The Beach during a Pandemic

Hello there.

I said I would write about my beach vacation, and here I am. I spent last Saturday through Tuesday at Santa Rosa Beach. My family has a condo there, and it’s usually not as busy as other popular beaches. The location is also about thirty minutes to Destin or Panama City, which makes it pretty great for a vacation.

The first night we went to Rum Runners bar. Saturday nights there are for Dueling Pianos, which is one of our favorite things. The area Rum Runners is in is like a small boardwalk within a resort. Not many people were wearing a mask, but most of them were at outside dining tables and still keeping social distance. Rum Runners itself has less tables than when we were there two years ago in order to allow for six feet between parties. Dueling Pianos was a lot of fun, but the smaller crowd made a huge difference. While the songs were good, there was no feeling of a party. That may be the wrong way to put it. The atmosphere was just not as electric. Not as many drunk bachelorette parties.

Sunday morning, we got to the beach around 9:30. I was shocked at the number of people there- at least double than what we normally see (we go around the same time every year). My guess is most people chose to go to the beach when all the other vacation spots closed due to the virus. There were four or five rows of people that morning, and I will admit that pictures of the beach from a certain angle would make it seem like everyone was on top of each other. But, there was space between groups. I did not bring a ruler or anything, but everyone was setting up the acceptable amount of distance away from others. At least, I never felt like I needed to put on my mask (I kept one in my beach bag at all times, just in case).

That afternoon was spent in San Destin for shopping. Masks were required, and the number of guests inside stores was limited. Our favorite place to shop is the Vera Bradley outlet (or factory, not sure which one is the official name), and this time they had some of the Disney print! I snagged myself a Mickey beach towel, but I never used it for fear of messing it up. Oh, and this time we did the tourist thing and got ourselves airbrush shirts made. You have to wear matching shirts, otherwise it’s not a true girls’ trip.

Monday morning, we got to the beach a little earlier than the day before and it was a lot less crowded. When we left at noon, there was only two rows of people. The weather was fantastic, and the fish were determined to eat our feet. Yeah, that part was not that great, so we did not spend a lot of time in the water. I get freaked out when the fish nibble.

The highlight of the happened that afternoon. We found an axe throwing place in Panama City, and immediately said “yes! Let’s do that!” I was the only one in the group who had done it before, so we spend a good thirty minutes learning the ropes. We were the only ones in the place, and the employees, Crystal and Tiana, were so much fun (and patient). They ended up playing the games with us, and they allowed us to play a little longer than our reserved hour. Everyone was so good by the end of it! I have a feeling that Axe Throwing PCB will be a permanent spot in our future vacations.

Tuesday was the goodbye and drive back to Orlando. It was a short and sweet vacation, and I miss it already. It was nice to not have to think about work for once this summer. Everything has been so hectic and sometimes it feels as if things are just getting worse. Last weekend was a blessing. And I would say, if you are comfortable, do the things that make you feel better. Mental health is hard to keep up with in a normal time, and it is amazingly difficult when your stress level is off the charts. Go to the beach. Take a walk. Do it safely. Just take time for yourself.

Theme Parks During a Pandemic

In the past month I have gone to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Disney Springs, and Hollywood Studios (thank you cast member preview). I am an annual pass member for Universal Studios, but I did not attend the preview days. I was still there within that first week of opening, and my reasoning for going was that the parks were most likely the cleanest they have been for a long while. I will tell you about the experiences I had at both resorts, then I will point out some comparative differences I saw.

I’m going to start with yesterday’s cast member preview at Hollywood Studios. We have been blocked out of this park basically since Galaxy’s Edge opened last year, and I was VERY excited to go back. Hollywood Studios was my home park during my DCP in 2013, and it has been my favorite park since the MGM Studios days. It’s my love of theater that drew me in, but Rockin’ Roller Coaster sealed the deal. Of course, all of the shows are closed right now, but I still love it. Anyway, we were there from opening to about 7 p.m.

