Is it safe to go to Disney World during the pandemic?

is it safe to go to disney world pandemic
Photo via Frank Phillips/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: June 3, 2021

After an unprecedented, nearly four-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, Walt Disney World reopened all four theme parks to the general public in mid-July 2020. And despite the ongoing health crisis, it quickly became clear that fans were eager to return. But is it safe to go to Disney World during the pandemic?

To limit capacity, visitors can no longer purchase tickets at the gate and, for the foreseeable future, must instead make reservations in advance. When the park began taking reservations on June 24, the demand was so high that the online booking system crashed almost immediately, and some reservation blocks sold out within minutes.

“The world is changing around us, but we strongly believe that we can open safely and responsibly,” Disney theme park chairman Josh D’Amaro told the New York Times shortly before the parks reopened. “For those that might have questions or concerns, when they see how we are operating and the aggressive protocols that we have put in place, they will understand.”

“This is our new normal. Our new reality,” D’Amaro added. “COVID is here, and we have a responsibility to figure out the best approach to safely operate in this new normal.”

Originally, the capacity was limited to 25%, and Disney implemented a host of new safety protocols to ensure the health and wellness of guests.

More recently, the capacity at Disney World increased to 35%, though some rides have increased capacity even beyond that. And as of April 2021, reservations are getting booked up quickly, and you could also begin posing for outdoor photos while taking off your masks.

By mid-May, Disney World stopped checking the temperatures of guests and employees (though Disneyland will continue doing so for now), and people didn’t have to wear masks outside unless they were entering or exiting through attractions and theaters.

By the end of 2021, the parks could be up to full capacity.

Disney also has installed 4,000 hand-sanitizing stations through the parks and resorts, as well as first aid locations staffed by experienced nurses who have updated protocols for responding to COVID-19 symptoms. In March 2021, Disney announced it would pay some cast employees four hours of PTO to get the vaccine.

Though Disneyland in California had been closed throughout the pandemic, it finally reopened in late April 2021 with at least four people getting engaged on that first day back. Meanwhile, Hong Kong Disney reopened on Feb. 19.

People seem to be following the rules at Disney World. As calculated by Touring Plans’ Len Testa, who counted 10,000 people one day during the summer, between 94-98% actually wore their masks correctly while in the park.

All of it has drawn praise from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), as he said Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld “have done very well.” Said DeSantis: “Everyone now acknowledges that theme parks have not led to any type of major outbreaks.”

It seems, then, that Disney World is trying its best to give you a positive answer when you question whether it’s safe to go there.

So, should you go to Disney or not?

While these safety protocols are there to provide the safest possible Disney experience during a pandemic, only you can decide whether you feel safe enough to visit. 

As the Disney information resource WDW Info points out, the question you should be asking yourself isn’t “Is this safe?” but “Is Disney World worth the risk?” During a pandemic, anytime you leave your home—whether to go to a grocery store, dine at a restaurant, or visit a theme park—you’re exposing yourself to a degree of risk.

Instead, there are a number of things you should take into consideration to determine if Disney is a risk you’re willing to take.

For instance, are you or someone you would be traveling with at high risk for the virus? How you get to Disney World is another significant factor. Will you be traveling by air or car? Though a road trip may seem unquestionably safer, those concerned about making pit stops likely would not feel comfortable at a crowded theme park. 

Plus, the Transportation Security Administration announced on Feb. 2 that travelers must “wear face masks when they are in airports, bus, and rail stations, as well as while on passenger aircraft, public transportation, passenger railroads, and over-the-road buses operating on scheduled fixed-routes.”

Another thing to consider, according to The Points Guy website, is that just because capacity is limited to 35%, don’t expect the parks to be only one-third as busy as they were before the pandemic. Disney World very rarely hits full capacity even during normal times, so you may still be shocked at the size of even limited crowds. As such, think about visiting the park during off-times during the week when it tends to be less busy.

The website added that, with tens of thousands of guests visiting the park daily, you should also be prepared that you’re going to encounter people who are not adhering to safety protocols such as distancing or mask-wearing. If this is a deal-breaker and going to ruin your trip, perhaps you should just wait it out and plan a future trip when it’s completely safe to do so.

For what it’s worth, one of the Disney water parks that have been closed since the beginning of the pandemic, Blizzard Beach, will reopen in March.

What to expect if you do go to Disney World and how to stay safe

Let’s say you’ve weighed all of the above factors and have made the decision to visit Disney World (even though the company has made fundamental changes that at least one person thinks makes it too “woke”).

For what you can expect when you get there, we turn to theme park writer Terri Peters, a contributing editor at TODAY.com and TODAY Parents.

“I feel so incredibly super safe when I’m in the Disney parks,” Peters, who has visited several times with her family since Disney World reopened, told Nautilus. “I’ve had people say to me; I feel safer at Disney than I do at Publix because they’re hardcore about wearing the masks and there’s hand sanitizer stops everywhere.”

When asked what tips and tricks she’s picked up during her recent experience, Peters said unquestionably that No. 1 is to bring extra masks with you to the parks. “It’s hot and sweaty and gross, and it’s so hard to wear masks, and they honestly start to get, like, wet and funky when you’re breathing in them and sweating in them all around the parks,” she said.

Peters also stressed that it’s crucial to mask up, even when on the rides—because Disney is always watching.

“If you do not wear your mask, they will not give you your photo,” she explains. “And then, if you’re on Pirates of the Caribbean and there are 20 people on the boat, if somebody isn’t wearing a mask, everybody loses that vacation photo. So don’t be a jerk and ruin it for everyone else. Obviously, it’s easy to take your mask off when no one’s watching, but the photo people are like Big Brother.”

Interestingly, Disney flirted with the idea of digitally adding masks to ride photos, but ultimately, the company decided not to pursue that project.

Another thing Peters suggests is to not go overboard with packing. “Don’t be crazy with what you pack. The first couple of times we did Disney during COVID I brought all of our own stuff—hand sanitizer and wipes and just weighed myself down,” she said. “Disney does a really good job of providing the things that you need to make it through the parks and feel safe.”

Peters also recommends making a dining reservation if you plan to be at the parks all day. Not only does this allow you to sit down with the family and cool off, but you avoid crowds and lines at the casual dining stands.

“When you have to do one of those quick-service places, it can be difficult because it can be really crowded,” she said. “You still have to wear a mask while you’re waiting for your mobile order; there might not be a table there because everyone does the quick-service places.”

Overall, though, Peters said journeying through Disney World during the pandemic has been a positive experience (and Disney wants to keep it that way by adding new attractions across all of their parks around the world). And it’s worth noting that Disney World will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021 with a plethora of new attractions.

“I would say Disney’s killing it,” she said. 

Is it safe:

Sources: New York Times, Disney Parks, WDW Info, Points Guy

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