The COVID Dairies: Traveling in a Pandemic

Let's get away...


Sun, fun, beach days and even a dose of magic! This can only mean one thing: Vacation! But the big difference with our most recent getaway? COVID. So today I'm talking all about traveling in the middle of a pandemic. Ready, set, let's go!



A Much Needed Break
If you asked us a few months ago on our thoughts with traveling during a pandemic we would have exclaimed "no way!". For months into the pandemic, we were always super cautious and not really leaving the house for anything unnecessary. As the months dragged on 2020 kept proving to be one heck of a doozy. We began to notice that the wear and tear everyday at home. The lack of adventures, no general fun of looking forward to things, the uncertainty of the current times, and to top it off, the string of bad air quality due to surrounding wildfires started to take a toll on us. Both PB and I noticed that our mental, emotional and even at times, physical health would take turns for the worst. We honestly felt like we were each falling into anxieties that we hadn't really experienced before pre-COVID and we knew that we needed a break from it all. As my birthday started to come up on the calendar, we began to talk about how we needed a change of pace, how we just needed a tiny piece of joy back into our lives to shake off the looming dark clouds of what the pandemic was doing to our mental health. That's when the idea of a little getaway came to mind!

Birthday Wishes Come True!
PB asked what I wanted for my birthday and two things came to mind: the first, to be with my family. My family is my heart and the world just feels "right" when we're all together. And two, a dose of Disney in some way. With my sister living in Southern California, we realized we could technically have BOTH happen. Why not road trip down to see my sister and at the same time visit a piece of Disney with Downtown Disney?

We've been extremely cautious in regards to COVID and we made sure to treat this getaway the same way. We had recently started to test the waters of comfort by going out and making trips to the grocery stores and Target, but this would be a different ballgame. I'll admit I was hesitant at first, but I started to see more pals online, along with family members, who all started to venture out more in regards to short staycations or even full on travels. I'd carefully watch their experiences, both good and bad to see how'd I'd feel the in same situations. Overall, it seemed like for the most part everyone would have a safe and great time. And the main takeaway I'd get from those who did travel was that it was a much needed refresher for the soul to be out or to just have that little piece of "normalcy" back in these otherwise unique times.

So we did our research and after discussing with what would be our "family bubble" of my parents, sister & brother in law and ourselves, we made the choice to move ahead with our getaway!

I'll break down all the aspects of our trip, including the safety precautions that we encountered along the way!


Road Trip
We decided that a getaway to Southern California would be perfect for us. We're not fully comfortable getting on a plane for any type of travel yet. Planes are notorious hotbeds for germs due to the recycled air, close quarters and shared spaces. Ben's caught the Flu on a flight before, so we didn't want to take any chances with air travel just yet. I'm not saying we'll never get on a plane again, but for now... it's just not in the cards for our plans in the near future. What we were comfortable with was driving. The long drive from home in the Bay Area to SoCal is one we're familiar with due to my sister living in Los Angeles and well, Disneyland. So we knew that a car trip was the way to go since we're familiar with the route, we could control our surroundings and self contain in our own car.

Rest Stops/Gas Stations
This was probably the one part of the trip I was most hesitant about since both are high traffic and touch areas for drivers along the NorCal to SoCal route. But to my surprise it wasn't too scary. We had TONS of hand sanitizer and wipes on hand, so anytime anything was touched at a gas station, we'd promptly sanitize right after.

When it came to bathrooms, we were pleasantly surprised to see that socially distanced protocols were put in place at most places. Bathroom stalls were either closed every other door for distancing, the main doors would be propped open to avoid multiple touches in and out.

In regards to dining, we normally stop once during our road trips to grab food, but due to COVID, we just took our food to go via drive thru which wasn't all too bad since it made the drive go by quicker too.

Safety Precautions
-Rest & Gas Stops had typical pandemic guidelines in place (social distancing, masks required for indoor entry.
-Some Bathrooms were socially distanced.
-Bring your own sanitizer or disposable gloves for touching gas pumps.

