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Our 6 favorite travel tips to stay safe in the age of COVID

HomeTravel Tips for COVID
Our 6 favorite travel tips to stay safe in the age of COVID

With the recent news that Walt Disney World park capacity has increased to 35% plus the fact that Park Pass reservations are creeping past the 77% full mark for the holidays, we know lots and lots of people will be traveling to Walt Disney World over the upcoming days and weeks.

But with 2020 being what 2020 is, we can’t emphasize enough that the key to any travel right now is to be intentional about making smart decisions to protect yourself and others

If you plan to travel to Walt Disney World soon, here are some of our best tips for traveling right now.

Safety first

Our goal with this post is to provide some tips and advice to help anyone traveling right now make the best and safest decisions possible for themselves and their group.

And while we aren’t doctors, having a business that depends on a healthy and thriving travel industry means that we’re constantly reading the latest research and following what the experts in the infectious disease field say.

And the overwhelming consensus among the experts is that the safest thing to do is to stay home. But, we also realize that not every situation is the same and that there are many sides to this issue (including the Cast Members’ welfare). 

So, if you choose to travel right now, we want you to do so as safely as possible.

As much as we’d love everything to be “normal,” the truth of the matter is it isn’t…and it likely won’t be for a long time.

But, we can all help get back to normal by maximizing the opportunities to minimize the risks. 

What we do on our trips

We have modified how we do things for our trips so that we can still enjoy pieces of the parks while staying as safe as possible in a setting like Walt Disney World.

We focus on things we can control, and in general, those things can be broken down into 6 different areas:

  • Preparing ahead to follow the rules, including having a plan if we ever don’t feel safe.
  • Deciding to rent a car to minimize time spent in enclosed spaces with others.
  • Flying as safely as possible, including choosing airlines and flight times that make it easier to stay physically distanced.
  • Modifying some of the items we bring with us into the parks.
  • Dining outdoors or in our room as much as possible. 
  • Avoiding the shops, especially during peak times.

Keep reading for specifics on each.

Be prepared to abide by the safety precautions Disney has put into place

If you are traveling to Walt Disney World right now, you are probably already very much aware that things will look a bit different.

Not only do things look different, but you’ll also be expected to act differently too.

Throughout the entire Walt Disney World Resort area (including the parks, resorts, restaurants, and even transportation), you’ll see signage and physical reminders of the expectations that you agree to follow during your visit.

Safety signage at Disney World

That includes the obvious things like wearing a mask at all times, maintaining the distance between your traveling party and others, and of course, washing your hands often.

For the most part, people do respect the rules. And as a whole, Disney does a better-than-average job of enforcing those rules.

But, even guests with the best of intentions forget sometimes. They hear the music and rush to see the cavalcade, or they get distracted in line and bunch up too close. Or it starts raining, and everyone rushes for cover.

Typically, those slips aren’t malicious. But they do happen.

So, your best bet is to go into your trip with plans (and backup plans) in place if ever you are in a spot where things don’t feel safe.

Here’s our best advice for that:

It is okay to walk away

Repeat after me: it is perfectly okay to leave an area if you don’t feel safe.

Crowds too thick? Are people not abiding by physical distancing guidelines? If at any time you don’t feel comfortable, you are empowered to leave that immediate area. 

Of course, this isn’t always ideal, but it is the simplest option since it puts you in total control of your situation.

We get it – it can be easy to get in the mindset of “sticking to the plans.”  But, while we have long promoted travel plans, we have also always emphasized the importance of remaining flexible on Disney World trips, and that sentiment is more true now than ever.

Things happen all the time that can toss a wrench in your vacation.

It is just that now, in addition to all the “regular” things like broken down attractions or missed reservations, you’ll need to add adherence to health and safety precautions to the mix.

So if you find yourself in a place where the crowds are too much, don’t be afraid to walk away and try it again later.

