A look at what it’s like visiting Disney right now:
I just got back from a week long trip in Disney World the first week of May and we had a fantastic time. Some of the most common questions I’ve been asked is “how is it?” “how is it different visiting Disney right now?” and “is it worth going?”
The first thing to note is that even in the two weeks since I returned things are changing rapidly, but I’m happy to share my personal experience as well as thoughts/advice as these changes occur – I’ll try to keep you updated. Our trip was May 2nd-May 9th, 2021. We visited all four parks and park hopped a lot.
The other note, of course, is that everyone does Disney differently – for some people character meet and greets being absent might be a deal breaker, while for others it’s not really an issue. I can’t really say if it’s “worth it” for you, but you can take a look at the current situation, the changes, and my observations to hopefully figure out for yourself if you should be visiting Disney right now.
I also visited in early November 2020 and my experience in May was vastly better in a number of ways – in large part because I am now fully vaccinated and felt more comfortable overall. Disney has also eased some restrictions and opened more things which makes it a better experience overall.
If you’re still in the “thinking about visiting Disney right now but not really sure” stage, you’re going to want to decide quickly. It’s never been more important to plan ahead, and last minute trips are fairly impossible right now. As I predicted there has been a huge surge in people who want to go to Disney now that they’re vaccinated, restrictions are easing, and they have vacation time and/or stimulus checks to use.
Park pass reservations are still required and have been filling up ahead of time so you need to plan at least a month or two in advance to make sure you can get into the parks. Dining reservations are also much harder to come by (more below).
The resorts are also filling fast, at least for certain times of year. Most people seem to be planning for October, November, or December right now. I’ve predicted even pre-COVID that October could become the busiest month at Disney with December close behind. This is because the good weather, the holidays, and the festivals, and more flexibility in people’s travel schedules these days. And this year the 50th anniversary celebrations start October 1st.
When searching for resorts for a week long trip, October 17th-23rd, 2021 only Art of Animation suites are showing as available for booking. November 7-13 only has Fort Wilderness Cabins. Early December isn’t much better, though from December 5-11 you at least have a choice between Art of Animation, the Boardwalk, Saratoga Springs, or a 1 bedroom villa at the Riviera.
My advice: If you’re thinking about a trip book something now. With only a $200 deposit for packages or the price of 1 room night that is refundable/changeable you’ll secure a hotel and park pass reservations. Plan for a shorter trip during the week (avoiding weekends) or visit during August/September. Or plan for 2022.
Also note that not all Disney resorts have reopened yet or even have reopening dates, and not all have every room available. While demand is certainly there one thing that is slower to return is cast members and people willing to work these positions. Another important thing to keep in mind.
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In better news, more of the COVID restrictions and precautions are being lifted, making it a more pleasant experience overall.
Temperature checks – Disney stopped doing temperature checks at the entrances to the parks and Disney Springs on May 16th.
Masks – Very recently Disney announced masks would no longer be required outdoors. However they are required on attractions, in queues, and indoor locations unless actively eating or drinking. Mask wearing is definitely more difficult in the outdoor heat and transmission is so low outdoors that this is a great step.
Social distancing – They are still requiring social distancing but in some areas the distance has decreased from 6 feet between parties to 3 feet. I know many people say they like having their space but this is actually huge and can vastly increase what Disney can do (and reopen).
Bag security – the new bag security systems (metal detectors) that were installed last summer are now at all of the parks and they are awesome. No more long bag lines and someone poking through all your stuff and then frantically trying to cram it all back in after. Just walk on through.
Disney is big, and trying to get from place to place can be challenging even in normal times. Transportation has certainly become a bit more frustrating.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Disney buses but they were even more hit or miss on this trip. We had two occasions where we looked at the bus line in the morning and went “nope” and called a Lyft. Normally even a very long line wasn’t a huge deterrent for me because they would pack on in like sardines and fit as many on a bus as possible. Now you’re basically assigned a seat on the bus with plexiglass and depending on party size not every seat will be filled. There’s also no standing. Even running buses continuously you’re only going to get maybe 6-8 parties on a bus at a time depending on size.
