Ever since they re-opened in July, the Disney World parks have been the source of many questions and confusion as people start to plan (and re-plan) trips to the most magical place. While also wondering if it will still be the most magical place as it has been before.
As we head into the final weeks of 2020, with park activity in full swing, we have a pretty solid idea of what to expect for the rest of the year (as much certainly as we can reasonably assume in the year 2020, that is!).
After two visits down to the Walt Disney World resort and another coming up, I’ve put together this post to help you frame your mindset and properly plan for a trip if you’ve got one in the works between now and the new year. Here’s what you can expect, and should plan for.
While the parks are still operating at a lower-than-normal capacity and utilizing the park pass reservation system to manage it, the days of July 2020 when parks were empty and rides were walk-on only are gone. Don’t walk into Magic Kingdom and expect to get on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in a matter of minutes.
While that was (surprisingly) the case in July and even into August, people are resuming travel in larger numbers and parks are hitting their capacity limits a lot more regularly. And with the holiday season now in full swing for the rest of the year, there’s not going to be another “slow period” till January (if that even exists any more).
Disney CEO Bob Chapek insists that WDW parks are still operating at 25% capacity, with no plans to change that. A lot of people disagree with that and don’t believe it, according to the polling I’ve done with my Instagram audience. I personally think it is possible that that’s the limit, keeping in mind that 25% of 100,000 (Magic Kingdom’s normal capacity, roughly) is still 25,000 guests in the park. With very few shows open, less shops and dining to venture into, and ride queues stretching out to where you can see them, you’re going to see more people out and about and not tucked away in a show or queue for most of the day.
Continued Efforts for Physical Distancing and COVID Safety
With the rising crowd levels and more crowd visibility, you may be wondering if the parks will still be enforcing and expecting guests to wear masks and be physically distant. The state of Florida is wide open, thanks to Governor DeSantis, and has virtually no restrictions imposed on businesses and public places. Disney being private property however, can keep its restrictions in place for as long as it likes. And you can expect that they will, through the rest of the year and most if not all of 2021 too.
Yes, that means you still have to wear a face covering at all times in a Disney park, at Disney Springs, at a resort outside of your room, etc. The only exception is when you are actively eating or drinking while stationary (so no strolling around the world showcase sipping a Violet Sake slowly, sorry). From my experience, Disney cast members are enforcing this. The best enforcement I’ve seen has been at the hub area of Magic Kingdom, where people often want to slip their mask off for a castle photo. Cast members have been quick to remind guests not to do that.
If anything, they’re getting more strict with these policies. New signs have appeared in the parks with much harsher language, saying essentially to wear a mask – and wear it properly – or leave.
On the note of physical distancing, the larger crowds I mentioned will undoubtedly make that less easy to accomplish. It is entirely possible, however, to remain six or more feet apart from other guests/parties. Maybe that means you skip getting in line for an attraction or standing in the exact perfect spot for a calvacade, but you have to make that decision yourself. Cast aren’t always standing around you measuring out six feet. It’s easier in queues with markings, and if you start following the markings then other guests behind you will too from my experience. It’s harder out in the open areas, and you just have to be mindful of it as you go through your day.
Plenty of Disney Magic to go around, still
One of the most common questions I’ve gotten since this all started is if the “Disney magic” is still there or not. With all the restrictions, pieces of the park still closed down, no character meetings, etc., do you still feel that same energy and excitement you get walking through a Disney park?
My answer is a confident yes. Like I said, I’ve been twice this Fall and have a third trip coming up, with plans to be back again in 2020 still. If I didn’t feel the magic and enjoy the experience, or if I didn’t feel relatively safe being there, I wouldn’t be going back. I would have cancelled my annual pass and said maybe next year.
Disney magic doesn’t rely on a single dining experience or character meet and greet. It’s in the details of the park. It’s the way cast members go above and beyond to make the day extraordinary. Cast members have been absolutely outstanding, by the way, even despite everything they’re going through with threats of furlough and layoff for themselves and their peers.
The best advice I will give to anyone going to Disney World right away to have the best and most magical time: go in with low expectations.
Don’t go into the trip expecting the same things you would have a year ago. It’s not realistic and you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. Don’t expect Festival of Fantasy-style parades from the character calvacades, but you can expect a great show from them. Don’t expect a grand fireworks spectacular to wrap up your night, but cherish the finer details that exist in the park to find that magic a different way.
Safety is the top and most important key (value) for Disney and so you should go in expecting that other parts of the experience will be changed to ensure that safety exists. It’s not a cut back though, it’s just a change, in my personal opinion.
Obviously, the level of comfort and safety you feel going to a theme park or anywhere right now is a personal decision. You have to weigh the risks for you and your family, and that’s a choice you have to make. I share all of this to help you make that choice, not to cast judgment on whatever that choice may be. I’m not endorsing going to Disney or any theme park right now. I made that choice for myself, just as you must. The more information you have, the better you are able to make smart and safe decisions for yourself.
As always, if you have any questions or want to know more about what the parks are like right now, follow along with my journey on Instagram and send me a message!