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Is it safe to go to Disney World? Report from an annual passholder

Disney World is open. But is it safe to go? Can anybody go? What are the restrictions?

Cinderella's castle at Disney World Magic Kingdom

These are the questions on all Disney lovers’ minds right now, and luckily we have an informant on the inside…my official card-carrying annual passholder MOM!

Disney World passholder

I won’t say that my parents moved to Florida JUST so my mom could go to Disney World whenever she felt like it…but let’s just say it was a factor. My mom’s happy place is the happiest place on Earth, and she’s here today to give us the full story of what it’s like to go to Disney World during the Summer of Coronavirus.


Living in central Florida and being an annual passholder at Walt Disney World, I definitely spend a lot of time at the parks. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, though, WDW closed in mid-March and remained closed for four months. 

Disney World Reopened

In mid-July, WDW reopened. The Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom were the first parks to open, followed a few days later by Hollywood Studios and Epcot.

I was very excited and couldn’t wait to return to my happy place, but given everything going on with the rising cases of COVID-19 in the state of Florida, I was also a little apprehensive. 

However, after reading up on all the health and safety precautions that Disney had implemented throughout the WDW Resort, I decided to give it a go. I knew it would be a much different experience than the one I was used to before the parks closed in March, but I wanted to see for myself just how different it would be. Specifically, I wanted to see if the Disney magic was still there.

Disney World band

What is Disney World like right now?

Walt Disney World has been open now for several weeks and I’ve spent at least one day in each of the four theme parks. For anyone considering a trip to WDW any time soon, the best advice I can give is this: know before you go

Of course, this is good advice in the best of times. But during this coronavirus pandemic, it’s essential to do your research and planning ahead of time. 

First and foremost, you should know that you cannot just show up at any of the parks and expect to gain entry. In addition to regular park admission, you will need to make a reservation in advance through the Disney Park Reservation System. There is a limit to how many days you can reserve, and keep in mind that there is no park hopping at this time. 

One of my major concerns (and the one that I’m sure most people are concerned about) was heading back to WDW while the coronavirus pandemic is still going on. Would all of the safety measures put in place by WDW truly make me feel safe? My answer is an unequivocal yes!

What is Disney World doing to keep guests safe? 

Disney is doing a tremendous job with health and safety precautions. Every guest must go through temperature check stations before entering the parks and face masks are mandatory. 

The only time a face mask can be removed is when a guest is eating or drinking, and even then, they must be stationary (at an eating establishment or in one of several relaxation areas stationed around the various lands). 

As far as the enforcement of the face mask requirement, I didn’t see a single guest without a mask. Cast Members are also quick to remind guests to keep their masks pulled up if they happen to see someone not wearing their mask correctly. 

And, yep, it’s summer…it’s Florida…and it’s HOT! Combine that with having to wear a face mask and things can get a bit uncomfortable. I would highly recommend that you bring an extra mask with you. It can get hot and sweaty under those masks! An extra mask also comes in handy in case you happen to get one wet or drop it on the ground or for whatever else might happen.

Having said that, I really didn’t have a problem wearing a face mask, and I’m someone that hates to have anything covering my mouth or nose. I felt less like complaining when I looked around and saw all the kids (and some were very young!) walking around wearing face masks without any problem!  It’s also a good idea to step into an air-conditioned attraction or shop now and then.

Other safety precautions throughout the parks include numerous hand sanitizer stations and social distancing markers at the entrances to attractions, shops, and restaurants. 

Aloha Isle refreshments

Throughout the theme park there were numerous cast members wiping down handrails, door handles, and sanitizing attractions. Safety announcements were played frequently over the loudspeakers, reminding guests to social distance, wash or sanitize hands frequently, and to remain stationary while eating or drinking. 

To be honest, I felt safer at WDW than in any other public place I’ve been in since the pandemic!

So, how have things changed at Walt Disney World since reopening? Here is an overview of my experiences in each of the four theme parks.

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

I attended the annual passholders special event held at the Magic Kingdom the day before the park opened to the public. I was planning on arriving around 8:30, but it was a rainy morning so I waited a bit for the weather to clear up. I ended up arriving at the parking lot around 10 am.

No parking lot trams were running but, with the limited park capacity, it was fine — not a long walk at all to the Ticket and Transportation Center.

