We’ve made our third trip back to Walt Disney World since their re-opened late last summer.
You should read about our first trip back which took place shortly after WDW re-opened near the end of the summer 2020. There we detail all of the measures that are in place during this abnormal time. Crowds were extremely low at that time!
We returned to WDW for our second trip back which took place in November 2020. In the post about that trip we note the differences from the first trip, like bigger crowds, more things open, etc.
We’ll do the same here in this post about the third trip back which took place in mid in January 2021 and we’ll talk about the differences from earlier trips.
Also see our Planning and Executing Your Walt Disney World Vacation During These Trying Times post for all of the specific details you need to know.
On this trip we stayed at Pop Century and Art of Animation.
The biggest thing is that Disney continues to enforce mask wearing and social distancing rules which continue to negatively impact the guest experience and have greatly restricted Disney’s ability to generate income. This has led to even more terminations which further negatively affect the guest experience.
Since our last trip in November attendance levels have increased quite a bit as more people have become comfortable with traveling.
Walt Disney World has set their temporary maximum theme park attendance levels to 35% of normal maximum capacity.
During our first visit we experienced attendance levels that were probably at 5 to 15 percent of max capacity. the second trip, levels were much higher, with Hollywood Studios (still being the busiest park) maxing out for park reservations (no more available) on 4 of the days we were there. This time no parks maxed out during the trip and Park Hopping had restarted. But the lines that we observed were the longest that we’d seen during this unusual time!
Please keep in mind that in normal times, Disney World’s theme parks are almost never at 100% capacity and are closer to 40% to 60% much of the time.
The difference now, is that with the modified queue lines keeping 6 feet or more between parties, the lines are stretching way out into the parks.
For instance, the line for Peter Pan’s Flight in the Magic Kingdom (always a long one) stretched down the hill from the ride into Liberty Square and into and throughout the Columbia Harbour House’s dining room. The start of the line was out the CHH entrance!
And the Line for Rock n’ Roller Coaster started way over by Tower of Terror.
And the Slinky Dog line was way outside Toy Story Land.
Virus Reaction and Measures
Let’s face it, the mask wear and all the various social distancing measures are what is keeping many people away from Disney World right now. They just don’t want to go under these conditions. I kind of have to go in order to keep up on the usual things as well as to report on this stuff. At home I don’t wear a mask much, I’m lucky that I can telecommute for my “day job” so the only mask wearing that I do is during the 20 minutes or so when I occasionally go into a place of business. The only time I wear a mask a lot is traveling to/from and at Disney World. So wearing a mask that much is not normal for me and that’s how I report.
Temperature!!! Wow, on this trip is was cool, some might say cold, with temperatures ranging from the high 40s to high 60s, with a cool breeze during the whole trip. In the mornings, the mask was almost welcome to keep your nose warm!
On our first trip during August/September and temperatures were in the very high 90s with real feels around 103! On our second in November it was much easier (though not enjoyable) to wear masks with temps in the high 70s and low 80s.
Almost all mask and social distancing measures that we noted during our earlier trips are still in effect.
Almost all cast members are wearing plastic face shields (like you wore in shop in high school) over their face mask when they can’t stand behind Plexiglas or have to be within a certain distance of a guest (based on their role). Only a few cast members had these our first trip. It is often very difficult to hear what they are saying causing you to have to sometimes get from a foot to just inches from their face to hear them. With Plexiglas shields in front of registers communication is often impossible.
Pool areas continue to be mask free zones.
And people in general are bunching up more.
Air travel has picked up to mostly full flights from almost no one on board in the summer and 50% full flights in November.
My ur bags were again off of the conveyer and waiting for me when I arrived at baggage claim. Checking your bag at your departure airport and having them arrive in your Disney room is still not an option.
Disney’s Magical Express service was the worst we ever experienced! Wait times for the Value Resort’s buses was over a hour! During our earlier trips wait times had been minimal.
On property bus service is still less than ideal with not enough buses for the right parks during each theme park opening rush. This is a traditional problem made worse by greatly reduced bus capacity.
The Skyliner Station at Caribbean Beach is still a nightmare!
Those arriving at the Caribbean Beach Station via Skyliner from other resorts during theme park opening hours are required to go to the back of the line of those waiting to board at the Caribbean Beach Station after having already waited in line at their departure station.
Skyliner Resorts were running buses to Epcot and Hollywood Studios to ease pressure on the Skyliner some of the time at some resorts and not others with no way to know other than walking there.
Park Hopping has resumed as of 1 January. With Epcot being the last park to close, it has become quite busy prior to closing and Skyliner lines are long right after park closing! This trip the line to board at the International Gateway stretched out of the station, did a good sized switch back, and when up to the top of the hill towards the beach club!
Disney needs to solve this problem!
Hey Disney, how about FastPass for those who already waited in line at their origination station!!! Merge these guests into the brief line in the station. Don’t send them to the end of the Caribbean Beach line!
See our Skyliner Page for more info.
