The following series of posts are by some awesome guests of mine who had planned a traditional Walt Disney World trip long before the pandemic, and ended up being able to safely travel after all. It is a different experience during these crazy times, and it is certainly not something everyone will feel comfortable doing, but I hope it gives you insight and guidance into the safety procedures Disney has taken and what to expect should you decide to visit Disney Resorts in the months to year ahead. Feel free to contact me with any questions or if you would like assistance in planning a trip. 🙂
By Mike L.
We started planning a trip to Disney World last year, well before the current coronavirus pandemic. Our family had originally planned to do a Disney Cruise followed by a stay at the Walt Disney World resorts and parks. By late March, it became obvious that our plans would have to change, asDisney World was closed indefinitely with no reopening date on the horizon. Our cruise ended up being cancelled by Disney, but we kept our park and resort reservations open in case Disney World did open in the summer. In June, the coronavirus cases in Florida appeared stable, and Universal Orlando reopened while Disney World also announced their plans to reopen July 11. With cautious optimism, we rebooked our Disney World stay to July to coincide with the parks reopening.
It was not an easy decision. We fully realized that there were safety concerns with travel during this current time. Also, cases started rising in Florida during June and July, which further exacerbated the situation. We knew that if we decided to go, we would take all safety precautions to reduce risk and to ensure a safer trip. The first drastic change was that instead of flying, we decided to drive from Southern California. It gave us the opportunity to do a road trip across the country, but also allowed us to avoid any safety issues associated with flying. We also brought along hand sanitizers, masks, Clorox wipes, and Lysol spray. All the hotels we stayed at promised enhanced cleaning protocols, which we appreciated. Nevertheless, we still would do additional cleaning ourselves upon arrival. We also knew that Disney World itself would have strict safety protocols, so we prepared our kids in advance to wear masks all day and to hand sanitize frequently, including before and after every ride. We also planned to avoid dine in restaurants and for nearly every meal, and either ate outdoors in the parks or brought food back to our hotel to eat. We know travel during this time is complicated, so please consider your own situation and risk carefully, and please take measures to stay safe.
We also wanted to give a big shout out to our travel agent, Courtney Cain from Magical Partners Travel. Once Disney made the decision to reopen in July, Disney also decided to very slowly and methodically allow rebookings and changes to prior reservations that were impacted. This usually required several hours on the phone over several days. Thankfully for us, Magical Partners Travel took care of our changes and worked closely with us every step of the way to ensure that we rebooked with the best possible options. It was fantastic having someone knowledgeable and passionate about Disney guide us through this complex replanning.
So on Thursday morning, July 9, we left for our road trip to Walt Disney World from California. The trip was a distance of 2500 miles and 35+ hours, and we planned to get there in 3 days. I’m not going to paint a rosy picture, because driving 13 hours, 13 hours, then 11 hours on 3 consecutive days was rough at times, especially with 3 kiddos. All things considered, they did fairly well. It’s not our preferred way of parenting, but having a DVD player in the car was super helpful in keeping our kids entertained during the long and often monotonous drive. The other tip for traveling cross country is don’t forget about the time changes! We arrived at our hotels much later than we planned since we forgot that little fact. 🙂
After 3 long days of driving, we finally arrived at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Kidani Village, just after sunset. We had checked in earlier via the My Disney Experience app. So prior to arrival, we already received our room number via text. Soon as we arrived, we were so excited that we left all our luggages in the car and went to our room as quick as we can. We also wanted the kids to experience seeing animals from our balcony before the sun fully set. It was neat to watch the them experience seeing our room and the savannah from our balcony for the first time! (Courtney wrote about Kidani Village after their Spring 2019 visit 🙂 )
The next day, we woke up early since Animal Kingdom was open from 8-6PM. We ordered breakfast from Sanaa and left as soon as we finished. We avoided the bus crowds and decided to drive there ourselves. A pleasant surprise was finding out that theme park parking is free for resort guests! The parking lot attendants had cars park every other row to help promote social distancing. To get into the park, we walked thru both a temperature check and security, and we found both processes quick and seamless! Animal Kingdom had automatic security panels that screened you as you walked past. It was very smooth and efficient. Our stroller did need to get checked manually by security staff but every person could walk thru the automatic screener. We then entered the park using our magic bands, and just like that, we had finally arrived at Animal Kingdom!
