Walt Disney World Trip Notes: Trip Sept 15-23, 2020.
A Bit of Background:
This was a father/son trip (our first) that was actually planned and mostly paid for pre-COVID. We set a deadline of Mid-August to decide if we were going to go or not. For most of the summer it was a hard no given FL COVID numbers, but they did get better to the point of at least Orange County being roughly the same as Colorado. This was a great time for my son, a DSDS25 (Son with Downs Syndrome). For him it is the rides, so no parades or characters wasn’t a big deal. No fireworks were the only big bummer. We got him used to masking up and lots of extra hand washing before the trip so they weren’t a big deal. After making sure we got the basic rides covered in the first part of the day, he got to decide what to ride until park closing which meant a lot of looping which was fine with me!
Travel (Airline and DME based)
MCO to WDW: DME arrivals very smooth with assigned bus seats for distancing. MCO in general and DME area was desolate for us. We were the only folk in the entire DME boarding area at the time and then only for a couple minutes before boarding the bus. Got lucky and were last to board before bus took off and first hotel drop off! Maybe a dozen other passengers on the bus. Was a bit weird but cool to get applause from some hotel cast members when getting off the bus.
WDW to MCO: Uneventful. No assigned seats on bus though, so wasn’t great for spacing. Us tourists can’t seem to figure out social distancing on a bus by ourselves! TSA security was waiting for us at MCO, so very quick. Sign for regular security said 5-7 minutes and was probably exaggerating.
Airline: The most uncomfortable part of the trip for distancing now that airlines are no longer blocking the middle seats. Was United for us. Plane to MCO was 100% full, plane back was maybe 90% full, we managed an unoccupied middle seat on the flight back only. Masks required was nice, but not as enforced as WDW and with eating or drinking something the only reall pastime on the flight, not worn as much by many folk.
Only ever saw the lobby waiting for Mobile Order food during peak hours, so a bit crazy. They handled it well except for the night mobile order went down, so a bit of a mess with paper menus, crowds, and long lines. Granted Everything Pop is “just a cafeteria style food court”, but Mobile Order lowers it even further to just above vending machine status, so wasn’t quite the fun event it is normally. Food sits for a while, so is just warm when you start eating. Mobile Ordering for me is still glitchy on my phone, so frustrating at times. This was probably the least “magical” part of the trip. The cast members are what make Disney special and Mobile Order is all about not interacting with a human at all. We just ate in our room each night—at least it has AC.
Room was clean, and well prepared. Hard to know how well it was sanitized observationally. All amenities (including soap/shampoo dispensers) are as I remember pre-COVID. I do like the refurbished Pop rooms and they are holding up well, only minor issue was one light burned out during our stay.
Common areas were pretty busy during peak times (5-9pm), but desolate otherwise. Spacing for me is big and only time it felt a bit tight was peak food time in the lobby waiting for Mobile order. “Tight” was not able to keep at least 12-15 feet from anyone else.
Pool area was similar to the lobby, pretty desolate during the day, but much more crowded after park closings. I did notice one evening the pool area saying it was closed to more folk due to capacity with a short (3-4 groups) line waiting to get in. Even when “full”, it was a lot less crowded than I remember most evenings pre-COVID, so they are keeping capacity down. This was a pure “do park rides” visit, so didn’t end up using the pool this trip.
Note: We only ever took Disney transport at peak times, before park opening and just after park closing, so only reports are for when they were stressed the most. No idea what they were like during the day. I enjoy observing Disney logistics and this was amazing to observe—and benefit from!
Skyliner: Flawless for us this trip. We were in line 7:30-7:45 for DHS days and 10:00 for Epcot days. That got us in the parks well ahead of official opening time to be either first in line at opening time or done with a few rides ahead of official opening if they started early. CBR station is chaotic from opening until probably 11-ish with DHS then Epcot openings. Staff are well organized, but it takes a lot of shouting to keep us wayward tourists going the right way to be in the right line. You get off the Pop line and then join a common queue for all people from all resorts to go to DHS or Epcot.
