Disney- Post Corona

The Walt Disney Company is gearing up for the re-opening of it’s Florida theme parks in July. Below I will highlight some of the most important changes to help you decide if it is time for you to visit the Most Magical Place on Earth.

First off, if you had a trip planned anytime after March 16, 2020, I completely understand your disappointment, confusion, frustration, and many other emotions that are involved with the shutting of the parks during the pandemic. There is nothing about the past few months that have been normal and it is a huge bummer to have to postpone or cancel that trip you have dreamed of and planned for for months or years.

We have all heard the (now overused) phrase, “new normal.” I have also heard someone say “next normal” which I like a little better. This pandemic, with all of it’s hard changes, has also brought with it a unique opportunity to completely start fresh in many areas. This is especially true for Disney World.

The past few years have been great for the economy which has been great for Disney. They have had record numbers of guests and continue to offer newer, better, bigger things. With the introduction of Fast Pass+ and Magic Bands, Disney was able to offer guests a myriad of ways to customize their trips to maximize the magic.

However, the level of planning required to have a “stress-free” and “magical” trip had grown to insane levels. 180 day dining reservations and maximum usage of fast passes, which inflated wait times at previously low-wait rides, really made touring the parks more stressful. This made using a travel agent that knows the ins and outs of the parks and touring strategies invaluable. In my opinion, there were a lot of systems that needed a refresh but no really easy way to do that.

Until now. Covid-19 offered Disney the unique opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Because of CDC guidelines around capacity, physical distancing, cleaning, etc., Disney had to cancel all dining reservations and fast passes. This is allowing them to control capacity in every location upon reopening. I will explain more below.

Fast Passes: Many people who visit Disney don’t completely understand how fast passes work. Disney gives all guests, regardless of ticket type or where you are staying, the ability to make 3 fast pass reservations per day. If you have an on-site reservation you can make these reservations 60 days prior to the start of your trip. If you do not have an on-site reservation you can make these reservations 30 days prior to the date you want to visit the park.

Each attraction at the park has an hourly capacity. This capacity can change on some rides based on number of theaters open (Example- Soarin’, Flight of Passage) or how many vehicles/sides of the track are open (Example- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain). Disney monitors data on park attendance by day and time of day to decide how much of the attraction to operate at any one time. Based on projected operation of these attractions, Disney then designates a certain percentage of the ride to go to fast pass. Once the fast passes for that time period are given out, there are no more available (unless someone cancels. Also, Disney may hold some back but essentially once they are gone they are gone). If my fast pass for Peter Pan is for 10am-11am, I can arrive at Peter Pan anytime during that hour time window and enter the fast pass line. When I reach the merge point with the standby line, the cast member will allow approximately 8 fast pass guests for every 2 standy by guests. This drastically inflates the wait time of stand-by (read: a LOT more guests standing still for a lot longer) since they are allowing so many fast pass returners to ride.

By temporarily halting fast pass, Disney can keep all of their lines moving at a much more steady pace (think Under the Sea with the Little Mermaid and the constantly moving line) which will keep people from standing close together.

Disney has not announced how they will move forward with the return to fast passes yet. I anticipate some combination of the fast pass+ system and virtual queues. I think Disney will monitor crowd levels and flow alongside the CDC guidelines and Coronavirus numbers throughout the fall before we see a system that sticks.

Overall I think this will lessen wait times though we will also have to contend with seating being much farther apart on rides, no mixing of traveling parties, and extra cleaning. I will continue to monitor and update as things open and evolve.

Dining: Disney has long allowed dining reservations to be made 180 days (6 months!!) before travel. I talk to so many clients who don’t have any idea what they want to be eating tomorrow, let alone in 6 months. The majority of my clients plan their vacations 4-5 months prior to travel which means they were already missing out on the most popular dining reservations.

Because restaurants will not be able to seat as many guests in order to keep more physical distance between parties, Disney had to cancel all reservations and start over. For the immediate future they will be allowing on-site guests to make reservations just prior to travel. There are still a lot of questions about who can make these reservations and when but I expect we will know a lot more in the next couple of weeks as the parks open on July 11.

Moving forward, this date for reservations will move to 60 days out. I think this is much more reasonable and am excited that we are finally seeing this change.