The first time was when we were headed to Hollywood Studios from the Contemporary and that line wasn’t terrible but we could tell it would be at least 3 buses before we’d get on – and we had one of the first Rise of the Resistance boarding groups so we made the decision to call a Lyft (which ended up being the right call because they started boarding groups before the park even opened and we were called at 8:30am when the park didn’t open until 9. So we’d only have until 9:30 to get there).
The second time was at Pop Century and I truly have never seen such a line in my life. We were headed to Animal Kingdom and the line seemed to never end. The Magic Kingdom one was even worse. I tried my best to capture it in photos – if you’ve been to Pop Century you might know the layout of the resort. The Magic Kingdom line stretched all the way back to the main lobby doors where Magical Express drops you off. It also looped around a few times. People were leaving some distance but certainly not 6 feet, and with lots of families there are only so many people who could fit on a bus. I’m curious how long they waited.
Then again, there were times where we really didn’t wait at all for a bus! The above Pop Century bus madness was on a Friday morning at 7:30am – both Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom opened at 8am. Heading in a bit after park opening was definitely better for us in terms of buses, though of course you lose some of the shorter wait times. Any time other than morning and park opening we didn’t have issues. We typically only waited around 5-10 minutes for a bus otherwise – including heading to Magic Kingdom on a Thursday around 8:45am, back to Pop around 1:30pm, and going to Disney Springs around 3:30pm.
I’ve used the Skyliner before but this was my first time staying at a Skyliner resort. Overall I really liked it but there were some definitely some wait times here as well. Disney would previously load multiple parties into a gondola (I believe they hold up to 8) but for now it’s one party per gondola.
The thing I appreciate about them is that they are continuously running (hopefully!) so it feels like you’re making progress while you wait. That helps my anxiety. With the buses you never know if another one will show up in 2 minutes or 20 minutes.
We had one very long Skyliner wait but I believe there was an issue with it that day as they were moving very slowly and stopping often (and they then opened them later in the day the next day for maintenance). So I’m guessing this isn’t a typical experience. Caribbean Beach is the hub for the Skyliner, so if you’re coming from Pop Century you have to switch at Caribbean Beach. No matter where we were going, any time of day, we never waited long at Pop to get on (maybe 5-10 minutes).
Caribbean Beach was where there were longer waits. The day we were moving slowly we arrived at Caribbean Beach at 10:25am with a park open time for Epcot of 11am. We got on a line but there were signs posted and we definitely in front of the 25 minute wait sign and close to the 15 minutes so we figured maybe 20 and it wouldn’t be too bad. But with the Skyliner starting and stopping we didn’t get on a gondola til 11:14am (so we waited about 50 minutes here). With our gondola stopping we didn’t get off at Epcot until 11:31am. Since we’d left Pop at 10:12am that was almost an hour and a half travel time from Pop Century to Epcot.
Luckily it was never that bad again. There was always a wait at Epcot in the evenings when we left (usually between 9-10pm with the park closing at 10). I’d say it was typically about half an hour with it sometimes being closer to about 25 minutes to get on the first gondola. That wasn’t too bad. Any other time we used it there was almost no wait, including to Epcot in the late afternoon, Hollywood Studios around rope drop, and to get to the Riviera Resort for character breakfast.
Overall I’m pleased with the Skyliner. I expect to wait a bit at park opening and closing for most transportation at Disney and the waits were reasonable. I think the one long time we had was an anomaly. I’ll definitely stay at Skyliner resorts in the future.
My advice: leave your resort early for transportation just in case. If you’re flexible or in a time crunch consider an Uber or Lyft – we only paid about $12 each time.
