We recently returned for the first time to Walt Disney World since the parks officially reopened after a nearly four-month closure. With reduced capacity, extensive new health and safety protocols, and modified entertainment offerings, Disney World’s theme parks look and feel quite a bit different. We wanted to share what its really like to visit Walt Disney World during the Pandemic, what changes to expect, and some extra precautions we took to keep ourselves safer as well as answer questions you might have about visiting.
Disclosure –As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, Mom Abroad suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking your next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year. As with all Mom Abroad articles we’ve striven to be as comprehensive and current as possible, but the situation is evolving and may change from the time this article is published. Please refer to the official Walt Disney World website for the most up-to-date information on changes and health and safety requirements.
Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link.
CAPACITY IS LIMITED
The first and most significant change that Disney World has implemented to create a safe environment for guests and cast members is to drastically limit park capacity. Every other change across the resort is affected by this directive. Disney does not release their park attendance numbers so we don’t know an exact number however we do know that Disney has planned for an amount of guests allowed in the parks up to around 30% of their usual park capacity. Disney World leadership has publicly stated that attendance is down about 85% percent at present and analysts estimate they are currently running at about 10%-15% capacity.
PARK RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED
To manage the capacity restrictions Disney World has implemented a new “Park Pass” advance reservation system. It is now required that guests have both a valid theme park admission ticket AND a date-specific “Park Pass” reservation to enter Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom for each individual date of their trip.
Initially Disney gave priority for park reservations to guests who had existing Disney World resort vacations already booked as well as to annual passholders followed by those who previously purchased tickets but had not been able to use them while the parks were closed. Now that those guests have made reservations, the resort has again made general admission tickets and hotel packages available for purchase. However, it is important to note that with the new ticket sales now available the capacity limit has not increased and may not for some time.
To make Park Pass reservations you need to access “My Disney Experience” on the Walt Disney World website via a web browser. It cannot be done via the app on your phone. You will need to make sure that your park tickets/admission or annual pass are linked to your My Disney Experience account. Without some form of ticket you won’t be able to make any Park Pass reservations.
You will be able to make Park Reservations for anyone who is linked to your account. You can even make different Park Pass reservations for the people in your group. If a few of you want to go to Magic Kingdom and a few want to go to Epcot you can do that.
Note that the Park Pass reservation system is allowing for reservations to be made through September 26th 2021 so this is one major change that is not going anywhere anytime soon. Park reservations are FREE.
RESERVATION AVAILABILITY IS DIVIDED INTO THREE GROUPS
Disney has divided the availability of Park Pass reservations into three buckets that equal the capacity cap; Resort guests staying on Disney property with packages that include tickets, annual pass holders and day ticket guests. Resort guests can make Park Pass reservations for every day of their stay or up to 14 days while annual pass holders are limited to three Park Pass Reservations at one time unless they are staying at a Disney World resort hotel in which case the same rules apply as they do for resort guests. As soon as one day is “used” and all parks have closed for the day, a new reservation can be made. Day guests can make Park Pass reservations for the length of their ticket. For example if your ticket is worth four days, you can make four Park Pass reservations.
When capacity is out for any given bucket, it is out. Certain buckets of Park Pass reservations have filled much more quickly than others. This is especially the case among annual pass holders who can no longer visit any time they want on whichever day they want. There have not been nearly as many resort guests as Disney expected due to cancellations and they have, at some points reallocated reservations from the resort guest bucket to the annual pass holder bucket.
All guests can view park availability calendars on the Disney World website before making a hotel reservation, purchasing a package or buying stand-alone tickets. This is information that is vital to check before locking in vacation dates. It is highly recommend to make park reservations immediately after buying tickets or booking a vacation package to secure a spot.
The theme parks can, and will sell out on some days, as again, capacity is extremely limited right now.
Hollywood Studios in particular, seems to reach its Park Pass reservation limit sooner than the other parks. This isn’t surprising given the park’s smaller size and it’s being home to the new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride and the popular Rise of the Resistance attraction in Disney World’s newest land Galaxy’s Edge
Check out our full guide to Everything Star Wars at Disney Hollywood Studios for more information on Disney’s new Galaxy’s Edge!
NO PARK HOPPING
Not only is capacity limited and date-specific park reservations required you won’t be able “park hop.” Regardless of the ticket you previously purchased or what type of annual pass you hold, Disney is only allowing guests to visit one park per day.
Despite being limited to one park per day you are free to leave and re-enter the one park that you do have reservations for. If you need to head back to your hotel for a few hours for nap time or take a pool break or just cool off, you can do so.
REDUCED PARK HOURS AND NO EXTRA MAGIC HOURS
All four parks are operating with a significantly scaled back schedule. Especially during summertime where park hours normally ran in some cases until midnight or later. The Magic Kingdom is currently open from 7:00 AM-9:00 PM, Epcot is open from 11:00 AM-9:00 PM, Hollywood Studios is open from 10:00 AM-8:00 PM and Animal Kingdom is open from 8:00 AM-6:00 PM. Starting September 8th park hours will be reduced further with Magic Kingdom closing at 6:00 PM, Animal Kingdom closing at 5:00 PM and Epcot and Hollywood Studios closing at 7:00 PM.
Also, Disney has temporarily halted all Extra Magic Hours, which grants on-property guests exclusive access to the parks before and after regular operating hours. By remaining closed longer, this gives crews more time to conduct deep cleanings of the parks in the off-hours.
RULES FOR VISITING THE DISNEY WORLD PARKS
So that is the basics of what you need to know before even entering the parks. Now let’s talk about how the experience inside is different and what new rules Disney has implemented to ensure the safest possible experience for all its guests and employees.
FACE MASKS ARE REQUIRED AND ENFORCED WITHOUT EXCEPTION
From the moment you step outside of your hotel room (for those guests staying on property) or out of your car (for those staying off property and parking) you are required to wear an approved face covering at all times.
This rule applies to all Cast Members and park guests over the age of two. Face masks must be at least two layers, have ear loops or ties, cover the nose and mouth, and fit snugly to the sides of your face and under your chin. Gaiters, bandannas, and face shields are NOT considered acceptable masks. Masks containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are also not acceptable face coverings.
You will be turned away or asked to put on a different mask if you are wearing an improper face covering. We watched this happen to guests wearing face shields, gaiters and valved masks. They were stopped in the parking lot before even approaching the screening area. Disney is very committed to this policy and is strictly enforcing their mask rules. There is simply zero tolerance for not wearing a proper face mask right now at Disney World.
Many Cast Members also wear face shields in addition to their masks. Guests are also permitted to wear face shields in addition to, but not instead of masks.
Guests are ONLY permitted to remove masks when actively eating or drinking. Guests must also be stationary and maintaining physical distance from other parties. You cannot bypass the mask rules by walking around eating or drinking.
Guests dining at table-service restaurants can remove masks when food arrives at their physically distanced table. Guests must be wearing mask any time they leave their table. More on dining changes below.
