MAST President and COO John Werner sits down with MAST member and agency owner Kelly Ortiz of Guru Travel, Elgin Illinois. In Episode 5 John and Kelly discuss Kelly’s recent trip to Disney World. Kelly is an all things Disney expert. Not only does she run Guru Travel, but she also has a popular blog and online presence that covers her love and expertise of Disney. This episode asks the question: through all the changes and social distancing measures, is the magic still the same? Find out more in our latest episode of MASTers of Travel. 

Key Points On Disney As Mentioned In The Podcast

#1 Magic Express luggage service is temporarily disabled 

“All you had to do was just get to the Magical Express line and get to your hotel and your luggage magically appeared. That’s no longer happening right now for a temporary delayed. It’s temporarily disabled.” 

#2 – Some Processes are different.

“They were also very clear that they had wanted us to check in online prior to arrival, that was very important. They don’t want you going to the front desk.”

#3 – Strict mask wearing policies

“Disney has a very strict policy on mask wearing, once you’re going to enter their bubble, that really starts at magical express, or if you’re driving in it starts at that Welcome to Walt Disney World gate.” 

#4Things may be different, but Disney is working to keep guests happy

“Disney really stepped in and found ways to surprise their guests, with characters around different corners that you’re never usually expecting them.” 

#5 – You will need a phone for just about everything

“The one thing you need to have is your phone, you have to make sure you have a fully powered phone. That’s kind of something that we saw to be a theme.”

Full Podcast Transcript

John 0:03 

Welcome to our next episode of MASTers of Travel. My name is John Werner. I’m the President of MAST Travel Network. We are a network of about 1000 travel advisors who have been all over the world and have expertise in many types of travel. Today I have with me Liisa Gunter, of Carrie Travel Express. Liisa has recently traveled to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and stayed at one of her favorite resorts anywhere. We’re going to talk to Liisa today about her experience, not only traveling during this time of the pandemic, but also about going back to Punta Cana and what it’s like to in the Dominican Republic and at the resort itself. So Liisa, welcome to our video chat today.

Liisa 1:03 

Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

John 1:05 

I know, the resort that you stayed at was Secrets Cap Cana, we’re going to come to that in a minute, you can talk a little bit more about your experience there. It’s one of my favorite resorts as well. But let’s start with going to the airport and the process at O’Hare and getting through TSA security checkpoint and so on.

Liisa 1:32 

I was ready to get on an airplane because I had not traveled since February. Both my husband and I went, so we were very excited. That was July 31. It was about four in the morning and we flew American [airlines]. To be honest with you, I just thought the airport was empty. It was almost depressing. It was just very sad. TSA was no issue. There was maybe three people in front of me, but it was also very early. When I went by Starbucks, and they were closed, most of the stores and all the kiosks and stuff were closed. That was sad, but then again, I traveled a month later to Cancun later in the day, and it was a whole different scenario. It was kind of depressing that day, but we’ve got to get travel back. We’ve got to get people back on planes.

John 2:19 

Yeah, for sure. So, you made it through security. You got down to the gate. And it was American Airlines, you said, so how did American manage the gate area?

Liisa 2:33 

The gate area was pretty crowded. I was surprised, but the day before, there was a flight — O’Hare to Charlotte, which changed planes and then Charlotte to Punta Cana, the Charlotte to Punta Cana flight was on its way to Punta Cana, but they had to turn back because there was weather and American was afraid there was not enough fuel to circle around before they landed. So, a planeload of people had to comeback. Our flight O’Hare to Charlotte was empty, there was an empty sweet seat between my husband and I and then Charlotte to Punta Cana it was packed, it was full. The same thing coming back due to that. Everybody still wore masks. It was mandatory. There was one person on the plane that the flight attendant had us tell her a couple times keep it on, but everybody wore their masks and at the gate they kept distance and I was impressed how they took care of everything.

John 3:34 

That’s good especially on a full flight. I know there have been some disagreements with passengers about the facemask, but it seems like for the most part, it’s going very well. They do comply with it and they feel good about that and it feels comfortable. The flight itself, I know that they’re not really doing too much service on the flight. You have to bring your own food and they’re giving out bottled water.

Liisa 4:07 

When you walked on the plane, they gave you a little bag that had a little bottle of water and a hand sanitizer wipe and those cookies. I always carry my own little snacks and my own bottle of water. And that was the same thing from Charlotte to Punta Cana, they gave us the bag.

John 4:25 

On arrival to Punta Cana, I know the conditions have been changing there in terms of restrictions, do you need a test before you go or, it’s changing, and I know it’s changing again. I believe affected right this month or October 1st, but what was your experience?

Liisa 4:49 

We found out the day before we left that it was mandatory to have a negative COVID test.

We called everywhere around here [Cary, Illinois]. There was nobody that would guarantee us to have it within 24 hours. We were almost on the brink of like, well do we cancel?  We both work from home, so we weren’t afraid of being sick. It was getting down there and if we had a high temperature, we were afraid because they would put you in quarantine for like two weeks at a government sit. We were on the verge, but we rolled the dice and we went and when we landed there was only one other plane in front of us. There was a line out the door to go into the terminal. But I timed it from the time we got off the plane to the shuttle to the resort it was only 25 minutes.

