We went to Disney World during the pandemic on the busiest weekend since the parks reopened. After cancelling two previous summer trips we decided to go forward with our Labor Day vacation planned well before COVID was a household term. Being at Disney World after COVID reopening, during peak crowds, gave us a real look into what Disney World is doing well and poorly during this unprecedented time.
I am in no way an expert on COVID-19. There is an inherent risk of getting sick when you no longer follow a stay-at-home order. This is information I have compiled in my attempt to make travel decisions for my family at this time. Please consult a healthcare professional with specific questions about your or your family’s potential risks and health.
Disney World After COVID Reopening: The Good
Relatively Short Disney World Attraction Wait Times
Disney World no longer has FastPasses, which means you have to do a stand-by wait for every attraction. Smaller crowds mean that most Disney World ride wait times are pretty reasonable.
During Labor Day weekend, when each park was at maximum capacity, our longest wait was about 50 minutes for Test Track. We did rope drop each day, arriving before the official park opening. This early arrival allowed us to ride at least a couple popular attractions before the wait times hit their peak.
Don’t go to Disney World right now thinking you’ll walk onto every attraction. Enhanced cleaning procedures, social distancing on the ride vehicles, plus moderate crowds means average wait times of about 20 to 30 minutes during peak times. Expect higher wait times for popular attractions unless you ride them at rope drop first thing in the morning.
Streamlined Security at Disney World After COVID Reopening
One of the best things at Disney World post-COVID reopening is the streamlined security screening. Instead of security combing through each and every guest bag, guests walk through a security checkpoint screening device. This new procedure makes security lines a thing of the past.
A couple of important tips to make security a breeze. Guests should remove umbrellas from their bag and hold them out straight ahead as they walk through the screener. If you have a Droid Depot Astromech these need additional security screening. BB and R units must be inspected and removed from carrying bags. Security also asks to open BB unit bodies and inspect the motivator mechanism.
Lower Crowds Means Noticing Special Details
Peak crowds mean lots of noise and limited visibility. We noticed so much this trip, from ambient background noises to subtle visual details, around each of the parks. Despite visiting Disney World dozens of times these previously missed details made it feel like the parks were new to us.
Personal Space Returns To Disney World After COVID Reopening
Lower crowds plus social distancing made waiting in line at Disney World more comfortable. No more big backpacks or sweaty guests bumping into us as we waited. I hope this increased awareness of personal space sticks around post-pandemic.
Disney World Is Doing A Good Job During The Pandemic
Cast members are working hard to keep guests safe, and most guests were considerate. Although there were more people than Instagram would lead you to believe, most of the close interaction is outdoors with everyone wearing masks.
We felt safe in our Boardwalk Villa room, waiting in queues, and around the parks in general. Disney World’s new health policies made us feel comfortable while visiting Disney World post-COVID reopening.
People With Food Allergies Can Still Get A Consultation
Disney World is encouraging, and often mandating, mobile ordering at quick service restaurants. Mobile ordering is super convenient for most guests, but since Elizabeth has an unusual food allergy I was nervous about the process.
Quick service restaurants have added an allergy-friendly section to mobile ordering. The menus now show options for guests with common food allergies like gluten, egg, fish/shellfish, milk, peanut/tree nut, and soy. If you have one of these food allergies you can order from the mobile ordering system.
Guests with less common or multiple food allergies can request a chef consultation. The chef and trained allergy consultants helped us find safe options during our quick service meals.
Disney World Is Enforcing Their Mask Policy
I know individual opinions vary on mask wearing, but guests are notified of the strict mask policy when purchasing tickets and making Disney World theme park reservations. If you’re visiting Disney World property now, you’re agreeing to follow their rules, including the mask policy. So follow the rules or wait to visit Disney World.
Overhead messages around the park remind people to wear a face covering over their noses and mouths unless removing the mask when stationary to eat or drink. Most people did a great job following the rules, although some needed reminding.
Disney Cast Members
The cast members we met on this trip are just as wonderful as they have always been despite their jobs becoming much harder. Cast members have a lot more responsibilities, plus are in full costumes, masks, and often face shields which I imagine is uncomfortable.
Even in the challenging post-COVID environment, cast members we met went above and beyond to make our park days and hotel stay wonderful. We made sure to thank every cast member during our trip for making our day special.
Park Hopping Has Returned
Starting January 1, 2021 Disney World reinstated park hopping. Although there are new rules and restrictions on moving from park to park, having the ability to park hop is an exciting option.
