Walt Disney World in October 2020: COVID Pandemic Edition
While I have yet to fill DESKRIB up with all my Disney fandom, you will learn it is one of my favorite places. Adult Disney is one of the best things and I will definitely start writing all the reasons in a post soon to convince you. When the COVID pandemic hit and after canceling all upcoming trips, I wrote up Why Walt Disney World may be my first trip post quarantine. As a scheduled trip in July got closer and more details about the opening were released … along with the crazy COVID numbers, I followed up my original post with Why Walt Disney World will no longer be my first trip post quarantine.
Well, it is now October and after a series of events, including venturing out on domestic adventures to bring some travel back to 2020, we decided to revisit the idea of Disney. I had been following the situation in Walt Disney World very closely and overall, was very pleased with the reports I was hearing regarding cleaning, distancing, and mask policies. After many conversations, we decided to give it a go.
Our trip was three days so it was by no means a long vacation. We are Disney Vacation Club members so the “expense” of the trip was relatively low and that may impact the calculus of going on this trip for others – we found cheap flights so our biggest expense were the park tickets.
I will be doing a detailed review of each park day to give more insight and document what the entire experience was like to remember in the future. But for now, I will focus on the high level, burning questions and answers of the COVID measures at Walt Disney World.
Disclaimer that the information and observations in this post are from the first week in October – things are changing constantly so please check Disney’s website for the most up to date information if you are planning a trip.
Overall COVID Precautions
- There are signs everywhere and announcements every few minutes that outline the safety measures that Disney has put into place and they were definitely visible
- Face masks were required for everyone over the age of two years old
- Temperature checks were performed (not that they really mean anything from a COVID stance)
- Reservations were required to enter the park and there was no park hopping permitted
- Originally, one could only visit another resort if they had a reservation but we did not see that enforced or it must have relaxed because we visited other resorts no problem
Hand Sanitizer / Hand Washing Stations
- You never had to worry about a hand sanitizer shortage – the dispensers are everywhere throughout the property, including before and after every ride and near any food services
- Some people do not like the brand being used but we did not mind it
- Hand washing stations were great – we did not see many people utilize but we definitely did
- Hand sanitizer was never required or enforced from what we experienced (ie before or after the ride)
- From what we observed, Cast Member compliance was 100% with wearing face masks properly
- This really varied in our short stay there – at times we were impressed with the compliance rate we witnessed… but other points had my blood at a boil
- When there were Cast Members present, overall compliance was better as they enforced and corrected mask misbehavior
- When there were fewer Cast Members present – such as at the resorts, on transportation, or just when the crowd levels are higher, compliance was down
- I never saw any one flat out without a mask – most of the time it was noses sticking out or the chin strap approach
- I would say we noticed on average a 95% face mask compliance with Saturday exclusively bringing the average down
- In the parks, it really varied – the mornings and evenings seem to be the best for lower crowds but the afternoons were bonkers packed – when parks reached an uncomfortable level of people, we left (which occurred two of the three park days)
- Disney claims they have limited capacity but that seems to have been July and August because there were times it felt like normal crowd levels
- The resorts definitely had less people than normal so the park crowds must be locals or people staying off property
- Limited hours, cannot park hop, need to make a reservation ahead of time when purchasing tickets
- Temperature checks performed before security
- Security and bag checks have been revamped and they are awesome – just walk through a detector with your bag and you are on your way – no more bag checks is a COVID win!
- The mornings were great (first ones in the park for two of the three parks) and by afternoon we were tapped out due to crowd level
- No character meet and greets but they have these impromptu, unannounced parades that were awesome
- Practically the entire park is marked in six foot increments
- Here are posts with the specific details for each day!
- Saturday was bananas and ended up being our shortest park day due to crowds – in retrospect, we either should have shifted the trip from Wednesday to Friday or just not paid for a park on Saturday
- Most rides were open but not 100% operation
- Definitely where we were most impressed and where the COVID measures shined
- Markers on the ground throughout the queue indicated where each party stood and were distanced six feet or more apart
- Now, people’s ability to READ or SEE the markers were a different story – I mean seriously people, I’ll document all that in the park posts above
- Parties were well spaced out on ride vehicles and Kevin and I frequently had a ride vehicle to ourselves so this was a huge win for the trip
- Mask compliance on rides seemed very good in our experience
- Depending on the ride, there is routine cleaning and deep cleaning that is done which can hold up the line for a bit but worth it for a sanitized ride
- Wait times rarely corresponded with the actual wait – and that was in both directions – some wait times were much longer or shorter than the actual wait
- Since we know almost all of the ride queues, we could tell from the distance of the line how long of a wait it really was and we were more accurate – haha!
- Cast Members were so great at mask enforcement, cleaning, etc.
