If you’re curious this year about where to go that isn’t Disney, take a look at some of these options below!
2020 was a weird year, and while hope is on the horizon 2021 is still going to take some time to feel “normal” again. Of course one major thing that was affected last year was travel. While some people are ready to get back at it in 2021, things still look a bit different in many ways.
I know many Disney fans would like to do something this year but aren’t sure if Disney is the best choice in 2021. There are a lot of reasons why someone might not go this year – until the vaccine is widely available there is definitely still some risk of being around large groups of people. Disney does a great job enforcing masks and distance but it’s not for everyone. Disney is still an expensive vacation, and many people are hurting a bit more financially due to the pandemic. They also haven’t brought back everything like fireworks and character meet and greets. Due to one or all of these things, you may be considering waiting a bit longer to go Disney World (And if you’re a Disneyland regular, we still don’t quite know when they will ever reopen!).
As a travel agent I’ve seen a lot of my Disney regulars looking at other options this year – and honestly, it’s kind of exciting to explore new places as well! So if you’re on the fence about Disney but would still like to do some sort of travel in 2021, I’ve got some ideas in this post for you. If you’d like to know more about any of these or you want some additional guidance I’d be happy to help you. My services as a travel agent are free for you, we just hope that you do your actual booking through us because we don’t get paid otherwise! Please send me an email at email@example.com and I’m happy to help.
Most or all of these locations offer decent cancellation and refund policies, which is a good thing to keep in mind – not just right not but always when you are traveling because you never know what might happen! We always recommend trip insurance as well.
Rent a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains
Best for: larger families, people who want to get away but don’t want to interact much with others, nature lovers, people on a budget
We visited the Great Smoky Mountains a few years ago and it’s a beautiful place. If you’re into the nature side of things the national park is wonderful with lots of trails you can hike or drive. There are plenty of outdoor activities including white water rafting, ziplining, and golf. As a travel agent I could also find you some guided tours and hikes or you can explore on your own. And if you’re comfortable venturing around more people you’ll find a number of fun attractions in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. The Titanic Museum is an incredible exhibit and Dollywood is a wonderful theme park – Disney fans will want to check it out!
I started researching some cabins in the Gatlinburg area for a client and now I want to go back and stay in one. They are big, beautiful, and have lots of amenities often including hot tubs, a pool table, arcade games, and an indoor movie theater set-up. Even if you don’t want to go out much at all you could have a great getaway. It would be perfect for larger families or two families who may have chosen to “bubble” together. Some of the really big cabins can run $500/night but those typically sleep about 15 people. For a one family cabin you can find some great deals, even around $100/night depending on the time of year.
Aulani in Hawaii
Best for: couples, those wanting warmer weather, people who want some Disney in their vacation, those comfortable with air travel
Hawaii is a great choice because in some ways it feels like another country but it’s not international travel. If you want the feel of Disney and level of service and quality Disney has to offer without the theme parks, Aulani fits the bill. With the resort currently limiting capacity you won’t find the beaches and pools crowded.
Some things are not reopening right away, such as the spa or ukulele lessons, but the majority are. Not all restaurants have reopened either. You can still experience the pools, lazy river, water slide, snorkeling, and a variety of off-site excursions. Some people may wish to wait until everything has returned, but there is still a lot to do and with the current deals and lower crowds it might be an ideal time for some.
Just make sure you stay up to date on any travel requirements from Hawaii. Currently that includes a negative COVID-19 test result or a 10 day quarantine.
Best for: families, adults, theme park lovers, history buffs, thrill ride seekers
For those in the northeast, Williamsburg is a great option for Disney lovers that’s a little bit closer than Florida – especially if you’re looking at driving. The city is a unique combination of history and theme park fun. If you’re not familiar with Colonial Williamsburg, it’s a “living history museum” – there are preserved and recreated buildings from the 1700’s that works to actually take you back in time to the colonial era. Employees dress in costume and and act as if they are from the time period – you can watch a blacksmith work and ask him questions, see a debate between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and tour a colonial era art museum. It’s really immersive, fascinating, and fun. Plus much of it is outdoors for those who feel more comfortable in outdoor spaces right now.