Also- all buffet meals will be converted to family style (so Chef Mickey, Biergarten, Hollywood and Vine, Crystal Palace, 1900 Park Fare, etc. will look more like Garden Grill and O’hana). All character meals are temporarily suspended except Topolino’s breakfast which will have a modifies character experience. I imagine characters will parade through the restaurant but not visit each family individually.

Major Disney changes:

In addition to the above fast passes and dining, below are the changes you should expect to see for the immediate future. We do not know how long these will last as the pandemic is something no one can predict but I would guess at least the remainder of 2020 and possibly through at least half of 2021.

Masks required- It’s Florida. It’s hot and humid and it rains. I get that it is uncomfortable and maybe not feasible for everyone. However, this is a requirement in order for the parks to open and I have heard there will not be exceptions. I advise those clients who believe this may be a problem to postpone their trip until this requirement has been relaxed.

Park Reservations Required (and no park hopper)– In order to maintain low crowds and physical distancing, Disney is requiring guests to pre-reserve their park for the day. These park reservations open Monday June 22 for anyone who has a current Disney package with resort and tickets for the remainder of 2020. On June 26, annual passholders without resort reservations may make up to 2 park reservations. Later this summer new packages will open for the remainder of 2020 and you are advised to check park availability before booking. I will be assisting my clients with the process of checking availability before booking but the booking park reservations must be done by the client. Disney hopes to resume park hopper soon but no dates known for that yet.

Character meet and greets, parades, and fireworks all temporarily suspended: Because of the close interactions at character meet and greets, this has to be suspended for cast member safety. Parades and fireworks both draw large crowds and thus must be suspended until CDC guidelines change. In the meantime, Disney is introducing character cavalcades and other opportunities to see characters more organically through the park. You will likely not be allowed to approach the characters but you never know who you may run into around the park.

So, should you visit Disney in 2020?

This is a loaded question with many “It depends..” scenarios. Your level of risk tolerance surrounding the virus is a huge piece of this decision and I cannot answer that for you. Let’s assume you understand the level of risk of visiting a theme park during a pandemic and are ok taking on that risk, is it worth going?

Disney will not be the same as it was prior to March 16, 2020. The first hurdle to visiting the parks is to not compare an experience prior to March of this year with the experience the rest of this year. If you are hoping to fill your character autograph book, be made over at Bippity Boppity, and see Happily Ever After fireworks show, you will be disappointed. If you want to go and experience Disney magic, I absolutely think you can do that if you are flexible and know that this will be a different experience than you have had in the past.

If you are interested in visiting Disney during this calendar year or in 2021, email me at and let me know. I will reach out to discuss your options when they become available later this summer.

Disney Download- December 2019

Disney has been busy with announcements and openings this fall and things are only picking up the pace from here. Below is a quick list of things to get excited for followed by a few tips I have.

What’s coming? What’s closed?

Magic Kingdom

  • Tron- This coaster-style attraction based on Tron Lightcycle Power Run at Shanghai Disneyland is set to debut in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021. You have been able to see the track work for months from Tomorrowland Peoplemover. Track work is now complete but the ride is still over a year from its debut.
  • Splash Mountain- closed for refurbishment January 6, 2020-February 27, 2020
  • Walt Disney World Railroad- closed for refurbishment. Opening date TBA (likely fall 2020)


  • Space220– Predicted Opening February 2020. (Exact date TBA) The restaurant will take guests on a dining adventure 220 miles above Epcot! Guests will board an elevator that will simulate real-time rocketing into orbit as they travel to the Centauri Space Station hovering above the Earth. Diners will see daytime and nighttime views of Earth as they’re surrounded by a full panoramic view of space!
  • Beauty and the Beast Sing-a-Long– France Pavilion- January 17, 2020
  • Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360– Canada Pavilion- January 17, 2020
  • Awesome Planet– The Land Pavilion- January 17,2020
  • Test-Track– closed for refurbishment Jan 13, 2020-February 26, 2020
  • Epcot Forever– current interim show after Illuminations Ended in September 2019 and the new HarmoniUS debuts
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure– France Pavilion- Summer 2020- Based on Disney and Pixar’s hit film, “Ratatouille,” this family-friendly attraction will invite you to shrink down to the scale of a rat for a culinary adventure with Chef Remy. You’ll race across Gusteau’s kitchen floor aboard special trackless ride vehicles, which you can see in the image at the top of this post – just released today – as Disney Imagineers work on bringing this attraction to life.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Coming soon, probably by 50th anniversary in 2021
  • Disney Duck-Tales Adventure– Interactive scavenger hunt around World Showcase to replace Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure

