Mommy Frog's Note: We know these are trying times. Some of us are facing major challenges, whether they be from illness, the economy or simply the unknown. All of us are living under a new normal. While the parks are currently closed, they will reopen soon. In the meantime, we're looking for ways to help keep the magic hoppening at home. One of the ways we're doing that is by helping you plan your next trip!
Vacation planning in 2020 is turning out to be a strange trip in itself, thanks to COVID-19. You may have many questions about when theme parks, beaches and other favorite vacation destinations will open and when it will feel safe to leave your home again. And if you are anything like us frogs, you are hopping to get out of the house and explore more of the world — but safely, of course. As you virtually explore your favorite places in the comfort of your own home, you may see some toadally awesome deals hopping up for flights, hotels and other travel. With prices that seems almost unbelievable, you may want get a jump on those good deals before everything is open. We definitely have set our sights on fall travel and the holiday season, but we're also staying in-tune with our feelings and the environment around us in case things change. So how can you go about planning a vacation in an uncertain time?
Planning a Vacation in an Uncertain Time
We are getting a lot of questions from our readers about when the parks will open and when is a safe time to plan, and we have explored a lot of the answers. With a virus out there and an uncertain economy, it can feel daunting to even think about planning a vacation ... even though we are all daydreaming about escaping to our favorite places! Whether a case of wanderlust has you planning for 2021 and beyond, or you just can't pass up the current travel deals you're seeing to take that leap in the near future, we've got everything you need to consider.
Assess Your Comfort Level
It goes without saying that safety takes top priority. You know your family best. Each family has their own comfort levels, needs and health considerations to think about when planning. Keep those top of mind. Do some brainstorming together about what a healthy, hoppy vacation means to you! Maybe international travel is off of the table for a while, but domestic is fine. Maybe you'd rather stick to a local road trip until things have settled a bit. Perhaps you're renting an RV for the first time. Or, maybe you're ready to jump back in with both feet and are toadally comfortable traveling knowing hotels have new hygienic practices in place. Maybe an eat-in kitchen to make your own meals, or a hotel with fewer rooms, is a must for you, and that's OK.
Do what works best for you and your family — plan within your comfort zone so that it's enjoyable for the whole fam (no one wants to spend their vacation worrying).
Keep Location and Timing in Mind
Before making the quick hop, be sure to look into current travel policies at your destination. Some states currently have self-quarantining policies or travel restrictions in place. Most travel planning services, airlines included, will provide you with a notification if your destination has restrictions in place. Do your own research so that you know what will be going on during your trip. Maybe travel is unrestricted, but there's a curfew in place that you'll need to be mindful of. Researching in advance keeps the surprises to a minimum later.
Plan a Road Trip
Promo Alert: If you bundle a car rental with a Walt Disney World Resort hotel stay on Undercover Tourist you can save up to 35% on trips through Dec. 31, 2020!
Through the rest of 2020, road trips might be a smart choice. You have the flexibility of changing dates or directions when you are in your car or RV. Plus, you have more control over your environment! Maybe there’s a nature trail or historical site within driving distance that you’ve always wanted to explore. Now’s the time to do it! Just be sure to check ahead for closures and guidelines for visiting.
We frogs love visiting large cities and exploring museums, seeing Broadway shows and sightseeing. But some large cities, such as New York, have been hit particularly hard by the virus. That's why we are delaying travel to those areas until we see the number of infections go down and we see theaters and museums reopen. We are trading in those trips to cities with warm weather, beaches and outdoor open spaces, where we can more safely social distance. We have our eyes on beaches and mountains.
Consider a Staycation
Think of fun activities you can do in your own state. If you had guests from out of town come visit, where would you take them? Go do those things. Think of fun day trips and close road trips that will let you explore the beauty and fun of your area. Things like hikes, kayaking and other water activities, drive-through zoos and safari parks or even drive-in movie theaters! If you have a camper or tent, or can rent an RV, you might be able to get out and see the world around you in your home on wheels.
For people living in certain states hit hard by the virus, a staycation might be the best choice. Look up any travel restrictions for people leaving your state. You do not want to arrive at your destination only to find out that you must be quarantined.
