Why you’ll need to prebook all your fun this summer

May 18, 2020

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We don’t need to tell you that this summer is going to be, well, different.

COVID-19 is going to affect everyone for quite some time, even as government officials look to reopen states and countries around the world. They’re working with health experts to craft social-distancing guidelines and regulations that will allow us to safely achieve some semblance of normal life, especially during the popular summer travel season. It’s still unclear what exactly that will look like, but you can say goodbye to spontaneity in the dog days of summer, especially in heavily populated areas.

Follow TPG’s complete coverage of the coronavirus impact here

Instead, prepare for reservations, timed entry and lots and lots of rules. Here’s a little preview of what your summer vacation of 2020 might look like.

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Bar, winery and restaurant reservations

We hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but it might be some time before you spontaneously go out to grab drinks with friends or loved ones. To limit capacity and foot traffic, many small bars and restaurants are insisting that customers make reservations in advance.

OpenTable announced last week it was adding bars and wineries to its platform. Previously, it was only open for restaurant reservations, as well as bars and wineries that offered food.

You’ll now be able to make reservations for bars and wineries and even join virtual waitlists and receive alerts when your seat is ready. Depending on the winery, you may even have the option to prepay for tastings and use contactless payment.

On that note, don’t expect to drop by your favorite restaurant at the last minute. You’re probably going to have to book your table far in advance to help reopening restaurants manage capacity and avoid overcrowding. Platforms like Resy, OpenTable and Tock are going to be your best friends this summer.

We have a hunch that platforms such as the Amex Global Dining Collection are about to become even more valuable, too. Restaurants around the world partner with Amex to offer cardholders premium dining experiences. Think: special menu items, free drinks and, perhaps best of all, prime reservations. Yes, even at venues fully booked online. So get ready to leverage the plastic (or metal) in your wallet.

Related: You can temporarily use these credit card credits at restaurants and more

Timed gym sessions

If you’re looking forward to getting back to the gym and blowing off some steam before you hit the beach or pool, don’t expect it to be the same as when you left it in March.

The popular fitness and travel brand Equinox, for example, recently announced new sanitation standards, as well as what members can expect when they return. In addition to having to complete a health declaration before entering, you’ll be asked to book a club visit in advance. You’ll be able to schedule three 90-minute appointments in any seven-day period, although you can book more on a standby basis, subject to capacity.

Equinox opened its long-awaited Equinox Hotel in New York City in July 2019, and its fitness center will abide by the same protocols. Although it’s still unclear what protocols hotel brands both big and small will employ as tourists start to return, there are signs of similar rules popping up.

For example, Phil Cordell, Hilton’s global head of new brand development, told NBC News that “in order to keep guests socially distanced, we’re looking at offering guests the opportunity to sign up for a specific gym time slot and exploring in-room exercise equipment options.”

Related: Best credit cards for fitness and exercise fanatics

We also wouldn’t be surprised to see mask-wearing attendants in the fitness center to ensure equipment is wiped down and disinfected between uses. And amenities like headphones and fruit bowls may be restricted or eliminated.

Staff members will also have to wear PPE at spas, and there’s a good chance the menu of treatments will be trimmed significantly to cut down on the potential spread of germs and minimize contact.

Booked entry at attractions

It’s great news that Disney parks are beginning to reopen, but expect a different kind of Disney magic when you return — temperature checks, face masks, timed entry reservations and fewer touchpoints.

Whether you’re booking a single-day park ticket, or plan to use your annual pass on a given date, you’ll likely need to make that reservation online, at least for a while, assuming that the U.S. Disney parks follow the methodology adopted in Shanghai.

(Photo by Hu Chengwei/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hu Chengwei/Getty Images)

And this is just the beginning. Similar rules and regulations are rolling out not just to other Disney parks, but to other popular attractions, as well. The Six Flags theme parks have plans in place to use a timed reservation system when the parks reopen.

Related: What will the Disney parks look like when they reopen

Beach and pool limitations

There may be one silver lining here: beach chair reservations.

Nothing ruins your leisurely summer vacation quite like having to get up at 5 a.m. to grab lounge chairs on the beach for the day. But the way things are going, reserving a beach chair in advance might be the new normal this summer.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

That’s not all, though. CNBC reports that travelers should also expect to have to book slots for meals and even swimming pool use in some destinations.

Some beaches are taking a more hands-off approach, but as popular tourist destinations such as the Jersey Shore prepare to reopen ahead of Memorial Day, other beaches will likely establish limits on crowd capacities. In fact, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is urging towns “to set limits on the number of daily beach badges they sell,” according to NBC Philadelphia.

Further, as CNN reports, Canet d’en Berenguer, a town on the Mediterranean coast in Spain, is planning to set up a grid system on the sands that you’ll only be able to access if you have a reservation. As the town’s mayor explains, “There’ll be more space between [you and] your neighbor. Like a ‘business-class’ beach.” The beach is only planning on admitting 5,000 people per day, about half the usual number, to enable social distancing.

This trend is likely to spread to other popular beaches around the world, so be prepared to book well in advance if you want to soak up some Vitamin D.

In Texas, where many types of businesses have already reopened, we see the pool reservation system in effect for certain pools in cities such as Corpus Christi. For example, at the Corpus Christi Natatorium, you can reserve a 45-minute swim session from 24 hours to three days in advance. The 45-minute sessions are separated by 15 minutes for cleaning and disinfecting.

Related: The best points-friendy hotels in the Caribbean 

National Parks and hiking reservations

National parks, although spacious and prime for social distancing, are facing their own challenges. Road trips into the American countryside are likely going to be this summer’s hot tourism trend, and rental car availability has become very limited in some areas, like New York City.

And once you get to your destination, be prepared for (you guessed it) reservations. For example, Business Insider reports that you’ll have to reserve a spot on several Austin-area hiking trails in advance online or by calling ahead of time. You can only book day passes between one and 14 days before your visit, so we’d recommend booking early in advance.

National parks are also planning on reopening with limited amenities, including without bathrooms and visitor centers. If you’re planning on visiting one over this summer, come prepared with maps — and it’s also a good idea to use the facilities ahead of time. Some popular parks, such as Rocky Mountain National Park, are also exploring the possibility of using a timed-entry reservation system to meter crowds and prevent overcrowding or day-of disappointment.

Related: How to use hotel points to stay near U.S. national parks 

Rocky Mountain National Park (Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)
Rocky Mountain National Park. (Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)

Bottom line

This isn’t going to be a normal summer.

It will probably afford more opportunities to get outside than the spring held — as long as you plan ahead. Naturally, these guidelines are subject to change, but there’s a common theme: Booking many activities well in advance is going to be key to reclaiming some semblance of normalcy in the months to come.

Hey, maybe it’s finally time for obsessive planners (guilty as charged) to shine.

Featured image courtesy of Ferdi Uzun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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