What is it Like Visiting Disney World Right Now? (2020-2021)


Disney World reopened in July following the COVID-related shut down in March 2020. But with limits, restrictions, reduced capacity, and tightened security, what is it like visiting Disney World right now?

Here’s what I know from spending a week here with my family in October 2020:

Visiting Disney World in fall 2020 means masks must be worn at all times except when eating or drinking and stationary. Ride & park capacity is limited which means despite the smaller crowds, lines can still be long. You should also expect no fireworks, limited parades, and very few princess or character sightings.

But that’s just a quick snapshot.

So in this article, we’re taking a detailed look at all 4 of the parks that make up Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios).

We’ll examine the rides, the restrictions, what attractions are working, and which ones are on hold. Ultimately, I’ll answer every question someone considering a visit might have, so you can make the best decision for yourself.

Let’s get going.

Is Disney World safe right now?

Disney World is very safe to visit and has many systems in place to ensure guest safety such as temperature checks upon entry, shutting down rides temporarily for periodic cleaning, and social distancing markers for ride queues.

But, of course, you are still frequently touching commonly used handrails, and sitting in rides that someone else has just exited as they don’t clean them between every use.

But let’s be honest; most of the current COVID rules at Disney World are designed to limit their legal liability in the event someone gets sick and tries to sue them. They aren’t really going to significantly prevent the spread of disease.

And they certainly don’t enhance the guest experience.

Ultimately it’s no more and no less safe than anywhere else, so guests should use their best judgment as to whether or not it’s a good idea to visit at this time.

Do I have to wear a mask at Disney World?

Yes. Masks are required on any Disney World property for all guests 2 and older. The only time you are allowed to remove the mask is when you are eating or drinking AND stationary.

And yes, it has to be fully above the nose.

They have a lot of employees who just go around reminding guests to put their mask on and to put it on fully over the nose. So expect to wear a mask almost all the time; even when you are outdoor and away from other people.

One irate Disney employee even demanding that we pull the mask up over the nose of my 2-year-old who was asleep in her stroller. 

Does a 2-year-old need to wear a mask at Disney World?

Yes, all guests of Disney World, ages 2 and older have to wear a mask the entire time unless eating or drinking and stationary.

Ironically, Florida does not require face coverings, so this is purely a Disney thing, although the counties in and around Orlando are more restrictive than the state.

Many states only mandate masks for kids 10 and older, so why Disney decided it was a must for 2-year-olds is beyond me.

Obviously, the person who created that rule has never had kids.

What masks are allowed at Disney World?

All Disney World-approved face masks must be made with at least two layers of breathable material, fully cover the nose, mouth, and chin, and be secured with ties or ear loops so it stays in place hands-free. It also must fit snugly.

So what kinds of masks are unacceptable?

As Disney says, “neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not acceptable face coverings.” (source)

And I did see a guy busted for trying to enter the park with a bandana pulled up over his mouth. They do sell masks in the park at multiple locations.

However, the biggest they go is what is marked as an L/G and it was too small for my big head.

Can you take your mask off for pictures at Disney?

No. You cannot remove your mask for pictures at Disney World. Masks must remain on the entire time except for when you are stationary and eating or drinking.

So, unfortunately, all your pictures, unless taken at a Disney dining table, will be with masks on.

Of course, if you’re somewhere on your own with no Disney personnel around you could probably quickly snap a pic without one and then put it back on.

But you are risking getting thrown out of the park for doing so.

Has Disney World changed any of the rides due to Coronavirus?

Yes. Some rides at Disney World that involved crowds of people indoors in small spaces have been modified. The Haunted Mansion, for example, now simply leads crowds through the “haunted room” that stretches rather than confining them in that room and letting it stretch.

So, unfortunately, you no longer hear the famous lines that begin with:

“Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion. I am your host, your ghost host. Kindly step all the way in please and make room for everyone. There’s no turning back now.”

and end with:

“Is this haunted room actually stretching? Or is it your imagination — hmm? And consider this dismaying observation: this chamber has no windows and no doors… which offers you this chilling challenge: to find a way out! (Laughs.) Of course, there’s always my way.” (source)

Of course, the next question I had was how were we able to simply walk through that room, unstretched, and into the area where we board the Doom Buggys?

The answer is that at Disney World, unlike the version of this ride at Disneyland, the ceiling is normally what stretched. The floor you stand on never actually moved.

When they do re-open Disneyland, it will be interesting to see how they modify the ride since that version actually does have you go down like an elevator.

But, I do have to say, I felt a little ripped off not getting to see the room stretch. 

We still rode the ride twice, and I still love it, especially the MC Escher stairs (which I’m guessing were added due to how much they look like the moving staircases in Hogwarts) that aren’t in the Disneyland version of the ride.

The Haunted Mansion was the most glaring change of the rides we rode.

How have they modified other rides?

But all rides will feature reduced seating and social distancing.

For example, in Mickey’s Philharmagic, the indoor 4D movie, seats are blocked off in sections so that there will be at least 3 seats empty in between your party and the next.