Temperature checks were being done right before the security/bag check. No lines at temp check or security. I had to put my umbrella in a plastic bin, and then walk through the screening device. I kept my small backpack with me and nothing had to be taken out of it. Very fast and simple checkpoint.

From bag check, I walked over to the ferryboat landing. Monorails were also running, but I always prefer taking the ferryboat. I enjoy being outdoors. 

ferryboat

There was no wait for the ferryboat. Circles were placed on the floor of the boat at least six feet apart for social distancing, and guests were told to stand on them, keeping their groups together. There were not a lot of people on the boat, so social distancing really wasn’t an issue, anyway.  

The first thing I noticed when walking into the Magic Kingdom was the crowd level. Disney is keeping park capacity VERY low!  So low that the MK seemed almost deserted.

empty main street

It was sort of eerie, but also sort of wonderful! I walked around just marveling at how few people were in the Park. Again, it was easy to social distance. And what a great day for taking photos!

cinderella's castle

I got great shots of the castle with absolutely no people in the pics! I noticed there were more people in the parks after one o’clock or so, but still very low capacity.

At one point, I decided to look around in the Emporium on Main Street, and again, there were very few people there. I mean, yes, there were other guests shopping, but anyone that’s been in that place knows how packed it can get. Hard to even move around in there sometimes! I had no problem walking around looking at all the merchandise!

emporium

Low crowds meant little to no wait times at the attractions. In the morning, everything was pretty much a five-minute wait, basically a walk-on. A five-minute wait for Peter Pan’s Flight? Yes, thank you very much! Ten minutes for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train? That’s not something you see every day! 

By afternoon, wait times were a bit longer at some attractions. Even so, I didn’t see any attractions over 30 minutes throughout the entire day. 

space mountain

In order to maintain social distancing in the MK, there are no big parades. Instead there are mini-parades, or what they’re calling cavalcades. I was pleasantly surprised by how often these occurred. And the fun part is, you never know when they’ll appear. Which is the point, of course, so that guests aren’t lining up and crowding together like they normally would for the big parades.

Every twenty minutes or so, music plays over the loudspeakers and Disney characters on a float or the Disney marching band will make its way through Adventureland, past the castle, and down Main Street. 

Cavalcades I saw while I was there included the “Everybody Put Your Ears On” float and dancers, a float with Princesses, Princess Merida on a horse, and a float with Tinkerbell sitting atop a treasure chest. 

Tinkerbell cavalcade

I loved how the cavalcades have more of an intimate feel to them than the regular parades have. I thought the characters and other parade participants did a fantastic job of waving and smiling and interacting with every guest, especially the little ones, eagerly watching the cavalcades go by.

Speaking of Disney characters, there are no meet and greets taking place at any of the four parks. Instead, characters are stationed throughout the area in ways that are unique to each individual park. In the MK, I saw Cinderella’s stepsisters on the castle balcony interacting with guests below, and I have to say, they were a hoot! 

Piglet, Rabbit and Eeyore were waving from the Crystal Palace porch, and a couple of Country Bears from the Jamboree were waving to passersby from the Jamboree’s balcony.

characters waving from porch

Also, at this time, not all of the restaurants and quick service places have reopened in the Magic Kingdom, along with some of the popcorn and ice cream carts. 

My go-to place for lunch is usually Casey’s Corner on Main Street, so I was a little disappointed to see that they haven’t reopened. I ended up eating lunch at my second favorite place, Pinocchio Village Haus, which was very tasty, as always! 

After attending the passholder’s event at the Magic Kingdom, I was interested to see if things would be the same when the Animal Kingdom opened to the public the following day.

Animal Kingdom

Disney's Animal Kingdom

The Animal Kingdom is one of my favorite WDW parks. The theming in each land is incredible and I’ve always felt an overall relaxing atmosphere throughout the park.

To avoid repeating myself, I will say that all of the health and safety measures that Disney has taken at the Magic Kingdom were also evident at the Animal Kingdom, as well as Hollywood Studios and Epcot. I felt perfectly safe when visiting all four WDW theme parks. 

I arrived in the morning just as the entrance to the parking lot was opened.  It didn’t take me long to park and walk (no trams operating) to the front of the park. I was through temperature check and security (no lines) and into the park within minutes. 

Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom

Again, very low crowds throughout the park. It almost looked like there were more cast members than guests! I headed to Africa and to the Kilimanjaro Safaris, my favorite attraction at Animal Kingdom. I had the best time ever on this attraction! 

Due to social distancing requirements, guests are not put near other groups of guests (this applies to all attractions in all the parks) so I had an entire row of seats all to myself. I had the luxury of being able to slide across the seat from the left side to the right side of the vehicle in order to get a good look at all of the animals we came across. Heavy plastic see-through shields were also installed between the rows of seats to minimize contact with other groups of guests. I felt like I was getting a private tour! 

rhino on Kilimanjaro Safari

After Kilimanjaro Safaris I took the train over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch (getting an entire section of the train all to myself) and walked over to the Conservation Station. I was just in time for the next session of the Animation Experience. Social distancing was being adhered to and I had a row of four chairs to myself. 

I was very excited to learn that we would be drawing sea turtles! Well, Disney’s version of sea turtles…Crush and Squirt! 

drawing sea turtles at Disney Animation Experience

At the end of the session, we were told to keep our pencils and to place our clipboards in the available bin, where they would be sanitized before being used by others. 

I’m not a fan of coasters or any attraction that might cause motion sickness, so I didn’t go on any other rides at the AK. I walked around Pandora, though, and saw that the wait time for Avatar was ten minutes. That is unheard of! Crazy short wait!

The Animal Kingdom’s cavalcades are done a bit differently than at the other parks. Disney characters are transported in boats around Discovery Island. There are several bridges and other areas where guests can watch as the characters sail past. The characters are very enthusiastic as they dance and wave to guests. 

boat cavalcade at Animal Kingdom

The day I was there I saw Goofy, Chip and Dale, Pocahontas and Meeko, Donald and Daisy Duck, and Rafiki and Timon. I also saw the Pandora drummers sailing around Discovery Island in a boat while performing their music.

I always enjoy watching The Lion King and Nemo the Musical at the AK, but they have not yet reopened. All in all, though, I had a wonderfully relaxing day at the Animal Kingdom!

Hollywood Studios

Galaxy's Edge at Hollywood Studios

My husband and I spent a fantastic day at Hollywood Studios a week after they reopened. We arrived at the entrance to the parking lot a little after 9 and waited in a short line of cars. They started letting cars through at 9:15. Parking attendants were leaving an empty parking space between each car, which was nice. This is done in the other parks as well.

We had a short walk to the entrance of the park. Temperature checks were done in walk-through tents, then it was on to security/bag check. No lines at either place. So much easier to be able to just walk through the metal detectors with your purse/backpack.

Our main goal for the day was to get a spot in the virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance. We decided to head right over to Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad and try to secure a spot for RoR while waiting in line.

The wait time was at 25 minutes and the line seemed to move pretty quickly. We got a little nervous that we’d be inside the building before 10 am, and we weren’t sure how cell phone reception would be inside. It was kind of funny, because we were hoping the line would slow down and not move as fast as it was! I mean, how often does anyone stand in a queue at Disney and actually hope the line moves slower instead of faster!

We were seconds from entering the building when it turned 10am on our phones. We both tried immediately to secure a boarding group and, luckily, I got one for us on my phone. There was a cast member standing right at the entrance to the building and he was rooting for us, and everyone else in line trying to do the same thing! We got boarding group 49 (300 minutes) and that was only a few seconds after 10 am, so I’m guessing all boarding groups were quickly filled.

It was our first time on MMRR and we really enjoyed it. Again, due to social distancing rules, we had an entire train car to ourselves. 

on Mickey and Minnie's Roadster Racers

After MMRR, we headed over to Star Wars Land just to walk around a bit. The line for the Millennium Falcon was at 30 minutes, so we decided to get in line. Again, I think the actual wait time was shorter. A lot of the lines throughout all of the parks actually look longer than they are, due to groups having to keep six feet apart from other groups.

