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Planning a Disney vacation usually requires a bunch of forethought. However, visiting Disney during a pandemic is a fish of another color (updated 5/1/2021).
Many of those tips and strategies we knew from before are now null and void. And that’s not even counting the health and safety factor of the whole endeavor.
If you are still debating whether or not to go to Disney World anytime soon, your first stop should be my post all about whether or not you should go to Disney in 2021. After that one, come back here to this post. Between the two I hope it helps you make your decision.
Also, take a look at my post all about the Disney World COVID rules currently in place.
If you are someone who has already determined you’re going and you want to make the most of it, you’ve come to the right place! These tips for visiting Disney during COVID are the result of our recent first person experiences.
Disclaimer: Given the nature of COVID, it’s important you embark on any travel plans with the greatest of caution. Consult your doctor, follow CDC guidelines, and make the choice that’s best for your family.
Table of Contents
10 Tips for Visiting Disney During a Pandemic
Taking a Disney trip right now is not exactly straightforward. Here are some important tips for visiting Disney during a pandemic. Though I sure hope after this one we never have to deal with this again…
1. Understand Disney’s New Health and Safety Protocol
In order to safely open, Disney World has established a plethora of new health and safety protocols. I go into much greater detail on the Disney World COVID rules in my reopening guide.
It is absolutely essential that you understand the ins and outs of these rules. They have a direct impact on your Disney vacation.
But here’s the basic gist:
- Physical distancing of 6 feet at all times – now that the CDC reduced the distancing requirement to 3 feet, expect Disney to change this in the near future
- Face masks must be worn at all times on Disney property except when eating, drinking, or taking pictures in a stationary (and distanced) location
- Temperature screenings before entering the park
- Limited capacity at each of the parks (currently set at 35% capacity, though this should increase as distancing requirements change to 3 feet)
- Increased sanitation efforts (i.e. frequent cleaning, hand sanitizer stations EVERYWHERE, etc.)
If you can’t follow all of these rules and restrictions, please, don’t go to Disney.
The rules are there to keep everyone as safe as possible, cast members get to keep their jobs, and people have a place to escape the stress they’ve been under for the past several months.
And along those lines, let’s talk about face masks…
2. Become One With Your Face Masks…
I think we all know now that face masks have become a way of life for the time being. And while we all hope the need for them ends sooner rather than later, for now, we’re stuck with them.
With this in mind, face masks are an essential item on your Disney packing list. Please don’t show up without them!
And beyond that, Disney has very specific rules about what types of face masks are allowed, and which are not. They also have guidelines on how to wear your mask appropriately.
So make sure you fully understand all of Disney’s face mask requirements before you go.
It would be a real bummer to have to go and buy a whole mess of face masks from the Disney gift shops.
Everyone Needs at Least One Mask Per Day of the Trip
When putting together that packing list, make sure you have enough masks packed for everyone. Realistically, each member of your family needs a fresh mask every day of the trip.
Trust me, those things are ripe by the end of the day. Florida can be a hot and sweaty place at times. Your face mask will spend the day absorbing all of said sweat.
You do not want to be putting that same mask back on your face again before washing it.
Not to mention, in terms of basic health and safety, you just don’t know what germs are on that thing by the end of the day. So build up a stash of face masks for the whole family!
Bring Extra Masks Each Day in Your Backpack
This tip for visiting Disney during a pandemic is 100% essential. While we found ourselves needing only one mask per day per family member, I had extra disposable masks packed in the backpack every single day.
Realistically, you just never know what might happen to a face mask during the course of a day. Little Johnny might decide to throw it on the bathroom floor. You might get wet on one of the rides. Wet masks are not fun to breath through. Or one could simply get lost.
Again, it’s better to have some extras already packed so you don’t have to run to the closest gift shop to buy more.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Disney’s face masks are completely adorable, but you don’t need that stress.
Bring Your Most Comfortable Face Masks
I think this one is pretty obvious, but let’s mention it anyway! At this point, I think most of us have identified certain types of face masks that work best for us. Some are just downright annoying or uncomfortable.
Go through Disney’s mask guidelines and identify which ones that you wear fit those guidelines.
