By Susan & Simon Veness
It’s the question we hear most these days, and it’s the one we would truly love to be able to answer with 100 per cent assurance.
Sadly, our crystal ball went into the bin after it failed to warn us about the recession in 2008, so we cannot offer any hard and fast guarantees when it comes to responding to the key query – when can we book our next Florida holiday?
Certainly, when the lockdown ends, restrictions on travel are lifted and our thoughts can return to ideas of a carefree holiday in the sun, you will be delighted to know that Florida will most definitely be waiting for you once again.
There are going to be new procedures and processes in place, both on your flight and when you arrive, all geared around making travellers safe and ensuring there is an extra element of security to everything we do.
As of this week, there are already parts of the Sunshine State opening up again. Restaurants can now operate at 25 per cent of their normal capacity, along with some non-essential businesses, including shops, libraries and museums. Most state parks will be open once again, as long as people maintain social distancing, while we can also go back to the beaches, albeit with that same stipulation of keeping our distance.
Bars, nightclubs, gyms and hair salons remain closed, though, along with – crucially – the theme parks and other large-scale attractions that are such a key part of Florida’s widespread appeal.
So, yes, there are definitely parts of the stage you can enjoy again, but it is still a limited experience and, if we’re honest, we think it’s going to be a few months before we have a realistic idea of how the new measures are working and if it all still amounts to the kind of experience we know and love.
But the first stage to re-establishing Florida and its eternal appeal has begun, and that in itself is most assuredly A Good Thing. It may not be a steady or unbroken process in the weeks and months to come, but it IS underway, and the tourist business community is working overtime to figure out how the process needs to roll out in time.
That in turn feeds in to the key question we started with – when can we start to book those all-important holidays again?
Well, this is going to be a two-part answer, fuelled in equal measures by optimism, pragmatism and some sheer dyed-in-the-wool guesswork. It isn’t an answer in the usual sense that you can take to the bank and count on it to amass interest. But it is something you can lean on with a degree of confidence, bearing in mind we are talking to people all the time, both publically and privately about what The Way Back actually looks like.
Here’s Part 1:
No-one knows. OK, sorry. We didn’t mean to throw Mr Pragmatic at you quite so forcefully. What we meant to say is that no-one has a firm grasp on how things will look in one month’s time, two months, etc. This is going to be a slow and deliberate process, with plenty of stops and starts, a few re-boots, and a lot of looking around at how things are being done elsewhere (notably with the re-opening of the parks and attractions in China).
The Beginning is under way for Florida, but it is not going to move in a steady, straight line and, if this is Phase One, then Phase Two is not scheduled for anytime soon. Evaluations will be made on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and it is going to be an extremely cautious mindset in the immediate future.
The good news is that there are plenty of creative, high-level minds being brought to bear on the task. The fact Walt Disney World sits at the epi-centre of Florida’s historic closure means they have a heavily vested interest in making sure the state’s re-opening is not just pragmatic but also long-lasting.
They are not going to run before they can walk, and they know that when guests go back through the gates of the Magic Kingdom, it needs to be a positive experience for all concerned as well as a self-sustaining one. In short, if there is anyone that can makes this a success, it is Disney.
This all adds up to a source of wary optimism. Everyone will be involved in making things work to the advantage of all, and the industry as a whole will be sharing ideas and best practices as they go. It may take a while, but they’ll get it right.
This is more about the practical side of what the tour operators – like America First Coast Travel – are doing to reassure the booking public, in many cases going over and above what is required by the stipulations of ABTA, and others.
The travel business is well aware there have been several self-afflicted black eyes handed out in the course of the pandemic so far, not least by the cruise industry, and the public needs to be reassured that their future bookings are both safe and fully secured for all eventualities.
With that in mind, we asked America First Coast Travel for their updated Terms & Conditions to be as transparent and forward-thinking as possible, and we were extremely encouraged by what we heard back.
In short, if you book with AFCT, here’s what you can expect:
- Free Cancellations
- Free Amendments
- Flexible & Low cost deposits
- Fully financially protected
- No hidden booking fees
- Great value for money
In their own words: “It is definitely the right time to emphasise the safety and security of customer funds, and the flexibility to be able to amend or cancel if circumstances change. Therefore, all AFCT holidays are financially protected by our ATOL-bonded booking partner JTA Travel (ATOL No. 4110). Flexible booking terms will be confirmed by our expert travel team at the time of your booking enquiry.”
So there you have it, from the equine mouthpiece. We may not be able to tell you exactly when it’s OK to book for again, but there are lots of encouraging signs, and some extremely positive reassurances, too.
And, for those who have asked us if it is OK to book for 2021, we would just say – don’t get left behind!
Susan & Simon Veness are the UK’s leading experts on Florida, having written about it for more than 25 years and sold more than half a million copies of their books about Orlando, Disney and the Sunshine State.