Hollywood Studios

New Mickey Shorts Theatre, opening Spring 2020
  • Rise of the Resistance– Now OPEN! Currently utilizing virtual queue. You will join a boarding group upon scanning in to the park via your My Disney Experience app. This is expected to be in place for the rest of 2019. I will continue to update as this process evolves. Currently no Fast pass offered.
  • Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway– opening March 4, 2020
  • Mickey Shorts Theater– opening spring 2020 in the old Sounds Dangerous Building

Animal Kingdom

  • Kali River Rapids– Closed for Refurbishment Jan 6, 2020- March 20, 2020

My Trip to the Aloha State

Kahala Resort, Honolulu

Palm trees dotting the shore line, sunlight glistening off the endless blue water in front of you, mountains to your back, a cool ocean breeze against you skin. Surfers, like ants floating upon the water, waiting for the perfect wave. Beach-goers, Mai Tai in hand, relaxing along the shoreline. If this is what you think of when you think of Hawaii, you are absolutely right. Yet not quite. 

Waikiki Beach

What do you think of when you think of Hawaii? Why is this a place that is at the top of so many bucket lists? What is it that draws so many people to this set of islands in the middle of the Pacific?

View from Gunstock Ranch in north O’ahu

Hawaii, O’ahu specifically, is both exactly like I imagined yet so much more. 

USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor

To be honest, I always thought of O’ahu as a quick stop on the way to another island. Everyone wants to stop by, see the famous Waikiki Beach and visit Pearl Harbor then move on to “bigger and better” islands. 

Yet, O’ahu, the second oldest of the main 6 Hawaiian islands, is so much more. It is a unique mix of east meets west, town and country, beach and mountains, energy and relaxation. There is so much diversity, history, culture, and adventure on this island that you could stay for a week and barely scratch the surface. It is a destination in its own right, not meant to be just a stopover point on your way elsewhere.

Picnic Lunch at Gunstock Ranch

In future posts, I will touch on some of my favorite parts of the island but for now, I want to give you a little overview of this island and help you figure out if this is a place to add to your bucket list.

Let’s start with the type of traveler for which O’ahu (and Hawaii in general) is NOT a good match-

  1. The budget-conscious traveler– Hawai’i is not a cheap destination to travel. It’s not inexpensive to fly to, especially from the east coast. Lodging, food, and excursions are not cheap. We will talk about the value later but if you have a very strict budget, I would not recommend placing this high on your list. You will be frustrated by not being able to fully experience everything Hawaii has to offer.
  2. The time-strapped traveler– If you have a limited time to travel this may not be your best option. From the US mainland you will have a minimum 5-hour flight each way, 10-hours from the east coast. To truly experience all O’ahu has to offer, I would plan no less than a week. If you want to island-hop I would spend minimum 10 days but preferably closer to 2 weeks or more. 

So, who is the ideal traveler for O’ahu?

