So we did a thing and survived to tell the tale. I am so glad we went to Disney World and helped the kiddos make some magical memories while back in the US. Virtual schooling them on an intense schedule has not been easy. I’m very thankful we got to take a nice family vacation in the middle of it all. If you’re on the fence about whether to take the trip in these unusual times and whether it’s worth it, read on for an objective recounting of the real situation. If you’re planning your first trip to Disney World, read on and click on anything that can be clicked on to check out the best attractions, etc. This is not a sponsored post and all opinions are mine alone. 🙂
Flashback to 2019, my husband and I had planned to take our kids to Disney World in the Fall of 2020. In Colombia, we have a one week holiday in October and a one week holiday in November, and both would be considered off peak season with light or moderate crowds. However, it was not until September 2020 that we decided that it was going to be safe/worth the effort to take this big trip (via roadtrip). (Quick recap of our current situation: We live in Colombia. Came back to the US due to the pandemic. Have been here for half a year. Weird expat-repat-about to expat again year, but that’s another story.)
Between pandemic-induced lockdown, virtual schooling and the pre-existing madness that comes with raising 4 young children, we literally forgot about making any plans for anything until the last minute. But it doesn’t really change much in terms of cost for Disney World tickets, because those are expensive no matter how you spin it. We did, however, get over $100 off by buying our tickets through this site (no affiliation whatsoever, just sharing a helpful resource).
With your online ticket, you can go ahead and make reservations to the theme parks in advance. Reserving the day you plan to go to any given theme park is an important and necessary step.
For some helpful tips, check out our attractions highlight reel later in this post. Note that our crew is comprised of kids ages 3-9, so we skipped attractions like Tower of Terror and Haunted Mansion. We did, however, enjoy thrill rides like Flight of Passage (Pandora) @ Animal Kingdom and quick roller coasters like Barnstormer @ Magic Kingdom.
The Vibe with Social Distancing, Masking Up, etc.
The environment was pretty chill for Disney standards—no fireworks, over the top parades, or character meet & greet’s; there were less people and relatively shorter lines. (Short enough so that we never had any long line waiting meltdowns.) Many of the attractions geared towards younger children were only 10-15 minute waits. With the 50% capacity and shorter lines, fast passes are not available and one could argue that they were not necessary. Without needing to schedule for activities such as character meet and greets and with a few of the attractions being unavailable, I suppose one can render unfettered dedication to queuing up for the best attractions. However, the Rider Switch service is still available, which was great since 妹妹 (the 3yo) wasn’t big enough for a few of the rides that the rest of us wanted to do. Rider Switch allows an adult guest to wait with a child unable to ride an attraction and then board the attraction without waiting in the main line again (they get to enter the fast pass lane). The adult/parent who did not get to ride the first time around gets to take a couple of kids with him/her. This means that my older kids got to ride the best rides a couple of times every time we used Rider Switch.
Masks are required to be worn at all times, unless you were stationary and eating. Social distancing in the queues, rides, and restaurants are well marked and organized. Sanitizer stations are found all around the park and are conveniently stationed at the exit of each attraction.
These were the BEST Kid Attractions (and we had plenty of time to do them all without fast passes):
@ Magic Kingdom
Astro Orbiter, Barnstormer, Buzz Lightyear, Dumbo, It’s a Small World, Magic Carpets, Winnie the Pooh, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pirate’s Adventure, Swiss Family Treehouse, Under the Sea
Alien Swirling Saucers, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Millennium Falcon, Star Tours, Toy Story Mania!, *Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Advanced Training Lab, Frozen Ever After, Gran Fiesta, Journey Into Imagination, Kidcot Fun Stops, The Seas with Nemo
The Animation Experience at Conservation Station, Dinosaur, Discovery Island Trails, Flight of Passage, It’s Tough to be a Bug!, Kali River Rapids, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Tree of Life, TriceraTop Spin, Wilderness Explorers
*These are ones that were open as of October 2020— some attractions were closed due inability to manage social distancing or were under construction.
My husband would argue that the best attraction each day was being able to sit down at a restaurant to have a nice meal. Could it be because alpaca-dad always had to carry 6 stainless steel water bottles, 6 ponchos, snacks, and 12 oz. of hand sanitizer in his backpack at all times? Surely not! Well kidding aside, it was definitely always a welcomed treat to get out of the humid heat, rest our feet, and fill our tummies with good food. Reservations at Disney’s fine dining restaurants are always required, but there are also several fast casual options as well. Although counter service/fast casual restaurants do not require reservations, they typically do require you to order your food in advance using the My Disney Experience app.
Shockingly, I did not take too many photos at the restaurants so I don’t have more to share. I usually do out of habit when the plating is pretty…and at the nicer Disney restaurants, they are always plated with meticulous care. Testament to the fact that my brain and arms must have just been too tired from all the trekking in the theme parks. Half of the time, the 3 year old would pass out for nap time during one of the sit down meals.
These are our favorite restaurants (WITH SEATING) by theme park:
Magic Kingdom: Be Our Guest Restaurant $$$, Jungle Navigation Co. $$
Hollywood Studios: The Hollywood Brown Derby $$$, Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo $
Epcot: Spice Road Table $$$, Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie $
Animal Kingdom: Tiffins $$$, Starbucks $ (We stopped in for some coffee, but found out that they actually had some delicious, gourmet sandwiches not found anywhere else. Fun fact: The Starbucks shops in the different theme parks offer the Starbucks You Are Here mug for that theme park. They are so cute. The “wannabe cool mom” in me said, “oh, we don’t need those”…but the “suburbia-nerd mom” in me really wanted to just buy them allll.
Speaking of stuff to buy…
Theme Park Shopping
Pretty self explanatory here. Treat yo’ self, mama. You will find things at Disney World that simply are not available anywhere else in the world. Each theme park has gifts, treats, stuffies, and souvenirs unique to that theme park (or even unique just to a particular attraction), so…………..as long as you’re not a shopaholic and you’re just trying to stimulate the economy, it’s all fair game, amiright? 😉
There are also so many creative treats that are unique to Disney World, like the I lava you Dole Whip float (sugary goodness that my kids sipped and slurped till the last drop) and blue and green milk (which my kids didn’t quite care for it).
“Perks” to consider investing in or NOT investing in, in light of the current situation
Parking. In our opinion, since we have four young ones in tow, it is important to have the flexibility to get to our own car rather than queueing up again at the end of a park day. After a day of waiting in long queues and encroaching upon bedtime, the last thing we would want is to wait in yet another line. It costs $25 per day (standard) or $45-50 (premium) to park in the theme park, but at reduced capacity the parking lot is only half full so we did not find a need to purchase premium parking.
Magic Band. This serves as your Disney World Resort key, stores your admission tickets for the theme parks, fast pass for attractions, and you can scan it if you want to buy any photos from the attractions or have a PhotoPass. The same functions are available from the traditional plastic cards that you get as your entrance ticket. The only time we needed to use our card was for park entrances and when we did a Rider Switch service.
PhotoPass/Memory Maker. Disney Memory Maker is a photo package that gives you digital copies of all the photos taken at attractions that have automatic PhotoPass cameras set up and by Disney PhotoPass photographers who are stationed at all of the iconic backdrops in each theme park, around the characters for meet and greets, etc. The automatic PhotoPass cameras set up on the rides are usually set up on the bigger roller coasters, which we did not do this time around, and since there are no character meet and greets, I didn’t really find a need for the service. Then again, I’m okay with selfie family photos.
And there you have it, our chill Disney World experience. If you’re still on the fence about whether to do, I hope the objective recap of our experience can be a help, whichever way you are choosing.