Nobody wants to get sick on vacation – especially an expensive one like a trip to Disney World. How can you lower your risk of getting sick on a theme park vacation? Is it safe to visit yet in the Covid-19 era?
Straight up: there’s no magic bullet that can guarantee you won’t fall ill at Disney World, or that if you do it won’t be Covid. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to increase your odds of not getting sick. This article is divided into two sections: one that’s general advice on staying healthy, and one specifically focusing on Covid-19.
An important message: I’m a scientist, but I’m not a doctor. All the information here comes from reputable sources that have been linked throughout. But over time, official recommendations and our understanding of the science behind them may change.
General Advice for Avoiding Illness
Tips for avoiding illness fall into two categories. The first is things you do to avoid infection. The second is things you do to keep yourself in fighting shape so that if you do have a “germ run-in” your body will brush it off without you even noticing.
1. Start at Home
Don’t wait until you arrive to begin taking care of your health. In the week or two leading up to your vacation, make an extra effort to pay attention to the advice below. That way you’ll start out with your personal gas gauge on full.
2. Stay Hydrated
Even if you’re visiting in the winter, you’ll need to stay hydrated because you’re likely getting a lot more exercise than you’re used to. And if you’re visiting in the summer? Yeah, hydration should be on your must-do list. Even low-level dehydration can impair your immune system – maybe not on Day 1, but over a few days the effects can add up. Don’t have a hydration plan yet? See How To Stay Hydrated at Disney World.
3. Get Enough Sleep
I think it’s pretty common knowledge that being overtired can make you more likely to get sick. So make sure not to short yourself on sleep time: if you really want to make rope drop and close every single day, take time off in the afternoons for a nap. You might not even need to leave the parks: The Art of the Walt Disney World Nap. A few more tips on sleep:
Set yourself up for success on your trip by booking the right room: How to Get Some Sleep in a Disney World Hotel Room
Minor aches and pains from unaccustomed exercise can keep you from getting quality sleep. But sleep is what helps you heal those aches and pains! If you can still feel the soreness in your feet (or anything else) even when you’re back in your room and not walking around, consider taking an ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory before bed to make sure that you can get a restful night’s sleep.
Don’t forget: rest isn’t only about sleep. If you find yourself feeling worn out, take a morning or an afternoon off from touring to recover. Do it even if it wasn’t in your original plans.
4. Eat Right
A few nutritional lapses aren’t going to matter if you’re generally healthy. But, you know, over the course of a week you should squeak some vegetables in somewhere. And don’t eat too many meals that leave you with that “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” feeling; that’s stressful on your digestive system … which is stressful on your immune system.
5. Wash Your Hands
So it turns out that fomite transmission, where you touch a surface that has infectious particles (germs) on it and then transfer them to your eyes, nose, or mouth, is not a major source of SARS-COV-2 spread. You’re not likely to catch Covid this way. But guess what? There are lots of other very contagious nasties that spread easily by fomite transmission such as Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease and Norovirus. Handwashing still matters!
Wash your hands whenever you use the restroom, and before every meal. While you’re touring, try to avoid touching your mouth, nose, and face, as well as rubbing your eyes. And if you find that’s not possible (perhaps because you’re sweating a lot or you are a small child), then bring out the hand sanitizer every now and then.
Don’t fool yourself. In articles that talk about fomite transmission, you’ll find a list of high-touch surfaces to be cautious of such as doorknobs, countertops, handrails, light switches, and the like. But if you’re touring the parks at Disney World, there are so many other people that pretty much everything is a high-touch surface. With diseases that spread through surface transmission, hand hygiene is your best weapon. In your hotel room and en route are a different story: Eight Things to Disinfect Immediately When You Get to Your Hotel Room
Lowering Your Risk of Getting Covid
Let’s face it, if you’re among the Covid super-cautious, you probably already know what I’m going to write below. And if you’re not willing to make any accommodations around Covid (no judgment, many people don’t), then you might skip on past this section. So if you’re still reading, I’m going to assume you want to hear about getting the most bang for your mitigation buck. You don’t want to wear a mask everywhere. You do want to know how lower your risk of catching Covid-19 at Disney World, while not feeling like you’re designing your entire vacation around Covid avoidance. Covid risk adds up, so even if you only take some of the suggestions below you’ll still be cutting down your probability of catching it.