  1. The Culturally and Historically Conscious Traveler- this island has so much to teach its visitors. If you arrive on the island with an open mind ready to learn from her people about their history and their way of life, your life will be truly enriched. Traveling is truly one of the only few experiences where you become richer the more you spend.
  2. The Experiencer– I made up this title but this is the person who wants to experience the place in its fullness. They don’t want to just sit on a beach with a mai tai in hand, though that may be part of the experience. They want to dig deeper than the surface, get to know the place more thoroughly. On O’ahu this may mean starting at the Bernice Bishop museum to learn a little of the history of the way-finding people and the Hawaiian royalty and then follow that up with a visit to Iolani palace to dig deeper into the stories of the Hawaiian royal lines. A visit to Pearl Harbor to learn about the history of the US involvement in World War II is a must-do. This type of traveler would enjoy some time in the busy Waikiki district for shopping and dining and people-watching on one of the most famous stretches of beach in the world but then they would escape to the north shore for quieter beach sitting. This traveler would enjoy the mountains of O’ahu by foot, horseback, or ATV. This person wants to move beyond just the instagrammable shot to really immerse themselves in the place. 
  3. The Adventure Seeker– This piggy-backs on The Experiencer but focuses more on the adventure side of those experiences. O’ahu has much to offer on land and water. From soft adventures like snorkeling, hiking, and stand-up paddleboarding to harder adventures like surfing, zip-lining, and off-roading on an ATV. This traveler is on the move and wants to experience the island with all of their senses but especially through hands-on activities.
  4. The Giver– No, not the Lois Lowry book, this is the traveler that wants to give back to the land and its people. They are conscious of their actions while traveling and seek to truly get to know the people they encounter in order to offer something in return. This may be as simple as respecting the land and using reusable water bottles and straws. It may mean seeking out family-owned restaurants (that are amazing! Highway Inn and 12th Ave grill were some of the best food and owned by the sweetest families!) that may be a little more off the beaten path. It may look like doing research to find the best company to take you snorkeling that will honor the animals and water as you enter their environment. 

I am hopeful that this gave you a glimpse into the island of O’ahu. Is this a good fit for you?

Bishop Museum, Honolulu

If not, it is totally ok. If you want a quick, less-expensive escape to disconnect on the beach with a drink in hand, there are other amazing places I with which I can connect you.

Turtle Bay, North Shore, O’ahu

But if you want to travel to a place rich with history, culture, nature, wildlife, adventure, food, energy, and more, let me tell you more about O’ahu. Let’s work together to craft the perfect itinerary for YOU. Your trip will look different than your best friend’s or your sister’s or your neighbor’s or the well-meaning facebook acquaintance. 

Introducing Priceless Gem Travel

The (Reader’s Digest) Backstory

In 2012, after giving birth to Lorelei, our second child, I was blessed with the opportunity to join a travel agency and decided to leave my teaching career of seven years to become self-employed. This allowed me to earn a little money (and I do mean little – I made $5,000 in the first 18 months) for our family while also sparing us the expense of having two children in day care at the same time. 

In the beginning, I focused on Disney World because it was what I knew. A love for Mickey combined with numerous trips to the parks allowed me to know the little things to tell people to help them have a magical time at the Most Magical Place on Earth. As such, I branded my business as “Kristin’s Magical Bookings.

Since those first years, I’ve branched out. I have had the opportunity to visit many tropical destinations, cruise with different cruise lines, attend several conferences, and network with other travel agents. I’ve transitioned from planning only Disney trips to planning almost any type of trip that has come my way. Expanding my business in this way has taught me a lot.

What I’ve Learned

I have learned the different parts of the travel process and what goes into booking travel. I have learned about various resort brands, cruise itineraries, and island destinations to best match clients to the perfect trip. I have learned to work with suppliers to create custom itineraries for locations I am unfamiliar with. I have learned to always recommend insurance (because I’ve learned that no matter how much you plan, sometimes a hurricane happens).

If you are familiar with the enneagram, I have also learned that I am an Enneagram 2: The Helper. This personality type means my tendency is to want to do anything that is asked of me and help anyone that comes my way. I quickly say “YES” to any inquiry because I WANT to help. I want to say yes to every unique travel inquiry – from Greece to Dubai to Japan – because someone has come to me seeking help. And I want to be the person to help them. I get great satisfaction from that. It give me meaning and adds richness to my life.

However, I am also learning that this isn’t always a good thing. For certain locations that I don’t know well, I don’t provide much extra value. Sure, my access to great suppliers allows me to put together a trip, but most of my benefit just comes in saving you the time of doing a lot of research. Instead, I’m learning to stay in my lane. 

My Focused Specialties

So what is that lane? Though I know it will continue to evolve and grow over time, right now my focuses will be Disney, the tropics (“fun-in-the-sun”,) small escorted trips, and Hawaii


Disney World- September 2019

Disney is my first travel love and a destination where I provide immense value to you. The majority of my clients say they can’t imagine having to plan all the details of a trip without me, and that’s my goal. 