John 6:00 

Wow.

Liisa 6:00 

When you walked in the airport, there was one gentleman with a scanner that he pointed at each of us and then a couple feet away we walked past a computer screen where they had the thermal reading and that was easy. At Customs there was nobody in line, so it was easy. I only heard one gentleman say, “you need to step aside”. I don’t know if his temperature was high or whatever, but I didn’t know what happened to him. Like I said, it was 25 minutes total and we were the only two people on the shuttle because we use Amstar, and it was private anyway to Secrets. There was a sign in there [on the shuttle], “where your mask”. The driver did have us put hand sanitizer on when we got in. But then, it’s a 20-minute ride over to Secrets.

John 6:52 

That’s one of the benefits of that resort, it’s close to the airport. And I think it’s gotten it’s easier now, getting through the airport there, than it was when you went. Like you said, there was really no delay in retrieving your luggage and you found your transportation and all of that went just fine. When you got to Secrets Cap Cana did you have a Preferred Club room?

Liisa 7:26 

Of course, yes, they spoil me. When we get off the shuttle, I wait for them to say “welcome home” because we do feel welcome home when we go. That was our fourth return trip. We feel like we’re home because we know the staff, Elvira Gilda, the Operations Manager actually was, I don’t know if it was our benefit or the guests arriving that day, but she was there greeting us. She had a tray with the hand sanitizer. They took our luggage away. I knew they sprayed it because when they we got the luggage back in the room, there was a little sticker on it saying, “your luggage has been disinfected”.  Their Preferred Club is closed right now, it’s a smaller room, but they did check us in at the main front desk and that was fast. Our room wasn’t ready, but we were able to go and have lunch, have a drink, and then go back and then our butler took us to our room. Everybody at the resort has to wear masks. It’s mandatory for staff members, and there’s hand sanitizers all over the place. We did not feel uncomfortable or unsafe, not at all.

John 8:37 

That’s great. What would you say the capacity was?

Liisa 8:42 

They were telling us it was 30%. We’ve been there before and it’s such a big widespread resort you never have a problem getting a chair at the pool, but you could just tell the staff were waiting around. That was sad because they want to take care of you, and they want to serve you. But, there’s not that many people there, but we still had a great time. It was sad, a couple staff members that we’ve known from past were not there yet, they say they’re on “vacation”, but they just haven’t called them back into work yet. But we saw a majority of them, so we felt at home, our family was there.

John 9:20 

That’s nice. Especially when you see familiar faces.

Liisa 9:24

Ya, that’s what we like

John 9:25

They’re so eager they want to see you too.

Liisa 9:30

Yes, absolutely.

John 9:33

When you get in your room, did you notice anything different in terms of the in-room amenities, especially having a preferred club room?

Liisa 9:43 

The tablet was covered in plastic. The TV remote was also in plastic, but it was in this little bag saying everything was sanitizers. There were little stickers saying, “this has been sanitized for your safety” and then in the bathroom Secrets is known for their amenities. All the amenities were in a plastic bag and then it was in a pretty bag where it was all sanitized. Everything was the same the only thing new was this four-ounce hand sanitizer in your room. I thought that was nice. There were little stickers in the room all over saying everything’s been sanitized. It’s always been clean, so it’s really clean now.

John 10:32 

That’s good. Did you notice anything different about the pool area? Since I’ve been to the resort as well, I know that it’s a huge, enormous pool area. You can really spread out, and there’s an infinity pool and Preferred Club pool, how did they arrange the lounge chairs around the pool?

Liisa 11:00 

There are so many chairs there and not that many people I really didn’t see them separating any pool chairs because it’s so widespread. Even on the beach, the chairs are so spread out, they’re normally spread out. The only time I saw the difference was in the restaurants. The tables are set up different, five, six feet apart. In the pool, it was easy to get your own space.

John 11:29 

That’s good. The swim-up bar, was that open or closed?

Liisa 11:33 

Yes. Yes, it was.

John 11:34 

It was open. Okay. I know at the beach, such a beautiful beach, it really is one of my favorite beaches, I’m sure it is for you too, there’s a lot of shade trees. So, you don’t have to be in full sun. Are they still doing the beach grill?

Liisa 12:00 

No, there is no beach grill. They are still giving you beach service, there’s two bars on the beach at each end those were closed. What else was closed at the resort was Desires Disco, because that’s a smaller room. I heard they might open that in December. Coco Cafe was running, my favorite spot to go in the morning. The gym was closed when we first got there but it did open up two days later. I normally like to go there and ride a bike, but they did have the Aqua bikes in a pool. I did that. I did go to the spa. I was the only person that day in the whole spa. That was great. They took good care of me. That was sad to see because again, they’re waiting to take care of you.

John 12:56 

I wanted to ask you about the spa. They have such beautiful spa their with services and so forth. You were there in the early weeks of opening so, maybe there’s a little more activity. Did they do a movie on the beach while you were there?

