Complete Guide to Visiting Disney World in 2020 during COVID
After 117 days of being closed, the longest in Disney history, Disney World reopened Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11th followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15th after weeks of Annual Passholder Previews and Cast Previews.
There are some notable differences at each park and Disney Springs to help ensure guests and Cast Member safety.
Steps to Visiting Disney World
While the magic still remains, there are many new differences when visiting Disney World. Even if you’re an ole pro like me, it’s best to follow these steps to ensure your trip goes smoothly.
1. Visit Disney’s Know Before You Go Website
Before visiting Disney World, please, visit Disney’s Know Before You Go website to ensure you’re up to date on all policies and procedures, including acceptable masks that must be worn at all times in the parks. This will always be the most up to date resource.
2. Check the Disney Park Pass Availability Calendar
Guests wanting to visit Disney World will now require more than just a valid theme park ticket and comfy shoes! Each guest must also have a Park Pass Reservation.
Reservations can be made to visit the parks once you have purchased valid park admission BUT make sure you’ve checked the availability calendar prior to purchasing tickets. Having a ticket does NOT ensure a park reservation or entry. Sounds complicated right? It’s not but it does require a few extra steps to get your trip plans accomplished.
3. Purchase Theme Park Tickets
Theme park tickets can be added to a resort reservation or you can purchase stand-alone tickets. Each ticket type has its own availability calendar so be sure to check the appropriate one prior to purchasing. Stand-alone tickets are non-refundable and non-transferable.
4. Link your Ticket to you My Disney Experience Account
If you have not yet created a My Disney Experience account you can do so easily. If your theme park tickets are attached to a vacation package including your resort stay you’ll enter the resort confirmation to load your tickets and match them to the appropriate person in your traveling party. Otherwise, you can link the ticket number in your account.
If you have other Disney owned accounts like ShopDisney.com, Disney+, or Disneyland your email address will show in use. Use the password you have for any of these accounts for access. All Disney related accounts will utilize the same password.
Note: Guests staying at one of Disney’s Good Neighbor Hotels may need to call Disney IT to have a “dummy ticket” linked to your account. Actual park tickets are picked up at check-in when you stay at a Good Neighbor Hotel and occasionally My Disney Experience needs a little help to get the tickets to show up in the account.
5. Make your Park Pass Reservations
Once you’ve purchased your theme park tickets and linked them to your account you are now ready to make your Park Pass Reservations. All you need to know to make your Park Pass Reservations can be found here. This is an important step to visiting Disney World. Without Park Pass Reservations, you will not be able to enter any of the four theme parks. Disney Springs does not require a Park Pass Reservation but is available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Wearing a Mask at Disney World
All guests over the age of 2 are required to wear a mask at all times when on Disney World property. No exceptions will be made, medical or otherwise. So please arrive prepared.
Masks must be worn in the parks, in public areas at Disney Resorts, at Disney Springs, and on all Disney Resort transportation.
Masks must cover the nose and mouth and fit snuggly against the face. Partially covering your face, or mouth only is not acceptable. Gators and bandanas are not acceptable and will not be permitted.
Just weeks into Disney World’s reopening they updated the mask policy to also ban the use of masks with breathing holes, vents, or valves.
Additionally, guests were told that if removing a mask to drink or eat you must remain stationary when doing so. Some guests had been previously walking and holding their drink or food in hand in order to avoid having to wear their masks. Disney has now fixed this issue.
In addition to the updated mask policy, Disney has also implemented a team of special Guest Service Cast Members to walk throughout the parks and remind guests that their masks must be on at all times. This special team can be spotted in bright yellow shirts and are often holding a smiling face in front of their own masks.
Disney has been regularly updating its park policies to help ensure guest safety. Showing that they are monitoring the situation closely and making the necessary changes to help keep everyone safe. This is what it is so important to check the “Know before you go” page prior to traveling.
Notable Changes at the Theme Parks
Once you arrive at Disney World you will see the additional changes that have been made throughout the parks and resorts.
When the parks reopened Disney suspended the use of FastPass + and canceled all FastPass reservations guests had previously made. Due to the limited capacity of guests allowed in the parks the FastPass + System has not been necessary.
Most attractions are walk-on and the more popular attractions like 7 Dwarfs Mine Train and Flight of Passage that typically have waits well over an hour are now showing wait times of 30-45 minutes. This is an unexpected and very nice change, especially in the Florida summer heat.
I visited all four parks the week of reopening and easily rode everything I wanted to ride, many of the best attractions more than once, and still had time to spare.
For the foreseeable future at Disney continues to limit the number of guests able to visit the theme parks each day FastPass+ is not a necessary tool to make your park days enjoyable.
As a local, I must say I am really enjoying not having to worry about FastPass reservations!
Many dining locations have reopened with limited reservation space. All of the tables are socially distanced and some popular locations like Liberty Tree Tavern have been seating guests inside the neighboring quick-service dining location, Golden Horseshoe, in order to accommodate more people.
Dining reservations can be made 60 days prior to arrival rather than the 180 days prior to arrival were used to in the past. This is one change I hope sticks around for the future.