Get to Know Cancellation Policies
While it's an uncertain time to plan, there are certain certainties in planning — cancellation policies included! Many companies have flexible cancellation policies in place right now; be sure to look into what those are, and what they mean for your vacation. Plus, it's a good time to get acquainted with travel insurance for extra booking security.
Theme Park Travel
Who have green thumbs and are hopping to get back to the theme parks? These frogs! Nobody is hopping to get back to the theme parks more than we are, especially knowing there are new policies in place to keep visitors and employees safe and healthy. You can keep up on theme park opening dates and changes by checking our blog post on COVID-19 information for theme parks, resorts and hotels. We keep it updated with fresh information, so keep hopping back!
We frogs are hoppy to help people buy discounted theme park tickets and skip the lines. Before you purchase, though, it is important to read the cancellation policies. Most theme park tickets do not lose their value, and many ticket expiration dates have been extended to cover the current closures (for example, impacted Discovery Cove tickets have been extended for use through Dec. 31, 2021!).
All Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort tickets can be upgraded at the ticket window at any date in the future, even if they've expired. What's more, you'll be credited the full gate price, which can then be applied to a new, active ticket!
For even greater flexibility on theme park tickets, Undercover Tourist offers physical tickets. These are 95% refundable for any reason, as long as they have not been modified or activated.
For a full look at each park's policies and extensions, visit our COVID-19 post. We list the expiration dates and other information on the details page of each and every ticket, so there are no surprises and you can book with 100% confidence!
As some of the theme parks begin to open, you'll also want to think about what measures you will take to stay healthy and prevent the spread of disease when you visit. Here is a hopful post on practicing good health and wellness in theme parks. Be sure to find out the face covering policy before you visit. Most theme parks require all guests to wear masks for children as young as 2.
Planning a theme park vacation in this uncertain time means expecting the unexpected. As the theme parks adjust to all these new protocols and procedures, you may see changes to park hours, events and entertainment. Some guests with trips to Disney World through the end of 2020 are already receiving changes to their plans. Disney World is cancelling FastPass+ reservations for upcoming months to make adjustments to queues. Also, dining reservations have all been canceled and can be rescheduled up to 60 days before travel dates. Some theme parks and resorts such as Disney World and Six Flags have an advance reservations system for ticket holders to limit park capacity.
You’ll want to check cancellation policies before purchasing tickets to events, shows and tours. Some may be nonrefundable and others may require advance notice to make changes or to cancel. Multi Attraction Go Cards are not refundable and are good for one year from purchase date.
We've seen some excellent flight deals that make us excited to book our next vacation. Many airlines are taking the risk out of booking flights by waiving change fees for a certain time. But what does that mean? You’ll want to look carefully at the airline’s policies and dates to make sure your travel dates are covered within the waived period. But just because they waive cancellation fees, it doesn’t mean you’ll get your money back should you need to cancel due to changing restrictions on travel and social distancing. For instance, American Airlines is currently waiving change fees for tickets booked within a certain time period. But you'll receive credit rather than a refund, and you may owe a difference in ticket price.
Southwest Airlines has a standard policy of letting you make changes without change fees, but during this difficult time, the airline has stepped it up. Southwest is currently allowing customers to rebook between the same origin and destination within 60 days without a price difference in fare. Also money spent on flights canceled for Wanna Get Away fares normally expire after a year. However, the expirations of some travel funds are being extended until September 2022! The airline is not booking middle seats for a period of time, so the planes allow for more distancing between parties. That also means flights can sell out faster.
If you are planning a plane trip, be sure to bring a mask, drinks and snacks on board with you. Many major airlines are requiring passengers to wear masks (with exceptions for babies) during flights. Snack and beverage service may be suspended. Be sure to find out those policies before you travel so you are prepared.
The bottom line is to look at the cancellation policy for each airline before you book. Make sure the exceptions and waiving of fees applies to your dates. Since you will not get your money back if you have to cancel, make sure you will have some flexibility in being able to travel in the following months. You do not lose the money spent on tickets. If you can’t risk buying plane tickets due to job or financial insecurity, then maybe a road trip is a safer vacation plan at this time.
