Our Full Experience Visiting Walt Disney World In 2020 gives a complete recap of our week of staying on property in a Disney resort hotel and visiting the Florida Disney parks a little over a month after reopening.
Even though visiting Walt Disney World is now a much different experience since it reopened in July 2020, it can still be a fun, memorable, and magical time! While there are many new health and safety measures in place throughout the Walt Disney World Resort property and there’s been quite a few changes to park entertainment and experiences, much of what makes Disney World so special can still be found around every corner.
We recently spent a week on property, and even though it was a much different experience than what we’ve had over the past many years, we really had a wonderful time and felt very comfortable overall. We put a lot of thought and care into deciding whether or not to visit Walt Disney World under the current conditions, and we decided that we personally feel safer with all of the current health measures in place than we expect we will when large crowds return and measures are lifted.
Our own chronic illnesses are at the forefront of our considerations and choices, and we greatly appreciate all the steps that Disney has taken to make everyone feel as safe and comfortable as they possibly can. While every person has to decide what is best for them and what they are comfortable with, we are so grateful to have had the opportunity to enjoy an extended time in the parks for some much needed relaxation and fun!
New Park Entry Procedures
Several new health measures have been put in place since Walt Disney World’s reopening, both inside and outside the parks. One of these new measures is temperature screenings for guests before entering certain places, such as the four theme parks and Disney Springs (keep in mind that these temperature checks might also be elsewhere on property, such as at the mini golf courses). These temperature screenings are quick and easy, usually taking only a few seconds for each person.
In our experience, each individual walks up to one of the lines in the temperature check area (in the case of the parks these are underneath a tent cover that is completely open on both sides), and a Cast Member stands a little more than arms length away while holding a digital temperature reader near your forehead. Once it detects your temperature, you should know right away if it’s below the maximum temperature allowed for entry (of course, there’s always a possibility for issues, but Cast Members are generally very efficient and quick to resolve any problems that may arise with equipment or otherwise). The process is generally so fast that the Cast Member usually only has time to exchange a brief and friendly “Hello!” with the guest before they tell them they are good to enter the park (Disney Springs, etc.).
The security screening process has also changed with the reopening of the park and is now a lot faster overall. At each of the four parks, every person walks through a metal detector without the need for security to physically look through every bag.
There seemed to be a few differences here and there throughout our trip – sometimes we had to take out large metal items like umbrellas and sunscreen bottles and place them in bins to retrieve on the other side of the metal detectors, and other times we walked right through without having to take anything out. We aren’t sure why this sometimes changes, but the security guards should tell you what to do each time so you’ll know how to proceed.
You may also still have to have your bag checked on occasion if one of the sensors goes off (they may also still do random checks as well), but the security guards try to touch as little as possible and wear gloves. We usually bring clear backpacks and place all of our smaller items inside in clear bags, which greatly helps this process and requires less physical contact with your things in order for security to see what is inside. As one of the security guards told us in reference to clear bags during one of our bag checks, “We love them!” – so it’s a great idea to use a clear bag if possible!
Anyone over the age of two is also currently required to wear a mask, which we cover in more detail below. Certain types of masks are not allowed on Disney property, such as gaiters and mesh masks (we really don’t know why anyone would think a mesh mask would be acceptable, but apparently it’s been an issue). You’ll want to keep all this in mind if you’re planning on visiting the parks, Disney Springs, or anywhere else at the Walt Disney World Resort, including the resort hotels.
Anyone visiting Walt Disney World will also now need a park reservation along with their valid ticket admission. The new Disney Park Pass System allow guests to reserve a spot in advance for the park they wish to visit on a specific day (we’ve got more details, including a step-by-step guide for how to use the Park Pass System, in one of our previous articles). You won’t be able to enter the parks if you do not make a park reservation through this new system ahead of time, so you’ll have to choose which park you want to visit on each day of your trip when you purchase your tickets. It is important to know this if you plan to visit Walt Disney World in 2020 or 2021 as this reservation process is expected to continue through most (if not all) of next year at least.
