Disney World: Should I go after it reopens in July?
For months now, fans of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida have been anxiously awaiting news of when their beloved resort would reopen.
The wait for a date is over: Disney has proposed a phased reopening starting on July 11 with Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. EPCOT and Hollywood Studios would follow along on July 15. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and the state of Florida have approved the proposal.
Now for the big question on everyone’s mind: Should I go?
CNN Travel wants to help you answer that question. And there’s a lot think about before you decide.
First, we’ll look at the medical angle. Who is healthy enough to go? Who should be more cautious? What should you think about before you make plans?
Then, we’ll examine the personal considerations. It’s going to be a different experience. After all, no one’s been to Disney World in the era of social distancing, mask wearing and such. How will you respond?
Health and safety
In the coronavirus pandemic, health and safety issues are at the forefront.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, said your considerations break down into two categories: Who you are and the external environment.
Schaffner said anyone in the following groups should give very careful consideration to making a trip to Disney World (or other amusement parks for that matter):
— Senior citizens
— People with chronic, underlying illnesses
— People with heart and lung conditions
— People who are immunocompromised
— People with high blood pressure and diabetes
“We know this virus makes some people sicker than others. These are the folks we are most concerned about,” Schaffner said.
Dr. Shannon Hopson, an endocrinologist in Corvallis, Oregon, concurs.
“Anyone who is in the high-risk groups for serious illness would need to be cautious about returning — but also anyone who regularly comes in close contact with those who fit the criteria for being high-risk,” she said.
“I see so many people with the attitude of’ ‘well if I get it, so be it,’ but they forget about the risk to their friends and family [back home].”
And of course, people who know they have Covid-19 or who are experiencing symptoms should stay away.
What about people who don’t have symptoms? Disney World will be checking the temperatures of its employees and guests before they can enter any park. People will also be required to arrive with face coverings and wear them inside the park.
Disney will have numerous other safety measures in place. Among them are reduced capacity (so it’s less crowded), cashless transactions, more hand-sanitizing stations and social distancing markers.
Getting there and staying there
As for the external environment, the first thing to think about is how you’ll get to Disney World, Schaffner said. If you drive, you’ll be in a self-contained environment that you control. But if you fly, you’ll be exposed to others.
“The virus likes to be transmitted through close personal contact in enclosed spaces.”
Schaffner advises travelers on planes to wear a mask and stay six feet away from others as much as possible.
Then you need to think about your time outside the park.
For one example, Schaffner mentioned pools at hotels. He advises being mindful about keeping distance there, too.
“Mama and Daddy, watch the kiddies. You should talk to them in this virus era and let them know they must separate from other people,” he said.
Hopson said prepping children about what to expect is key.
“It’s hard for kids to remember social distancing rules. A friend of mine tells her kids it’s part of being a good neighbor right now, and that seems to help my kids remember to not get too close.”
Another tip from Hopson: Let kids choose their own masks and then let them get used to wearing them before the big Disney trip.
Weighing risk and reward
Schaffner says you need to decide your own risk tolerance. Are you “more conservative or more adventurous”?
If you decide to go and you’re in a higher-risk group, you should adhere very carefully to the guidelines, Schaffner cautions.
“You don’t want to have this wonderful, pleasurable experience and then get infected by this virus. It is very nasty.”
You need to ask yourself this: “Is the benefit worth the risk? And there will be a variety of answers to that.”
Schaffner said ask yourself this in the end: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”
Schaffner points out that this is a mutual responsibility — the burden isn’t just on Disney to keep things safe.
“I have no doubt Disney World is going to do some things to reduce the risk on your behalf. But there are things you can do, too. You can make a contribution,” he said.
“And you need to think about these things as you travel there and back, in restaurants, in your hotel as well as [in] the park itself.”
So you feel like you and your party are reasonably secure health wise. But you need to realize this won’t be exactly the Disney World you remember.
In a news release Wednesday, Disney World said parades, nighttime spectaculars and other events that draw large crowds will return later.
Also, “high-touch experiences such as makeovers, playgrounds and character meet and greets will remain temporarily unavailable,” the park said in a statement.
You’ll need to be honest with yourself: How do you feel about a park with many safety measures in place and some beloved features not open yet?
Whether you’ve been dozens of times or it would be your first Disney World outing, it’s a good question to ask yourself.
Martin Lewison, an associate professor of business management at Farmingdale State College on Long Island, New York, offers his perspective as “Professor Roller Coaster.”
“Obviously, it’s going to be a diminished experience in many ways. People who like the theme parks tend to like crowds,” Lewison said. “You’re really packed in there. That’s exciting, and the people watching is fun.”
Lewison said safety measures such as wearing masks could prove annoying to some people.
A meeting of two worlds
He pointed out two kinds people are going to be mingling at Disney World and other parks.
“Some people will be careful with their masks and stand in the right spot, and then there are going to be some people who let the mask fall off their nose and don’t care. They’ll forget about the six feet of social distance from other parties,” Lewison said.
“These two kinds of people will bump into each other, and people will need to chillax,” Lewison said. “The whole Covid thing has put people on edge in general. People have to give each other a little break.”
The Disney World culture will help a lot, Lewison predicts.
“So Disney has kind of a culture of safety and is constantly controlling guests, whether it’s their movements in line or how to step onto a ride. … And Disney guests are happy to follow the instructions. That’s what you do at Disney — you follow the rules,” he said.
“Disney guests have a tendency to follow the rules. They expect it to be locked down. You pay a zillion dollars to go there, things have to be perfect.”
‘Gonna be an adjustment’
Count Emily Branson of Cary, North Carolina, among those who hope to visit this year.
