With the sudden closure of Disney and Universal parks around the world, guests were left with the challenging (and definitely disappointing) task of deciding whether they should cancel or reschedule their planned theme park vacation – and then figuring out how to do it.
By Samantha Davis-Friedman
At this point, the only thing we know for sure is that Disney and Universal parks will remain closed through the end of March. For people who planned to visit the parks during those dates, there is no choice other than to cancel or reschedule — but what about travelers who have vacation plans for April? Or this summer? Or during Christmas break?
Since the parks aren’t announcing anything new (and only Madame Leota has a crystal ball), there’s no way to know how long the parks will remain closed, which is causing a lot of stress for park goers who were not only looking forward to their magical vacations but who invested a lot of money that they don’t want to lose.
Thankfully, there are real-life superheroes (AKA travel advisors who specialize in theme parks) who are here to save the day with great advice for theme park fans:
“Hakuna Matata — it means no worries, for the rest of your days.” – Timon and Pumbaa, “The Lion King”
“My best advice is not to overreact,” says Meredith Wallace, owner of Minnie Memories Travel. “Disney has been great at refunding my client’s money, so I am encouraging people to wait and see.”
Wallace says people who have vacations planned for later dates still might get to go on their trips, but even if they don’t, they will get a refund. She notes that some of her clients who reacted before park closures were not given these same benefits, so at this point, she says, the ‘wait and see’ approach is a win/win unless, of course, holding on to a reservation creates a financial hardship.
Sue Ellen Knebel, director of travel services for DreamFinder Travel, agrees that it’s important not to panic since nobody knows whether the closures will extend beyond March 31 as announced (and if so, for how long). That’s why she says it’s a good idea not to make “gut-reaction cancellations” in a panic, especially for stays in the distant future (but even for trips planned for late April, May, and June).
“Definitely having patience is key,” says Jan Pepe from MEI-Travel. “Travel suppliers and agents are working overtime to keep up with the changes — both in information and to reservations and cancellations.”
The travel industry, in general, is encouraging travelers to postpone rather than cancel, but obviously, not everyone has the luxury of keeping money tied up in a theme park vacation that is still up in the air. Working with a travel agent to stay on top of things and help follow up on refunds or credits will go a long way in easing worries about losing money or not being able to reschedule vacations later when the parks reopen. Plus, your agent may be able to find even better rates for future vacations.
“I was able to save some clients money on Disney packages where the current offer had new availability,” Pepe noted.
Another thing agents want people to remember about cancellations is that refunds and/or future travel credits will very likely take longer to process than usual due to the large number of travelers who have been impacted by the parks closures, so there’s no need to panic if your refund doesn’t hit your account right away.
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” – Jack Sparrow, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”
Knebel suggests that guests who call the parks directly to cancel or change their vacation plans should be prepared before calling. Taking the time to find out what the current change and cancellation policies are and/or what exceptions are being made will ensure that you’re not expecting something that’s not reasonable. It’s also a good idea to have a game plan before calling, so the Disney cast member or Universal team member can take care of your reservation as quickly as possible and be available to help someone else.
Most importantly, Knebel says, is to be patient and kind when you call. Guests should remember that the person on the other end of the phone is probably also upset about the current situation and has been talking to dozens (if not hundreds) of equally stressed-out travelers who may not be as nice as they should be. After all, we’re all in the same boat, so it’s more important than ever to be kind to each other — and we all know that a little pixie dust goes a long way.
“When all this is over, we’ll be a proper family. You’ll see.” – Sirius Black, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”
The situation is changing every day, and everyone is uncertain about what tomorrow will bring. Still, travel advisors who specialize in theme park vacations are encouraging us to remember that Universal and Disney are making sure park guests are taken care of and are allowing people to make informed decisions about their vacation options to determine what’s best for them and their families.
“I have many clients who had special, magical, and amazing vacations which have been postponed,” Pepe says. “But even during this crazy time, they have already begun to plan vacations for later this year and into 2021. I am here to help plan those moments and memories and give them something to look forward to when this is over.”
Looking forward may be the most important piece of advice. We don’t know when the parks will reopen, but we can all be confident that they will. And when that happens, we can all look forward to raising a glass of butterbeer and celebrating that the theme park vacation magic is back.