Hotel & Resort Stay
My family decided to spend one night at my sister's home before heading for a more relaxing stay together at Marriott's Newport Coast Villas along the Newport Coast. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with a hotel stay during a pandemic. We arrived on a weekend and was at first taken aback by how full the parking lots looked. Apparently the resort is a popular staycation spot for locals to getaway to on weekends and the resort was at almost capacity. I thought it'd be crowded, but was pleasantly surprised that it was all managed pretty well. The resort is so huge that we never actually saw any other guests in the open hallways. The only time we encountered others was at the pools and in the main building, but other than that we never had any issues feeling like we were too close to other people.  

Room
The villa room itself was beautiful. I was happy with the cleanliness and safety protocols put in place with our room pre-arrival. But we still went ahead and disinfected high touch areas like doorknobs, switches, handles etc, but we felt the room was in pretty good shape as is. Most things that are usually germ central like decorative pillows or throws were removed, pillows, sheets and extra beddings were all sealed and had "clean" stickers on them. Even the remotes, something notorious for germs in a room were individually wrapped and marked clean for our stay. Our villa was 2 bedrooms, had it's own kitchen and even a dining area which was a plus because we could really be self contained, cook our own meals or just hang out in our room without feeling like we needed much else on the outside. It was like a pandemic home away from home!


Pools
The pools at the resort had capacities set and chairs were distanced. We would call the front desk before heading out and they'd tell us if the pools were open for additional guests or which of the 3 pools in the resort area would be least crowded at the time. That was a major plus! What was nice about the pools was that each chair had a card that said "clean and ready for use" or "Please disinfect" and we noticed the employees were always on hand to clean seats, tables and chairs on a regular basis. Super impressed with that aspect of the resort.


Safety Precautions 
-Masks were required at all indoor spaces.
-Socially distant pool chairs
-Some services like hot tubs, play areas and other areas were closed for guests.
-No contact services. No housekeeping to minimize contact. If anything was requested like extra towels, they'd leave it at our door.


Beach
We just across the road from our resort to Crystal Cove Beach. So we decided to have a beach day the Sunday morning of our getaway. We're definitely more comfortable in outdoor, open air situations rather than indoor, so this was the perfect activity for us to get some sun and fun in. Crowd wise, since it was the weekend there was already a few people out and about around 10-11am on a Sunday, but we managed to find an area where our group could set up our blanket and chairs appropriately distanced from others. Since it's a beach, you'll find a mix of people with masks on or not, so if you're not comfortable with that, definitely take that into consideration. We noticed as we were leaving around 1pm, the beach started to get crowded, but the entire beach area is HUGE, so if you want a little more space and distance, try walking further down to avoid being too close to others.

Safety Precautions
- Masks worn, although it's a public and open air beach. Theres's signage that says if you can't be 6ft away from others to mask up.


Tanaka Farms
I've heard amazing things about this farm and their pumpkin patch for years! So being only 15 minutes away from our resort we knew we had to check out their seasonal offerings. On weekdays they offer socially distanced wagon tours of the farm. During the tour you are driven through the farm to see the field sights. You'll stop to see them shoot off their pumpkin cannon and you visit the adorable farm animals, too! You then head to the field to pick a few veggies to take home. On our visit we got to pick onions, cilantro and radishes. The grand finale is heading into the pumpkin patch where you'll get to pick your own pumpkins to take home! The entire experience was about an hour and reservations are required for the experience.

On the weekends they offer a different type of experience called a Drive Thru patch, you can find all information about both experiences, how to book and more on all the fun Tanka Farms has to offer here on their official site!

Safety precautions here included:
- Reservations required for wagon tour and pumpkin patch experience.
- Limited capacity.
- Masks were required the entire time.
- Temperature screenings before entry.
- Social distancing on the wagon tours and while waiting in line. On our wagon tour, it was just our family of 5, along with another small family of 3 in one wagon evenly spaced out. 


Downtown Disney
I didn't think I'd get to have the second part of my birthday wish this year, which was a dose of Disney. But with Downtown Disney open and having a trip down to SoCal, my bit of magic became a reality, even if it was just a little visit to Downtown Disney. It was almost surreal being back at the Disneyland Resort, but not being able to go into the parks. It was honestly so bittersweet. When we drove up and saw the backside of the spires of Batuu, I almost cried. It was strange to be back at our happy place, but in such a modified way. 