We had a myriad of emotions as we went through that first day. The park was fairly empty compared to the usual Disney experience. Wait times ranged from “walk on” to 20 minutes for most rides, including Flight of Passage and Navi River Cruise. We walked thru several areas where there was no one around. Since there were no character greetings, Disney had several characters ride rafts down the Discovery River while waving and greeting guests, including Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Rafiki, Chip n’ Dale, and Pocahontas. Our kids especially enjoyed the Kilimanjaro Safari ride and seeing all the animals along the route. As we expected, safety was of paramount importance to Disney as evidenced by the multiple safety procedures in place. There were reminders for social distancing and masks every where. Lines had social distancing markers every 6 feet, which was respected by all the park guests. For lines where social distancing was not possible due to turns, plexiglass dividers were installed to ensure proper physical distancing. We noticed good mask compliance among the guests and masks were always worn except when dining or when resting at relaxation stations. The Florida summer heat and humidity can be brutal after a few hours, so being able to rest in an air conditioned relaxation area was something we took advantage of a couple of times. For those uncomfortable with being indoors, there were outdoor relaxation stations as well. One of the best outdoor relaxation stations was across from the Up theater right next to the river. It was a great place to relax and see occasional characters float by on rafts. Probably the best time of the day were the last couple of hours prior to park closing. By this time, many guests had already departed. We finished the day by riding on Triceratops Spin multiple times as there was no one waiting and they allowed us to ride again without going back in line. We then walked on to Kilimanjaro Safari as our last ride of the day before leaving the park.
One small problem with staying at Kidani Village was the lack of dining options. Basically, only Sanaa was open. Since we didn’t want to dine indoors, we decided to do take out from a local restaurant outside of Disney and supplemented that with the bread special from Sanaa. It came with 5 breads and 10 different sauces and sure did not disappoint! (Courtney wrote about dining at Sanaa several years ago here 🙂 )
The next day, it was time to go to Magic Kingdom. We had take out breakfast again from Sanaa and decided to go to the park about 1 hour after opening. This allowed us to sleep in a little and to avoid any possible early morning crowds at security and park entrance. We drove and parked as we did at Animal Kingdom However, unlike Animal Kingdom where you just walk in directly after parking, entering Magic Kingdom was quite the experience or chore depending on your viewpoint and how many times you’ve done it. Temperature checks and security again went fairly smoothly. We then had the option of either boarding the ferry or taking the monorail, and opted for the ferry, which ended up being only a 5 minute wait. On the ferry, there were circles marked on the floor for each party to stand on so we could be socially distanced. We also had great views of the monorail resorts and of course, Magic Kingdom itself upon approach. Upon landing, we walked right in without waiting. Our kids have only gone to Disneyland Park in California, so it was fun seeing how fascinated they were with everything and being able to compare and contrast the 2 parks. There were more guests at Magic Kingdom compared to Animal Kingdom, but it was still very well controlled overall.
It was magical walking down Main Street and through the castle, which we had done many times in California, but it was our first time in Magic Kingdom. We started our day in Fantasyland and since Daddy really likes the Peter Pan ride, the family obliged and we rode it twice waiting about 5 minutes each time. It was similar to the Disneyland version, but has better queue theming and better ride scenery too. Following the 2 quick rides at Peter Pan, we walked across the street to line up for Small World. The line seemed really short, but the cast members were in the process of deep cleaning the boats so it took close to 20 minutes before we got in. Unlike Peter Pan, which is better in Walt Disney World, the Disneyland version of Small World is much better in our opinion. It’s much grander in scope both outside and inside. Similar to Animal Kingdom, most of the rides ranged from walk ons to 15-20 minute waits. It was almost like having a fast pass for every ride! Disney continued to be creative with character greetings. While walking around the park, we would occasionally be pleasantly surprised with character appearances. For example, while picking up food for lunch, we saw a float pass right in front of us with several princesses onboard. In the early afternoon, the lines were getting longer for popular rides like Mine Train, up to 30 min, so we decided to take a break after lunch and rest back at the resort.
We returned to Magic Kingdom in the afternoon, via monorail this time. Social distancing onboard the monorail basically meant each monorail cabin was divided into 2, and each party would take up ½ the train cabin, separated by dividers. It was also nice to be able to bring in a stroller and not have to break it down, an issue that the Disneyland version of the monorail does require. The late afternoon time period quickly became our favorite time at the parks due to the light crowds. From 5-7PM, we rode Mine Train twice, then walked on to 7 other rides before running out of time. It was a magical way to end the day. We took the monorail back to the parking area, and on our way back, we passed by the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian. Passing by the Grand Floridian was fun as we may have seen some NBA players, but it was difficult to tell for sure. The Grand Floridian is one of the 3 resorts that NBA players were staying at in preparation for starting the season in Florida.
Thanks for reading about our trip. Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon!