Disney in a Pandemic: Part 1 – Is Disney World Worth The Risk?


I recently returned from a 12-night August family vacation to Disney World. Prior to my trip, I wanted to know the answer to one question: “Is Disney World safe?” I was seeking clarity and confidence in the yes or no response. After having gone, I now realize that I was asking the wrong question. No public place is completely safe during a pandemic and Disney requires that acknowledgment. I should have asked: “Is Disney World worth the risk?”   That question is far more personal and nuanced. Every day, we calculate risk and reward to make decisions, but as humans we often have trouble assessing risks accurately. Here are some relevant questions to consider before you make your own decision to return to the magic.

How long will you be at Disney World?

With any risky activity, the risk increases the more you engage in it. Twelve days is a long trip to be in a state of heightened awareness. Toward the end of our trip, I felt we had been pushing our luck or tempting fate. You may want to consider a shorter stint than normal or you may find yourself uncomfortable.

Do you value rides above all else?

Right now, the parks have the feel of an after hours event with wait times being exceedingly low. If you value shows, nighttime spectaculars, parades and making physical contact with characters, then this will be a letdown.

Do you love the parks at night?

This one hit me hard. Longer daylight during the summer and early fall and reduced operating hours both conspire to keep you baking in the sun. The parks are more atmospheric at night, and with the recent cutbacks for September and October, it will be a while before this returns.

Do you enjoy planning?

The parks require very little planning now except knowing which park you want to visit each day. The lines are short, there is no FastPass, and shows are typically of the animatronic variety. You can still make dining reservations, but wait to read Part 2 of this series to see how I feel about that. If you enjoy planning out every aspect of your vacation, you may be disappointed. Conversely, if you like to be spontaneous this could be your dream trip.

Are you or someone you travel with high risk?

We all have that family member that we need to remind is high risk and to lay off the public appearances for awhile. It is easy to see that risk in others, but it is sometimes hard to acknowledge that in ourselves. Are you older, obese, diabetic or otherwise immune compromised? I am not saying you cannot go, but be honest with yourself and factor it in.

How will you get to Disney World?

Are you driving long distances or flying? The plane itself is not too bad but have you considered the hazmat area that airports are right now? The least safe I felt during my trip was at both MCO and my home airport. If you are already worried about making stops on a road trip, then you can stop reading here. Disney World will be more dangerous and stressful for you than the occasional pit stop.

Can you quarantine after your trip?

There is no quicker way to be ostracized by your community than to visit a coronavirus hotspot right before sending your child back into the classroom to infect their fellow students. Please don’t be this person. We traveled knowing that we had more than 2 weeks before the kids would be back in school. You may need to quarantine from your family and coworkers as well.

Are you paying full price?

The current Disney World offering is hard to justify at full price. We are Disney Vacation Club members and annual passholders. The only additional outlay we made for our trip was food. We would not have gone at full price.

Are you a risk averse or anxious person?

Some of us are hyper aware of our surroundings and the realities of this pandemic. It can be hard to relax and have a good time at Disney World no matter how careful you are. Personally, I had trouble with this one and my anxiety was dependent on the behaviors of others that I could not control. The threat of becoming seriously ill far from home also raise the stakes compared to similar activities in your daily life.

Are you okay with fleeting interactions within 6 feet with large numbers of masked people?

Don’t let the official Disney policies fool you. This will happen a lot. In Part 2, I will give suggestions on limiting this but it is unavoidable. There will also be unmasked people within 6 feet of you occasionally. Know that going in.

Are you responsible for someone else’s safety?

If you are traveling with children it can be hard to relax knowing that you have to be aware of their safety as well as your own. Do you trust the adults in your party? If you are traveling with someone who flouts the rules and doesn’t take the pandemic seriously, it can be a source of friction as it feels like you have a very large 'child' to contend with.

Do you have a plan if you get sick out of state?

What will you do if you get sick while on your trip? Can you be stranded and out of work for an extended period? This is a very uncomfortable question to have to confront, but if you would rather not think about it then you are not ready to go.

What does Disney World mean to you?

This one is very personal. Many Disney fans talk about returning to Disney parks the same way that pilgrims talk about visiting a holy site. It can even outweigh any negative responses to the above questions. Not all people feel the same, though. Do not force a non-Disney World lover to go. Be honest with yourself and your traveling party and come to your own informed decision.

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