Elaine and I wanted to travel and see what was happening in parts of the US, outside California, so we decided to take a trip and spend a week at Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
It had been over a year since we flew on American Airlines and we were curious about how the pandemic has impacted air travel, as well as changes at Disney World parks we had read about and wanted to see it for ourselves.
Plus, there are new attractions like the Rise of the Resistance, since we were there about 10 years ago, and we were interested to see how the experience may have changed since Disney implemented new technology.
In this blog, you’ll learn:
- Experience of Flying on American Airlines for the First Time in a Year
- COVID-19 Restrictions at the Disney World Parks
- New Technology at Disney World – Embrace the My Disney Experience App!
- Recommendations to Consider When Planning Your Trip to Disney World
During the flights, I read the new book by Disney CEO, Bob Iger, titled The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company. The book helped put me the right frame of mind for the visit and it gave me an appreciation of how Disney was able to acquire such amazing entertainment brands as Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars.
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What was it like Flying on American Airlines?
Our last flight on American Airlines was over a year ago, before the start of the pandemic, and we were interested to see how the air travel experience had changed.
We noticed that the interior of the planes had several upgrades. The overhead bins were larger, allowing carry-on bags to be stored vertically, rather than horizontally, to take up less space. There were USB charging ports on the back of the seats. Also, the inflight entertainment offered a selection of free movies and TV shows, available using Wi-Fi on the plane to display on cell phones, tablets, or laptops.
On the flight from Dallas to Orlando, we sat next to an off-duty flight attendant that had been furloughed and had now returned to work. He had just been at the American Airlines training center in Dallas, getting trained on all their latest procedures. During his training, he was told that American was now flying at 90% domestically of the capacity that they were at before the start of the pandemic.
Dallas is a major hub for American - the airport and parking lots were full of people, looking like they did pre-pandemic. They were utilizing technology in the bathrooms, like what is used in parking lots, to track how many stalls are open in the bathroom and display it on the wall outside.
We found that all of our flights on the trip were completely sold out and the airport in Orlando was also very crowded.
COVID Restrictions at the Disney World Parks
When we did research online prior to our trip, the only reference we could find about attendance limitations in the parks was a note from several months ago that the parks were at 35% of the pre-pandemic capacity.
When we were at the parks, we found them to be very full and by 11 AM each morning, there were so many people that the lines for the bigger rides were 45-90 minutes.
Disney World Mask Policy
Disney implemented a variety of measures in their parks, at the direction of the health officials, to reduce the spread of COVID. The most obvious measure was the required wearing of masks while outdoors, when indoors on rides, or in shops. Guests were allowed to take off their masks while eating in the restaurants.
On Thursday, May 13, while we were at Hollywood Studios, the CDC changed their guidance about wearing masks outdoors. As a result, on Saturday, May 15, Disney changed their rules so that masks no longer needed to be worn by people when outdoors in the parks.
Disney World Rules and Signage
There was also signage on the ground, spaced out every 6 feet, to keep distance between people while waiting in lines. A cast member in Guest Services told us that they were in the process of changing the spacing of the signs on the ground from 6 feet to 3 feet.
Signage was everywhere in the parks and on the transportation vehicles. It didn’t always make sense. When there were lots of people, the signs didn’t seem to matter.
Sometimes there were signs to stay distanced, even when there were no rides nearby.
Disney Shows and Attractions
Many of the shows in the parks were currently closed. We would have expected to see the outdoor shows open, and the indoor shows closed - yet that was not always the case. The theater outdoors for the Indiana Jones show was closed and the indoor theater for Frozen was open.
There were plexiglass dividers in many places in the parks, including separating when boarding rides.
Most of the rides were leaving every other row empty and in rides that have four seats in a row, only one party was seated in the row, sometimes leaving seats unfilled.
Embrace the “My Disney Experience” App
When purchasing a park pass for Disney World, guests must select the day they want to attend the park and then make a reservation for the park on that day. People are not allowed to enter the parks without a reservation, which allows Disney to control the attendance.
Once purchased, park passes would become visible in the My Disney Experience app. We each wore a Magic Band around the wrist that connected our park passes and was used for entrance and navigation at each park.
We noticed that there was a significant increase in sit-down restaurants in all the parks, compared to our last visit. Reservations can be made 60 days in advance and the restaurants book up quickly. Guests can check in for their dining reservations 20 minutes before their time using the app, and a text is sent when your table is ready.
We thought the food was excellent and found there were fewer fast-food restaurants than in the past, and all utilized the app for mobile ordering to prevent lines from forming while waiting for food.
The most popular new ride is Rise of the Resistance, at Hollywood Studios. You are transported to a star destroyer, where everything is full scale. It sets a new high bar for attractions at theme parks. To go on the ride, you must first join a virtual queue that starts at 7 am the day of your visit to Hollywood Studios. Within a few minutes all the spots for the day were full.
The wait times for each of the rides can be found in the My Disney Experience app. There is also a map of the park and it will give you a path to get from where you are to your next ride, which was very helpful.
Planning Your Trip to Walt Disney World
After being home for such a long time during the pandemic, we really enjoyed traveling and seeing another part of the country. We had lots of fun at Disney World and the experience taught us many things about how to optimize our trip.
8 Things to Consider for Your Disney World Adventure
- Buy your park tickets 3-4 months in advance
Make sure that reservations are still available for all the parks before you buy your tickets. You can check reservation availability here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/availability-calendar/
- Get in line at the parking lot pay booths 60 minutes early
The parking lots for the parks were opening 50-60 minutes prior to the published park opening time. Once you park, they will let you into the park and on rides as soon as you arrive and before the published park opening time.
- Premium parking pass is highly recommended
The trams in the parking lots were not running, which can result in a very long walk from your car to the park. For an extra $20 you can park much closer to the park entrance.
- Ride the attractions with the longest wait times early
The lines only get longer later for the same rides but are relatively shorter before 11 AM. See what has the longest wait time when you arrive and go on these rides first.
- Make your restaurant reservations as soon as you can, exactly 60 days prior
Dining reservations can be made 60 days prior to your visit to the park. Reservations for lunch from Noon to 1 PM provide a great time to rest after a full morning at the park. It may seem hard to decide that far out from your travel, but you’ll be glad you did.
- Be ready at 6:59 AM to reserve the Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios
You must join the virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance at exactly 7:00 AM in the app, on the morning you are going to Hollywood Studios. Even a minute or two later and you may not be able to experience this amazing attraction. You came this far, and you don’t want to miss it.
- Pack water and snacks
The lines for snacks and beverages can sometimes be long at all the parks. Bring an insulated water bottle full of cold water and lots of snacks in your backpack so you can keep your energy up for all the fun.
- Consider waiting a few more months
Finally, you might consider waiting a few more months before scheduling your visit until the shows reopen, the rides are again at full capacity and masks are no longer required inside the shops or attractions.
We had lots of fun on our Disney World adventure! It feels like it may be a good time to shake off the COVID resistance to travel and get back out there to experience a great time on your next trip.
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