Walt Disney World, along with other Orlando- and Central-Florida theme parks, reopened this summer amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Like many parks across the country, they have implemented numerous health and safety protocols to reduce the risk of guests and employees transmitting the virus.
But as the disclaimer on the Walt Disney World website reminded me, “an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present.”
So understandably, making the decision to go to Walt Disney World during the COVID-19 pandemic brings uncertainties and anxiety.
I was facing that decision last month. And ultimately, I decided to make the trip.
First, some background: I was due to leave for a week at Walt Disney World in mid-March – my flight was scheduled to depart the day after Disney announced that it would be closing its parks due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
As distraught as I was (if you’ve planned a Disney trip, you know how many hours that takes), I was fortunate that the loss of a week at Disney World was the worst I was facing — others were losing so much more.
But because of the last-minute cancellation, I was unable to recoup many of the costs, including airfare and the Disney tickets. I had until the end of the year to use the five-day tickets or apply the value toward a future ticket purchase. Thankfully, the value of the flights could be applied to a future flight (thanks, Southwest!).
So when Disney announced that the Florida parks would reopen in July, my group toyed with the idea of trying again, this time in October. So we went ahead and made our hotel and park reservations for our second-attempt trip.
Long story short, the trip was a success — as in, I got there, went to the parks and came back covid-free (I tested negative after a self-imposed 14-day quarantine).
So if you are on the fence about making a trip to Walt Disney World in the coming months (and let’s be honest, all of 2021 and depressingly perhaps beyond), these are what I found to be the pros and cons of my visit:
Pros of Visiting Disney World in COVID-19 Times:
While going to Walt Disney World during the COVID-19 pandemic may evoke feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, it isn’t all doom and gloom – there are bright sides to visiting the parks right now.
The parks are less crowded.
Despite loosening restrictions in Florida, Walt Disney World theme parks are still operating at 25% capacity (as of this posting) – that is, 25% of each park’s maximum capacity. According to TouringPlans.com, Magic Kingdom’s maximum capacity is 90,000. Therefore, the park’s daily attendance is limited to 22,500.
However, keep in mind that while attendance is limited, with some restaurants, shops and theaters closed, there aren’t as many indoor spaces to occupy large numbers of guests. Additionally, many of the ride queues have been moved outside. Therefore, the parks may at times seem crowded.
There were a few moments during my trip – at Magic Kingdom, in particular – where I felt slightly overwhelmed by the crowds. But those instances were rare, and I was easily able to find a less-crowded space.
If you haven’t spent much time in public since the pandemic began, keep this in mind before you go.
Face masks are enforced. Seriously enforced.
Face masks are required anywhere on Walt Disney World property except for eating and drinking – while stationary (waiting in line does not count as stationary). So no, you can’t walk and chow down on a churro.
You can’t even remove your mask while taking photos. They aren’t messing around with this, and I was totally on board.
While I encountered some crowds from time to time during my visit, I didn’t encounter hordes of people not wearing masks or not wearing them correctly. Cast Members were “politely stringent” in their enforcement of the policy. I saw several instances where a Cast Member reminded a guest to wear their mask properly. Of the parks I’ve visited this year, Disney by far did the best job at enforcing their mask policy.
Lots of deals and discounts.
With many still hesitant to travel, Disney is offering some pretty stellar deals to those looking for overnight accommodations.
The official Walt Disney World deals and discounts page has some attractive hotel and ticket discounts worth taking advantage of for your next trip, but many are only available for a limited time.
And I found that in general, both on- and off-property room rates were much lower than when I was planning my original March trip.
While up-close character meet-and-greets are temporarily suspended, Disney is instead offering small “cavalcade” parades so that guests can still see Mickey and their other favorite characters.
Animal Kingdom even has characters sailing around the park’s Discovery River.
Everything is clean.
I didn’t have to look far to see a Cast Member cleaning high-touch surfaces. While I’d still avoid leaning against or touching something like a handrail, it was reassuring to see those types of surfaces being cleaned regularly.