Food and dining
We had so many great meals this trip – I feel like both the food and the service at the table service restaurants were better than ever. I’ll be writing about them soon, but we had wonderful meals at Tiffins, Topolino’s Terrace, Enchanted Rose, and of course the Flower and Garden Festival to name a few. But there are definitely some things to keep in mind when it comes to food and dining if you’re visiting Disney right now.
Reservations are harder to get
Not all restaurants have reopened and Disney is still keeping a lot of distance between parties inside. With them also increasing capacity in the parks reservations go quickly. Even at the 60 day out mark a few things we wanted were booked or not the ideal times. I checked again about a week later and it was slim pickings.
Mobile order also means planning ahead
In theory mobile order is great, and you’d think it would be very quick. However I guess Disney knows how many orders they can handle every 15 minutes so when you order you have to select a time slot for pickup. During popular meal times the time slots were usually at least half an hour away, though in some cases the waits were extreme (checking Woody’s Lunchbox around noon you couldn’t get a return time until 2pm!). At the popular places it was harder to just order and get food – there was usually a wait time involved.
We really had the best experiences at the (few) places that weren’t requiring mobile order. Baseline Taphouse had a line that looked fairly long but it moved pretty quickly and they were quite efficient. The Flower and Garden booths were never too bad either.
My advice: book reservations as soon as you can – even if what you want isn’t available, have a back-up plan. Also look at Disney Springs for dinner. Many of those restaurants have their own reservation systems in addition to Disney with more times available through OpenTable. And think ahead if you’re doing a quick service meal.
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At this point most attractions have reopened – at least in terms of rides. Shows and entertainment are still missing in many areas. I didn’t feel like there wasn’t “enough” to do visiting Disney right now, but we also took it easy, spent time enjoying food and drinks, and relaxed at our resort.
Wait times were often inflated
Social distancing can make lines look a lot longer than they actually are – and it didn’t help that Disney’s posted wait times were often way longer than what we actually waited. That wasn’t always the case (there were plenty of times we waited about what was posted) but it was sometimes severely less. For example, the posted wait time for Splash Mountain was 50 minutes and we only waited 15 minutes. We rarely waited more than the posted wait time.
For those of you who like numbers and data as much as I do, here is a gigantic chart of my experiences with wait times.
|Time we joined queue
|Posted wait time
|Time we got on
|Actual wait time
|Difference posted vs. actual
|Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
|Peoplemover (day 2)
|Space Mountain (day 2)
|Pirates of the Caribbean
|Carousel of Progress
|Country Bear Jamboree
|Alien Swirling Saucers
|Runaway Railway (day 2)
|Rock n Roller Coaster
|Toy Story Mania
|Slinky Dog Dash
|Na’vi River Journey
|Flight of Passage
Park capacity is up to about 40%
Right after we left Disney announced they raised capacity again (and opened more park pass reservations). They haven’t been quite as obvious about the numbers as in the beginning, but the best guess seems that capacity went from 35% when we were there to 40% currently. So you can probably expect wait times to be slightly longer than ours.
Pre-shows add to the experience
Disney attractions have a story to them, and even though you may not always pay attention to the pre-show they actually add a lot to the experience. On Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway it’s pretty obvious you’re missing something as you walk through a room, but I still don’t know what it is since I’ve never seen the pre-show. Even rides where I know it really well, it definitely feels lacking just walking through the Haunted Mansion straight onto a Doom Buggy or straight onto a Tower of Terror elevator.
My advice: Don’t get scared off by posted wait times or lines that look long. Especially earlier in the mornings we had minimal wait times for most attractions.
I know most people are concerned about parades and fireworks, but I didn’t miss those things as much as I thought. What feels more absent is live performers. I don’t think I quite appreciate this as much as I do now but it makes a huge difference to the atmosphere in the parks. It’s just not as robust visiting Disney right now without these talented people. The Trolley singers, the Citizens of Hollywood, all of the performers around Epcot’s World Showcase.
