We spent the last nine days at the most magical place on earth and I have SO much to share! I chronicled all of the reopening details on my Dixie Travels Instagram page, but will spend the week here getting my thoughts and photos down on “paper”. Feel free to ask your questions in the comments, or email me at [email protected] any time!
First things first, if I had to condense every emotion, experience and feeling from the trip into a paragraph, it would be…
We were absolutely blown away by the thoughtful, practical and comprehensive precautions Disney has in place to safely welcome guests and cast members. I don’t have all of the words to convey how special it felt to be back. We laughed, we played, we ate too much, and we felt a level of happiness we hadn’t had in too long. I can assure you, magic is here!
There is a small sign as you enter Magic Kingdom that I stop to read every single time I walk in. It felt so true and so hopeful on this trip that I almost cried.
As noted, my entire family was astounded by the way that Disney examined every.single.detail of the guest experience with the lens of health and safety. All of the new policies and precautions are flawlessly integrated and make it easy to have a fun and memorable vacation experience. Believe me, nothing is sacrificed. Cast members are joyful and helpful, while also keeping a keen eye out to ensure a safe theme park experience for all.
If you’d like to see videos, photos and my explanations of the following details, head over to the Dixie Travels Instagram. Once on my profile page, look for the circles called “highlights”. Safety protocols are primarily captured under “wdw reopens”, but you can also click on the circle for each theme park and resort to see more!
Today I’m going to detail highlights of what we observed in EVERY single park, restaurant and resort but I want to assure you MAGIC IS HERE! Tomorrow and for the rest of the week I’ll share a “day in the life” at each of the parks so you can see that for yourself!!
The first thing you will notice upon arrival at every Disney theme park is a temperature screening. This touch free process is a breeze. You simply step up and an AdventHealth specialist, contracted by Disney, checks your temperature.
If your temperature measures 100.4 or higher, you are asked to step into a tent for just a few seconds and are given the opportunity to cool down. This happened to me once after walking in the blazing sun from BoardWalk to Epcot. They were very kind and encouraging and in about 30 seconds I registered a cool 98.2. I’m not going to lie, I was really anxious in those moments in between.
Touch Free Admission & Security
I absolutely LOVE the changes that Disney has made to admission and security. The entire process is a breeze now and this stands true at all parks. You are now able to walk through security screening with your bags and pockets full. For admission, there is no longer a bio-metric finger component, just scan your band or ticket and ride. Also, check out the lack of people headed in to Food and Wine Festival on a Saturday afternoon!!
Disney has noticeably reduced capacity and now requires Theme Park Pass reservations to control attendance. I have never in my life seen Disney World so beautifully uncrowded! In fact, the #1 disclaimer that comes up on my initial client consult is “We hate crowds. We want to go when Disney isn’t crowded. How do we avoid crowds?” My answer up until March 13 was “Disney is never not crowded. It’s just levels between crowded and packed in like sardines.” Today, I would say if you are ready to travel, then NOW is the time to go!
Not only does low capacity make it easy to social distance, but it means you will do more in a few hours at Disney than ever before. The longest line we waited in over the course of 9 days was 40 minutes and that was for the brand new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Many attractions were walk on, with the average time we spent in line all week being about 15 minutes per ride. This also leaves plenty of time to enjoy the resort whenever you like – morning, afternoon and night.
We loved being able to do rides we usually don’t have time for, particularly in Epcot and Hollywood Studios where FastPass tiers meant choosing only ONE of three to four top attractions in a day. I personally enjoyed being able to ride things like Tower of Terror and Rock n Rollercoaster that my family won’t. Previously, I would have never made them sit and wait for the 90-120 minutes that would have taken, so I just skipped them. I did both in 30 minutes last week while they enjoyed a mask-free relaxation zone!
Face coverings are required at Disney for everyone ages 2 and up. Everywhere. No exceptions for anyone. If you can’t wear a face mask, now is not the time to visit Disney. Face masks are not a substitute for physical distancing and both are required.
