Ask RedWeek / November, 2021

What does Disney and Orlando travel look like now?

Thanks to COVID, we've delayed our annual holiday trip to Orlando for months. But now we are determined to go and make the most of it. What is the travel scene like right now in Orlando? And is this a good time to do the Disney parks like Magic Kingdom and all the other tourist attractions? What can we expect?

Timeshare Travel Thunders Back to Life in Orlando

Setting the right expectations is always a smart way to travel since just about everything "normal" has flipped on its head due to the pandemic. But right now, based on our on-site research, we can say with confidence that the travel world, particularly for timeshare owners, is going through a robust recovery with Orlando and Hawaii sharing the spotlight as some of the most coveted places to vacation. It's also a bit rocky, as we will explain belowFirst and foremost — from the inbound plane trip to check in at your resort — a lot of things will look and feel different for timeshare families adventuring back to Orlando for the first time since the statewide shutdown of March 2020.

Here are some of the things you can expect on your next trip, along with a few tips to save you time and money.

Potential Delays In and Out of Orlando Airport

American Airlines has weathered a tough month of bad publicity and angry passengers who've been stranded at the airport due to delays or cancellations. This is another legacy leftover from a pandemic that reduced staff, pilots, and flight attendants for all airlines. Tip: on your travel days, arrive early, bring a book to the airport and be prepared for last minute changes. Patience, patience.

Sticker Shock on All Products

Prices are going up for food, gas and theme park tickets, markets and restaurants. Rental cars can run $100 a day, so you might want to skip the car and take an Uber or Lyft ride to your resort (or take Disney's airport-to-resort shuttles). With inflation rising 6.2 percent last month, all consumer products will cost a little more — not to mention those hard-to-get products that are stuck on container ships outside West Coast ports (another pandemic leftover). Disney theme park tickets, always the most expensive toys in Orlando's attic, will run $133 per person during the week to $155 on weekends for adults. Tip: always check in with your timeshare concierge to get 10-20 percent discounts to Orlando's parks — or agree to take another timeshare presentation so you can recoup the price of at least one Disney ticket.

Mike Brown, CEO of Travel + Leisure Co. (formerly known as Wyndham Destinations, the world's largest timeshare conglomerate) told analysts recently that the bite from inflation may not be as bad as some economists envision. "On the topic of inflation, we should be a net beneficiary," Brown said. "One of the core value propositions of timeshare is locking in future vacation costs at today's prices. It is easier for us to demonstrate the value of ownership when travel costs are rising."

That logic may appeal to the timeshare sales team at Disney Vacation Club, but maybe not at Disney's packed theme parks, which are adapting to price-hikes, employee shortages, and COVID mask mandates to help people forget the past 18 months and celebrate Disney's 50th anniversary. Disney spent millions to promote the 50th, but it has been a challenge since every day in the park is NOT a walk in the park. From what we witnessed in person, the mask mandates seem to pose the greatest risk, because Disney is strictly enforcing the mandatory-mask provision for all indoor activities and restaurants. We saw a lot of verbal push-back from Disney customers about masks. The kids who had to enforce the mask mandates should be getting hazard pay.

Improved Customer Service but Fewer Amenities at Most Timeshares

All timeshare resorts warn customers, before and after arrival, that some amenities and/or facilities will be limited due to COVID-safety concerns. Those signs are usually located right next to the "We're hiring!" posters that companies showcase at entry ways and lobbies to fill their employee rosters. Every timeshare and hotel company we talked to in Orlando is actively hiring to replace furloughed workers who never came back. On the positive side of this pandemic equation, companies are ramping up their on-site customer communications to offset the fact that in-room amenities are disappearing and spas and pools can get closed, thanks to COVID or thunderstorms, at any time. (We were chased out of a spa during a recent trip to the Holiday Inn Orange Lake resort when a thunderstorm thundered in with little notice. The security guard hustled us out just in time to avoid a huge lightning strike. Thank you!)

Timeshare Sales Pitches Are Rusty but Ramping Up

Here is one thing that is not changing about Orlando vacations: timeshare sales tours are still everywhere, including the airport lobby, rental car counter, discount ticket brokers and, of course, the concierge at your timeshare resort. Sales teams, many of whom were thrown into unemployment during the pandemic, are hungrier than ever. Tip: put up with them and enjoy the educational part of learning about timeshare all over again. One big difference is that timeshare companies are starting to engage younger buyers (under 50 years old) while still focusing on upsells to existing owners. We attended three such sales tours during a pre-Thanksgiving visit and came away impressed with the sales teams' confidence in their product.

Makes sense, financially, since the major publicly held timeshare companies recently reported strong sales and revenue increases for the third quarter of 2021, harking back to their last good year: 2019. If they needed a headline for the fall of 2021, it would: "All Hail 2019," when sales were roaring along with a strong travel economy. During the pandemic shutdown, the Orlando-based timeshare companies tweaked their product lines to provide more entry points for younger couples who don't have the mindset, or the money, to buy into lifetime contracts. Companies are also promoting idea of working remotely during "virtual vacations" where you pay the bills during your timeshare vacation while the kids go crazy buying Mickey and Minnie paraphernalia at Disneyworld. Tip: if you decide to attend an owner update at a timeshare in Orlando, be open to idea of buying a vacation package to travel somewhere else, for 4 days and 3 nights, at a huge discount. These packages are the best sellers in timeshare, appealing to all age groups.

Still Worth a Visit

Bottom line: the Orlando resorts are still worth a visit, and Disney parks are always fun. On our recent visit, we ran into rain, humidity, thunderstorms, bad drivers and cranky couples, plus horrific flight delays, but we would do it all again. The timeshare lifestyle is very livable, with big condos and kitchens making all the other stuff much easier. The timeshare resorts in and around Orlando are also very consumer friendly.

Florida chamber of commerce types love to promote Orlando as the "#1 tourist destination on the planet," and the numbers back them up. Orlando is also the timeshare capital of the world, with more resorts and corporate timeshare headquarters than any other city or state. So, putting it simply, as timeshares go, so goes Orlando, and Disney, and Universal, and Sea World, etc.

Enjoy your trip and let us know if you spot any alligators. We looked for two weeks and got shut out.

But we did continue receiving our emails, which enabled us to get our 2022 maintenance fee bills just in time for Thanksgiving.

Happy Holidays to all.

About the author

This answer was provided by RedWeek contributor, Jeff Weir. Jeff is a California-based journalist who has covered California, Congress, and the White House. He also has roots in Silicon Valley, where he directed public relations and marketing programs for high-tech companies. He is also a timeshare owner and member of RedWeek.com.

Comments (1)

    Avatar for CDM
    CDM
    Nov 26, 2021

    Jeff managed to be informative while getting in a humorous jab here and there as he expresses the problems but overall the ultimate pleasure of timeshare ownership! Thanks for the perspective!