Disney World During the Pandemic? Why And How I’m Planning Our Next Trip

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Planning a Disney World

Why and How I’m Planning a Disney World Trip During a Pandemic

Our last trip to Disney World couldn’t have been timed better.  We have taken late January trips on multiple occasions, but our last trip’s end was particularly fortuitous.  Soon after, COVID-19 changed everything.  We have not been on a big family vacation since, beyond a regional road trip.  Anyway, our local beaches continue to deliver, as always.  But for the last few months, I’ve been planning our next Disney World trip.  Here’s why and how we’re planning a Disney World trip during the pandemic.

Why Bother?

After the pandemic changed everything earlier in the year, I quickly stood down on all travel activities.  I did not consider near- or long-term travel an option.  And I still don’t, for the most part.  While it’s the right decision for us, others reasonably travel.  Prior to the pandemic, our travel frequency had been decreasing for years.  Quite simply, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze to us sometimes, especially during a pandemic.  So why am I planning a Disney World trip?

First, an optimal, almost-free Disney World experience requires us to plan ahead.  I’m accruing the right points/cash back to make the trip virtually no cost and redeeming accordingly.  We enjoy staying at Disney properties, and we quickly reserved once 2021 dates opened up.  Likewise, we are avid Disney diners and have begun to identify the locations where we will soon make necessary reservations.  And like any other trip, we’ll need to jump on Fast Pass booking soon, as well (if/when Fast Passes return).

Second, and just as important, I enjoy the planning process.  While many of you may not like Disney World, I bet plenty of you enjoy the planning aspect of travel.  Indeed, how we all use our travel rewards is part of this.  Ultimately, regardless if the trip happens or not, I enjoy the planning and learning that comes along the way.

Here’s how I’m planning our late Summer 2021 trip in the age of a pandemic.

Planning a Disney World

Planning without the Commitment

In general, we focus on keeping our options as open as necessary for our travel needs.  This is, of course, top of mind during COVID-19.  Likewise, I’m redeeming our rewards in a no commitment fashion.  For instance, while I could book with tickets and lodging with Citi Cruise and Tours for an extra 25% point value until April 2021, I’m not doing so this year.

Why not?  If I end up cancelling the trip, which could definitely be after April, I could get my points refunded to my ThankYou account but would lose the 25% bonus redemption ability.  What did I do/am I doing instead?  I indirectly redeemed all of my ThankYou points for Disney gift cards.  This was a bit more work than calling up Citi to redeem, but I enabled unrestricted, cancellable Disney travel at the bonus rate.  While my exact redemption strategy no longer works, I’m continuing to search for new, creative options for award travel.  So should you!

I’ll be doing the same with airfare to Orlando soon.  As an avid Southwest fan, I enjoy their flexible cancellation and change policy.  Other airlines have tried to play up their new, flexible policies, but none compare to Southwest.  Like many of you, I substantially increased my Rapid Rewards balance last summer.

Things Will Be Different

Disney Park Pass System

As if the “normal” planning wasn’t enough, I’ve acquainted and prepared myself for the Disney Park Pass System.  Essentially, Disney World visitors are required to reserve in advance the park they plan to visit each day.  For planning enthusiasts like me, this isn’t a huge deal, as most of us are planning our Disney days with fast passes, anyway.  Nonetheless, it’s one more box to check for all of us.

Character Meet and Greets

During our past trips, character meet and greets have been a huge hit with our little ones.  Unfortunately, we are preparing as if those will not be an option at all for the next trip.  They haven’t really been an option since COVID-19, and we’ll consider them a pleasant surprise if they do happen later in 2021.

Planning a Disney World
I like a good burger, but unfortunately, quick service Disney dining will be more in play for 2021.

Dining

We realize that many of our favorite dining venues may not be available.  Indeed, character dining at many locations is still unavailable, including two of our favorites, the Crystal Palace and Cinderella’s Royal Table.  But we know that plenty of other locations are open, and reopening will continue with more time and patience.  Regardless, we know it’ll be much more quick service and less character and themed dining this trip.  Currently, dining reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance, plus the length of Disney resort guests’ stay (up to 10 days).

