LBAC Travel Partner, Sarah Chapman, shares her first visit to Walt Disney World since reopening
Sarah is an avid Walt Disney World Vacation Lover and Vacation planner, she can be reached for questions and for help planning your next trip here.
The magic is back! It may look and feel different than in the past, but my family’s recent week long vacation to Walt Disney World was definitely magical. We experienced very low crowds, cheerful Cast Members, pop-up character appearances, and lots of time together to make memories. Most of all we felt very safe and thought that the measures Disney is taking for health and safety were outstanding. If you are comfortable traveling this year I think Walt Disney World is an excellent option.
How was the Overall Experience – Your Initial Reactions?
Overall, we felt completely safe.
With our nine days at Disney, we probably only saw maybe a dozen infractions that could cause any concern. All in all everyone “behaved” and Disney as doing an excellent job on their part (in my opinion)–it felt much safer than visiting my local Target or grocery store.
Biggest Piece of Advice Before Your Trip?
Check the Know Before You Go Frequently Before Travel, as it changes almost daily.
Safety Procedures: There were signs everywhere reminding us of the current protocols. There were clear markings on the ground for social distancing in queues—currently those extend way beyond where queues ended (Flight of Passage goes all the way down that bridge toward Africa/Harambe) As has become common now in public, there were one way arrows in stores as well as limited capacity in stores and there was usually a Cast Member at the door controlling entry/exit; also option to get a text notification when it is your turn to enter if the line is long.
Restaurant tables were spaced out in Table and Quick Service. Quick service unavailable tables had signs & some had chairs removed. Rides were sprayed down with garden pump sprayers every two hours & then each vehicle runs a cycle empty.
Hand sanitizer is EVERYWHERE
It can be found at: The entry to each queue, ride loading, ride unloading, restaurant entry, shop entries and randomly around the parks. At resorts by elevators, entry points, restaurants, and by the pool. Mobile hand washing stations are outside with a COVID Cast Member team monitoring for infractions and encouraging social distancing.
Pool chairs are spaced out and social distancing is encouraged and reinforced in the pools. Markings in the queue for pool slides. Guests should lay pool chairs flat after they leave so Cast Members can sanitize.
Mobile ordering is now required for all quick service.
I’ve always used this feature as it’s just super convenient! They implemented a few new parts like selecting a projected arrival window when you order. Also, mobile check in for Disney owned restaurants so no one is congregating around the hostess stand. This was great—there is a 15 minute window before your reservation to check in (if you are close to the restaurant) and 15 minutes after. Eating & drinking in the parks must be done while socially distant and stationary. My family would just find an out-of-the-way spot to stand or sit to drink our water, or to eat a snack we brought in to the park.
Mask break areas were nice, some were in the air condition.
We tried out two just to see what it was about. Custodial Cast Members were out in force wiping down surfaces—those that were obviously high touch, and those I would not have thought about: Trash cans are tied “open” so you don’t have to touch the flaps.
- Buses (we had to ride one when Skyliner was down for weather) have only certain seats available and the driver assigns those to each party as you board.
- Monorail has one party per section with a “divider” between the two sections that share one car.
- Queues that switchback have new dividers that are solid with Plexiglass at the top.
- Dividers between rows on some ride vehicles like safari trucks & Living with the Land boats.
- One party per vehicle for lots of rides like Splash Mountain, Kali River Rapids (which had very little soak potential), Millenium Falcon (so you get to choose your role). Others like Pirates or Small World skipped rows between parties. Jungle Cruise had plexiglass dividers & skipped seats to divide parties.
- Temperature scans at park entry were fast & efficient. We never waited behind more than one party and it moved right through (sanitizer there too). We played mini-golf and there was a temperature scan. Now they are doing them for resort dining as well.
Use My Disney Experience app chat feature—it works for many things.
We did online check-in at the Resorts. Our first night at Fort Wilderness we arrived at 3:30pm (3pm is official check in). They had everyone going through the drive-through check in that is normally for RVs.
We moved to the Riviera Resort for the rest of the week. I got a text around 10:30am that our room was ready with the number & a resort map. It wasn’t an ideal location for us, so I used the chat feature in the app to request a higher floor. They were able to get me to the right Cast Member to help, and by mid afternoon I had a new text with a new room number on the top floor. We declined housekeeping because we had a villa & could clean up after ourselves & wash towels, etc.
Both rooms (Riviera & Fort Wilderness) were very clean.