Consider the overall breathability of the mask. You’ll have it on for 12+ hours of everyday. Does it fit your face comfortably? Does it irritate your ears?
Some people swear by disposable masks and consider those the most breathable. They happen to stick to my mouth and drive me nuts. Though I agree they are crazy breathable.
Even with my dislike of disposable masks for long term use, I HIGHLY recommend you get a package to bring with you on your trip. They are just the easiest to keep with you in a pinch.
Disposable masks are the spares I always kept in our day bag when we were in the parks.
These are the disposable masks that we used in Florida. They work just fine, and really, you can find a million different disposable face masks on Amazon.
Amazon is also full of disposable face masks for kids. Luckily, you can get different colors and patterns for the kids to make the masks a little more fun.
I also highly recommend getting everyone a face mask lanyard. This way you know it’s attached to their bodies, hands free. I can’t tell you how many times my kids sat down to eat and put their face masks right on the table. Or in their lap and it fell on the ground.
After that experience I made sure we had face mask lanyards on our next trip. They were such a game changer! I won’t go to Disney without them while face masks are still required.
Or you could get the kids a Disney lanyard to clip to the ear strap. This will work just as well and has some Disney fun!
3. Be Thoughtful About Transportation
While the transportation scenario is improving, getting around Disney World requires a little more thought now than it used to. This is largely due to the fact that not all services are up and running, or are running less total hours in the day.
For example, the Skyliner Gondolas don’t start running until a little too late in the morning to use them for a good Hollywood Studios rope drop strategy. Ditto on the buses. The Epcot monorail isn’t running at all, eliminating that as an option.
Add limited capacity to all of this, and you can begin to see where the issue lies.
Choose Resorts Based on Transportation Options
At this point, it might be a good idea to base your resort stay on the types of transportation offered at the resort.
The Skyliner is hands down the best option right now because they only put one party in each gondola. No need to worry about being too close to other people. It also has fresh air moving through it.
Next in terms of preference are the boats. Some of the boats are open air which is preferable to being closed into a space with strangers.
The Friendship boats are not open air, but they leave the doors open to allow the air to move through. They also have plastic dividers up between the benches.
Frankly, I’m a little squirrely about the buses and monorail. I just don’t like the idea of being in a relatively confined space, even with limited capacity. They have plastic dividers and whatnot, and for the most part people don’t seem to mind.
The other problem with buses right now is that lines can be VERY long due to the limited capacity. If you want to take a bus to a park for rope drop, plan to get in line at your resort 90 minutes ahead of park opening.
Because of these factors, I deliberately chose resorts for our trip that gave use the easiest access. We spent 4 nights at Beach Club Resort and 2 nights at Bay Lake Towers. I then scheduled our park days based on easy access from the resort.
Except for Animal Kingdom of course. There’s just no easy access to that park no matter where you stay. While at Beach Club we walked to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, took a Friendship Boat, and relied heavily on the Skyliner.
From Bay Lake we walked to Magic Kingdom. For Animal Kingdom we chose to order a Lyft as opposed to taking the buses. We just weren’t comfortable with the buses.
For the first time, a lot of people are opting to rent a car during their stay. This gives you ultimate control if you simply feel more comfortable avoiding Disney transportation.
4. Make Your Park Pass Reservation ASAP
One of the ways that Disney is limiting capacity is through the use of Park Pass reservations. In order to visit a Disney park on any given day you must now have a Park Pass.
The process to reserve a Park Pass is fairly straightforward, thank goodness. At least something is, right?
However, the biggest tip I have regarding the Park Passes is to not wait to book them. Once a park has reached it’s max amount of available Park Passes, you are out of luck.
Now that people have become more comfortable traveling, Park Pass availability is becoming more scarce. All of the parks end up full on the weekends, usually at least a couple of weeks in advance.
Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom are the first parks to hit capacity, at times up to a couple of months in advance. And I expect this to happen even further in advance as time goes on. Halloween at Magic Kingdom is already filled!
And if you happen to plan a trip over a holiday or other important date (I’m looking at you October 1, 2021), you want to make sure you grab your Park Passes well in advance. They WILL book up.
As soon as you book your resort, make sure you buy those park tickets. And as soon as you have those tickets, book your Park Passes.
