Disney during COVID

It’s no secret that I’m a Disney girl. I typically travel to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida multiple times a year, but when the COVID-19 pandemic happened I, of course, ended up cancelling my Disney trips- all three of them. When the resorts opened back up in June of 2020 we booked a trip and had planned to just stay at our resort as the parks still hadn’t opened. At the very last minute we ended up cancelling this trip as well due to concerns of being on a plane.

It wasn’t until September of 2020 that I finally got back to WDW and after seeing how safe Disney World is first hand I travelled back in February of 2021. I feel like a lot of people may judge me for traveling during this time, but if there is one place in the world that I think has the “tourism during a pandemic” thing down, it’s Disney. They are strict in their face mask policy, cautious about indoor dining, and have every inch of the 40 mile resort stickered up with the social distancing markers.

After traveling to WDW two times during the ongoing pandemic, I decided to address some of the questions I’ve received from other curious potential Disney-goers. Let’s get started!

Is Disney World safe?

Short answer: Yes. Disney has done a fantastic job of covering every aspect of the guest experience to safely operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. When you book a trip to Disney you will have to read and confirm that you’ve read Disney’s COVID-19 precautionary operations two or three times before you ever actually make it to Disney property. All of their COVID-19 restrictions and precautions are listed on their website. Face masks are required at all times and no medical exceptions are given to this policy. All rides, shops, restaurants, resorts, and restrooms now have social distancing stickers to guide guests. Hand sanitizer is available at every park & resort and temperature checks are required for entry into every park and sit down restaurant.

The Parks are currently operating at 35% capacity and all sit-down restaurants are operating at 50% capacity. Rides that have queues that typically require guests to stand next to each other have received custom plexiglass barriers to separate groups as have the resorts buses. Contactless methods have also been put in place to help guests keep distance from cast members. Resorts guests have the option of checking into their room using the app and all guests can use the same app to mobile order quick service food options. If you need to check in for a dining reservation this can also be done on the app.

During both of my trips I felt completely safe with all of these precautions put into place. I will say that even though the parks are operating at 35% it did start to get a little crowded, especially at Hollywood Studios and Disney Springs. When we started to feel like there were too many people around we left that park or area and found somewhere else to go. Overall though I feel much safer visiting a Disney park than I ever do when I go to my local grocery store back home. Disney is very strict with the face mask policy and does a great job trying to distance guests from each other.

Plexiglass barriers on the Dinosaur ride

Are the parks crowded?

Were the parks crowded…? Ummm… yes. There were more people than I thought there was going to be at the parks. The resorts are still very empty but once you tap that magicband and enter into Magic Kingdom or one of the other parks it’s a whole different story. Epcot was by far the best of the parks when I visited during both of my trips and Animal Kingdom was a close second. The trouble park is Hollywood Studios. When I went in September we waited 25 minutes in line for the Backlot Express quick service counter just to pick up some chicken tenders! Disney Springs is also a trouble spot, especially on the weekends. This area does reach capacity and will close to non-resort guests when this happens. We visited on a Saturday night and after eating at Homecomin’ left due to the crowd level. Maybe the parks just seem crowded because the queues, shops, and restaurants aren’t at capacity and that’s forcing guests out into the main areas? I don’t know, but if you go be prepared for normal level crowds .My suggestion is to head to the parks before opening (yes, the parks unofficially open a half hour before the posted time) and do the top rides then when they’re basically walk-ons. Then in the late morning head back to your resort for a pool day or go to Disney Springs for lunch. In the afternoon head to the park again when the crowds start to thin out.

Winding line for Runaway Railway

Another thing that sort of shocks people when they go to the parks right now are the wait times for rides. Personally I think the wait times are comparable to pre-COVID but it can be very discouraging when every ride in the park you’re in has a 50 minute wait or higher *cough, cough, Hollywood Studios*. However, most of the time the posted wait time was never what we actually waited- it was less. For example, we got into the Slinky Dog Dash line when it was at 60 minutes and only waited 40. Just a heads up though, due to social distancing the lines can seem verrrrrrry long but most of the time they continuously move. The best example of this is Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. To look at the line when it’s at 60 minutes or above it’s basically a maze pattern that has a lot of guests trying to guess where the line ends.

Do I have to wear a face mask everywhere and all of the time?

This is the way

Yes, keep your damn mask on and enjoy the fact that you’re in Disney! So of course there are places and times in Disney where you don’t need to wear your mask, but anytime you are at a park or resort walking around you are required to keep it on, up over your mouth and nose. If you need to stop and take a drink or grab a bite of your Mickey pretzel you’ll need to stand somewhere not along the main pathways to pull down your mask. Cast members are stationed everywhere and if one of them catches you not following the mask policy they will call you out. I’ve seen a few guests who have received very stern words from cast members over the face masks so don’t expect to go to Disney and be able to get away with your nose being uncovered.

There are a few times when you can take your mask off: when you’re sitting at a table eating, once seated at your table in a restaurant, in a “relaxation station” where face masks can be removed to help you cool down from the Florida heat, in your hotel room, and when you’re in a resort swimming pool. All other times you need to have that mask over your mouth and nose. I know it’s hot. I know your kiddos hate the fabric over their nose, but it’s really not that bad. Just wear the mask and everyone can have a great day at the most magical place on Earth. Oh and FYI, face masks will be required through at least the end of 2021 in Disney World!

What’s the biggest difference between now and pre-COVID Disney?