Now that the technical part is out of the way, I want to share how this panned out for us over the course of 9 days.
First things first, the face masks were nothing. We quickly adapted to them and they did not measurably add to the heat that is already July in central Florida. I think you will find this is the consensus from anyone that has actually visited Disney since they reopened on July 11. I read a lot of complaints about them – but only from people that expect it to be awful, as opposed to guests with actual experience. Everyone is wearing them so it doesn’t seem weird or bizarre. I watched families and kids all week and my unofficial analysis shows it was even easier for kids to adapt to the face covering than for adults. I saw countless 2, 6, 11, 17 year olds all week and not one of them complaining, crying or ripping them off. It’s the norm at Disney and I expect this to be true for a long, long time. (I have no inside intel, but I don’t think face masks will be a thing of the past any time soon. ) The number one frustration with the mask was not being able to use Face ID to unlock your phone!!!
The only places you can remove your face coverings are:
- While actively eating or drinking in a stationary position (ie. You purchase a popcorn in Magic Kingdom and sit on a bench to eat it. Because of low crowds and low wait times, your park days are leisurely. There IS time to stop, sit and have a snack in the shade and it’s wonderful!)
- While sitting at your table in a restaurant.
- Inside of the pool gates at resort pools, whether sitting in your lounge chair or swimming. Once in side the gate, masks can come off.
- Inside of your resort room.
The near 100% compliance with face coverings went a LONG way to make us feel safe for the duration of our Disney World vacation. In fact, along with the other precautions in place, I felt safer at Disney than anywhere I’ve been outside of my home since March.
One practical tip… have a variety of masks for your family if you don’t already know what you like. We each have a different fabric one we know we like, but I also kept a few disposable masks in my bag to swap them out if we got hot or sweaty. If you don’t know what you like, we all agree that the blue disposable masks are the lightest weight.
Social Distancing Markers
Disney must have had someone walk every square inch of the entire property – parks, resorts, you name it – to determine any possible case or scenario where someone would be waiting in a line and need to social distance.
Markers appear on the ground everywhere and everyone abides by them. It was SO nice to not have someone saying “fill in all available space” or “if you can see the ground you are not close enough”.
I probably documented 100 of these examples on Instagram. Hop over there to the wdw reopens highlight to see more!
every other row blocked and three seats empty between four seats in use
In addition to social distancing markers in the queues for everything (resort front desk, transportation, rides, park entry, etc.), in some cases Disney has constructed clear plexi glass partitions in the lines. This was to prevent two guests from ever having to stand or walk directly facing each other. I had a question on Instagram regarding if this made the lines really hot. Most lines were air conditioned or covered with air movement and the partitions had zero negative effect. The only exception to this was Big Thunder Mountain. It is always stifling in there and the partitions did make it feel worse.
I loaded my bag with every errant bottle of hand sanitizer I could find at my house before we left. Well, nine days later and I didn’t use any of them. Not once! You cannot walk more than a few feet without encountering a touch free hand sanitizer station.
In addition to being on every walkway and path around the parks and resort areas, hand sanitizer is also requested to be used at the entry to every queue, as you board the attraction and when you disembark the attraction.
At the resorts, hand sanitizer and wipes are at every elevator bank.
I was a little worried my hands would be cracked and dried, but they are just fine!
Hand Washing Stations
In addition to an abundance of hand sanitizer, there are new hand washing stations all over the park. No need to even go into a bathroom just for that. (Although the bathrooms were absolutely spotless too!)
Disney pauses all ride operations throughout the day and thoroughly cleans each and every ride vehicle! This is something they will announce to the line and it generally takes about 7 minutes tops. We caught quite a few of these and it was NO issue whatsoever. The only one I saw in person, based on where I was in the queue, was Tomorrowland Speedway. The man in front sprayed every touch surface and then cast members came behind and wiped everything down! It was comforting and reassuring. Disney has never been cleaner!