Monorail travel continues to be very good! I never had to wait for a second monorail train, there was always room. The reason for this is the greatly reduced number of locals and off property guests driveling to the Magic Kingdom and using the monorail to get from the parking lot to the park.
Boat travel all over property is just fine. WDW has started using larger boats that are normally on some of the routes, so no capacity issues that I saw.
Disney World Resorts
There were no real changes at the resorts from my earlier trips.
Some dining locations remain closed, which somewhat to severely impacts your options depending on your location. Specifically at the Epcot Resort area there are only 3 restaurants open for all 3 resorts (although there are also a couple grab and go locations).
Thankfully, Room Service has resumed. When your food arrives it will be placed (along with the bill) on one end of a rolling cart that will be pushed towards you in your doorway. The server will be on the far end of the cart. And some Table Service Restaurants offer Mobile Order for Take-Out.
We used the new “Walk Up” function in the Reserve Dining section of My Disney Experience quite a but on the first 2 trips, but this time there was never any availability, except at the least popular dining locations.
Maid service remains at every other day unless you decline and, the service is only towel and expendables replacement and a vacuuming if needed. No bed service. And you cannot receive maid service if you are in the room, though they will hand you items you need at your door if you ask.
Disney World Security
The very positive changes noted with no bag checks and the fast walk through metal detectors we reported on after the last trip remain awesome!
Disney World Theme Parks
As noted before, locals plus up crowds on Friday afternoon/evening and the weekends..
We recommend avoiding Hollywood Studios and Epcot on the weekends, and even taking Saturday as a pool/down day as have done. We also avois Disney Springs on Friday to Sunday nights..
The new Cavalcades, small surprise groups of characters in a mini parade, are still going strong.
These are not scheduled so people won’t congregate waiting for them. You just have to listen for the loud music to start up along parade routes.
- Magic Kingdom: Through Frontierland, Liberty Square, around the hub, and then down Main Street
- Epcot: Around the World Showcase
- Hollywood Studios: Up Hollywood Blvd, around Eco Lake, and out to the left of Star Tours
- Animal Kingdom: Cavalcades are on pontoon boats that circle the park on Discovery River
Other characters will pop up in a location where you can’t get near them, but you are be able to pose for a pic with them in the background. The also appear on balconies.
Relaxation Stations, where you can take off your mask are still open in the theme parks, but as we noted before, you are allowed to stop anywhere, stay socially distanced and take off your mask to sip your water or nibble a snack. We did this extensively on all 3 trips. You are not allowed to do this while moving!
Last Fall Disney World changed the way you obtain Rise of the Resistance Boarding Groups in the morning.
Instead of having ti get up, get ready, and enter Hollywood Studios in order for your morning chance at getting a Boarding Group, now anyone with a Hollywood Studios Theme Park Reservation can do it from anywhere at 7 a.m.! I believe that they did this to take pressure off the Skyliner which was backing up horribly at the Caribbean Beach Station. However it mad it almost impossible to get a Boarding Group. I tried twice during my trip and all available Groups were given out in 10 to 15 seconds.
Getting one in during the afternoon try was a snap though. For the afternoon try you still need to have entered the park, making the pool trying smaller. The afternoon try is at 1:00 p.m. and they were not announcing that all groups were gone until 2:00 p.m.
Lots of merchandise locations are still closed, putting pressure on the ones (especially the big ones) that are open. This causes sometimes long lines just to enter locations such as the Emporium on Main Street through their single entrance.
We recommend getting to your chosen theme park very early and getting some of the most popular rides accomplished before the lines build. You might want to take a mid-day break as we’ve noted that the parks tend to empty at dinner time and remain so. Disney has also noted this as they are bringing back Park Hopping after 2 pm starting 1 January 2021.
Disney World Restaurants
Mobile Order has expanded to even more Quick Service locations and to some Resort Hotel Table Service ones as well for take out.
More dining locations have opened, though not all.
Disney Springs was Much more busy than we experienced last trip. Mostly due to locals. Especially on Friday afternoon through Sunday night. Week nights were just fine!
You are much better off going on weekdays!!! Or early on the weekends.
I intentionally planned late for this trip, making Theme Park Reservations just a few weeks ahead and made no advance Dining Reservations.
Getting Theme Park Reservations at the parks I wanted was no issue, though finding a Table Service restaurant with availability was challenging. Only the least favorite restaurants had openings in the parks and at Resorts. While at Disney Springs there were more openings available except at the most popular restaurants.
Again I must say that I can’t wait for Walt Disney World to get back to the Real Normal after this Temporary Abnormal! It just isn’t the magical place where you can forget the worries of the outside world it was just 10 long months ago.
If you have questions about my trip or how things are at WDW, feel free to ask in the comments section below!
This MDT Post By: Steve Bell
Steve is the the Military Disney Tips Founder. He a retired U.S. Military Member who's been touring the Disney Parks since 1971! Steve's mission is to help military families with their Disney vacations in every way. Check out Steve's Bio.
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