Since March, we’ve been very selective about which stores we visit, how we shop for groceries, which restaurants we patronize, and places we visit. For our annual Thanksgiving trip, I knew a vacation to Walt Disney World would check all of our personal boxes for safety.
So what’s different at Walt Disney World? And is it still magical?!
Reduced Park Capacity
Disney has implemented a Park Pass Reservation system designed to control park capacity. Though Disney has remained mum on actual numbers, unofficial sources estimate that to be around 35%. Now this does not mean you may be able to get those coveted photos of an empty Main Street anymore, but it does mean that there are far less crowds. Even during a holiday – in this case the day before Thanksgiving – the photo below was taken around lunch time. Not bad, eh? Did you find me?
Who could have imagined the word mask would evoke such strong emotions? No matter your option, masks are required and strictly enforced for ages 2 and up, except when swimming, and actively eating/drinking while stationary and socially distanced. Not only that, masks must:
- Be made with at least 2 layers of breathable material
- Fully cover the nose and mouth and secure under the chin
- Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- Be secured with ties or ear loops and to keep you hands-free
Neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are prohibited.
Cast Members are on alert, and quickly correct anyone wearing their masks improperly. We didn’t see this so much in the parks, but did observe it a few times at Disney Springs.
The weather was cool enough that we almost forgot we had them on. And when we tired of seeing masks in our photos, we simply turned around to pose.
Touch-free Temperature Screenings
Prior to entering Disney Springs, the parks, and the resort pool, we were subject to temperature screenings. If you test 100.4 F or higher, you’ll be given a few minutes to cool down and retest. If you test again at 100.4 F or higher, you and your party will be denied entry.
Pro-Tip: Before leaving home, check everyone’s temperature.
The security checkpoint is much more efficient now. Backpacks are still checked, but fingerprints are no longer required. Simply scan your Magic Band and go. I never noticed a bottleneck of people. The lines were constantly moving and the entire process took seconds.
Utilizing the My Disney Experience App
I always recommend my clients familiarzie themselves with the My Disney Experience App prior to their trip. You’ll use it for so many things, but the big three right now include:
- Online check-in for a contactless check-in experience
- Mobile Order – essential for Quick Service locations
- Accessing select dining menus via a QR code
Enforcing Social Distancing Protocols
Disney did a phenomenal job anticipating every possible scenario. And the Cast Members ensure that everyone adheres to the guidelines. Some of the protocols make the lines look infinite. But once you connect the one-family-per-gondola, or fewer people per attraction, you can make that mental adjustment in relation to the lines. With a few exceptions during a holiday week, we typically waited 35 minutes per attraction.
Enhanced Cleaning Protocols
Disney already has a stellar reputation for being exceptionally clean. Since COVID, cleaning protocols have been ramped up even more. Attractions are periodically sanitized throughout the day. Hand sanitizing stations are literally everywhere, along with hand washing stations in high traffic areas. Garbage cans are propped open so you do not have to touch anything.
Modified Character Meets
Typically, my crew races from attraction to attraction, and hardly ever want to wait in line to meet characters, more or less line up at least an hour prior for a parade. With the new spontaneous character cavalcades throughout the parks, I feel like we saw saw many more than we otherwise would have, including the rare Pocahontas.
Here’s a playlist of the ones we saw.
In our experience, here are the best viewing spots per park:
- Animal Kingdom – anywhere on Discovery River
- Hollywood Studios – Hollywood Boulevard, Galaxy’s Edge
- Epcot – World Showcase
- Magic Kingdom – Main Street
Have you heard that fireworks are back at Magic Kingdom?! Well, sort off. In lieu of a nightly fireworks show, guests can enjoy a series of rotating projections on Cinderella’s Castle, with mini fireworks on the quarter hour.
Over on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood Studios, the Hollywood Tower of Terror is transformed into the Hollywood Holiday Tower Hotel.
Everywhere is dressed for Christmas: Disney Springs, the resorts, the parks, even the Magic Shots.
Since the Super Zoom photos premiered last Spring, I have been dying to get one. This trip, I was able to get two of three offered. Even the preteens cooperated. Happy Thanksgiving to me!
I understand not everyone will approve of a visit to Walt Disney World. But honestly, we felt safer there than we do at home in a county where there is no mask mandate.
Was our visit different than before? Yes.
Is there still magic to be had? Absolutely!
They key is knowing what to expect. I have several families visiting in December and each has received detailed information about what’s different, understanding mobile order, and making the most of their visit.
I hope this series of posts will provide a little magic in your day. And when you’re ready to visit the Happiest Place on Earth, I’ll be here.
As an Authorized Disney Vacation planner, and lover of all things Disney, let me help you plan your next adventure to the happiest place on earth!