With more Americans getting vaccinated and COVID-19 infection rates going down, people are traveling again just in time for the summer vacation season. However, as the nation continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, travel is somewhat different from before. Many restrictions remain in place, but there’s still room to enjoy.
In celebration of being fully vaccinated, I decided to take a vacation to Orlando, Fla. to take in the sights, sounds and flavors of Central Florida. Whether you’re planning a trip to Orlando, or anywhere else for that matter, there are some things you need to know before you go.
Airline prices are currently reasonable as carriers are still trying to attract travelers back to the skies. But act fast—prices will go up as more people start traveling again. Your best bet to snag a great deal is the website Priceline and a mobile app called “Discount Airline Tickets,” which scours the internet for great deals on flights. Be prepared for a temperature check before boarding based on what airline you fly. Most importantly, you will be required to wear a mask in the airport and on the plane. Flights are now being fully booked. The Transportation Security Administration extended the mask mandate on all public transportation through Sept. 13.
Reports indicate that there’s a huge rental car shortage across the country causing prices for rental vehicles to skyrocket. Depending on when you travel, timing can play a role in how much you’ll pay. For example, if you plan on traveling during a holiday, prices could go up. Also, be prepared to wait. With the high demand for rental cars, lines at airports for agents might long. If renting a car becomes too much of a hassle, consider using rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft.
Your hotel stay
Hotel prices are probably at the lowest in many cases and if you’re planning a trip for later, you could get an even cheaper rate. Be sure to look at popular travel websites like Priceline, Hotels.com and Hotwire. I was able to get a five-night stay at three-star Grand Orlando Resort at Celebration for around $65 a night. A great tip for getting a good hotel rate is creating an account with a travel website to earn and receive discounts. Don’t be afraid to check out short-term rental websites like Airbnb and Vrbo.
Whatever hotel you stay at, be sure to know their COVID-19 guidelines based on the location. Many hotels still require masks in public areas and social distancing. Don’t hesitate to research or even ask what precautions your hotel is taking to keep their guests safe. Housekeeping at hotels has also changed due to employee shortages and COVID restrictions. Most are only taking out garbage and refilling towels as opposed to full service housekeeping.
What to do
With COVID restrictions still in place in many cities across the country, rules vary from destination to destination. Make sure you know what the rules are when it comes to mask mandates and other policies before you go. Florida’s mask rules, for example, are more lax compared to New York with masks not required outdoors and in some indoor spaces depending on the business.
On my first day in Orlando I visited ICON Park and took in “The Wheel.” The famed Ferris observation wheel takes visitors up 400 feet to see all of Central Florida. ICON Park is also known for its great shops and restaurants.
In the evening, I went to the Old Town entertainment district. The area is a hotspot with one-of-a-kind shops, great bars and restaurants and perfect for an evening stroll. One of the highlights of Old Town is the famed “Saturday Classic Car Show & Cruise” where classic car owners show off their spectacular vintage vehicles.
As a fan of all things Disney, I couldn’t go to Orlando without going to the theme parks. During my stay I visited all four parks: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. As with other theme parks, Disney World is operating with capacity limits so be sure to go online to learn to secure tickets.
Walt Disney World has been welcoming back visitors since its reopening last July. The year 2021 marks Disney World’s 50th anniversary with the celebration beginning in October.
My first visit was at EPCOT in midmorning. The park is currently hosting its Flower and Garden Show with eye-catching flowers and plant structures. Visitors can eat their way around the world at Epcot World Showcase, sampling good-sized portions of dishes from around the globe. Also at the American Adventure Pavilion, check out the ‘“The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure” Exhibit that features the history of jazz music in America.
Later on, I was able to go to Disney’s Magic Kingdom where I was able to take in some of my favorite rides including Space Mountain, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Pirates of the Caribbean. At this time Disney World theme parks are not using their Fastpass+ feature, which allows visitors to schedule rides and attractions without having to wait in line.
During my last days in Orlando I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. At Animal Kingdom, I was able to take the Kilimanjaro Safari to see animals up close and take my first ride on the wet and wild Kali River Rapids. Movie fans will love Hollywood Studios where “Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge” takes you to “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Visitors can also ride “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway” ride, which puts you right into a cartoon.
In the evenings, I took in Disney Springs where I migrated to the various bars and shops and the Town Center shopping area. Live music happens nightly with some great acts playing music of all genres. I had dinner at The Edison, whose executive chef is a Black woman, Chef Deaundra “Dee” Rolle.
America is opening up again and people are traveling. Just be sure to know what the rules are and enjoy yourself. There’s still time left to get a great rate on a package deal and book travel plans for the summer.