Walt Disney World During COVID

Guest Written by Felicia Troy, AAA Travel Advisor in Massachusetts.

Walt Disney World is known as the happiest place on Earth. Having been to the park several times I must agree. There is something genuine about. It’s a place where children smile bigger, parents laugh harder, and families make lifelong memories. Like every destination, COVID-19 impacted the park. For weeks, the rides were still and the gates were locked. But then the news came that the park would reopen. I knew my clients would want to know what Disney is like under these unusual circumstances. Honestly, so did I. It was decided, I would get out there to see for myself.

I stayed at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. The resort is marketed as offering a leisurely pace, providing a stay filled with vibrant colors and lush landscapes. That sounded exactly like what the doctor ordered. The resort is home to colonial forts, lively markets, pristine beaches, splashy florals, and swaying hammocks. It is also very well maintained, and sanitized!

My room was clean and clearly identified as being completely sanitized. The remote, shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner were all wrapped to show sanitization. The pools were open at the resort, but during peak times they did reach the new max capacity limit. I found myself coming across lines to get into the pool area.

Touchless menus are everywhere, and this resort embraced the technology. To order food at the hotel I used the resorts mobile app. During my stay in October, there was only one restaurant open, plus the cabana bar. Masks were mandatory around the resort unless eating. As far as transportation, there were no busses shuttling to Epcot or Hollywood Studios from my hotel. I was able to get to the parks by the Skyliner, which required timing, as most mornings there was a line of visitors looking to make it to Hollywood Studios by 10 a.m.

Usually, I would have passed on the Skyliner, but with no other transportation, I took advantage of the opportunity. Visitors who were traveling together secured their own private group ride on the gondola. Return rides were high in demand as well, and there were times where I did experience lines.

With so much to see, I started my trip with Disney Springs. I wanted to be sure I picked up some gifts for family before I was too swept up in the excitement of my trip. Disney Springs, along with the rest of the parks, took my temperature upon arrival. I was immediately greeted with a sanitizing station too. During my visit, masks were mandatory, both outside and in the stores. The one and only exception to this rule is when eating, but even then, you must be stationary. You cannot walk the park with your mask down while holding a snack and claiming to eat. The retail stores each had information posted about max capacities, and there were instances where lines formed as people waited to enter. The sidewalks were marked to help people adhere to social distancing requirements. Despite the regulations, I did enjoy myself and found those magical souvenirs for everyone back home.

Shopping and eating are only a sliver of the fun had at Disney. I always enjoy the rides. Similar to the stores, all rides at the park have social distancing markers. The extra spacing between waiting parties makes the lines look longer than they really are, and some lines stretched beyond their normal shaded coverings and into the sunlight.

One noticeable difference was how the rides that usually have interactive pieces were removed to avoid unnecessary touching. Regardless, they were as magical as I remembered, and I was always welcomed and encouraged to use the sanitizer at all the ride exits. The one thing that stuck out to me was how each ride was not wiped down after each round of use. Knowing that there was sanitizer at the exits made me feel more comfortable, but if this is something you feel uncomfortable with, I suggest bringing sanitizing wipes to clean the high touched places on your rides.

You may be happy to hear that the enchantment of the Magic Kingdom still exists and is not going anywhere anytime soon. There were spontaneous parades and characters out and about! It was also fun to catch your favorite characters waving from a balcony or joining you on a ride. Keep your eyes peeled. But somethings, COVID-19 or not, do not change. In this case, Splash Mountain continued to have the longest line. Who could go to the park without a ride on the mountain! I didn’t mind the wait, but I do recommend getting to the parks right when they open. The lines are a bit shorter and I was able to ride four main attractions within my first hour.

One benefit of social distancing was that I never felt stuck in crowds when walking around the park. Here in Magic Kingdom, most of the food options were open, as long as you made sure you were sitting and eating, not walking and eating.

During my visit, I was able to spend time at Hollywood Studios, which is the busiest of the parks. This park always sells out of park reservations, and I would imagine it has to do with the new ride “Rise of the Resistance”. For this ride, there is a virtual queue, with two opportunities per day to get placed in line, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You must be inside the park at Hollywood Studios in order to have that opportunity. You will also need the My Disney Experience app in order to reserve your spot. Once you are placed into the queue, you will get a boarding group notification. This update will give you an approximate time to come back to experience the ride.

During my visit, this ride was the only Disney ride to have a virtual queue. Grabbing your spot seemed extremely competitive! I have heard stories of visitors who did not get in, which can make the whole process frustrating. On top of the process to get the boarding pass, you are still not guaranteed to experience the ride. It simply gives you the chance. Once your time comes, you will be scanned into the line and still have to wait a while before your ride. Regardless of the process, you DON’T want to miss out on this experience!

I must tell you this, pack plenty of masks! Also, I would highly recommend choosing a mask for comfort over fashion. We’re talking Florida, and it is going to get sweaty under there. I had wished I had more than one mask on me when I came off Splash Mountain, I was soaked.

If you’re planning a Disney vacation, I encourage you to read my two other articles, one on dining at the parks during COVID and another that takes a deeper look at traveling to, from, and around the parks. I also invite you to view my Out There! Broadcast, Disney during COVID.

AAA Travel advisors are traveling all over the globe, experiencing travel in this new, and hopefully temporary, norm. We want to offer clients a first-hand look at what they can expect as they return to travel. Whether your wanderlust is calling you to Disney, Europe, Alaska, or Japan, your travel advisor is here to help you make informed, smart travel decisions. To speak with your advisor, please call 1-800-222-7448. Tell them Felicia sent you!