Guests can also remove masks while actively swimming in resort hotel pools or in designated “Relaxation Stations” within the theme parks. All visitors in these zones are separated from other parties by 10 feet and must be in your specifically marked physically distanced space before you are permitted to remove your face covering. Every park offers an indoor, air-conditioned option in addition to outdoor Relaxation Station.
A FEW TIPS FOR FACE MASKS AT DISNEY WORLD
–Make sure your mask is comfortable. Different styles and materials fit and feel differently.
–Practice wearing your face mask for long periods of time before your trip. Practice by taking long walks outside in hot weather with your mask on.
–Consider investing in some “ear savers” to take the tension off your ears.
— It’s also a good idea to bring an extra mask or two to the park for everyone in your group, in case one gets wet, lost, or is just uncomfortable.
–Pack fresh masks for every day of your trip.
–You might as well make this new requirement as fun as possible. Incorporate your mask into your outfit planning or Disney Bounding.
— Disney, of course, came out with sets of face masks to choose from with various characters and designs which you can pick up all over the parks for $6 each.
–You’ll also need a way to keep your mask clean when you take it off to eat at a counter service location or booth. Bring a small Ziploc bag you can slide it into and make sure your hands are clean before handling the mask.
–“Smize” –This mean “smile with your eyes” Since you won’t be able to take your mask off for photos you can avoid looking like a super serious ninja by going ahead and grinning while wearing that mask anyway. Those little lines around your eyes will speak volumes.
–While there are designated areas where you can remove your masks for small periods of time, but we didn’t risk going to these areas. Instead, to get a break from the heat, we went on an indoor attraction or found a physically distanced shady spot to have a drink or snack. Heading back to your hotel for a break in the middle of the day would also be a good option for some mask relief.
— Remember to stay hydrated. When you have a mask on it is much easier to forget to drink enough water. Set an alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to take physically distanced take water breaks.
— Get a mask that molds to your nose. Masks that have a flexible wire can be molded around the bridge of your nose, blocking the warm exhaled air from your mouth and preventing glasses from fogging.
-To make sure masks don’t get lost consider attaching them to a lanyard that you wear around your neck.
–Make sure you know how to take off and put on our mask properly. Sanitize your hands before and after handling your mask and try to touch only the ear loops when putting it on or removing it.
— If you forget or don’t bring an approved face covering, there are vending machines available with disposable masks for $2 each.
Guests and cast members must undergo mandatory temperature checks before they are allowed to enter the Disney World theme parks or the Disney Springs shopping complex. Temp checks are performed using a no contact thermometer aimed at either the forehead or behind the ear.
Any guest with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be re-screened. If the guest’s temperature remains elevated, they are not allowed to enter, nor is the rest of that party.
Disney is using local health company Advent Health to perform the temperature screenings. This utilization of health professionals adds a layer of confidence to the quick and easy process. It also means that should a guest have to have the difficult discussion about not being allowed to enter the parks due to a high temperature health professionals are on hand that can answer any questions or concerns guests might have.
Most recently Disney has also added temperature screening requirements before guests are allowed to enter restaurants at the Disney resort hotels across the property.
PHYSICAL DISTANCING REQUIRED
Now let’s talk about the other absolute biggie you must abide to be inside Disney World right now and that is “physical distancing”. Notice Disney doesn’t call it “social” distancing. They call it “physical distancing” because that is exactly what guests and cast members must do. Everyone is required to keep a distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters) between them and people not in their traveling party at all times.
To facilitate physical distancing there are markers EVERYWHERE. These markings are a critical step in ensuring the safety of guests and Disney has gone above and beyond with their use. From transportation to restaurants, attractions to PhotoPass spots, there are physical distancing markers for every situation, directing guests where to sit or stand.
Sometimes these marking appear as a line on the ground that reads “PLEASE WAIT HERE” and other instances, you will find a green or red colored circle indicating where your party should stand.
There are also markings and signage that block off areas where guests should NOT sit or stand, even if it’s just a wall or ledge guests use for seating.
We found that with such abundant markings and signage guests did a great job complying with keeping physical distancing. Of course, there are still guests who might ignore or not notice the stickers as they go throughout their day, but when we’ve asked a group behind us in line to observe physical distancing, being able to point to a literal sticker on the ground telling them where to stand is a huge help and it was easy to just remind (or be reminded) of where to stand.
Additionally, select Disney World golden-yellow shirted cast members known as the “Incredi-crew” now function in roles dedicated to making sure that guests are maintaining at least six feet between parties and are adhering to all policies including those for face masks.
In some areas of the resort they are even using cast members dressed as Storm Troopers to add a little levity to the mandate.
FASTPASS+ HAS BEEN SUSPENDED
Before the pandemic, guests could use Disney World‘s planning app to book up to three reservations per day for rides, attractions, shows, and other experiences as early as 60 days in advance of a visit. However, prior to reopening Disney has canceled all existing FastPass+ reservations and, for now, is not allowing new FastPass+ reservations to be made.
Instead, Disney is using the queue space that had been devoted to the FastPass+ program to help manage capacity for rides and maintain physical distancing among groups.
Other theme parks have opted to use a “virtual queue” system allowing park guests to wait until they are electronically notified that it is their turn to enter a given attraction line. Disney World is only utilizing this system for it’s most high demand ride “Rise of the Resistance.”
The reasoning for putting all guests into extended stand-by ques for rides rather than virtual ques makes sense for physical distancing in the parks as whole if you think about it. Guests waiting for rides “virtually” take up space inside shops, walk-ways and restaurants. Having more guests in physically lengthier ride ques frees up space in the parks in general and allows for easier maintenance of proper spacing between parties at all times.
Concerns about long wait times in standby queues were largely allayed once the parks opened and we were able to see just how light the crowds are. Many attractions, even some of Disney World’s most popular like Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom involve wait times that amount to only the time it takes to walk through the long que space and possibly waiting for the rides to be cleaned.
We also found the suspension of the FastPass+ system to be a fun opportunity to check out all of the elaborate theming in the standby lines that we typically miss when we utilize the FastPass+ system. Interactive features and hands-on play areas in queues have been roped off, but the lines move so quickly that you won’t miss them.
NO SINGLE RIDER LINES
At some attractions, Disney offered a single-rider line option that allows guests to separate from their party and bypass the regular standby line to wait in what is typically a much shorter line in exchange for filling in the available seats on an attraction.
Like the suspension of FastPass+ these queue spaces are not available and are being utilized to help with physical distancing.
RISE OF THE RESISTANCE HAS A VIRTUAL QUE – TWO TIMES A DAY
As we mentioned above Disney World’s newest and most high-profile attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, is using a virtual queue to manage demand. Guests must be inside the park to attempt to join the virtual queue using the My Disney Experience app. Boarding groups are released at 10 AM and 2 PM on the My Disney Experience App.