You should note that not all dining locations are open, both quick service and table service locations are limited and all are operating on a modified/reduced menu.
Prior to visiting it is best to look up the location online and view there current menu. There were several situations in which I had intended to order a small plate or appetizer while dining midday but with limited options, I often found that family-style meals or limited options due to my gluten allergy were all that were available.
While I enjoyed almost all of my meals when I returned to Disney World I did leave with a hefty bill at the end when the only thing I could order was a three-course family-style plate with dessert. Don’t get me wrong, it was great but it could be a costly surprise for those traveling with families.
Most notable is Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom. This popular location has previously offered guests a quick service location with a reservation for both breakfast and lunch followed by a signature table service meal in the evening.
Signature meal meaning the nicest or highest price point of meals offered on your Disney vacation.
At Disney’s reopening, Be Our Guest is now a signature table service meal for all mealtimes. Again, it’s so important that you check menus prior to arriving so that you don’t have any surprises when you sit down. Everything we’ve previously known about eating at Disney World has changed.
Character Meals have always been a popular way to see our favorite characters and get fun pictures without needing to wait in line.
Currently, Disney only offers two character dining options and thankfully I was able to try them both.
- Topolino’s Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort for breakfast only
- Garden Grill at Epcot
Both are modified experiences in that the characters do not come to each table, sign autographs, and take pictures.
Autograph cards are handed out and pictures, mostly selfies are taken from afar.
Between the two I recommend Garden Grill over Topolino’s. I felt like the food and character interactions were better at this location than at Topolino’s. Just 7 months ago I would have told you differently.
After eating at Topolino’s for breakfast in December I was madly in love with this character dining option. The location is great, accessible without a park ticket, the food was phenomenal and the character outfits with stunning outside views all helped it to top my list of favorites. Upon returning in early July I was sadly disappointed in the incredibly limited food choices for a higher price. I will return to Topolinos one day but for now, if you’re looking to visit Mickey during a meal, Garden Grill gets my vote.
The majority of the attractions are open and available to ride. In fact, you can ride them more than once at Disney World during COVID. The low crowds make walking onto your favorite attractions easier than ever!
Upon reopening, many questioned how the attraction cars would be cleaned and if they would be cleaned in between each rider. I was unsure how this would go prior to arriving at the reopened parks but ultimately the answer is attractions are not being cleaned in between each rider.
Every few hours it seems that attractions are being closed and deep cleaned. Guests who are currently waiting in the attraction line can continue to do so. It seems, and I have no real information, that these cleanings take about 15-20 minutes. Guests will then be able to ride.
At first, I was reluctant to ride anything that required me to touch the ride to participate, like Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin or Toy Story Mid Way Mania. However in the end I did ride both attractions and washed my hands after being extra careful not to touch my face or any other belongings prior to sanitizing.
Is this the right decision for everyone? Maybe not. Assess your comfort level, the comfort level of the people traveling with you, and the ability of your children to show restraint in not touching their faces prior to washing and then make the best decision for your family.
I will tell you that my adult only park days looked a whole lot different than my park days when I took the girls with me. They are older, 11 and 13, and did well. But I was in full mom mode busting out additional hand sanitizer in line, reminding them not to touch the queue rails and to basically be extra vigilant.
It’s easy to arrive at our Happy Place and forget all that’s going on in the world. Try to find a happy medium in this. Allowing yourself the days magic that we all so desperately need while also doing your best to keep yourself and others around you safe.
Outside each entrance and exit to the attractions, touchless hand sanitizer stations are in place for guests to sanitize their hands. It is your job to sanitize prior to getting on attraction to protect others and after exiting the attraction to protect yourself.
Each park has Relaxation Stations where guests are allowed to remove their masks.
This takes the place of going into a Quick Service location to sit down, rest, enjoy the AC, and take off your mask.
For now, unless you have a food order guests are not being permitted to enter the quick service locations to simply rest. Cast Members are stationed at the doors and even if you have mobile ordered they will request you wait outside until your order is ready.
Relaxation Stations essentially provide the same option without requiring you to make a purchase. Cast Members are stationed in front of the entrance and are keeping count of the number of guests who come and go so as not to overcrowd the area. If it’s full you will wait in a queue until space opens up.
Once inside you’ll find tables, some with chairs, some standing size, and even dots on the floor to show where you’re allowed to stand. There is no time limit as to how long you can stay and you can literally sit there and do nothing if that’s what you’re after. Your mask can be removed and you may eat snacks of your own if you’ve brought them along.
It should be noted that tables and chairs are not being cleaned in between each guest and the cleaning of these spaces seems to operate like the attractions in that it happens every few hours.
I think it’s best to carry your own Clorox wipes or similar and hand sanitizer so when you feel the need for them, you’re prepared. Yes, Disney is providing hand sanzitizer and something tells me a Cast Member would happily wipe down a table for you if you asked, but I’m always of the opinion it’s better to be prepared than relying on someone else.
