December 5, 2021

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Long Island Family’s Disney Trip ‘Safe, Emotional’

PATCHOGUE, NY — After months of planning their Disney World trip to Florida, one Patchogue family finally embarked on their vacation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sanfilippo family enjoys visiting Disney parks at least one to three times a year. So after returning from Disneyland in California in February, they decided to plan a trip to Disney World in Florida.

But then the coronavirus pandemic hit. The family adjusted their trip by extending their stay and changing the dates around until Disney reopened this month. They also had to change their hotel and finish their two-week quarantine in Florida. The family traveled to Florida June 26 and were still there as of Wednesday.

They said the pandemic didn’t make their Disney trip any less magical.

“The highlights of our trip were definitely the minute we pulled up to our hotel we were greeted by Disney cast members at the hotel clapping for us and saying welcome home and at that moment we felt the Disney magic again and that we were finally home,” Nicole Sanfilippo told Patch. “It was very emotional for us. Also, walking into the Magic Kingdom again for the first time again since the pandemic and seeing the newly painted castle was like seeing Disney World again for the first time. I was just so happy to be there.”

Sanfilippo, who traveled to Disney World with her son, two sisters and nephew, saw Mickey Mouse and other characters standing up on the train station. They also saw several small parades throughout the day, which Sanfilippo says was her favorite.

While the family enjoyed some of the usual entertainment at the park, there were a lot of changes due to COVID-19. Sanfilippo said they are letting fewer people in the park, so there are no wait times for rides.

Disney has been criticized by some on social media for reopening as coronavirus cases in Florida surge, but Sanfilippo said that she believes Disney is taking safety seriously.

“They have many things in place that are different in order to maintain social distance like stickers on the floor on lines to space you out 6 feet, wiping down rides after you ride it and not filling every row or seat,” she said.

Guests also need a park reservation and ticket to get in, and must have their temperature taken before going through security. Guests have to walk through a metal detector with their bags and must order food through a cashless mobile system.

In addition, the park closes earlier and there are no fireworks or stage shows to prevent people from gathering. Guests cannot hug Mickey Mouse or other characters but can still see them throughout the parks and resorts from afar.

“Although it’s different they added little surprises like marching bands or mini parades to keep the magic alive. They don’t tell you when they will happen like they used to so they can prevent gathering,” Sanfilipo said. “Masks have to be worn by cast members and staff at all times except is designated spots called relaxation areas , there you can remove your masks to cool off but it’s limited capacity and spaced out. Hand sanitizer and wash stations are at every ride and all over the park .”

The family went prepared, bringing several masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. They also bought more masks at Disney decorated with characters.

“We all talked before we went about how we would handle staying safe like not going anywhere in Florida except Disney, we are firm with anyone around us to keep 6 feet if they get too close and basically have been doing everything we did in New York while finally being in our happy place,” Sanfilippo said. “We were once the epicenter and managed to keep ourselves healthy we said if we could do it home we can do it in Florida and Disney. We feel safer in Disney World than our Shop Rite at home.”

The family still knew they were taking a chance traveling to Disney during the pandemic. While they were nervous, Sanfilippo said her family “needed this trip” and ultimately are happy they decided to take the trip.

“My son was very sick and in the hospital right as New York was shutting down and getting bad,” she said. “He didn’t have COVID but went through some serious health issues. I made a promise to him that when he got better and Disney World opened up again I would take him and we would be one of the first guests. I kept my promise. When we heard Disney shut down it was upsetting for us all we had to be there when it opened. Disney isn’t a place to us it’s our second home and makes us all so happy. We are huge Disney fans.”

Some of the family’s favorite memories were seeing the castle again and feeding the ducks at Magic Kingdom. Sanfilippo believes people can still go on vacation while staying safe and her advice to anyone who wants to travel or to Disney World is to wear your masks, wash your hands, keep 6 feet away from others, and use hand sanitizer.

“I believe there is a balance one I didn’t know existed until I came to Florida and Disney World. We have been here almost 3 weeks and thankfully feel fine and have finally laughed and smiled for the first time in months,” she said. “We all have been through a lot and it can really bring you down. Go at your comfort level when you are ready. I highly recommend Disney World. We have some amazing memories and have been taken care of well.”

Check out additional photos from the family’s trip below:

All photos courtesy of Nicole Sanfilippo

This article originally appeared on the Patchogue Patch

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