Additionally, roller coasters and other attractions ceased operations periodically (about once an hour) to allow for thorough cleanings of seats and restraints. While the delays may seem like a “con,” I know they’re a necessity. It’s a small price to pay.
Mobile food ordering streamlines dining.
Prior to COVID-19, many Disney parks were already offering mobile food ordering as a way to streamline the dining experience at counter-service and other quick-service locations. But now it’s a way of life.
To order food at one of the locations offering mobile ordering, simply download the My Disney Experience app, place your order, and then wait for the app to tell you your order is ready. A Cast Member will then direct you to a counter to pick up your food.
I’ll admit that mobile ordering worked better at some locations than others. But if for nothing else, it prevented me from standing in a long, cramped line waiting to place an order.
Learn more about the mobile food ordering process here.
Cons of Visiting Disney World in COVID Times:
I don’t need to cite the grim statistics of the COVID-19 pandemic to convey how severe and dire the situation is. The fact that theme parks are open at all is a controversial matter. But I do believe that Disney is doing everything it can to keep guests safe — after all, all eyes are on them and the other major players in the amusement industry.
So with the inherent risks of visiting a theme park during the pandemic and the resulting changes from the new safety protocols, there are of course a multitude of downsides to visiting Walt Disney World:
I’m a recovering germaphobe. And while I’m much more in control of it than I was when I was younger, I still get anxious around germs and illness (yes, I know they’re everywhere). Obviously, that’s an unfortunate condition for someone who enjoys visiting theme parks. They aren’t exactly the cleanest of places to be.
However, I’m usually able to detach from those worries once I’m at the park. But at any theme park right now, you are constantly reminded by signs, announcements, face masks, social distancing reminders, etc.
If you’re prone to germaphobia and health-related anxiety, keep this in mind. If you’re traveling with someone who you know is anxious about this, make sure to give them some slack if they seem uneasy.
Yes, face masks are kinda uncomfortable in the heat.
I’m very pro-face mask and believe that wearing one is a very minor inconvenience with huge benefits – mainly knowing that you aren’t inadvertently spreading COVID-19 to someone else.
But I’d be lying if I said that I loved wearing one all day in the 90-degree Florida heat. This might not be as big of an issue as we approach the winter months, but of course, Florida will still see some heat.
However, when I started to gripe, I reminded myself that I was at Walt Disney World. Wearing a face mask is a small price to pay to be able to visit such great theme parks.
Regardless, I’d bring a few masks with you to change out if needed.
Many lines have moved outside.
To facilitate social distancing, Disney has relocated many attraction queues outside. While this is critical to reducing the chance of transmission while in cramped, enclosed spaces, it can get hot standing in the sun for extended lengths of time.
These lines can weave throughout the park, and it can be confusing to know which line goes where. For many of them, though, a Cast Member stands at the end of each line (the beginning for guests joining the queue) with a sign indicating where the line goes. I mistakenly joined a line in the wrong spot multiple times. Thankfully, everyone is fairly understanding. We’re all in this together.
By the time you leave Walt Disney World, you’ll probably be seeing these social distancing markers in your sleep. I found most guests to do a pretty good job of keeping six feet between parties.
Some areas of queues that are inside or partially enclosed are separated by plexiglass.
If you’re expecting to be able to bypass the outside lines, you’re likely out of luck. Disney has temporarily suspended the FastPass+ program. So while you no longer have to worry about fighting for reservations, you’ll spend more time waiting in line due to the reduced ride capacities and periodic cleanings.
I recommend getting to the park as early as possible while lines are at their shortest.
Disney has temporarily suspended the use of “Park Hopper” tickets, which allow guests to visit multiple parks in one day. But since parks are operating with reduced hours, park hopping isn’t as appealing as it usually is when there are 12+ hours of park time in the day.
However, there may be one pro to the lack of park-hopping. If you can stay at a park until later in the day, you won’t have to worry about dealing with an influx of people coming from another park. While you can reenter the same park more than once in a single day, you can’t spend the first half of the day at Animal Kingdom and then the evening at Epcot.
