Travel: Disney in the Time of COVID

My wife has been waking up at three thirty in the morning lately. Deliberately. Her alarm goes off, she activates her phone, logs into the Disneyworld website, and queues up her virtual reservation system trying to get us a dinner seating at a reasonable time and place … for some time next year.

I’m not a planner.

For example, when a couple years back I ditched the official tour group, our dance studio travelling companions, for a couple days to head off in advance to Ireland leaving them behind in Scotland, I arrived in Dublin, checked into my hotel and then, simply, went for a walk.

No real destination planned. No expectations. No reservations. Not even a proper bus ticket to get me back to the start. Just me and my feet, wandering.

I plan vacations, of course. But more often than not when I get there I like to explore, take things as they come, and see what the trip presents me.

It’s great.

But here’s the thing …

We’re planning a trip to Florida for the new year.

We’re even crossing an international border, no less.

And I assumed the planning part, including booking flights, hotels, and a car rental was complete. (In fact I assumed it was complete almost two years ago when we booked it the first time but then it got cancelled and we had all these travel credits and … deep breath!)

I was wrong. In 2022 a trip to the magical magic kingdom is rife with a less-than-cavalier planning problem. You can’t just show up. You can’t “wing it.” You can’t arrive without a charged phone with the Disney app, nor lacking a catalog of ride times, neither walking in out of the parking lot hoping for anything but a day of disappointment and disaster … which brings me back to three-thirty this morning, when my wife’s alarm went off.

See, between crowd limits and general popularity, it seems as though Disneyworld has its own planning problem: tens of thousands of people arrive each and every day into their parks and all those people want to enter, play, ride, shop, eat, and exit to go back to their hotels. Rinse. Repeat.

In order to get a meal that isn’t served at a kiosk from a paper plate, we need a reservation, and reservations open so many days in advance at six in the morning Florida time, fill up in literal minutes, and we’re not on Florida time. So, if she waits until the morning … hello quick serve pizza slices for supper.

See, guys like me throw off the flow.

Disney can’t just have everyone … or really anyone … showing up and wandering, no plans, no structure, lacking expectations or reservations.

In fact, those literal reservations need to be made months in advance, setting up plans about which rides you plan to be riding on which days and which meals you intend to eat at what time and when and where … and perhaps even why…

All that spontaneous family fun, it turns out, needs to be carefully orchestrated months before the suitcases come out of storage. I already know what days and times we’ll be standing in line for that Star Wars ride or It’s a Small World, or just Starbucks to keep my eyes open with a venti coffee to help keep me alert as I reach the point of exhaustion from the meticulously planned vacation.

Partly I blame COVID. The need to organize people flow around health rules has exacerbated the drive towards app-driven, technology-backed, ultra-planned everything.

Partly it is also a symptom of going somewhere nearly universally popular.

And partly, I take the blame as someone who doesn’t thrive in this type of vacation … and taking one for the “team” so that the family can have a long-planned trip.

Next time, though, I’m just going to leave my phone at home and go get lost in the woods.