Visiting Disney World During Coronavirus Outbreak

Should I cancel my Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation due to coronavirus? With three Disney theme park complexes closed due to COVID-19, this is now a common question–both from the perspective of whether travel is safe and what the likelihood is that the Florida and California parks will close. (Updated March 9, 2020.)

I’ll preface all of this by stating the obvious: I’m not a scientist, pandemic expert, or even in any way knowledgable of public health. I hate going to the doctor, and am irrationally scared of needles. (Like a brave trooper, I get the flu shot anyway!) I’m a staunch advocate of specialized expertise over internet fear and rumor-mongering. Accordingly, this should not be viewed as a credible source of information regarding staying safe and healthy.

For all of that, we recommend consulting the World Health Organization’s basic protective measures against the new coronavirus (COVID-19) and advice for the public, the U.S. Department of State’s Alert Bulletin about the Current State of Novel Coronavirus, and Centers for Disease Control’s Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Situation Summary. The perspective this post will offer is how coronavirus might impact travel to Walt Disney World, and what you can do to be prepared…

Let’s start with the latest updates as of March 9, 2020. Currently, there are 18 positive cases of COVID-19 tied to Florida, including one in Central Florida. There have been 2 deaths in Florida due to coronavirus, both patients were in their 70s with underlying health conditions. It’s worth noting that just over 200 people have been tested in Florida, so those numbers could be underreported. (All per the Florida Department of Health).

At Walt Disney World, we’ve noticed a significant increase in hand sanitizer stations throughout the parks, plus at the entrances of every resort, and inside most restaurants. That’s definitely a good start. Beyond that, things mostly seem like business as usual at Walt Disney World. There have been no reductions in meet & greets, buffets, or queue changes as a result of coronavirus.

Conferences and special events are already being cancelled throughout Florida, including at Walt Disney World. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings has stated that several major conferences have already canceled, which were expected to bring $154 million to the local economy.

This extends to Walt Disney World. Cancellations are up at the resorts that host large amounts of special event business. This is being felt hardest at Coronado Springs Resort, which is heavily dependent upon conventions. Other resorts likely to be impacted include the All Stars, Yacht Club, Contemporary, and potentially others. Keep an eye out for deals at all of these.

With that said, local officials and Visit Florida both have indicated that there has yet to be any impact on leisure travel. However, that could change as we approach the spring break season. Anecdotally, we’ve heard from several readers who intend upon cancelling or postponing trips, which is why we’ve lowered attendance projections for the next few months in our 2020 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars.

Disney’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel has released a coronavirus statement, indicating that the company is monitoring the situation in light of recent developments with the spread of the virus in Florida. Here’s what Disney released, which is intended to address guest questions about coronavirus:

As part of our commitment to the health and well-being of our cast, guests and the larger community, we are carefully monitoring this evolving situation and are in regular contact with health agencies for information and guidance. Our parks and resorts are welcoming guests as usual and we continue to implement preventive measures in line with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health agencies.

Our parks and resorts have high standards of cleanliness, which assists with illness prevention, and we have health and safety protocols in place, such as:

  • Training for cast members, with ongoing reinforcement on a regular basis
  • Defined cycles for frequent cleaning and disinfection of targeted areas
  • Easy access to handwashing facilities and hand sanitizers
  • Quick response to spills, trash and other situations
  • End of day sanitation procedures for restroom, kitchen, and other facilities
  • Frequent cleaning and “wash down” of outdoor locations, including walkways and queues

Additionally, our onsite health teams and leaders are communicating with our cast members about illness prevention, including the guidance of the CDC. The CDC recommends everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of germs, such as staying home when sick, washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, following proper respiratory cough etiquette, avoiding close contact with people who are sick and avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

For our part, we’ve been closely monitoring coronavirus for over the last month-plus to see how it’d impact our potential trips abroad this spring. I’ve become obsessive, reading about a half-dozen articles per day. If I’ve gleaned one thing from those resources, it’s that the coronavirus situation continues to develop. Quite simply, there’s a lot of fluidity to this. The status of coronavirus today almost certainly won’t be the same next week.

At present, there no limitations or advisories for domestic travel within the United States. Nor, to my knowledge, have other countries issued bulletins or elevated risk levels for the US as a result of coronavirus. Public health experts are only advising proper precautions: frequently washing hands, avoiding touching unwashed hands to the face, maintaining social distancing from anyone who is coughing or sneezing, following good respiratory hygiene, and using hand sanitizer to reduce risk.

Public health experts also state that the biggest health risk for domestic travel right now is the flu. While some areas do have more reported coronavirus cases and preventative measures are being taken in some cities, no part of the United States is considered higher risk for coronavirus than any other. That could change if or when more sustained person-to-person spread in the community occurs.

When it comes to travel, the World Health Organization has indicated that an airplane cabin by itself isn’t more conducive to spreading infection, but proximity of passengers does matter. Flights by themselves aren’t considered higher risk, except that they are crowded situations. Consider, wiping down surfaces you are going to touch on airplanes or other public spaces, such as hotel rooms.

Paper surgical masks are effective at keeping you from spreading disease if you are sick, but not totally effective at blocking you from ingesting coronavirus. If you have a cough, consider wearing a mask out of common courtesy. Even before coronavirus this was incredibly common in Asian cultures, which is why it’s more common to see masks abroad. (But don’t hoard masks.)

When it comes to traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, some CYA advice you’ll commonly see is to purchase travel insurance with a “cancel for any reason” policy, and to use a travel agent. I don’t disagree with the latter part of this–they can deal with making cancellations or changing plans for you. In the case of Walt Disney World, that means waiting on hold for hours when call volume spikes. (As is always the case around hurricanes.)

