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Summer 2020 has been a weird roller coaster for all of us. Instead of my kids going to their beloved summer camp, and our family spending most of our time at our local pool club, we ended up driving to SW FL and spending over two months in the sunshine state. Not what I originally planned, but with trying to make lemons out of lemonade, I found myself with the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World for two days during the pandemic. Certainly not for everyone, but I wanted to share my experience of what we did and how it went. Plus keep reading for some tips if you are visiting the reopening of Walt Disney World during this pandemic.
Spending Two Days at Walt Disney World During the Pandemic
Why Visit Disney World During a Pandemic?
This is definitely an important question. For me the answer was simple. I had followed the reopening for weeks on social media and Disney seemed to be going to EXTREMES to keep the parks clean, and guests safe. Plus, I was going to be spending a week in Orlando AND I just love Disney.
Also, to be honest, as a travel blogger and travel agent, it’s my job to both check things out and report back, and share my experience to inspire people to dream again.
Plus, I do LOVE Disney!
The kids and I spent an afternoon at the reopening of Disney Springs back in June, and I saw first-hand many of the protocols Disney had in place for guests. This experience helped build my confidence in visiting a park. Although I have to admit (and no secret if you read my Disney Springs article) I was nervous about the masks in the heat but I learned from that experience, frequent breaks would be important.
Planning a Trip to Walt Disney World During the Pandemic
Planning this trip to Walt Disney World was sort of the same as any Disney trip, but sort of different. In some respects I did more advanced planning, and in some respects less. In some areas there were less choices to make, so that probably made it somewhat easier to decide what to do!
I started by deciding what park we wanted to visit and checking if that park had availability. I had seen online such short wait times at Magic Kingdom, but we had never been to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so I had my eye on visiting that park.
Now with no park hopping, and the need to make a park reservation in advance (called a park pass) we had to make sure the park we wanted to visit was available for the days I was looking at.
Here is a great article about park pass, but essentially your accessibility to parks is based on your status – said differently there are three buckets to draw park reservations from. One bucket for Annual Passholders, one for Ticket Holders and one for resort guests (which was where we fell). All parks were available for the week I was looking at coming.
Next, I had to decide what day to visit. I wanted to come mid-week because I figured crowds would be lower. I really wanted to have Breakfast ala Art with Mickey and Friends at Topolino’s Terrace (which is a character meal) so for about a week I checked daily to score a dining reservation for a character brunch. Finally, after days of checking a spot opened up for Tuesday, August 11 and I snagged it.
Dining reservations now open up 60 days in advance, not 180 like previously. I also figured that people would be cancelling out last minute (as life is just so fluid right now) so I was hopeful a dining reservation would become available.
Yes, I planned my trip around this dining reservation!
Now that I had my dates and the park I wanted to visit was available, I had to decide on our resort for the night.
Now here, there were not a ton of options, and for indecisive me, that’s a good thing!
NOTE: I did book a slightly reduced Travel Agent rate. As a College of Disney Knowledge graduate, I have access to some reduced rates throughout the year.
The only value resort that was open this summer was the Pop Century and the only Moderate available was Caribbean Beach Resort. Understandably because these resorts are large, and Disney can condense the staff to fewer properties.
At the time of our visit in August 2020, there were deluxe resorts open, as well as Deluxe Villas, and DVC properties, but those were out of my budget for this trip.
I decided on Disney’s Pop Century Resort based on price, good reviews and its proximity to Hollywood Studios and Topolino’s Terrace (via the Skyliner). I booked a preferred room to be closer to the lobby.
I then had to purchase my one-day tickets (again there is no longer a park hopper option) and make my park reservation. This is all done through My Disney Experience.
Planning a Disney trip is tough. Which resort? Ticket type? Park Passes? Touring Plan? Of course, there is your budget to consider as well!
For those reasons, it’s always best to work with a travel professional to help plan a WDW vacation. I help you with EVERYTHING, And the best part? My services are free! That’s right, you pay the same price whether you book through me or directly through Disney.
Our plan was to arrive on property Tuesday morning, have our 10:55 brunch at Topolino, then hang out at the Pop – go to the pool etc., relax Tuesday night at the hotel, and spend all day Wednesday at Hollywood Studios.
Keep reading to see how it went!
Note About Face Coverings at Walt Disney World
I just want to preface this by saying as of this writing in August 2020, masks are required on Disney property for all guests age 2 and up. Unless you are stationary and eating or drinking (or in a mask relief area) or at the pool, you must wear a mask – even walking around outdoors.
Also, in true Disney fashion, there is insider lingo – they are called “face coverings” not masks.
We were ready to safely take on Walt Disney World!
JUST UPDATED OCTOBER 2020: What its like to visit the Caribbean during COVID, my Antigua Trip Report.