Try a reminder

There will be times when it won’t be so easy to walk away. For example, maybe you’ve been waiting for a cavalcade, and at the last minute, somebody rushes over and stands right next to you. 

Or, you’re standing in line, and the group behind you gets distracted and bunches up directly behind you.

In those instances (especially ones where you cannot easily walk away), you may need to speak up.

Slinky Dog Dash Queue

This can be an uncomfortable thought for many people, but it isn’t rude to kindly ask somebody to respect your bubble

We’ve had to do this ourselves. Several times on each of our trips back, in fact. 

And while it isn’t fun being the proverbial hall monitor, you are not in the wrong for requesting that those around you abide by the social distancing guidelines that are in effect

Make it easier on yourself

By now, most people are experts on mask-wearing, and if you aren’t, but you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World, you’ll likely leave your vacation as one.

In fact, Disney has gone as far as to ask people not willing to properly wear a mask to reschedule.

But, even if you are used to wearing a mask for a few hours at a time, you’ll probably find that a Disney World trip will mean you’re wearing one more than you usually do.

Because of that, you’ll want to make it easy on yourself to follow the rules.

Prepare ahead by trying out different masks for comfort, and if you’re not used to wearing a mask for hours at a time, practice at home before you go.

And, if you are in the parks and you need a break, consider using one of the outdoor Relaxation Stations

These spots provide you an area to remove your mask. And, although we love the cool AC as much as the next guy, the outdoor options are going to be safer (and are the ones we recommend if you need to use one). 

Read more in our Mask Tips for Disney World Trips post. 

Rent a car

Disney is known for its amazing transportation options. There are buses and gondolas and boats and monorails, and historically we fall into the category of those that like to leave the driving to Disney.

But, right now, our focus has shifted from what is the most convenient to what makes the most sense.

We know from multiple scientific studies that it is safer to limit your time in enclosed spaces with people outside your household.

Entrance to Hollywood Studios

And, to be honest, it is challenging on a Walt Disney World vacation to eliminate all indoor stuff.

But, while you can’t eliminate it, you can do a few things to help minimize the times you’ll be in an enclosed space with others – like by renting a car.

This is an especially useful tip if you’re staying at any resort that is exclusively bus service.

Disney does have strict procedures in place to make buses safer. They’ve significantly reduced capacity and installed some plexiglass barriers.

But, bus rides can sometimes take a long time. And that means you’ll be inside a relatively small enclosed space with others for a long time, too.

Renting a car is an extra expense. You’ll pay for both the car itself and to park at your Walt Disney World Resort (parking at the parks is free) but right now, renting a car is an easy way to significantly cut down on the amount of time you spend hanging around in a relatively small space with strangers.

Read more about renting a car at Walt Disney World.

Fly safer

If you are flying to your destination, make sure you do it safely.

All of the major airlines require masks, and many of the airports do, too.

However, although most airlines originally reduced the number of passengers booked on flights, many are no longer doing that.

Our best advice is to research your options before booking so that you can understand what to expect.

And, in our experience, while we have seen fantastic mask enforcement on our flights, we’ve been less-than-impressed at what we’ve seen in the airports.

In some cases, compliance has been b-a-d.

The good thing is that the total number of people flying is understandably down, which means you can oftentimes find quiet or unused gates to hang out in.

And, in fact, this is what we recommend.

Whenever possible, when you are in the airport, remove yourself from the crowds.

And if you absolutely must eat, we’d recommend you find a place away from a busy food court to do so. It isn’t fun to eat at an empty gate, but it is safer than removing your mask in a crowded restaurant.

Your goal in the airport is to keep your mask on as much as possible, your hands washed and sanitized, and your group isolated from the crowds.

Read more about flying right now.

Pack the new essentials

As planners, you can bet that we love a good packing list

But, on our first trip back in July, we quickly realized that the current times call for a refreshing of what we recommend people bring – especially what we recommend they bring into the parks.

Now more than ever, you aren’t going to want to be without things like hand sanitizer and wipes. 