No Extra Magic Hours.
Disney has also suspended Extra Magic Hours, which gives Walt Disney World resort guests the opportunity to enter parks early or stay late.
If you’re someone who likes to do everything a park has to offer in one day, the lack of those extra hours can make things more challenging.
Reduced operating hours.
Walt Disney World theme parks have been operating at reduced hours for some time. You’ll definitely want to check the official Walt Disney World park hours page before you visit.
While the shorter days limited the number of things we could see and do, it led to our group visiting Disney Springs each night for dinner, which we really enjoyed.
Some rides, shows and other attractions are closed.
While Disney has made every effort to maintain social distance on its rides, on some attractions that just isn’t realistic.
The majority of rides are open, but some remain closed (a few of those are closed for refurbishment).
Walt Disney World Open/Closed Rides:
You can see rides’ and attractions’ current status for each park on the official Walt Disney World website:
- Animal Kingdom attraction status
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios attraction status
- Epcot attraction status
- Magic Kingdom attraction status
Shows and other forms of live entertainment took more of a hit. Many are on pause until further notice.
Walt Disney World Open/Closed Entertainment:
- Animal Kingdom show and entertainment status
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios show and entertainment status
- Epcot attraction show and entertainment status
- Magic Kingdom show and entertainment status
Some shops and restaurants are closed.
Be mindful that several of the parks’ eateries are closed, from food stands to sit-down restaurants.
I thought missing out on Rise of the Resistance was devastating, but my soul was not ready for this. I still dream about this cookie (the DCA version). pic.twitter.com/0fWbz6bLzI
— Coaster101.com (@Coaster101) October 13, 2020
I was a little distraught that I couldn’t get my beloved Num Num Cookie fix at Hollywood Studios, but I had no issues at all finding something else to cure my sweet tooth.
Walt Disney World Open/Closed Restaurants
Restaurants that are closed are marked as “temporarily unavailable:”
- Animal Kingdom restaurants
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios restaurants
- Epcot restaurants
- Magic Kingdom restaurants
Walt Disney World Open/Closed Shops
- Animal Kingdom open and closed shops
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios open and closed shops
- Epcot open and closed shops
- Magic Kingdom open and closed shops
No meet and greets.
While the character cavalcades are a nice replacement, those up-close meet-and-greets with Disney characters are unsurprisingly a (temporary) thing of the past. If you’re taking kids who are used to waiting in line for photos with Mickey, it might be best to prepare them ahead of time.
But don’t worry, there are still plenty of opportunities to interact with characters — just from a little farther away.
Transportation options are limited.
Disney’s various modes of transportation are operating with physical distancing measures in place, including in the load zones and queues, as well as on buses and monorails. And of course, face masks are required at all times while boarding and riding.
Since park-hopping is temporarily suspended, transportation between parks is mostly unavailable. Additionally, the monorail from the Transportation & Ticket Center and Epcot is not operating.
Of course, things are changing every day. It’s best to check the official Walt Disney World resort transportation page for the latest updates.
Water parks are closed.
If you’re hoping to get your float on at one of Disney World’s two water parks, Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon, you’ll have to wait until next year. Both water parks are closed with a tentative reopening date of March 7, 2021.
But as 2020 has taught us, everything — everything — is subject to change at any time.
So with all that said, would I do it again? Would I go to Walt Disney World during the coronavirus pandemic? Yes, probably, assuming I had already purchased my tickets.
Despite the cons listed above, I had a lot of fun, and I felt safe — much safer than at my local grocery store.
However, if someone who has never been to a Disney park was considering a trip this year or next, I might tell them to reconsider. As fun as my week at Disney World was, it just wasn’t quite the same as my previous trips. It was missing that spark of magic that makes Disney so special. But I commend the Cast Members who were working so diligently to make our experience enjoyable, memorable and safe.
Learn more about Walt Disney World’s reopening procedures including safety protocols here.
Have you visited Disney World since the parks reopened? Share your thoughts about visiting during these crazy times in the comments section below.