Walt Disney World has made a number of changes to provide a safer experience for Guests during COVID-19. My family has visited several times since the Parks reopened, and honestly, I’m more comfortable taking my kids to Disney than our local grocery store. Here’s what you can expect.
(Note: This information is based on our experiences and has remained consistent across several visits. Things are constantly changing in general as more is learned about the virus, so there’s a chance different processes or safety measures may be in place during your visit.)
Masks are required at all times for everyone ages 2 and up, except when dining or swimming. You can remove your mask when actively eating and drinking when you are stationary and physically distanced from everyone else. Sitting on a bench away from people enjoying a Dole Whip is okay, but eating or drinking in line is not allowed.
Gaiters, bandanas, mesh masks or masks with valves are not allowed. Also, your nose needs to be covered, and Cast Members will remind you if you aren’t wearing your mask properly. Disney is pretty strict about masks, to the point you will be asked to leave if you don’t follow the rules.
You can find more information about mask requirements here, but please just properly wear your mask. We found most Guests in perfect compliance, and it just makes everyone’s trip safer, less stressful and more enjoyable.
If you need a break from your mask, sit down for a meal or have a snack or drink. There are also Relaxation Stations located in each Park, where you can take your masks off a safe distance from others.
To limit and control the number of Guests in each Park, you are required to make a Park Reservation in advance. Space is limited, and some Parks may not be available (I’m looking at you, Hollywood Studios!). You can view reservation availability here, based on ticket type. Then, once you have your tickets, make your reservations through the Disney website.
Good news! Park hopping is back (if your ticket type allows it). Starting at 2 p.m., you can hop to another Park, as long as that Park isn’t at capacity. You don’t need a reservation for the second Park, but you do need to first visit the initial Park you made a reservation for that day. Also, if visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios as your second Park, you won’t be able to join the virtual queue to ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
Entering the Parks
There are a number of new safety procedures in place as you enter the Parks.
Temperature Screening – You are required to have a temperature screening before entering the Parks. They use no touch thermometers, and it is very quick and easy.
Contactless Security – You can now walk through the new metal detectors with your bag! They ask you to take out larger metal objects, like umbrellas, but no more long waits while they search by hand through every bag. Strollers still need to be parked off to the side and checked, but the whole process has been streamlined.
Touch-free Entry – When you get to the turnstiles, you do not need to scan your finger – just your Magic Band or ticket.
Enhanced Cleaning and Sanitation
Enhanced Cleaning – Cast Members are keeping the Parks even cleaner than normal, especially high-traffic areas.
Hand Sanitizer – It’s everywhere! Typically you will find hand sanitizer stands at both the entrance and the exit of each attraction. On rare occasion, we have come across one in need of a refill, but there’s always another one nearby.
All attraction queues have “Please Wait Here” markers on the ground so you can be safely socially distanced while waiting in line. While this makes lines look longer, you usually are continuously moving from one marker to the next, so the wait isn’t as bad as it appears.
Some queues also have plexiglass barriers in place if parts on the line run close together.
No FastPass+ / Yes Rider Switch
FastPass+ is not offered at the moment. However, you can still use rider switch if you have a child too short to ride. Just ask one of the Cast Members near the attraction entrance, and they will scan the Magic Band or ticket of the adult riding second (plus up to two additional Guests). After the first adult or group rides, the second can return to the FastPass+ entrance and go through the FastPass+ queue so they don’t have to wait in the full line.
Depending on the attraction, Guests will be safety separated either by plexiglass barriers, being distanced from other parties or riding in their own vehicle.
Some examples: Every row on Kilimanjaro Safaris is filled, but there are plexiglass barriers between each row. On rollercoasters like Expedition Everest or Big Thunder Mountain, rows are left empty between parties, and on Journey into Imagination with Figment or the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, you won’t share a ride vehicle with another party.
Parades and Fireworks
There are currently no parades or fireworks shows. This is understandable, as large groups of people are usually packed close together for those events.
But there are character cavalcades. These are like mini parades, which run several times throughout the day. I personally love them! My kids still get the excitement of seeing their favorite characters, but we don’t have to wait half an hour + like we usually do for the parade. It also doesn’t require planning, as you will most likely run into them throughout your day at the Park.
And at Animal Kingdom, the characters travel by boat!