Liisa 13:25 

No, nope. They were doing dinner on the beach. They were still doing that. We’ve never done that, we should have. What was kind of cool when we were there. I had met a lady in front of us in customs at the airport. She was holding her wedding dress, and they were getting married at Secrets. I heard that that was Secrets first wedding since COVID. They were a great couple. It was kind of fun. There was only like 13 guests for their wedding, but most of them had never been to an all-inclusive and it was fun to see their experience of how much fun they had. They’re definitely going back too.  Her wedding was beautiful, we watched it from a distance because it was right on that beautiful beach.

John 14:13 

Oh, that’s wonderful. You mentioned Desires [Disco] being closed, but how are the other bars and restaurants everything running?

Liisa 14:22 

Yes. They only have three restaurants normally open at night and they were rotating them. We did go to the main buffet one morning and it was totally different than how I remember it; I love going to a buffet breakfast and lunch because you have so many varieties. What they did for breakfast was staff waiting there, whatever was on the buffet, they’d hand you a plate and they would give you whatever it was on the buffet. I don’t care if it was a cup yogurt or fresh fruit. Not as much variety. You can still get your eggs made the way you want but, it was just different. For the restaurants you would take your phone, and there’s a QR code at each restaurant so you didn’t have to look at the menus. You were able to download your menu that way. My favorite food is the fish tacos at the Seaside Grill. any food there is good. The food was great. And then since we were Preferred Club, at Rosewater, you can have a sit-down breakfast where they would serve you, so we did that the rest of the week.

John 15:39 

For some reason fish tacos are so popular.

Liisa 15:45 

It’s the ambiance you know, you got to have them sitting on the beach.

John 15:49 

Oh, for sure. That’s what I was going to ask you. I was going to say what was your favorite restaurant and your favorite food?

Liisa 15:54 

Yeah, that would be it. One other cool thing that they’re doing, that we did because we went for my birthday. The three main restaurants, the Mexican, Italian and French, across from them is an open grass area. To keep social distancing, if you bought a special bottle of wine and a lobster, which my husband did for my birthday, they would set up a table with linen on the grass, and it’s under all the lights. That was really cool. It was a surprise for me. So that was very cool. There was only one other couple. This was like you’re in your backyard, with somebody serving you. That was that was a nice surprise.

John 16:34 

So you were sitting on the lawn?

Liisa 16:37 

Yup! Took my sandals off. I was happy. Somebody serving me lobster and wine. I was a happy camper.

John 16:43 

Oh, that’s fun! I know Cap Cana, the community of Cap Cana. It’s not just a resort area it’s a community. They have a huge Yacht Club and shops and so forth, did you go off property?

Liisa 17:08 

I have in the past, on the beach right next to Secrets Cap Cana is the Hyatt. Right next to that is Skate Park, which is a beautiful park to go to. But that is still closed or at least it was closed when we were there. I would have gone there again because they have a cool little walking tour to see this blue cenote and I wanted to see it, but the park was closed. Next trip will go. I’ve been there before and enjoyed it.

John 17:35 

yeah, I realized that area is like a whole community to itself. It has become built up there being so close to the airport. Did you go off the property anywhere at all?

Liisa 17:51 

Not this time no, not at all. I would have gone to Skate Park but no.

John 17:58 

What would you say was your most Instagramable moment of this trip?

Liisa 18:05 

They spoiled me, we got in building seven, they gave us an ocean front, swim out room. I didn’t want to ever leave the room. Just for us to go back to the resort, it is our favorite. We just feel relaxed there and it’s just gorgeous. The food and the service. The services, you can’t get better service. It’s just wonderful. We just love it there.

John 18:32 

That’s so great. Were they doing the shows there [at Secrets Cap Cana]?

Liisa 18:43 

Yes. We went one night; it was the Queen show. I was thinking that was the one AmResorts had in Mexico where they were charging an extra fee for it, which I never went to. We went to it one night and that was a great show. It was music from the 80s. We really enjoyed it. It’s a huge room and they have these huge fans, and nobody’s wearing the mask except the staff. Most people, the guests, nobody wore their masks. We were sitting in there and I was just thinking, I had a little COVID moment because the fans are going around and people are talking, and they were social distancing everybody. It was not an enclosed room. All the doors were open, but that’s the only time I kind of felt a little afraid. It was a great show. I’m glad we went we didn’t go to a show every night, but we did go that night.

John 19:45 

Good. Describe the experience getting back home.

Liisa 19:52 

When we left Punta Cana airport, I was surprised at how busy it was. We were on a later flight. I felt like there were more checkpoints. I don’t know why they were asking the same questions, maybe two different stops. They were asking the same questions and took our temperature when we got there twice. I think that was the only difference, our flight was full Punta Cana to Charlotte. When we got to Charlotte, we were hungry, and we had about an hour and a half. Again, I had a COVID moment. I was standing at the airport in Charlotte, where there was three or four fast food restaurants, I have my mask on and I look around, and no other people had their masks on and it was it was kind of jam packed in there. Nobody else had their mask on. I’m like, okay, I guess I’m home. I felt more safe in Punta Cana from COVID versus at home, which is sad. Kids with no masks on. We got our food and got home. Over here we went through customs in Charlotte. We didn’t have to come through terminal five [at O’Hare]. That was very easy. The airport was a little busier because it was later in the day, but it was kind of nice to go via Charlotte. I’ve never done that before for customs.

