I’ve never thought twice about going to Disney. That is until 2020. But then again, 2020 had a way of making you rethink everything. But ultimately we decided that a little pixie dust was exactly what 2020 needed.
We had no idea what to expect. At the time we booked our trip we didn’t know anyone who had gone since the parks had reopened. I knew that capacity was limited and that masks were required. I had hoped that in true Disney fashion they would find ways around the oddities that have become the new normal. I was hoping the masks, the distance, and the regulations wouldn’t stop it from being the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Since returning, lots of you have reached out with questions and hopes of planning your own trips. I’ve done my best to answer the most frequently asked questions I’ve gotten since our return.
Does it feel safe?
Easiest question to answer – hands down YES! Disney has done a wonderful job of making sure all of its guests are safe during their visit. Temperature checks are mandatory with entrance into each theme park and into the Disney Springs area. Masks are required for ages 2 and up. There’s no grace with this policy as it is strictly enforced. If your mask is down for a picture or below your nose at any point, a cast member will promptly ask you to put it on properly. There are only two exceptions: 1. If you are in a designated relaxation station or 2. if you are stationary AND eating. The ride queues are also plexiglassed and spaced with markers to ensure parties stay 6 feet apart while waiting. Not to mention that most cast members that you will interact with are wearing both a mask and a face shield.
Do the parks feel empty?
Also easy answer, but maybe not what you would expect. No, the park did not feel empty although I did expect it to. Daily reservations are required to enter the park and the parks are currently capping daily at 40% capacity. I expected it to feel empty. A few months before our visit, a blogger described it as a ghost town when she went with her family. It could be the fact that we typically visit during off-peak times and so we are used to a smaller crowd, but it felt no different crowd wise than a normal trip for us. In fact, some areas felt very crowded since seating is spaced and limited.
I did notice the lower capacity at major picture opportunities. Usually, your picture in front of the castle is filled with other guests and mainstream is usually beaming with people no matter what time of year you go. This trip, the usual hot spots did feel emptier, but the overall park felt filled with people.
How are the wait times?
This one is tricky to answer. Overall, I did feel like the wait times were a little bit shorter than normal. We walked right on to several rides. At first glance, the wait times seem very long as each ride has a queue that exits the attraction and can wrap around several other attractions. This is largely due to the mandatory spacing between parties in the actual line. The wait times for the most popular attractions were still long and I would recommend planning your day strategically around them. The good thing about the spacing between parties in the line is that the line is always moving and so you are rarely standing still. Always being on the move and having scenery changes makes the waiting easier. We also found that the lines were often significantly shorter than the predicted wait – sometimes by as much as a half-hour.
Are they loading the rides different?
Yes but no. When I went mid-December they were spacing parties out leaving an empty row between parties on attractions. Many attractions, like the Kilimanjaro Safari’s, had plexiglass installed between the rows. Other attractions like Small World, were one (maybe two) parties per boat. While I’m sure this adds to a longer wait time, I enjoyed this change, as it felt like it was just us on all the rides. However, I’ve heard that they changed this right after our visit and are loading every row on many attractions. Again, the lines look very different because of social distancing. They wrap out of the attraction and usually around several others. There is a cast member at the end of each line with a sign indicating which ride the line was for. Sometimes the end of the line was difficult to find, we would simply go to the beginning of the attraction and ask, they would then point us in the right direction and we could follow the line to the end.
Can you use FastPasses?
Unfortunately no. And I can’t quite understand why. At first, it made sense – the park was empty, there were no long waits and so no need for the Fast Passes. However as more and more people are feeling comfortable with visiting the parks, the wait times are definitely increasing. My only guess is that this is a staffing issue. Disney had to furlough a lot of employees with the loss of revenue during the pandemic, I’m thinking they just haven’t been able to bring everyone back yet. You can still however utilize the rider-swap (for parties with guests who do not meet the ride height requirement or are physically impaired from riding the attraction) option and enter through the FastPass line when switching riders.