But we also noticed that many (but not all) motorized car rides would leave a car empty in between full ones. So you might not have anyone in the ship in front or behind you on Peter Pan’s Flight.

And on a ride like It’s a Small World, while they did combine more than 1 party in a boat and one time, they would leave 2 or more rows empty in between.

What attractions are closed at Disney World?

All character meet and greets are currently closed at Disney World as are attractions that involve a large number of people in a small room such as Turtle Talk with Crush, and Hollywood Studio’s Voyage of the Little Mermaid.

Here is a list of major Disney World attractions currently closed and not scheduled to reopen before 2021:

Magic Kindom

  • Walt Disney World Railroad
  • Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
  • Liberty Square Riverboat
  • Tom Sawyer Island
  • All character meet and greets
  • All large evening parades
  • All fireworks shows

Epcot

  • Turtle Talk with Crush
  • Frozen Ever After (closed for refurbishment from Nov. 2 – 6)
  • All character meet and greets
  • All large evening parades
  • All fireworks shows

Animal Kingdom

  • UP! A Great Bird Adventure Show
  • The Boneyard playground
  • Tree of Life Nighttime Awakenings
  • Finding Nemo – The Musical
  • All character meet and greets
  • All large evening parades
  • All fireworks shows

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

  • Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple
  • Voyage of The Little Mermaid
  • Star Wars Launch Bay
  • Indiana Jones™ Epic Stunt Spectacular!
  • Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage
  • Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
  • All character meet and greets
  • All large evening parades
  • All fireworks shows

It’s also worth noting that any playground or area where things can be touched or climbed on (such as the graveyard area around the Haunted Mansion) are closed.

We probably had the most fun at The Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Hollywood Studios used to get a bad rap, but with the addition of Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it’s come a long way.

Check out my recent article, updated this past summer, which gives you all the details of this awesome park. Just click that link to read it on my site.

Also, several shops, food carts, and a few restaurants are also closed.

Are shops and restaurants open at Disney World?

Full-service restaurants are open at Disney World, and probably about 50% of the shops are open. Many small food trucks are not open. Full-service restaurants require reservations. Fast-food restaurants require you to place your order online ahead of time & then enter the restaurant when notified the order is ready.

The shops are restaurants that are open have strict entry and exit routes, and most shops had lines around the corner of people waiting to enter due to strict capacity limits.

Almost all restaurants require advanced reservations and even the fast-food type restaurants require you to order the food on your phone first and wait to be notified before you are allowed to enter.

Unfortunately, without the big parades, fireworks, and Disney princesses and characters walking around, the park is no longer the “happiest place on Earth”.

Yes, it’s still fun, and I’m glad we went.

Has COVID seen an increase in rude Disney cast members?

Yes. Compared to years past, there have been more instances of aloof, indifferent, or rude Disney cast members in 2020. Reduced capacity, significant layoffs, and severe restrictions have no doubt created more animosity with Disney employees.

A lot of the magic is missing, and the tension from the recent layoff of 28,000 people is evident in the attitude of some of the Disney cast members (employees). (source)

Don’t get me wrong. We still encountered many friendly people at Disney World.

But I’m used to every single employee being attentive, friendly, and welcoming, and on this trip, we encountered several that were indifferent, aloof and a couple that were downright rude.

Do you still see Disney princesses at Disney World?

No. Disney princesses do not currently walk around the Disney World parks interacting with guests and allowing pictures to be taken as they used to do. You may see them occasionally on stages, above the crowd, or in restricted areas where direct contact is not possible.

So in short, you may see them, but not nearly as frequently as you used to see them.

It’s sad to no longer see Cinderella round the corner of her castle, or see Tiana in Liberty Square. It used to be such a magical experience. Luckily, at least, when you do see them, they are not wearing masks.

But there’s no selfies or direct interaction.

Do characters still walk around Disney World?

No. Disney characters do not currently walk around the Disney World parks interacting with guests and allowing pictures to be taken like they used to do. You may see them occasionally on stages, above the crowd, or in restricted areas where direct contact is not possible.

So characters are the same as the princesses. You may see them, but not nearly as often as you used to.

Ironically, many characters require the Disney cast member to wear a mask, so I’m not quite sure why they’ve restricted this. 

There’s no reason a Disney cast member in a Woody, Buzz, Mickey, or Minnie costume couldn’t be out and about meeting and greeting since none of their skin is exposed.

But don’t expect to see many of them currently.

Are they still doing fireworks at Disney World?

No. All fireworks displays, including the pyrotechnics at Epcot, are currently on hold and not being done to avoid large crowds gathering closely together.

So no evening fireworks at all.

In fact, the end of the day used to be a highlight. Now, it’s basically a race for the front gate when closing time draws near.

That being said, there are reports of Disney testing fireworks after park closing time. (source)

What they are testing and how doing it after hours helps, I’m not sure. But I saw no fireworks whatsoever on this trip and we were there up to and past closing time all 6 of the days we were there.