John 21:12 

Yeah, I’ve changed planes in Charlotte myself, and it is a big airport. In the United States, things are different from state to state and city to city. In the resort areas, it’s great to see that they have so many adhering to a lot of health and safety protocols. It also seems like it’s consistent in many ways from place to from resort to resort and so forth. I think that makes people feel comfortable when they see that kind of consistency and standards.

Liisa 21:52 

One day I was talking to a bartender and she kept putting her mask down to talk to me. And her boss came around and he said, “Oh, no, no, you put it up”. They were very, very diligent about that. We had heard from other guests that they had seen all the staff members in the convention centers getting tested. They know what’s going on. So that was that was nice to see.

John 22:23 

I think I think that’s great for them. I’m glad to hear it.

Liisa 22:26 

They’re all glad to be back to work.

John 22:29 

I’m sure

Liisa 22:30 

yeah.

John 22:32 

Anything else that you want to tell us about your trip? Anything else you’d like to add?

Liisa 22:37 

I am part of the Secrets Cap Cana fan group and I read all the comments. They’re like don’t hesitate to go, go, go go. This is the time to go to the resort because the prices are great. You’ll get great service because capacity is so low, you’ll still get great service when they’re busy. I’ve not read any bad reviews from people that have been there, so just go. Don’t be afraid. You’ll feel more safe there and it’s a beautiful resort and they will take great care of you.

John 23:15 

That’s so great to hear. My last question is any trips this fall?

Liisa 23:23 

Yes. I’m going with the office. We’re going to Cancun, early October. For the Crystal trip. We’re looking forward to that. My girlfriends and I are going back to Cancun, early December. We try to get one or two girls trips in. I am ready to go.

John 23:45 

That’s wonderful. When you come back from those trips, I look forward to catching up with

John 0:10
Good morning. Welcome to the MASTers of Travel series. This is Episode Five. My name is John Werner. I’m the President of MAST Travel Network, a network of travel advisors, numbering about 1000 travel advisors with experience and expertise to plan trips all over the world. Today, I have with me, Kelly Ortiz, she just returned from Disney World several weeks ago, or maybe a month or so ago. Welcome Kelly to the show, looking forward to talking about your experience at Disney World

Kelly 1:02
Thank you for having me.

John 1:08
One of the things that everybody wants to know, especially getting out there and traveling again, is what was it like at O’Hare? Or did you go out of Midway?

Kelly 1:24
We went out of O’Hare on American Airlines.

John 1:27
What was it like at O’Hare when you arrived on the day you were departing?

Kelly 1:30
I’m not gonna lie, I was very nervous leading up to getting on the flight. I didn’t think I would be. But all of a sudden, I’m like, “oh, wow, I haven’t done this in forever”. So, we got there, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that everybody was keeping their distance. Everyone had their masks on. When we got to the gate, that was where I was going to be a little bit nervous. Of course, my kids wanted to eat. We found seats. And the nice thing was everyone naturally kept their space. We found a little section against the wall. Nobody was behind us. I wiped all the seats down, I felt very comfortable. American made several announcements prior to getting on the plane just to let us know that there would be no beverage service that we’re welcome to purchase food and beverage prior to boarding. They would be handing us a little snack bag upon boarding. It reminded us about the mask wearing policy as well.

John 2:37
Okay, well, that’s great. It sounds like people that have started traveling understand the drill now. They know what they are supposed to do and need to do.

Kelly 2:50
Honestly, I felt completely at ease once we got to the airport and boarded the plane.

John 3:00
Was the flight to Orlando full?

Kelly 3:02
I’m going to say about three quarters full. We were lucky we didn’t have people in front of and behind us, but our row, we were a party or four, my husband didn’t sit next to anybody. It was me and the two boys and my husband was in the aisle right next to us. It was very nice.

John 3:21
And everything went smooth, just like normal?

Kelly 3:24
Yeah. When we deplaned, when we got into Orlando, they had made an announcement asking that we do one row at a time. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, right, nobody is going to listen to this”. You know how it is, when you deplane, everybody’s very anxious to get their bags and get off. And it was amazing. Everybody stayed in their seat, everybody. one row at a time. Nobody was crowding the aisles; it was very nice. Very, very nice.

John 3:55
Good. When, and how is the Orlando airport when you got inside?

Kelly 4:00
It was totally fine. When you get off, you’re looking around a little bit, you’re just anxious to kind of get to your destination. We were like, ah, because we’ve gone to Disney. This is so exciting. We kind of ran through there but everyone was wearing a mask and it was not crowded. Usually when you get to Orlando, there’s tons and tons of people and you push your way through the crowds. But it felt very comfortable. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. We got into a tram that you have to get into to get to the terminal to get your baggage. And that felt fine as well. Usually that’s super crowded, but it felt totally fine.