HAND SANITIZER AND HAND WASHING STATIONS ARE EVERYWHERE
Disney has installed thousands of antibacterial gel hand sanitizer dispensers all around the Disney World property. These free-standing stations are positioned at every ride entrance and exit as well as the entrance and exit of all retail and dining locations.
Hand washing stations have also become prevalent throughout the parks.
These touch-free stations operate using a foot pump to get water to flow from the faucet.
INCREASED CLEANING AND SANITIZATION OF RIDES AND OTHER SURFACES
One of the most important ways Disney is preventing germs from spreading around the property is increased cleaning and sanitization throughout the parks, hotels, restaurants, rooms, and just about anywhere you can think of.
Ride vehicles are cleaned every two hours with a peroxide based disinfectant.
Depending on the type of ride. Guests may hear an announcement while waiting in line that the ride is being paused for cleaning. We found that these delays are typically brief and built into the wait times displayed in front of the attractions.
We also noticed that just about every other surface a guest could touch was being cleaned regularly by Cast Members from restrooms, railings, poles and benches to tables and chairs that people had only just got up from two seconds earlier. Disney Cast members were ready and waiting to clean everything!
They were even cleaning the concrete walls!
TRASH CANS ARE PROPPED OPEN
Disney World trash cans are famously ubiquitous. Walt Disney himself realized that to keep the parks tidy, it’s more likely that guests will throw away their rubbish if a trash can is no more than 30 feet away from park guests at any point. Now the flaps of trash cans are propped open, so guests don’t need to worry about touching them.
MOST “PRE-SHOWS” HAVE BEEN ELIMINATED OR MODIFIED
Another change to the way attractions operate is that rides and attractions have had their pre-shows modified or eliminated to avoid having guests congregate in one place. For example, guests now walk through the iconic “stretching room” at the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion ride and Smuggler’s Run at Hollywood Studios. The only exception we found was for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s where the pre-shows are integral to managing the ride boarding flow.
MANY RIDES ARE LOADED DIFFERENTLY
Disney has modified loading procedures on many rides to create more space between parties. Rows are left empty between groups on most coasters and boat rides, like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Slinky Dog Dash.
Many rides like Test Track, Splash Mountain and Na’vi River Journey are now limited to one party per ride vehicle.
Some rides, like Soarin’, Jungle Cruise and Star Tours, also have plexiglass partitions between some seats to further separate parties.
Disney has even found an ingenious way to use toddler booster seats to do this in some rides.
Other rides like Living with the Land and the Kilimanjaro Safari are using clear plastic sheeting between rows in addition to spacing parties.
THERE IS A PLETHORA OF PLEXIGLASS
Speaking of Plexiglass…it is everywhere! To further protect guests, Plexiglass partitions have been added to many ride ques.
Plexiglass dividers are also omnipresent at check-out registers, food pick-up counters and guest service counters. Essentially anywhere parties would pass or come into contact with one another plexiglass has been installed.
Many of the attractions take place in theaters, For those, every other row—and every other block of four seats in the remaining rows—has been blocked off. If you are a lone visitor you will get four seats to yourself.
Conversely, if your party is larger than four people you will have to separate. You will be directed to figure out how you want to break your party up before you enter the theater.
For some shows and experiences such as the Art of Animation at Animal Kingdom you may not be able to choose your seats and your party will be specifically assigned chairs and directed where to sit. At the end of the experience parties may be released by groups.
HEALTH AND SAFETY AUDIO MESSAGES PLAY OFTEN
Audio messages play throughout the day in all areas of the theme parks reminding guests about the importance of physical distancing and explaining mask requirements.
PANDEMIC SIGNAGE IS PREVALENT
In addition to the auditory announcements plenty of visual signage has been installed throughout the Walt Disney World property advising guests of the various safety reminders and guidelines to follow.
You will see tons of A-frame street signs with various health and safety reminders.
In Galaxy’s Edge Disney has tried to match the signage to the theming of the new land.
Even those ubiquitous trashcans are all being used for health and safety reminders.
In addition to the plethora of Pandemic related health and safety signage Disney has also installed directional signage to control guest traffic flow such as arrow markings on the sidewalks and pathways.
Merchandise and dining locations also now have dedicated single directional flow entrance and exit points.
PHOTOPASS PHOTOGRAPHERS WON’T USE PERSONAL DEVICES
Another health and safety precaution Disney has implemented is that PhotoPass photographers will no longer handle guests’ personal devices like cell phones or cameras. They will however still take photos using Disney-owned cameras from at least six feet away. We also noted that no photo props were in use at this time.
Before you have your picture taken, guests should have their MagicBands or cards ready to be scanned by photographers as distanced apart as possible so that Photographers can quickly link photos to guests account. This process takes less than two seconds. Afterwards, the photos appear in your My Disney Experience App.
SOME EXPERIENCES ARE MISSING
Disney is doing a great job keeping as many attractions open and operating as possible, but a few experiences are just not feasible at this time.
To discourage large crowds from gathering, Disney has temporarily canceled its beloved big park parades. This also includes the Electrical Water Pageant on the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Some theater style shows are also not yet available such as “Finding Nemo – The Musical” and “Festival of the Lion King” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or “Beauty and the Beast” and the “Frozen Singalong” at Hollywood Studios though they should be returning soon.
A few new shows are running such as Feathered Friends at Animal Kingdom and the Disney Society Orchestra and Friends at Hollywood Studios in place of the normal shows that run at these theaters. Performers in these shows remain physically distanced from the both the audience and one another while on stage.
As Disney has opened a new COVID-19 testing site on property that is free to all employees they they have come to an agreement with the Actor’s Equity Association. This effectively resolves a dispute preventing over 750 Disney performer’s from returning to work. As such, several will be returning to the Disney to the parks with possible adaptions for physical distancing as well.
There are also no fireworks shows or other nighttime spectaculars at any of the parks. All fireworks cruises have been canceled as well. Water effects within the parks have also turned off to avoid drawing crowds of spectators and all interactive play areas remain closed.
Moreover make-over opportunities like Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and other “high-touch” experiences like the Pirates’s League and Character Couture have been canceled as well. You also will not find some smaller diversions such as the Frontierland Shooting Arcade or caricature artists.
MOST TOURS ARE UNAVAILABLE
Most of the tours are not possible to run with the new physical distancing rules and therefore are unavailable. The only tours Disney has announced will resume are private VIP Tours, which will resume in late August.
CHARACTER INTERACTION IS DISTANCED
Another experience that is missing in its traditional form are character meet and greets. Disney has replaced these up-close interactions and crowd-inducing scheduled parades with other ways to see the characters at a distance.
Impromptu “Character Cavalcades” like the Royal Princess Processional and Tinkerbell atop her lost treasure can now be seen at random times throughout the day. Typically these cavalcades consist of one or two floats or vehicles containing the characters and are sometimes flanked by a small group of dancers.