One more bit of advice that we frogs learned the hard way about flying during the pandemic. The airlines make a lot of changes to itineraries these days, and they do not necessarily notify the customers of these changes. If you have purchased flights, periodically check those itineraries as your trip approaches to make sure you know your flight time. This avoids the stress of arriving at the airport before your scheduled flight time only to discover that the plane left without you.
Any time you book a hotel, you should find out the hotel cancellation policies. Many hotels allow you to cancel as long as you do it before a certain amount of time before your check-in date. If you book Disney and Universal Orlando hotels though Undercover Tourist and the dates are impacted by closures, we will automatically cancel and issue a 100% refund to you. You do not even need to call. You can check out our FAQ page to get a sense of our cancellation policies.
Car Rental Policies
You’ll want to book rental cars with companies that offer good cancellation policies. Did you know Undercover Tourist offers car rentals nationwide? When you book with us, you’ll get free cancellations. No matter which company you decide to book your rental through, this is a good time to choose to pay at the airport instead of locking into a nonrefundable, pay-in-advance deal. And you'll definitely want to look into cancellation policies before reserving.
For added security, consider protecting your vacation with travel insurance. Travel insurance can help cover unexpected incidentals such as a trip cancellation or delay due to illness or injury, flight and hotel protection, lost or damaged baggage and more. Undercover Tourist's custom policy includes kids under 17 FREE with an accompanying adult. And if you're unsure after purchasing your plan, you have 10 days to cancel in full. Toadal peace of mind!
With the world around us in flux, this may seem like a no-brainer. But for tadpoles like Lily, the disappointment of a canceled trip is a big deal, especially in times like these, where the hope for some time outside of the house is a bright spot. We have a trip planned for late summer to visit family, but we've been sure to be realistic, even with our kids, about what's to come. We're optimistic froggies, but we want to be sure that we're all prepared for a Plan B (big frogs included!). While travel will return to normal, it's safe to say that none of us know exactly what travel will look like in the near future, so be open-minded. It's a new adventure for all of us!
If you know that changes are in place that may make your vacation look a little different than your kiddos are used to, talk to them about it ahead of time. Maybe they'll need to wear a mask on the plane. You might need to head back to the hotel room early for dinner versus hopping to your usual dinner spot. Set the expectations early and be open. Head into your vacay with confidence in your travel plans and the ability to change them if the need arises, thanks to your booking and cancellation policy homework.
Staying Safe While Traveling
As the rest of the world changes with health and well-being in mind, the travel and hospitality industries are no exception. In addition to following both national and local guidelines and best practices, hotels around the nation are instituting increased sanitization policies, including disinfecting common areas more frequently and removing high-touch items from rooms, such as coffee makers and cups, in an effort to keep guests safe and healthy. Many resorts, including LEGOLAND Florida Hotel, are spacing out guests throughout the property, offering to-go dining options and lowering dining room occupancy to maintain proper social distancing recommendations. Rental cars are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between uses, and airlines are exploring new avenues to thoroughly disinfect the cabin between flights. Some airlines are requiring passengers to wear masks in flight (though some small children may be exempt).
Wherever you visit, accept that for the time being, we have a new normal. Face masks, hand sanitizer, frequent hand washing and social distancing are part of our world. Make smart choices. Know when you might need to pull back if you find yourself in a situation with more people than you expected. We know this time will pass. We do not have all the answers yet. But you can still make those family memories as you take the chance to embrace a simpler time. Yes, some aspects of travel may be more complicated, but there has been a return to a slower pace and family togetherness that we can all embrace as a blessing in disguise.
There's still a lot we do not know about the upcoming months. Know that we will update our blog posts as soon as parks open and policies change. Hopfully we've given you a few things to consider when planning a vacation in an uncertain time. Stay healthy and keep hopping! And be sure to follow some of our tips to keep the magic alive and do some of our toadally fun family-friendly things to do at home.
Related: How Busy Will Disney Be When It Reopens?