I know some people just view Downtown Disney as "shops and restaurants" and wouldn't deem it a destination. But for Disney fans like myself, there's something that feels so good to be back on Disney grounds. The music, the amazing Cast Members, the sights. It's all so familiar and such a needed boost of magic during the crazy times. I've been asked a lot about "did it feel weird or different to be back?". The honest answer is both yes and no. Yes, different in a sense that the parks were so close, yet so far out of reach, but no because Disney magic is still magic, no matter the capacity.


We were able to visit Downtown Disney twice on our trip, once on my actual birthday which was on a Saturday and also on the following Monday morning. Here's my thoughts:

Downtown Disney Tips

- Get there EARLY! Weekends are especially crazy and they often close parking in the Simba lot to control capacity.

- If you do plan to visit on a weekend, try to make an advanced dining reservation. We made brunch reservations for La Brea Bakery around 11am. When we arrived around 10:30am on a Saturday the parking lot was closed, but we showed them our reservation and they let us into the lot. If the line to get into the Downtown Disney area is long, you can show a Cast Member your reservation and they'll bring you to a separate and shorter line to get in.

- Once you arrive, head to the shops you might want to go to to get in line. Smaller places like The Dress Shop, Marceline's Confectionery and The Home Store have limited capacities and their wait times can add up. 

- Utilize the Virtual Queue if it's available and you have time. This is basically like a FastPass for your favorite spots. Just ask the Cast Member by the entrance of the shop and they'll direct you where to go and what to do. You'll basically just give your phone number and they'll send you a confirmation text saying you're on the list. Once it's your turn to return, they send a second text to let you know you can return anytime within 2 hours to shop! On Saturday, it took us about 1 1/2 hours to get our Virtual Queue text to return to World of Disney and about 2 hours to return to Marceline's.

- The top question I received about our time at Downtown Disney was "How safe was it?" And I can honestly say that being at Downtown Disney felt safe. Disney did it right in regards to keeping guests safe and I appreciated the efforts they implemented to ensure the best and safest experience for everyone. There were a plethora of Cast Members walking around or keeping watch to make sure guests were wearing masks appropriately, keeping their distance and basically following the rules. There wasn't a moment where I felt overwhelmed or like we weren't comfortable.

- Crowds and people wise, on the weekend it was definitely more crowded, like a busy weekend grocery run type of crowded. Again, despite the amount of people, it never felt unsafe or overwhelming. If this bothers you, try to go early morning on a weekday. There was way less people and it felt nice.

Safety Precautions
- Limited capacity and temperature checks upon entry.
- Appropriate mask coverings are required for all guests over 2 years old. Masks can only be removed when stationary to eat or drink.
- Social Distance markings are throughout the Downtown Disney Area.
- Multiple Handwashing stations, along with hand sanitizer locations throughout.
- Limited capacities for stores and restaurants.



A Trip Good for the Soul
I hope you enjoyed my little pandemic getaway recap! This trip was exactly what we needed to refresh our souls and take in a dose of needed joy from the past 7 or so months of craziness. Having something to look forward to with planning a trip, getting to be surrounded with loved ones, and just being in a different location other than home all felt so good in the best of ways. 2020 and this pandemic has taken a toll on all of us in one way or another. And it's in these difficult and challenging times that we need to remember to take care of ourselves, even when the world around us feels like it's going haywire. That's why I'm so glad we went on this getaway. Yes, we know there's a pandemic still going on in the world, but it shows that we can still hold onto the little joys while being safe, keeping distance and still finding a ways to reclaim our happy again!

I'll end with this, while we felt safe during our entire getaway, I know that our situation, comfort levels and personal choices will differ from others out there. COVID is very real and should be treated so, but at the same time, I understand that we all need that break when times get rough. I encourage anyone considering their own travels to please do your research, check your resort's safety guidelines, see what local ordinances are currently set and if you're comfortable with them. Make sure that you check out real time numbers or data currently out there. Be sure to set your personal boundaries as to what you feel is right, bring loads of sanitizer and remember that it's okay to find joy in these times. And as always, wear your masks, be kind, be responsible and respectful and most of all... stay safe! 💜

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