Considering a trip to Disney World right now? Everything you need to know about visiting Disney World during a pandemic from safety precautions to cost to tips for making the most of your visit.
I love all things Disney so when our schools were pushed back a month giving us a free week before school starts, I jumped at the chance to take to my family to Disney World for a week.
I had a number of people ask me about our experience since you know we’re in the middle of a pandemic and everything.
So this post is for all of you who are considering going to Disney World but a little nervous about whether it’ll be safe enough for your family.
Bear with me, it’s long, but I tried to give people as much information as possible to make an informed decision before booking a trip. Lots of helpful photos, tips, and tricks!
What I’ll Address:
- What kind of safety precautions does Disney have in place?
- How well did people actually follow said precautions?
- Was it crowded or easy to physically distance from others?
- How it is wearing a mask in the heat?
- What were the lines like?
- What’s different now from previous visits?
- Do you still get to see characters?
- Did you really have to wear your masks all day?
- Did our family feel safe?
- Is it still magic?
And everything else that I personally would’ve wanted to know before we went on our trip.
What I Don’t Address:
- What to pack, but only because I have the ultimate Disney packing list here already and it’s updated for 2021!
- Is it safe to go to Disney World right now? This is a personal decision and I’m not getting into the debate with anyone.
- Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival – but again only because I have a full post on the 2021 Epcot Food and Wine Festival here!
- What’s open and closed right now – things are changing so fast that I personally just can’t keep up.
So let’s get started!
Disney World Safety Precautions
The biggest question I’ve heard from people wanting to know about our trip is what precautions Disney World has put in place for people visiting.
You can see the full list of actual precautions and policies but it’s different to hear from someone who has actually been there.
I do highly recommend you read that list though because things are constantly changing and something I experienced may be different now than when I went. Compared to when we went six months ago, things are totally different – and they’re constantly changing!
Sanitizer and Hand Washing
One of the things that I personally appreciated most was that Disney only had the typical hand sanitizer stations throughout the park, they also had actual foot push hand washing stations throughout.
We’re in team hand wash over sanitize here so being able to wash our hands without going into the bathrooms was great. And I personally appreciated that while they had sanitizer and hand washing stations available, they didn’t put it on you every ride like Universal Studios.
Masks are back. Masks are again required for everyone ages 2 and up indoors and on all rides, regardless of vaccination status. They are also required on all Disney transportation.
Guests do not have to wear masks outdoors or when eating and drinking indoors.
You can see their full mask guidelines here.
Masks at Disney Tips
These are my best tips for dealing with masks at Disney (although it’s better that you don’t have to wear them outside in the heat…):
- Taking stationary snack breaks throughout the day
- Test out different masks before your trip to find the ones that are the most comfortable. My husband and I like the Old Navy ones and my son loves the ones he got from this Etsy shop.
- Drinking lots of liquids (stationary of course)
- Bringing at least one, if not two, backup masks to switch into
- Planning at least one sit down meal for some AC and mask free time
- Getting into the parks early before the heat is too bad
- Bring plenty of masks for your trip unless you’re planning to wash and sanitize them back in your hotel room. We packed 15-20 per person for our eight day trip and used almost all of them.
What’s different now?
Okay now let’s talk about some major changes that Disney has had to make due to current circumstances. These are always changing so make sure to check out Disney’s most current updates here before you go.
Lines & Fast Passes
With Disney requiring park reservations, I will say that some of the lines are shorter than normal but people are tired of being cooped up and capacity is increasing, so don’t expect no lines (like I experienced last fall). I still recommend rope dropping the park to get big rides in before everyone else shows up.
The other HUGE difference is that there are no currently no fast passes available. Ugh is all I can say to that one. It means you’re standing in the standby line for all rides you want to ride.
TIP: If you have kids who can’t (or don’t want to) ride rides, make sure to take advantage of Disney’s child swap. Ask about it at the entrance to a ride – it allows some of the party to go while the other part waits with the non-riding child then you swap after. It’s awesome and we use it all the time!
