Are Disney World And Universal Orlando Doing Enough To Keep Visitors Safe?

Is it possible to keep a theme park clean and safe during a pandemic?

Back in October, California governor Gavin Newsom announced a plan for reopening theme parks in the state.

After months of lobbying for reopening from both Disney and Universal as the state sought to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plan was not received well, with representatives from both companies balking at measures they saw as overly restrictive. Then — after huge spikes in COVID numbers — Disneyland was converted into a vaccine distribution site in January...


With staggering losses and massive employee layoffs as a result of months of closure, both Universal and Disney were eager for their theme park businesses to get back in gear in California. But the companies don't have the same issues in Florida, where they have been operational since the summer.

In fact, Florida governor Ron DeSantis completely eliminated state-level restrictions on businesses as of September 25th, and even made it impossible for local municipalities to mandate anything beyond the most minimal restrictions on bars and restaurants.

Despite some worrying trends in the state's coronavirus numbers, the Governor has been determined to return to business as usual, even promising a "full Super Bowl" in Tampa next February. But not everyone is as blindly optimistic as Florida's highest elected official.

Why Go to Disney World During a Pandemic? | The New Yorker www.youtube.com

While Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World have been reopened since June and July respectively — when Florida's first wave of COVID cases was at its worst — if travelers are considering a trip to either resort, they may want to have a closer look at the precautions taken by each company to make their parks safe(ish) for visitors.

With that in mind, my wife and I recently went under cover as "tourists" and "nerds" to inspect these theme parks by going on a bunch of rides and getting overly excited about various attractions that may or may not be designed for small children.

Capacity

universal entrance

While both resorts claim to be taking measures recommended by the CDC, only Disney World has explicitly stated that they are operating at 25% capacity. That said, guests should not expect to see 25% of the usual crowds, because Disney World's various parks don't generally fill up to 100% capacity under normal circumstances.

Instead—on days when the parks reach their 25% capacity—the resulting crowds should be around 40-60% of average levels. While this creates a noticeable reduction in the density of visitors, Disney World is far from a ghost town, and both Epcot and Animal Kingdom—the two parks my wife and I enjoyed inspected—were host to a comfortable number of people on the weekdays we spent there.

As for Universal Orlando, it's hard to get a proper comparison, because we found ourselves at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on the Sunday before Halloween. While that weekend would probably see the parks packed to the brim under normal circumstances, it was still quite busy, with throngs of people—especially in the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" sections—frequently making us feel uncomfortable.

While it may not be fair to blame Universal for the way their guests choose to cluster, it's worth noting that the resort has refused to publicly clarify their current operating capacity, referring to it simply as "limited capacity" or "reduced capacity," without providing a specific number.

Perhaps it's a more lax approach to limiting guests that has allowed the resort to maintain long hours with lots of mascots and live performances, while Disney has reduced both their operating hours and the presence of performers in their parks — having laid off around 90% of Disney World's union performers — in order to cut costs.

While this may make for a more fun experience for some visitors to Universal Orlando, if safety is a priority, Disney is clearly taking a firmer approach to minimizing their crowds. And while Disney parks are operating for fewer hours each day, the reduced crowds make it easier to experience a lot in that limited time.

Disney: 4/5

Universal: 3/5

Social Distancing

social distancing universal disney

Disney World and Universal Orlando have adopted the same basic protocol when it comes to social distancing, instructing guests to maintain at least six feet of distance from anyone they weren't traveling with, and providing floor markings in lines for rides and attractions.

However, Disney was a bit more stringent about repeating and enforcing these instructions, which made a clear difference. While a substantial portion of guests at Universal seemed to ignore the floor markings—generally leaving only a few feet between themselves and other parties—nearly all the guests we saw at Disney World seemed to take the six foot rule seriously.

Disney also took the extra step of adding physical barriers between lines wherever necessary, which is a major reassurance when you would otherwise be forced to keep track of dozens of strangers in various directions in order to maintain appropriate distance from everyone around you.

Disney: 4.5/5

Universal: 3.5/5

Face Masks

Again, both Disney and Universal have adopted the same basic protocol advised by the CDC. Guests must keep their mouths and noses covered by a face mask at all times, except when eating or drinking — which is only to be done while stationary and away from other guests.

