Mar 04

Traveling and the Coronavirus: It Truly is a Small World After All!

Walt was certainly a visionary when he brought us “It’s a Small World” to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.  His sense of wanderlust and appreciation for world cultures demonstrated how close we all truly are in spite of oceans and land masses.  As our ability to travel farther, quicker, and easier evolved, so too, did our interconnectedness, and our ability to bring back foreign souvenirs from the exciting places we have visited.  However, lately, there seems to be an unwanted souvenir returning home with world travelers – – the Coronavirus or COVID-19.

The Coronavirus has obviously become the biggest concern for both international and domestic travelers lately.  As Travel Professionals, my fellow Travel Advisors and I have been spending a lot of time in webinars, viewing reports and official statements regarding this issue on a daily basis.  Although information is constantly being updated, this is what is known at the time of writing this article. 

What is the Coronavirus?

The Coronavirus is a broad term that encompasses both the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) viruses.  The current virus is a variant of the SARS virus, and has been renamed COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2.  This virus has been around for a while, but as viruses do, they will mutate and wreak havoc, just like flu viruses.  However, the Coronaviruses really focus on the respiratory system, making those persons with already compromised respiratory systems more vulnerable to the disease than others.  According to Dr. Geoff Tothill, Chief Medical Officer of the International Medical Group, and the World Health Organization (WHO), “The most common symptoms are fever, cough, and breathlessness.  Most patients have mild disease, with some 20% of patients progressing to severe disease.  Incubation period is 2 – 14 days, and most infectivity occurs when one is symptomatic.”

The news of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, was reported to the World Health Organization on December 31, 2019.  Since then, the virus has been exported via travelers arriving from affected areas to 56 countries, including the United States. 

How does it spread, and how to protect/prevent?

Again, according to the World Health Organization, “Cases are seen in higher numbers in specific geographic areas, usually as a result of close person to person spread.”  This would also mean travel destinations where tourism is high and congested, thus, practical measures must be taken.  We all know the drill regarding cold and flu season, and this is no different.

  1. Washing hands well, thoroughly, and often.
  2. Using an alcohol based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. (Yes, even hand sanitizer has expiration dates, so check those!)
  3. Avoid proximity to symptomatic people.
  4. Use cough etiquette!  Maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands.
  5. Avoid areas where people congregate when travelling and seek local help if you become unwell.
  6. Carry sanitizing wipes to wipe down trays and armrests on flights.

If you are concerned about picking something up from public places, then there is great news – – so is everyone else!  During cold and flu season, we all tend to get a bit lax about our sneezing, coughing, hand washing and general consideration of others when symptoms arise.  Children are one of the most vulnerable, yet they are perhaps the worst to keep reminding of these measures!  Sometimes, it takes something like the warnings of this current virus to keep us mindful of others and diligent in our own personal care.  Cold and flu season is not over yet, and it presents a bigger risk to us than the COVID-19.

Do I cancel my travel plans because of COVID-19?

Unless you are prevented from traveling to, or from, a particular area of the world where travel is restricted anyways, the answer would be, NO.  This includes places like Disney Parks.  Yes, all of the Disney Parks in Asia have been closed for a period of three weeks starting February 28th, but the Disney Parks in the United States and Europe have not.  Spokespersons from Universal and Disney in the U.S. are working closely with the Center for Disease Control to ensure the safety of guests and employees on a daily basis.  As of now, the Parks are running on a normal schedule.  Just use common sense, and the above preventative methods, especially washing those hands! 

Furthermore, if you are looking to cancel your trip in fear of the COVID-19, you probably won’t be getting that full refund of your travel money.  Speak to your Travel Advisor regarding your Travel Protection Plans.  Unless you cancel for very specific reasons as specified in your policy, even a “Cancel for Any Reason” policy will not fully refund you simply because you fear the virus.  Cruise Lines and other tour operators are implementing the same policy for domestic and international travel.   Cruise lines are also implementing strict pre-screening procedures to ensure the health and safety of all passengers and crew members.