Hours & Opening Times
There are definitely shorter hours than in years past but here’s the thing – the opening time doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to open then. When we went, they were opening the gates 30-60 minutes before the posted open time. Same thing at Disneyland but that’s a different post.
And when I say opened, I mean let people go get into lines and started running the rides. Hollywood Studios opened at 9:18AM the morning we went (official open time was 10AM) and the line for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad (super cute by the way) was already crazy long by the time we got in the park around 9:40AM.
Epcot officially opened at 11AM, and we were on and off Frozen before 11AM ever hit.
So my recommendation is to be to the parks at least 30 minutes before official open time. In the past, that was always a recommendation as well to get through security, etc. but now they’re letting people in early to minimize the crowds at rope drop.
That being said, Disney transportation is starting up later and they’re holding parking later than normal so it may not be possible to get there that early. For instance, we stayed Disney’s Riviera and the Skyliner didn’t open until an hour before Hollywood Studios did.
Most bigger ticket lines (Slinky Dog, Mine Train, Splash Mountain, Frozen) had longer lines in the morning because they were letting people get in line early. If you can’t get in line really early, save those lines for later in the day when the initial crowds die down.
The other important thing to note is that there are currently no extra magic hours – morning or evening, which is disappointing because nighttime extra magic hours are amazing!
Getting in the Parks
The process for getting into the parks is slightly different right now than before. It’s not a bad different, but it is something to know.
- Parking – Disney is still directing parking, but they’re now parking cars every other spot first and then filling in those spots after they’ve gotten down the line. It was REALLY nice to not be parked right on top of another car.
- Trams – Trams were not running at least from what we saw but the parks were empty enough that the walk to the park from the parking lot was short.
- Ticket scanning – You still scan your magic band or ticket but now there’s no fingerprint required.
- Security – They have metal detectors now that you walk through (rather than the typical bag check) and strollers still get checked by hand. It’s way faster than the bag check from my experience.
Overall getting into the parks took us no time at all, especially compared to the lines that we’ve seen in the past. I hope that they figure out a way to keep the entrance process this smooth in the future, although I’m guessing a lot of it is just because of the limited capacity as well.
Surprisingly most rides are open, even ones that were down for refurbishment when we went in 2020 (Test Track!). There are a few that are closed like People Mover but mostly rides are open and running.
This was just rides. There are a lot of shows and other attractions that are currently closed so make sure to check out your app!
Other than the physical distancing and seating less people to car, they also made some changes to queues and cars to add walls, barriers, etc. Many of these have since been taken down as we’ve come “out” of the pandemic, but I’ll update this post once I go again!
Here are some of the other ride specific changes I noticed to rides during our visit. I’ve included my opinion on whether I like the changes or not as well.
- Flight of Passage – they changed the pre-ride video sequences from two sets of videos to one and got rid of the first room where you wiggle around a bunch. I love this change and hope it sticks around for good because you get into the ride so much faster.
- Millennium Falcon – only one party is allowed in each flight for physical distancing. The reason I mention it is because it means that if you’re like my family who only had two people, we were both pilots and everything else in the ship was turned on auto-pilot. This one is essential for safety purposes, but I’m hoping (and assuming) this one will go back so you have a full team working together.
- Rock N Roller Coaster – you skip the Aerosmith studio video that explains the ride. I don’t particularly care much about the video, but for my 7-year-old who was going on this ride for the first time ever, he missed that portion and story.
- Ride of Resistance – While the ride is not different, the process for getting a boarding pass is. Instead of just one time at rope drop, you can now try to get a boarding pass both at 10AM and 2PM.
One of the things I missed the most was being able to get all of my favorite Disney World snacks. Tons of the best Disney World restaurants – both quick-serve and sit-down were closed – are closed, and I really missed all the food.
That being said, if you don’t really care about the food or you bring in your own food and snacks, this may not be a big deal to you at all.
One big thing to note is that there are not any true character dining meals happening right now. There are a few that have characters that do come near your table like at Be Our Guest restaurant, but it’s definitely not the same hug and greet character experience.
A couple of other things to note about food changes in general:
Ordering – Most restaurants have you scan a QR code to get to a menu rather than having paper menus. You can either use mobile ordering or order like normal, but they are encouraging mobile ordering.