Skyliner note: On DHS day 2 we were early at 7:30. A cast member came out and told us that the first seven people in line at the Pop get to skip re-queuing in the common line at CBR and get right in line for DHS. We were sixth in line and indeed did get right in line for DHS, no re-queuing! Not sure if that is a firm policy, but confirmed by several other folks on the touringplans chat when I mentioned it. Cool for bragging rights, but even when we did re-queue on the first DHS day, we were still in the park well ahead of official opening time.
Busses: With both MK and AK opening at 9am, were in line by 7:30 for either park. The queue got big (understandably) ahead of the first bus arrival. Just before 8am, an army of busses show up for both parks. I tried counting and got 9 showing up within about 5 mins. It is an impressive sight, including loading multiple busses simultaneously! I presume it was enough to swallow the entire crowd, but since I was on an earlier bus, didn’t see, I was on my way. It was very similar for park closing as well. I only timed one day where we got off or last Buzz ride at 7:05 and were leaving the bus area on a bus by 7:35. ¾ of that time was the walk from Buzz to the bus area! Also very weird was that I didn’t see a single ECV passenger in the bus queues the entire trip. That can’t be coincidence, something changed. I saw plenty of them at the hotel and parks. No ECVs on the busses makes a HUGE boarding speed difference.
Ride/line capacity: It seems to be between a quarter to maybe a half to keep distancing. For theatre style seating every other row is blocked and there are three blocked seats between groups of four seats. For ride vehicles it varies a lot, but once you figure out what they are doing and analyze why, it makes sense. They clearly optimized each ride and it’s queue as whatever the configuration was, it was unique for each ride and vehicle. For queues there were strange places where the distance markers went from 6 fee to 20+ feet. After looking around more, it was clear they were enforcing distances sideways as well as front/back. Where they did up walls, it was neat to see it wasn’t just plexiglass bolted to hand rails, these were engineered steel panels welded together to hold the plexi in place and to some extent even made to match the ride colors. It wasn’t quick and dirty work!
Masks: I was generally impressed with mask compliance. If you need to see 100.0% compliance to be comfortable, not there, but if 99.9% is OK, it is good. I maybe noticed 5-10 folk a day with masks down that were not stationary eating. I don’t count kids having tantrums! While not 100%, I’d say 90% of the time if someone wasn’t wearing their mask correctly and was in range of a cast member, they got the reminder. The few flagrant violators tended to be late in the day and only one serious violator that got yelled at and didn’t seem to care. That was over 7 days.
Distancing: Also very good. There were times folk messed up, realized it and tried to correct themselves—me included. Biggest non-compliance was at the end of bigger shows where an entire crowd exits at once like Soarin or ITTBAB. We are all good at spacing getting in, but just crowd together on the way out! This, despite announcements at the end to space out. Easy to just stand aside and wait for the rush to end. I only had one group that wouldn’t stay back from us in line once and I just let them pass. Me doing that seemed to make the point and I noted they were better at spacing for the group in front of them afterwards.
My circumstances: I should point out we didn’t spend any time in World Showcase where may complaints come from. This was a trip centered on rides. Compliance (and crowds) were a lot worse on the weekend than weekdays too. Not sure if that is a function of locals or just more people making compliance harder.
Rope Dropping: There is a lot of good advice saying except for DHS, rope drop isn’t as important now and in general I agree. However, rope dropping is in my genes because “THIS IS THE WAY”. We did each day for each park. For MK, Epcot, and AK, that first hour is still fantastic, and does seem to be even more desolate than pre-COVID. I have 360 degree panorama pictures of my son in Futureword, Toy Story Land, and outside Expedition Everest with absolutely no-one besides him and maybe a cast member in the picture. It was walk-on to any ride for at least 30 minutes then super-short lines until an hour after opening. For me, it was well worth getting up early for.
Magic Kingdom: This park (and Epcot) seemed the most organized and prepared for COVID procedures. I figure just because they have been around the most. They just seemed to be the well oiled machines they normally are—just working differently. Other than some shops and eateries closed, what was open was working well and lines generally understandable. Haunted Mansion was the only ride where the line was confusing. Lines got a bit long middle of the day (30-60 mins for headliners), but the first hour is desolate and at least on our weekdays, the last hour was too. Not so for the last hour on a weekend.
