so we could change our mask throughout the day for any reason (i.e. sweat soaks through, you drop it on the floor, etc.). Although we were initially worried about this, we didn’t have much trouble at all with our masks. You get used to it pretty fast & knowing that everyone else is in the same boat somehow makes it not that big of a deal. In fact, face coverings are becoming fashion accessories at Disney with a lot of cute options, so it can even be a bit fun as you personalize them for yourself. If you do end up needing a break, there are what they call “Relaxation Stations” throughout the park & they are meant to be a place where you can take off your mask for a bit of a break. You need to stay in the designated area, but you’re welcome to take a break as needed. I will say, if you are going to purchase masks for the occasion, make sure you wear it a few times before coming to the parks. Reason being, not all masks fit the same & you may think it’s cute, but it hurts your ears, or it rubs your face in an odd place, etc. Know what you’re getting yourself into before committing to wearing a mask all day that doesn’t feel good. Once you’ve found what works for you, make sure wash them before your trip so you can start out with a clean mask every day. You may not think you can wear a mask all day at the parks, but barring medical issues that prevent you from wearing one, I promise you really can do it with a bit of planning & preparation.
Prior to entering any of the parks or Disney Springs, guests are required to have their temperature taken via a touchless thermometer administered by AdventHealth employees. You must have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or less to enter. While this process may seem intimidating, it was honestly no big deal. Everyone we interacted with during this process was quick & professional. I personally didn’t witness anyone getting pulled aside because their temperature was too high. I’m sure it happens, but we didn’t witness it. For me, it was one more level of protection. We knew that everyone in those parks was not currently showing a temperature. While that’s not a guarantee they aren’t sick, it’s a good indicator & it was comforting to know that piece was in place. It took literally seconds to do & then we moved on with our day as normal.
Disney’s social distancing protocol is probably my favorite part of their safety procedures. I’m the type who likes my personal space bubble, so I enjoyed staying away from other people. They work really hard to keep parties at least 6 feet away from each other in all queues and public spaces using markers on the ground along with empty seats on buses & attractions. They also have plexiglass & various barriers put in place when social distancing is not possible. Honestly, it’s awesome. If you’re like me & don’t want others in your personal space bubble even when there isn’t a pandemic, it’s the best thing Disney has ever done. I will say, due to the distancing, sometimes it looks like the lines are ridiculously long because not everyone can fit in the traditional queue when you have to keep that much space between groups, but the lines all moved pretty quickly & we never waited more than an hour in line for anything. Most of what we rode didn’t have lines more than 30 minutes long. And bonus! You don’t end up brushing up against sweaty strangers. Oh, and not getting COVID. That’s good too.
Sanitizer & Washing stations
At the entrance & exit of all rides, stores, restaurants, etc. you will find automatic hand sanitizer dispensers. They are literally everywhere & from what I observed, most people were using them as they went past. Knowing that I could sanitize going in & out of places, especially after rides where you know someone else has touched the same seat belt, etc., was really reassuring & we took full advantage. Additionally, there were also a number of temporary hand washing stations throughout the park & announcements were made regularly that included a reminder to wash your hands. In the bathrooms, there were signs reminding people to wash for 20 seconds. It has definitely become a priority for the company & we appreciated it because although we can’t make other people use them, we knew we could use them & protect ourselves. Just one more thing that doesn’t take any extra time or effort on our part, but gave us some peace of mind.
Enhanced cleaning procedures
Occasionally, we would notice the queue of a ride stop for a few minutes. We learned that it was during these times that the ride operators were cleaning the ride vehicles. They were quick & efficient & it never slowed us down much. In fact, it was just one more thing that made our experience more comfortable. We also witnessed cast members disinfecting tables & chairs between uses, railings being sanitized, garbage cans tied open & many other procedures that made it obvious they were trying their best to keep everything as clean as possible.
Food & Beverage
Eating is one of our favorite parts of vacation & with the International Food & Wine Festival currently happening at Epcot, we definitely ate a lot. For sit-down restaurants, they are requiring you wear your mask if you’re not sitting at your table. All servers had masks & face shields & would “refill” your drink by bringing you a new glass. They also provided the check in a paper sleeve that could be recycled after use. Overall, we were very impressed with how they managed sit-down dining. Quick Service dining was done almost exclusively through the My Disney Experience app. You would order through the app, they give you a return time, you let them know when you’re there, and they prepare your meal for pick-up. This really reduced contact with cast members & other guests in line & it was easy to use. The only food providers not using online ordering were the small food stalls & carts. For those, they encouraged contactless payment & all cast members were wearing masks & face shields along with being behind plexiglass. Overall, I felt confident in how they were handling our food & at no point did I find myself worrying about it.
Shopping & Pin Trading
Some of the best-loved past times at Disney are of course, shopping & pin trading. There are gift shops at the exit of every ride & pretty much everywhere in between. In the stores, social distancing is encouraged & the queue lines & cashiers follow the same guidelines as they do everywhere else. Additionally, they have signs posted throughout the store asking people to limit their handling of product for the safety of everyone. Pin trading has evolved a bit more during these times. Now instead of cast members wearing lanyards, you’ll find them in specific areas with cork boards filled with pins. They have a box you can put the pin you’re trading in & then you tell the cast member which pin on the board you want & they will give it to you. It’s a bit different than before, but the point is, you can still do it & it is significantly safer for everyone.
Overall, we were impressed & pleased with the efforts Disney is taking to keep their guests & patrons safe. Is it foolproof? No, nothing is. But we feel they are doing things to the best of their ability. Ultimately, all travelers, no matter where you go, need to remember that you are responsible for your own safety. The company can do everything that’s listed above, but you’re responsible for your own actions. Choose to follow their guidelines, be courteous of others, wear your mask, wash your hands & recognize your safety is ultimately on you. Use the tools provided & keep yourself safe. If you’re wanting to visit & you feel comfortable doing so, then we believe you’ll find it to still be a wonderful and magical place. To request a quote for your next Walt Disney World vacation, visit our website: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php