There’s a lot that’s different and you may be thinking that my answer to this will be “the face masks, of course!” but to be honest you kind of get used to wearing a mask and seeing others with their mask on. So what’s the biggest difference then? The lack of dining! Seriously, if you were a foodie who visited the Disney parks strictly for the delicious and unique dishes, you may be in for a shock.

Via Napoli pizza

Many (many, many, many) of the restaurants, both sit down and quick service, still haven’t reopened yet and it’s noticeable. It’s harder than ever to get your favorite dining reservation and walk up sit down dining is basically nonexistent right now. Lines for quick service locations are very long since there’s limited places for guests to eat and even the places that are open have limited menus so your favorite dish may not be available right now.

Gideon’s Bakehouse cookie

In my opinion Epcot has the best selection of dining options right now with a lot of the World Showcase restaurants reopened. I highly recommend Via Napoli in the Italy pavilion and San Angel Inn in the Mexico pavilion. Magic Kingdom, however, seems to be lacking. There’s not too many quick service options and the sit down dining that’s open is either very basic dishes like hamburgers and fried chicken or signature meals that will make you drop some serious cash. Also, we had some trouble finding meals at our resorts, especially during the day. The Boardwalk Resort has practically no quick service dining- only the Boardwalk Bakery and pizza window being open. The Beach Club option of Beaches & Cream is open but it’s very hard to get a reservation here due to how small the restaurant is.

Is Disney World still magical?

Magical? That really depends on what you expect to get out of your Walt Disney World trip. Right now your Disney trip would be without fireworks, nighttime shows, parades, stage shows, character meet & greets, mask-free photos in front of the castle, and dining experiences. Something that my family always used to remark on when we were in Disney was that you could choose to get away from the real world for a few days while you were there. If you chose not to turn on the news while you were in Disney then you would never know about all of the bad things happening outside of the Disney bubble. Now with social distancing and face masks it’s a lot harder to forget your real world worries. So with that, I’m afraid that the magical bubble that is Disney World has popped. Disney is still fun and is a great way to take a few days to feel somewhat normal again (especially if you’re coming from a state where you’re still not allowed to just go sit at a bar), but it’s not so magical anymore.

Can I still see Mickey and my favorite characters?

To be honest, I feel like I see the characters more now that I ever did before so that’s one good thing to come out of all of this. All of the parks now have “cavalcades” which are basically two or three float parades that come through every so often. In these cavalcades you’ll see the Fab Five, the princesses, Pooh & friends, and some other popular characters that you’d usually have to wait in line for hours to see.

Mickey & friends posing for pictures

In addition to the cavalcades some of the characters will sometimes be positioned in a place where guests can take photos but keep their distance. Pooh and Joy from Inside Out can be found catching butterflies in Epcot near Journey into Imagination. Alice can be found in the UK pavilion. Elsa and Anna make appearances in the Norway pavilion. Mickey & friends make their way to the Main Street train station a few times a day at Magic Kingdom. So no worries, you will still see some characters! And bonus, you don’t have to wait in a long line to do so.

I’ve never been to Disney World but there’s so many good deals right now! Should I plan my first visit for this year?

Well this is an easy one: NO! Absolutely not! You don’t know how many people I’ve encountered on my past two Disney trips that have told me that this was their “first and last time to Disney.” Now is not the time to visit Disney for the first time! You’d be spending all of this money to get half of the experience. Please, please, please reconsider going to Disney World for your first time during a time of face masks and 35% park capacity.

I know that the idea of low crowds and finally traveling to a galaxy far, far away is appealing but I promise you it’s not the right time. There are still long wait times for rides and Galaxy’s Edge is the worst of that right now- we’re talking lines for absolutely everything in this land! In my opinion Disney World is a great travel destination for Florida residents, annual passholders, DVC members, and frequent Disney visitors right now. If you’ve never been or haven’t been in a few years then this isn’t the best time to go. Also, Disney always has great deals on rooms, park tickets, and especially dining. Check back in the fall of this year for 2022 vacation deals. Disney will sometimes offer a free dining plan or big discounts on rooms so wait for those to come out for next year.

Know before you go:

  • It’s a lot harder to get a Rise of the Resistance boarding pass now than it was before the parks closed in April 2020. If you have a Hollywood Studios park pass make sure to be on the app at 7 a.m. to request a boarding pass. Fingers crossed you get one but you’re certainly not alone if you don’t.
  • Book one dining reservation for everyday you’re at Disney! I know that sit down dining can quickly add up but if you want to eat while you’re in Disney this will be the least stressful way to do so. There’s very limited dining options right now, especially at the resorts. The only way to guarantee you get a meal you’re going to enjoy is to book your reservations in advance.
  • Even with all of the precautions in place at Disney you’ll still encounter assholes who seem to be living in a pre-COVID world. As I mentioned before there are social distancing stickers everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that the idiots of the world will stand on their line like they’re supposed to. Be prepared for guests who appear to be living in a world where social distancing doesn’t exist.
  • Face masks aren’t all bad! I have fun putting together outfits for my Disney days, so face masks were just another accessory that I needed to match to my outfit. Also, they’re great for calling the idiots in the bullet point above all kinds of names without them ever knowing. ūüôā
  • Planning a Disney trip now is more stressful than it’s ever been. Don’t think that you can just show up to the parks and have a magical time. There is a lot of research that goes into a Disney trip. If you want to experience the best ride that’s ever been created then you need to know how to go about doing that. If you want to go from Magic Kingdom to Disney Springs for some dinner… well that’s complicated nowadays since you first have to go to a resort to catch a Disney Springs bus. Research, research, research everything!
See ya again in May 2021, WDW!

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