Seriously, book your park passes immediately! Here’s Disney’s park pass availability calendar so you can get an idea of current availability.
Park hopping returned to Disney World January 2021, but you still need to have a Park Pass booked for your first park of the day.
5. Be Prepared for Crowds – The Disney Ghost Town is No More
There was a glorious period of time where Disney was a ghost town. I kept drooling over all the pictures of empty parks and walk on rides. Of course, there was a reason for this: Florida’s cases were out of control at the time.
Well, the vaccine is more prevalent, people are tired of staying home, and travel to Disney World is becoming insanely popular. Hence this article.
If you go to Disney now, you will not have empty parks and wide open spaces to easily distance from everyone. You will not (necessarily) walk on rides.
The crowds are still significantly lower than they would be due to limited capacity. But the parks aren’t empty.
In fact, distancing when not in line is probably the bigger problem. More and more people are simply milling about, standing around, and so on. We moved quickly through those sections or avoided them as much as possible.
Just don’t assume that no one is traveling to Disney World right now, because I promise you, they are.
6. Be Open to Disney Magic – Even Though Experiences are Missing
One of the major downsides of making a trip to Disney right now is the absence of many of the hallmark Disney vacation experiences.
The main one is the absence of character meet and greets. And this is a big one for a lot of people (just not us, so I am a little biased that this isn’t a big deal).
If getting up close and personal with characters is a big deal for you, now might not be the right time to go.
There are also no fireworks shows, most of the live shows are currently closed, no parades, no tours, etc. As you can see, there’s a fair amount that’s missing.
And it’s not like the resorts or park tickets are any cheaper. You’re essentially paying the same price for less stuff. Major downside.
However, Disney has done a good job of making lemonade out of lemons. It’s simply not possible to have a lot of these things in the middle of a pandemic.
While there are no character meet and greets, there are character interactions all through the parks. Now, you can actually see characters a lot easier than you could before.
The character cavalcades are actually one of the my favorite things to come out of the pandemic changes. These spontaneous “mini parades” are fun and don’t require you to waste precious park time claiming a good viewing spot.
Slowly, Disney is bringing more things back and finding more and more ways to expand the Disney experience. So while things look different, the magic is still there.
7. Be Thoughtful About Dining
Everyone knows that amazing food is a huge part of a Disney World vacation. But as with everything else, things aren’t the same as before. First off, not all restaurants and snack locations are open.
This is getting better, with new dining locations opening up a bit at a time. But double check what’s open before your trip so you aren’t surprised.
Advanced Dining Reservation Recommended
Between limited capacity and limited open restaurants, making a reservation at the Table Service restaurant of your choice is pretty much a requirement right now.
The dining reservation game has become fiercely competitive. As capacity and restaurant availability increases, this should relax somewhat, but seriously, don’t take any chances.
If there’s a restaurant you absolutely want to eat at, you’re better off making a reservation just to be on the safe side.
At this time, all dining reservations are open 60 days in advance of check-in at a Disney resort, or 60 days in advance of the desired day.
Mobile Order Your Meals Ahead of Time
One of my favorite changes to accommodate the pandemic is the expansion of the mobile ordering function. Even before all of this, mobile ordering at Disney World was a favorite time saver of mine. Why wait in line if you don’t have to?
Now, mobile ordering’s ability to avoid lines has become essential. Unless you have a food allergy that requires you to speak with a chef, mobile ordering is the direction they want everyone to go.
The process is super simple, and most of the restaurants include allergy menus to make things even easier. This was a major upgrade for those of us with special dietary needs.
They even upgraded the system to allow you to pay with gift cards and to include any Annual Passholder or Disney Vacation Club discounts. Score!
But what I learned is to make sure you order your meal ahead of time. If you know you want to eat at 4:30p, schedule that meal much earlier in the day.
Sometimes the time slots are all booked up and you end up having to wait longer than you planned before you can pick up your meal. Don’t let your group get hangry because you didn’t plan ahead!
This is especially true at the more popular quick service restaurants during the busy times of the day (lunch in particular).