At Animal Kingdom these surprise character appearances take the form of “Flotilla” cruises down the Discovery River.
These mini processionals don’t have a set time to discourage people from crowding but when you hear the music change and get louder this is a queue that characters might be coming so get out your camera and be aware of physical distancing.
Characters show up randomly in other physically distant ways such as Pooh playing in the grass behind the fences in Epcot’s Future World
Or the step sisters Anastasia and Drizella interact with guests from the balcony of Cinderella castle.
You may not be able to get a hug or an autograph but with so many less people in the parks we found that in many ways the interaction is actually more than you might have experienced and you actually end up seeing MORE characters over the course of your day now without having to stand in long-lines to do so. Photos taken from a distance of at least six feet are allowed.
“Kidcot” is an educational program at Epcot’s World Showcase sponsored by Ziploc that allows younger park guests to visit each country pavilion and get a fun stamp, sticker and post card from each of the 11 “Fun Stops”. Normally this would involve interacting with a Cultural Representatives native to each country while they draw on your post card and teach things such as how to write your name in Japanese characters.
Right now, Ziploc bags containing the post cards and stickers for all 11 countries are grouped into each bag and are simply laid out on a table. The bags can be collected at any of the countries’ Fun Stops but once you have collected a bag there isn’t anything additional to add at another stop.
WILDERNESS EXPLORERS MODIFIED
The Wilderness Explorers Program at Animal Kingdom is another interactive educational experience that has been modified though not as drastically as Kid Cot. Guests can still visit the Wilderness Explorer stops around the park and interact with cast members to earn badges.
Leading up to each Wilderness Explorer station, floor makers have been installed to remind guests to be mindful and keep distance from other parties and from the cast member presenting.
Also, because of closures throughout the park, some badges have been combined.
SPECIAL EVENTS CANCELED
All Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party dates have been nixed for 2020. Disney’s H2O Glow Nights, which were scheduled to take place at Typhoon Lagoon water park, have also been cancelled. Disney Villains After Hours, and Disney’s Early Morning Magic have also been canceled as well.
DINING RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED, THOUGH DIFFICULT TO OBTAIN
Along with wiping out all FastPass+ reservations prior to reopening, Disney also canceled all existing dining reservations for table-service restaurants in the parks and hotels. This move aligned with the new capacity restrictions and physical distancing measures.
With a clean slate Disney has now resumed its dining reservations system however reservations are extremely limited given that seating at table service restaurants is drastically reduced.
In order to make a reservation at one of the in-park restaurants, guests will need an advance Park Pass reservation to enter the park. In order to enter a table-service restaurant in either the theme parks or at any of the resort hotels guests must have an advance dining reservation. There is no walk-up dining at most table service restaurants at this time.
Reservations can be made 60 days in advance rather than the 180-day window Disney World granted prior to the Pandemic.
LESS DINING OPTIONS
Many restaurants in Disney World are not reopening right away. With lower park attendance, it doesn’t make sense financially for Disney to open all dining locations initially.
Many of Disney World’s most popular restaurants such as Cinderella’s Royal Table and Casey’s Corner inside the Magic Kingdom and ‘Ohana at the Polynesian resort remain closed.
Presentations such as Disney’s Spirit of Aloha luau at the Polynesian Resort and the Hoop Dee Doo Revue at Fort Wilderness have also yet to resume.
Menus at restaurants that are open also may not be offering their full regular menus at this time.
You can view the full list of open theme park and resort restaurants on the Disney World website including the current menus for each dining location
CHARACTER DINING IS EXTREMELY LIMITED
Even more limited than regular table service dining experiences are character meals. The popular character dining experiences, which are typically available at select restaurants throughout the resort are only available in a modified way at a few dining locations.
Currently offered at Garden Grill at Epcot and Topilino’s Terrace at the Grand Riviera Resort. At Topolino’s Terrace the characters dance around the restaurant and at Garden Grill they visit your table from the restaurant’s second level that is currently not being used for seating guests.
The characters will wave and pose for physically distanced photos but they will not sign autographs.
Guests will however receive a card signed by the characters at the end of the meal.
Though not advertised as a “character meal” The Beast also makes an appearance at Be Our Guest at the Magic Kingdom during both lunch and dinner.
MOBILE ORDERING AND CONTACTLESS PAYMENT IS STRONGLY ENCOURAGED
Although not explicitly required Disney is strongly pushing guests to order their meals using the Mobile Order function in the My Disney Experience App. It’s so strongly encouraged in fact that guests are not permitted to enter a counter service dining location without a confirmed order and an alert that it is ready for pick-up.
Cast Members stationed at restaurant entrances will direct guests to a number pick-up station to collect their order. In busier restaurants guests are directed to designated waiting spots before proceeding inside for pick-up.
Exceptions are made for guests needing the free ice water still provided at quick-service locations and in some cases for guests with allergies or those needing to pay with cash.
Cashless or contactless payment methods are also utilized in Table Service restaurants and in stores or other merchandise locations. These include credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, mobile wallets, and MagicBands that have been linked to payment sources. Checks now arrive in a disposable cardstock folder instead of a leather folio.
MOBILE CHECK-IN FOR TABLE SERVICE RESTAURANTS
Yet another contactless move allows guests to now check in for their meals at a table service restaurant via the My Disney Experience App. There is no need to visit a restaurant podium. You can check-in up to 15 minutes ahead of your reservation time and a hostess will call your name when your table is ready to come inside the restaurant and be seated.
For most table service restaurants the waiting area is outside however those that do have a lobby or dedicated waiting area have marked dots for where each party should sit.
You can even let the restaurant know about any allergies or special celebrations through the app when you check-in. A screen will ask you to check off any allergies and another to list any celebrations. You will however still need to visit the podium if you want to request special seating.
Instead of hard-copy menus, Disney has implemented scannable QR codes at table-service restaurants so that you can view menus on your digital devices. They do have disposable paper menus as back up for guests who need to have a hard copy of the menu.
NO SELF-SERVE FOOD ITEMS
Beverages and other items that were previously self-serve such as condiments and soft drinks are instead now served by cast members or come prepackaged. Guests with resort mugs still have access to unlimited drinks via prefilled cups.
NEW UTENSIL DISPENSERS
Disney has installed new dispensers that only release the handle portion of utensils, keeping the part that would enter your mouth covered until it’s pulled out. This is a significant improvement.
NO DINING PLANS
Along with the cancellation of all dining reservations before re-opening Disney eliminated it’s popular Dining Plan that allowed guests to prepay for their meals at a discount. With restaurants operating under limited capacity it didn’t make sense to keep offering the Disney Dining Plan since some guests might not get a chance to use all the credits. Guest who had already paid for the Dining Plan automatically received a refund.
There is no date yet for when the Disney Dining Plan may return but it doesn’t look like it will return before September 26th, 2021 at the earliest given that is the date that Disney canceled dining plans through.