Overcoming the fear…

Whenever an outbreak such as this occurs, it should always be taken very seriously.  However, we must understand what it is, and what it is not.  What is most important is that it is going to run its course whether we like it or not – – as have all the other viruses and diseases that have been spread throughout the years.  COVID-19 is more difficult to contract than the flu.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, out of all those who have been infected with COVID-19 globally, approximately 2,463 have died from it.  The flu, however, has claimed more than 4,800 lives so far this year.  The preventative measures to take in avoiding each virus is the same, especially WASHING THOSE HANDS!  

Any public place of transportation is on alert and taking great measures to ensure that surfaces are disinfected, air filters are functioning properly (though there has been no indication that this is airborne), hand sanitizing stations are plentiful and accessible, and medical staff is readily available should any person present a symptom.  Hospitals are being prepared and the CDC is issuing directives as to what should be done at home to prepare in the event someone should fall ill.( CDC Household Preparedness ) Even more so, the CDC is encouraging people to keep in contact with and watch over, those who may not have someone to notify or care for them in the event the become ill for any reason.  Oddly, we seem to be at a point where we want to keep our distance, yet it is bringing us closer together as a community out of concern for our fellow human beings.

People have, and will continue to travel.  Business will still be conducted.  Cruise ships will still sail.  Planes will still fly.  Fear can be used to keep us more alert and serve as a reminder of what we should and should not be doing, but it should never stop us from living.  We have all learned that lesson over the past century, time and time again.  More importantly, Walt, Mickey, Main St. U.S.A,  and the vision of that glorious Castle will still be there to greet us, giving us comfort that it is indeed a small world after all, and it is still ours to explore – – just with hand sanitizer. After all, don’t we need the magic now more than EVER?

Feb 03

When & Why to Use a Travel Advisor!

If you are contemplating on taking that trip, then you probably fall into one of three categories:  1.  The Self-Planner who just loves every aspect of working through the details; 2.  The Bargain Hunter who feels you can get that “deal,” and beat the odds; and 3.  The Overwhelmed who have anxiety over all of the complexities, that you just don’t even know where to begin, and need help – – fast!  In any of these cases, here is where you may want to use a Travel Advisor.

  1. The Self-Planner. For you overzealous, excited, detail-oriented planners out there (and I count myself among you!), you may want to take in the full picture.  Self-planning is an entirely different thing than when you plan for others since you have the tendency to unduly obsess over every little thing.   Prior to becoming a Travel Advisor, I too, took on the daunting task of planning out every aspect of my family’s trips, as well as those for friends and other family members.   However, I encountered an unforeseen “bump in the road,” on our last one.  You see, I didn’t expect that when it came time for Dining Reservations, FastPasses , flights, and special experiences, that I would be bombarded with sick children, doctors appointments, and other daily tasks to accomplish on my ever growing, “To Do List.”  In spite of getting excited over our vacation, I found myself seeing it more as one more thing I HAD to do, rather than taking pleasure in it.  Towards the end of the planning, I felt more stressed and that I may have forgotten things during our trip.  I put my own planning on hold while taking care of others, including helping a friend with their trip.  Needless to say, during that vacation, I had been preoccupied with worry about whether I missed something or whether I planned out enough exciting and different things so that my family would be having a memorable time.

Lesson:  IF I had used a Travel Advisor, I wouldn’t have had to worry about making deadlines.  I would have had a steady lead time of reminders from my TA, given her/him my preferences, and had them do all this for me.  I could have also given my TA all my ideas for what I envisioned our family vacation to be like, and allowed them to come up with suggestions, pricing, etc.  They would have worked within the reality of my budget and time.  I could have saved myself a lot of stress, and simply have gone on vacation to really enjoy it!

  • The Bargain Hunter.  For you bargain hunters – – the reality is that we are all looking to save money on a trip. I’ve been there, I’ve done it, and the key to this is recognizing what is, and is not, a real bargain.  Time is money, and money is time and convenience.  If you think that not using a TA saves you money by not paying them a commission because you booked direct, then stop there.