In that time we were able to ride everything, including Rise of the Resistance, at lunch at Pizza Rizzo’s, and shopped a bit. Coaster was a walk on, so we rode that twice within ten minutes. We also got to ride Mickey’s Runaway Railroad twice with a rough thirty minute wait each time. Rise was a much longer line- about ninety minutes- and the queue wrapped around to the Muppet’s Studios queue. Portions of the line were even backstage! Cast members stationed at Muppet’s allowed people to get out of line for the bathroom and to get cups of water from Pizza Rizzo’s which was a godsend in the heat. A majority of that line was in the sun, but the ride was worth every minute. Like, I cannot begin to describe how intense and awesome Rise is.

Characters in Galaxy’s Edge were on platforms, and we saw character parades through the park at random times. We were never at the right spot for these parades to get pictures, but I think there were three: Mickey and Friends, Pixar, and Disney Junior. Everyone was social distancing and wearing masks for the most part- most of the crowding happened when people were trying to enter a ride queue from multiple directions at various speeds. I’m not sure how that could be addressed, but just pay attention to your surroundings if you go to a theme park, okay?

Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure were pretty empty. I mean, I got GREAT pictures at Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We spent one day at each park, and Islands was a little more crowded than Universal, but I believe the walkways in Islands are more narrow. The app to get into virtual lines was a tad glitchy and unpredictable, but we had three people trying to get in, so it ended up being okay. This was a pre-planned family vacation for my cousin’s high school graduation, so we had a group of twelve people which made things interesting. We were always split up at every restaurant we went to except for Hard Rock Cafe where we got to sit together. We had plenty of time to do everything we wanted to do and a lot of things twice. If I remember correctly, Hagrid’s Motorbike was really the only line we had to wait more than ten minutes in.

I’m trying to recall this trip that was over a month ago, so bear with me if it’s not as good as the Hollywood section.

The 3-D glasses were tricky thanks to fogging, and the team members were quick to tell guests to keep masks on over their noses otherwise “the ride will stop.” I did think I was going to lose my mask on the Hulk, but I did not and it was fine. You did not have to wear a mask on the water rides in Islands of Adventure. The freestyle cups were active (something I think Universal has that Disney needs), and a team member wiped down the station after every guest.

Both parks required mobile ordering for quick service meals (we did not eat at a table service within any of the parks). However, Universal’s locations allowed you to be seated inside while waiting for your meal while Pizza Rizzo’s made you wait outside until the My Disney Experience app said your order was ready for pick up. That was a HOT wait out in the sun, and I could see a lot of angry guests in their future. Universal’s system was not perfect, though, as a team member would go around the tables to get order numbers and sometimes they would miss a table in their rotation, causing a longer wait for food.

Hand sanitizing stations were everywhere at both parks. but it was not enforced at Hollywood Studios. At the Universal resort, a team member gave you sanitizer at the head of the line, and you could not board the vehicle until after. There was also a sanitizing station right after you got off the ride, but that one was not required. The difference was most apparent at Toy Story Mania where guests were able bypass the sanitizing station without using it before loading into the ride vehicle.

Overall I will say I felt safer at Universal than at Disney in regards to Covid guidelines. I will also say that my experience does not mean someone else felt differently. It’s all personal opinion. I do recommend bringing multiple masks to whatever park you may go to. I switched mine out after four hours in the fun summer Florida heat. This helped immensely with breathing as the sweat and humidity kind of clung to the fabric of the mask.

Now that everything is opened up and cases are on the ride, I will probably no go back to a theme park for a little while. Between the block out dates, the heat, and increase in out of state travel, I think I will say goodbye to my Saturday cardio of walking around the parks (I know, my privilege is showing. Perk of working corporate for a major tourist industry). I will probably go to Disney Springs before the current increased cast member discount ends, though. I am also going to the beach this weekend where I WILL have a mask with me by the ocean just in case the crowd levels are more than I am comfortable with. I know my level of risk, and I will act accordingly even if it means only one half of my face is tan.

Feel free to ask me questions about the parks, and I will do my best to answer. I will also follow up about that beach trip and whether or not I felt good on the panhandle.