Disney World After COVID Reopening: The Bad
People Forget How To Social Distance Without Floor Markings
Plastic dividers and floor markings help people maintain social distancing at Disney World. We found that as long as there are visible floor markings guests did an excellent job maintaining distance.
When lines stretch further back without these visual cues or along theme park walkways people reverted to old habits. We still avoided being too close to people the vast majority of time, but it was more challenging in these unmarked areas.
The Disney World Park Reservation System
Initially implemented to help Disney World manage reopening crowd levels, Josh D’Amaro, Disney Parks Chairman, believes the park reservation system is here to stay.
Over Labor Day weekend Disney World had zero park reservation availability for two of the days. This meant if you hadn’t reserved before arriving at the hotel, even on-site guests were barred from park entry. No park reservation availability also meant no switching from one park reservation to another if you changed your mind.
Disney World Reduced Park Hours
Disney World has reduced hours after reopening. These shortened park hours make it more difficult for guests to get the full Disney experience.
Families with small kids who need a midday break will find it nearly impossible to get back to some parks before closing. These short park hours combined with Disney World park reservations makes visiting Disney less flexible.
No Fireworks, Parades, or Traditional Character Meet and Greets
Rides are still there and are certainly a fun part of Disney World. However, it felt like something was missing during our Disney World post-COVID reopening trip. Some rides are missing their pre-show experiences. This means guests no longer get the full ride experience on attractions like Haunted Mansion, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
I completely understand the need to limit these crowd gathering and close personal contact experiences. Fireworks, character interactions, attraction pre-shows, and parades are the sprinkles on a Disney cupcake that make the experience extra special. Without them, the experience was not the same as I’ve come to expect.
There Are Still Crowds At Disney World After COVID Reopening
Capacity is certainly reduced at Disney World, but people are still visiting the parks. Locals and out-of-town guests lured by empty Main Street and Cinderella’s Castle pictures flocked to Disney World over Labor Day.
As people adjust to the new normal and resume leisure travel I think this trend of near capacity crowds at Disney World will continue. Overall, I felt the crowds were manageable but may be higher than expected over weekends and school breaks.
Reduced Food and Shopping Options At Disney World
Just like reduced park hours, many shops and restaurants are closed at Disney World post-COVID reopening. This was mostly a minor inconvenience, but we had a couple disappointing experiences because of the limitations.
For example, since Elizabeth has a food allergy we often stick to places and foods we’ve vetted. I didn’t realize that if a restaurant was open they usually offered a limited menu. This meant many safe favorites didn’t exist and we were left scrambling to find an alternative.
Wearing Masks For A Full Park Day Is Challenging
We’ve been wearing masks regularly for months. We’ve hiked in them, toured caves, and otherwise lived life in face coverings.
Because of our general comfort with face coverings I did not expect how difficult wearing a mask at Disney World all day would be. The heat index hovered around 100°F (40°C) most of our park days, which is challenging on a normal day. Even though wearing a mask was not fun, we honored the face covering rules we agreed to by visiting Disney World.
Disney World requires masks on guests both indoors and outdoors for the entirety of your visit. The only exceptions are if you are stationary eating or drinking and time spent at “relaxation stations.” Relaxation stations are areas of the park where guests can take a mask break. Most are outside, but a few are inside in air-conditioning.
We tested four different masks during our Disney World visit. Here’s are pros and cons of each type plus general Disney World mask tips.
Disney World After COVID Reopening: The Ugly
Other Disney World Guests
The only ugly thing we experienced at Disney World after COVID reopening was other guests. So much of your experience right now relies on other guests being respectful and honoring the rules of Disney World.
The vast majority of guests did a great job with social distancing, mask wearing, and being thoughtful in general. Only a handful of guests ignored Disney World safety rules or removed masks during dark rides when they thought they could get away with it.
Disney World has confirmed a policy that suppresses ride photos if someone is not wearing a mask, and on a few rides people briefly took down masks. Because of these other Disney World guests our family missed out on our ride photos despite following the rules.
Disney World After COVID Reopening Final Thoughts
Disney World has done a great job enforcing mask usage, encouraging social distancing, and increasing cleanliness after reopening.
I didn’t expect it to be the same place we left, but I was unprepared for how different Disney World felt after COVID reopening. There was nothing particularly wrong, but we felt slightly underwhelmed by our experience. Much of our disappointment had to do with the inflexibility of park reservations and short park hours. We also missed Disney World extras like characters, parades, shows, and fireworks which we’ve grown to love over time.
If your ideal Disney World vacation is riding as many attractions as possible, then now might be a good time for a trip. However, if this is your family’s first, or only Disney World trip, I suggest waiting until some of these special events return.
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