John 4:41
Okay, good. So then how did you get yourself and your family to Disney?

Kelly 4:47
We opted to use Magical Express. At first, I thought about using a private car, but I really wanted to see what the experience was going to be like using Disney’s Magical Express. There were a couple differences there. When we got there, they had a lot of signs right away letting us know that we were required to wear masks at that point, and they had staff members and then they had within the Magical Express line they had us distance. I’m going to say about 12 feet from each family. There were like little boxes per resort. I think that’s because Disney is no longer utilizing the luggage service right now. It used to be that Disney would pick up your luggage for you from the airport. All you had to do was just get to the Magical Express line and get to your hotel and your luggage magically appeared. That’s no longer happening right now for a temporary delayed. It’s temporarily disabled. We got our luggage when we got there. And we definitely needed that 12 feet of space. At that point, they were asking you to stay away from other parties, everyone wearing a mask, it looked fantastic. There was nobody around. When we got there, they had all the boxes filled. We were asked to kind of step aside and just wait, and they would come get us when it was our turn to get in line again. That took about 10 minutes, the whole process took about 45 minutes. Even though it didn’t look crowded at all. We were surprised to see that it took 45 minutes. They’re taking 20 people on the Magical Express at this time. You can imagine that’s why the process is a little bit delayed. And they’ll stop at two or three properties on the way to property.

John 6:57
Okay, which property did you stay at?

Kelly 6:59
We stayed at Disney’s Bay Lake Tower part of Disney’s Contemporary Resort

John 7:04
That’s convenient to the Magic Kingdom. When you arrived at the resort, and I know you’ve been to Disney so many times and you’re used to the check in process being a certain way, what was different this time?

Kelly 7:26
They had signs right when we got there. Of course, they were very welcoming. They were also very clear that they had wanted us to check in online prior to arrival, that was very important. They don’t want you going to the front desk. They have cast members right by the signs asking you your room number right upon arrival. They would tell you if you needed to go left, or you needed to go right based on the stair bank or the elevator bank, in that area. They’re very welcoming. Also, you can see that their process has been very well practiced. They’re trying to keep crowds out of the lobby. We happen to have groceries delivered so, we needed to go to bell services to tell them that our groceries were delivered, and those were up to our room within minutes. I had just gotten up to the room and was opening the door and then the gentleman from bell services was standing with our groceries, it was a super quick process. Very, very, very well done.

John 8:29
If other families want to do what you did as far as grocery delivery, are their refrigerators and microwaves in the room.

Kelly 8:39
This time we stayed in a one-bedroom villa. So, we had a full kitchen. If you’re not staying in a one-bedroom villa, all the Disney resorts have a fridge, and some have a microwave. The fridge is a little bit larger than a college sized fridge. You can fit a half gallon of milk, we usually will either order cereal or I bring dry cereal and pick up the milk and then just shop there. This time we wanted a little bit more just because we weren’t sure how much we’d be eating out.

John 9:18
Yeah, right. you know, I’m going to ask you a question in a few minutes about the restaurants. But, you talked about the health and safety protocols at the resorts and then in the parks themselves. I know that there’s been a couple of changes and guidelines about wearing masks. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Kelly 9:48
Disney has a very strict policy on mask wearing, once you’re going to enter their bubble, that really starts at magical express, or if you’re driving in it starts at that Welcome to Walt Disney World gate. You will be required to wear a mask if you’re over the age of two. They have a zero-tolerance policy on that. At this time, they won’t accept any doctor’s notes or anything as far as everyone is required to wear a mask.

John 10:21
Okay. All right. I also know that they made changes when you’re eating and drinking, you can have your mask off. But then what some people were doing is walking around the park with food and drinks in hand. So, they said, you have to be stationary.

Kelly 10:39
Correct. Yes. When we went, we were able to walk around with a drink, and you would kind of fling your mask over to drink and put it back. For the most part, it’s kind of hard in the heat anyways to walk around with food. We found that naturally, we were distancing and finding a little corner to stand in with our ice cream or our snack anyway. But yes people were trying to walk around with their drink in their mouth the whole time. So, Disney took care of that very quickly.

John 11:12
I know, they were on top of it. I know that some people might think, if the experience isn’t going to be what I’m used to, maybe I will hold off going for now. What did you observe as far as other guests? How were they? Were they having a great time and enjoying themselves?

Kelly 11:39
Yeah, I was of the party. Very curious. I knew that we would love it. But I also was curious about, is the magic still there with things not being the same? Disney’s been very clear that the experience has changed, but the magic is still there. I wanted to test that theory and see what I thought. I feel like it was a whole new world. Disney really stepped in and found ways to surprise their guests, with characters around different corners that you’re never usually expecting them. And these pop-up, parades will come through and they’re really quick. They didn’t cause any need for a line. One time we were at Animal Kingdom when we were walking over a bridge, and my son said, oh, my, what is that? And we looked over to the right. We were the only people on the bridge, and a boat was coming through with music on it and characters waving at us. Very intimate and a whole new Disney, but surprises around every corner that we’re gonna be looking for. We really enjoyed it.