- Dining availability is way down both in selections of places to eat and in reservation times available – it was a huge challenge to find places to eat
- Many of our favorites are still closed – from Flying Fish to Casey’s Corner and the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor to most of EPCOT dining options
- Even throughout the parks dining options are limited and not fully operational
- Reservations for those that were open were next to impossible – I had to stalk the Disney dining reservation site constantly just to get an undesirable time
- We packed breakfast and had it in the room each morning – oatmeal and banana bread
- Mobile ordering is great but only do so off peak eating hours because the mob of people waiting for their food was super unattractive
- Some dining locations are starting to do a take out feature and this is super attractive – we did not get to try it but hope it expands – Sanaa and The Wave are the first test runs!
- It an even bigger challenge to find places to eat outdoors
- We avoided Disney Springs like the plague (more on that later)
- We tried indoor dining and were impressed with the distancing they had in place – Disney could have easily crammed more tables in
- Menus were all virtual with QR codes
- Cast Members wore masks and face shields
- Cast Members were extra phenomenal!
- We stayed at the Boardwalk Villas – one of our favorites (Disney’s BoardWalk Inn)
- Cleaning measures were fantastic – the room was immaculate
- Mask compliance was less so since there were not Cast Members patrolling the hallways so that was disappointing
- While resort hopping was originally a no-no back in July, we had no issues doing so on this trip
- We avoided this as much as possible – the benefit of staying at the Boardwalk (as well as any of the resorts on the lake) is the ability to walk to two parks (EPCOT and Hollywood Studios)
- The monorail had drape like partitions between cars and limited benches to one park per bench
- The buses has plastic partitions and numbers on the seat so your part is assigned seats for the ride
- Magical Express assigned seats to guests to space everyone and worked well – though if your timing is off on arrival, it could be a long journey to the resort since the number of stops per bus can increase
- The Skyliner was the best (a party per gondola) if this thing connected everything, we would have exclusively used the Skyliner – and no concern for mask compliance here!
- When we did take Disney transportation – the monorail or the bus – mask compliance was not great and unfortunately, the Cast Member driving the vehicle cannot also be the COVID police (…but I can!)
- Disney transportation also has limited hours so you have to carefully plan your day – if you have dining reservations late one night at another resort, you will be stuck there and forced to ride share back to your resort unless you have a car
- People report that Disney Springs as constantly mobbed since anyone can enter (not just resort guests)
- I read it is less crowded during the day but at night, even on weeknights it is very crowded – with the parks closing by 7PM most nights, everyone heads to Disney Springs after
- While leaving the Contemporary around 6PM, we saw a line of over 50 people waiting for a bus to Disney Springs – and that is just at one resort – no thank you!
- Most other Park-Free Options at Walt Disney World were unavailable
Is it safe for kids?
I do not have kids but knowing I would get this question, here is my take:
- Kids overall were more compliant with the face masks than adults (shocking…)
- If a child is under two and does not wear a face mask, I would say do not go because you need to depend on everyone else to wear the face mask properly (which while great, is not 100%)
- Have your child up to date on all vaccines!
- You need to have a child that is a good listener and understands some of the COVID rationale – there are so many things you “cannot do” – touching every surface, bumping into people, following markers for social distancing, etc
- And they have to be willing to wait in long lines for rides – Frozen Ever After, Mickey’s Runaway Railway, Slinky Dog Dash, and most of Magic Kingdom were well over 60 to 100 minute waits at times
- The less stuff you have to bring with you, the better – if you need to bring a lot into the parks for your child, you may want to delay this trip
Thinking of going to Walt Disney World soon? Here is what I recommend.
- If this is your first trip or once every couple years trip – just wait it out, this is not a good way to experience all that Walt Disney World has to offer and certainly not a good use of the money for it
- Go to parks on weekdays only and avoid weekends, holidays, school breaks of any kind
- On park days, arrive one to two hours before listed park opening – worked like a charm (read about our park days here)
- Think of it as a staycation at the resorts which are very comfortable and nice
- If you go in with a agenda to accomplish, you will be disappointed – like all trips in 2020, you must be flexible
- Know where you stand on dining options and your comfort – indoor vs outdoor, quick service vs table service, get a room with a kitchen, etc
- Driving seems to be the best transportation option for many reasons – including the ability to get to the parks early, avoid Disney transportation or the need to ride share, etc
- If you have to go to Disney Springs, go in the morning on a weekday
- Pack some of your own food and snacks – we packed breakfast (oatmeal, banana bread) and granola bars
- Bring every mask you own cause you will need to change throughout the day – and grab an ear saver off Etsy or Amazon – these saved our lives
- When it rains, all social distancing bets are off so come prepared with your rain gear so you are not forced into an uncomfortable radius with strangers
- And of course, get tested, check state restrictions and quarantine requirements, and the tips over at planning and preparation for travel during COVID pandemic
And those are my high level thoughts after experiencing Disney during the COVID pandemic. Will we be going back soon? Probably not until all this COVID stuff resolves itself a bit better as I only see the crowds continuing to go up from here. It appears that “the” time to go was in July and August when the crowds were actually lower and all rides were walk on waits but it was also the peak of Florida COVID numbers – pros and cons, am I right? I hope this was insightful!