Some attractions require you to wear 3D glasses. Well, never fear, you will be the only guest to wear them that day and they are sanitized over night!
In addition to ride cleaning, we saw cast members cleaning surfaces all day long, everywhere. The even cleaned things I wouldn’t have expected them to.
Relaxation stations are located throughout the four parks. These are areas where you can sit to have a quick bite, finish a drink or just hang out without your face mask. Some are in outdoor shaded areas and others are inside in air conditioning. While we did not see this issue, I do know that they can reach capacity. Tables inside of them are socially distanced so they can’t just let everyone in. In fact, we used a relaxation zone only ONCE in 9 days (see, face masks are not so bad!) and that was by Honey to attend a work conference call.
Almost all attractions in the parks are open and we easily did it all! It is so easy to maneuver through the parks now and you can accomplish more in a day than you previously could in two.
All of your typical rides in all of the parks are open. I really can’t stress enough how easy it is to do Disney right now. In our nine days, we only arrived at the park at opening twice. On quite a few days, we didn’t go in until lunch time, spending the whole morning at the pool. We loved that FastPasses are not used right now, as we were able to do ALL of the headliners in a day, as opposed to just one. Over the course of all of our park days, we did it all and some things multiple times!
Like all of the safety measures and precautions noted above, Disney is filling most ride vehicles with only one party, and has constructed plexi glass barriers between parties on rides that necessitate that.
I cannot tell you how much we loved the spontaneous character cavalcades. Rather than having one big mid-day parade in Magic Kingdom, which typically draws large, packed-in crowds, these opportunities pop up at various times and places to delight guests in the most unexpected way!
Extra magical things in the parks like Wilderness Explorers in Animal Kingdom, KidCot in Epcot, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, and pin trading are all up and running!
There are a few things that are not currently available. Of course, keep in mind that we are only two weeks post reopening.
First, character meet and greets and the Magic Kingdom parade are not open. As mentioned, you can see your favorite characters now in ALL FOUR parks with spontaneous character appearances and cavalcades.
Most shows with live actors are not currently running. As I understand it, this is due to union negotiations (since we know Disney has mastered social distancing in theaters) and I do hope to see them back soon. This would include things like Beauty and the Beast in Hollywood Studios and Festival of the Lion King in Animal Kingdom. The Birds in Flight show in Animal Kingdom IS open. Nighttime shows (ie. fireworks and spectaculars) are not running in any park.
Play areas are not open, which would have made me squeal with delight when my boys were younger! :-)
Will some of the closed experiences and attractions return? I’d bet money on it. Will all of them return? Not a chance. (I’d bet money on that too.) Disney World has almost 49 years of reimagining the theme park experience and changes is certain. I don’t know if the opportunity to hug princesses will return, but I do know you can see a whole parade of them at the Magic Kingdom train station! We now know Rivers of Light won’t return. I don’t know if Epcot Forever will return, but I’d be shocked if some sort of evening fireworks in Magic Kingdom didn’t come back. Keep in mind that the Disney of March 13 will never be back exactly like it was. Our trip was one of the best we’ve ever had. It was a true escape. It felt safe. And magic was there!
As always, we had a slew of great meals at Disney. We spent more time sit down dining than on a typical trip, because we had a lot more time to enjoy our meals! The only negative I can say about dining is that some menus were smaller than normal. I think you’d only notice this if you are a regular that has some long time favorites.
Mobile Ordering Quick Serve
All quick serve locations are now mobile order only. This worked very well! You order on the app in advance, click I’m here, and then receive a text on where to pick up your food! It was all completely touch free and you can still make notes on allergies or special needs. While many tables have been removed for social distancing purposes, there is plenty of seating both indoors and out.
We LOVED these new touch free utensil dispensers at all quick serve locations and around the Food & Wine Festival. They thought of everything!