Lesson:   If a Travel Advisor can see what you are looking at and book it, you have already paid for their services but are not getting them.  Nor are you getting their commission as a savings – – suppliers don’t work that way.  A Travel Advisor is not a sales person, but is more likened to a Financial Advisor.  We use years of experience, training, research and cultivated relationships with suppliers to offer the maximum return on your vacation investment.  We also know what pitfalls to avoid, monitor for offers that can save you money, and continue to be on call for you while you travel.  So many times I have been asked about a hotel or resort that someone has found, only to dig deeper to find that there are so many other costs associated with the initial “deal.”  So many times, we have found that deal to not be a deal at all, and moreover, a time consuming, and costly venture just to get to the destination.  More times than I care to count, I have also discovered some major issues that were conveniently omitted about the hotel, resort or room someone wanted to book at that “great rate.” Example:   the pool may be closed, construction is going on and you’ll never sleep, the rooms haven’t been updated since the 1970’s, or it’s located 30 min. away but actually 45min. because you are going during spring break.  Furthermore, Travel Advisors are not resources for free information, as they only get paid by a supplier if you book through them. 

  • The Overwhelmed.  For those of you not knowing what to do first or how to go about it . . . breathe!  In most cases, a Travel Advisor isn’t going to cost you anything, but will instead save you stress, money and time.  We do this as our job, as our passion, and are committed to helping each and every family have a wonderful vacation full of memories.  You may feel that this statement is a bit self-serving, but it comes from a lot of experience on both sides of the planning process. 

Lesson:  Some people like to be really “hands on” in the planning process, while others like to have it done for them.  Either is possible when using a Travel Advisor!  The important thing to keep in mind is that a good Travel Advisor will be there when you need them to help, guide, or even complete some of those daunting tasks. 

Is this you? It does not have to be!

Like with anything, if you want a truly great experience, then talk to someone with that experience.  Using a Travel Advisor is not uncommon!  In fact, people are using Travel Advisors more so now than ever before with the convenience of the internet.  The abundance of data, supposed deals, and advertising put in front of the average human being is a lot to digest!  However, what it all comes down to is knowing fact from fiction, and building a relationship with a real person who will guide you.  After all, it’s YOUR vacation and you want to make it as great as you’ve always dreamed about!

Jan 20

Get REAL ID Ready Before October 1st 2020!

Does your driver’s license have a star at the top?  If not, then you will want to keep reading. Beginning October 1, 2020, all travelers, 18 and up, will need to have a REAL ID compliant driver’s license* or other form of acceptable identification such as a passport to fly in the U.S. What does this mean for you?

It seems like we’ve been hearing about REAL ID forever and maybe we’ve all gotten used to thinking it’s never really happening. Well, it’s happening!  October 1st, 2020 will be the official start of the REAL ID program. Even if you don’t plan on taking a trip anytime soon, it’s probably best to go ahead and get the new REAL ID compliant ID just in case. For anyone who travels, or is planning to travel by plane, you definitely want to apply for your REAL ID sooner rather than later. There will probably be some backlog of last-minute applicants this fall! Truth be told, I may be one of them!

To get a REAL ID driver’s license, you simply need to go to your state motor vehicle agency. Typically, you need to show proof of your social security number, date of birth, and U.S. citizenship, along with two different documents verifying your state of residency. But save yourself some time and check with your local agency before showing up to make sure you bring the proper documents with you. Women who have been married and changed their last name, may need to show their marriage certificate as well.

Unsure if you have a REAL ID compliant license? Look for the star in the upper portion of the card*. Generally, it is a gold or black star, a star cutout in a gold or black circle or a star cutout in a gold grizzly bear. Just because your state is “REAL ID compliant” does not mean your driver’s license is. So, make sure!

