Experiencing Disney During a Pandemic

From airports to the destination, what is it really like to travel out of state again?

Walt Disney World, Main Street U.S.A., Magic Kingdom Theme Park

Our spring break adventure to Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida was just that… an adventure. I haven’t traveled out of state for over a year. Preparing for our big trip and packing our suitcases felt a little foreign to me. In the past, I could easily pack a bag and be out the door at a moment’s notice. Typically, “pre-pandemic”, I would take an early flight on the same day that I planned to also go to a Disney Theme Park. Throughout the pandemic I have experienced increased anxieties around leaving our house and travel in general. My husband has really helped me to overcome these fears by taking me on day trips close to our home on the weekends and gradually going on larger trips across the state of Texas. While planning our Walt Disney World trip, I kept in mind that it had been a year since I had traveled on an airplane and I felt more comfortable extending our travel time to over a day. This eliminated the stress of driving to the airport before dawn and divided the travel day into steps, which helped me manage my anxieties about traveling out of state again.

Getting on a plane to go visit the most magical place on earth, Walt Disney World, was a lot of fun, but there were varying safety standards throughout our stops along the way. One of the most frequently asked questions I have received is, “did you feel safe traveling“? The answer is yes. I believe that every organization/entity, whether we are talking about an airline, hotel, or Disney parks, was doing their best to keep guests safe and adhere to the ever-evolving health and safety guidelines surrounding the pandemic nationwide.

I’ve also received numerous questions about mask policies, especially since the State of Texas have lifted the mask mandate at the beginning of March 2021.

What is it like flying with the mask policy?

It is currently (at the time of publishing this story in March 2021) a federal law that all passengers must wear a mask in the airport and on the airplane. It’s important to know that you are NOT exempt from the mask policy if you have had a COVID vaccine or negative COVID test. We also found out that neck gaiters and “open-chin” triangle bandanas are not considered a mask, but the airline will provide a new mask for you prior to boarding if you accidentally show up to the airport with any of the restricted mask options.

Are people social distancing at the Airports?

It is very difficult to social distance at the airports. I noticed the COVID protocols surrounding social distancing vary the most at the security checkpoints, depending on the airport location. On this trip, we flew two different airlines, American and Delta, because of the limited availability of flights to our destination. In total, we either flew out or into airports in Houston, Miami, Orlando, and Atlanta for both travel days.

Our experience flying American Airlines (AA):

  • AA is boarding by group number per their normal procedures. Deplaning was also business as usual, where everyone crowds the aisles.
  • Hand sanitizer wipes were in the back of each seat pocket.
  • No drink service.
  • If you are traveling first class, they will provide a drink and food at your request.

Our experience flying Delta Airlines:

  • Delta boarded by group number and by a range of rows to keep guests spaced out as much as possible.
  • Delta seats the same families together, meaning you won’t have a person on your row who isn’t a part of your family. Depending on the size of your party you could have an empty seat on your row.
  • Delta provided guests hand sanitizer wipes upon boarding the plane.
  • After take off the Delta crew came by each seat with a plastic bag that included travel-sized: bottled water, cliff bar, goldfish, napkins, and another hand sanitizer wipes.
  • Delta also thanked customers throughout the entire trip. I found the Delta flight crew to be friendlier all the way from baggage check to the flight.
Walt Disney World, Dumbo The Flying Elephant, Magic Kingdom Theme Park

What were the health and safety protocols like at Walt Disney World?

Arriving at Disney’s Riviera Resort was completely contactless. Through the My Disney Experience Mobile App, we were able to self-check in to our room with keyless entry. This app managed our entire trip to Walt Disney World from park reservations to wait times in the park, navigating our food reservations, mobile food ordering, and also previewing our Disney PhotoPass.

As of March 2021, the park was at approximately thirty-five percent capacity. It had the appearance of being busier because of the social distancing protocols that were put into place at the parks. For example, each line to a ride, mobile food ordering, and souvenir shopping were defined with “six feet” line place markers on the ground outside of your destination. Disney cast members managed these lines at every stop and helped guide traffic. It was much like an experience in a drive-thru at Chick-fil-A, you always know where to go and it’s always in a very organized fashion.

In addition to the well-organized lines, there are signs located throughout the parks, at transportation stations, and throughout the resorts. You will hear announcements throughout the park and cast members will remind guests if you are not wearing a mask or it falls below your nose. They take this extremely seriously. I witnessed on several occasions a cast member asking a guest to properly wear their mask. Guests are advised that if they can not follow these guidelines that they will be removed from the park.

What else should you expect while traveling to Walt Disney World:

  • Be prepared to have your temperature checked at the entrance to every park. Advent health care professionals were stationed at the entrance of each park to take your temperature before entering the park.
  • Hand sanitizer stations are placed strategically throughout the park for you to access before getting on a ride, while you wait in line, after the ride, and during any dining experiences. They are everywhere!
  • Again social distancing is up to you and your family to maintain distance between other park guests. I observed many people completely disregarding the lines on the ground that guided guests to social distance. Disney is doing the best they can to help guests stay socially distant but it is really on you to help them maintain the standards of the park.
Walt Disney World, Taste of Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

After leaving our Disney Resort we spent two days off property at another hotel, they also required masks. We would experience the same standards at local restaurants and shopping centers. When we encountered guests at Disney or just throughout our travel who weren’t wearing masks properly or they weren’t following socially distancing protocols we would just relocate or a take a few steps away from them. Again you set the tone for your travel and it’s up to you to manage a safe and healthy trip.

If you are planning a trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, check out their helpful guide and FAQs on reopening and traveling to the park here.

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