Hi Friends! I wanted to write about my experience traveling to Walt Disney World in Mid-August during the COVID-19 Pandemic. I want to start this post by acknowledging that traveling during this time is not for everyone. My dad and I felt comfortable going and have been following the reopening of the Disney parks COVID-19 policies extensively before making this decision. Our trip was a last-minute decision based on an appointment my father had in the Orlando area. We booked our stay at WDW three days before we checked in. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the privilege behind these statements. I am very grateful for my health and the health and wellbeing of my parents, today and every day.
Planning Our Stay and Preparing for the Trip
I have to give credit where credit is due. My sweet friend, Nikki, over at The Traveling Pixie, helped plan this last-minute magic, and I cannot be more grateful for her. She is a Magical Travel Planner and has been sharing WDW news and updates since the beginning of the pandemic. Her recent travels to Disney World help solidify my comfortability with attending the parks during COVID-19. Without her and her knowledge, I do not believe our trip would have become a reality.
We decided to stay at Walt Disney World’s newest property, The Riviera Resort. I heard great things about the resort since its opening in December 2019! We decided on the Riviera because you can take the Skyliner transport to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. We went down for a long weekend, so we only bought two-day park passes and planned to attend both of those parks to eat all the food at the Food and Wine Festival and experience Galaxy’s Edge.
Since Disney reopened its gates in July, they require a park reservation to enter the parks. This system is different from how WDW typically operates where you simply needed park tickets, and you can hop around to the parks you want at your pace and choosing. Disney is running at 25% capacity, and making a reservation for the park ensures the safety of guests. Disney does give preference to guests who stay at one of their resorts, so we did not have trouble making a reservation for the two parks we wanted to go to, even three days before our arrival.
When you have a park reservation, that is the only park you can attend for the day. Disney used to allow access for you to “park-hop,” but this is no longer an option which again is to ensure safety and crowd control. If you are familiar with Disney planning, you can make your reservations online or through the My Disney Experience app in the App Store. YOU WILL need this app for your trip, especially during COVID-19, so if you have not downloaded it, I recommend doing so. Your day reservation to the park allows access all day, and you can leave and come back as you please, on the same day. For example, we attended Hollywood Studios right when it opened at 10 AM, spent a few hours in the park, went back to the resort to swim, and came back around 4:30 PM until about closing time at 8 PM.
Disney COVID-19 Packing Essentials List
- Masks – Disney requires masks EVERYWHERE on their property, except in relaxation stations and while eating and drinking stationary (more on this later). I would highly recommend packing multiple masks. We braved Disney in mid-August, and it was HOT. You definitely want to be able to switch masks throughout the day as needed or have a fresh mask for each day. Etsy has LOTS of fun Disney masks if you want to commit to the theme!
- Hand Sanitizer, Clorox Wipes, and Hand Wipes – I will go into this in more detail later, but for your own comfort and peace of mind, these are great to have to either wipe phones, bags, etc. down after a day in the park or to wipe tables or benches down if you so choose.
- Reusable Silicon Bags – I bought these at Target before we left. I liked the idea of separating out my extra masks, cleaning supplies, and medications in the little park backpack I take with me to the parks. Before COVID-19, I would throw all of this stuff loosely in a bag, but I liked the idea of an extra layer of protection and separating items.
- Fan – I will admit, I was NEVER one to carry a fan at the park. However, we typically visit WDW around Christmas and in February, so we were able to escape without one for the most part. If you are wearing a mask, you will want one. It was a lifesaver to fan some breeze under my masks when we were waiting in line for rides. I got this cute rechargeable one.
- Backpack – I love using a backpack at the parks to hold items and keep my hands free. Loungefly has the cutest Disney ones, but my favorite is the Kate Spade Day Pack Medium Backpack. I got mine for Christmas a few years ago. I have a secret tip, though. Google to find a Kate Spade Outlet Store near you. They typically have backpacks in stock, and you can get them for under $100.
- Medications – I sound so old suggesting this, but YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HIT YOU A DISNEY PARK. I typically keep Peppermints, Gum, Advil, Tums, Bandaids, Dramamine, Ginger Gum (for Nausea), and Imodium with me. Also, I throw in some shout wipes and a shout pen…I am a messy kid.
- Portable Charger – I bought this one a few years ago, and I LOVE IT! It can charge two phones or devices at once. It can charge an iPhone X up to three times before it needs to be recharged itself.
- Mickey Ears – Come ON! You are going to Disney! Embrace the trip. My favorite vendors for unique ears are Happily Earver After and Aloha Ears
- Disney T-Shirts – Again, EMBRACE THE TRIP! Etsy is my favorite for finding fun tees. My favorite vendors for t-shirts are Mamapower and Crazy Corgi Lady Designs,
The IMPORTANT STUFF: Everything You Can Expect From Visiting Walt Disney World during COVID-19.