Walk-up Times – There’s a new feature in the app that allows you to see walk-up times for previously reservation only restaurants near you. It’s pretty awesome because if someone cancels a reservation, now they can fill those with walk-ups. It made getting into some restaurants a lot easier than normal!
Openings – A lot of restaurants are closed. Check the mobile app to see what’s actually open before high-tailing across the park to get you favorite treat only to find out it’s closed. They are constantly reopening things so make sure to check out the latest on the Disney Parks blog to see what’s reopening when!
Parades & Fireworks
Disney World just started running fireworks again in July! You can now see Happily Ever After at 9:15PM in Magic Kingdom and Epcot Forever at 10PM in Epcot.
Disney currently isn’t running any parades and instead they have random character cavalcades that go through the parks throughout the day. There’s no real schedule or plan for these that I’ve seen so you just have to be in the right place at the right time. But don’t worry – they happen often so you’ll more than likely see at least one or two during your visit!
They’re really fun and a great way to get to see the characters in a different way than normal. Here are just a few examples of ones that we saw during our visit.
There are also random musical appearances throughout the day. We saw a marching band in Magic Kingdom and a floating band in Animal Kingdom.
Speaking of characters, things are definitely different. No more true meet and greets. No more autograph signing. No more character dining.
That doesn’t mean characters aren’t around. They are – they’re just a little bit further away from all the guests. You’ll see them in the previously mentioned character cavalcades, you’ll see them randomly placed throughout the parks, and you’ll see them from a safe distance.
I actually loved having some of the characters just randomly around the park, especially some of the more obscure characters like Cinderella’s stepsisters on the back of Cinderella Castle, the Country Bears hanging out on top of the Country Bear show building, and princesses waving from the Main Street train station.
In Hollywood Studios, Star Wars characters like Storm Troopers and Chewy were seen waving from above the droid pods. So they’re still around – they’re just not quite as accessible as they once were.
Tickets & Reservations
One of the biggest changes that Disney World has made is that they are now requiring you to get park reservations using their Disney Park Pass system before you can enter a park.
Things to note about the tickets/reservations:
- You can get a park hopper ticket but you can’t hop to a second park until after 2PM. When you purchase the park hopper ticket, you have to choose a reservation for the first park you’ll be in – no reservation for the second park.
- Park reservation availability is different for people staying at Disney resorts (easiest to get reservations), people just buying tickets (harder to get reservations), and annual pass holders (hardest to get reservations).
- Annual pass holders can only make park reservations for up to 3 days at time unless they have a resort reservation as well and then they can make it up to the length of time they’re staying in the resort.
- Reservations are by park so it’s possible Hollywood Studios (with its limited capacity) reservations will be gone for a particular day long before say Animal Kingdom.
- You can check park availability before booking anything here.
Another big change is that currently you cannot purchase new annual passes for Disney World. Current annual pass holders can renew but new ones cannot be purchased, even if you’re like me and your entire family but one person has an annual pass. I would’ve loved to buy an annual pass but instead had to buy a 4-day ticket instead.
I highly recommend booking through my favorite ticket vendor Get Away Today for the best deals on Disney World tickets and packages! Book your tickets, packages, and reservations here!
Is it still magic?
Yes and no! You’ll probably hate that answer, but I’m going to explain. Richie and I talked about this at length before I wrote this post and I realized that at the end of the day – it depends on what makes Disney magical for you.
If Disney is magical because of the rides and the theming then yes, 100%, Disney World is still magic. This is actually the best time ever to go to Disney World because you can get on all of the rides without dealing with fast passes and long lines.
If Disney is magical because of the food, then I’d say possibly. They’re constantly opening more and more restaurants so there is plenty of Disney food to choose from, way more than when we went last September!
I can’t wait until I can eat all of these Disney World snacks again!
If Disney is magical because of the extras like shows and parades, I’d say yes – finally. The character cavalcades are fun and they finally brought back the fireworks, yay! I do miss some of the extra shows but at least we’re getting there!