“Tables In Wonderland”, a dining discount program for Annual Passholders does remain active for those who purchased this pass and has been extended for the duration of the Disney Parks closure.
TRANSPORTATION TAKES A LONG TIME
Disney transportation, like the theme parks, are operating at greatly reduced capacity to follow distancing guidelines.
As a result, it is taking longer than usual to get from one place to another.
On buses only a few parties can ride at one time with numbered seats assigned before guests enter the bus. There are also plexiglass dividers and empty seats blocked off between the groups to help with physical distancing.
Monorails now have dividers down the middle separating parties on each side of the cabin. The open-air ferry boat has spots marked where to stand for each party and the Skyliner is running with only one party per gondola.
Booking accommodations at a resort within walking distance of a Disney theme park is one strategy to minimize transportation time. We also recommend driving your own vehicle if possible. More on that below.
Parking lots have only been opening ten to thirty minutes ahead of the scheduled park opening time and transportation to the parks is not beginning as early either. Disney is only letting bunches of cars go through into the parking lots at any one time in the mornings. This reduces the number of people standing around at the park entrance waiting to get in.
Disney is also blocking off parking spaces to create physical distancing between cars in the parking lots themselves. Once a row has been filled in and all parties have left the parking lot then cars are directed to go back and fill in the empty spaces.
NO MINNIE VAN SERVICE
While most of Disney World’s transportation services are operating the Minnie Vans, an Uber-like service that operates red and white polka-dot vans literally themed like Minnie Mouse is temporarily not available. Third-party transportation services are still operating.
NO NEED TO ROPE DROP
“Rope Drop” or arriving early to be at the parks right as they open has always been the gold standard of Disney advice. This was when crowds and wait times were likely to be at their lowest. However right now there is no need to arrive well ahead of park opening anymore as there are no crowds to get ahead of.
In fact wait times are even lower as the day goes on. With no park hopping there isn’t a new fresh crowd of people coming into the parks later in the day either. In fact, late afternoon and evenings see the emptiest parks right now as people head home.
The only exception to not needing to arrive before park opening is at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is due to the Rise of the Resistance operating on a virtual que that requires guests to be inside the park in order to obtain a Boarding Group for the popular ride. Disney has attempted to mitigate this by offering Boarding Group access at 2:00 PM in addition to the 10:00 AM park opening time.
NEW NO CONTACT SECURITY
Disney World has begun using the new Evolv Express no contact security screening system. The new process involves guests simply walking through the scanner and security officers being able to see in real-time if a guest has a weapon on them. The scanners are able to distinguish between weapons and personal items such as phones and cameras.
When using these scanners guests do not have to take items out of their pockets to pass through a metal detector or have a security guard go through their bag. However, you still will need to remove umbrellas, metal drink containers and aerosol cans, such as sun screen and place them into a bin provided. Employees will not touch these items but you will retrieve them on the other side of the scanner.
NO FINGERPRINT ENTRY
For years now, guests arriving at the Walt Disney World theme parks would have to use a fingerprint scanner to enter the parks. This high-touch aspect of park entry has been eliminated. Guests simply tap their magic band to the RFID pole or have their ticket scanned by a Disney cast member.
NO CONTACT HOTEL CHECK-IN & ROOM ENTRY
Another contactless measure now available is the ability to bypass the hotel front desk and check-in to your Disney resort hotel via the My Disney Experience App. Guests will receive a notification when their room is ready for occupancy and will be able to unlock their hotel room door using their phone or MagicBand.
ENHANCED HOTEL CLEANING PROTOCOLS
Disney hotels have implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures that go beyond their pre-pandemic policies. Changes include more thorough cleaning of high-traffic and high-touch areas, double-cased pillows, and individually wrapped glassware.
Items such as T.V. remotes are now wrapped in a single-use plastic bag with a label indicating that it has been sanitized. These same labels can be found on the pumps of the shampoo and conditioner containers in the bathroom. Extra bedding will be sealed in a bag with a tab to indicate that it’s been cleaned, sanitized, bagged, and labeled at Disney’s washing stations.
Guests will find a notice of each surface and item that has undergone extra cleaning and sanitation steps in their room. Note that housekeeping does not service rooms now unless asked to do so.
BELL SERVICE HAS BEEN MODIFIED
Bell Services within the Disney World resort hotels will still deliver luggage to guest rooms however guests will not be accompanied to their rooms. Instead luggage is dropped off separately.
MANY HOTEL AMENITIES ARE MISSING
The extra touches of Club Level service are not available to guests at this time. The suspension of valet services mean that guests will have to use the hotel’s self-parking lots with the exception of Guests with disabilities who may require parking assistance. A valid disability parking permit is required. Room service dining is also suspended currently.
Dry cleaning or valet laundry services are not available. Guests needing to do laundry will have to use the self-service laundry and dry cleaning and laundry services are not available.
Arcades, playgrounds, campfires, spas, salons, and marina boat rentals all remain closed as well. Note that some feature pools like Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club resort remain closed but many others are open (with limited capacity and reduced hours) and fitness centers, and select other activities are also available.
NO IN-ROOM CELEBRATIONS
Another amenity that the pandemic has thwarted are in-room celebrations. For the time being Disney has suspended deliveries of items such as flowers, balloons, gift baskets and other celebratory items. You can however still order “celebration cakes” for delivery to your table with a meal at a table service restaurant. Check out our guide to celebrating birthdays at Walt Disney World for more info on cakes. Note that an advance dining reservation is required to place an order.
Guests will be automatically checked out of their rooms at the end of their stay. There will be no need to visit the front desk unless you have an unresolved issue on your account.
YOU CAN’T ENTER HOTELS WITHOUT RESERVATION
Not only will you need a reservation to enter a table-service restaurants inside the theme parks, you will also need dining reservations to enter one of the resort hotels if you do not have an active room reservation at that property. You can no longer just “Resort Hop” to check out resorts that you are not staying at.
DISABILITY ACCESS SERVICE IS UNCHANGED
Many Disney World guests rely on the Disability Access Services (DAS) in order to experience the attractions in the parks. This program is operating the same way it did before Disney World closed in March.
Guests simply have to visit Guest Relations to obtain the Disability Access Service pass and have it tied to their MagicBand. Guests can then obtain return times to ride the attractions without waiting in the standard ride queue. For more info contact Disney World’s Disability Services at (407) 560-2547 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DISNEY WATER PARKS REMAIN CLOSED
Disney’s water parks Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon remain closed as they focus on the reopening the dry theme parks. No reopening dates have been given.
EPCOT HAS A HYBRID FESTIVAL
Epcot’s Flower and Garden festival ended early when the park closed in mid-March. Disney decided with the reopening to bump up the beloved Food & Wine Festival that typically begins in late August and create a sort on hybrid festival that incorporates some food and merchandise elements from the spring’s Flower and Garden fest with pared down offerings from the fall Food and Wine event. The re-named festival is called “The Taste of Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.” The popular “Eat to the Beat Concert Series” is not being held as part of the festival this year.
