Keeping The Magic Alive: I Visited Walt Disney World During COVID-19

Alright, let me start off by saying that going to Walt Disney World is a trip, not a vacation.  There’s a difference. When going to Disney, you have an agenda. You’re getting up at dawn to try and be the first ones at the park, you’re rushing from place to place before wait times skyrocket and you’re spending more than eight hours on your feet walking all day.  There’s stress, there’s planning and there’s almost no downtime.

Now that’s not to say that I’m not at my happiest when I’m in Disney. It truly is the happiest place on earth for me and I love planning the trip. The stress is more of a “fun stress,” if that’s even a thing. We’re going to pretend it is, okay?

Anyway, back to the point. 

The thing with going to Disney during a pandemic is that a lot of people anticipate it to be a lot easier than going to Disney pre-COVID. There are less people, sure, and less planning to do, but even so, “easier” is definitely not the case.

Again, yes, there’s a lot less planning to do. Now the only things you can plan are dining reservations and reserving your spot for the park you plan to go to each day. This is because up until January of this year, Disney had placed a hold on Extra Magic Hours, Park Hoppers, and Fastpass+.

For those who don’t know what these are, Extra Magic Hours are exactly how they sound: a few extra hours in the park compared to what the hours normally are. Park Hoppers gives you the ability to visit more than one park in a day and let you change parks as often as you’d like.

Fastpass+ is the big one here and is, simply put, a line skipper. Months before your trip, you’re able to reserve Fastpasses for three different rides. The only catch is that all three rides have to be in the same park, and each one has a one-hour time limit for a specific time of the day. When your time comes, you enter a different line than the standby line, and it brings you to the front of the lines.

Disney has some awesome rides, and for rides like “Pandora: Flight of Passage” that have reached over a four-hour wait time, you can see why it can be crucial to try and get Fastpasses for the popular rides ahead of time. 

With Fastpass+ gone, my sister and I were lucky that crowd capacity was reduced. During our visit to Disney the same time last year, it was only thanks to Fastpasses we were able to do everything we wanted to. 

This year, my sister and I made the decision to go to Disney after our senior trip was cancelled due toCOVID-19. We knew that things would inevitably be different, so navigating it and reworking how we normally do our trips was challenging.

The two biggest losses between the three are Fastpass+ and Park Hoppers. Don’t get me wrong, Extra Magic Hours are helpful, and it’s so fun getting to say I stayed in the Magic Kingdom until two o’clock in the morning, however, they’re not as big of a loss. Without Park Hoppers, you only have that one day to get to every attraction in the park. If you’re going to that park again another day, you’re all set, but for me and my sister, our trip was only four days. This meant only one day per park.

With all of these recent changes made, the stress went from planning on top of more planning, to rushing from ride to ride. The lines are now even longer because there’s no one in the Fastpass lines, and it doesn’t help that they look and feel longer because of the way people are spaced out. I thought it would be something that would take away from the “aesthetic” of the parks, but they have managed to hide the lines so well that I didn’t even think anything of it once I was there!

I will give Disney credit for their COVID-19 protocols. Upon entering each park, temperature screenings with no-touch thermometers are required and given to every guest. This includes Disney Springs, as well as some table-service restaurants at select Disney Resort hotels. Once you’re in the park, physical distancing is reinforced by ground markings and signs, physical barriers in queues, dividing rows on rides, transportation and at cash registers. 

Guests have also been asked to split into smaller groups in queues and dining locations if they are in a party of more than ten. Even parking has been rearranged. Cars are directed to park in every other space at the parks, and cashless payment is recommended at auto plazas.

Sanitization is heavily encouraged everywhere you go.  Much like their trash cans (fun fact: you can’t go 30 feet without passing one), there are hand sanitizing stations at every turn. At the beginning and end of each ride, entrance and exit of each store, basically anywhere you look, you would be able to spot one.

Disney has also limited the use of indoor queues. If there’s room for a ride queue to be outside instead of the indoor area it’s normally in, then you can bet that’s where they moved it. All shows that don’t have individual seats to section off, such as “Festival of The Lion King,” which seats its guests on bleacher seats, are temporarily closed.

Cast Members are very strict with mask protocols as well. Masks are required at all times unless eating or drinking, which you can only do while stationary. I noticed a good number of people taking them off to take a quick picture or take a bite of their food while walking, and cast members had no problem telling them to please pull up their mask. A friend of mine even made a comment about how cast members didn’t usually call people out before, but they’re trying to do their jobs and keep the parks open. I’d say it’s pretty reasonable, and I for one love these rules because I still wanted to be as safe as possible while on the trip.

Overall, going to Disney World during a pandemic was definitely different in almost every aspect. However, from princesses waving from the castle windows to Mickey and Minnie Mouse strolling along and making everyone’s day, the only thing that didn’t, and won’t ever change, is the happiness that Disney effortlessly provides. They even had Goofy and Pluto on the other side of the monorail interacting with guests from afar. It made my whole week when Goofy played rock paper scissors with me from across the station!

Is that cheesy? Even if it’s true?

While definitely different, the whole trip was still 100% worth it, and I’d do it again if given the chance. The one thing that can’t be changed, even amongst everything, is the magic.