In announcements reminding guests of the rules, those who do not comply are threatened with removal—though we did not witness any effort to make good on that threat. As with social distancing, the reminders were more frequent at Disney, and employees did occasionally correct people who left their noses exposed. Many of the workers at Disney World also had the added protection of face shields, which was nice to see.

As for the various restaurants in each park, they were still operating. And while there was some effort to space guests out, we did not feel comfortable removing our masks in indoor spaces with uncertain ventilation, so we chose to make use of abundant outdoor seating.

Disney: 4.5/5

Universal: 4/5

Hand Washing

This is the one area where Universal definitely had Disney beat. While both resorts had hand sanitizer stationed all around their parks in automatic dispensers — and Disney Epcot also had a number of outdoor handwashing stations, which was handy with their food and wine festival ongoing — only universal had employees stationed at every ride to make sure each guest sanitized their hands before boarding.

This made a big difference when grabbing seatbelts, restraints, and handlebars. We had a reasonable assurance the hundreds of other people who had also touched those surfaces had relatively clean hands at the time. Without that added step at Disney, it felt a little more urgent to track down hand sanitizer after getting off each ride. And while it was generally easy to find, it's easy to imagine what a challenge it could be for parents to keep a small child from touching their eyes, mouth, and nose in the meantime.

Both parks seem to be using hand sanitizer that includes aloe or some other kind of moisturizer, because after three days of near constant application, our hands had not transformed into scaly, irritated claws.

Disney: 4/5

Universal: 5/5

Cleaning

Cleaning

Speaking of strangers touching surfaces, you might wonder what kind of army it takes to keep these massive theme parks clean while thousands of people mill about, touching and breathing on everything. And you can keep on wondering, because while both resorts assure visitors that they have ramped up their cleaning procedures, that was only evident at Disney — and even there it didn't seem sufficient.

While nothing looked particularly dirty at either park, at Disney we saw only a handful of workers moving about with spray bottles and cloths, sanitizing handrails, benches, outdoor tables, and other surfaces. At Universal, the only place we saw that approach to cleaning was at the temporary lockers where guests are required to place their belongings before more intense roller coasters — which is less of an issue at Disney, where there's less emphasis on thrill rides.

This is not to say there weren't workers cleaning surfaces at Universal, but unless they are exceptionally good at doing their job undetected, they are certainly fewer than at Disney World.

Disney: 3.5/5

Universal 2/5

Guests...

Macaulay Culkin scream

Of course there is a confounding factor in all of the efforts theme parks take to keep their guests safe: the guests themselves.

While the new rules and safety measures are positive steps, there's nothing that will stop a stubbornly oblivious or selfish or just plain stupid person from pulling their mask off to talk on the phone or itch their nose or sneeze into their hand and then proceed to touch everything.

As much fun as we had at both Disney and Universal, that fun was regularly disrupted by the horrified rage of watching people comply with public safety rules only as much as they had to to avoid getting in trouble.

At Universal — where there was less effort to drive home the rules — that included way too many people crowding close to strangers, many of them not seeming to realize that their noses are attached to their lungs, i.e. the things that can get infected and then infect others with a deadly virus...

But at both parks it included people — only some of them children — touching everything within reach, ignoring hand sanitizer, then touching their phones, their loved ones, and every part of their faces. And worst of all, the drunk people...

There's a reason why bars have been subject to stricter rules as the country attempts to reopen. Drunk people cannot be tamed. If they remember and understand the rules, do they care?

Does it matter to someone who's just trying to keep a buzz going that they can spread COVID-19 even if they're asymptomatic? That — when they ignore the rules and take off their masks to throw back some some beer — they could be indirectly triggering the deaths of who knows how many innocent people?

At both Disney and Universal we saw people fully remove their masks while surrounded by strangers, indoors, in line for a ride, and leave their masks off for an extended period of time. In both cases they had drinks in their hands and were already drunk.

Maybe that's on the parks for letting them join those lines while they had drinks with them. Either way, it was a healthy reminder of how stubbornly selfish and uncaring people can be.