John 12:57
Yeah, that’s great. It sounds like Disney, obviously known for creativity and innovation, in these times, has found a way to do that.

Kelly 13:10
It’s kind of neat to see them rise to the occasion and put their own spin on things and still be able to have the fun that we all look forward to at Disney.

John 13:24
Yeah, fantastic. Back at the resort, one of the questions that came to mind is about the pools. Are the pools open? Can you use the pools?

Kelly 13:34
That was definitely one of the areas that I was most curious about, because there were a lot of conflicting pieces of information on how that was going to work. The pools were definitely open. They did have shortened hours; I believe it was until 8pm that they were open. As you leave your room and walk down to the pool, obviously, you’re gonna be wearing your mask. They’re asking you not to move chairs and not to move the seats or the tables anywhere they have them where they want them. They do watch so, if people move them, they very nicely will come back and ask you to put it back. Once you get to your seat, you can remove your mask. If you’re going to sit there and sunbathe or read a book, you do not have to have your mask on, but if you’re going to get up and go to the pool bar, or the restroom, they asked us to put your mask back on. A little bit like dining out here at home. When you’re in the pool, you do not have to wear a mask. We were not by anybody in the pool, we felt like it was distance properly, people kept their space. Nobody forgot about their manners in the pool. It was very nice, and kids were going down the slides and it was really a nice warm welcome to see people having fun.

John 14:56
Oh, that’s good. As far as the Disney transportation system, getting around from resort to resort or the different parks, how did you find that working?

Kelly 15:10
We used all of the modes of transportation. I wanted to try everything we tried Lyft. We also did use the monorail and we also used the Disney buses and the ferryboat. We’ll start with the monorail. The monorail is right there located at the Contemporary, so it made it really easy to use. One of the neat things about that is you get a car to yourself. It’s kind of a nice unique experience, plus it’s conditions. So that was very nice. And they did a great job of assigning you to a car or walking you or pointing you to get in this one or in this one on this one. Because the crowds are less, they’re able to take that extra attention to detail. Busing was a little bit more cumbersome. The value resorts have queues to get into your bus. So that’s a little bit easier, because they have their social distancing marks, and everybody’s in that line waiting for the bus to show up. But Moderate Deluxe and Villa resorts do not have queues, your kind of just sit on a bus bench waiting, and then everybody gets up in crowds. What I recommend is that people create a line. And they do have lines on the floor for you to create it. But if you don’t create the line, it’s going to cause a little bit of an issue when the bus gets there. Because the driver comes, he gets off the bus and he takes about 20 people. But they have to be arranged almost like a Tetris type thing on the bus. It’s not always 20 people, sometimes it could be 19, depending on the size of the parties. My tip for that would be to make sure that you’re in a line when you get to the bus stop, and people will naturally stand behind you if you get in line. We did try Lyft a couple times. That came quick and our Lyft drivers, some of them had little pods in their cars, which was cool. All of them had hand sanitizer, all of them were wearing masks. We felt great about that. You’re not allowed to sit in the front seat. We were a party of four so, we had to pay extra for a larger Lyft to be a called. So, that’s a something to know. The ferryboats are operating like normal people keeping their distance as well.

John 17:44
Okay. What was it like getting into the parks? What was that process?

Kelly 17:53
When you are leaving it all kind of depends which resort you’re at. When we were leaving Bay Lake, a couple times, we walked from Bay Lake to Magic Kingdom, and along the pathway, they had a medical stand, where you would have to stop and get your temperature taken. The first time we did that my husband’s temperature was a little elevated because it was about 100 degrees. They had him step aside and wait a minute to cool off. And then they checked it again. And it was totally fine. We walked right through, but the process is very quick. When you see the line there, you’re thinking how long is this going to take, but they really have a process and it goes very quickly. They are no longer going through your bags, they used to go through all of your bags, you walk right through the security. If everything goes off, then you have to step aside, and they’ll work with you there. But we didn’t have that problem. They had us take out anything metal, put it in a bin and then move forward. When you leave from the monorail transportation from your hotel, you get your temperature and security check done at the hotel. So that’s a little bit different. If you’re staying at Grand Floridian, Polynesian or Contemporary they checked your temperatures there, went through security and then when we got to the park and it was very quick.

John 19:24
Once you’re through the gate do you have to go through any extra processes, or do you just go?

Kelly 19:32
No, you just go then once you’re in there, it’s business as usual with the mask on and lower crowds.

John 19:41
Okay, so, really very convenient. Certainly, doesn’t sound like a hassle in any way.

Kelly 19:48
Right? Yeah. And you’re comfortable because, everybody’s been checked and up to date and you feel like, you got past that point and you can have some fun.

John 20:00
Sure. So once inside the park are all the attractions open or were some attractions still closed?

