Since 2016, I have visited Walt Disney World multiple times each year. It seems that 2020 was determined to test this yearly tradition. Well, despite the stack of negatives this year has brought in I wasn’t about to let this be one of them. So let me tell my story, the story of why I went to Disney World in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
Pre-COVID, my husband and I planned to visit Walt Disney World in April and October, and visit Disneyland in May. We were celebrating 10 years since we started dating this year, so we knew we wanted it to be special. COVID-19, of course, swept in and changed all of that. Due to park closures, our April and May trips were canceled.
Our October trip seemed undoable, as my husband is a teacher and there was too much uncertainty around his being able to travel when he was back in the classroom with students. So, back in April, we made the hard decision to cancel all three trips and plan for a bigger Walt Disney World vacation in the summer to make u for them all. We even decided to throw Universal Studios in the mix.
We picked a random week in July, as we fully expected Walt Disney World to have been open for a while at that point. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that our trip would fall just shortly after the parks reopened!
Three Reasons We Said Yes to Disney World
Certainly, there was debate about whether or not we should cancel our trip. We felt a lot of pressure from loved ones to cancel, as Florida’s COVID-19 numbers were spiking at that time. Ultimately, though, we knew it was a good idea to keep our trip as planned for a couple of reasons:
- We desperately needed a vacation after the year we had had! My husband, a high school science teacher, had dealt with the incredible stress of transforming his classroom into a remote one from March to June. My college advisor job had turned from a happy environment of interacting with students and colleagues to day after day of staring at a computer screen. We were both burnt out and stressed out, and we needed an escape to our happy place to break up the monotony and mundane.
- We trusted Disney to keep us safe. While Florida’s rising numbers did concern us, we both felt confident in Walt Disney World’s ability to do everything correctly and carefully in relation to COVID-19 protocol. Over the years, we have watched the action that Disney has always taken to keep guests safe, even in the most minuscule situation. We knew they would not take the pandemic lightly. We also knew that we did not take the pandemic lightly, and would do whatever was asked of us to comply with the rules. We understood there was a risk, but in the end, it came down to the fact that we trust Disney to always do the right thing. We couldn’t really say that for other vacation destinations we considered.
- As a Disney travel planner, I felt I had a duty to my clients to experience all of the changes Disney had put in place first hand. Sure, I could read other people’s accounts of time in the park and try to give the best secondhand advice I could. However, I felt the only way I could really do right by those clients who had decided to stick it out was to be able to give them tips and tricks that I knew worked for me during my time there.
We opted to drive over flying for a couple of reasons. We wanted the flexibility of having our own car in case we felt unsafe and wanted to leave early. We also were a little nervous about Ubering in Florida to get from Universal to Disney. We were confident in the “theme park bubble,” but we were not confident in Florida proper.
Staying in a Hotel
We stayed at four different hotels during our stay: Royal Pacific at Universal, Contemporary, Riviera, and Boulder Ridge Villas at Wilderness Lodge.
Upon arrival at Royal Pacific, our temperature was taken and we were given a wristband. This happened at the hotel every day. You only had to have your temperature taken once per day, regardless of how many times you entered or exited the park or hotel. The wristband signified that you had a temperature screening, and was a different color each day. Masks were required everywhere except at the pool, if you were eating or drinking, or if you were in your room. Team members all wore masks and plexiglass barriers were at all of the counters. In the room, our remote was wrapped in plastic to show that it had been sanitized, and the TV had a COVID warning on it when we entered. There were signs with instructions and hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere. It was not crowded, and everyone maintained a proper distance from each other. The luau that happens at Royal Pacific was not operational. All chairs at the pool and public areas were open to everyone. Elevators were limited to one party or four people, but our room was on the ground floor so we did not have to use them. Overall, we felt very safe here. We barely interacted with anyone and we felt they did a great job.
This was the first Disney hotel we checked into, and we were spoiled because we were upgraded from a garden wing room to a theme park view room in the main tower! It certainly was a fantastic welcome back to Disney! We were there on the second day the resort was reopen, and we could tell no one had been in our room because the water in the tub ran brown for a few seconds when we first ran it!
Here the remote was wrapped as well, and the room was very clean. We did mobile check in, but had to go the desk to correctly set up charging privileges to our magic bands. Again, everyone was masked and plexiglass shields were up at the desks.
The Contempo Café was operating on mobile order. Refillable mugs were available for purchase, but a cast member would fill them for you. Chef Mickeys was open but no characters are meeting during meals.
The elevators here were also limited to four people or one party per elevator, and it could take a while to be able to get into one. We had to factor this in when heading out each day.
Pool chairs where spaced out, and masks were not required in the pool area. All of the shops were open and had designated entrances and exits. Bus and monorail waits were not a problem.
Monorails were limited to one party per section, now however they do put two parties in a section. Buses were also limited and the bus driver told you where to sit when getting on. Dividers were put up between sections of the bus.
What an amazing resort! Safety-wise, everything was largely the same as the Contemporary. Elevator waits were not as big of an issue here as at Contemporary. We had breakfast at Topolino’s which was delicious, and we were happy to do a socially distanced character meal!
The Skyliner was a fast, excellent mode of transportation (as long as it wasn’t storming) and helped us to not be so dependent on buses. Only one party per gondola was allowed – we got pretty lucky to have the whole thing for just the two of us! We did not experience long wait times at all.