People: 2/5

Drunk People: 0/5

So if you're considering a trip to Florida, and hoping that the theme parks at Universal Orlando and Disney World will provide a safe place to escape the world for a bit, you should know that, while neither one is doing a perfect job in terms of COVID safety measures, Disney is probably a safer bet.

Disney: 4/5

Universal: 3/5

That said, Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal might be the most fun you'll ever have on a rollercoaster, so...tough call.

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Seattle, Washington is a rainy, coffee-fueled, coastal town often referred to as the "Emerald City."

Located against the ecological wonderland of Puget Sound, this cosmopolitan, seaside city is a mishmash of arts, culture, history, nature, and, of course, cloudy weather. Thanks to its proximity to nature, its greenery, and its culturally rich, big-city atmosphere, the city is becoming increasingly popular, both for tourists and those looking for a change of scenery.

The Big Stops: Tourist Seattle

If you only have a few days to visit Seattle, you'll probably want to check out the area's most famous attractions.

For nature lovers and summit-chasers, there's the imposing, wildflower-shrouded Mt. Rainier.

Mt. Rainierthebesttravelplaces.com

Mt. Rainier

For foodies, there's the popular Pike Place Market, a giant patchwork of food-sellers and friendly chaos where you can purchase everything from giant crabs' legs to bottomless amounts of coffee (more on that later).

Pike Place Marketseattle.eater.com

And finally, there's the iconic Space Needle and the Sky View Observatory, which will give you extraordinary views of the city.

Space Needlegetyourguide.com

Seattle Arts and Museums

For arts and culture lovers, Seattle has plenty to cut your teeth on. Don't miss the Chihuly Garden and Glass, a collection of extraordinary blown-glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly.

Chihuly Gardensfodors.com

Chihuly Gardens

For art, there's the giant Seattle Art Museum Downtown. Seattle also offers the Museum of Pop Culture, a nonprofit that features all your favorite icons from history, and plenty of other options.

Museum of Pop Culturesmithsonianmag.org

For some history, there's the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, which commemorates Seattle's history as a gold rush hub.

There are plenty of quirky attractions—like the giant Fremont Troll, the 18-foot sculpture in the Fremont neighborhood that cuts an imposing figure.

Fremont Trollsillyamerica.com

You could also take in the city from a boat—marine enthusiasts might enjoy visiting to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks to explore the history of this port city.

Seattle, of course, also has a gritty underground side—you may know the city from its time at the heart of the '90s grunge movement.

It also has a long, storied history that has left more than a few scars. You can literally see its underground through one of its underground tours, which will take you on a walk through the "buried city," the remnants left over from before the Great Fire of 1889.

Seattle Undergroundpinterest

Natural Wonders

Seattle is notorious for its natural wonders. For a close-up view, there's the Seattle Aquarium, a marine experience that showcases the best of what Puget Sound has to offer.

For more exposure to the beauty of Seattle's nature, try the Washington Park Arboretum, a 230-acre showcase of Seattle's wetlands and natural wonders.

Washington Park Arboretumtriposo.com

You might also pay a visit to the Alki Beach for some time with the ocean waves.

Alki BeachMetropolitangardens.blogspot.com

Or consider taking a more exhaustive adventure to Discovery Park, a giant and labyrinthine natural park at the edge of Puget Sound.

Discovery Parktrip savvy.com

Food and Drink

Food tours are also popular options for those who want to get more intimate with the city's cuisine, and Seattle is often ranked as one of the best cities for foodies.

It's also a great place for coffee-heads. You might also pay a visit to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, AKA Ultimate Starbucks, a tasting room that features a coffee library amongst other treats for coffee addicts.

Sarbucks Reserve Roasterydesigner.com

Moving to Seattle

If you're planning on moving to Seattle, locals say there's a few things you should know. First off, it is most definitely overcast the majority of the time, though the rain is rather like a mist. That makes the rare sunny day shine even more, though, locals say, in addition to fostering natural abundance.

The city is generally very congested with traffic, which can be noisy, though it offers great public transportation options, from buses to rail—regardless, you'll want to get an Orca Card for that.

Like every city, Seattle has a number of diverse and charismatic neighborhoods. For example, there's the beachy, more laid-back West Seattle.

