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Disney World during COVID-19?

Social distancing policies are everywhere.

I went to Disney World during the pandemic. Here’s what I learned.

By Corinne Minard

As a self-proclaimed theme and amusement park junkie, one of the strangest things for me in 2020 was that I did not visit a single theme park. I usually visit a minimum of three parks each year, with at least one of them being in Orlando. After months of staying home, I decided to do one of the only risky things I’ve done since COVID-19 came to Ohio—visit Disney World for a day. I was in Disney World’s Hollywood Studios on Jan. 1 this year, and I learned some things that may be useful for anyone considering a similar trip.

Social distancing policies are everywhere. I have mostly stayed home during the pandemic, but I found the social distancing policies implemented at Disney to be some of the most thorough I’ve experienced. Cars in the parking lot were only parked in every other spot. Each ride line had markers for where to stand so you could remain 6 feet apart from people in all directions, not just those in front of or behind you. Popular stores limited the number of people who could be in the shop at any one time. And many rides left rows empty or placed plexiglass barriers between groups.

Disney World’s Hollywood Studios on Jan. 1

There was so much hand sanitizer. Am I the only one who’s gone to the hand sanitizer station at the grocery store only to find it empty? This never happened the entire day at Hollywood Studios and I frequently saw employees refiling the stations. In addition, there was so much of it. Each ride seemed to have at least four dispensers as you traversed the line, and there were always a couple when you left the ride, too. I brought my own sanitizer to the park, but I rarely felt the need to use it.

Wearing a mask wasn’t awful! While I’ve found myself enjoying wearing masks outside during the winter, I was dreading wearing it in the Florida heat and humidity. All visitors to the parks, ages 2 and up, must wear masks at all times unless they have stopped to eat or drink or are in a designated Relaxation Station. I found myself barely noticing the mask, though, and saw most other people following this policy.

All visitors to the parks, ages 2 and up, must wear masks at all times unless they have stopped to eat or drink or are in a designated Relaxation Station.

There were long lines, but short waits. Due to social distancing procedures, lines for rides looked very long. Many extended out past the ride’s usually que area and snaked around general walkways. However, most lines moved very quickly, and I spent very little time standing in line.

Other park visitors, not Disney, were the problem. Just like everywhere you go during the pandemic, some people just can’t seem to follow the rules. I watched one family touch everything while in line for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run—from the walls and line barriers to the fake door keypads—and then ignore every hand sanitizer dispenser. I saw people getting told to correct their masks repeatedly. And while Disney carefully marked every spot in line to promote social distancing, some people would still stand right behind the group in front of them. Disney cast members called out these behaviors whenever they saw them, but they don’t have eyes everywhere. It was these people, not Disney employees or policies, that led to me feeling unsafe at times.

After having gone, I’m cautious about going back to Disney World during the remainder of the pandemic. I certainly wouldn’t go during a peak time, such as spring break, when the parks will likely hit their reduced capacity limits. However, during one of the park’s slow times, I believe you could safely navigate the park while social distancing.

If you and your family are still considering a trip, here are some tips I would take under advisement:

– Plan ahead. Because the parks are still limiting capacity, you’ll have to purchase your ticket and pick the park you’re visiting in advance. Park hopping (a ticket add-on that allows visitors to visit multiple parks at Disney World in one day) has returned for the first time since last spring, but you’ll still have to select ahead of time the park in which you’re starting out and park hopping hours are limited.

– Be flexible. Despite being a frequent visitor to Disney who knows the ins and outs of the My Disney Experience app, I was unable to get a boarding pass for Hollywood Studios’ most popular attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Because of the popularity of the ride, prospective riders have to reserve boarding passes through app. I did everything correctly, but I was unable to reserve one. I later found out that the boarding passes were fully booked in literal seconds after the system opened that day. Because of social distancing efforts, the number of people who can ride the attraction has been reduced. While this is the only ride at the parks that requires a digital boarding pass, I would encourage park visitors to not focus their day on a particular attraction and to be prepared to pivot, just in case you’re unable to get to a desired ride.

– Follow the rules. Because of the park’s extensive rules, I oftentimes felt more comfortable at Disney then I did at the grocery store. Other people visiting the park, though, often ruined this feeling. If everyone follows the rules, it’s possible to have a safe and entertaining visit at Disney World.