PIN TRADING IS DONE DIFFERENTLY
Disney has made modifications to the way pin trading is done at Disney World. Guests can now select a new pin from a board filled with choices. The board will remain behind the counter and guests can ask to see it. The cast member will then show the board from behind a plexiglass window. If there is a pin that a guest wishes to trade for the cast member will put that pin on the counter for the guest to take. Guests keep their own pin back from the pin that they are trading. The pin being traded then gets put into a “used pins” bucket to be sanitized in a special solution for 24 hours before being put out for trading on the board.
To maintain physical distancing cast members are no longer wearing pin lanyards and cannot trade with guests directly.
SOME STORES AND BOOTHS USE VIRTUAL QUES
Some popular stores such as World of Disney and the Marketplace Co Op at Disney Springs and Splashdown Gifts at the Magic Kingdom are using a virtual que to control the number of shoppers allowed inside the store at any given time. Guests sign up for a wait list and receive a text message when it is time to return. The World Showplace building at EPCOT which is housing four of the Taste of Epcot Food Wine Festival booths is also using this virtual queue system at times when it is busier.
DRESSING ROOMS ARE CLOSED
For the time being dressing rooms are not available to try on merchandise. Stores also discourage touching items unless you plan to purchase them.
PACKAGE DELIVERY IS SUSPENDED
Package delivery to the front of the Disney World theme parks or to Disney Resort hotels for guests staying on property is suspended at this time. However, shipping merchandise to guests’ homes in the United States will continue to be available.
ITS QUIETER, YET HARDER TO HEAR PEOPLE
With so many fewer guests the parks are much quieter. We found that we noticed ambient park sounds and music more than ever. But when it came to talking to other people it was definitely more difficult to hear. Cast members wearing face masks and face shields or on the other side of a plexiglass barrier can be hard to understand. Likewise, we felt like we had to shout sometimes for them to hear us. We found a lot of sign language such holding up numbers with fingers used by cast members and replied with using a thumbs up.
In addition to the myriad health and safety precautions implemented by Disney there are some additional measures you can take of your own to stay safe. These included:
WEAR A HIGH-QUALITY FACE MASK
All masks are not created equal. Disney requires that face masks are made out of at least two layers. We recommend that you also use a carbon filter in addition to the fabric layers. The masks that we personally use and recommend to everyone are Vogmasks. These N99 rated masks have been a leader in the PPE industry since well before the pandemic. We initially learned about them years ago from our friends in the immune deficiency and pediatric cancer community. They are superior yet comfortable with both carbon and particle filters sewn into the middle layers and are reusable for up to three years.
They come in non-valve and valve varieties and have published their valve leakage test data (along with all their other mask testing data performed by Nelson Labs) however as Disney understandably no longer allows masks with valves we simply wear a fun Disney-themed face covering over our N99 Vogmasks.
If you are going to Disney multiple days make sure to clean your masks! Cloth masks are great but need to be washed frequently. We recommend hand washing them after each day and letting them air dry or bringing a fresh one (or two or three) for each day of your trip.
PROTECT YOUR EYES
A key area of precaution people often overlook is eye protection. Like the nose and mouth our eyes are mucous membranes where germs can enter and infect the body. To protect your eyes from droplets –and to just remind you not to touch them –wear sunglasses when you are outdoors and clear protective glasses inside. We found these safety glasses that came in a multipack on Amazon. Be sure to wash glasses with soapy water regularly.
CARRY YOUR OWN HAND SANITIZER
As mentioned above, Disney has installed hand sanitizer dispensers all around the property. We still find it handy to carry our own so that we are never without it and just in case one of the dispensers runs out. We have some hand sanitizer with a loop attaches to a purse or backpack and a spray version that can be used as a surface cleaner.
We brought a large bottle of hand sanitizer that we use to refill smaller bottles. Be sure to select one with the right ingredients. While home remedies might sound like an attractive alternative, an effective mixture with the right alcohol requirement is needed to kill viruses and bacteria.
WASH YOUR HANDS FREQUENTLY
The hand wash stations are there. It’s on you to make sure to use them! The number one way to protect yourself is still to wash your hands thoroughly and often.
WEAR GLOVES ON HIGH TOUCH RIDES (ONLY)
This tip comes with a caveat. We do NOT suggest wearing gloves all around the parks. Doing this only serves to pick up germs and then carry it around everywhere you go. We did however put on a pair of gloves for rides and attractions that involved high touch surfaces, such as the blaster guns on Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin or the steering wheel on the Tommorowland Speedway, for an extra measure of protection. We put the gloves on just before getting on the ride and disposed of them right as we exited.
Bring some antibacterial wipes to give any high-touch surfaces such as the touch screens on Spaceship Earth at Epcot your own quick cleaning. If you use a wheel chair or stroller that gets moved by a Disney Cast Member you can also them to wipe down the handles.
If you have the option to eat your table service or quick service meals outdoors, take it. Although all Disney dining locations have reconfigured their dining rooms for physical distancing, fresh air plays a role in diluting any airborne germs and reducing risk further.
Most quick-service restaurants have outdoor seating and some table service restaurants like such as Spice Road Table at Epcot offer outdoor seating. The Taste of Epcot Food and Wine Festival, which started July 15, also has many outdoor areas for enjoying you festival fare.
EAT BREAKFAST IN YOUR HOTEL ROOM
With several of the parks not opening until later in the morning and limited dining locations offering breakfast eating the first meal of the day in your hotel room is an easy decision here anyway. Not only does it save some money it means even less worry about exposure. We made muffins ahead of our trip and brought them with us as well as cold cereals and bananas and a cooler with milk and butter that we transferred to our hotel room fridge.
DINE RIGHT BEFORE CLOSING
Disney restaurants will seat guests right up until park closing. While the restaurants really did an excellent job at maintaining physical distance between parties at all times we found that they were especially empty when we had reservations 15-30 minutes before the park was scheduled to close. Several times using this strategy we had an entire restaurant room completely to ourselves.
PACK SNACKS & BRING YOUR OWN WATER
We’ve always recommended packing your own snacks for a visit to Disney. Now it not only saves on money it’s that much safer. Disney even allows you to bring in small coolers. So, take advantage of this money saving option to pack a supply of healthy easy to eat snacks like trail mix, fruits, granola bars and jerky. Just remember you must be stationary and physically distanced in order to remove your mask and eat.
Bringing your own water cuts down on the waste of cups when asking for water at quick-service locations and makes it easier to stay hydrated in the Florida heat –which is especially important with that mask on.
BRING YOUR OWN STRAWS
Animal Kingdom uses paper straws to protect the animals in the park and cut down on plastic consumption –something which harms animals the world over. The paper straws however are notorious for becoming soggy and useless quickly. Rather than having to drink from the cup itself which could have been handled by a cast member simply invest in a reusable straw. We like these silicone ones that fold into a convenient carrying case.
