Don't make the same mistake I did by visiting Disney World during the pandemic. It's just not worth it.
When Daryl Austin visited Disney World a week after Thanksgiving, it was busier than expected. Courtesy Daryl Austin
I visited Disney World with my family in November the week after Thanksgiving.
Disney World was busier than we expected, but at least wearing masks was recommended in the parks.
Florida theme park had made a number of necessary changes in the interests of safety, but the magic felt a little lost as longer waits were closed for attractions and popular restaurants.
It wasn't all bad, however. It was faster to collect groceries with mobile ordering, the transport went like clockwork and we had the pool in our hotel almost to ourselves.
Ultimately, however, visiting Disney World during the pandemic wasn't worth the money and effort, and I wish I had saved up to come back later when it was safer and more enjoyable.
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There has been a dramatic increase in new COVID-19 cases across the country in the past few weeks, and Florida is one of the hardest hit states in the country. And yet, many people don't seem afraid to visit Disney World on vacation.
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In a press conference during Thanksgiving Week, Florida Mayor Jerry Demings said that Orlando International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the country. At the same time, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer admitted that many people who flew in on vacation went to Disney World.
I was one of them and made the decision to take my family to Disney World a week after Thanksgiving. This has been borne out by articles describing the Magic Kingdom as deserted and "desolate," along with the Walt Disney Company's thorough commitment to health and safety.
My family and I made arrangements to travel to Florida from Utah, but when we got to Disney World it didn't feel so safe
To reduce the safety risks on our travels, we drove to Salt Lake City International Airport and booked seats in the back of the plane when we learned that a number of airlines - including Delta, the airline we flew with - were operated by were loaded back to front to reduce the contact between passengers and we didn't want to pass others while we were on board or were surrounded by people in the rows behind us. (Fortunately, our young children - even our 2 year old - are so used to wearing face masks that we had no problem adhering to Delta's face mask guidelines on board.)
The author's son watched Delta's in-flight conversation on the flight to Orlando. Courtesy Daryl Austin
We also called ahead to make sure our transportation from the airport to our Disney hotel included security measures. We confirmed that Disney's bus would go straight to the resort with no additional stops and that there were mask requirements and empty rows or plexiglass partitions to keep the parties at bay.
Despite all the precautions we took to travel safely, I was stunned by what we saw in "the happiest place on earth".
My wife and I often saw crowds - sometimes shoulder to shoulder - as they gathered outside Cinderella's castle or walked the winding paths of the magical kingdom that linked each "land" to another. I've seen a lot of people get so dense at one point in Adventureland that a woman near me yelled to the people in her group, "Get me out of here! This is crazier than a frat party!"
Although a representative for Disney World Insider said the company does not publicly share the attendance figures, Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed in a November 12 to call for profits with investors that the park increased capacity from 25% to 35% - which corresponds to an increase of up to 40% in the number of guests - in October.
Chapek told investors that two weeks before Thanksgiving, 77% of vacation reservations were booked and that Thanksgiving week was "almost busy" at that time. I don't know what the attendance was like in the week after Thanksgiving when my family arrived, but it seemed very busy to me. And many of the Disney World annual pass holders and performers (Disney employees) I spoke to during my visit said the parks are a lot busier than they were months ago.
"When we first opened in July," said one performer, "we were a ghost town."
A local annual owner told me the park was "unrecognizable" today compared to how it appeared to her a few months ago.
Crowds gathered near Cinderella's castle. Courtesy Daryl Austin
And there's no reason to believe the number of Disney travelers won't keep rising, as the Food and Drug Administration has approved two coronavirus vaccines for emergency use. Skyscanner data shows a surge in flight booking searches on November 9 that broke daily news about Pfizer's vaccine - suggesting more people are planning to travel again.
Meanwhile, Disney has continued to offer huge discounts to encourage budget conscious families like mine to travel to the area during the pandemic - a move that is paying off for the company. The surge in visitor numbers has improved Disney's sales over the past few months. The company's financial results from the last quarter to the previous quarter show that Disney World’s profits have increased dramatically.
While more visitors have supported Disney's business, the health risks of visiting the park remain high during the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that "large face-to-face gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to keep a distance of at least 3 meters and attendees traveling from outside the region" should "go to the" Most vulnerable "levels include activities a person can engage in during the pandemic, and there are many health risks to consider when traveling to Walt Disney World.
