Friday, November 20, 2020

A Review of WDW During a Pandemic

 We just returned from a week at the most Magical Place on Earth. This trip was planned for Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend, which was just another canceled race weekend. Even though the race went virtual, I opted to get the full refund but run the races on property anyway. How many times have I said, "I run for the bling." Apparently I'm a liar and truly just run because I love it.

 So many people have asked, "How was it?" that I figured the best way to get all the nitty, gritty details out was to pop up a blog post. In short, it was great, we felt safe, and I'd definitely recommend it if you are a WDW fan. (But let's be real, you came here for the long version, so here we go!)

We flew American Airlines with one connection each way. AA has not reduced their capacity as some other airlines have, and our flights were surprisingly full. We take up a whole row, so for our immediate surroundings it didn't make much difference. They were very strict with the mask mandate and did not do drink/snack service (though you could ask for some if you wanted it). We found the plane and airports to be very clean and well stocked with soap and sanitizer. "Wash your hands." and "Here's some hand sanitizer." was definitely a theme of our trip! The kids did great and we had little complications on the way there (home was rough, as we missed our connection due to a delayed first leg). 

We rented a car for the trip. With two little ones, free parking with our annual passes, and reading about so many long lines for transportation, this was a great solution! I loved driving to the parks everyday, leaving our stroller in the car, and mask-free transportation time. The only downside was having to lug our carseats along for the trip, but once we were there, all was good. We booked using and got a great deal (this was actually our only real expense of the trip--we kept it very cheap).

We stayed at Hilton Lake Buena Vista Palace. There were small differences, like sealed rooms and remotes after cleaning, to show that they have taken some increased precautions when cleaning (definitely not a bad thing). They also did not have their breakfast buffet open, which meant we had a daily $30 credit for grab and go breakfast. It worked great for the whole trip, and that money pretty much fed all 4 of us each day. 

Onto Disney World! If you aren't aware, they have temporarily suspended park-hopping. Instead, you can visit one park per day and you must reserve the park in advance. We had our first 3 days reserved (that's the limit when you don't stay on property, but have annual passes). We were able to add each additional day after park closing of the day we used. The only time we had a small hiccup was trying to change an Epcot day to a Magic Kingdom day. It eventually worked, but we had to wait for others to change their plans since MK was full. 

Dining has also changed, and personally, I think it's for the better. You can reserve table service dining 60 days in advance (down from 120), and mobile ordering is highly encouraged for all quick service locations. We did mobile ordering every time and it was the BEST! I was able to use gift cards and rewards dollars to pay for every meal, we ordered what we wanted, waited a very short time, and there was always a place to sit after we picked up our meal (since they were controlling who could come in and sit--no saving seats and people bringing their own food taking tables). I found it very easy to navigate on MDE. For table service, you also were able to check in on MDE, which limited any crowding at the front of restaurants. All in all, the dining changes were awesome and only impacted us positively!

Of course, most of you go to Disney to ride the rides, right? Overall, the wait times were longer than expected, but not terrible. They felt much shorter due to all the spacing/distancing. This meant we never really stopped moving, except when the ride closed for routine cleaning. With no Fast Pass service, we actually didn't waste time zipping around from end to end of the park. The longest we waited was 70 minutes for Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway (and spoiler alert: it was worth it!). There were a few rides that were walk-on, especially early in the day, but overall we did everything we wanted, repeating our favorites often.

The masks. Everyone wants to know about the masks. Yes, you have to wear them. No, you can't get around it. Seriously. If you're going, just be aware that unless you're sitting and eating, masks stay on. There are "relaxation zones" that are designated places to take them off, as well. This also means all of your pictures will be masked. Walking around outside will be masked. If this gives you pause, I highly suggest you wait until these mandates are changed. Also, just an FYI, Orange County, FL has a mask mandate for the whole county. Nothing changed off-property; masks everywhere.

Disney has done a great job of cleaning and providing lots of opportunities for guests to do the same. There is hand sanitizer everywhere! I actually hope they keep this! We got ourselves into the habit of using it before and after every ride. We washed our hands often, but especially before eating. Cast members cleaned tables after each party, spraying and leaving the disinfectant on for a minute, then coming back to wipe it down. They wiped down chairs, poles, handrails, EVERYTHING on a regular basis. Disney, which was already clean, was even cleaner! 

The characters popped up throughout the park and interacted with guests from afar. We got a few quick picutres, but our favorite memory was Joy playing imaginary "catch" with Ryan. He was mesmerized, and knew exactly how to throw it back. It was in that moment where everything felt so normal. The pop-up calvalcades were great! We saw princesses, the fab 5, Christmas characters, and even Santa. With no nighttime shows, we just scooted out of the parks a little early and got ready for our next day. Yes, we missed some of our favorite shows, but there was a lot to do without them.

Overall it was a great experience. I definitely felt safer at WDW than when going to my grocery store. They did it right, and I have confidence that they will stay open as we continue to battle this pandemic. With all the changes, this may not be the best time to visit for a first visit, but if you frequent Disney Parks, I think you'll enjoy some of the little extras and coming home to the magic!

What questions do you have? Did I leave anything out? I'd be happy to answer them!