If you’re travelling internationally, you can still use your passport as identification but any time you are flying domestically, it will need to be REAL ID compliant as of October 1. Want to be a rebel or just don’t have time to get to the DMV? There is a list of acceptable alternative forms of identification listed here. https://www.dhs.gov/secure-drivers-license-documentation

The bottom line is, if you plan on traveling on or after October 1, 2020, you will want to check your driver’s license for that star and make sure if you don’t have one you get down to your state motor vehicle agency and apply for your REAL ID as soon as possible. Missing a vacation because you forgot to update your identification is going to be hard to explain to the family!

*Note: Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York states issue REAL ID and state-issued enhanced driver’s licenses, both of which are acceptable. State-issued enhanced driver’s licenses do not have a star on the top of the card.

Washington state issues enhanced driver’s licenses only. These documents will be accepted at the airport security checkpoint when the REAL ID enforcement goes into effect.

Nov 27

Giving Thanks the Walt Disney Way

I think we can all find many things to be thankful about – – people, pets, the roof over our heads, the food on our table, and our general good fortune.  If we want to think in terms of Disney, we can always be thankful for the many things that Walt Disney gave to us over these many years that have led to our entertainment, amusement, and memories.   Some of us Disney nerds may even go as far as feeling grateful for the many lessons that Walt Disney had taught us through his imaginative, yet pragmatic approach to life, family, and work.  But this article isn’t about us being grateful for Walt Disney.  It is about how he, himself, lived with gratitude.

Be grateful for the hardships and failures of your youth, and the lessons they taught you.  Walt once said about childhood, “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young.  I learned a lot out of that.  Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you.”  Considering all of the hardships and failures Walt experienced before he became successful, it is exactly because of those failures that he learned how to do better.  Many people would be worn down by failures, but Walt taught us to be thankful for them, for it is with learning from our mistakes that we create success.  We just  learn to simply not do THAT again!

Be like a child, and be thankful for the little things.  One of the biggest things we remember about Walt Disney was his ability to see the world through a child’s eyes.  In many ways, Walt was a big kid himself, and it is perhaps this childlike approach to life that always kept him curious and looking forward to creating bigger and better things.  Walt once commented, “Why do we have to grow up?  I know more adults who have the children’s approach to life . . . They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought – – sometimes it isn’t much either.”  Walt’s notion to find contentment and gratitude in the small things is perhaps one of the most important lessons we can learn from him.  I think many of us can agree that some days, we just don’t want to “adult” anymore.  Sometimes getting lost in a good book or taking a nap with your pet cuddled up next to you is the greatest joy.  Suddenly, you realize just how much you truly appreciate not having to look at your phone.

Be humble and thankful for those that work for and with you, and appreciate who you work for.   When asked of his Company, Walt said, “Whatever we accomplish is due to the combined effort . . . in my organization, there is respect for every individual, and we all have a keen respect for the public.”  Walt realized that although he had big ideas, he could never have built or created what he did without the help of others.   To him, success was found in a multitude of ideas coming together, and no idea was a “bad one,” – – it just needed to be reworked or looked at in a different way.   Walt valued the individual, but also realized that individuals must work together in order to create something much greater than themselves, and for the greater good.

Be proactive in showing gratitude for others.  Don’t just say it!  In all of my years of studying Walter Elias Disney, I have rarely ever come across a pointed example of Walt actually saying, “Thank you,” to someone.  This hardly means that he was ungrateful.  In fact, he never really believed in “thanking” a person since it was more important to show his gratitude through praise.  He was a motivator – – a positive energy that served as a catalyst to propel other’s upward and onward.  To Walt, showing appreciation was key, and he did so by giving others his trust and confidence which was far greater than a mere, “Thank you.”  Walt stated, “Giving appreciation – – showing it – – is fully as important as getting it in our everyday relations.”  Many of those who worked for Walt, learned quickly to never expect him to say, “thank you.”  Their greatest reward came in the form of him praising their work to another colleague.  One might find this odd, but the results became astoundingly clear in the resulting talent that Walt cultivated, encouraged, and helped nurture into the Legends that they became.  Those Legends went on to ensure Walt’s legacy would live on well beyond his lifetime.