Disney During the Pandemic Arrival Day: Topolino’s Breakfast and Checking Into the Pop Century
We arrived at Pop Century around 9:45am to park our car. Our Topolino reservation was at 10:55 so I figured we would have plenty of time to ride the Skyliner over to the Riviera Resort, and mill about.
Upon arrival, we headed into Pop to get our magic bands. The lobby was very empty, there were social distancing markers, and plexiglass everywhere.
With our magic bands, we headed over to the Skyliner, which is located at the back of Pop Century -on the way to Art of Animation – which was closed during our stay.
The Disney Skyliner has a few “lines” and stops. To get from Pop Century to the Riviera Resort, you have to take the first gondola to the Caribbean Beach Resort stop, then transfer to the one that goes to EPCOT (which has a stop at Riviera Resort).
We quickly got on the Skyliner, they allow only one party per car, so it’s a pretty safe mode of transportation. You are enclosed, but there are windows for fresh air.
The kids loved riding the Skyliner, but what I did not love was that when we arrived at Caribbean Beach Resort, there was a LOOONNNNGGGG line of people waiting to board the Skyliner to EPCOT.
Why the jam up at 10:20am during a global pandemic? Because with staggered park opening times, EPCOT only opens at 11am, and the Skyliner to EPCOT only opened at 10:30!
Yes, at 10:20am, we got caught up in a rope drop back log!
Times are crazy!
Of course, I was freaking out that we would be late for Topolino, but we arrived at the restaurant at exactly 10:55am.
The brunch was great – and I think Topolino is the only on-property character meal during the pandemic (or maybe its the only one you can enjoy without a park ticket- yes, Garden Grill in EPCOT is serving a character meal). Full review on the meal coming soon, but we finished up at Topolino a little after noon.
Heading to EPCOT? Then check out my EPCOT Dining Guide
After brunch, we hung out around the Riviera, taking pictures and looking around. I LOVE the mosaics under the arch when you first enter the property from the Skyliner. Be sure to check that out when you visit the Riviera Resort.
Around 1pm, we went to take the Skyliner back to Pop Century, and thankfully at this hour there were no lines.
Again – we took one Skyliner from Riviera to Caribbean Beach Resort, then switched to the Skyliner that goes to the Pop and Art of Animation (which was weird passing over, because it was empty – so creepy!).
PRO-TIP: Wait for an unwrapped Skyliner car for an unobstructed view!
Walt Disney World during the Pandemic Arrival Day: Swimming at Pop Century and Dinner at Disney Springs
When we arrived back at the Pop, unfortunately our room wasn’t ready. You can check-in (contactless) on the My Disney Experience App and they message you when your room is ready (be sure to turn ON notifications – you will also need this for Rise of the Resistance).
I checked at the desk and the Cast Member suggested we check our luggage and head to the pool – it was going to be a while before our room was ready.
We obliged. You can check your luggage to the right of the Pop Century main entrance and head over to the pool.
The main pool at the Pop Century is called the Hippy Dippy pool and its located in the 60’s section. The pool is huge, and lounge chairs were well spaced in groups of three all around. Towels are provided, they are self-serve. Worth noting there is also a bar adjacent to the Hippy Dippy pool.
We visited on a super-hot August day so the pool felt amazing. We loved that the resort staff was doing trivia at the pool. Sadly, and such is summer in Florida, we had to clear out of the pool around 3:30 because there was lightening in the area.
At this point, our room still was not ready, so I had to go into the front desk AGAIN to check. Ultimately, we were waiting for the preferred room I booked, but decided to take a regular room instead. They did refund me the upcharge, and they noted the delay was due to extensive cleaning because of the pandemic.
After getting settled, stay tuned for a full Pop Century hotel review, we decided to drive over to Disney Springs to get some quick service dinner.
Since we had a large, and expensive character brunch, I figured we would go quick (and cheaper) on the dinner. The Pop Century does have a quick service option at Everything Pop, but like most Disney dining establishments, had only a limited menu. I wasn’t jazzed about the options so I figured Disney Springs would have more choices.
During our stay, driving around Walt Disney World was so easy. We hopped in our car, headed over to the Orange Garage and parked. Crowds are so low, so ease of transport was a great bonus. Plus, riding in your own vehicle is going to be the safest option to get around Walt Disney World during the pandemic.
We ended up eating at D-Luxe Burger. When you arrive, you scan the QR code on the sign, and mobile order on the My Disney Experience App. When your food is ready, you get a notifications of which counter (inside the restaurant) to find your food. Only when your order is ready can you go inside. You cannot wait inside for your food.
We opted to dine outdoors which was so nice. This was a beautiful way to end our first day at Walt Disney World and carbo load for the long day ahead!
