Disney World during a Pandemic

Main Street during cover

Disney World during the COVID-19 pandemic is quite different, as you can imagine. I’m certainly not the first to write about this topic, as I think there’s a number of perspectives on what risks are acceptable, and often times we can become judgmental of others’ thoughts on this pandemic. Some of us judge those that wear a mask below their nose, others judge those in favor of lockdowns because it is hurting their business. Some of us are still riddled with anxiety over being around people and others find themselves suffering without human interaction. Beyond the topic of Disney, we are all struggling right now, often in more ways than one. That said, I tried to go into my latest visit to Disney World with an open mind, but still with the understanding that I was accepting some risks against myself and those around me. I was cautious, observant, but also tried to live in this moment, no matter how odd and extraordinary.

I will try to give an overview of the experience, because I have SO MUCH to share with you all about this trip.

It’s hard to tell what it’s like from photos.

A day after I left the parks, a few large Disney websites and blogs posted videos and photos of the parks, talking about how crowded it is. Typically it would make me feel a bit uncertain as well, but having been there myself, I started to feel like photos of crowds outside can look worse than they did for me when I was standing there. I never had an experience where another person was too close to me, besides one or two instances where a crowd was filing out of a ride or attraction in a fairly narrow hall.

Each individual family was fairly spaced from each other. You might even be able to tell from looking at the images with this in mind. Lines for rides sometimes looked dangerous for the sake of distance too, but everyone followed the markers and there were always cast members to ensure that the rules were being adhered to.

No matter how hard you follow the rules, (and you should!) some people will be more lax.

It’s really unfortunate that this far into the pandemic, some people are still confused about the proper way to wear a mask and how helpful they can be to avoid the spread of the virus. I did see a handful of people wearing them below the nose. This, as you can imagine, bothered me. Luckily I could avoid them or tell a cast member to handle the situation in some cases. Additionally, Disney constantly says that you can only remove a mask to eat or drink WHILE STAGNANT. People could use the excuse of a Mickey pretzel to waltz around maskless, but this rule is meant to avoid that. It seemed that on ride lines this was harder to enforce. Many families seemed to think that moving slowly was akin to not moving at all, but in reality it is still against the rules. Whether this bothers you or not, it is something to consider. As it is with every human interaction during COVID, it’s important to focus on what you can do for your safety and avoid interaction with those who aren’t doing their part, rather than getting very angry and letting it ruin your own experience.

crowds around tower of terror

Cast members were amazing at enforcing rules and making them clear to all guests.

If you’re like me, being assertive and telling people to wear a mask or stay away isn’t always easy and can be intimidating. Luckily, every cast member would inform guests to wear their mask right or follow the line markings if they weren’t. We did ask a cast member to talk with a guest on one occasion because the family was eating and drinking while in line in front of us, and they were quick to address the issue.

Additionally, the loudspeaker in the parks consistently reminded guests to wear facial coverings at all times, with the only exception being during eating or drinking while stagnant. They told guests to sanitize and wash hands regularly, and cover sneezes or coughs. All of these efforts were helpful both for actual safety and simply easily the nerves of being in a large space with many people.

crowds around Main Street

Some things are still missing, and I miss them!

mini fireworks

First and foremost, we don’t get to see fireworks anymore. Personally, this is one of my favorite parts of the parks, so not having them around is tough, but understandable. Right now, there are projections on the castle with VERY briefs spurts of fireworks during each change in the projection. Beyond that, nighttime shows aren’t going right now.

Additionally, full length parades are not running. Luckily, shorter parades happen without a strict schedule in every park during the day. When I went, they were almost entirely holiday themed. I saw a ton of characters and floats, and it was exciting to hear the music coming for the surprise floats! Luckily, pretty much every attraction is open. The only rides not running are ones that would probably be undergoing maintenance and whatnot even without COVID.

Beyond parades and fireworks, all character meets are gone for now. I really miss this part of Disney. It’s the only place you can hug Pooh! But I totally understand the reason. Luckily, Disney World has taken a page from Disneyland Paris’ book and started doing a socially-distant form of meets. I saw this option with Elsa, Buzz Lightyear, and Alice during my trip!

socially distanced meet with Elsa in Norway

You really can’t trust ANY wait times.

Some are accurate to the second, others are listed as three times the actual wait. It is difficult to gauge how long lines will be because of the distancing. They move quicker in all instances, but I really can’t say which ones are accurate. The same rules apply as usual. Hit up the big rides first: Flight of Passage, the mountains (MINE TRAIN,) Smuggler’s Run, Slinky Dog, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Soarin’, and Test Track. The ride waits will certainly go up during the day, but perhaps not as much as it seems from the My Disney Experience app. My best example of this was Test Track, where the listed wait was 60 minutes and it took about 30.

In addition to distancing, ride capacity is different. Rides where you used to sit next to other parties have plexiglass barriers and seats that are to be kept empty. Ride vehicles are almost always one to a family. This might seem like it slows things down, but I didn’t notice it since the overall park capacity is lower to begin with.

Minnie in Christmas cavalcade Epcot

It’s kind of nice, in a way.

Less people in Disney World is something many of us have paid an extra $100 for at an after hours event. Shorter lines, more space to explore, and less stuffiness is simply something nice in Disney World. In Epcot, I had a really great experience on one day and a busier one the next. My first day was the last day of the food and wine festival, and it seemed very open and dead. Lines for booths were short and tables were available. For the other day which was the first of the Festival of the Holidays, it was much busier and tables were few and far between. Lines for booths were pretty long and while distanced, slow moving. In any case, having a little more space to breathe, even if it’s behind a mask, was refreshing for a time of the year when it can get pretty packed.

Is it worth going?

When I was going through my photo hoard from the trip, I was a bit nervous that people online would be judgmental of me going somewhere purely for fun and recreation during COVID, especially since cases are still breaking records in the US. The thing is: I felt entirely safe. I can say with certainty that with my level of fear and caution, I thought Disney was handling this extremely well. I wouldn’t tell you to go wander Florida right now, because their mandates for masks and distancing are slim to none, but the Disney bubble is taking this as seriously as a theme park can. In part, this trip is a part of my hobby of creating Disney content for this blog and my Instagram, so the fruits of my labor will serve me beyond just having fun in front of the castle.

Regardless, if you’ve been feeling lost or sad during this and have missed some sense of normalcy or even–magic–a trip to Disney followed by a two week quarantine at home might be something to consider. Everyone’s situation is different. The people you live with may be vulnerable or maybe you are. Maybe you live alone but go out to get groceries or a job. I am luckily in a situation where I do entirely virtual grad school and my family is all working from home, so any risk I take is staying in my house. If you feel comfortable with those risks, it is worth it. With all of that said, Wear your mask properly wherever you are, wash your hands, get tested frequently, and take care around those that are vulnerable. Support those in need as well!

I cannot wait for my friends throughout the states and across the world to safely be able to return to this happy place once we have a widely-accessible and effective vaccine. The experience for me was a dream, and I hope to see more people experience it soon!

Hannah with castle and rainbow dress


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