I can think of many things that I am “thankful” for.  However, I think the most important part of discovering our gratitude is to humble ourselves, and think in terms of a simpler time.  This was a common practice for Walt, and it helped him to see clearer, to think bigger, love more, and overcome some of the biggest obstacles imaginable.  To actually show gratitude by lifting others up, is how to truly live with a thankful heart.  Who knows what legacies we will leave behind, but at least those we leave behind will know how much they were appreciated.  Thanks again, Walt, for your example!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oct 22

Oh No! You’re Sick While on a Disney Vacation!! Now what?

So, you saved, planned, and you’ve finally made it to your much anticipated Disney vacation! 

Congratulations! 

You’re just one day into the trip, you have a feverish, coughing, and wiped-out child, and you are secretly saying, “There is no way.  How could this have happened?  I’ve spent how much money for this?”  Okay, you’re probably thinking other things as well, but as a good parent, you’re now feeling as if the entire vacation is now obliterated by some nasty, unseen virus that has succeeded in some evil plot to make your lives miserable and shatter your hopes of feeling the magic and wonder.  Yes, I have been there, too!  Every single family vacation to Disney for our family has resulted in someone becoming very sick, and not just one of the kids.  On one visit, it was all of us!  On another, it was my husband, and he had to stay back and rest while I took the kids to the Parks.  I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but from stomach bugs, to strep, to upper respiratory viruses with high temperatures – – we’ve been hit with quite a bit while on a Disney vacation.  Sometimes, it just cannot be avoided.  So what does one do?

It’s no wonder many kids, and adults, get sick while on a Disney vacation.  The prime times to travel are during school vacations, and those usually happen during the fall, winter or spring breaks – – times when all sorts of illnesses are running rampant.  Disney is fully prepared for this, and they have had plenty of practice in caring for their guests under all kinds of circumstances.  If you suspect someone in your family is not feeling well, each of the Parks has a First Aid Center which is staffed with a nurse during normal operating hours of that Park.  They carry over-the-counter medications, bandages, etc., for the minor issues, but will quickly determine if you, or your child, need further care.   If this should happen while at your Resort, you only need to visit/call the front desk.

In the event that you are in need of further care, they will contact complimentary transportation for pick up at your Resort, or take you to a “secret” location for pick up if you are at the Parks, and whisk you away to one of the 24 hour Walk-in Medical Centers.  My family has become quite familiar with the doctors and staff at these centers, and from personal experience, they have all been wonderful!  What was even better was that they had the required antibiotic or anti-nausea medication right there.  I’m not sure how, but I am certain the medication they dispense contains Pixie Dust!  I have had a four year old child with a bad case of strep, running around as if it never happened, within 24 hours.  Even if they do not have the proper medication on hand, you will have transportation back to your Resort, and your medication will be delivered to the front desk of your Resort.  Most insurance is accepted, and they handle all of the stress in making sure things are handled with your insurance.

You may ask what you can do to prepare for such a situation?  Outside of normal hand washing, sanitizing, rest, and bombarding your system with vitamin C, I recommend packing the essential “go to” medications.  Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for both adults and children, stomach issue medications, and over-the-counter ear drops to keep those ear canals dry from all the swimming.  If you should require other medications that require refrigeration, the First Aid Centers have those available for guests, as well.

Not that you would really want to be sick while at Disney, but all things considered, I don’t think I’d want to be sick any other place.  They make it far easier to care for ill family members than if you were to do so at home!  Not to mention the magic and comfort of being sick in the most Magical or Happiest Places on Earth!  It’s enough to motivate anyone to feel better quickly.  If you want to put it into perspective, Disney is a family destination with thousands of visitors every day.  They will ensure that their guests are happy, healthy, and thoroughly enjoying that vacation so they will return, or even recommend a visit to friends and family.  There is a good reason why Disney destinations are so popular, and the care for their guests is one they pride themselves on, and go to great lengths to make happen.