On July 11, Disney World reopened with new safety guidelines in place. The parks are operating at limited capacity, barriers are set up to enforce social distancing, and masks are a requirement with very few exceptions.
While safety guidelines make the Disney experience different than ever before, there are perks to visiting right now -- including shorter lines and more photo opportunities.
TravelAwaits discussed changes at the park with several people who have visited in the last month. These visitors answered the questions on everyone’s minds. From little things like entry to the parks to the very magic of Disney World itself, we have some insight into what it’s actually like to visit right now.
Entry Into The Park
Unlike your other Disney vacations, more preparation is required now than ever. Visitors can only visit one park per day instead of the usual park-hopping experience many know and love.
Both a park reservation and valid admission to the same park are required for entry. Reservations can be made in advance through the Disney Park Pass System.
“They had entrances with temperature-checking tents, hands-free security points where you walked through a metal detector, and if they needed to look in your bag, they would have you manage the zippers and show them the spaces in your bag,” said Rose Bragg of Braggworthy Adventures, a travel YouTube channel.
Even though security involves temperature-checking points, one visitor reported that the process was speedier than ever.
“When we arrived at the park, our temperature was screened before entering the security area and took roughly 10 to 15 seconds. Security -- although always efficient -- was a much quicker experience,” said Terri McDaniel of The Vacationeer, a travel agency.
How The Parks Stay Clean -- And Safe
In addition to an emphasis on face coverings (which you can read all about in our coverage of Disney’s adjusted mask policy and delayed resort reopenings), Disney World staff members are also prioritizing cleanliness.
One visitor, Lindsey Holmes, owner of Disney travel agency Kingdom Destinations, was impressed by how safe she felt in the park.
“They have everything from plexiglass partitions in the standby queues to hand sanitizing stations at the beginning and end of every attraction, additional cleaning of the ride vehicles every two hours, hand washing stations throughout the parks, social distancing markers in the standby queues, wearing masks being enforced, and more,” Holmes said.
Disney cleaning staff pay extra attention to what they call high-traffic areas -- which range from bathrooms to elevators and escalators and everything in between. Additionally, housekeeping staff responsibilities have been modified to allow for extra cleaning while minimizing contact with guests and other staff members.
Even though masks are a requirement, visitors can take a break from wearing theirs in two cases: first, in what Disney calls “relaxation zones.” These are designated areas around the parks where visitors can remove their masks. All visitors in these zones will be separated from other parties by 10 feet.
The only other occasion you may remove your mask is if you’re actively eating or drinking.
Dining In The Parks
A Disney vacation means a long day of rides and walking, and a good meal has the power to fuel visitors for the rest of their stay. To make the dining process more efficient, you might want to take advantage of Disney’s online services.
“If you wish to dine on property, they have a QR code for you to scan when you get to the restaurant to let them know you have arrived for your reservation. They will come out and greet you, screen your temperature, and get you seated,” said Bri Pritchett, another agent from The Vacationeer.
Terri, who’s visited since Disney reopened had a similar suggestion. “Mobile ordering through the My Disney Experience app is required at all quick-service locations and is very easy to navigate and use. Make sure to submit your order in advance of your restaurant arrival as you are not allowed to enter until your order is ready.”
Meeting And Greeting Characters
With social distancing guidelines in place, is it possible to still get to know the parks’ characters? Fortunately, Disney has come up with some impressive workarounds.
Fireworks, meet-and-greets, and thrilling parades are no longer a given. To make up for those core experiences, Disney has gotten creative. Gone (for now) are the days of hugging your favorite Disney cast member. Instead, visitors can see characters performing from afar, waving from a safe distance. Though this might seem like a disappointing change to some, other Disney fans are pleasantly surprised by this change of pace.
“I really enjoyed the new way characters are integrated into the park experience. Random parades would take place and all of a sudden you would get the excitement of seeing Elsa and Anna pass you while you are in Norway in Epcot or Mickey and Minnie drive by in Hollywood Studios. I saw more characters and interacted with more major characters than ever before,” said Rose.