This led to the question: how do you plan your day without FastPasses? We still planned around the most popular attractions, wanting to do those first thing. We watched the wait times through the app and planned our moves accordingly. We did sometimes have a member of our party jump into a long line while the kids had a snack break. This works only up until you enter an indoor queue, once past the initial entrance no one can join you in line. But remember the lines are well outside their designated areas because of the mandatory social distancing.
The only ride that has a virtual queue is the Rise of the Resistance. Guests have an opportunity to join the queue virtually at 7 am from any location (if you have a park reservation for that day), and again from 2 pm but only from inside the park. If you are lucky enough to score a boarding time, drop everything you are doing and run to this attraction. It is hands down the best one in all of the parks and unlike anything you have ever done before
Character meet and greets. You cannot meet Mickey, the princesses, or any other character currently. However, I felt like we saw more characters this visit. Instead of waiting 45 minutes to take a picture with Mickey, he would often pop up in different areas of the park for a quick cavalcade or car ride down Mainstreet. Merida rode her horse down Mainstreet making way for a float filled with all the princesses dressed in their best. In Galaxy’s Edge, the Star Wars Characters are on an elevated walkway where they can talk to you and pose for photos. In Arendelle, we met Elsa from a distance and she spent several minutes interacting with my kids. In Animal Kingdom boats would randomly row the rivers with Pocahantas and the Lion King characters. While we couldn’t add to our autograph collection, it was fun to be constantly surprised by characters throughout our day. It definitely added to the magic for my little kids. A little hint- when the music suddenly changes in the park, be on the lookout, because someone is coming!
Fireworks and nighttime display shows. This was the thing that I missed the most. While the castle and the Tower of Terror are lit up at night with a colorful light display there are no official shows. Every so often at Magic Kingdom, they shoot mini fireworks and change the lights. The Star Wars light show is currently suspended as well as Fantasmic and Epcot Forever. On weeknights, some of the parks have limited hours, and close as early as 5 so be sure to check when making your reservations.
Most live shows are still suspended as well. A few like the Frozen Sing-A-Long are open and running with plexiglass barriers between seating groups.
There are also no official parades but like I mentioned earlier there are spontaneous mini-parades known as cavalcades and we loved watching for them.
The monorail and ferry are open and running but the parking lot trams are not. Be prepared for a long walk into the park unless you pony-up the $50 for preferred parking. Let’s just say we hit our step goals well before lunch!
Can you still trade pins?
You sure can. In the past you could trade with any cast member, currently, they have trading stations set up throughout the park. You stand at a distance and select your pin from the numbered board. Once you know which one you are trading you drop it in a bucket to be sanitized and grab yours from the bucket. I thought it would lose something for my kids, not being able to trade as frequently, but it had the opposite effect. The kids were always on the hunt for a trader and were so excited when they were successful in finding one.
Anything different with dining?
All Disney dining plans have been currently suspended. So it’s a pay as you go system. You will need reservations for any table-service restaurant. The quick-service stations (order at the counter and take your food), are still open for mobile ordering only. You will need the MyExperience app to order and pay. Once your food is ready- you are prompted through the app to the correct pick-up window. I found this to be a positive, we could order food while still in line for an attraction and time it just right for pick up. Both indoor and outdoor dining tables are open, with limited capacity. Every other table is blocked off to keep parties distanced.
The snack stands do not have mobile order options and are operating as usual. Because of the reduced capacity, not all of the snack stands are open, but we didn’t have any problems finding our Mickey Bars!You can, of course, still bring your own food into the parks for snacks and meals.
Is it worth it?
Yes! While 2020 has caused me to lower my standards on so many levels, I still think my Disney bar is pretty high. Were the masks annoying for 10 hours a day? You bet. Was it worth it? Totally! My kids seemed just as lost in the magic as ever before. If anything, we relished it all even more. After a year of disappointment after disappointment, a week of silliness, laughter, and make-believe was just what we needed. We are all already talking about when we can return.