As of right now, all guests can visit only one park per day, so there’s no park hopping at this time (UPDATE: Disney has announced that a modified Park Hopper option will be available beginning January 1, 2021). Also, if you have multi-day tickets (i.e. several days worth of tickets), you’ll need to make a reservation for each day you have a ticket. This is the only way you’ll be able to enter the parks for the time being, so you want to make sure you secure your reservations as soon as possible.
Cleaning Procedures, Hand Washing Stations, and Sanitizer Dispensers
If you’ve ever been to a Disney park before, you may have noticed that they keep their parks and property very clean. This has only improved with the new enhanced cleaning procedures implemented across the Walt Disney World Resort, and it is very obvious that Disney has greatly increased cleaning in all areas. We’ve seen Cast Members sanitizing everything – from tables to ride vehicles to the rock walls outside of restaurants.
High-touch areas are especially cleaned quite frequently. While it’s impossible to clean everything constantly or ensure that every surface will be 100% sanitary and germ-free at every moment, Cast Members really do a great job from what we have witnessed. We always bring along our own sanitizer and use it before we touch our faces or eat just to be on the safe side, but overall we are pleased with the frequency and thoroughness of Disney World’s cleaning efforts in general.
We also found many hand-washing and sanitizing stations all throughout the theme parks, Disney Springs, and at the resort hotels. You’ll usually find hand sanitizer dispensers near eating locations, store entrances, before entering an attraction line (or before boarding a ride vehicle), and after exiting a ride. Occasionally we came across some places that didn’t have a sanitizer dispenser, such as near the resort pools, but at least within the parks you’ll find hand sanitizer dispensers in most areas that require more contact. As we mentioned above, we still suggest bringing along your own sanitizer so you have it within reach if there’s none in sight or the dispenser nearest to you has run out of sanitizer. We also like to bring along antibacterial wipes to give tables and chairs an extra bit of cleaning and to thoroughly clean our park bags every so often as an added precaution as well, but overall we were quite satisfied by Disney’s enhanced cleaning efforts on a whole.
Mask Wearing and Relaxation Stations
Everyone visiting Walt Disney World property is expected to wear a mask at all times – even outside. Cast Members all wear masks no matter where they are, and guests are required to wear masks on rides, in stores, while watching shows, and pretty much everywhere else unless they are eating or drinking.
You can leave your mask off while you’re at your table at a restaurant, but you won’t be able to walk around while eating or drinking. If you want to eat or drink on the go, you’ll need to pull off to the side as much away from other people (outside your own party) as possible. We’ve covered our experience with mask wearing more extensively in our article “What It’s Like to Stay at a Disney Resort Right Now”, so check that out if you want to know more about what it’s like to wear masks all day in Walt Disney World.
Thankfully, Disney has also found one other way to help guests remove their masks for a little while even when they aren’t eating or drinking. At each of the four parks you will find three or four Relaxation Stations in different areas where you can stand or sit in one of the designated areas (you’ll see markers on the ground) and you’ll be able to take your mask off for a while and rest.
These Relaxation Stations are a very helpful addition considering that masks can be a challenge to wear all day – especially in extreme heat – although these stations can be somewhat far and few between considering the size of the parks. We recommend finding out ahead of time where each of these Relaxation Stations are so you know how close you are to one when you’re actually in the parks. If you aren’t near one and really need a break from your mask, consider grabbing a snack or drink from one of the Quick Service locations and finding a spot off the main path or visiting one of the many restaurants to sit and relax at your table for a bit.
Crowds and Physical Distancing
In the past, Walt Disney World saw tens of thousands of guests in the parks each day on a regular basis. Now that the parks have reopened with new health and safety measures, park capacity has been greatly reduced in order to maintain physical distancing and promote a more sanitary environment. The parks were operating at about 25% the week we stayed on property (it has since been raised to 35% as of November 2020), so it felt nearly empty in most areas. In fact, capacity has been so greatly reduced that even the “sold out” days still allow for plenty of physical distancing between parties in most areas – although it can feel a bit congested along tighter pathways on these days.