We’ve done MF several times in the past, but neither of us has ever gotten to be pilots. This time, however, we had the spaceship to ourselves, so we both got to pilot the ship! We had a blast, even though we weren’t (okay, mostly me) very good at our jobs! It was a different experience to walk around Star Wars Land without hordes of other people around.

entrance to Rise of the Resistance

We walked out of Star Wars Land through the back exit and into Toy Story Land. I was just amazed at how few people were in TSL. The crowds were low throughout the entire park, but I felt it was especially noticeable in TSL, because I’ve never been in that area without it being packed with people. Everything was walk-on, with just a short wait for Slinky Dog Dash. Crazy!

Woody in Toy Story Land

We don’t do coasters or spinning rides, but all I could think was how awesome it would be to have our grandkids and their parents there with us, because they would have LOVED going on everything without having to wait in lines! Unfortunately, they don’t live in Florida. However, my husband and I love Toy Story Mania, so we went on twice!

Next up, we went into Walt Disney Presents and watched the film about Walt’s life story. I’ve seen it many, many times, but it never gets old! My husband took this opportunity, though, for a short nap.

Earlier in the day, we secured a lunch reservation for 1:50 (only available time slot) at Mama Melrose’s Italian Restaurant. We kept checking frequently on our return time for RoR, which seemed on track for 2:45ish.

We took a stroll down Sunset Blvd and Hollywood Blvd and browsed in a few shops. As with the other parks, many of the popcorn and ice cream carts were not open.  We caught a couple of the small pop-up parades as we walked back over towards Star Wars. Mickey and Minnie Mouse rode by in an old roadster, and a bit later, we saw a group of the Green Army Men from Toy Story march by, along with Sully from Monsters Inc. and a few other Disney characters.

army men in Toy Story Land

It’s a nice surprise when the cavalcades occur and I feel that the characters do an especially great job of interacting with guests, even though they’re at a distance. The characters make it a point to pose and wave and acknowledge everyone watching along the parade route, especially the kids.

Speaking of kids, it is a weird feeling being in the parks and not seeing a lot of little ones around. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but after being at the MK, AK, and HS, I’ve realized that, along with very low crowds, it’s the lack of strollers and the lack of hearing kids yelling, laughing, crying, etc. that really contributes to the atmosphere of the parks feeling strange, and at times, a bit unsettling!

Yes, there are strollers and kids in the parks, but nothing close to the usual amount.  Instead of walking past stroller parking areas crammed with hundreds of strollers, now there might be fewer than ten strollers in an area.

We had an hour until our lunch reservation, but we decided to go over to the restaurant to see if it was possible to get in earlier than our 1:50 time slot. It was indeed, so we were seated and had a delicious lunch! It was very relaxing to sit in an air-conditioned restaurant and take our masks off!

And then…Rise of the Resistance! I can’t even…it was absolutely incredible!!!! It was our first time experiencing the attraction, and it was everything everyone says it is!

storm troopers in Rise of the Resistance

Our grandson and his dad got to experience RoR soon after it opened. They are huge fans of Star Wars and they said it was the best Disney attraction they’ve ever done…ever! Our grandson has been telling us for months — “Gramma and Grampa, you HAVE to go on Rise of the Resistance…you just HAVE to!” Well, we finally did!

ready to go on Rise of the Resistance

Lucky for us, our boarding group time of 300 minutes was very accurate, and we walked on right around 2:45. We kept our fingers crossed throughout the day that the ride wouldn’t break down or close before our boarding group was called. Again, the social distancing was great and groups were kept together. No crowding whatsoever. And, my husband and I had a vehicle all to ourselves, so of course, we got front row seats!

Rey and BB-8 on Rise of the Resistance

We loved RoR! I felt like I was actually in a Star Wars movie! When we got home later that night, we video chatted with our grandkids, and our grandson was so excited that we got to go on RoR! He was thrilled that we liked it so much!

After RoR, we walked around the park a bit, then headed out. We really enjoyed our day at Hollywood Studios! As far as health/social distancing concerns, we felt perfectly safe in the park. As with the other parks, we felt that Disney is doing a fantastic job with temp checks, masks requirements, social distancing markers, and cleaning/sanitizing.

Epcot

Epcot was the last of the four theme parks that we visited since the reopening of WDW. My husband and I spent a pleasant Saturday walking around Future World and the World Showcase. 

