Magic is Here {Everything You Need To Know About Returning to Disney World October 2020}

The “world” of Disney changes day by day, with new attractions and dining coming online and more guests headed back to the magic. I provided an extensive review after returning from nine days in July, but wanted to update that with information coming off of our most recent trip.

From late September through yesterday, we spent the ten more days at the most magical place on earth! I chronicled all of the reopening details on my Dixie Travels Instagram page, but wanted to get all of the details here as well. 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.

Safety Protocols

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 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. Even with more guests in the park, all protocols remain in place and are diligently followed and enforced.

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!

Along those lines, we felt very comfortable everywhere we went at each park, restaurant and in the hotel. You were completely right, the safety precautions and enforcing mask wearing were evident everywhere. It truly allowed us to relax on vacation, which was exactly what we needed!

Client feedback

Temperature Screening

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.

New in October: Table serve restaurants in the resorts are now also doing a temperature screening at check-in.

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.

Capacity

Disney has noticeably reduced capacity and now requires Theme Park Pass reservations to control attendance. I do not know the exact capacity, but I do not believe it has increased. I suspect in July the actual attendance was way below the limited capacity. In September and October, we definitely felt that there were more people in the parks. The two noticeable places were 1. Weekends and 2. Hollywood Studios. We experienced significantly less people in the parks during the week. With Hollywood Studios having ALL of the new attractions (Toy Story Land, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge AND Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway), it definitely had more people and longer wait times for some attractions.

morning in magic kingdom

Not only does lower capacity make it easy to social distance, but it means you will do more in a few hours at Disney than ever before. We have been to Disney this exact week for TEN years in a row and the parks are absolutely LESS crowded and wait times are significantly LESS than we’ve ever seen them. Different from July, we did see wait times for headliners that crept up towards the hour mark. In prior years these would have been 2 hours or more. We noticed that almost all wait times were overstated and that lines look much longer than they are in reality, since Disney keeps 6 feet between parties. We found that it was still possible to do everything in a park in a day, and my clients in the parks are reporting back the same. This also leaves plenty of time to enjoy the resort whenever you like – morning, afternoon and night.

entering hollywood studios late afternoon

You made the right call on the order of our days in the parks – we had plenty of time to go on all, and I mean every single one – of the rides we wanted to go on (even got in to Rise of the Resistance!) and the crowds were very reasonable. I think our favorite day was at Hollywood Studios this time, there were so many new things to see and we tried out Prime Time Cafe for the first time.

Client feedback

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.

Three parties space out

Masks

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 19 days over two trips.

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!

Social distancing in a standard queue for ANYTHING
Social distancing in rooms with a pre-show
Social distancing in theaters –
every other row blocked and three seats empty between four seats in use
Traffic flows and limited capacity in stores
Most ride photos auto link to MagicBands

Queues

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.

Hand Sanitizer

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.

Hand sanitizer at every ride entry and exit

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!)

Ride Cleaning

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

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.

Attractions

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.

What’s Open

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. I do recommend the best hours in the parks being opening and late afternoon / early evening. 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, and we didn’t need to have a stringent hour by hour touring plan. 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!

For Fall, Magic Kingdom was FULL of rare Halloween characters, and favorites dressed up for the holiday. I will share more this week, but it was absolutely adorable. I cannot wait to see what they do for Christmas!

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!

What’s Closed

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. This is so much better and I wouldn’t be sad if the parade never returns.

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!

Dining

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!

Character Dining

Since July, a few more character locations have come on board. You will find them at:

  • Topolino Terrace – Riviera Resort
  • Chef Mickey’s – Contemporary Resort (starts 12/16)
  • Garden Grill – Epcot
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table – Magic Kingdom
  • Be Our Guest – Magic Kingdom
  • Hollywood & Vine – Hollywood Studios

These are modified character experiences and are cute and enjoyable. We did three character meals on this last trip and they were fantastic. The characters come by multiple times and make a point to get in the picture from a distance! As a parent, I appreciated how much more relaxed the character dining experience was – not having to shuffle everyone out of their seats, frame up a photo, find a page to sign in the book, etc. 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!

Cleaning

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.

Holidays

The holidays are a BIG deal and Disney and we always looked forward to Halloween and Christmas in previous years. I must say, I felt all of the Halloween magic this week. In all of the parks and resorts, there were special treats to be found.

In Magic Kingdom, they just out did themselves with character cavalcades, castmember costumes, treats, decorations, music and more. It felt like a Not So Scary Halloween Party ALL DAY LONG, but included in the price of admission. No separate $110 tickets needed!

In Hollywood Studios they also brought back Minnie’s Holiday Dine which was adorable and festive.

I cannot wait to see what Christmas brings!!

Resorts

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!

Rooms

Again on this trip, 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.

Recreation

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!

Dining

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.

Transportation

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! The downside is that during the morning rush you may not nake the first bus.

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 trips… 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 missed my job so, so much over the closure 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.

Walt Disney World Reopens
Returning to the Magic | Magic Kingdom | Epcot
Hollywood Studios | Animal Kingdom
Taste of Epcot Food & Wine Festival | Halloween Festivities

When the time is right for your family to travel, I’d be honored to be YOUR advisor. Magic is here!

As Premier Level Gold Key Advisor with Glass Slipper Concierge, an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, I offer concierge travel planning for Walt Disney World® Resort, Disney Cruise LineDisneyland® Resort, Disney Aulani Hawaii, Universal, Sea World and to 35 countries on 6 continents through Adventures by Disney®.

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