My experience at Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World during COVID
Spoiler Alert- It was better than I could have imagined!
Last week my daughter and I enjoyed a 10-day getaway to Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. Our time was split with two days at the two Universal Orlando parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure), seven days at the four Walt Disney World parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom) plus some time touring a few of the Walt Disney World Resort hotels and Disney Springs. We typically visit once a year, and I am usually in the Orlando area at least one additional time for training or industry-related business events. The experience this year was a bit different to say the least. While not everyone will feel comfortable traveling now, I hope sharing my experience is helpful to anyone who is ready or thinking of a trip in the next 6 months to a year.
Overall, it was a great experience and we felt very safe— exceptionally low crowds, short attraction wait times, good physical distancing measures and so many cute masks. (EVERYONE is wearing a mask!) Masks can get hot sometimes, but it is doable. We drank lots of water and took breaks in air conditioning every couple of hours. Below is more information on new safety measures and our own experience.
Temperature Screening Upon arrival at the resort or theme park, your temperature is taken using a contactless forehead thermometer. Universal Orlando took temperatures at the resort hotels. If your temperature reading is below 100.4, guests are given a colored wrist band giving you the green light for park entry on that day. These bands need to be switched out each day by visiting the designated area in the hotel lobby.
At Walt Disney Word, temperatures were taken at the park entrances before passing through security. If the first thermometer reading is too high (over 100.4), you are directed to a “cool off tent” where shade and water is provided. After a short break, you are invited to have your temperature re-checked. If you are still too high, you and your entire party will not be allowed to enter.
Masks are required for all guests ages 2 and up and must be worn at ALL TIMES except when seated for dining or in a designated Relaxation Station (more on this below). Masks must also be worn on attractions including water rides, for example, Splash Mountain. A new team of Disney cast members, the Disney “Incredi-Crew”, monitor guests throughout the day and are quick to correct anyone who is not wearing their mask properly. (Yep, they caught me once. After taking a sip of my drink, I forgot to replace my mask.)
To us, wearing masks was not overly burdensome. Florida is HOT in the summer, and you will feel the heat with or without a mask. The advice I always give still applies— stay hydrated and take breaks before you think you need them. I personally plan a mid-day table service reservation to escape the heat or return to the resort for a short break each day. Florida summers can be intense.
Be sure to pack more than one mask per person in your day bag. It is nice to have an extra in case it gets overly sweaty or wet from the rain or a water ride.
Hand Washing/Hygiene Hand sanitizer stations are everywhere. Although I brought plenty of hand sanitizer with me, I rarely used my own with so many hand washing and sanitizer stations throughout the parks. I also brought a travel pack of wet wipes and cleaned everything before I sat down. I witnessed surfaces being cleaned throughout the day but felt better taking responsibility for cleaning my own areas.
New Relaxation Stations
There are several Relaxation Stations in each theme park, and at least one in each park is air conditioned. These locations allow you to physically distance from other guests and remove your mask while seated or stationary. You can find Relaxation Stations at the following locations:
Magic Kingdom: Tomorrowland Terrace (outdoor, covered), Golden Oak Outpost in Adventureland (outdoor, uncovered), and Pete's Silly Sideshow (indoor)
Animal Kingdom: Pizzafari (indoor) and Upcountry Landing near the Up! bird show (outdoor, covered)
Epcot: Future World East (outdoor, uncovered), UK Pavilion near the water (outdoor, uncovered), and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway Pavilion (indoor)
Hollywood Studios: Star Wars Launch Bay (indoor) and Galaxy's Edge just past the Rise of the Resistance entrance (outdoor, uncovered)
Universal offers URest Stations at the following locations:
Universal Studios: Near the Central Park Lagoon and Fear Factor Live‘s outdoor amphitheater since the show isn’t currently being performed.
Islands of Adventure: Near the Voyage of Sinbad and the Port of Entry Landing near The Incredible Hulk Coaster.
CityWalk: near Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
Most of the attractions are open and available. Make sure to check your park map or the map in your MyDisneyExperience account for an up-to-date list. FastPass+ (front of the line privileges) is currently not available. (“Child swap” is still available.) Wait times have been low for what is typically a very busy time of year. Even rides like Avatar Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom had wait times ranging from 10 minutes (walk on) to 30 minutes. This could change over time as more guests feel comfortable visiting but, for now, it’s a real treat to wait only 30 minutes for an attraction that often has wait times of 2-3 hours.
