Walt Disney World in Orlando recently reopened its four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) after being closed for four months due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Families planning to visit the House of Mouse are probably wondering if it’s safe (or fun) to visit with all of the safety restrictions in place.
The short answer to both questions is yes. Upon reopening, Disney has implemented new health and safety protocols to ensure the safety of your family and the cast members you’ll be interacting with. And in doing so, they’ve actually improved the theme park experience for families. (Bear with us, we’ll explain.)
Disney’s New Cleaning Measures During COVID-19
Around Walt Disney World, your family will encounter new COVID-19 cleaning measures being done by all cast members, not just custodial cast members. This includes wiping down door handles, counter tops, railings, and other high-touch surfaces. No matter what you touch at Disney, there’s a good chance it’s been cleaned and sanitized throughout the day to keep it as safe as possible.
New cleaning measures have also been established for attractions at all four parks. Each ride is fully sanitized about every two hours. During this time families are not permitted to get on ride vehicles. A cast member sprays down each individual ride car, then sends it through the ride to dry without anyone in it. This happens to each ride car before new guests are loaded in.
Of course, if you feel uncomfortable about touching something in the park, try bringing your own wipes to clean tables or ride lap bars before you touch them with your hands.
Your Family Can Still See Characters
Seeing you favorite Disney characters is a huge part of the Disney parks experience. Even though you cannot go up and hug Mickey, your family can still see all types of characters at all four parks with surprise character cavalcades and surprise socially distant selfie times. These new character interactions are not scheduled in a way that would allow guests to line up along the parade routes and form large groups, thus reducing crowding during these interactions.
The best way to know if a character cavalcade is coming is if you hear the park background music change. If it changes to be louder or something that doesn’t fit the area of the park your family is in (think the Frozen soundtrack in any part of World Showcase at Epcot) then you’ll know characters are coming and your family should find a spot away from others to stop and watch.
The other way to see characters is through surprise socially distant selfie times. These are also not listed anywhere, but characters will make their way to different parts of the parks to wave, interact, and take physically distant selfies with.
Some locations where you might see this are the Main Street Train Station and Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom, The United Kingdom pavilion at Epcot, and even inside Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Our tip here is to always have your camera ready. You really never know when your kids are going to see their favorite princess or Jedi!
Social Distancing Is Almost Always Easy
Disney has taken its social distancing measures very seriously during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout all four theme parks your family will see signs that remind you to maintain a social distance; and there are social distancing markers in high traffic areas like quick service restaurants and attraction queues, and even to get into shops.
Inside attraction queues you’ll see markers on the ground that say, “Please wait here.” These indicators are all at least six feet apart and allow your family to know where you should stand in line as you move through the queue of the attraction. In some attractions, like the Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom, your family will skip the pre-show where you stand in the stretching room. This space has been turned into part of the line with ropes marking the switchbacks. The narration is still playing so that room could still frighten small children.
Most attraction queues are also using plexiglass to divide you from other families as you navigate the switchbacks and get up to the loading area. Once you get up to the loading area, the cast member will tell you where to go. Each attraction has its own rules for social distancing measures while on the ride vehicle, so be sure to pay close attention to what the cast member told you.
While walking around the parks, there’s plenty of room to social distance as well. Many pathways and lands at the parks have very limited people thanks to the reduced capacity of the park overall. If a pathway seems busy, try to find an alternative way to get to your family’s destination, or do something different and then come back to try again later.
The only times social distancing can prove challenging is if the people around you are not paying attention to the indicators on the ground, or if you arrive to the parks right when they open and everyone is at the main walkway into the park at the same time. You can generally avoid this by arriving about an hour after the official park opening. This will ensure the small crowd that does gather at the very beginning of the day has dispersed and your family can get in the park without issues. Due to the reduced capacity at the parks, you will not experience the usual long lines for arriving later.
Reduced Capacity Means Lines Are Short During COVID-19
If your family is fine with missing out on parades, shows, and fireworks, this might be the best time to go to Walt Disney World because the lines for attractions are short. Magic Kingdom has been averaging under 20 minutes for all attractions, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been averaging under 15 minutes for all attractions. Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios do have slightly higher wait times at anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes because there are fewer attractions and things to do inside the park.
Keeping Little Hands Clean Is Easy
Across Walt Disney World, there are thousands of newly installed hand sanitizer stations set up. Your family can find these at the entrance and exit of attractions, stores, restaurants, and restrooms. The dispensers are automatic, making it super easy for kids to use.
There are also new hand washing stations set up across the parks and resorts where you can wash your hands with soap and water without having to wait in line for a spot to open up in the restrooms. There’s one of these new stations in each major section of each park, but they can be hard to spot. If you or someone in your family needs to use one but you can’t find it, a cast member can help you locate the nearest one.
Wearing a Mask Is Not That Bad
One of Disney’s new health and safety rules during the COVID-19 pandemic is that everyone ages two and older must wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth at all times except when eating or drinking in a stationary position. Yes, it’s hot in Florida, especially in the summer months, but as the weather cools off over fall, wearing a mask will get easier.
If your family is planning on traveling to Walt Disney World this summer, pack at least two masks per person per day, and have one each as a dedicated “resort-only” mask. Having a fresh mask to put on as your family tours the parks will make it easier to get through the warm days. You can easily find masks on the internet, and Disney is even selling some with characters like Mickey Mouse and Baby Yoda at the parks and resorts.
Be sure to have your kids practice wearing a mask at home, even if it’s just while they play outside in the backyard for 30 minutes. That will help them to get used to wearing them at the parks for hours at a time.
The FamilyVacationist Opinion
As FamilyVacationist’s resident theme park journalist, I traveled from my home in north Florida to Orlando for Walt Disney World’s reopening. I spent six out of eight days in one of the four theme parks, and I felt safer at Walt Disney World than I do at many stores, restaurants, or parks where I live.
Disney is taking the safety of guests and cast members very seriously. While I cannot tell you if you should travel to Walt Disney World right now, I can tell you that Disney is following and enforcing strict safety protocols. Deciding to travel right now is a personal choice that you will have to make for your family, but when it comes to Disney, what I saw were small crowds, plenty of sanitizing stations, and a dedication to social distancing. The parks are still fun and filled with the magic you associate with any visit to Walt Disney World, even if the experience looks a little bit different.
If someone asked me if I would go back to Walt Disney World right now, I would tell them yes, especially based on the health and safety protocols that Disney has put in place. I felt safe and I had a ton of fun, even if I had to sanitize my hands more than 100 times a day.