What to Consider When Booking a Disney World Vacation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Consider This Before Booking a Disney Vacation During the Pandemic The DIS Cinderella Castle Nov 2020

Coronavirus has changed the travel industry for the foreseeable future. There’s a lot to consider as people ease back into traveling and fans return back to Disney. But while you debate flying vs. driving, you may be overlooking smaller details that can help relieve some stress during this unprecedented time. Here are some tips for traveling during the coronavirus pandemic:

Request a lower floor

It’s impossible to socially distance inside of an elevator. As a result, Disney resorts, and many hotels, recommend only one party or a maximum of four people inside of an elevator at a time. I see this being an issue for two reasons: one, there are just some people who don’t respect others’ personal space, which could lead to an uncomfortable situation; and two, if the recommendation is followed, elevators will be running slowly during peak hours, like when you’re heading to a park or returning after a long day. 

While it’s nice to have a room with a view, now may be the time to request a lower level. Ground floor would be ideal, but a second or third floor would suffice if you’re okay with walking down a few flights of stairs. 

It is worth mentioning that most Disney resorts are only three to four stories high; but it’s something to keep in mind when booking your next stay, especially if you’re looking at Coronado’s new tower, Swan and Dolphin, or a stay off-site.

Resort location and amenities are more important than ever

With Disney suspending Park Hoppers and implementing a park reservation system, plus reduced hours at the parks, you may find yourself spending a bit more time than usual at your resort. 

A hotel with a nice pool, like Yacht and Beach Club, becomes an even more attractive option if you plan on spending a day or two at the resort. Those looking for something to do at night may consider a stay at a resort like Saratoga Springs, since it’s within walking distance or a short bus ride away from Disney Springs. It also comes in handy when looking for a bite to eat, as Disney Springs has no shortage of quick and table service options. 

You’ll also want to consider transportation and proximity to the parks, as this can also factor into your trip. Buses are now holding less guests, which means you may be waiting a bit longer to get to the park. Opting to stay at a monorail resort if you plan on spending a few days at Magic Kingdom; or at a Boardwalk resort if you’re looking to visit Epcot and Hollywood Studios may be worth the higher cost. You may also consider staying at a stop along the new Skyliner, Disney’s gondola system. 

You may want to consider a DVC stay

With the future of travel up in the air, there’s certainly some risk in renting Disney Vacation Club points, as points are a bit more difficult to cancel; but you can also book a DVC room directly through Disney, the same way you’d reserve a hotel room. 

Kitchen in a Grand Floridian villa

Now may be the time to look into staying at a DVC resort. You may be spending more time in your room, so the extra space and comfort of a one-bedroom can go a long way. And if you’re not comfortable dining inside a restaurant, having a full kitchen allows you to bring in groceries and dine from the comfort of your own room; and provides plenty of space to enjoy food from grab-and-go’s or quick service locations. 

Choosing your meals just became more important

Dining will most likely play a large role in your next trip. As I mentioned above, many restaurants are temporarily closed. Others have updated their service. For example, Chef Mickey’s is now family style, rather than a buffet. You’ll want to keep all this in mind when scheduling your dining reservations. 

If you’re not comfortable dining indoors, you’ll need to do a bit more research. Very few table service restaurants offer outdoor dining. Disney Springs offers the most options, with many quick service locations having outdoor tables, and many of its table service restaurants offering both indoor and outdoor dining. 

Consider This Before Booking a Disney Vacation During the Pandemic The DIS image4  Coffee Rubbed Brisket from The Polite Pig
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Choosing a resort that has a quick service location where you can grab-and-go will play an even bigger role in planning your vacation. You’ll want to investigate the dining options at your resort, as well as the restaurants around it. Some resort quick service locations, like Coronado’s El Mercado de Coronado, are temporarily closed; and beloved table service locations, like Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge and ‘Ohana at Polynesian, are closed, as well. 

Do your homework when booking off-site  

One of the biggest questions I keep seeing pop up is “what’s the point to staying on-site if so many of the perks have been suspended?” This is definitely a valid question and one that my family has debated quite a bit. Why wouldn’t you stay at a nearby hotel or rent a house for a fraction of the price? In fact, now may be the best time to do it. 

There are a few things to consider, though. First and foremost, if renting through a service like airbnb or VRBO, you’ll want to scrupulously check the reviews. Read what others have said about their stay during the pandemic. On airbnb, you should consider booking a “Superhost” property. A renter earns a “Superhost” badge for providing exemplary accommodations. Airbnb reviews a place’s Superhost rating four times a year to be sure the host is continuing to provide outstanding hospitality. By staying with a Superhost, you can be sure that the home has been properly cleaned and sanitized. VRBO also has cleaning standards to ensure your stay is a safe one. 

Similar to my point about DVC, Orlando is home to many timeshares and villas that may be worth exploring during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having the extra space could go a long way in providing you with a relaxing vacation. 

Now…a few things to remember. Staying off-site means you’ll most likely need your own vehicle, or will need to use a service like Lyft or Uber. A ride share service increases human interaction. Renting a car is an added expense. If you rent or take your own car, you’ll have to pay for parking at the theme parks (unless you’re using your Annual Pass), which will be an added cost. Another thing to consider is the amount of traffic in and around the parks and Disney Springs. The traffic has been especially heavy around Disney Springs, with the lots hitting capacity in the afternoon. 

Lastly, you’ll want to remember that not every hotel property or property rental has the same cancellation policy. Some require guests to pay for the entire stay upfront and do not offer a refund for cancelations. Others only provide a 50% discount. Many airbnb or VRBO properties only refund 50% within 30 days of your trip.

Another thing to consider is that when you purchase theme park tickets as part of a package (with a Disney resort stay), you can modify or cancel the entire package without penalty up to 30 days before arrival. As of now, until April 30th, 2021, packages can be cancelled up to the day before check-in with no penalty. So if you need to cancel or suddenly don’t feel comfortable traveling, you can get a refund for the entire trip (resort stay, park tickets, etc.) When staying off-site or purchasing tickets separately, it’s not so easy. Tickets can be changed, but they are non-refundable. Guests may change the start date or number of days on their tickets until midnight of the day before your park ticket’s first valid use date. So, if you have a trip booked for January, but decide to cancel, you’ll need to move your park tickets to a future date. While there’s no change fee, an additional cost may apply for dates with higher ticket prices.

Book with a Travel Agent

I know that many people already use a travel agent, like Dreams Unlimited Travel, but some opt to plan their vacation by themselves. As Disney fans, we take a lot of pride in knowing the parks inside and out and being able to plan the most efficient trip possible. I personally used to stick my chest out a bit further after securing all my dining reservations and FastPass+ selections for Christmas week. 

But even the most knowledgeable Disney fans may have some trouble booking a trip during COVID. Between different restaurants, resorts, and attractions closed; park hoppers and FastPass+ suspended; the new park reservation system in place; and the ever-changing policies and restrictions at the parks and around travel; having a travel agent to help plan out your vacation is now more important than ever.

Pete Pirone is a 32-year-old writer who loves Walt Disney World. He grew up going to Disney. His family has celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and even attended a wedding at Disney World.

Pete and the rest of the Pirone clan have celebrated every Christmas from 2009-2018 at Disney. Having spent years traveling during the most crowded time of the year, Pete uses his knowledge to develop tips and tricks for tacking the crowds and creating an efficient trip itinerary—no matter when you go!

When he's not writing, Pete is cooking and trying out new restaurants. He's a huge foodie and can often be found dining and eating his way around Walt Disney World.

Pete also hates writing in the third person...


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