“It seemed as though cast members were even more on their game and we were highly impressed. We had some of our best laughs during interactions with them,” said Kayla Sullivan, another agent with The Vacationeer.
“While they are on high alert to make sure guests are following safety guidelines, it felt as though they were also on high alert to ensure guests were having just as much fun as they did pre-pandemic,” Kayla told us.
Though character meet-and-greets are a quintessential experience at Disney World, it’s reassuring to know that characters will still be smiling, waving, and enjoying park life, even if it’s from a distance.
Waiting In Line
With the parks operating at limited capacity, in most cases, lines are shorter than usual.
“While in Magic Kingdom, the longest line we waited in was for Splash Mountain, which took all of 25 minutes! We even rode Seven Dwarfs Mine Train after waiting only 10 minutes, which any avid Disney goer knows is next to impossible,” said Kayla.
Due to limited capacity, certain Disney features such as FastPass are suspended, but that doesn’t stop visitors from having a blast and getting on rides fairly quickly.
“The crowds were very low in all four parks, so wait times were very reasonable, even for the most popular attractions,” said Siera Duiser from Destinations in Florida.
Experiencing Disney Festivals
Disney’s Food and Wine Festival is one of its most well-known attractions.
“We wanted to see how [Disney] could possibly handle social distancing for an event that's usually extremely crowded. While we knew it would be less busy than most years we've gone, we were shocked at how few people were at any of the booths; you could just walk right up to most counters with zero wait,” said Adam Smith of travel blog Adam’s Apple: The World.
The limited wait times are one perk -- another is how effective Disney workers made the experience overall.
“At Epcot, they have merchandise from the Spring Flower and Garden Festival even though they have started the Food and Wine Festival. They also upgraded the utensil dispensers so that only one utensil comes out at a time. I very much appreciated this and hope they keep these in the future,” said Rose.
All in all, though things are different now, it’s clear that Disney has done its part to maximize efficiency, and perhaps changes such as disposable, contactless cutlery are here to stay.
Tips From Travelers
Before experiencing the parks in COVID-19 times, consider the following tips offered by recent visitors.
“You are able to remove your face covering when stationary and ‘actively’ eating and drinking. We took advantage of this and enjoyed several adult beverages during our trip. If you have the opportunity, I recommend BaseLine Tap House in Hollywood Studios and Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot,” said Terri.
Another important consideration: packing with Florida summers in mind.
“You need to test out a [face covering] that is light enough for you to wear all day. And one you can get breath comfortably in. I strongly recommend trying and wearing a few types before you take one to Disney. This could make or break the experience for you,” said Nikki Webster of Brit on the Move.
Another visitor shared a similar sentiment. “Bringing a few extra masks to the park to swap on and off when one got too hot was super helpful to stay as comfortable as possible,” said Megan DuBois, a freelance writer and theme park journalist.
Though the heat is a considerable factor, don’t let that discourage you from the experience.
“We were worried about how [a mask] would feel in the Florida heat, but Disney has done a wonderful job at ensuring fans were going, giving free water cups, and having relaxation zones around the park where you may take off your face coverings,” said Kayla.
One visitor believes right now is the perfect time to see the parks as an adult. “As long as you have the right expectations set, right now is the best time for adult Disney-goers to take over the parks,” said Rose.
With rigorous cleaning systems in place, social distancing guidelines enforced, and the parks operating at limited capacity, Disney World employees hope to make guests feel as comfortable as possible.
That being said, if you’re seriously considering a trip, make sure to check CDC, state, and local guidelines and Disney’s park updates beforehand.
And don’t forget, just because you’re wearing a mask doesn’t mean the magic of Disney is gone. “I don’t feel our experience was any less magical, and I can’t wait to go back,” Terri told us.