Not even a pandemic can dim the magic of the holidays at Walt Disney World.
The last time we were at Walt Disney World was for my son’s 1st birthday in March, the 13th specifically, the very weekend they shutdown. Luckily, we left on Sunday and the shutdown happened that Monday, so we squeezed in every bit of fun. The day they announced their July opening, we got back to our holiday trip planning. For five years, it has been a tradition to go to Walt Disney World for my birthday, which usually falls on or around Thanksgiving, so it’s a fun week and kicks off the holidays for us. More specifically, we go to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This year, COVID had other plans for us but while the party was canceled, the fun was not.
I can undoubtedly say: the holidays are still very much alive at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando and the magic is everywhere.
I should preface this by saying I’m a Disney kid for life, but if you know me, you certainly already know that. (Not kidding, my mom took me I wasn’t two weeks old yet). Fast-forwarding, I’ve converted my husband into a Mouseketeer for life. Now as longtime annual passholders, we just couldn’t imagine not being there to kick off our holidays, pandemic or not. Marcelo (our son) has visited the parks 5 times in his first year (6 if you count the time he was in my belly), from 2 months young on my first Mother’s Day to just a couple weeks ago. So if you have any Disney questions, I am happy to help. Recently, one of our Miami Mom Collective contributors visited during the summer and has some great tips on visiting the parks during this time.
I’ll take this opportunity to say, I’ve also had the extraordinary privilege of working with Disney. As I write this, I think of the many colleagues that have become friends as they face furlough and questionable times ahead. You are all in my heart.
HOLIDAYS AT DISNEY DURING COVID-19, KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Disney is finding creative ways to bring you the holiday magic. Through December 30, guests can enjoy festive décor, holiday-themed merchandise, seasonal food and beverages, plus all kinds of entertainment. Even Santa Claus makes pop-up appearances at all 4 theme parks and Disney Springs.
- RESERVATION SYSTEM. Even annual passholders have to reserve parks with their new Disney Park Pass reservation system which allows for one park per day. That means no park hopping until January 1, 2021, when guests can visit their next park starting at 2 PM.
- SAFETY AND SCREENINGS. Temperature checks are taken practically everywhere. They are so quick and well organized, Disney’s operations never cease to amaze me. Before you even make it out of the garage into Disney Springs expect to be screened.
- Thick leather-like dividers have been placed in monorails, which are restricted to one family per cabin. The same applies to attractions in the parks. So make sure you like who you came with (wink, wink) they will be squeezed in everywhere with you and only you.
- Dividers have been placed in lines of indoor attractions. Placeholders on the floor allow for plenty of social distancing. The amazing cast members have also incorporated the spacing into some of the attractions and really make it fun.
- SHOWS AND MORE. There are no grand fireworks shows, but from time to time there are beautiful sparks that fly behind Cinderella’s castle. Just enough to let you know the magic is still around us.
- Many experiences and restaurants are temporarily closed. If you’re in doubt, just give them a call to plan your holidays accordingly.
- You’ll really have to stretch for that selfie with Mickey Mouse because meet and greets are temporarily suspended. Floats and other special pop-up appearances happen throughout the day. So don’t worry you will see your favorite pals.
A FEW TIPS IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO VISIT BEFORE THE END OF THE YEAR
- I recommend you choose lodging with a pool or other activities to fill the time you won’t be in the parks. Since you can only visit 1 park per day, you’ll have extra time. We chose a favorite Airnbn home that included a lazy river, splash pad, and tiki bar for Mom and Dad.
- Masks must stay on unless you are seated eating or drinking. So plan to wear them all day, all night, and all around. We purchased a box of disposable masks and left them by the door. Each day we all grabbed 2 on the go. They are much easier to breathe in all day and you don’t have to worry about washing daily.
- Disney’s cast members do an excellent job of keeping strict cleanliness guidelines. We felt safer in the parks than at any local market or store back home. Guests are there for a good time, so everyone is super respectful. Even so, we took a pack of Babyganics toy, table and highchair wipes to do a quick swipe on the rides. You know, for that “mama peace of mind.”
- Everything has a line. If you plan on making purchases, keep an eye out. If you spot a store with no line – jump in! The longest line of them all? Starbucks! FastPass+ service is suspended to maintain distancing but we never waited longer than 25 minutes on standby.
- We, like many others, couldn’t wait to finally experience Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance which required a reservation to ride. Up until recently, guests had to be physically present in the park to reserve. Disney has opened that up to an undisclosed “range” from the park. (Insider bonus tip: Reservations open at 7 AM. We set our alarms and were logged into the My Disney Experience app refreshing the screen as of 6:59 AM. We got in from our Airbnb which was close enough to the park.) P.S. It is well worth it!
OTHER NOTEWORTHY HOLIDAY HAPPENINGS
Festival of the Holidays
If you are visiting EPCOT, Festival of the Holidays is happening through December 30. Pack your appetite! There are tons of kiosks with seasonal food and beverage offerings. Pick up a Festival Passport at the front gate and travel the World Showcase to find 5 official Holiday Cookie Stroll locations. Collect all 5 stamps and you’ll get a complimentary gift.
Moms, swing through France to try their signature Frozen Hot Chocolate Martini. Perhaps Dad will want to try the Pumpkin Spice Margarita in Mexico? I am sure the kids will love their peppermint sundae: chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, and peppermint candy (gluten/wheat friendly). And for all my vegans out there (woot woot!) there is a black and white plant-based cookie on the Cookie Stroll. You’re welcome. (Bring me one.)
They’re still showcasing their Christmas Tree Stroll, only this year, they are spread out. Take your kids on a fun scavenger hunt to find them all.
Memory Maker Disney PhotoPass Service
It’s included in our annual passes. If you don’t have it, I highly recommend purchasing it even for a day. If you’re visiting Magic Kingdom during the daytime, look for a photographer in the East Plaza Garden who will capture a drone photo with the coolest views of Cinderella’s Castle. (Bonus tip: when taking photos, ask your Disney photographer for the “magic” photo). Make your holidays at Walt Disney memorable.
Overall, it was a trip well worth keeping tradition. Guests were amazing to one another. Disney cast members exceeded our expectations. Cleanliness was never in question. The magic of the holidays at Walt Disney World is in full effect. No mask can hide our joy, love, and happiness. I am counting the days to return, hopefully before 2021.
And with that I leave you with Walt’s words: It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.
Editor’s Note: If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our extensive Disney Guide!