There was a sign with enhanced cleaning procedures. Toiletries in shower and remotes were “sealed.” The villa still had all kitchen supplies & appliances (I wasn’t sure because I had read some things would be removed as safety precautions). At the villa I stripped all of the sheets, pillows & bed coverings. All of the sheets and our bed covering were washed before we used them. We drove so we brought our own pillows so I just put all of those in a pile in a corner. We brought my trusty Lysol and sprayed down everything. We probably nearly poisoned ourselves with the fumes. I also had some Clorox wipes and Microban cleaner so all hard surfaces were also cleaned down before moving anything in. I loved being able to mobile order a few things from the quick service & then just picking up to bring back to the room (almost like room service, but my husband was the delivery guy).
Things We Loved:· For our week, the parks were really deserted.
It may not always be that way. On the last Saturday there was a significant uptick, and the Friday was a bit busier too.· Longest waits were about 25 minutes (before Saturday) and that was usually when we hit an attraction during a cleaning cycle.· No pre-planning, no zig zagging. Wait times were pretty consistent across the park so we had the freedom to just go ride to ride as we wanted. No worries about getting to a Fast Pass across the park. We could even repeat most rides quickly. The exception here is Rise of the Resistance which still requires a boarding pass & you can only ride once. We got passes both days, but they were gone within a minute of release so you still have to be quick on that.
Cast Members were SO friendly.
They have obviously been trained that a wave and verbal greeting make up for masks and not being able to see a smile. Everyone was waving, and saying “welcome back, we are so glad you are here.” They lined the streets in the morning waving & welcoming us back. At Animal Kingdom my eyes got a little sweaty it was so touching. They also have character “smiles” on sticks they can hold up in front of their masks, that was cute.
The Characters. No, you can’t stand with them & you can’t get an autograph. But I love the chance encounters. At Magic Kingdom there are impromptu parades with Tinker Bell on her float, or the princesses, the Country Bears were waving to us from the balcony above their show, Pooh & the Gang rode through on the trolley (even Rabbit); at Epcot Pooh & Joy frolic in the meadow by Imagination and cavalcades come through World Showcase, Mary Poppins & Alice hold court in the gazebo in UK; Hollywood Studios had some fun parades through the park with Mickey & Minnie or the Disney Jr characters, and in Galaxy’s Edge the characters were out, but always behind a stanchion of sorts—but still interacting like they did pre-Covid; Animal Kingdom: we watched so very fun flotillas of pontoon boats filled with characters or musical acts.
No one was up in my personal space. No one clipped my heels (& I didn’t clip anyone else’s). No traffic jams on Main Street. Empty photos. Freedom to roam.
New bag scans—especially the newest scanners at Epcot International Gateway Entrance & Animal Kingdom, where you don’t have to take anything out of your bag. No more bag checks, just walking through scanners/detectors.
Things We Missed: Limited dining. Some of our favorite quick service were not available, or had modified operations. This is why we ended up with three table service meals that we scheduled the day before going to them. Menus were more limited as well.
Park Hours made it hard to stay out of the heat following our normal routine of early park morning, mid-day break, come back after dark. Epcot opens at 11. So it is already hot, definitely be prepared! We really missed park hopping.
Tips: Pack multiple masks to the parks.
On the hottest days, we were ready to change after lunch—they got a little damp. Find a mask that is comfortable before you go. We took a couple of styles, and I preferred the 3D style I got off etsy. The Disney masks were good too. I brought disposable masks to wear on the water rides, but none of them were so wet that we needed them (Kali had turned off the soaking water sections & the water level was lower).
Sunscreen. My regular sunscreen combined with heat, sweat & the masks and my face was burning/stinging under the mask. Just something to keep in mind. Bring a bottle of cold water—our Yeti bottles were life and money savers. Those Cold towels are nice to have too, and maybe a fan if going while it is still surface of the sun hot. The parks actually opened about an hour earlier than posted time. At Hollywood Studios we were done with Mickey & Minnie and halfway through, the line at Slinky (which was only about 10 minutes long total) when we got our Rise of the Resistance boarding pass at 10am the posted opening time. Same thing at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. Use the Chat function in My Disney Experience—we did the room change request, and we also requested things from housekeeping like more paper towels. I hope they continue that feature!
Overall, we can’t wait to go back and I’m excited to know that when I book my clients’ at Disney, they will have a safe and amazing time!
Contact Sarah for questions on your next trip here.