Welcome, World Travelers! What Disney World Was Like During COVID-19?
by James Coulter
It has been more than a year since the COVID-19 crisis started. Though Disney World closed for nearly six months at the start of the pandemic, the parks re-opened last year, albeit with many precautions.
For those with underlying health conditions that require an abundance of caution, the initial re-opening was not the most ideal time to visit Disney World. Even then, hundreds of guests passed through the gates with masks over their faces and hand sanitizer in their pockets, ready and willing to re-visit the Happiest Place on Earth.
I am relatively young and without any pre-existing health conditions that would make me susceptible to the virus. As such, I have visited Disney World on four separate occasions since reopening: once in September, again at Christmas, once in January for my birthday, and again in April. I always wear a mask, carry hand sanitizer, and physically distance as required. So why not seize the opportunity to wait on shorter lines?
Previously, heightened measures were in place to ensure public health and safety. Initally, guests were required to wear masks that cover their nose and mouth at all times, with the exception of when they are sitting down to eat or drink. Temperature checks are required when entering the parks, and special markers are set in lines distancing guests six feet apart.
Since then, several restrictions within the park have been eased and lifted following state and federal mandates. This May, the CDC stated that people who were fully-vaccinated no longer had to wear masks; and this June, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order lifting all statewide COVID restrictions. Finally, this June, Disney dropped its indoor mask mandate, allowing fully-vaccinated guests to not wear face coverings unless on Disney transportation like buses or monorails.
Hopefully, with vaccine rates rising and overall COVID-19 rates declining, the pandemic will soon reach a point where Disney World can officially return to normal with longer park hours, normal crowds, and no more masks. Otherwise, COVID protocols aside, visiting the parks has been an otherwise positive experience with its shares of pros and cons. Here have been some of the upsides and downsides to visiting the resort during this pandemic:
Smaller Crowds: Since re-opening, Disney World has operated on a reservation system. If you want to visit, you have to make a reservation ahead of time. The only downside is that you can only visit one park per day without any park hopping, though the park hopper option has since returned—albeit with some limits.
As much as I’ve missed the park hopping option, I’ve come to appreciate the reservation system. By limiting the number of guests, the parks feel much more spacious with plenty of room to walk around. As someone who’s visited the parks when the crowds were literally elbow-to-elbow, I
love the smaller crowds. It makes me feel as though I have the parks to myself. Of course, smaller crowds also mean…
Shorter Lines: During my recent visit to Animal Kingdom around Christmas, the wait time for Avatar: Flight of Passage was only half an hour. Half an hour! At Christmas! That’s one-sixth of the average wait time of two to three hours. Any trip to Animal Kingdom that doesn’t force you to spend one-third of the day in line to ride its best attraction is a good one in my book.
And during my January trip to Magic Kingdom, the posted wait time for Space Mountain was only 25 minutes—though the actual wait was only 10 minutes! If you’ve been to the Magic Kingdom, you know a 10-minute wait for Space Mountain is rarer than meeting one of the rare costumed characters like Robin Hood. And that’s rare!
Paradoxically, though the lines are shorter, they’re longer. Many of them stretch far outside of the attraction queue area and even into the next themed land over. But the longer lines are only to distance people six feet apart. Otherwise, the lines have a much shorter wait.
Limited Food Options: Want to grab a Ronto Wrap or Blue Milk from Star Wars: Galaxy Edge? Well, you’ll need to have the My Disney Experience app downloaded to your phone. Because that’s the only way you can place your order.
In an effort to limit food lines, Disney has required mobile food orders for most of its food stalls and eateries. You download the My Disney Experience app, visit the Mobile Food Orders option, then select your eatery, order, and wait time. Sounds simple, right?
If you aren’t tech savvy, brace yourself. I’ve tried (and failed) to place orders. For me at least, either the menu never loaded or the app crashed on me. I found the My Disney Experience app to be glitchy and prone to crash, even with the latest update.
Complicating matters is that many eateries like Casey’s Corner are closed altogether until further notice. Somehow visiting Magic Kingdom without eating a foot-long chili cheese dog doesn’t feel the same, and the Mickey-shaped pretzels with cheese sauce aren’t a good substitute.
Star Wars Virtual Queue: You want to ride the new Rise of the Resistance attraction at Star Wars: Galaxy Edge? Well, be sure you wake up by seven in the morning if you’re hoping for the slim chance of being placed on a boarding group. Otherwise, you have a better chance of getting in a snowball fight on Tatooine.
Disney may not have Fastpasses, but it has the next best (read: worst) thing for its newest Star Wars attraction. Want to ride it? You have to make a reservation on the virtual queue–if you can make one! You’ll have to load the My Disney Experience app around either 7AM or 2PM and hope and pray your finger can press the virtual queue option in the next millisecond.
I’m not kidding! The virtual queue boarding groups are often filled up mere seconds after the option becomes available. I tried to use it five seconds after 2PM, only to be informed that all groups had been filled for the day.
Fortunately, Disney plans on suspending the virtual queue sometime this spring. Let’s hope they do. Because having to wait five hours in sweltering Florida weather is much more preferable than losing a lottery to get on a ride.
Those are my thoughts, but I want to know what you think: Have you visited Disney World during the pandemic? If so, how was your overall park experience? Would you recommend it? Or are you still waiting for COVID-19 to officially end? Leave your comments below or on Facebook!