8. Don’t Be Fooled by the Massive Looking Ride Lines – But Be Smart with Your Strategy
Because of social distancing in the lines, they look absolutely enormous. And sometimes, the wait really is quite long.
To make matters worse, the FastPass system is now on hold. This means there is no other way to get on rides without waiting in the standby line.
The good news here is that those enormous looking lines are pretty deceptive. Don’t get me wrong, you could still wait a long time for the most popular rides if you don’t plan well, but the wait isn’t as long as the line suggests.
I marveled at how creative Disney got with how they wind the lines around the already existing queues, and then out into the walkways while still allowing traffic to flow through.
You’ll also find Cast Members with signs standing at the end of the ride line so you know where to go. They really did a good job of trying to make it as painless as possible.
But what we mainly took note of is that the lines are almost constantly moving. Because of the length and the distancing, you essentially just keep walking.
When you stop it’s probably for less than a minute before you start moving again. Unless something breaks down, but that’s a whole other ball game.
The constant motion makes the wait more tolerable.
And if you plan your strategy right, you shouldn’t have to wait more than 30 minutes for any ride. Over the course of our trip we got on every single ride we wanted to (sometimes more than once) and never waited more than 30 minutes.
9. Check the Rules Before you Arrive
Disney has revised and updated their policies regularly, particularly the face mask policy. They are actively working to fix any and all loopholes. Remember, their priority is keeping everyone safe and staying open. There’s a lot at stake here.
Because of this, check all of Disney’s current rules and list of changes just before you leave for your trip. It would be a shame if you get to Disney and all the face masks you packed are now not permitted.
Once you’re at Disney, it’s hard to miss what the rules are. There are signs everywhere, along with announcements over the PA system throughout the parks.
And yes, the rules can change on you mid-trip. While we were there Disney added on the requirement that you aren’t allowed to eat or drink while in lines.
10. Understand Quarantine Rules in Your Own State
It seems at this point that just about every state has instituted some sort of quarantine requirement when returning home from traveling. Make sure you are up to date with whatever rules exist in your state.
Florida does not have any quarantine requirements in place for guests visiting Florida, so travel to Florida is “free and clear”.
For those who live in states which offer a “testing out” option, there’s good news. It seems that many states, with more jumping on board, are offering a curtailed quarantine if you have a negative test up to 72 hours prior to your return home.
Luckily for Disney travelers, there is a rapid testing center located right on Disney property. Disney’s Maingate Complex is located near Animal Kingdom.
There are no appointments required and you get your results within 15 minutes.
Top Tips for Staying Safe at Disney in 2021
Once you’ve decided to go ahead and take that trip to Disney, how can you increase your safety while visiting Disney during a pandemic?
Don’t leave Disney property
Honestly, I think this one is key. Disney has done a phenomenal job of mitigating risk as much as humanly possible. Anything on Disney property is operating under very strict rules.
I can’t say the same for the rest of Florida. Really, this part depends on your own comfort level, whether you’ve been vaccinated, and so on. But Florida has very relaxed “rules” in place.
As soon as you leave the Disney bubble the rules regarding mask compliance are more lax. It’s really up to each business to determine what their rules are, and the level of compliance.
It felt a little weird to go from Disney, where we wore masks almost constantly, to our first day outside the bubble. Suddenly, people were walking around outside with not a mask in sight!
And some stores don’t even require people to wear a mask. Again, some people don’t believe in masks in the first place, so this is a non-issue. But if being surrounded by mask-less people makes you uncomfortable, keep this in mind.
Bottom line, if you want increase your safety factor on your Disney trip, don’t leave the bubble.
The only exception would be to go to Universal Studios. They have also done an excellent job of creating a bubble of safety.
Consider renting a car/Avoid certain transportation
More than ever, people are renting cars when they go to Disney. Previously, I rarely recommended this, there just wasn’t a need for a rental car.
But times, they are a changing. Having a rental car gives you the ultimate freedom and sense of safety right now. You can sanitize the car yourself and feel comfortable knowing you aren’t sharing space with other people.
This of course has the downside of increased expenses during your trip between the rental fee and the parking fees.
We drove to Disney on our trip so had our own vehicle with us. Even then, we still chose to use Disney transportation we felt comfortable with.