West SeattleWest Seattle

There's the vibrant Capitol Hill, a hub of arts, culture, tech bros, and nightlife (during non-COVID times).

There's the historic and artsy Pioneer Square, featuring plenty of museums, shops, galleries, and pubs.

Pioneer Square SeattleExpedia

Fremont is a more bohemian area. Belltown is a trendy waterfront neighborhood that's close to everything.

In general, Seattle residents love the city for its proximity to nature, from beaches to glaciers, and its abundance of arts and cultural attractions. As Kimberly Kinrade said, "Seattle is for people who love culture, but refuse to sacrifice their wild nature to attain it." Residents dislike the steep cost of housing and all things that come from rising prices, including the city's large homeless population.

In general, the city is known as environmentally conscious, liberal, and dog-loving. The people are often referred to as nice but possibly a bit standoffish and cold (the "Seattle Freeze" is when you make plans to hang out and then bail, which is apparently very common). The rain can certainly get depressing, but the proximity to nature helps.

Remember, if you do happen to move: umbrellas are dead giveaways for tourists.


What's your favorite part about Seattle? What did we leave out? Let us know at @thejourniest on Twitter!

Travel

Weed World Candies Exist to Prey on Gullible Tourists

Weed is still illegal in New York, but scamming tourists is not.

You wouldn't know it walking around midtown Manhattan, but marijuana is still illegal in New York.

It does seem strange to think that perhaps the most metropolitan city in the US would be lagging behind so many other parts of the country that have legalized possession, production, and sale of cannabis and THC products, but it's true.

New York's decriminalization of marijuana has led many smokers to be more brazen with their public consumption in recent years, and Governor Cuomo recently announced plans for limited legalization for recreational use at the state level. But for the time being the sale of products containing THC is still very much illegal.

buy happiness You sure about that?

Adding to the confusion is a company that has sprung up to prey on tourist's uncertainty. Weed World trucks have multiplied at a staggering rate since they first started appearing in Midtown and the Village a few years ago. Easily a dozen RVs and vans now line the tourist-dense streets of Manhattan, advertising Girl Scout Cookies and Gorilla Glue, clad in marijuana-leaf decals and occupied by employees who are paid either to be stoned out of their minds, or just to pretend they are.

With eyes nearly in slits and an air of relaxation that suggests that customers are temporary interludes from a permanent nap, they will promise you as much as they can get away with while letting their branding do most of the work. They will sell you four lollipops for $20, which would seem like a great deal if not for the fact that they will not deliver on the strong implication that they'll get you high.

They have a Twitter account where they celebrate the supposed availability of weed and claim to "have New York locked down." They'll even sell you vape cartridges that advise you to "get medicated," and which are packed with potent doses of… flavor?

weed world truck

An employee once assured me that their candies do contain THC—maybe they wouldn't be so brazenly dishonest today—and in a drunken state I coughed up $5 to test that claim. There is a faint weedy taste to their candies, and you may find trace amounts of CBD inside, but that's it. It's a scam. There is no THC. Nothing that will give their customers the experience they're selling.

Worse than the trucks is the Weed World Candies storefront that opened in midtown in 2019. Just walking past you would swear that people were passing a massive blunt inside.

The smell is unmistakable and overpowering, except that it's fake. Whatever chemical fragrance they pumped onto the street, it was not connected to anyone smoking weed. Inside, the psychedelic wall art complemented shelves lined with suggestive candies and boxes emblazoned with pot leaf insignia.

Whatever the venue, they are all too happy to sell you overpriced hemp products and CBD creams and chocolates made to look like nugs. And if you're a tourist, or a moron like me, you might believe the scam long enough to give them money, but nothing they sell will get you high.

weed world store Hiroki Kittaka

The owners of Weed World, Judah Izrael and Bilal Muhammad—who prefers to go by "Dro Man" or "Doctor Dro"—will defend their products by claiming that they serve to promote legalization and decriminalization efforts by normalizing the idea of public sale of marijuana. But at no point in the purchasing process is the illusion that their candies will get you high broken. At no point are their customers offered literature explaining the mission of Weed World.