Yes, Disney has installed lots of sanitizing and handwashing stations, but we can’t even count the number of times we’ve found empty dispensers. 

Hand washing station

So – make sure you’re bringing your own with you.

Also, new physical distancing guidelines are pushing lines out into the sun (or even rain). That’s why you won’t find us in the parks without an umbrella now. 

Read more about what we recommend you consider adding to your bag now.

Dine outdoors (or in your room)

Eating and drinking are two of the few times at Disney World when you have to remove your mask.

But we know that going without your mask makes you vulnerable to anything floating around in the air.

Ideally, the fewer times you can be without a mask in an enclosed public space, the better.

The good news is that Disney World has lots of places where you can dine outdoors.

Pecos Bill outdoor dining area

The bad news is, most of the in-park Table Service restaurants are exclusively indoors. There are more outdoor Table Service options at Disney Springs and even at the resorts, but your options for outdoor Table Service dining are very limited in the parks.

That can leave you with some difficult decisions.

We know that the restaurants at Walt Disney World are part of the overall experience for many people. We feel the exact same way.

So, as much as we hate to say it – if you want to be as safe as possible, our best advice is to consider eliminating indoor dining in public spaces.

If that is too much of an ask, consider drastically reducing the number of times you dine indoors. 

Again, the goal is to maximize your opportunities to minimize your risks, and cutting the number of times you’ll be indoors without a mask can do just that.

Alternatives to indoor dining

We have an entire post all about outdoor dining options. And in addition to all of those, we wanted to point out that we see increasingly more options at the resorts to Mobile Order from select Table Service restaurants.

Now, to be totally transparent, this is not available everywhere. But, if you are staying somewhere that it is, you’ll have a fantastic option to up your dining game safely.

Read more about where you can dine outdoors at Disney World.

Avoid shopping

Walt Disney World is packed with shops. And, if you are a fan or a collector or even just somebody that likes to meander and browse, there are countless opportunities to do just that.

But for us, hands down, the places we have felt the most uncomfortable at Walt Disney World have been inside the shops.

There are capacity limits for the shops, which is good.

But, once inside, there is no way for the Cast Members to enforce any sort of physical distancing, and aside from the markers you’ll find at the checkouts, guests are responsible for maintaining the proper space.

In most instances, people are browsing and moving, but areas can get congested. Very congested.

Emporium on Main Street USA

That’s why it is probably best to avoid going inside. But, if you absolutely must shop, we recommend doing it first thing in the morning.

Disney Springs

Disney Springs is a popular spot for both dining and shopping.

And, during the morning and early day, the crowds there are typically fairly light.

The evenings, however, are another story.

Considering there are so many fantastic places to dine there, from around dinner-time on, the crowds just get heavier and heavier.

We love a good meal at Disney Springs, and since they have the most options for outside dining, we do think a visit is worth it if you need somewhere to eat.

However, our best advice is that you stick to restaurants and stay out of the shops. But again, if shopping is on your to-do list, consider going right when they open.

Other things to consider

We realize that the items above are only a snippet of what should be considered before travel. The CDC has a great page with lots of travel risk information that you should review before you go.

Here’s a few other things that we consider when traveling:

  • Testing. Depending on where you live, testing may or may not be readily available. Knowing your options before you travel can help you decide the best course of action upon your return. Your doctor will be the best resource for individualized health questions. 
  • Job restrictions. Some places of employment have restrictions on travel right now. Make sure you understand what is expected of you at your place of employment.
  • Quarantine. Make sure you understand the quarantine and travel restrictions for your state. And, keep in mind, things can change rapidly, so you’ll want to check that frequently if you’ll be traveling.
  • Meetups. Hands down, the safest thing is to not meet up with anybody that does not live in your household. If you choose to meet up with others, the safest way to do that is to meet up outdoors while remaining masked and physically distanced. Again – we know this isn’t ideal, but right now, safety is more important.
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Heather Thomas