Over the summer, some awesome Guests of mine shared their experience visiting Walt Disney World after their reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. This Thanksgiving, we made the difficult decision to go visit the Resort ourselves, after Disneyland’s reopening was indefinitely delayed, and we didn’t feel comfortable doing a traditional celebration with older family members in light of the pandemic with cases rising in our local area. We essentially tried to take our family unit and relocate it to Florida with as little exposure as possible. While we understand not all will agree with our decision, it was ultimately the best for our family and a huge boost to our mental health after the craziness of 2020. Best of all, the outstanding safety protocols at Disney that have successfully protected their cast throughout the pandemic proved effective, and we also came back Covid-negative!
For a family that’s used to flying several times a year, it was a bit strange to be back on a plane for the first time in twelve months. In fact, our last flight was returning from Walt Disney World in December 2019, so it seemed fitting to make our first time back in the skies a return to Walt Disney World. Alaska Airlines did an amazing job, enforcing the no middle seat rule and masks at all times on board. We wore our N95s on flights both ways, only drinking/eating beneath them for brief moments. The staff was as friendly as ever, and it felt good to be back in the skies.
Landing in Orlando, we did make some modifications to our typical Walt Disney World routine. We absolutely love Magical Express, but in COVID-19 days decided to rent a car. We were super impressed with how fast the process was at MCO… we checked in online, and literally walked off the plane, grabbed bags from the carousel and walked to a waiting SUV in the parking garage. It was amazing! We stopped for groceries on our way to Walt Disney World property, and were in heaven upon checking into Beach Club Villas. It felt like a true touch of magic and release to see the Mickey Mouse plates, smell the humidity, see glimpses of Spaceship Earth and just be amongst the magic, even in crazy times. It was a priority for us to have a villa throughout our stay as the full kitchen allowed us to make our own meals, contain/isolate as much as possible, and of course save money as well! We also love the extra space and laundry amenities, great for mask-washing! 😉
It was further joy to start our trip with Cast Members saying “Welcome Home” as we walked into Epcot next door the next morning… truly, when you’re as Disney-deprived as a California fan you know to never take Disney visits for granted again! We had a blast visiting our old favorites at Epcot and taking part in the end of the Food and Wine Festival. We loved visiting Hollywood Studios and getting to see Galaxy’s Edge again, especially Rise of the Resistance, and our highlight was Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. What a fun attraction – I couldn’t stop buying merchandise! 🙂 All in all, our favorite theme park moments were with the impromptu character cavalcades/”mini-parades” – which we almost like better than traditional ones, as there are no crowds or lining up hours in advance to get a seat. It was so fun to see the gang, plus the princesses an of course Santa Claus himself. We dined at Garden Grill one night, and while it’s different not having the characters put their arm around you or right next to you, it was so fun to interact with them and joke around – our ten year old hasn’t been into characters for awhile, but he was like a little kid enjoying his first visit again (as were we!) We give such amazing accolades to Disney for how they’re navigating this experience and these crazy times.
So… how did we feel as far as safety is concerned? Top notch. As I keep saying to friends “way better than grocery shopping or Target” (for a mom, that’s a big endorsement!) The lines all appear long because of social distancing, but it’s “old school” Disney without Fast Passes or the like, so most move extremely quickly, including the E-Tickets (Slinky Dog Dash was probably the longest and slowest line we waited in because they do sporadic sanitation on the coaster cars that stops the line). Rise of the Resistance still requires a boarding group for the Virtual Queue – we missed the 7 AM time, but were fortunate to snag one while in the parks at 2PM – it was so worth it! While some rides have COVID modifications (for example, the Haunted Mansion skips the elevator scene), Disney has found ways to make the Rise experience safe but consistent with its pre-COVID opening and that is a joy! They use “bubbles” and areas to keep Guests socially distanced in any and all common areas. They are also extremely strict about mask enforcement and *correct* mask-wearing. You are only allowed to remove your mask if in a stationary, designated area for eating or drinking, or in a relaxation area. You cannot pull it down even briefly while walking around the park, and can only snack in line if outdoors. Cast Members are everywhere gently reminding forgetful Guests and doing active enforcement, and there are plenty of signs that those who don’t follow the rules will be asked to leave (and we hear they follow through!) The frequent announcements about distancing and safety are a bit dystopian for sure, but at least it’s the traditional Disney voice saying them in a magical way – and it’s really reassuring to talk to Cast (most of whom wear shields in addition to masks) that they’ve had zero COVID cases linked to work in their many days interacting with Guests since the summer Florida peak, not to mention no Guest issues or outbreaks. All in all, as a Disney fan I was just so proud of the Cast for making it a very safe experience, but keeping the magic and adapting with a smile at the same time!
Other highlights of our trip included the amazing pool and Cast at Disney’s Beach Club Resort, a spot we’ve enjoyed before – a special shoutout to Kristine for celebrating our 10yo after he did the giant waterslide 100 times during our stay! – as well as Disney’s Kidani Village. We loved both of our villas and all of the amenities, and of course loved seeing our old friends at Animal Kingdom Lodge on the savannah. The cast here was top notch as well, happy to answer questions and the pool is a hidden gem – my kids loved the splash pad, pool games, slide, and especially how empty it was! After watching the Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Disney Plus this summer, they loved meeting some of its “celebrities” both at the lodge and throughout the Resort, including Cassanova the Hornbill, Kenya the giraffe, and the manatees at Epcot’s Living Seas.
We also had a lot of fun getting into the holiday spirit by golfing at Winter Summerland. We did both courses, and again were impressed with the social distancing and measures taken by Disney to ensure both fun and safety. We ended our trip with a day at the Magic Kingdom, riding on some of our favorite classic attractions that aren’t open back in California.It was so nice to walk down Main Street! We also returned to Epcot and enjoyed the Festival of the Holidays, with lots of yummy snacks and drinks as well as hunting for Olaf around the world. Our first grader was studying Holidays Around the World, so it was perfect timing. While we spent 11 nights at Walt Disney World, the time flew by and it was hard to leave! We enjoyed the new attractions, the cavalcades, the accommodations, and most of all safety above all else with lots of magic included! Well done Disney! We’ll see ya real soon, either back in Florida or here on the West Coast!