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Taking the Kids: to Orlando this spring — safely

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

No one was the least bit concerned. When I last visited Walt Disney World — when I last flew — a year ago this month, no one I met was much concerned about COVID-19. They were too busy enjoying all that the Theme Park Capital of the World had to offer.

Then the world shifted on its axis and the past year became one we all wanted to put behind us. Now, desperate to put some fun back in our lives, and with growing numbers getting vaccinated daily, we are beginning to venture out, especially to places we love and feel safe.

Places like Orlando. “Orlando is setting the national example for entertaining people in new ways that are immersive yet also seamlessly incorporate the new safety measures of today, whether it’s an outdoor Mardi Gras celebration at Universal or first-of-its-kind outdoor viewing pods for arts performances in downtown Orlando,” said Casandra Matej, the new president and CEO for Visit Orlando.

For those planning ahead, Walt Disney World will celebrate the resort’s 50th anniversary with “The World’s Most Magical Celebration,” starting Oct. 1 and continuing for 18 months. (Follow #DisneyWorld50 on social media platforms.)

For those who want to travel now, Matej noted that visitors this spring will find more deals than ever (with many hotels under $100 a night, new attractions, festivals and new ways to explore outdoors and like a local. “The Orlando destination is unique in that it continues to expand and grow, despite the pandemic challenges,” she said. And with reduced capacity at the parks and hotels — 50 percent as compared to 80 percent to 90 percent at this time of year, Matej said, you won’t face the same crowds.

Rates at Universal Orlando Resort’s 2,050-room coastal-themed Dockside Inn and Suites, which opened late last year, start at $76 per night while Universal Orlando has just announced a 40-percent-off spring four-day hotel and ticket deal starting at under $1,400 for a family of four, as long as you book by April 19 and travel through June 24.

 

In nearby Kissimmee, just a few miles from Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, you can find a one-bedroom apartment for as little as $55 a night — and a five-bedroom house with a pool starting at $224, many in gated communities with hotel-like amenities.

The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek offers guided tours and rents kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards; Wild Florida is the place for airboat rides and the chance to get close — but not too close — to gators, bald eagles and more.

Of course, a visit will be different this year. You’ve got to wear a mask (maybe that will become the must-have souvenir). You will need advanced reservations. The kids won’t be able to hug their favorite characters.

On the upside: Disney guests can interact with characters in new ways, thanks to pop-up appearances in all the parks. Chat up Cinderella’s mean stepsisters behind Cinderella’s castle in the Magic Kingdom, for example, or talk to Rey as she keeps an eye out for Storm Troopers at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios

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