There have even been times in the past when Main Street has been nearly shoulder-to-shoulder, especially during holiday seasons, but while we were there we were able to get pictures in front of Cinderella Castle with no one else in view. At the time, the people standing closest to use were still about ten feet away, allowing for plenty of space and a pretty amazing opportunity to enjoy the Disney magic without feeling cramped. Even though Disney isn’t able to offer much entertainment as usual and the parks are a little more challenging to navigate right now, being able to experience the parks without a concern of being overcrowded is one of the biggest silver linings to visiting Walt Disney World this year.
Take a look at the gallery slideshow below for a few pictures of the crowd levels during this trip:
All throughout the parks there are also physical distancing markers on the ground and line guides to help guests know where to go and where to stand, which greatly helps manage crowds. We aren’t certain how long these distancing measures will be present in the parks, but for the time being they are a very helpful reminder to keep a safe distance between parties.
Queues and Wait Times
If you’ve ever been in a Disney ride queue, then you know that the lines can sometimes be a bit tight – and that may actually be somewhat of an understatement. On especially crowded days prior to the park closures, we’ve often felt like we were being squeezed into some rather tight spaces with a ton of people practically standing on top of us. But now, thanks to physical distancing, this has greatly changed.
Marks on the floor have been strategically placed within ride queues to indicate where each party should stand with six-feet (or sometimes even more distance) between each of these marks. In most cases it was easy to move from mark to mark as guests were brought through the queue, although there were a few instances in which guests would round a corner and accidentally get a little closer to the party in front of them because they didn’t realize that there was no marker available to stand on. But even in these cases, there’s usually still plenty of room between the markers that we still felt comfortable and a safe distance from everyone else.
See-through barriers have also been installed between winding queue lines that are close together if the queue is located inside. This helps separate parties that would otherwise be standing next to each other side-by-side with only a railing or rope dividing them in the past. There are a few exceptions to this like the indoor queue for DINOSAUR, which at the time we took these pictures did not have barriers in between lines but rather staggered parties so they were not standing directly next to each other. The queue for DINOSAUR is very expansive with high ceilings, however, so it still feels like you can be distanced from other parties without added barriers between lines, unlike most of Disney World’s other indoor queues which are generally very tight.
Because of the extended queues with six-foot distances between parties and the lack of FastPass+ (check out our “Walt Disney World Changes” article for more info about why FastPass+ is currently unavailable), standby lines can seem extremely long at first glance. Depending on the popularity of the ride and the type of queue it has, some lines can appear to extend way beyond where they normally end and continue out into pathways a long way away from the actual attraction.
There can be some actual long waits during the busiest days, but in most cases the wait times are still generally much lower than they appear and much shorter than they were prior to the park closures. In fact, it isn’t uncommon to wait only about half the time that’s posted on the sign or My Disney Experience app for an attraction.
Depending on the crowd levels for the day, it’s also sometimes possible to ride the same attraction multiple times. During this trip, Flight of Passage only had a five minute wait for most of the day, which means that it’s a walk-on (or in other words – no wait). We ended up riding the attraction nine times in one day – most of the time looping the attraction through a queue shortcut opened up to guests by Cast Members. Many times we didn’t even exit back out into Pandora… we just walked right back around in the cave and joined the short line again!
Many times when the wait says 40 minutes, it’s only been about 20 minutes from our experience, and this seems to be the case for many other visitors throughout the last several months as well. Of course this won’t always be the case – especially if you happen to join the line right when they are about to stop the attraction for a thorough cleaning – but in many instances you might be happily surprised to find that that nearly hour long expected wait time may only end up being about 30 or 40 minutes!
Ride and Attraction Changes
Physical distancing is also implemented on the rides themselves, but each will look a little different depending on the ride style. For boat rides like “it’s a small world”, several rows are left empty between parties, and you won’t be sharing a bench with anyone you don’t know. You can also expect to find similar distancing measures on rides like DINOSAUR and Space Mountain, and depending on the size of the ride vehicle, you may even get the entire vehicle to yourself.
For rides like Flight of Passage that have individual ride seats, you can expect to see at least one empty ride seat between you and the party nearest to you. Clear barriers have also been installed on many rides, just like the ones you’ll see in attraction queues. Ride vehicles such as those on Kilimanjaro Safaris and Jungle Cruise have barriers between rows, and more have been added to attractions that did not previously have them like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
As you can see in the picture above, Rise of the Resistance did not have clear barriers between vehicle rows at the time we stayed on property and we were given our own separate ride vehicle, but now there are barriers between the rows in order to load more than one party into each vehicle and increase attraction capacity.