Relaxation Station Locations
- Tomorrowland Terrace – Tomorrowland – outdoors, shade covered
- Pete’s Silly Sideshow – Fantasaylan – AC, limited space
- Golden Oak Outpost – Frontierland – outdoors, limited space
- Pizzarfari – Discovery Island, inside AC
- Upcountry Landing – Asia, across from Up! A Great Bird Adventure – outdoors
- Yorkshire County Fish Shoppe – United Kingdom – outdoors
- Festival Center in between Germany and the United Kingdom
- Akershus – Norway – inside AC
- Future World in between Test Track and Mission Space
- Galaxy’s Edge near Rise of the Resistance – outdoors, limited space
- Star Wars Launch Bay
At this time in the park, entertainment is very limited. Stage shows both indoors and out have not reopened, parades are not being scheduled and fireworks have not been seen or heard in the night sky since March 13th. A strange thing for us locals who use the nightly fireworks as a timepiece in our nightly routines.
The reasoning behind this is limiting opportunities for crowds to gather. Just think to all of the people that show up and wait in tight spaces to catch the afternoon parades and nightly shows.
Instead of the scheduled parade and showtimes, Disney is taking to the streets of the parks with short, unannounced character cavalcades throughout the day. Each park has something special of their own to share.
At Magic Kingdom:
You’ll find some of your favorite characters atop the train station terrace waving to the people down below. Tink, Merida on her house, and Mickey & Minnie randomly riding the streets throughout the day. One of my most favorite sightings was the Barbershop Quartet and Band making its way through the Magic Kingdom. Their music on Main Street is a staple for me.
At the Animal Kingdom
The characters can be seen on the waters waving to the guests from the safety and social distance of their boats. I even was lucky enough to encounter a small drum band float on by.
At Hollywood Studios
Several character cavalcades have been spotted and decked out with themed cars. Mickey & Minne are probably my most favorite. I’d drive that Mickey car any day. Others have really enjoyed Eda Mode in the Pixar Calvacade and Disney Jr. friends in another.
In Galaxy’s Edge characters are stationed throughout the land at unreachable spots patrolling the area and keeping watch over the people. These random locations really do make for some fun character selfies with no crowds or wait times.
And finally, my most favorite was seeing Mickey and Minnie take to the World Showcase in their classic car at Epcot. This one really brought back the magic for me. I’ve seen pictures of Joy frolicking in the grass near Canada but have yet to come across her myself.
While there are so many things I miss about the Disney we know and love, like nighttime entertainment, some of the changes are a welcome newness. The spontaneity is back and I truly feel like it adds to the magic.
Temporarily Unavailable at Disney World during COVID
There is a handful of attractions in all four parks that are not currently operating. This can change at any time so make sure to check the My Disney Experience app to see.
The easiest way to tell is to hop on during park hours and check wait times. If the attraction you’re looking for is closed or under refurbishment, you can see that it’s not currently running.
Shows & Attractions that are Temporarily Unavailable – Subject to Change at anytime
- Festival of Fantasy Parade
- Let the Magic Begin – Morning Show
- Move It, Shake It, MousekeeDance It Street Party
- All character meet & greets
- Splash n’ Soak Station at Storybook Circus
- Happily Ever After Fireworks
- Once Upon A Time Castle Projection Show
- Citizens of Main Street
- Dapper Dans
- Electric Water Pageant
- Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire
- Festival of the Lion King
- Primeval Whirl
- Finding Nemo – The Musical
- Tree of Life Awakenings
- Up! A Great Bird Adventure
- All Character Meet & Greets
- Voices of Liberty
- All World Showcase Entertainment
- All Character Meet & Greets
- Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage
- Disney Jr. Dance Party
- Disney Movie Magic
- For the First Time in Forever – A Frozen Sing-Along
- Indian Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
- Jedi Training – Trials of the Temple
- Star Wars a Galactic Spectacular – Nightime Fireworks Show
What to Expect During Your Visit
The last section was really hard to write! Listing all of the things we won’t see when visiting Disney World during Covid. And honestly, it makes you wonder if now is the time to visit!
Truthfully there are still so many reasons to visit Disney World right now. Of all the things that aren’t operating, there is so much magic that is still available. Before the pandemic shutdown, I always told my clients that you simply can’t do it all in one visit. So even if all of the above was open, you more than likely would not see all of it! But now, now there’s time to do it all and enjoy a realizing afternoon at the pool and a yummy dinner at one of Disney’s many restaurants.
Now the parks are less crowded, there’s more spontaneity in what you can do. With shorter lines for some of the best attractions, Disney has to offer, you can walk on to your favorites multiple times over and accomplish so much more in one day. I really enjoyed having the parks more to myself with room to roam and enjoy the bubble of magic it offers.
- Low Crowds
- Short Wait Times
- Surprise Magic as characters simply appear!
- No waiting to meet characters
- Opportunities to ride your favorite attractions repeatedly
- Relaxing afternoons at the pool
- Afternoon naps
- Casual evenings
- Food & Wine Festival in the summer!
All in all the decision to travel right now is a very personal one. It has it’s limitations but also it’s added value.
When you’re ready to visit Disney World I’m here to help you navigate all of the changes that no double will continue for some time.
You can email me for a quote at Jamie@LOTVM.com