I will talk about the Riviera Resort in a bit, but I am sure if you are here, you want to know what you can expect from visiting WDW during a pandemic, so I will try to get right to the chase. I am going to put the items in bullets to separate out thoughts, but these were my takeaways and the stuff that I found myself telling people when they asked about my trip.
- Your temperature will be taken every time you enter the park. If you or anyone in your party has a temperature of over 100, you will not be allowed entry. In my opinion, this was NOT a barrier or causing a hold up to enter a park. Disney has multiple people lined up ready to take temperatures, and it took less than 5 seconds.
- You will have to wear a mask everywhere on Disney property, whether inside or outside. This was the number one thing I was asked about in regards to my trip. In my honest opinion, wearing a mask, even in 90+ degree heat, was not a barrier NOT to go. My dad and I both agreed that while it was hot and at times annoying, it was not irritating enough to NOT visit Disney World during record low crowds and with additional safety precautions. Yes – at the end of the day, I wanted to rip it off my face, but I would go back in a heartbeat.
- You will go through a metal detector, but you will NOT have to open your bag and allow someone to go through it as previously done before entering a Disney Park. If you set off the metal detector, then someone will ask to search your bag. This measure was also part of the reason I put everything in silicon reusable bags to protect my items from other hands. I luckily did not set off a metal detector, and this was not a problem we encountered.
- HAND SANITIZER IS EVERYWHERE – I mentioned I packed a bunch of cleaning supplies for the parks. I honestly DID NOT NEED IT. Disney is stocked with hand sanitizer and handwashing stations EVERYWHERE. There are contactless hand sanitizer machines when you get in line for a ride, before you get on a ride, and after you get off a ride, not to mention everywhere you look. We did not encounter an issue with the little machines being out either.
- Disney has “PLEASE STAND HERE” lines on the ground in every queue, food stand, store, etc. – I wish I would have taken pictures to show you but would not believe HOW organized Disney was to ensure the safety of its guests. Also, I found every guest to be EXTREMELY RESPECTFUL by minding their distance and wearing their mask correctly throughout the parks. I never once felt uncomfortable or cramped. The only time there was a bit of closeness is when exiting a ride.
- All of the quick service dining options are mobile-order only now – Each quick-service restaurant had large signs with the QR code for their menu, or you can access the menus in the My Disney Experience app. We did not encounter any difficulties with placing an online order, and our food was ready promptly. I never used mobile-ordering in the parks before this trip, but I liked the ease and convenience of it, plus you no longer have to wait in a line! My dad and I were on the opposite side of Hollywood Studios from Tower of Terror, but we knew we wanted to get lunch at one of the quick service options that way. As we were walking, I placed the order, and by the time we go there, our food was ready!
- You will have your temperature checked and asked to check-in using your mobile device for all reservation restaurants – Most of the reservation dining is indoors, so I liked that they added this. The restaurants are at 50% capacity and you can take your mask off once you are seated at the table. Again, you will be given a menu via a QR code.
- We never waited more than 30 minutes for a ride, despite what wait times suggested – We visited Disney on the weekend, which typically ensures higher wait times for rides. There are no longer fast pass options, so everyone waits in the same line. Again, I never felt uncomfortable waiting in line, and the ground is clearly marked every six feet on where to stand once you enter a queue. Even though Disney is saying they are no longer allowing more than 25% capacity inside of the parks, I felt the parks maybe had 15% capacity when we attended. I cannot tell you the last time I have seen the parks so “empty.” The last time we visited Toy Story Land, we could barely move and pushed through masses of people. When we visited this time, there was hardly anyone there. I will share some pictures to show you later.
- Regarding rides, I believe the only reason the wait times averaged around 20 minutes was that they are only allowing one party to a car – For example, when we rode Test Track, my dad and I were the only one in the car. When we rode Frozen in Epcot, my dad and I were in the front row of the boat, and there was another family of three in the last row of the vote. When we rode any roller coaster, every other row was empty. On Soarin’, every four seats were divided by plexiglass. When we rode Rise of the Resistance, we were the only person in our car. This was almost standard across the parks. They did not clean in between each party, but I know the rides are undergoing extensive cleaning at the end of the day. It is my understanding that Tower of Terror carts are cleaned every hour.
- Not every single cart, snack stand, and/or shop are open – I did not feel like this took away from the Disney experience, and there were more than enough shops, snacks, and items available throughout the park without waiting in long lines. I just wanted you to know for full transparency.
- Although there are no meet-and-greets with the characters, parades, or fireworks, the magic is still in Disney World in full force – I had some people ask about characters and if the “magic” was still there while wearing masks, no fireworks, and meet-and-greets. The answer is YES! I was pleasantly surprised by all the opportunities I came across to see characters from a safe distance. I stumbled upon Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, and Goofy and almost peed my paints (see video below). You could also wave and interact with Mary Poppins safely in the United Kingdom, among other characters. We even interacted with Storm Troopers and Chewbacca! This reminded me of the good old days in the ’90s, and early 2000’s where you would stumble upon characters instead of waiting in line for an hour to meet your favorites. In terms of fireworks, you can watch Happily Ever After on demand in your hotel room. I watched it every night we were there and almost cried every time.