The resort “is super important” to her family — including her husband, Stephen, and their son, 4-year-old Jackson.
“We got engaged there. We had our honeymoon there. We went there before my son was born. We took him there when he was 15 months old. We also went back as a family in November 2019.”
She had to cancel a Disney World trip she had planned with her best friend, but they are now thinking about going later this year. She said fall or early winter is her favorite time of year to go anyway.
“We’re waiting to find out what they are doing. From there, we’ll pick a date.”
Branson, who said she loves the parades and fireworks shows, is ready to be flexible.
“I think it’s gonna be an adjustment — for guests and cast members, too,” Branson said. “I think a lot of things in the next several months will change. The situation is going to be fluid.”
Definitely going back
Scott Warner of Fishers, Indiana, said he and his teen son, Tate, are huge Disney fans. The director of partnerships for an Indianapolis nonprofit, Warner said he’s been more than 50 times.
“I love the magic, the experience, the state of mind, the guest service, the incredible amount of details put into everything. It’s an escape from reality and reminds everyone that there is a bit of Peter Pan in us all,” he said.
Warner, who had to cancel a Disney cruise this spring with adult friends, said he’s definitely planning a return this year.
“I have a solo trip scheduled for October of this year, and I will be flying,” he said.
“While there are many concerns, I practice safety precautions and follow company policies that are set and recommended. If that means wearing a mask, I will wear a mask.”
Warner, whose favorite park at the resort is Epcot, said the measures will be worth it to him.
“While the Florida humidity may not be ideal comfort for wearing a mask, it’s a small price to pay for the freedom to travel.”
He’s even looking forward to what Disney will roll out during a pandemic.
“One thing I have a good feeling about, Disney will come back with an incredible way to provide a magical experience and do all they can to improve their guest services. I am actually very excited to see what amazing technology and systems they develop to help with distancing,” Warner said.
Keeping the streak going
Paul Mayer, who lives near Atlanta with his wife and two children (ages 3 and 6), said he’s already made plans for them to return.
“We had a trip planned for early May to visit a few parks and to play golf. Since the resort was still closed, our reservations were automatically canceled,” Mayer said. “While we were sad to postpone, the process was seamless and understandable. We rebooked for a long weekend in mid-September — fingers crossed.”
He said he’s been to Disney World at least once a year since 1989 for 33 total visits. And the pandemic isn’t deterring him.
“One of the reasons we have returned to Disney World year after year is the trust we have in Disney to keep guests safe while creating a memorable experience,” he said. “Given the current circumstances, we expect that a visit … will include masks, social distancing and potentially reduced guest and attraction capacity.”
He said, “all of that will make for a truly unique experience” and would not deter him from going.
What is Mayer looking forward to the most?
“I can’t wait to ride the Rise of The Resistance!” (The ride is at Hollywood Studios.)
Others still holding out
Some people still aren’t ready for a Disney trip yet. They either have too many concerns about coronavirus or they want to wait for amusement parks to return to the days of yore.
Patrick Lindich, who operates the YouTube channel CoasterFanatics, falls into the latter camp.
In a recent interview with CNN Travel about what changes you might see in amusement parks, Lindich said he thrives on a crowd’s energy and would miss it.
“I see very little safety concerns for myself. Although I remain cautious, I try not to let this pandemic scare me or run my life,” he said.
Lindich just isn’t ready for an amusement park experience with this many limitations.
“Appointments could help, but who wants to visit a park and have to follow a schedule? It just takes the fun out of it for me and I personally wouldn’t enjoy myself,” Lindich said.
“For me, I think parks should stay closed until they can open with little to no limitations. Until that happens, you probably won’t see me at any of the parks. At the end of the day roller coasters are designed to be a social experience with your friends, family, and the others around you.”
Watch and wait
Hopson, the endocrinologist in Oregon, is a major Disney World fan and the mother of two boys — Zach, 6, and Finn, 9. She estimates she’s been at least 15 times.
But for now, safety concerns outweigh the desire for a ride on the Slinky Dog Dash, a family favorite, at Hollywood Studios.
She canceled a trip in March and has no plans for rescheduling just yet.
“If I’m going to take my kids to any amusement park before there is a vaccine, it will be Disney. They know how to do things right, and I trust that Disney will have measures in place to do all that is humanly possible to decrease the risk of virus transmission,” Hopson said.
But that’s not enough to get her in yet.
“The problem is I don’t know that I trust the general population to actually follow all those measures. So many people are struggling with just wearing a mask to go to the grocery store — I have a hard time imagining anyone being able to keep a mask on for hours in the middle of the summer at Disney World.”
Next year might work better for this single mother and doctor who said she’s got to stay healthy for her children.
“I’ve watched the opening of Disneyland Shanghai with interest — Disney does seem to be doing it right there. It makes me optimistic that maybe we’ll be able to go sometime in the next year. For now, our trip is on hold, with no firm date for rescheduling.”
Caution and silver linings
Lewison, aka “Professor Roller Coaster,” said his wife is an ER doctor and isn’t able to take a vacation now.
Even if they could plan one, “my wife’s not comfortable getting on a plane at the moment,” even though the couple flew often before the pandemic. And the drive from their New York home to Central Florida is quite the undertaking.
It’s hard because he and his wife are Disney fans.
“We love all the rides. We’re both fans of the classics — the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean.”
But Lewison encourages people who do decide to go to embrace this extraordinary time.
“It’s going to be surreal. It’s going to be something to tell your grandchild about,” he said.
“It’s going to be unlike any other Disney trip you’ve ever had before. Just to be able to take a picture of Snow White with a mask on is worth a trip.”