An Open Mind

While planning has been paramount to each of our magical Disney World family trips in the past, we have made a slower pace a key principle in our trips.  Indeed, we plan to implement an even slower pace and lower expectations with this next trip.  Also, dare I say it, spontaneity is going to play a huge role in next year’s trip – much more than it has ever played in our past trips.

To allow more room for unexpected surprises and schedule changes, we are planning an even longer trip this time.  And while we plan a few off days, I’ll still make park reservations for those days on the  chance we want a bit more park fun.

Another mitigating factor for us is that we’ve been to Disney World plenty before and will go a lot more as our little ones grow.  We are unashamedly “Disney World People.”  No one trip holds all of our expectations or any of the pressure.  I do not recommend any family taking their one-time Disney World trip during the pandemic.

Planning a Disney World
NOT a pandemic-era crowd at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Pandemic Planning a Disney World Trip Is Worth It To Us

Travelers have absorbed all sorts of changes, closures, and less value since COVID-19.  By and large, travel hasn’t been something our family has been interested in doing with all of the current challenges.  We are loving our local options.  However, we have assessed that Disney World is one of the few travel experiences we will enjoy despite all of the pandemic changes.  It’s on every traveler to do his/her own cost/benefit analysis to determine what is worth doing.  And we each must continuously consider all of the changing aspects while analyzing.  I consider this an overwhelming but worthy effort.

Before we started any planning, we fully realized we are okay with cancelling if the pandemic situation doesn’t improve or we grow uncomfortable for other reasons.  I’m always learning as I travel plan, and I won’t consider any cancellation a waste of the time I previously committed.

Planning A Disney World Trip During a Pandemic – Conclusion

I try to always balance the things I cannot control with the things I can.  While so much is out of my hands (travel and otherwise), I will always plan, whether it’s my next Disney World trip or my drive to the beach.  With new challenges, we can also look at new ways to overcome them.  How we earn and redeem our rewards currencies to maximize our travel and everyday lives is just one general area to reevaluate.  Happy exploring!

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence. An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their travel goals, Disney-related and otherwise.

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8 COMMENTS

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8 COMMENTS

  1. I just went over the Halloween week. For those who may be considering going to Disney soon there is a lot of stuff shut down. All the live shows are closed along with many of the shops and food venues. If you’re bringing small kids there are no character meet and greets. They do have some parades to see some of the characters. They are very strict about masks and you can only remove it if you are stopped to eat or drink. You can’t remove it to take pics. They have done an incredible job in trying to distance people as many rides have plexiglass in between the lines. They are limiting how many people visit each day. There are no fast passes and you have to reserve the specific park you want to visit ahead of time and there is no park hopping. The lines for most rides run about 20 minutes to 40 minutes on average, so although it is not horrible it is slower than getting fast passes for the better rides. Although they have gone to a lot of expense to make it a safe visit, I would suggest waiting to go if it is your 1st visit as your experience would be totally different when they are fully open.

  2. Good luck. We were scheduled to go over Thanksgiving, and I cancelled. Reduced capacities, restaurants, shops, shows, etc for the same price? Pass. A coworker just returned, and said she wish she would’ve cancelled her trip.

    We plan to return next year though, hopefully things will settle down by then.

    • Projectx,

      Your situation sounds similar. We’re seeing how things shake out over the next nine months or so. Even then, we know bailing may be the best decision.

  3. I’m at Disney world right now. They increase capacity the day before we arrived, and most wait times are at or close to pre-pandemic levels. At a time when we are setting new records daily and many people having difficulty following the protocols the parks have put in place, I don’t feel very good about it. I wish I would’ve known they were increasing capacity this weekend

  4. Best of luck. I do think that late summer may not be the ideal time next year though. Catchup post pandemic crowds before school restarts, seriously muggy weather, and the increasingly less infrequent hurricane might make October sound a bit more desirable IMO.

    • Christian,

      Agreed, late Summer can be unpredictable. We’ve had success in Aug/Sep before and are fully open to canceling, as I mentioned.

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