These things are slowly returning, including bigger shows – Festival of the Lion King just reopened in Animal Kingdom this weekend. During our visit we also enjoyed:
- the Dapper Dans at the Main Street train station
- Marimba de las Americas at the American Gardens Theater
- Mariachi Cobre at the American Gardens Theater
- Voices of Liberty at the American Gardens Theater
- Epcot pianist in the World Showplace building
My advice: don’t just pass by this entertainment in a rush to get on another ride. There is so much incredible talent here.
There are no current character meet and greets. That means if you’re visiting Disney right now you can’t get photos right next to them or get their autographs. However, it felt like there were characters around all the time. Small cavalcades would suddenly appear, or characters would be “free roaming” in areas separately from guests where you could still see and interact with them from a distance. Honestly, in many ways I like this better.
We did one modified character meal at Topolino’s Terrace. Again, no autographs or photos right next to them but they stop to take pictures and selfies. I was also impressed how they were still able to interact with us and communicate with gestures. They also did a song and dance around the restaurant.
My advice: embrace the more spontaneous nature of the characters now. You can get some great photos of them doing all sorts of fun things they can’t normally do when they’re just posing for photos with guests.
Depending on the time of year you visit, Florida can have some intense weather. In the past this didn’t bother me as much. If it was super hot, or pouring rain, I could plan to do a lot of the indoor shows. There are definitely fewer indoor shows right now though.
The other issue with the heat was the lines. Normally Disney has done a pretty great job of keeping their queues in shade or indoors. But with 6 feet of social distancing that means the lines often spill out of the queue and are totally uncovered in the beating Florida sun. Even in early May is was hitting around 95 degrees and that heat was brutal… and more difficult to escape right now.
Disney has recently announced they are decreasing their distancing to 3 feet, so that should help with some of the lines. Even so there are fewer places to escape indoors for a bit – in Magic Kingdom for example you currently do not have the Hall of Presidents or Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor running.
My advice: If you’re visiting Disney right now or traveling in the warmer months take an afternoon break back at the resort when it’s hottest – or book a table service lunch for a longer break in the A/C.
As always, cast members are incredible. We’ve all had a rough year, but many of these people were either furloughed/let go and struggled to make ends meet, or they were working in a theme park through a pandemic (most likely with minimal pay) and dealing with frankly rude guests. Yet if you are visiting Disney right now they still bring the Disney magic and level of service.
We had so many great cast member experiences I can’t name them all. But a few who stood out:
- Pretty much every server we had – they knew their menus backwards and forwards and made fantastic recommendations. Particularly Matt at Tiffins, Chris at Topolino’s Terrace, and the bartenders at Homecomin’ and Hangar Bar.
- Jason at Oga’s Cantina – we liked the foam on top of the Outer Rim so much he brought us a glass just full of foam and then refilled it!
- Photopass Photographer Edwin at the Magic Kingdom – he came up with some great pose ideas and took awesome pictures! He’s so good he has his own instagram hashtag: take a look for #mainstreetedwin.
- The super sweet CM at Sunshine Tree Terrace – I feel bad I don’t remember her name but she had to deal with the disappointed look on my face when I showed up as soon as they opened at 10am in full orange bird gear and she had to tell me the machine for citrus swirl was down. When I returned an hour and a half later and it was working she gave me my citrus swirl for free.
- My lovely CM friend who took me on a surprise trip to Cast Connection and encouraged me to buy all of the things!
My advice: Treat your cast members extremely well and try to recognize anyone who does a great job – you can try tweeting at Disney with a cast compliment or going to guest services.
So we had a really wonderful trip and I’m excited about Disney and everything to come in the next few years. For me with was definitely worth it to be visiting Disney right now! Things may be different, and some things may never be exactly what they were, but I think a lot of changes are for the better. I can’t wait to be back!
Are you thinking about visiting Disney right now or are you going anytime soon? What are you most looking forward to?