Is Disney Still Magical? Visiting Walt Disney World During a Pandemic
Written by Jill Dalton, Concierge Vacation Planner at Storybook World Travel a Disney Earmarked Agency
11/19/2020 posted – photos are from Nov 2020.
I visit Walt Disney World, and other Disney destinations, usually twice a year with my family. To say we love the magic of Disney is an understatement! So, of course while watching and listening to the new updates Disney put in place to help keep guests and Cast Members safe and healthy during the pandemic, I was a little worried that visiting Disney would lose some of the magic.
I hear parades and fireworks are no longer happening, Fast Passes are gone, and no autographs and hugs with the Characters. No hugs from Mickey Mouse! How could Disney feel magical anymore with so many restrictions in place? Well, I decided to take a ‘quick trip’ down to Orlando to see if I could still find the magic. While things do look very different, I found new things to love. And yes, there is still magic!
Let’s talk safety for a minute. Disney has implemented some very strict guidelines to keep its Cast Members and guests safe during the pandemic. One of those rules is that masks are required at all times, except when you are sitting down and actively eating and/or drinking, are in your hotel room, or enjoying the swimming pool. Yes, that means your photos will have you with a mask on, but I see those pictures as a unique time in our history.
Is it hot wearing a mask in Florida? Yes, at times it got a little toasty but that just meant it was time for me to take a break and get a Dole Whip or other magical snack. There are a couple exceptions to the mask rule, for example I went on a trail ride at Fort Wilderness and once we were out of the corral and on the trail, we could pull our mask down under our chin. However, these exceptions are very limited and happen under Cast Member direction.
Here are some other ways Walt Disney World is helping to keep guests and Cast Members safe:
- Social distancing markers in lines to ensure your family stays 6 feet away from the other families
- Mobile ordering for almost all quick service and snack service options – this is a sanity saver for families too because it reduces your wait time for food!
- Hand sanitizer is everywhere! Before you get on a ride, when you get off the ride, before you enter a food location, when you leave a food location, and then random areas around the parks and resorts. Walt did a study in Disneyland to see how long guests would hold on to candy wrapper before dropping it on the ground. He found that 27 feet was the magic number! I would say that Walt Disney World is using that guide of 27 feet for hand sanitizer too, at least that is what it felt like recently.
- Rides are being sanitized regularly by Cast Members.
- Attractions that bring large crowds are not being offered at this time. Yes, that means no scheduled parades and no fireworks.
- Temperature checks to enter all parks, as well as when entering resort restaurants and Disney Springs.
- Park Pass Reservation system to keep the crowd levels at Disney’s desired capacity. (At the time of writing this Disney’s park capacity is at 35%.)
Yes, that is a huge list of rules and guidelines, so where is the magic? It is still there, you just need to sit back and let it unfold! Remember how there are no scheduled parades or Character autographs and hugs? Well, Disney is spreading pixie dust by having your favorite Characters pop up to visit in new ways.
There are pop up Character cavalcades! Listen for the park music to change and you may just see the Incredibles driving up Hollywood Blvd in their very own car. I even got to see Santa and his elves riding down Main Street! These pop-up parades are magical because they are not planned in your schedule, it is an unexpected bit of pixie dust.
Do you remember when you had to sit and wait on the curb for an hour for the Festival of Fantasy Parade to come down Main Street? No more wasting park time waiting for the parade, now you just listen for the music change and hop over to see what Characters might be riding by.
During this time, you really get to see the Characters shine and share their personalities! Pooh Bear was out trying to catch butterflies and search for honey. I spotted Joy spreading her cheer around while twirling and waving to guests.
Oh! And at our Character meal Goofy played hide-and-seek with a young guest. It was also fun to see who could get the coolest selfie with a Character during our meal. I think my lunch guest won that one!
I was worried that wait times for the rides would be crazy now that Disney is not using their Fast Pass system. My family is used to popping in a Fast Pass line and waiting about 15 minutes to ride the popular rides, like Flights of Passage and Slinky Dog Dash. I was surprised to find that while the lines looked long (remember guests are socially distanced in line), but my wait time was usually between 15-30 minutes. I also found that most of the wait times were shorter than what Disney had posted as a wait time.
For example, Flights of Passage was listed as 60 minutes, but we were through the line and off the ride within 45 minutes. That is a huge bit of magic to me – I remember when Flights of Passage had 2-3 hour waits! We tested this for most of our rides, and it almost became a game of ‘guess how short our wait will really be?”. I was able to do all the rides on my list at least once, usually twice! Do I miss Fast Passes? Sure! However, I loved not having set times to check in for rides and letting my plan flow more from fun than from a schedule.
Walt Disney World is working through the pandemic in true Disney-style. Safety is always first in everything they do, but it is followed closely by spreading the sense of magic and wonder to guests. I enjoyed my ‘quick vacation’ so much that I went from a 3-night stay to a 7-night stay. I found that the magic I love in the Disney parks is still there, it just might look different.
Families that book their magical vacations with me will tell you that my biggest tip is to slow down and take breaks because that is when the magic will happen. If someone has tired legs, then stop and enjoy an ice cream cone on Main Street. When you take that snack break you never know what you might see . . . maybe Mickey Mouse will ride by on his float and make eye contact with you when he waves.
My favorite magical moment from my ‘quick vacation’? When my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with dinner at San Angel Inn. Our honeymoon was in Cancun many years ago, so dining at San Angel Inn always reminds us of the start of our journey together 22 years ago.
It was even more special this time because the Disney restaurants are also socially distanced and at a limited capacity, so it almost felt like we were dining alone in Mexico under a pyramid. Soaking in that moment made me feel like I was in a storybook. Where will you find your favorite magical moment on your next vacation?
Here is a little about our writer Jill Dalton, Concierge Vacation Planner at Storybook World Travel a Disney Earmarked Agency:
Growing up on the East Coast Jill has enjoyed many adventures to Walt Disney World! She considers the Animal Kingdom Lodge her second home and loves their Zebra Domes. Jill took her first family cruise on the Disney Wonder out of Galveston, TX in 2013. Her family had so much fun that they have cruised many itineraries around the world with Disney Cruise Line, including the Mediterranean! Jill also loves participating in the runDisney events and ran in the Coast to Coast challenge during 2016. She plans family, adult, homeschool, and multi-generational vacations. Jill looks forward to helping you prepare for your next magical adventure!
If you are ready to book a Disney trip email or call Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org or (757)561-9044. Booking through Jill does not add cost to your vacation and she is great about finding the best deals Disney is offering to help you save money!