As confirmed cases of COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, continue to rise in the UK and worldwide, it's only natural that people are concerned how the outbreak may affect their upcoming trips to Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Three of Disney's international parks in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo have already implemented temporary closures, and a Disneyland Paris maintenance cast member was recently found to have contracted the disease, leaving many guests wondering whether the U.S. parks will close and what they are doing to prevent the virus from spreading. POPSUGAR dug into what Disney had to say and asked two experts, a paediatrician and a Disney travel expert, for their opinion on whether you should cancel your travel plans or what you can do to best protect yourself if you do choose to visit the Disney parks.
Will Disney World close because of coronavirus?
Visit Orlando also said in a statement to POPSUGAR that there have been no cases of the virus in Orlando at this point, and they have seen no significant impact to Orlando's leisure visitation. "Orlando is home to the most respected tourism companies in the world who take safety very seriously," they stated. "Our businesses have some of the highest standards for cleanliness in the industry, and have been increasing these efforts event further over the past weeks."
With only 18 confirmed cases affecting Florida residents and visitors as of March 8, 2020 (and none of those in Orange County where Disney World is located), there are currently no plans to close the Florida theme park.
Disney Parks and Resorts Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pamela Hymel, addressed this topic directly in a public statement on March 8, 2020. She started by saying that all Disney parks are "welcoming guests as usual" and they are "carefully monitoring the evolving coronavirus situation and are in regular contact with health agencies for information and guidance."
She went on to say that they do have health and safety protocols in place at both Disney World and Disneyland including ongoing cast member training, frequent cleaning and disinfection of targeted areas, easy access to handwashing facilities and sanitisers, quick responses to spills, trash, and other situations, end-of-day sanitation procedures for restroom, kitchen, and other facilities, and frequent cleaning and "wash down" of outdoor locations, including walkways and queues. In fact, many guests at both parks have reported seeing additional hand sanitising stations and guest areas being cleaned more frequently.
POPSUGAR spoke with Dr. Kelly Fradin, MD, paediatrician and mum of two in New York City, whose views seem to fall in line with Disney's current precautionary measures. "I love Disney World," Dr. Fradin told us. "It's a magical place, and they were one of the first companies I heard of thoughtfully requesting that employees who travelled to high risk countries according to the CDC abstain from coming to work. I know Disney prioritises the health of the visitors and sanitises in a very responsible manner as well."
Will Disneyland close because of coronavirus?
Although there have been more confirmed cases of coronavirus in California than Florida (as of March 8, 2020, the California Department of Public Health was reporting 114 confirmed cases), there are currently no plans to close Disneyland park in Anaheim. Only one of those cases was found in Orange County, where Disneyland is located, and the health department is not recommending the cancelation of any business or social events.
In a March 6 Visit California news briefing, Lenny Mendonca from the Governor's Office of Business & Economic Development stated that "California has for over a decade had a very detailed plan for if a potential epidemic hits." Other representatives on the call noted that the risk to the public remains low in California.
Like Disney World in Florida, Disneyland guests have also reported seeing additional hand sanitising stations around the park (a map of hand sanitiser locations can be found on the Disneyland website) and the same sanitation procedures are being following there, as well.
While travellers may be worried because guests come to Disneyland from all over the world, Dr. Fradin doesn't believe this puts Disneyland at any unique risk. "Guests congregating from all over the world may allow for spread, as we saw in the Measles outbreak at Disneyland in 2015. With globalisation, most major cities also have people from all over the world so it's not clear to me that the risk of a trip to Disney is substantially different from a trip to a local waterpark, children's museum, or concert."
Should I cancel my trip to Disney World or Disneyland?
When trying to decide whether to change your travel plans, Dr. Fradin advised us that there are a number of issues to think about. "One thing to consider is the specific risk factors of your family. If there are family members who have chronic medical conditions such as asthma or hypertension or are over the age of 60, we must consider these individuals to be high risk based on what we know now about coronavirus. At this point, while the CDC is not recommending people change their activities, some companies are requesting employees abstain from optional travel. It's also reasonable to consider the worst case and hopefully unlikely scenario — how would a two week quarantine after your trip affect your family?"
She went on to say that, "You also must consider whether your concerns about the virus will reduce your enjoyment of your holiday. Is this a once in a lifetime thing for your family or something that isn't as important or can be rescheduled? All of this to say, I don't think travelling to Disney World is a bad idea and I may end up going there myself in a few weeks depending on how the situation evolves." Dr. Fradin also encourages travellers to "check the latest updates with local public health authorities and the CDC prior to travel because this is a rapidly changing situation."
Can I get a refund on my Disney tickets?
Disney's regular ticket refund policy states that all tickets and holiday packages are nontransferable and nonrefundable. POPSUGAR spoke with Chrissy Sheets, Family Travel Specialist with Cupcake Castles Travel Company, to find out what options travellers may have should they choose to change their plans. "Guests considering changing or cancelling their trip should reach out to their travel agent to discuss their options. Agents will be able to review the cancellation policy with their clients and look at availability for future dates. If the guest booked direct, they would need to call Disney to discuss these options."
When asked if it is ever possible to move Disney holidays to a later date, Sheets told us, "Changes made to reservations are subject to availability and, if made more than 30 days before arrival, should only result in the guest paying the difference for the new package. Disney does reserve the right to charge a fee for changes made within 30 days of arrival." For reference, guests can call Disney Guest Relations directly at (407) 939-1289.
While health and safety is always more important than money lost, many airlines have amended their cancelation policies in wake of the coronavirus outbreak, so you may have some options to change or cancel your flight without penalty. Delta, for example, is waiving change fees (actual ticket prices may still be more or less than your original ticket) as a one-time courtesy for guests who choose to change their travel plans.
How can I best protect myself if I do choose to visit Disney?
In short, you should follow the same hygiene practices you would follow at home. According to Dr. Fradin, this includes things like not touching your face, washing your hands regularly with soap and water, and using hand sanitiser when those aren't readily available. "Consider using sanitising wipes on rented strollers, aeroplane seats, high chairs in restaurants, and other potentially high traffic items you interact with," Dr. Fradin told us.
She also recommends that you "be sure to travel with any prescription or over the counter medications you may need if you get sick. And don't forget sunscreen! Remember in your hotel room that while the bedsheets are frequently laundered, the same is not true of upholstered furniture and duvet covers. If you have a crawler or a baby who spends a lot of time on the floor playing, consider bringing a blanket to use as a play mat. And most of all if you go, stop watching the news and enjoy your trip."