Before guests can receive a parking pass reservation, the company must acknowledge the COVID-19 warning, which states that "there is an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 in any public place where people are present" "voluntarily adopt all risks associated with exposure to COVID-19 "by visiting Disney World. It also reminds guests that "COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to serious illness and death," and that upon entering the park, visitors acknowledge that they are not experiencing any of the CDC-described COVID-19 Have symptoms.
A crowd pictured in Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Courtesy Daryl Austin
The former magic of Disney World was missing
Although Disney World has made some operational adjustments since it reopened (click here for the latest parking information), at the time of our visit we found that many of our favorite parking staples were understandably missing or non-existent in the interests of safety.
Character interaction was disrupted, and lavish parades were replaced with spontaneous drives by one or two vehicles and a handful of characters angled apart. Many of the rides now have plexiglass partitions between the rows which make the attraction difficult to see and you can't catch the smiles on your kids' faces when they're behind a mask. Many of the park's most popular restaurants are also closed.
And long lines are inevitable, as empty rows are left at the attractions to keep drivers apart and Disney's FastPass system is now suspended. One performer told me that the FastPass line was closed to the general public with a few exceptions to people with disabilities and driver change parties (Disney's service that allows passengers to hold their seat in line while waiting with non-drivers, often children) . while others in their group enjoy the attraction) and Club 33 members who pay high membership dues for perks (Club 33 membership is said to be $ 12,000 per year in addition to a one-time entry fee of $ 25,000).
Pluto, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck and Wendy (from Peter Pan) greet the guests as part of one of the impromptu parades the author saw during his visit. Courtesy Daryl Austin
Because of this, we spent most of our vacation in line and couldn't see nearly as many attractions as we did on previous visits. In the past, in my experience at least, the estimated waiting times at Disney theme parks were much longer than the actual waiting time, but now the actual waiting times are often exceeding the stated waiting times.
Our visit to Walt Disney World wasn't all bad, however
My family's stay at Disney's Art of Animation Resort was great. We experienced the same hospitality and friendly service the days we were there, and the crowd around our hotel seemed to be significantly less where we could escape the crowded theme parks. Twice we even had the hotel pool almost to ourselves. Although I never saw a line by the pool during our stay, a lifeguard told me that the resort limits the number of people in the area and that masks are required when walking or lounging by the pool - but not when swimming.
When we booked the room, we were told that "improved cleaning" was being used to "thoroughly refurbish" our room and the resort gave us the option to opt out of housekeeping altogether during our stay or a "light cleaning" every other day "to perform. We were also told that our hotel room would not be adjacent to any other occupied hotel room, and we estimated that all purchases we made at the resort were contactless through the My Disney Experience app.
The author and his four children swim in a relatively empty pool at Disney's Art of Animation Resort. Courtesy Daryl Austin
Plus, Disney's bus and Skyliner transportation systems ran like clockwork throughout our stay. Even though a Disney driver told me they can only charge half capacity buses during the pandemic, Disney World has increased the number of buses - so much that my family never waited more than five minutes for a bus to take us anywhere brings. Each party boarding the bus is assigned a numbered seating area and large partitions and empty seats are placed between them to ensure the distance between travelers on board. And Disney's transportation systems are disinfected frequently, in keeping with the company's commitment to health and safety.
I was also relieved to be in a place that made the wearing of masks more stringent than my home state of Utah, where a surprising number of anti-maskers have increased the number of new COVID-19 cases. Loudspeaker reports often reminded park visitors to wear face covering properly. Signs were posted everywhere advising "Guests who do not properly wear an approved mask will be asked to exit," and the performers promptly asked guests to adjust their face mask if it ever fell under their nostrils. And while I've never seen any measures to prevent crowds from forming in the park's passageways, I rarely saw a queue where people were not adequately spaced from each other by clinging to markings on the ground.
One of the many signs at Walt Disney World reminding guests to wear face-covering properly. Courtesy Daryl Austin
Another advantage was that fast-food restaurants in the parks and in our resort now have to be ordered on the go. As a result, there were no physical lines at the grocery collection windows, as instead everyone was put in a virtual queue.
Ultimately, however, none of these benefits made visiting Walt Disney World worth the money and effort during the pandemic. Though we tried to make the most of an unexpected situation, I wish my family had saved the small fortune we spent when we instead visited the magical world of Disney at a time when it was both safer than also safer would have been pleasant.
A representative from Disney World declined Insider's request to comment on the article.
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