Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort reopened in July 2020 after months of mandatory and necessary closure due to the pandemic. When it reopened, it was careful and thought-provoking as new rules and practices were introduced to ensure the health and safety of performers and guests alike. I have visited a few times since reopening, the reason I will elaborate on later in this post, and therefore I think I can speak from a certain position of authority when it comes to tips and best practices for visiting Walt Disney World goes into 2021. The visit may be very different from what it was before the pandemic, but in many ways the experience is even more magical.
health and safety
We live with different rules at different times, all of which apply for the benefit of all. Where I live it means wearing a mask whenever I’m out of my home, social distancing, and general common sense measures. This is not the same across the country and so some people may be surprised by the rules that are strictly followed at Walt Disney World. It is up to the traveler to do their research and obey all rules. Disney is not a public service, we choose to go there. So don’t be surprised when performers ask you to follow the rules designed to protect you and others. Some of these new rules and protocols include:
- Improved cleaning – Teams of people now spend all of their time cleaning everything in the huge resort, especially high-traffic areas like elevators, handrails, benches, and more. At the resorts, the cleaning service has been changed to improve cleaning and reduce contact.
- Physical distancing – Signage and floor markings are everywhere, clearly showing distances of six feet at almost every step. Where it is not possible to adequately distance oneself socially, physical barriers have been put in place to further promote the strict guidelines for physical distancing.
- Face coverings – Mandatory for all guests over 2 years. The masks must be at least 2 layers, completely covering the nose and mouth and secured with ties or ear loops. Guests can lower the masks while eating or drinking, but must remain stationary and away from others.
- Temperature studies – All guests entering the theme parks, Disney Springs, and table service restaurants at Disney Resort Hotels must undergo a non-contact temperature test. People with a maintained temperature of 100.4 ° F or higher are not permitted.
- Plus a lot more.
Park reservations, hopping and Fast Pass+
In addition to tickets or an annual pass, there is one more step you need to take before you leave home – reservations. To ensure that the number of people in each of the four parks is kept to their new limits, a park reservation is required before visiting any park. The reservations are free, but they guarantee that no park will have too many people. After receiving your tickets, simply visit the Walt Disney World website to receive your free reservation for each day you wish to visit.
Once in the parks you will find that the process of enjoying attractions is very different than it used to be. First, there aren’t nearly that many people, which makes for more reasonable waiting times. To be clear, there was no waiting immediately after it reopened, but those days are over. Nevertheless, the waiting times are not bad and even the most popular trips are manageable. In my most recent experience, I never had to wait more than an hour for an attraction, and that only happened once. 30 minutes is the typical average with multiple attractions with no queues at all during the week.
Before the pandemic, you had to plan your Walt Disney World trips like a general planning battle, thanks largely to Fast Passes. In these sought-after locations, guests were able to skip long lines for some of the most popular attractions. Since reopening, Fast Passes have been put on hold since they really aren’t needed and guess what? It made the experience a lot more enjoyable. Freed from schedules, I was able to enjoy the parks a lot more than in the past, take pleasant walks and do what I want when I want to. It’s a more fun and relaxed experience that it should always be. Disney has also reintroduced park hopping, albeit with some restrictions. You must have the appropriate ticket and leaving one park for another will only be possible if there is capacity and after 2 p.m. Visit the website for more information.
Hotels and Resorts
Just as the park experience is very different (but not bad) than it was before the pandemic started, so is staying at Walt Disney World. Of course, not everyone wants to stay on site, but I personally prefer it very much. Aside from the many conveniences and benefits, I enjoy never leaving the Disney bubble from both a health and a pleasure point of view. Disney retains its magic in each of its many resorts, which greatly enriches any vacation.
Not all hotels and resorts were open when they reopened, and many are still closed today, albeit on a reopening schedule. Please check the Disney website to see what is open and what is not. Even those who are open may not be completely open. The Polynesian and soon to be contemporary building is currently under renovation, which has a huge impact on the rooms available and the overall experience. Still others, like Wilderness Lodge, have only reopened certain areas of the property.
As soon as you arrive at your resort, other changes will be immediately noticeable, from restricted restaurants to mandatory use of mobile ordering for some restaurants. Like all hotels and resorts across the country, they adapt to the new normal as best they can to ensure both safety and enjoyment. I’ve been there a few times since it reopened and I can honestly say that despite some changes, I had an absolute blast and really enjoyed the limited number of guests.
Hours, transportation and food
Getting around Disney is just as important as ever, and yes, that’s different too. The free Magical Express to and from the airport is still running, although Disney recently announced the end of the program. So enjoy it while it lasts. The service must be booked in advance and there are plexiglass partitions on board to separate guests. Guests now have to touch their own bags too, which is another difference.
Local transport has also changed, and the number of people allowed on board is now more limited to buses. Each person or group is assigned a separate, divided seating area, which is safer but significantly reduces the number of people on board, which in turn increases waiting times. The monorail service is more limited and Plexiglas partitions have also been installed there to ensure health and safety. One of the beneficial changes was the new Skyliner service, as each individual or group now has their own car. As always, Uber is a cheap and easy alternative to all of this.
Aside from Fast Passes, food has traditionally been the other major stress point for guests and has of course changed since COVID. Reservations are essential for seated restaurants and can be booked up to 60 days in advance. Don’t hesitate as these will go away quickly. Not all quick service restaurants and stalls are open, but those that require mobile ordering can be placed through the My Disney Experience app. This is a simple process and I prefer to stand in line, but make sure you have downloaded the app before you leave home.
With the parks no longer open as late as they used to be, you’ll need to be a little more creative with dinner, whether you’re dining off campus or making reservations at one of the many Disney Springs facilities or at a resort.
Offers and annual tickets
You can still save money! In fact, since its reopening, Disney has put out a lot of great deals and offers to attract more guests to visit. The greatest savings have been made in hotels and resorts, with discounts of up to 40% being offered in some cases. While new annual passes are not currently on sale, current pass holders can renew them and have been offered amazing discounts. As always, I recommend using a travel agent / specialist to book your Disney trip as it is free for you and they are aware of all the current offers.
The big question is is the experience still fun and magical and I can say without a doubt that it is. Being in the Disney bubble itself is nutritious, and while I couldn’t see the smile through the masks, I know everyone I passed had one stuck on their face. Disney also added a few extra details to help remind people of the magic. Random (and aloof) characters appearances throughout the day included Winnie the Pooh with a butterfly web tumbling through the grass and Joy from Inside Out prancing around Epcot. There are also random cavalcades that replace the planned parades, and many more extras that do surprise and delight. It’s wonderful to experience and I hope they keep those brief moments of joy in place once COVID is a distant memory.
Most importantly, on each trip I was able to spend four days not worrying. To be clear, everything bad that could have happened to me in the last year has happened to me. It was a psychological shock to the system and I know it will take me years to recover. Ultimately, that’s why I needed Disney now. I had to be reminded that there are still good experiences and good people in the world. I needed to remind myself that when we take the time to look for it, there is joy and happiness in all of us, and I needed to know that I could be happy again, even in these horrific years.
Whether you’re a “Disney person” or not, this is the kind of magic we all need right now. So if you are inclined, I would highly recommend that you consider your own pilgrimage to regain the part of your soul that didn’t have much work this year, the part that includes joy and magic that includes life for all holds ready from us.