All of the health and safety measures that Disney has taken at the other three parks were also in effect here. Epcot, particularly World Showcase, has so much open space, that the low crowd level was especially noticeable. No problem with social distancing!

empty Epcot

We headed over to Future World West and rode Journey into Imagination and the Seas with Nemo and Friends. We had to laugh, because the wait for Nemo was at five minutes, but it takes that long just to walk through the queue! 

Every attraction at Epcot had little to no wait times. We went to the Land Pavilion and rode Soarin’…three times! It’s our favorite attraction at Epcot and we were delighted to walk right on three times in a row. The last time on, we had prime seats (middle seats in the middle section, top row)…fantastic. 

Not only did every row have seats closed off to guests, but they also had plexiglass partitions installed between groups of guests. And yes, we could still smell the wonderful scents of grass, ocean, and flowers even though we were wearing face masks. Nice!

We had a lunch reservation at the Rose and Crown in the UK, so we walked over to the World Showcase. Normally, we’d order fish and chips at the nearby Yorkshire County Fish Shop, but they have not reopened yet. 

I think this was our favorite part of our day at Epcot. We asked to be seated on the outside porch and the hostess lead us to a table with a beautiful view of the World Showcase Lagoon. It was a beautifully sunny afternoon with a slight breeze coming off the water. So relaxing! And there were only two other occupied tables on the porch. 

eating at Rose and Crown

I tried to soak it all in, knowing that it will not always be this uncrowded and relaxing in the parks! Something else seemed a bit different, though, and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, until my husband pointed it out. Our waitress was not from the United Kingdom. 

When WDW closed in mid-March, the International cast members that worked in the countries in the World Showcase had to leave the United States. So, it seemed a bit strange not having cast members from the UK working in the UK area of the park.

Since there are no character meet and greets, just like the other three parks, Epcot has several small cavalcades that travel through the World Showcase. While eating lunch, we saw Mickey and Minnie Mouse ride by in a roadster. 

Mickey and Minnie Cavalcade

Later, while walking around the park, we watched as several Disney princesses rode by on a float. 

The best character sightings, however, take place in the grassy area near Journey into Imagination. We caught sight of Winnie the Pooh running around with a big net trying to catch butterflies. It was adorable and the kids were loving it!

Winnie the Pooh catching butterflies

We did some shopping in several gift shops, then ended our day with a ride on Spaceship Earth. On our way out of the park, we stopped and chatted with a cast member. He was stationed outside the park exit and asking guests about their experience at Epcot. Did they have fun? Did they feel safe while in the park? He was delightful and I think we talked to him for half an hour!

Should you visit Disney World right now?

After spending time in each of the four Disney theme parks since reopening, I can say with certainty that I feel Disney is doing a fantastic job implementing health and safety precautions. They are taking every step possible to ensure that guests have a safe experience when returning to the parks. 

Is the Disney magic still there? Yes, it is. But in a different, quieter way. 

The parks are a little more low key these days. There are no fireworks, no big parades, no character meet and greets, and not every resort hotel or every park restaurant or shop is open. 

On the other hand, there are no crowds to fight your way through, little to no wait at attractions, and no need to rush to get to the parks for rope drop. It’s a wonderful time to really enjoy the parks at a slower pace.

entrance to Adventureland

I will continue to go to the parks and enjoy my time there, especially knowing that it will not always be this way! I will savor the less frenetic way of touring the parks and enjoy the more subtle magic of Disney!

But that’s easy for me to say, living just a few minutes up the road. If you’re wondering if you should travel to Florida for a Disney World vacation, that’s another question.

It really comes down to what kind of experience you want to have. If you really treasure the character interactions, parades, and fireworks, then you might be disappointed. If you hate the idea of wearing a mask all day in the Florida humidity, you might be too uncomfortable to enjoy your visit.

But on the other hand, if you love riding the rides, hate crowds, and are willing to visit one park per day (remember, no park hopping), this might be an excellent time to visit!

Disney princesses cavalcade

Can Disney guarantee you won’t be exposed to the virus during your visit? Of course not. So take that into consideration (even Disney magic has its limits!). If you live or work with high-risk individuals, now might not be the right time. But if you’re otherwise healthy and willing to follow the rules, you might just have the best Disney World visit ever! And I might just see you there (from six feet away)!

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