If Disney is magical because of the characters, I’d say not right now. Characters are around but seeing characters from a distance is not as hugging characters, interacting characters, and watching your kids eyes light up as they get to truly meet Mickey Mouse for the first time.
And I really missed the Disney character dining. We always do at least one, if not two, every visit, and it was sad to not start our trip with one.
If Disney is magic because of the cast members, then yes, 100%. While you can’t see their smiles, cast members are doing their best to make people feel welcome and to help them feel the magic.
We went to Universal Studios the two days prior to our visit to Disney World and the difference between their team members and Disney cast members is a stark difference. I’d take a Disney cast member any day. I felt welcomed, helped, and supported throughout our visit.
Disney is magic for all of those reasons. But the biggest reason that Disney is magic for me personally is because it’s an escape. It’s somewhere I can go enjoy a fantasy world and leave the cares of the world behind with my family. It’s Disney World – not my regular every day world.
When we went last fall in the height of the pandemic, I spent too much time worrying about masks, sanitizing, and social distancing to feel the magic like I used to.
I cannot wait to go back in a month to see if that magical feeling has returned along with lighter restrictions, lower infection numbers, and just happier people.
Should you go?
If you’re asking from a safety perspective, that’s up to you. I’ve given you details on precautions Disney has put in place. You’re the only one who can determine if that’s safe enough for you.
However, if you want to know from just a should I go from a value/cost perspective, here’s my take.
In my mind, there are three types of Disney World guests.
- Disney fanatics – these are the annual passholders, the people who go multiple times a year, the people who go into the parks and don’t care if they ride or do everything because they know they’ll be back (or they’ve visited recently).
- Disney fans – these are the people who visit Disney World regularly, like once every year or two. They try to make the most of their time but aren’t heartbroken if they can’t do everything because again, they’ll be back.
- Once in a lifetime Disney guests – these are the people who have saved for a year to go to Disney, they’ve planned every second of their trip to make sure they get in every meal, every ride, and every magical moment. They don’t know when or if they’ll be back.
If you’re a Disney fanatic and you don’t care if you miss out on things, I’d say yes, go to Disney and enjoy the light crowds. Especially if you’re an annual pass holder and aren’t paying full price for daily tickets.
If you’re a Disney fan and your favorite thing is the rides, then yes again, I’d say go for it! I’m guessing ride lines will continue to increase as capacity increases.
If you’re a Disney fan and you like the rides but enjoy Disney for all of its other magic, I’d look to see if you can get a discounted resort rate (we scored Disney’s Riviera for about half the normal price per night!) that might make it worth going. If you can save money on that part of your trip, it might make sense to pay for a fraction of the normal magic for full price ticket costs.
If you’re planning a once in a lifetime trip or this is your first time, I’d wait. Disney World is such a magical place and totally worth the cost in my opinion when everything is available to you.
But when you take out what makes Disney special compared to other parks (character interactions, food, parades, smiles), it is a high price to pay for only a fraction of what you would normally get. Postpone that once in a lifetime or first trip and wait until the magic is all back so you’re getting the most out of your hard-earned money.
I’d hate for you to go and leave underwhelmed because Disney World truly can be one of the most magical places in the world. Plus so many of the things to do at Disney World outside the parks are closed right now.
Me? I’ll be back, but I fall into the Disney fanatic category and any Disney time is better than no Disney time at all.
Just a few more things that haven’t been mentioned elsewhere in this post but might be helpful for your visit!
- Weekdays are WAY less busy than weekends now. That’s true any time but right now even more so because there just aren’t as many people headed to the parks out of state. Try to plan your trip on weekdays if at all possible.
- Bring multiple portable chargers – I was on my phone way more than normal checking fluctuating wait times, mobile menus, what was open, etc. My phone died at least once each day if not twice.
- Bring bottled water – Since many restaurants are closed, it felt like there were less places to get cups of free ice water than normal. I really appreciated having my own bottled water in the bottom of our stroller when there wasn’t a restaurant with ice water open nearby.
Disney at Home Fun
Can’t make it to Disney World right now? Bring the Disney magic home with these fun ideas!