And, while I’m at it, we loved that every trash can on property is propped open. No more touching dirty trash can flaps! However, it is worth noting that you now leave your tray on the table at quick serve and cast members clear them for you. Another nice perk!
Advance Dining Reservations
For advance dining reservations, you will now check in on the app up to 15 minutes prior when you arrive at the restaurant. You can note celebrations, accessibility needs and allergies. This also worked like a charm! All servers wear both face masks and shields and tables are socially distanced. Finally, menus are all online. You can either look them up on the disneyworld.com site, or use the QR code at every table to pull up the page directly. In Le Cellier we had no service and they happily provided us with a paper menu. We very much enjoyed all of our meals and I’ll give full reviews in the coming weeks!
There are currently two locations with modified character experiences for dining at the Riveria Resort and in Epcot. As always, I work with my clients to fully go over these options and fully expect them to change by the week! Any buffets of yore that are open now are served family style, which is another change I love!
I was really pleased to see how thoroughly cast members are cleaning tables between guests. They fully cover EVERY surface you could touch. Backs of chairs, sides of tables, etc. I was sitting right next to this one and also noted that the spray does not have a chemical scent, or really any discernible smell at all.
We had more time than ever on this trip to enjoy the resorts. Low crowds and low wait times really do mean you can do it all!
We did a split stay between two resorts and both were immaculately cleaned. The key differences we noted were that remote controls were sealed in a bag and marked cleaned, all cups were wrapped in plastic, toiletry dispensers were covered and marked cleaned, and extra bedding was in a sealed bag.
At the resorts, full amenities are open. We logged hours at the pools and we all enjoyed the pool games every afternoon. The Movies Under the Stars are running and we also had plenty of time to catch two of those during our stay!
Resort dining worked just like I noted in the parks. We did see at some resort quick service locations that you would pick up your food in a labelled bag at a counter. Cast members handled filling all drinks.
The last key thing I wanted to cover was transportation.
Having a Car
I always outline the best way to get from point A to point B for every client in every itinerary. If you drive to Disney, you do pay an overnight parking fee at the resort, but you do not pay a parking fee at the theme parks if you decide to drive! We did a mix of both driving and Disney transportation this trip, where in the past we primarily would have used Uber.
Busses, Boats, Skyliners and Monorails
All Disney transportation is socially distanced, using the same techniques noted above. Park opening and closing times are staggered, so we didn’t see huge lines of people at the resorts for openings.
On busses, your driver will assign you a section to sit in based on your party size. This does lower the capacity of every bus, but park capacity is also lower. I’d keep this in mind for large parties. Also, everyone gets a seat now!
On monorails, you are socially distanced in the queue and are given a number to stand on. It seemed to be one party per monorail car. I did see once where a party of 2 and a party of 1 were sent to the same car. Still plenty of room.
On the Skyliner, it is also one party per bucket.
Location is Everything
As with anything, location is still everything! I always work to find the perfect resort fit for my clients while balancing the experience with the location and the budget. Now more than ever, I think location is critical!
Let’s Travel & My Services
I enjoyed hearing from so many of you on Instagram over the course of my trip… those ready to book a new trip, those that had decided to go on trips already booked and those that aren’t ready to travel but enjoyed having a little magic in their feed.
I have missed my job so, so much over the past four months and am thrilled to be back in the business of making magic! Most aspects of planning a Disney vacation look different and now, more than ever, it is crucial to have the most current, up to date information based on personal experience to plan your vacation! I know these parks inside and out and am a small, one woman show. I hope that my love and passion for Disney shows through in every photo, video and post.
When the time is right for your family to travel, I’d be honored to be YOUR advisor. Magic is here!
As Premier Level Advisor with Glass Slipper Concierge, an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, I offer concierge travel planning for Walt Disney World® Resort, Disney Cruise Line, Disneyland® Resort, Disney Aulani Hawaii, Universal, Sea World and to over 40 countries on 7 continents through Adventures by Disney® and National Geographic Expeditions.
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