- You can take off your masks when you are eating and drinking and in a relaxation station – In every Disney Park, there are Relaxation Stations that are roped off and managed by a park member where you can sit in the shade and take off your mask. I thought this touch was lovely as it can be irritating in the hot heat to have something strapped to your face. You can also take off your mask when you are eating and drinking stationary. I actually relished in this idea. Typically when we are visiting WDW, we are running from attraction to attraction and barely stop to breathe in the day. With low crowds and wanting a break from a mask, I found that we moved at a slower pace, allowed ourselves time to sit down, and truly savor the fantastic food. I will admit, this was the most relaxing Disney trip I have taken in adulthood yet. My dad thinks he is Walt Disney reincarnated, and we run on TIGHT schedules during our stays. I love that since crowds were low, we allowed ourselves time to SLOW down and see where the day would take us.
- Hotel rooms are undergoing advanced cleanings – Disney has upped the cleaning procedures in their hotel rooms and has a little sign in the room with all the ways they stepped up. Your remote is cleaned and wrapped. Shampoo, Soap, and Conditioner bottles are cleaned and sealed. Housekeeping with only come into your room every third day you are there for a quick refresh, which I was okay with. If you do need additional towels, you can always call the front desk for more.
My honest take away from the trip? I would 1000% go back during COVID-19 again. I felt safer at Disney than I did at Target this past weekend (I am not kidding. My target was a dysfunction of people and I hated every second of it). I always felt that even with record-high crowds, Disney was above and beyond. This standard is no expectation during COVID-19. All of the staff members were kind, courteous, and ready to help at a moment’s notice. The parks were cleaner than ever. I truly never felt safer. As mentioned, while the circumstances are awful, we had the most enjoyable trip.
Disney’s Riviera Resort
If you are still following along after this long-winded post (can you tell I love Disney now?), then let’s talk about Disney’s newest resort! My dad and I were drawn to this resort because we wanted to explore it, and we loved that we could use Skyliner transportation to get to two parks. I have to say; Riviera is truly stunning! While Disney is known for its themed hotels, we loved the elegance of the rooms and common areas. ALSO, this hotel has GORGEOUS DISNEY ARTWORK EVER! They have a Rapunzel and Peter Pan Mosiac near the Skyliner that are jaw-dropping (see photos below). The rooms are incredibly tasteful resembles something you would find at a Four Seasons hotel. While the Riviera Resort is marketed as a Disney Vacation Club hotel, you do NOT need to be a DVC member to stay here. My dad and I are not DVC members. If you are a DVC member, you can use points or you can pay in cash.
We stayed in a Standard View Deluxe Studio room. These rooms sleep up to five people. There is a queen-size bed, a single Murphy bed hidden in the dresser, and a queen Murphy bed hidden in the living space. I slept on the Murphy bed and had a great night’s sleep. It felt just as comfortable as the queen bed in the room.
Dining and Recreation at Disney’s Riviera Resort
We took FULL advantage of the hotel even though we were only there for two nights. It a more moderate sized resort compared to some on property but we loved the intimate feel. There are two pools: a main pool with a slide and splash zone for the kids and an adult-only quiet pool. We only used the main pool but felt relaxed while we were there. The main pool closes at 9PM but the adult pool stays open until 11 PM for night swims!. There is a Bar Riva, the pool bar, has FANTASTIC cocktails and there is a quick-service restaurant, Primo Piatto, where we grabbed lunch. There is also La Petite Cafe which is the coffee bar with pastry options in the lobby. I will say, I quite enjoyed the fruit cheesecake I grabbed for a pick-me-up down there.
We also had the pleasure of dining at Topolino’s Terrace our last night at Disney. I was able to snag last-minute dinner reservations using the My Disney Experience app the same day, and I am THRILLED we did. Topolino’s Terrace reminded me of the California Grille at the top of the Contemporary. While the Contemporary has better views, my dad and I liked our food better than the California Grille. I know, I know. California Grille is a fan favorite, but I think the last time we ate there, we did not have the best experience. Topolino’s Terrace also hosts a character breakfast, which is one of the hot reservations to snag right now for character dining. We loved the European-inspired menu, and their desserts are to DIE FOR! I think if I went back, I would purely go up there to eat all three desserts and to have a glass of champagne!
There you have it! If you stuck with me this long, I truly applaud you. I hope, if anything, you find this post to be informative and helps you plan YOUR next trip to the most magical place on earth. I mentioned this in the beginning, but this trip would genuinely not have happened without the help of my favorite Magical Vacation Planner, Nikki, over at The Traveling Pixie. If you are thinking about booking a trip, I would highly recommend speaking with her as her services are free. I pride myself on being a Disney buff, but Nikki truly knows her stuff. I trust her guidance and advice immensely.