I know Disney World with my eyes closed. I can answer almost any question you ask without looking anything up. I can tell you the best and quickest way to get between any two points on property (try me!). I can tell you the restaurants that will book solid at 180 days prior to check-in and the ones that you likely could get a walk-up reservation. I can tell you every character meal and which characters greet at each meal. I can tell you the best touring strategy for each park to work in all of your favorites in the time you have (well, mostly – I can’t work miracles).

Heading back to the Disney Wonder after our day in Cozumel- 2018

I also know Disney Cruise Line. I know the four ships, where they port throughout the year, their basic itineraries, what you need to pre-book, tips for embarkation day, what time of year you can expect your favorite itineraries, when the new itineraries will release, what musicals are currently on each ship, and more. 

There are also other less-known products under the Disney company umbrella that I want to start to introduce my clients to. Offerings like Aulani and Adventures by Disney are tailor made for people exactly like many of you reading this, and I feel I’ve done a disservice by not doing a better job of introducing these to those of you that would love those experiences. They are fabulous products with the incredible Disney attention to detail and storytelling, but that branch outside of just the Mouse. 


Sandals Montego Bay- June 2018
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic- August 2019

My second focus will be on tropical, fun-in-the-sun trips for couples celebrating milestone occasions and families wanting to get away together and reconnect. I have been to several tropical islands and resorts over the past few years, and as a result, I have learned to help clients narrow down their search from thousands of overwhelming options to a resort and location that best fits your needs and desires. My value comes in helping you find the right place for your vacation.

Small group escorted trips

Dolomite Mountains, Italy- July 2018

I am working with some incredible companies that specialize in small group escorted trips. On these trips you are greeted by guides as soon as you arrive. They take care of every detail from start to finish. These trips include deep-dives into culture and active adventures in locations with incredible customized service. They are perfect for taking your family into areas you don’t feel comfortable being completely on your own. 


NEXT WEEK, I am headed to Hawaii to become an O’ahu Master Island specialist. This training will allow me to really focus on helping clients plan custom Hawaiian vacation packages, and our entire family is planning an extended trip to Hawaii in 2020, where I will learn even more to help you plan your Hawaiian vacation. 

This is an area I am SUPER excited about. I can’t wait to help my clients immerse themselves in the island culture, savor incredible food, relax on picturesque beaches, journey through most of Earth’s climate zones in a single trip, take exciting risks and see once-in-a-lifetime sights.

Why Should You Care?

My plan in specializing in fewer destinations is to really be able to excel in planning YOUR next vacation.

When you come to me to plan a Disney trip, I want to be your breath of fresh air as you surface from the overwhelming ocean of Disney facts, information, and tips that are out there. Ask FaceBook for Disney tips and watch what happens: you will get 543 answers and not one of them will actually be taking YOUR family into consideration. I want to truly get to know YOU and help you plan the vacation that you want and is the best fit for you. Not the trip your friend had or your neighbor thinks you should go on.

If you want to travel with grandparents and grandkids to a relaxing beach where there is something for everyone to be happy and relax, I want to help you find the place that really fits your personality and expectations.

If you want to travel to Europe with children but can’t imagine doing so with them so young, I want to share how an Adventures by Disney or Backroads trip will quiet every fear, take your hand and help you see the world with your children and create memories that you didn’t even know were possible. 

Whether you are visiting the world’s most popular theme park or a remote beach in the Caribbean, I want to come alongside you to help you experience a place more deeply, more fully than you could if you were planning this trip on your own. I want to take the stress away from you so that you can focus on the memories with your family. My job is to help you to be able to slow down and savor. 

Explain the New Name Already

You may have already noticed on my email and social media, so moving forward I will be operating under the name Priceless Gem Travel. Mostly based on the details above, I feel this name reflects who I am and what I love about travel, and what I want to help my clients experience. I want you to not just visit a place, but take a vacation where you discover a “priceless gem.” Whether that is a destination you fall in love with or a particular detail of a trip that I can help you discover, that is what I want my business to be about. 

Once again, I’m incredibly grateful for your support over the past seven years, and I hope to do an even better job helping you plan priceless vacations in the future.