Some stores on Disney Property, especially those at Disney Springs won’t take cash at all right now. Other’s make employees out on gloves to handle cash.
If there is one thing that ten people can come in contact within the space of an hour without thinking twice about it, it’s money. Thankfully, as we laid out above Disney is offering many ways to pay for food and merchandise without any contact with either cash or the cashier. Make sure to have a credit or debit card on hand, set up cashless payments like “Apple Pay” on your phone and connect your credit card to the My Disney Experience App.
For kids who can’t use credit cards consider pre-purchasing a Disney Gift card for souvenirs…
USE A NO TOUCH TOOL
So, you’ve paid with plastic but what happens when you have to sign for your charges or type in a pin on a keypad? Bring a “No-Touch tool” with you that works as a stylus, can open doors, carries bags and of course can be used to push high touch surfaces like elevator buttons. After using give it give it a spritz with that spray sanitizer.
TAKE THE STAIRS
Speaking of elevators, avoid them whenever you can. Not only is it better for your overall health to take the stairs it means less time spent sharing a small box with strangers.
Whether it’s subconscious or not, many people are rightfully worried that wearing a mask in the hot sun will make them feel overheated. This makes finding ways to stay cool more important than ever before. We brought these Frog Togs” cooling towels“ from Amazon.
Another popular option are neck fans. We like the kind like this without blades so hair doesn’t get caught in them.
STAY ON TOP OF SUNBLOCK
The Florida sun can be unforgiving, and no one wants to have a mask tan line after being in the park all day. Remember to apply sunscreen liberally when you are getting ready in the morning and then set an alarm or reminder to remember to reapply.
PUT METAL ITEMS IN A CLEAR BAG
Put any metal items you are taking into park with you into a large clear Ziploc bag. This way you can remove anything metal easily and place it into the bin provided by security. This way you won’t set off the scanners that would lead to having your bag manually searched by Disney security.
DECONTAMINATE AT THE END OF THE DAY
When you get back to your hotel room change out of the clothes you were wearing in the parks and put them into a dirty laundry bag. Get a shower or bath before you unwind for the day. Make sure to keep any items that have been to the parks with you in a separate area, such as the entryway to your hotel room, and give them a wipe down with some Clorox wipes or spray with Lysol.
BE PREPARED TO USE TECHNOLOGY
With so much of the contactless technology like mobile order, digital restaurant menus, real-time ride wait times, park maps, check-in and payment reliant on the My Disney Experience App you are going to want to have the latest version downloaded and set up on your phone ahead of time and you are going to want to bring a portable charger to keep your phone battery up all day.
MagicBands should also be linked to your account as a contactless way to enter the theme parks. Disney Resort hotel guests can also use MagicBands to purchase food and merchandise. If you don’t already have a MagicBand or aren’t getting one as part of your Disney vacation package, you can purchase one online on Amazon or from ShopDisney.
GIVE YOUR ROOM AN EXTRA CLEANING ON ARRIVAL
Even with enhanced cleaning protocols it can’t hurt to do a fresh sweep of your own upon arrival. Using Lysol disinfectant and Clorox wipes we made sure to wipe down surfaces such as light switches, door handles, phone, alarm clock and any other high-touch areas in our room.
DON’T ALLOW ANYONE ELSE IN YOUR ROOM
Another good idea when it comes to your hotel room right now is to limit having strangers inside it if at all possible, for the duration of your trip. Sure it’s nice to have housekeeping turn down beds and tidy up but this can easily be skipped.
DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE
This is another one of those directives we’ve had drilled into us for months, but it can be so easy to forget. Make sure to stay on top of any preventive medications for issues like allergies or acne to avoid face touching and eye rubbing. The less you subconsciously reach for your face, the less likely any germs you have picked up along the way will make it into your body.
BE HYPER AWARE OF PHYSICAL DISTANCING
With decreased crowds, it’ll be easier to maintain six feet of distance from other parties. However, if you find that an area or walkway seems too crowded simply hang back or head to another section of the park. We noticed it was always possible to find space by just being smart about our movement.
If it looks like you are headed into a choke point where there are a lot of people and they don’t look properly physically distanced simply turn around and go the other way. One of the wonderful things about Disney World is that you can almost always get where you need to go going another direction.
Always keep moving and don’t just stop in the middle of a pathway. The same goes for shops. When you’re browsing wait until other parties have cleared out to inspect a display.
OPT TO DRIVE YOUR OWN CAR
If you live within a day’s driving distance from Walt Disney World it may much more sense right now to drive your own vehicle down than to deal with flying out of an airport and/or renting a car upon arrival. This way too, you don’t have to hassle with Disney transportation to the parks. We drove down directly from our home to Disney stopping only for quick bathroom breaks (following the other precautions laid out here).
PURCHASE TRAVEL INSURANCE
Whether you plan to stay on or off Disney property, you might want to consider purchasing travel insurance in case you need to cancel your trip. Hotels have various cancellation policies, so look for one that has no or minimal fees if you want to have low financial risk should plans change.
BE AWARE OF QUARANTINE MANDATES
Since March, Florida has had a mandatory 14-Day quarantine order for anyone coming from the Tri-State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut through at least September 5, 2020. That means if you have to first be isolated for 14 full days BEFORE being able to visit Walt Disney World.
Conversely, since new Coronavirus cases started increasing across the country, the Tri-State of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey are requiring anyone coming from the “high-risk” areas to quarantine for 14 days. Florida is included on that list of restricted states.
This makes it extremely difficult for anyone coming from those states to now visit Disney World because not only would they have to quarantine 14 days when they arrive in Florida BEFORE going to Walt Disney World, they then would have to quarantine ANOTHER 14 days when they return home.
Other states may have quarantine mandates in place. Be aware of any and all travel restrictions both to and from your home state.
STICK TO THE DISNEY PROPERTY
An article in The Atlantic recently likened Disney World being in Florida only in the sense that Vatican City is in Italy, or the Principality of Monaco is in France. All the land that touches Disney World is Florida, but it is its own entity, with its own infrastructure, its own transportation, and, to a surprising extent, its own laws and regulations –which in many ways are stricter and better enforced than the state it is surrounded by.
At the time of writing this article Florida remains a hotbed of COVID-19. Disney World’s strict rules, regulations and more importantly enforcement set it apart as a 30,000 acre sanctuary from the recklessness that you see at other retail and social establishments across the state. We made sure we didn’t leave Disney property for the entirety of our trip.
AVOID DISNEY SPRINGS TOO
The one area on Disney property that we didn’t feel was up to snuff safety-wise was Disney Springs. The shopping complex isn’t subject to the same capacity restrictions as the parks and didn’t have the same level of watchful staff enforcing guidelines. With the parks closing early Disney Springs seems to be the only option for evening entertainment which we found to be problematic. After one visit for dinner we canceled our subsequent evening dining reservations there.