Plus Williamsburg also has a great theme park! Busch Gardens Williamsburg is actually themed around countries of Europe with a number of different sections so it has a bit of an Epcot feel to it. They have some really great roller coasters (Verbolten is one of my favorite coasters of all time) but like Disney there are lots of family and kid friendly rides as well. My favorite time of year to visit is in the spring, when they have a food and wine festival! In the past it has been in May/June, and while they haven’t released any dates yet as of right now it’s still listed as an upcoming event.
Best for: families, theme park lovers, chocolate fans
Another great town to feature a wonderful theme park is Hershey, PA. As someone from the Pennsylvania area I go to Hershey several times a year and I can tell you they have a lot to offer! The theme park has lots of rides and fun – and if you have a sweet tooth you don’t want to pass up all of the special treats they have to offer!
The town of Hershey has a lot more to it than just that – you can visit the Hershey museum to learn about chocolate, check out the Hershey gardens, visit Zoo America (included with Hershey park admission), and visit some great restaurants, breweries, and wineries. Nearby Lancaster has a number of attractions as well.
Florida beach vacation
Best for: those who want to get away somewhere warm, beach lovers, an “all-inclusive” feel in the US
Maybe you still want a Florida trip but you’re not looking to spend the money on Disney right now or you don’t want to do theme parks. Not only are the beaches in Florida beautiful, relaxing vacations, there are actually plenty of resorts that have a number of options. While not technically all-inclusive (your rate doesn’t include these things), you still have the option for a variety of restaurants, several pools, beaches, spas, and activities.
As I mentioned I can help you figure out what location might be best for you, but highly recommended include Trade Winds resort for the gulf coast at St. Pete’s Beach, Margaritaville Beach Resort at Hollywood Beach outside of Miami, and Disney’s own Vero Beach resort. Vero Beach has some Disney touches (think Mickey shaped pool, Peter Pan themed mini golf) so it’s great if you still want a little magic in your trip. It’s also only about 2 hours from Disney World, so if you were considering a shorter Disney trip combined with something else that could be a great solution.
Best for: Nature lovers, foodies, something different from Disney
On the other side of the country you’ll find lots of cool places to visit. Some of these areas don’t always get as much attention but the US is full of great things to see. Oregon and Washington are two states that are definitely underestimated for vacation potential. If you’re considering a trip to this area you could put together your own itinerary of places to go, or you could consider a small guided tour.
I work with several companies that do tours, and while they would be more expensive than doing it yourself they also provide a ton of convenience and expertise. The price includes lodging, transportation between destinations (if you’re flying in you still need to provide your own airfare) and some attractions plus your tour guide. During 2021 they are focusing on small group tours (no more than 20 people) and focusing on safety.
For example, a 9 day trip from Seattle to Portland: includes stops in Mount Hood, Cascade Mountains, vineyards in Washington’s wine country, Oregon craft beers, Crater Lake National Park, ride on a dune buggy, Meares Cape Lighthouse, cheese in Tillamook, Lewis and Clark’s “End of Trail,” Multnomah Falls. Starting at $1849 per person.
National Parks – Grand Canyon
Best for: Nature lovers, photographers, those who want to be away from big crowds
There are so many gorgeous national parks out there which are worth visiting. The Grand Canyon is certainly a bucket list item, but there are many others out there as well. I visited Yellowstone two years ago in the winter and that tour was an amazing experience. As mentioned above there are tour groups that will hit some big sights (I’m looking at ones that does the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and Monument Valley) but you could definitely put something together yourself too.
Anywhere you can rent a house
Best for: People who want a change of scene but don’t want to take any unnecessary risks
Maybe you just want to get away and have a change of scene but you’re not comfortable really going out around people all that much. You can go almost anywhere and rent a house through a place like VRBO. I could help you find something great or you can search on your own, but most destinations will have lots of options that are affordable and are taking plenty of safety precautions. For example, in the fall we visited the cute town of Jim Thorpe, PA. They have a beautiful hiking trail, a Harry Potter themed coffee shop, and tons of restaurants with outdoor seating. It was a great little trip where we didn’t really have to be inside with other people at all! There are plenty of hidden gems for something a little different that will still be safe.
Thinking about traveling somewhere? If you’d like the assistance of a travel agent at no extra cost to you, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can start planning and booking your trip!
Other blog posts of interest:
What is your favorite non-Disney location to visit?