As I mentioned above, we felt more comfortable ordering a Lyft than getting on a bus to go to Animal Kingdom. Lyft (and Uber) have created their own safety protocols for their drivers.
And while it’s not completely foolproof, it feels better to me than being on a bus or monorail with more people.
Eat only outdoors
Part of the reason why Disney feels so safe in general is all the time you spend outside. Being out in open air is simply safer than being inside.
With this in mind, you can up the safety ante by choosing to only eat out of doors. Most of the quick service restaurants make this pretty darn easy with outdoor seating areas.
There might be some jockeying for position if there are limited tables, but we always seemed to find a place to sit and eat outside.
The biggest problem is the fact that there aren’t many table service restaurants in the parks that offer outside seating. Of course there are exceptions, and Disney Springs has quite a few restaurants with outside seating.
However, there is a great option for some table service restaurants. A select assortment of resort restaurants offer to go mobile ordering. This gives you the best of both worlds. Get some amazing table service food and take it outside to eat it.
Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize
Trust me, you can find hand sanitizer stations absolutely everywhere. Before rides, after rides, randomly located throughout the parks and resorts.
And beyond that, Cast Members are constantly cleaning and sanitizing pretty much everything that’s nailed down. Or even not nailed down.
But it’s always important to take control of your own fate. With that in mind, bring your own hand sanitizer or wipes wherever you go. It will just give you a little piece of mind.
I feel like we’re all bathing in hand sanitizer at this point, but oh well.
Manage Your Expectations and Have a Great Time
I know I didn’t put this in the “official” tips for visiting Disney during a pandemic, but it might be the most important one!
Seriously, Disney is not even close to the same experience as it used to be in many respects. But different isn’t always bad. As long as you have the right perspective, you’ll still have a brilliant time.
The image above reflects a thought Doug and I talked about while we were at Disney. For the first time since this whole thing started, we felt safe being out in a public space, enjoying ourselves.
Yes, the masks are annoying. Yes, there are things missing from Disney trips right now which are a major bummer. But you can still go and have a wonderful time.
Wear the maks. Buy the ears. Take the Trip. It could be amazing.
Did I Feel Safe at Disney World During a Pandemic?
Both my husband and I agreed that we felt safer at Disney World than we do going to the local grocery store. Let’s explore why this is.
The number one reason why this is true is the fact that Disney is a private business and therefore has the ability to not only create their rules, but enforce them.
Disney does not have to let you in if you choose not to wear a mask. In fact, they will deny you entry into a park, resort, store, etc. if you aren’t wearing one.
They’ve made news for turning guests away at the gates who have improper face masks and ejecting guests from the park for infractions. Perhaps this sounds a little harsh, but staying open is a priority for Disney.
The only way Disney can stay open is to keep things as safe as humanly possible for the Cast Members and guests. Bad PR is a death knell for Disney World in these trying times.
Our Experience Visiting Disney During a Pandemic
On the whole we felt perfectly safe throughout our trips. Our hotel rooms were so sanitized you could smell it in the air. We constantly saw Cast Members wiping down surfaces, enforcing social distancing, and so on.
I would estimate that 98% of the park guests I saw wore appropriate style face masks correctly (covering both mouth and nose). I also saw Cast Members actively telling guests who didn’t comply that they needed to.
Disney World generously uses plexiglass and clear plastic barriers of all kinds. All ride queues that could possibly lead to no distancing have plexiglass barriers between the rows. Some lines are completely rerouted to avoid contact.
There are physical distancing markers EVERYWHERE.
The only times we ever felt uncomfortable were in line situations where the people behind us clearly didn’t get the memo about the purpose of all those markers on the ground.
Invasion of personal space these days is so not cool.
But even then, we had Cast Members come to our rescue and politely, but firmly, tell the group behind us they needed to back up and stay on their marker.
From the top of the chain to the bottom, Disney World is taking safety very seriously. Has everything been perfect with exactly how they’ve chosen to do things, no. But you can’t argue with how hard they are working to stay safe.
I’d go there again in a heartbeat.
Sharing is caring, my friends
Have you been to Disney during the pandemic? Do you have any tips to share that I forgot to add? Let me know in the comments below.