AVOID VISITING ON THE WEEKENDS
While still very limited in capacity we definitely saw an uptick in crowd levels over the weekends. Visiting on a weekday is your best best for avoiding the most amount of people and having the easiest time with physical distancing.
So those are some steps we recommend and took ourselves when visiting Disney World during the pandemic. Now we’ll look at a few big questions…
WAS IT SAFE?
That’s the ultimate question.
We felt (notice I say “felt” which is subjective) very safe and that Disney as a company has done a great deal to create that sense of safety and to mitigate the risks of being in a public space right now with other people.
We felt more comfortable at Walt Disney World than we have in our local supermarket and observed 100% compliance from Disney Cast members and near-total compliance among park guests to all of Disney’s rules and procedures. Moreover we observed that Disney is strictly enforcing their health and safety regulations. We noticed guests whose mask had dropped below their nose being asked to correct it and even ourselves when we managed a couple times to slip up and not stand with enough spacing were asked to back up. In each instance we noticed guests happy to comply. Our twelve year old summed it up best by saying “everyone in the parks seems to be on the same page.”
The truth of the matter is we don’t know exactly how safe it is, regardless of how it feels. Time will tell and undoubtedly modifications will be made in response to the evolving situation whether that means further restriction or a gradual loosening as things improve. So far no COVID-19 outbreaks have been linked to the theme parks in Orange County and we do find that encouraging.
That said, it is going to be a long time before theme parks go back to their previous business as usual. In fact, it remains to be seen if that will ever happen. Hopefully, time will show that the steps Disney has taken, along with personal responsibility taken on the part of guests (see precautions above) are indeed effective measures.
DOES DISNEY STILL DELIVER THE MAGIC?
There’s no denying that the experience of donning protective face coverings, respecting the floor markings that keep parties six feet apart in lines, and holding up as ride vehicles get sanitized make for an undeniably different theme park experience.
With so many new rules and requirements and so much missing many people want to know if Disney World still delivers on the “magic.”
From our perspective the answer to this is a resounding YES!
We personally found that all of the rules and procedures helped us to relax in a way that we just haven’t be able to in any other public environment and we found that despite the changes the company has still found a way to deliver a version of vacation that still feels decidedly on brand and unmistakably “Disney”.
This is in no small part due to the Disney Cast Members that are going above and beyond to make sure the experience is still magical.
BUT SHOULD YOU GO?
This is a question we just can’t answer for you. The decision to travel to Disney World right now is one each family will need to make for themselves. I can tell you that it was a decision we wrestled with extensively and one that we made in consultation with our own family doctors as it pertains to our own unique situation. Nothing in this article should be taken as an endorsement to travel to Disney right now.
What we can tell you is that Disney’s safety precautions and guidelines felt more comprehensive to us than any other public space we have experienced but there is undoubtedly an inherent risk to any public outing currently and that is something you will have to consider in your decision.
Generally we will say that if you have any kind of problem with wearing a mask for the entirety of your time in Disney’s public spaces then the answer is an easy, no. Disney’s enforcement of their health and safety policies is very strict and if you are so much as noticed to have your mask below your nose you will be asked to fix it and if you don’t comply you will be asked to leave. If any of the rules and regulations laid out above aren’t something you can sign on for the you should wait until those rules are relaxed.
If you are looking for a feeling of “pre-pandemic” business as usual you won’t find that at Disney. It is impossible, literally impossible, to forget that you’re on vacation during the middle of a pandemic while visiting Walt Disney World. Reminders of the COVID-19 reality are everywhere from the overhead message that plays throughout the day to the signs posted at every turn reminding guests about the importance of physical distancing and to wear a mask.
If this would also be a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Disney World for you then you also might want to wait until more experiences and restaurants return.
A lot of the attractions slated to open over the next year are being pushed back due to the halt in construction and/or Disney’s hemorrhaging of capital expenditure funds during the closure and even still the barely breakeven re-opening. If you were hoping to ride new headliners like the Tron Light-cycle at Magic Kingdom or the Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind at Epcot, it may be awhile. However, we couldn’t begin to tell you when that would be.
Disney Frequent Fliers like current annual pass holders who already have a substantial investment in visiting in 2020 but who are also not as likely to be as concerned with what is missing may be more suited to touring the parks right now. Admittedly, we say that as passholders ourselves with teenagers who have demonstrated their ability and commitment to keep a mask on properly in the Florida heat.
Of course, if you have health conditions that put you at high risk of COVID-19 complications then that is something you seriously have to consider in your decision. We talked extensively to our family doctors before our own decision to go and even that involved some testing for our daughter that helped us inform our decision and some serious weighing of the risks versus benefits.
Our doctors also agreed that it would not be their recommendations for everyone because each family’s situation and ability to comply with precautions is unique. For example, if you have a three-year-old who can’t keep a mask on properly then a visit would be out of the question right now on those grounds alone. That said, we observed many, many young kids who wore their masks perfectly. Again you have to access your own family’s behavior here.
It should also be obvious that you should not under any circumstance visit the park’s if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive and are subject to quarantine or other travel restrictions.
IF YOU DO DECIDE TO GO TO DISNEY WORLD DURING THE PANDEMIC…
Be respectful. Remember that you are at Disney World by choice. By being there you are agreeing to follow every last one of the rules and safety guidelines Disney has put in place including wearing your face mask covering your mouth and nose.
Be positive. Instead of thinking about all the things you cannot do right now at Disney try and focus on what you can. This will likely be the only time you can ride Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom four times consecutively in an hour because the wait time is an unheard of 10 minutes –which is how long it takes to walk from the entrance.
It’s likely the only time you’ll be able to skip down and empty Main Street.
Or have an entire elevator to yourselves on Tower of Terror.
Be present. Savor the slower rhythm of not having to be at any particular ride within a certain FastPass window. Soak in the sites, sounds and smells. Take the time to soak up the gorgeous landscapes.
And admire the architecture that’s usually crowded with people.
Be attentive. Visiting Disney right now requires you to pay attention. Stay on your number, line or colored dot.
Be flexible! Disney is adapting every day and the rules may change due to the fluidity of the current health situation. Be nice to the cast members who are trying their best to maintain a safe environment for everyone at the parks.
Be smart. Control the controllable and remove yourself when you can’t. If you see a guest not following the guidelines – do not engage. Do not attempt to take care of the situation yourself. Make sure you alert a cast member and avoid that situation. Cast members are more than willing to accommodate when you want to move or want extra space.
Make sure to quarantine afterwards for 14 days. Also consider getting tested if you have access. Our family physician said the ideal time to test would be seven days after our trip. We didn’t have any trouble setting up our appointments for testing before we even left for our trip. Make sure to quarantine even while waiting for your results.
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