In circumstances like this, I’m actually not a staunch advocate of travel insurance. If it’ll give you peace of mind, great. Go for it. Just be aware that if the situation deteriorates considerably and travel is interrupted within the United States, airlines will begin waiving change or cancellation fees (albeit usually with the caveat that you receive a credit for travel within a year, not a cash refund).

If the worst happens and Walt Disney World is forced to close, you’ll receive a full refund. (In that scenario, a lot of Walt Disney World’s hurricane policy would likely be applicable–read our Tips for Visiting Walt Disney World During Storm Season for more elaboration on all of this.) Other travel providers will likewise follow suit. Travel insurance with the option to cancel for any reason is best for those who want to cancel before travel businesses start closing or canceling.

One thing I would recommend if you haven’t already booked a Walt Disney World vacation for 2020, is to consider something that can be modified or offers free cancellation. Not just because of the above concerns, but because both approaches will allow you to apply discounts or rebook if better deals become available. (Again, travel agents/Authorized Disney Vacation Planners can help with this.)

With the nonstop news coverage of coronavirus, Walt Disney World’s hotel occupancy rate and attendance is bound to drop irrespective of any actual threat levels. In other posts, we belabor the point that WDW doesn’t offer deals out of corporate benevolence, but to fill hotel rooms. It’s possible, if not probable, that discounting will become more aggressive as coronavirus fears grow.

We normally are strong advocates of Priceline Express Deals, Airbnb vacation home rentals, and other third party deal hacks. However, this is one scenario where you might want to stick with options that are easier to cancel or modify. There are obviously no guarantees, but you could end up saving more money that way.

There’s also the possibility that Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and/or Disneyland Paris will close at some point. Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland have each been closed for over one month, and likely will be for at least another. Tokyo Disney Resort is temporarily closed for 2 weeks, which is likely to be extended.

The difference with the Asian resorts is government involvement. Japan’s Prime Minister has “strongly encouraged” closures to curtail the spread of coronavirus but–more importantly–prevent Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Olympics from being cancelled. Oriental Land Company, the owner of Tokyo Disney Resort, acquiesced to these requests. The Shanghai and Hong Kong parks are both partially state owned or sponsored, meaning Disney also did not have the final say there.

Generally speaking, countries in Asia have employed more draconian quarantine measures. Culturally, it’s not as easy to see Americans being receptive to some of this. It’s also more difficult to envision the United States taking steps to stifle the economy or business interests.

This isn’t to say that Walt Disney World or Disneyland will or will not close. That could happen in the weeks or months to come as coronavirus spreads within the United States. Alternatively, if attendance plummets due to fear, closures of the parks or various resorts could become a business decision. We’re likely a while from that happening, though. (Disneyland Paris is a different story entirely.)

Or, nothing could happen at all. Walt Disney World and Disneyland could install more hand-sanitizing or hand-washing stations, in-room fliers and in-park signs about best practices, or even hand sanitizer bottles to hotel guests.

Recent precedent suggests these are the most likely scenarios, as variations of these things occurred during the peaks of H1N1 and the Zika virus. Coronavirus is obviously different than both of these pandemics, but best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Neither Walt Disney World nor Disneyland closed during those outbreaks.

Planning a trip or visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland in the near future ultimately comes down to comfort and your personal risk tolerance. Are you elderly, do you have a chronic medical condition, or are otherwise immunocompromised? Will you be nervous, stressed-out, or in a constant precautionary state that prevents you from enjoying your vacation?

Obviously, those are personal questions that only you can answer. We’d once again reiterate that there are currently no travel advisories or restrictions concerning domestic travel, and that it’s important to approach the decision rationally without being overcome by paranoia or hysteria. At the same time, traveling in a state of fear is not going to be fun, either.

My perspective is likely to be different than that of others. I have an incredibly high risk tolerance, and I’m not personally concerned about contracting coronavirus. On an individual level, it comes down to a risk assessment. This is something everyone is doing on a daily basis, and we all take measured risks–driving in a car, taking a flight, riding a bicycle, playing a sport, swimming, drinking alcohol, and so on.

Often, analysis is shaped by worries of catastrophic consequences, even when seemingly mundane everyday activities pose greater actual risk. For instance, you might now fear sinking on the Jungle Cruise, when overdosing on awesomeness while watching Country Bear Jamboree is an exponentially greater risk. And yet, one we all eagerly take multiple times per trip. (“Don’t be afraid your life will end; be afraid that it will never begin.” ~Big Al, probably.)

(UPDATE: After reading more about the importance of collective and individual measures to flatten the epidemic curve, I’m now reevaluating future plans.)

This isn’t to minimize coronavirus. By most reasonable accounts of public health experts, it poses a serious threat and likely will significantly impact daily life in the United States at some point. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, has warned that if person-to-person spread picks up, further measures might need to be taken, including school and workplace closures, voluntary home quarantines, implementing cleaning measures, and other things.

Ultimately, our recommendation is to trust public health experts and agencies, and make appropriate changes to your daily life and travel plans only if or when necessary. Unless the fear of coronavirus will ruin your vacations, there’s really no reason to act preemptively. To the contrary, you might be able to take advantage of deals or lower crowds if you simply follow pertinent official recommendations and don’t give in to hysteria by canceling your Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or other vacation plans.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

Do you plan on cancelling or postponing travel plans to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or beyond as a result of coronavirus? Will you continue monitoring the situation and potentially cancel? Alternatively, will you book a trip because of coronavirus if prices or attendance drops? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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