Twenty-two months. That's how long it's been since I've set foot on Walt Disney World property. This is the longest it’s been since I’ve been in a Disney theme park in twenty years. I know I am only one of the thousands around the world who lost out on another visit to the most magical place on earth due to COVID-19 but as an international guest, I’m also in a slightly different monorail car than my American friends.
What is universal, I’m sure, is my desire to get back to the parks as soon as I can. That being said, being an international traveler to Central Florida makes a trip back a bit more of a challenge during the pandemic but even so, what will it take to get me back? What does the world have to look like? What will be happening in the parks? What are the financial considerations I now have to think about? The questions abound as my wife and I think about taking our young family down to Walt Disney World for another exciting, yet different, vacation.
After some deep thought and conversation with my much better half, here is what it will take to get us - international Disney fans - to come back into the parks.
Completion of Mass Vaccinations
I have the privilege of living in Canada. When the pandemic struck, the powers that be rightly shut down the borders to travel between our two countries. This has made it nearly impossible to get into the United States let alone get to Orlando. If my wife and I lived in the U.S. and it was just us traveling, we would likely have made the trek to Disney at some point. That's just not the situation, though. We have a young family facing a world with a highly contagious virus. But, hope and action are upon us!
We now live in a world with multiple, highly effective vaccines. The U.S. and Canada are both vaccinating our populations and the borders may reopen in the Spring as vaccination numbers increase. While this is a reason to celebrate, there is not a chance we would travel again internationally until both countries reach a critical mass of vaccinations.
This means at least 80% of our residents receive the vaccine. You might think, well, what if you get the vaccine? You should be fine. That may be true but even with an extremely high efficacy for most of the approved vaccines, I don’t want to take an early chance that we may contract the virus or bring it back home to infect a family member even if we don't get sick. Having a higher vaccinated population will make me feel better popping down without fearing what could happen.
Return to the Vast Majority of Pre-COVID Operations
There is no doubt that given everything I’ve seen on social media over the past six months that Disney has put a number of measures in place to get the parks open and try to keep guests safe. This has meant temporarily shuttering some restaurants, altering ride vehicles, and vastly increasing the size of lines to accommodate physical distancing recommendations. What I’ve seen has been impressive but it isn’t necessarily providing the experience my family would be looking for when we head off on a vacation.
Before calling up a travel agent to book a trip, I will need to be assured that operations, attractions, and ride experiences are similar to pre-COVID times. I will be the first to say that this is a bit of a flexible point given we aren’t quite sure what a post-COVID world will look like from a health and safety perspective, but as I hear more and more that Disney is loosening restrictions and the Florida government is giving theme parks a wide birth around self-regulating, I can’t imagine operations will remain very restrictive in the long-term.
I also want to quickly note here too that I hope/expect Disney to hire back the countless cast members who were laid off during the pandemic. Servers, street entertainers, characters, and more are all integral to the magical experience that is a Walt Disney World trip. Without them, something will be forever lost and will compound on Disney’s bottom line down the road, no matter if management thinks otherwise.
Only a Moderate Cost Inflation
The pandemic has been financially devastating for so many families. My family has been truly lucky to have weathered the pandemic without significant damage to our expenses or long-term savings. This, however, does not mean we will live in the same financial world that we did pre-COVID.
Traveling thousands of miles adds its own costs. Will airlines be increasing costs to cover their recent losses? Should we as a family think about doing a road trip in the car with two boys under six years old for 26 hours? Will Disney increase prices across the board? Will they try to cater to those international travelers like me to get foot traffic back in the parks? Do they even need to incentivize guests to return due to pent up demand? These are just a few of the financial questions that will influence the cost of a Disney trip for international travelers.
We are happy to pay a little more, especially given the trauma of the past year, I think we are willing to shell out something extra for a trip. We love Walt Disney World but even that love and connection is tested if the price is simply too high.
Easing of the Mask Policy
Disney has maintained a reasonable mask policy since opening back in the summer. On most accounts, it is being rightly enforced (I know, I know, not everyone wears them properly, nor 100% of the time) and people are doing their part to stop the spread of the virus.
I have gladly worn a mask since the pandemic began. A mask has been on my face when shopping, visiting friends and colleagues, and when distancing is simply a challenge. My oldest son has even done the same for school and when we go out together and he’s only 5 years old.
The challenge has been our youngest son. The mask policy extends to those two years old and up, which is not easy. At two, wearing a mask just isn’t an option for most. He wears it for three seconds and then takes it off. You can’t reason with him, nor force him through sheer will because he’s, well, two. We cannot travel down there to have the family barred from the parks because our youngest isn’t willing to wear a mask.
It’s too big of a risk and easing the policy to either raise the minimum age or get rid of the policy, in general, is likely the only way to get my family back in the parks.
Assessing Crowd Sizes
I have done hours and hours of research on when and how to tackle Walt Disney World. From consulting the DISboards to watching video after video of tips and even leveraging the power of traffic charts, I used to be able to gauge when the best times were to travel down to the parks. And, it worked.
The majority of our trips to Walt Disney World were not at peak times and offered a good experience for the whole family when it came to lines and crowding. I think most of that research is now in question (the holiday season and Spring Break aside).
We are not locals. A lot of planning is needed for an international trip and with thousands of dollars on the line we don’t want to run the risk of traveling down 6 months after booking to find the parks and resorts super busy and cast members run ragged. I know it’s a risk any guest must expect, but it’s one I’ve sought to mitigate over the years and have done so successfully. Factor in 2021 hosting many 50th anniversary celebrations, the crowds will definitely be high. We will likely wait until we see what crowd sizes are like before we start the booking process.
The unfortunate truth is that all of these factors mean our next family trip from Canada to Walt Disney World likely will not take place until some time in mid-2022. I know the decision-making process is unique for everyone, and I hold no judgment on the choices anyone makes in planning your next Disney trip, but I wanted to share what it’s been like as I start the process of planning my family’s next Disney trip. There is no doubt that there will be a next trip for my family, and that it will be filled with priceless memories, it just won’t be right away.
Are you an international Disney fan? How are you starting to plan your next trip? Do any locals feel similarly to me? I’d love to hear your perspectives!