Kelly 20:11
Disney’s always doing construction as we know, so their regular refurbishment schedule is still active, which can be found at disney.com. You can see what the active refurbishment schedule is. Aside from that, everything’s going except for the regular parades that happen like the three o’clock parade or the nighttime fireworks. Those things are not taking place right now. They are temporarily suspended.

John 20:41
okay

Kelly 20:42
The rides are all available as long as they’re not under refurbishment.

John 20: 47
Okay so no problems there. What’s your favorite attraction in each of the parks?

Kelly: 20:53
Magic Kingdom let’s say Space Mountain. That will have to be my favorite. Epcot Test Track. Animal Kingdom Flights of Passage. And Tower of Terror for Hollywood Studios. With a new runner up, I know you said it has to be one, but the new Rise of The Resistance is amazing. I can’t even explain what it is because I don’t want to ruin it. It’s about 18 minutes long and it’s fantastic.

John 21:31
Well, you like all the thrill rides, the fast thrill rides!

Kelly 21:39
I like all the little classic ones, too.

John 21:43
No, that’s great. As far as food and beverage experience in the parks why don’t you talk about that a little bit.

Kelly 21:52
So that’s one of my favorite parts of Disney, I was very curious to see something as simple as, can I get refillable popcorn, because that’s definitely a favorite. And you can so they did a great job of that if you have that refillable popcorn that’s so famous at Disney. They won’t physically fill it up for you, but they’ll give you popcorn in a little paper bag that you can pour into your jar, which is nice. And you can also do all of your quick service dining, but not all of its available. What you have to do is go on your My Disney Experience app, when you’re there, pull up the dining and click on Quick Service to see what’s open at the park you’re in. It’ll automatically pop up. So that’s really nice. And then you have to do mobile ordering, you order your food that way and then walk up to the restaurant to let them know you’re there. A little bit different than before, and you can’t just walk up. The reason being is because the quick service area, the lines are always very long, everyone’s kind of jammed in there to place their orders. This is the way that they’re keeping the lines at bay. They’re also having the food prepared as you’re arriving. We found that to be really nice. It was much quicker than waiting in a long line inside the restaurant. We loved it. We can also pick the window. We might have been on Pirates of the Caribbean; we’re saying we’re hungry. So, we would click that we want to eat in 45 minutes and pick our food and then walk up to the restaurant, click that we’re here and the food would be prepared. Very, very nice. Tables were distanced on the indoor areas. If you want to sit inside because of you know, air conditioning, you can. As far as the sit-down meals, if you’re going to do an actual table service, those are still operating. Of course, there are some that are not available right now at this time temporarily. You also will need a dining reservation. Or you can do a walk up now, which is brand new, and ask if they have any availability, check on your phone. But when you get to your restaurant, let’s say you’re going to the Kona Cafe at Polynesian. As you arrive 15 minutes before, you can let them know that you’re there. And then they will text you when your tables ready. They ask that you kind of disperse a little bit and they’ll text you and then you can walk up and get into the restaurant right away.

John 24:28
Well, that makes sense. Restaurants around here are doing things like that. Ordering ahead of time and having your food ready when you arrive, that sounds like something they should continue to do after this is all over.

Kelly 24:42
I’m kind of hoping yes, it’s keeping the crowds and I believe the frustration down because you have to know nobody wants to be hangry when they’re at Disney.

John 24:55
All right. Yeah.

Kelly 24:56
It’s good to kind of pre-plan a little bit, but the one thing you need to have is your phone, you have to make sure you have a fully powered phone. That’s kind of something that we saw to be a theme. As you can see from the various little things that we’ve talked about, just from transportation to eating, you definitely need a phone and no menus either. You have to click QR codes for that.

John 25:19
Yeah, sure. I have to ask you, what is your favorite overall restaurant anywhere at Disney?

Kelly 25:29
Oh, wow, that’s a hard one. I’m gonna have to go with Ohana at Polynesian. Love the location of the resort. Actually, there are very few that I would say that I don’t need to go to again.

John 25:47
I know there’s so many good. What was your interaction with cast members like?

Kelly 25:54
They were so happy to be there. We like to get to the park first thing in the morning. And one of my favorite things to do is to see them on Main Street waving with the little Mickey hands. They were so welcoming. They appeared to be very grateful to have us there. They have plenty of cast members standing around if you had questions, you could also interact with the cast member via text through the app. If you had questions about anything, you can do that as well. We tried that once and that worked, too. That was very nice. Everybody was super professional, and the show had begun once we were there, and they were ready. They were wonderful.

John 26:38
And did you go to Disney Springs?

Kelly 26:46
Yeah, we did. We visited twice and it was Disney Springs as usual. You do have to get your temperature checked when you get there. It was a little bit more crowded because you can get some locals in there. Disney is doing a great job of keeping the shopping at bay. If you are somebody who has not been around shopping crowds maybe hold off on that right now. Other than that, if you’ve been going into target and Walmart and things like that, it’s going to be the same type of experience when in line to get in. People are shopping. You’re kind of getting a mixture of some more locals and the Disney crowd people at Disney Springs.