Epcot: Well oiled machine as well—at least the parts of it that are left! For Soarin they partition the rides differently and send you to a different room based on your group size. No pre-show for Test Track, but still have it for Mission Space since it includes safety info. For Mission Space they just limit it to five groups in the briefing room. Still my favorite park even though a lot of it is missing right now.
DHS: The most disorganized from my perspective. We did get BGs both DHS days (yay!), but for the first day the ride was in bad shape, both the Rey presentation and Troop transport parts of the ride were down, so we just filed into the big room as part of the queue. Very disappointing. The second day it was fully operational and then lived up to its reputation of being Disney Imagineering at its best. They need to get it working more reliably. Outside the first hour, most of the lines for headliners were very long and mostly in the sun which was draining. See separate not on how I did BGs. Mobile ordering didn’t work as well either for some reason. It was also the only park I drained my cell phone battery and needed my battery charger, so something about it was harder on the phone too. Overall it certainly had the longest (in terms of time) lines of any park too. I guess it is a combination of having all the newest rides but not that many so concentrated folk more.
Animal Kingdom: Only park we spent just one day at—but that was fine. Without shows, my touring plan ended about noon. That meant we got to loop our two favorite rides (Expedition Everest and DINASOUR) more times than would be advisable by any professional. I finally saw the standby line for FoP for the first time. Cool to see, but not worth the 2+ hours it took to see it pre-COVID! Line for FoP extended almost to Lion King stage but had not looped back yet. Even with that, the wait wasn’t quite an hour. FoP in the middle of the day isn’t a normal liner choice, but we wanted our first hour to loop Expedition Everest and DINASOUR, so this was a conscious choice.
GETTING A BOARDING GROUP:
With trepidation I did not follow the most common advice of going to the stroller parking by Indiana Jones. With Wi-Fi off (a VERY Good idea), all that really matters is decent signal from your cell provider. For AT&T, it was great right in front of the Millennium Falcon. For the 20 minutes before 10am, very few folk are getting in queue as they are getting ready for the BG drop. Park yourself right close to the ride entrance, then hop in line as soon as you get your BG. Queue time at 10am was 10 mins, and by 10:15 it was 80 mins! Hence being right there right after getting your BG makes a big difference! On my DHS day 2, folk essentially set up an informal line by the Millenium Falcon fence without moving into the empty queue area. Then we just all started moving in that already setup line just after 10am when we got our BGs! I got BGs 26 and 3? each day, so not super low numbers but good enough. I wasn’t refreshing super-fast and futzed a bit with the steps afterwards as it was my first time, but certainly meant I was riding each day.
Especially for the first hour on a non-headliner ride like Buzz and DINASOUR, the cast members noticed we were looping and offered we just stay on the vehicle between unloading and loading zones. That was great! They said as long as there was no big wait for folk in-queue that was fine. We were extended the same offer at Star Tours entrance cast members at the end of the day, but there was no-one in the unloading area to offer us the short cut.
Counter service meal notes:
Distancing was a big part of feeling comfortable at Disney, so sit-down restaurants were off the list. Ideally we should have eaten outdoors too, but AC was too important to pass up on. While Mobile Order felt unsatisfying at the Pop Century, it didn’t seem so in the parks and I’m not sure why—especially given the mechanics are essentially the same. Maybe it was just being in the parks. Usable tables (ones not marked as unusable) were well spaced and we tended to eat off-hours, so real spacing was at least double that. When we did show up at more popular times, we were usually able to find one in an isolated corner somewhere that felt just a bit less exposed.
The weather was 90/90 for all but the last few days, so not terrible by Florida standards, but pretty grueling for a Coloradan where humidity is outlawed. With a full touring plan we didn’t use them much. We did need one after a mid day 70+ minute wait for 7DMT where ¾ of that queue is in the sun. We picked the one by Storybook Circus and that was a hidden gem, it was air conditioned! Most are not, but if it is heat getting to you, the ones of interest are Storybook Circus in MK, Launch Bay at DHS, Askerhaus at Epcot and none known for AK. I give honorable mention to World Showplace at Epcot. While not a formal relaxation station it essentially is one with AC, and OK to remove your mask if you are snacking.
Happy to answer any questions in the thread.