It’s important to know how COVID-19 spreads: through the air. Every single tip below is aimed at one of two things:
- Reducing your chance of being exposed to high levels of virus in the air
- Reducing your chance of getting ill if you are in a place where there are high[er] levels of virus in the air
To know where you’re most likely to run into Covid, I like this recommendation from the World Health Organization about the “Three Cs”—crowded places, close-contact settings, and confined and enclosed spaces.
You might wonder what close-range conversations have to do with anything. It’s that more virus is expelled into the air when people are talking. And the special note about poor ventilation is about virus building up. When the air is being changed often, virus-containing aerosols are more likely to be carried away before it is a problem.
We don’t have any information on how well-ventilated Disney’s indoor spaces are. The CDC recently released new recommendations for building ventilation. Over time, it’s likely we will be able to assume that buildings are generally well-ventilated—but not right now. The most careful approach is to assume that ventilation may always be an issue if you’re indoors at Disney World.
6. Time Your Travel
At Walt Disney World, lowering your odds of exposure includes visiting at times that are less crowded, or when Covid is not likely to be surging. Covid tends to surge at Thanksgiving and Christmas everywhere. In Florida, it tends to surge in the late summer because people are indoors more as they seek out air-conditioning.
7. Be Careful of Indoor Restaurants
Eat outdoors. Or, eat indoor or Table Service meals on the early (or very late) side of meal periods. Restaurants won’t be as crowded, and the virus won’t have as much chance to accumulate in the air. To be clear: a restaurant may have great ventilation and a peak period mealtime might be fine. But eating early or late is the cautious move, in case it isn’t.
Now let’s be real. You’re going to Disney World. You definitely won’t be able to avoid the three Cs all the time. So what’s next in your toolbox?
8. Be Vaccinated
Make sure that you’ve had all the boosters you’re eligible for. You might wish to time a booster to have the highest level of protection during your trip. Consult with your doctor about your personal situation before deciding that timing your booster is a good idea.
9. Wear a High-quality Mask At Least Sometimes
Choosing a mask that’s high-quality and fits well is beyond the scope of this article. And we’ve already discussed that you might not be willing to wear it everywhere, so when will it make the most difference? The list below is in no particular order, and remember that even doing it some of the time will reduce your risk.
- In transportation hubs (airports) on your way to Disney World. You’re not on vacation yet, so it’s a pain but it’s not the end of the world. And it’s right in line with CDC recommendations.
- In indoor queues. You’re moving, but as you move through the queue, you’re following the same small group of people. You’re always breathing in the air that they’ve breathed out. And remember that bit about conversations – people in queues are talking.
- On buses. Public transportation is another recommendation from the CDC. But you can be smart about it if you’re more mask-averse. A 3-minute ride on the monorail isn’t as likely to be a big risk. A Skyliner car to yourself won’t be either, and even if you’re sharing it they’re well-ventilated. On buses, you’ll be sharing the same air with a large number of other people for 10-15 minutes or more. And again, they’ll be talking to each other.
- At indoor stage shows. Of course, if the theater is mostly empty then your risk will be lower than if it is crowded.
- In large, stationary crowds. We often think of outdoors as being “safe”, but if you’re in a big press of people waiting for a parade or fireworks, or at rope drop, consider a mask.
- On indoor, slow-moving rides that are longer than you are comfortable with.
What To Do If You Get Sick
If you feel like you’re coming down with something, do everyone a favor and don’t ignore it. If you’re staying on property the front desk at your resort can direct you to Covid testing services, or provide you with a ride to urgent care free of charge. Find more information here: Band Aids, Aloe and So Much More: All About First Aid at Walt Disney World.
Even if you don’t feel bad enough to seek help or interrupt your plans, be considerate and wear a mask as if you were recovering. It might not be the vacation you’d envisioned – after all, you’re already feeling under the weather – but it will cut down the chances that you’ll be the cause of someone else’s vacation ick.