Entertainment and Character Interactions
Any interactions that Disney considers “High-Touch” experiences have been suspended for the time being, which includes playgrounds, makeover activities like those offered at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and character meet and greets. However, characters still appear throughout the parks at different times throughout the day, including surprise pop up special appearances by individual characters like Joy in Future World at EPCOT or even groups of characters such as Pooh and friends in front of The Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom. You never know when these characters may show up, so be on the lookout!
Disney World’s regular parades, shows, and character meet and greets have also temporarily paused, but guests can still see characters on little floats all throughout the parks in new character cavalcades. These mini parades travel up and down the streets and waterways of the parks at various times along the main parade route in Magic Kingdom, along Animal Kingdom’s Discovery River, around EPCOT’s World Showcase promenade, and down Hollywood Boulevard at Hollywood Studios. For a list of some of the character cavalcades you can usually see in the parks, see our “Walt Disney World Changes” article, or check out our posts about fall offerings and holiday experiences for a look at the special versions of these cavalcades during those times. Disney continues to add more entertainment and offerings as time goes on, so be sure to check before you visit to see what’s new!
Check out the slideshow below for a look at some of the surprise cavalcades you might see in the parks:
Even though we miss seeing all of the regular shows, parades, and meet & greets, we absolutely love these new experiences that Disney has brought to the parks for this time! We think that the element of “surprise” of not knowing when you’ll see characters makes it even more magical, and there is more possibility for spontaneous interactions and reactions with characters than there generally has been over the last many years.
In the past, meet & greets often felt more set up in a specific way and many times very rushed due to the amount of people waiting in line. Now, we find that characters around the parks and in the cavalcades have the ability to actually see and interact with individual guests – which is awesome! – instead of just looking out into a sea of people or needing to quickly moving from one group too the next. We both celebrated our birthdays during this specific trip and had more magical interactions with characters than we ever have before.
Dining and Mobile Ordering
You can still eat both inside and outside at most restaurants in the parks and the resorts, but now they have physical distancing measures in place. Whether you choose to sit inside or outside, you will find that certain areas and tables are now unavailable in order to maintain a good amount of space between parties. In addition to this, Disney is also making a very conscious and careful effort to clean any and all areas after a party leaves.
Self-serve drink stations were also unavailable in every place we visited at the parks and resort as Cast Members now fill your beverage cups for you. We also noticed that anything that is still self-serve, all utilize limited contact dispensers or individual packaging for things like utensils and condiments. You’ll also notice clear barriers separating Cast Members and guests, as well as markers on the ground to help keep parties separated while waiting in line.
Mobile Order has already been an option at many park restaurants for a while now, but now that the parks are open again it has been expanded to all of the eating locations that are currently available. With all of the new health measures in place, Mobile ordering has become much more prevalent and highly encouraged, and guests can find menus for each dining location by searching on the My Disney Experience app or by scanning the unique QR code on signs outside the restaurants (many table service restaurants also offer a touch-free menu option through mobile QR codes as well).
Just like before, guests can place orders through the My Disney Experience app, and once their food is ready they can then pick it up at the restaurant counter. Mobile ordering is a fairly simple process overall, and we used it throughout our stay at Pop Century and for all of our meals elsewhere (aside from our table service dining at California Grill, Coral Reef Restaurant, and Homecomin’, which you can read about in “Our Top 3 Restaurant Experiences at Disney World in 2020” article). Many quick service dining options have a limited menu for the time being, so you’re favorites may not be currently available, but there’s still a pretty good selection in most places between the many dining places that are currently open.
If you want to learn more about our experience using Mobile Ordering at Disney’s Pop Century this time around, take a look at our “What It’s Like to Stay at a Disney Resort Right Now” post.