Walt Disney World Day 2: A day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during the Pandemic
Once you have your park reservation (called Park pass), your masks, and are clear on park opening times (they are nothing like usual and changing constantly), it probably makes sense to drive to the park. That is what we did. Since resort guests only pay one parking charge, this was the easiest way.
Plus, pandemic or not, be sure to have a fully stocked Disney World Park Bag with you!
We arrived at the parking gate around 9:10 and were let in shortly after. We were through the contactless security and ticket collection by 9:30! NOTE: The park “officially” opened at 10, but get there early! There were no crowds, and no lines at the entrance.
I will do a full recap of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but the theme of the day was short wait times.
When we first arrived, the kids rode Tower of Terror – 2x. The ride started running about 9:45. At promptly 10am, Amanda (from Vegan Disney Food) and I secured us a Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group. I got group #14 with an expected wait of 85 minutes.
So, before noon, kids rode Tower of Terror TWICE, Rock n’ Coaster, Toy Story Mania and Rise of the Resistance.
Indoor Dining at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
We had an 11:10 dining reservation at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano for an early lunch. We chose Mama Melrose because it is indoors and we thought a mid-day break from the heat and mask would be a good choice.
We also choose to dine on the earlier side to avoid the peak lunch time crowds.
Well, the best laid plans, right?
We didn’t get off Rise until about 11:40, at which time it was too late to check in for our dining reservation (because of COVID you check in on the My Disney Experience app and you have about a half hour grace period to do so). Not sure what to do, we walked over to the restaurant, and luckily it was not crowded at all, and they sat us in the back.
I have not done much indoor dining during the pandemic. But after our trip to Disney Springs in June, I knew that an air-conditioned break from the heat and masks was going to be essential to putting in a full day at a Walt Disney World park.
Plus, if any place is going to do a good job with indoor dining -its Walt Disney World.
The servers at WDW all wear masks AND shields, so this felt like an added layer of comfort. The tables are distanced and again, the restaurant was nowhere near full capacity.
More Disney’s Hollywood Studios Rides and A Trip to Galaxy’s Edge
After lunch we were refueled. We rode Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Slinky Dog Dash, Alien Swirling Saucers, Star Tours, and the kids repeated Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror and Rock n’ Coaster.
We also spent some time hanging out in Galaxy’s Edge. We tried blue milk from the Milk Stand (we liked it!) but were sad they were not taking walk-ins for Oga’s Cantina.
After lunch, the temperature was rising and the mask, for me at least, became more uncomfortable. Since I was done with rides, I sent them in the queue for Toy Story Mania and found a table at Woody’s Lunch Box (which sadly was closed) to have some water and take off my mask.
I know Disney advertised “relaxation stations” but there was no signage as to where these actually were. It seemed like the table area outside Brown Derby (to the right if you are facing the entrance) and Woody’s Lunch Box were good places to sit and take off your mask.
By 6PM, we were all pretty spent. We grabbed a Mickey pretzel (of course!), headed back to the car and drove back to the condo where we were staying. We all showered and went to bed, we were so tired, but on the magical Disney high!
Tips for visiting Walt Disney World during the Re-opening
- Pack some back up masks and hand sanitizer – also make sure your masks are Disney compliant. I saw someone roll up to Disney Springs with a gaiters and they were asked to buy a mask in the vending machine.
- Be sure to set up your My Disney Experience App – especially the payment for mobile food orders since this is the only way quick service restaurants are taking orders.
- Bring a reusable water bottle, in DHS the water fountains were working.
- Consider making an indoor dining reservation, to take a break from the heat sans mask. At DHS there were indoor attractions, but you will still have your mask on.
- You must be stationary to eat or drink. I listened to a podcast about how this might affect your touring plan/time, but with low park crowds you don’t need to be dashing from attraction to attraction with no time to sit and eat.
- Take breaks in the shade to drink and take off your mask.
- Not all queue markers are 6 feet apart. Some are further spread out to allow not just front/back social distancing, but side to side as well. For some reason, this really confused my kids and they kept moving up, even though six feet was clear, it really wasn’t our turn to move ahead! Finally, I explained it to them.
Should I take a trip to Walt Disney World during the Pandemic?
I think the last tip, is sort of my mantra for this pandemic – you do you. If you feel comfortable, and it seems like the right choice for your family – go for it! Your Walt Disney World vacation will be met with shorter wait times, the cleanest you have ever seen the park, and lots of fun times. But if you are even a bit hesitant, no worries, Disney isn’t going anywhere and now is a great time to dream about a late 2021 or 2022 trip! Be sure to message me with all your Walt Disney World re-opening questions and reach out to utilize my FREE Disney Vacation planning services – WDW resort/ticket packages have low, refundable deposits, so it’s a great time to secure your spot.
Have you been to the re-opening of Walt Disney World? What was your experience like?