To say that 2020 has been a crazy year is a massive understatement!
With the world turning upside down for all of us mid-March, we were left to wonder what future trips to Disney would look like and when they may even happen. As a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World Resort, it was super strange that I had not traveled there from end of January 2020 through most of the summer. I knew that I needed to get there soon after reopening for work research, and I also knew my kids were desperate for a magical getaway. So off we went in early August!
Of course, as a travel advisor who specializes in Disney planning, I was very up-to-date and aware of all of the changes and updates in protocols and experiences, but I needed to see it myself. Based on everything that Disney World had implemented and required in order to reopen (such as masks and physical distancing), I felt this was a trip I was comfortable taking with my little ones. However, I put on my realistic mom hat (vs. big dreamer travel agent hat!) and knew that I might be dealing with some issues around their expectations and available experiences. My kids are 8 and 6 and while very aware of what they like and can do at Disney World, I needed them to know this vacation would be different. Side note: if this is your first trip, THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY DON’T KNOW! You can basically skip this conversation! You may have it even easier. Just talk up the awesome things and don’t even tell them they can’t hug Cinderella right now. More on that later. My main concern was that they would not tolerate a mask all day in the hot, humid central Florida weather. And I thought they would be bummed with no character interactions and parades and live shows.
Boy I was wrong!
Before the trip, we literally sat down together and made a list of “must dos” for each kid.
I have a girl and a boy, a thrill seeker and non-thrill seeker (or so I thought! He changed this trip!), so we talked about what rides were most important to them. I did this because I wanted to be sure that we could check all their boxes and then leave at 2:00 or 3:00 PM when the masks became a “problem.” After all, no masks are required at the resort hotel pools, so I had that as a safe fallback plan each day when meltdowns started. Note: this doesn’t have to be a fallback plan; I have many clients who purposely incorporate pool days into their itinerary. We just did not have that many days. I talked repeatedly about which shows would not be offered and why and how they can’t see characters up close and why, but that we would certainly look for them around the parks. I explained how “now we don’t have to wait far in advance for a spot for the parade or fireworks.” That part was well received! I explained that Cast Members will be watching for masks – while walking around and on rides. No exceptions. I was really open about how differently this may feel, but this is what we have to work with for now (and with no end date right now), so we can either go to Disney like this or not go. They wanted to go!
I have to be honest (sorry, kids): I still had little faith this would be that great of a trip. After all, I had one kid telling me a few months prior she would never, ever go to a theme park in a mask. But desperate times calf for desperate measures, I guess! And again, we saw no end in sight of this “new” way of doing Disney. So I was willing to try. We were just clearly desperate for a trip back to the Most Magical Place on Earth.
I have never been so pleasantly surprised and happy to be wrong.
The masks were an absolute NON-ISSUE with the kids. They were totally fine. Kids are so resilient. I took a bunch of disposable masks into the parks for them (themed boy and girl, of course) and allowed them as many mask changes that they wanted each day. I would say wearing a mask was tougher on me, but I certainly did just get used to it (no other option!)! If mask wearing with kids is a roadblock for you, I’d move right on past that. (now of course, I can’t speak for keeping a mask on a 2-year-old! And we don’t have any sensory issues that could cause a problem; I do realize that is possible for some kids.). The number of rides that we were able to do was mind blowing. We have never had park days like that. There were times that my kids were literally skipping through the queue! There are no FastPasses being offered now because the attractions queues are set up to allow 6-feet spacing between parties. So the line may “look” longer, but it really isn’t. Between all the spacing, plus the lower crowd capacity, some lines were just frankly not even a line! As one kid kept exclaiming, “this is a walk on!” Now I am concerned that we can’t go back in “normal” times! It was epic. It does help that I have kids who like riding rides, but even if you do not have big thrill riders, getting to ride gentle Peter Pan’s Flight 3-4 times in a day would be previously unheard of. It was nice having a Disney Skyliner gondola all to ourselves, it was comfortable to have spacing and not have to stand on the buses, and having to mobile order for all quick service restaurants? Yes, please! I would always recommend that anyways! I have been suggesting to clients that we do plan for at least one table service meal per day in order to sit down, be served, cool off, and take a mask break. (You may remove your mask while eating in a stationary position.)
As for not being able to meet characters and see shows and parades, we personally just didn’t miss those. For one, the parks hours are less each day right now, so you just have less time. This equates to more sleep for everyone! There is no arriving back at your hotel at 11:00 PM after fireworks. We still saw so many characters around the parks, placed in safe distances away from you, but still where we could interact with waves and photos. We saw several of the new pop-up cavalcades around the parks that are essentially little parades! In fact, some of them use the actual parade floats, and others, use boats or real cars. I thought these were super creative and well done. You won’t know at what times they would occur each day, but we happened upon them several times.
It became routine for them to use hand sanitizer constantly before and after rides. It didn’t feel so weird to get our temperatures checked prior to entering each park (after all, everyone’s doing it!). It wasn’t strange to stand 6 feet away from the next person in line. It was actually sort of nice. And can we all just agree – it was freeing to not hear “please move in and fill in all available spaces!” If I have to live in a pandemic, I want to do it there. Even though things were different, being at Disney World made everything feel okay for those few days. And it was so clean!
So needless to say, we never left a park before it closed. We maxed out every second and rode as many rides as we could, and some again. We even made it to the hotel pool one night since those stay open later than the parks. We tried some new table service restaurants and even made a droid in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. There was no shortage of great new merchandise to find (because, closed for 4 months!), And the coolest thing: the Cast Members were SO HAPPY to have us back! It certainly was a magical vacation that I know we will never forget.
(And wouldn’t you know that I really think the mask-wearing those days at Disney World prepared them to wear them all day at school now!)
We will be back at Walt Disney World again next month. I hope I’m not jinxing myself, but I think it will be magical all over again! Stay tuned.