Shopping works the same way it always has, although guests might have to stand in a short line outside the entrance before entering. So long as there weren’t too many people in the shop, however, you’ll usually be able to walk right in and go wherever you like. Just like restaurant counters, shop checkouts have clear barriers between the guest and the Cast Member, and Disney prefers that you use your MagicBand, credit card, or gift card to pay in order to limit contact, but this is not a requirement. You’ll also probably notice designated entrances and exits if the shop has more than one door, but sometimes this isn’t the case such as at many resort shops.
From our experience, shopping in the parks and resorts isn’t much different now overall than it has been in the past, and we suggest that if a store seems too crowded or has too long of a line that you check back later since crowds tend to fluctuate throughout the day.
Park Photos and PhotoPass Services
You can still take pictures anywhere at the parks and resorts, but you will be expected to keep your mask on for all photos. This is true whether you are taking photos yourself or having a PhotoPass photographer take photos of you or your group.
Disney’s PhotoPass Service is still available and works in essentially the same way with the exception of distanced lines and distanced interactions between you and the photographer whenever possible (they may still need to scan your MagicBand in order to link your photos to your account, but they try to stand at arms length to maintain some distance when they can).
The major change is that Cast Members and PhotoPass photographers can no longer take pictures using your phone or camera since they are trying to limit contact, but you can still have them take photos with their own cameras at the dedicated PhotoPass photo spots throughout the parks. It’s free to take these photos, but if you don’t have Memory Maker or an Annual Pass that includes complimentary PhotoPass photos you’ll have to purchase each photo through your Disney account. This can get quite expensive, so we suggest taking as many pictures yourself as you possibly can always look back on your favorite park memories!
Most all Disney transportation options are up and running right now except for Minnie Van services. Buses, ferryboats, monorail trains, and Skyliner gondolas all have new measures to accommodate physical distancing, which we cover extensively in our article “What It’s Like to Stay at a Disney Resort Right Now”. Everything in that article applies to transportation relating to the parks, so you’ll find all the info you need covered in detail in that post.
Resort Stays and Resort Hopping
During this particular trip we stayed several nights at Disney’s Pop Century Resort and cover our full experience in detail in a separate article, which you can read here. It includes details about our room, the new health measures and changes to common areas (including shopping and dining), and our experience with resort hopping to Disney’s Contemporary Resort for dinner one night.
Overall, we had a really good experience and felt quite comfortable staying on property. If you’re considering staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel anytime in the near future, we definitely recommend taking a look at our “What It’s Like to Stay at a Disney Resort Right Now” post for all the info you need to know before you book a room.
Things may look a little different now, but the parks are still full of Disney magic around every corner! While it’s impossible to guarantee 100% health or safety at any given time and it can be hard to fully relax anywhere right now, we personally felt very comfortable and had a very enjoyable time visiting Walt Disney World this year.
When you choose to go and how your visit looks should depend entirely on your own personal comfort level and can only be decided by you, but based on our own experience we can say that we were pleased overall with how Disney has given every effort to make the parks, resorts, and everywhere on property as clean and safe as they possibly can. The new measures put in place for physical distancing and limited contact were very helpful, and we are very grateful to still have the opportunity to experience Walt Disney World in the midst of an otherwise difficult time.
We are also glad to see that Disney has really tried to provide guests with a unique and enjoyable experience through new offerings since several of their regular experiences are not available right now. As we’ve mentioned before, the overall atmosphere in the parks seems a bit more relaxed and spontaneous than they ever have in years past, even in the midst of the many added health and safety precautions. While it may not be the Walt Disney World we remember or have come to expect, we still had a wonderful time and the kind of vacation experience that you can only get from visiting a Disney Theme Park Resort!
An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. By visiting Disney Properties, or any other properties we share about, you voluntarily assume all risks relate to exposure to COVID-19. We provide all information on this site as we understand it, and can’t be held responsible for any health issues. We are not doctors. Help keep each other healthy.
There’s always a possibility that some of these options and services may change in the future, so be sure to double check the Walt Disney World website for current information on all attractions, character appearances, entertainment, and services before you head to the parks. We will also continue to update this article if we become aware of any changes or new information. The information in this post was current at the time of publishing and is subject to change at any moment. We update our website and articles as often as we can, but it is always a good idea to double check Disney’s official website before planning your trip or visiting the Walt Disney World Resort.Last Updated December 10, 2020