John 27:32
Okay. I know the water parks have been closed all this time. But I did read the other day that one of the parks might be opened at the first of the year?

Kelly 27:44
March 7. So that will be their penciled in plan is March 7, if they can open safely. I don’t believe that they’ve told us which one yet. I think it’s going to be one of the parks, but they haven’t said and so it’s a wait and hold at this point.

John 28:03
That’s great. I know with fall upon us now and the holidays fast approaching some of the well known events at Disney this time of the year like Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival or Halloween, all the holiday parades and festivities, what do you know about how they’re going to be handling all of that? I guess some of those things will go on, but they of course will be different.

Kelly 28:33
Disney started a Taste of the Food and Wine Festival back in July. It’s continuing through the second week of November. Each week they’re opening a new food booth. Getting into pretty full-blown right now, Disney Food and Wine Festival, which is fantastic. Of course, that’ll draw a little bit more of a crowd, but Disney still has their capacity there. Their reservation system. That looked very similar to the way it’s looked in the past. I didn’t see any differences. We did try some things. Spectacular as usual, as far as the Halloween they are not having Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween party this year, but they’re decorating and you’re having little pop-up, Boo to You parade sections coming through the park daily, which is very nice. Because people do look forward to that. What’s nice about that is the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party has always been a paid event. If you have not paid for that event, maybe you haven’t seen those parades before, but now if you’re just in the park, you can experience a little taste of it, which is nice.

John 29:49
Okay, okay.

Kelly 29:51
We’ll actually be there on Halloween this year, I’ll be able to tell you what they’re doing on Halloween at Magic Kingdom that day. I’m excited for that.

John 30:01
Yeah, I just was gonna ask you if you’re going back to Disney anytime soon, it sounds like you are. Wow. Any other trips? Back there or anywhere?

Kelly 30:12
We are headed to Disney. We’ll be there for almost 10 days. We’re going to overlap Halloween into Christmas. I’ll be able to tell you about that as well after that experience to see how they kind of switching that over within that week. And then I’m headed to Cabo and Cancun.

John 30:31
Yeah. That’s great. Well, you’ll have lots of experiences to help your clients and that’s wonderful. It sounds like Disney has really taken a lot of care all the hygiene and sanitation. And of course, they got the face mask thing down pat. It’s really good to hear and it sounds like everybody’s doing their part to make sure the parks can stay open. And people can enjoy themselves.

Kelly 31:03
Yeah, honestly, I think leading up to it, I was thinking, “Oh, my gosh, it seems like a logistical nightmare, how are they going to not only set up their technology to accommodate everything, but also, how do you control crowds in this time”. But they pulled it off without a hitch in my opinion, of course, there’s probably bloopers on certain things, but I really thought they did a great job.

The other area I wanted to talk about was the lines. Disney’s put up a lot of barriers in between when you’re standing in a line, there’s people to the left and the right of you. It was really nice to see that they put up a lot of Plexiglass. So, you could comfortably stand in your space without feeling like, “Gosh, if that person next to me sneezes or coughs or their kid goes under or something, everything seems very separated. They even put attention into areas where you turn a corner, you might cross paths with somebody, there’s a stop line there. You can’t go any further until those people move. You can see an engineer must have come in and really put a lot of thought into that. And sanitizer at the front of the line and as soon as you get off the ride. Yeah, my kids made a joke that they wanted to try every hand sanitizer there. That was interesting.

John 32:37
Well, they are the masters at crowds and lines and all that kind of stuff. So, Kelly, any other thoughts? Final Thoughts?

Kelly 32:52
I just want to say, and I know that it’s got to be your comfort level. If you’re ready to travel and you miss Disney or you want to experience it, I personally think that you will have a fantastic time at Disney. If you go now, think about your little ones. And they don’t know what they’re missing. Don’t look at what’s not there. Look at what is there. I was excited to be part of the history. I know my kids were too and this is just one little step in Disney history and to be able to experience it without the crowds. With all the safety measures in place was something that I felt very honored to be able to do.

John 33:35
Yeah. That’s great advice. Kelly, I really appreciate your time today and sharing your Disney experience with us and we look forward to hearing about your future visits.

Kelly 33:50
Thanks John I appreciate you having me, thank you so much.

John 33:57
Well, take care.

Kelly 34:00
Thanks, goodbye

and seeing what your reaction is in your future travel. Liisa, thank you so much for sharing your experience today and hope you have a great rest of the day.

Amber Zakem

Amber Zakem

Amber Zakem has worked in the travel industry since 2014. Although, her love of travel began far before that. Amber grew up visiting cousins stationed throughout Europe and worked as an Au Pair in Germany for a year between High School and College. She started working at a local travel agency in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, after graduating from Central Michigan University. Amber began working for MAST Travel Network in 2016 and is the Social Media Specialist. She runs the MAST Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat and she teaches twice monthly webinars to travel agents on using social media to promote travel. Amber has continued her passion for travel and social media by also teaching a course at Moraine Valley Community College in their Hospitality program.