On their website's FAQs page, there is no mention of THC or its absence from their products, but the first question, "How much should I eat?" is answered, "It's all based on your tolerance but there's no limit." Tolerance for what? Sugar? The company—which originated in Alabama and has spread to cities around the country—mostly seems like a very profitable way to sell candy to gullible adults.

weed world wall art Nicole Mallete

The best thing I can say in their defense is that one of their trucks was recently busted by police in Saraland, Alabama, with products that "tested positive for marijuana." Assuming this isn't a screw up or deliberate frame-job by the police, it's possible that some of the Weed World trucks are using their faux activism as a front for selling actual drugs. If so, that would be the most honest thing about this company. Until that's confirmed, ignore these trucks and maybe just ask a friend for a hookup.

There's nothing like a road trip out west.

From the abundant national parks to the mythical ghost-town studded deserts to the cursed, alien-ridden highways and the awe-inspiring vistas of the Pacific Northwest, the American west has a kind of pull that's hard to resist.

And few forms of travel are more hallowed than the American road trip. Short of a cross-country odyssey, the American west might be the most iconic place to hit the road with an eye for the sublime. Here are eight of the best road trips you can take in the American west.

1. Historic Route 66

Historic Route 66

Historic Route 66

thestar.com

If you're a nostalgia or Americana junkie, you probably already know about Route 66, AKA the Mother Road. The highway from Chicago to Los Angeles is studded with tales of gritty American lore, and today it's a tour of neon signs and kitschy roadside attractions. Be sure to stop at the Miramec Caverns and the Painted Desert, and keep your eyes peeled for ghostly cowboys and fallen spaceships along the way.

2. Utah's Route 12 Scenic Byway

Utah Route 12

Utah

silverkris.com

Spanning a route of 123 miles in southern Utah, this road traverses some of America's wildest and most untamed landscapes. Passing through Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and ending at Capitol Reef National Park, it's an unforgettable journey through America's magnificent wilderness. Start your trip at Panguach, a small town located along Highway 89, and wind past the marbled arches of Cottonwood Canyon and the hairpin turns of the Hogsback until you reach the open vistas of Capitol Reef.

3. Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Highway 101, Oregon

Highway 101

Highway 101

theconstantrambler.com

Enjoy this stunning 363-mile trek from Astoria in the northwest corner to Garibaldi in the south. You'll pass by sandy beaches, trading posts, lighthouses, and fishing boats on this nautical adventure, which is an ocean lover's paradise.

4. Pacific Coast Highway, California

\u200bPacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

autoblog.com

This infamous road trip will take you alongside Monterey and Big Sur. Placing you between the Pacific and a wall of extraordinary redwoods, passing by waterfalls, purple sand beaches, beach towns, and castles, this trip is an unforgettable adventure we should all take before we die (or before California is engulfed by flames and/or the rising sea).

Travel from San Diego to Seattle, and in between, take in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and whatever calls your name along the way.

5. The Sun Road and Beartooth Highway, Montana

\u200bSun Road and Beartooth Highway

Sun Road and Beartooth Highway

earthporm.com

This 50-mile highway divides Glacier National Park and crosses the Continental Divide, offering stunning glimpses of wildlife and the magnificent alpine mountains.

6. The Loneliest Road, Nevada

The Loneliest Road

The Loneliest Road

thisisreno.com

If you're looking to get in touch with your lone wolf side, Nevada's Loneliest Road—AKA Highway 50—might be the place to do that. Snaking through a barren section of Nevada, the Loneliest Road follows the Pony Express route, so you'll see plenty of skeletal mining camps along with juniper and pine forests, untouched lakes, and some of the darkest skies you can see in the continental U.S.

7. The Southwest: Utah to Arizona

Southwest Road Trip\u200b

Southwest Road Trip

Utah.com

This 860-mile trip takes you from the Grand Canyon, past the Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, all the way to the vibrant domes, hoodoos, and yes, arches of Arches National Park.

8. West Coast National Parks Road Trip

\u200bWest Coast National Park

West Coast National Park

exclusives.webject.com

This road trip is more labyrinthine and winding than the others, but how else are you going to see so many national parks in one trip? Start in Los Angeles and pay a visit to Channel Islands, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Pinnacles, Yosemite, the Redwoods, Crater Lake, Mt. Rainier, and the North Cascades before settling in Seattle.