Are they still doing parades at Disney World?

No. The large parades that used to happen in the evening in conjunction with the fireworks are currently on hold. They do, however, hold small parades during the day. These parades do contain Disney characters and princesses, but are quite short and not announced, so you have to be in the right place at the right time.

So in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we did see a Pixar parade with Woody, Buzz, the Incredibles, and Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc. 

But they came and went in about 3 minutes and we were in line for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at the time, so we didn’t get a good view and certainly didn’t want to give up our spot in line.

Twice at the Magic Kingdom, we saw a Disney villain parade with Maleficient, Jaffar, and other Disney villains which was fun, marching right down Main Street. We also saw a Halloween parade there too one day with Jack and Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas.

So you can see some small parades if your timing is good. Just don’t expect the over-the-top evening parades.

Do they still offer FastPass at Disney World?

No, Disney World is not currently offering FastPasses for any ride in any of the parks. They still have the FastPass signs up which can make it confusing for guests though.

Disney’s FastPass system referred to officially as FastPass+ is a system that allows you to reserve up to 3 rides ahead of time and then, during your allotted window, ride that ride and skip the lines and get right on.

In short, it was awesome!

But it’s not currently happening. Officially, they state “As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the FastPass+ service must be suspended as we plan to use additional queue space to control capacity”.

But I didn’t see that happening in any of the parks on our visit in October 2020. The FastPass entrances just sat empty except for the occasional guest in a wheelchair or motorized scooter being allowed to enter that way.

Not sure how FastPasses work?

Now, when FastPasses do come back, get all the in’s and out’s in one of my most popular articles which details all the things you need to know about Disney’s FastPass+ secrets, hacks, and tips.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

The only thing even close to the FastPass system being used currently is the virtual queue system used for the Rise of the Resistance ride in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

How does the Rise of the Resistance ride work?

The Rise of the Resistance ride is only available to those chosen from a virtual queue system; essentially a lottery system that selects people who sign in at set times on a first-come, first-served basis. Those selected will be assigned a boarding group at select times. 

The Rise of the Resistance ride is not available no matter how long you are willing to wait.

And most people who try and join the virtual queue probably won’t get selected. You only have the option to join the virtual queue at either 10 am or 2 pm.

We tried multiple times and never got in.

To join the queue, you’ll have to have the My Disney Experience app (which is pretty useful across the board). Then select Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge from the menu in the lower right-hand corner.

Click HERE to get the app for iOS, and HERE for Android.

Is it crowded Disney World since reopening?

No. Disney World is probably about 50% of the normal crowd capacity. Disney World feels somewhat crowded due to the wait times being long. However, with most rides at limited capacity, the wait times are not truly indicative of the actual number of people in the park.

So what I mean by that is that most rides have a lot of seats closed off to allow for social distancing.

With 25-50% of the seats closed, the lines get long and it feels like it normally would. But really, if all seats were open most lines would be under 20 minutes. So really it is not nearly as crowded as it would have been 1 or more years ago.

But Disney World doesn’t release crowd numbers, so any report of how crowded the park is will be purely guess-work.

The fact that Disney recently laid off 28,000 people (company-wide, not just in Orlando) is indicative of just how much they are down. Disney as a whole reported a $1 billion dollar loss in quarter 2 (April-June) and a $3.5 billion dollar loss in quarter 3 (July-Sept).

Of course, a lot of that loss and a lot of the layoffs are probably more tied to Disneyland which has not yet reopened due to U-Haul salesman of year Governor Gavin Newsome.

Ironically, if Disney World loosened their mask restrictions and started to get things back to normal, I am certain more people would start going back.

Is Disney going back to normal in 2021?

Disney World “may return to normal operations with limited social distancing protocols.” according to Florida governor Ron DeSantis. However, Disney World has decided “We are not making any immediate changes.” But, as their profits fall, they may be forced to lift some of the restrictions in 2021 to boost attendance.

(source)

So most of the current restrictions and rules Disney has in place are not government-mandated and instead, in place largely to limit their legal liability. 

But how much is that liability protection worth if their earnings continue to plummet?

In the world of COVID, it’s hard to say when things will “get back to normal”, at Disney, or anywhere else. Is this the new norm? Who knows? I certainly hope not.

I know my family and I will not be back until the mask restrictions are lifted and the parades and fireworks are back.

Final thoughts

So ultimately, my family and I had a great time this visit.

Yes, wearing a mask the entire time was irritating, and since much of the park is outside, and it’s somewhat easy to social distance, their policy is unnecessarily restrictive.

Ultimately, many of the policies they have in place because of Coronavirus are designed to limit their liability in the event someone gets sick and sues them. They are not really designed to keep people significantly safer, and they certainly don’t make the park visit more enjoyable.

As much as my family loves Disney, we won’t be back until they get things back to normal.

My wife probably said it best: “Without the parades, fireworks, and Disney princesses and other characters walking through the park, it feels more like a glorified Six Flags than a true Disney experience. The magic is gone”.

 

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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