Hugs with Mickey are currently on hold, as there are also no close character experiences. Instead, characters will pop up at safely distanced places throughout the Parks.
One of the most consistent places to see characters (though they are farther away) is the grassy area in Epcot between the Land Pavilion and Journey into Imagination. There we’ve seen Joy, Chip and Dale, and Winnie the Pooh trying to catch butterflies with a net.
Live entertainment is limited, but some is slowly coming back. The Festival of the Lion King is expected to open this summer, and you can still find musical groups like the Dapper Dans at the Magic Kingdom and the JAMMitors and Mariachi Cobre at Epcot. Check the My Disney Experience app to see what’s available during your visit.
There’s good news and bad news with dining. First, the bad news… some restaurants remain closed and many are offering a limited menu. For example, our family favorite Sleepy Hollow now only has the kid-requested fresh fruit waffle sandwiches during breakfast hours. The rest of the day, food is limited to three choices: funnel cake, sweet-and-spicy chicken waffle sandwich and hand-dipped corn dog (but I still recommend it!).
Now, the good news. More restaurants now offer mobile ordering! We loved mobile ordering before the pandemic and appreciate it even more now. Plus, it now includes allergy menus and added the option to pay with a Disney gift card.
Mobile ordering is simple and done through the My Disney Experience app. The app is also the best place to check to see which restaurants are open and view the current menu.
Table service restaurants still require advanced reservations, and we haven’t visited any since the Parks reopened (but it’s personal preference… we haven’t dined inside anywhere since the pandemic began).
We have felt very comfortable dining outside at counter service restaurants and found the tables to be clean and adequately spaced apart. There are also signs on some tables advising not to sit there to ensure proper social distancing.
Pecos Bill in the Magic Kingdom and Flame Tree Barbecue in Animal Kingdom are good choices because there are a lot of tables. If Pecos Bill is crowded, look for an open table behind the restaurant, right across from Pirates of the Caribbean.
We’ve also had an entire patio area to ourselves at Flame Tree.
If you are driving to the Parks, Cast Members have been leaving a parking space empty between cars. They sometimes fill in later in the day, but it gives you extra distance from other guests as you are getting out of your car.
Also, parking trams are not running, so be prepared to walk a little more to get into the Parks.
Disney busses have partitions to separate parties, and the driver may assign seats when it’s busy.
Last time we road the monorail, they were limiting one or two parties per car. Since then, plexiglass barriers have been installed to separate parties.
Also, the monorail between Epcot and the Ticket and Transportation Center is not currently running.
For the Resort Hotel boats, some seats are marked off to ensure social distancing.
For the ferry boats between the Ticket and Transportation Center and the Magic Kingdom, spots to stand are marked on the ground to space out parties.
The Skyliner is loading one party per car, so your group won’t be sharing a ride with other guests.
Disney Resort Hotels already offered online check-in through the website or My Disney Experience app. This allows you to go straight to your room and avoid waiting in line at the registration desk. It was convenient before and now has the added benefit of less contact with others.
One of the many reasons our family likes to stay at Disney Resort Hotels is because of the cleanliness. Well, now they are taking even more steps to clean and sanitize the rooms. The remote controls are even wrapped in plastic after being cleaned. On our first stay back since the pandemic began, I came armed with Lysol wipes and ended up using none on the room. It was spotless.
The great thing about staying at the Walt Disney World Resort (in addition to the cleanliness, convenience and great customer service) is the amount of options.
Because of COVID-19 (and our family’s level of precautions), we prefer staying somewhere with exterior access to the rooms so we don’t have to walk through a lobby or long hallways. Since returning, we have loved our stays at the standalone Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness and the Little Mermaid rooms at Art of Animation.
Some Resort Hotels remain closed, and some dining and recreation options are limited. Masks are also required anywhere outside of your room, except when actively eating, drinking or swimming.
While nowhere is 100% safe, my family feels pretty comfortable visiting the Walt Disney World Resort because of the extra precautions they are taking.
Since there is so much to do, you can still have fun and be entertained within your personal comfort level. My family isn’t ready to eat indoors, but we still have a number of outdoor dining options.
It’s not the full experience – no parade, fireworks or character meets – but it’s still fun and a change of pace. You never know where a character may pop up or when Mickey Mouse will appear on a float on Main Street.
The magic is still there – it’s just a little different. But right now, we are happy with any magic we can get.