Attraction queues are spaced out with markers on the ground reminding you to wait at the marker until the next one is available, keeping groups more than six feet apart. Some attractions with snaking queue lines had Plexiglas dividers in the queue to separate the lanes that border each other.
All attractions are being loaded with space between rows. For example, on Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom one party is loaded in the front row of the boat while another is loaded in the back. This leaves the middle three to four rows open for distancing.
Even with physical distancing on attractions, masks are still required. Your ride photo, where available, is deleted if anyone in the ride vehicle removes their mask.
There are certain areas of the park that may create bottlenecks, but it is fairly easy to avoid those pain points by just waiting for people to pass or walking another way. Using the map in the MyDisneyExperience or Universal Orlando app can be helpful for this purpose as there are various paths and routes to reach any area of the park.
While traditional character meet and greets are suspended, there is still a fun way to see your favorite friends. Regularly throughout the day, cavalcades of characters (https://youtu.be/FLWB28jYYJ0) will ride through the parks. These are like mini parades where you can see a few characters at a time. Some characters also meet on various stages and/or balconies throughout the park. At the Magic Kingdom, it was fun to happen upon Cinderella’s step-sisters, Anastasia and Drizella, on the castle balcony. Their interaction with those who passed by below was very entertaining! There is no schedule for these character experiences, but we were able to see many throughout our visit.
Dining reservations for table service restaurants are now available 60 days out. Or, when staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you can make all of your reservations for your stay 60 days prior to your arrival date. (Universal dining reservations have always been 60 days prior.) When you arrive at the restaurant for your dining reservation, you need to use your MyDisneyExperience app to alert the restaurant staff that you have arrived. Your name will then be called when your table is ready. Tables are properly spaced and menus are either available via a QR Code or at some locations one-time use paper menus are also available. Important to note, walk up availability was NOT available at most Walt Disney World table service restaurants even though it seemed as if there was space available.
Most character dining has been suspended with the exception of “Breakfast à la Art with Mickey & Friends” at Topolino’s Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort. Instead of stopping at each table and posing for pictures the characters parade through the restaurant. Here is a video of our experience at Topolino’s on July 27th: https://youtu.be/ZSUIkn-u7qg. (Be sure to watch it through the end. Donald was our favorite!)
For quick service dining, most orders are taken via the Mobile Order function in the MyDisneyExperience app. You can access Mobile Order by clicking on the + sign in the lower center of the home screen. After selecting the items you wish to order, you will pay with the credit card on file with your account. The final step is to confirm your order. After this step, a number will be assigned to your order. Proceed to the dining location and look for the designated pick up location. Once there, your number will be called when your order is ready. The Mobile Order option has always provided an easy way to avoid another line in the parks and continues to be a great option completely eliminating the need to wait in line for quick service food. Once you are seated, you can remove your mask to enjoy your food.
Overall, it was a great experience and we felt completely safe. For a family who plans a “one and done” trip to Walt Disney World, I would recommend planning a trip for 2021 or 2022 because the experience is completely altered to accommodate new safety measures. Many of the classic Disney experiences such as traditional parades, fireworks and character meets are suspended. And, many of the attractions are modified for physical distancing. However, if you plan to visit 3+ times over several years and/or you have older kiddos who are all about the rides, it is not a bad time to visit.
The way I see it… it works if you want it to work. Disney (and Universal) have provided all the tools to make it safe and enjoyable. If wearing a mask means I can enjoy a crowd-free park and a slower pace to appreciate the little things without feeling overwhelmed, it is totally worth it to me!
The information in this post is valid as of late July 2020. Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are accepting reservations through September 2021. Contact me for more information and to book your vacation to Orlando or wherever you want to go!
See an “Easy Stroll” video of Walt Disney World’s newest resort, Disney’s Riviera Resort here: https://youtu.be/JtBLfsH0Vgw
Or, a short video tour of a Deluxe Studio, Preferred View at Disney’s Riviera Resort here: https://youtu.be/Eh4eRXnk7RU
Holly Poast, CTA is an agent/independent contractor with Magical Moments Vacations specializing in Disney Destinations (land and sea), the Caribbean, select European Markets and Alaska. Ready to plan your next adventure? Contact Holly for inspiration and complimentary concierge-style vacation planning services! Ready to get started? Schedule time to chat here: https://calendly.com/hollypoast/30min