The only thing that was annoying about the Skyliner was when it went down because of storms. It happened on our Epcot day, and to get back to Riviera we were sent to the Boardwalk and a bus was making the Skyliner loop. That was probably the longest transportation wait we had. I used the laundry room here, which was still available for guests.
Boulder Ridge Villas
Nothing particularly different to tell about the stay here. Same safety precautions as the other resorts. Boats were not running to Magic Kingdom, so we had to take a bus but did not experience long waits. We had dinner at Geyser Point one night, and it was being treated like a table service with no reservations. We had to wait for a table and they texted us when it was ready.
Common Concerns with Visiting Disney World
Wearing a Mask All Day
This was not as bad as we thought it was going to be at all. We were in Florida in the middle of summer, so pretty much at the hottest time of the year, and the masks did not make it hotter. I feel that it will just get easier to wear a mask as it gets cooler. We used disposable blue surgical masks and found them very breathable and light. We did not find that they made us sweat any more than normal.
Before the trip, we took walks around our neighborhood and tested out different kinds of masks to see which ones would be the most comfortable for us. The only time a mask got annoying was the first day we were there and got caught in a rainstorm. We did not have extra masks with us and they got soaked. A wet mask was absolutely no fun. Here are some tips that I have shared with clients about mask wearing in the parks:
- Always, always, always carry extra masks with you. You never know when yours might get dirty, wet, sweaty, etc, so you will want to change into a new one whenever you are able.
- Take advantage of relaxation zones if necessary
- Know beforehand which masks work best for you
- If traveling with kids, get them used to mask wearing before your vacation
- Always wear your mask correctly – cover your mouth AND nose!
- Carry a small portable fan that you can blow under the mask if needed. I recommend one that can go around your neck
- Wear a lot of sunscreen with a high SPF on your face and a hat and sunglasses to avoid a mask tan line!
- Make sure to keep masks on on rides to make sure you get your picture.
Mask Wearing & Social Distancing Compliance
We saw literally one instance of a guest not complying with the mask requirement, and that was at Universal Studios. Everywhere we looked, people were wearing their masks and wearing them correctly. Disney also did a great job of policing it. When you are in a community of people that are following the rules in the same way that you are, you feel very safe.
As far as social distancing was concerned, for the most part, everyone followed the rules. There were a couple of instances that we ran into where people thought that their party should stand between the lines that were on the ground instead of on the line.
In times where we felt that people were getting too close, we just politely asked them to back up and never got any backlash. I personally think that everyone was just so happy to be back that wearing a mask properly and social distancing was a small price to pay.
Missing Experiences and Limited Food Offerings
This was a bummer. I said multiple times during quarantine that the first thing I was doing when I got back in the parks was giving Mickey a big hug, and it was really hard to not be able to do that.
Shows and fireworks were greatly missed, and we weren’t able to go to some of our favorite restaurants and have some of our favorite foods. But, for people like my husband and I, who go to Disney very often, it was not a dealbreaker.
The people that really would miss out on a trip at this time would be first-time visitors. As a travel planner, it is hard for me to recommend a first-time visit because you are definitely missing out on the full Disney experience. But, if you are a frequent visitor or looking for an adults-only getaway, it is still a fantastic time to go, especially as more experiences start to come back.
Safety Concerns at Public Pools
Since masks are not required in the pool area, people may be concerned about using the pools. Even in the heat of summer, we never experienced the pools being overcrowded or full to capacity. We never had to wait our turn. Chairs were spaced away from other parties and guests did a good job at managing that.
Most people turned their chairs up when they were finished so people knew to come to disinfect the area. People kept their distance in the pool. Being outside also helped to alleviate anxiety there.
Disney is incredibly clean! Hand sanitizer and hand washing stations were everywhere! We saw cast members cleaning constantly and rides were being wiped down very frequently. I had no concerns there. I definitely felt that Disney was cleaner than my local grocery store or Target.
Reflection on Our COVID Trip to Disney World
Overall, I am so glad we decided to go to Disney in a pandemic! I honestly feel that it was safer to go there than to the grocery store in my town. I feel the parks did everything right. Missing experiences are definitely a deterent to visit right now if you do not visit a lot, but I still think it’s a good vacation to take. I will say that, upon our return, we did quarantine and get tested for COVID to make sure we did not pick anything up. We were negative! I can’t wait to get back to the parks – I would do it again over and over! All of the new requirements were a small price to pay for a fantastic vacation!
Diana Davenport is a Disney travel agent with Magical Travel. She lives in Sewell, NJ and would love to help you with planning your magical Disney vacation! To book your vacation or request a free quote, you can reach her at 856-589-2473 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Diana has experience in Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Aulani, Adventures by Disney, and Universal Studios vacations!
Diana has been an agent with Magical Travel for 2.5 years. She lives in Southern New Jersey with her husband Tyler and cat Daisy, and has been a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder for 4 years. Diana loves working with her clients, tailoring each and every vacation to fit individual needs and budgets. Her favorite part of the planning process is seeing pictures of her clients living their best lives on their vacations. No matter how big or small the trip, Diana is ready to help you make it the most memorable time yet! You can follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/ddavenportdisneyplanning, or on Instagram @disneybydiana.
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