Disney World in a Covid World

Leia Morales on 13 October 2021
Enough of the dreaming, this month we got to do our dream holiday to Disney World Florida. We booked last year on a hopeful whim. As October half term got closer, the FCDO advice for travel to the USA was updated and there was no longer anything in our way. My husband is a US citizen and so we were exempt from the restrictions in place stopping most Brits from travelling stateside until the 8th of November.

There are lots of accommodation options in Orlando. On a previous visit in 2018 when my daughter was 3, we stayed in a villa and spent 3 nights in Disney’s Art of Animation hotel. We decided that time not to visit the parks themselves as we felt she was too young to endure the long days in the heat, queuing for the few rides she would have been tall enough for. The stay at the Art of Animation hotel was perfect for a Disney experience; spending the days swimming in one of the 3 themed pools, sleeping in a Little Mermaid themed room and being surrounded by 35 ft tall statues from our favourite Disney movies.

With more than 25 on-site Disney hotels to choose from, they are a great option for convenience and for the full on Disney experience. The hotels are split into different categories with Art of Animation featuring in the Value Resorts and being located furthest from the parks to the Deluxe Beach Club Resort which is a short walk from Epcot. There are definite advantages to staying on-site; including free transportation on regular buses, monorail, skyliner and boats around the resort, extra time in the parks and being fully immersed in the Disney experience. If you book at certain times of the year there are added bonuses like Disney dining credit.

The villa accommodation option is a great choice for larger groups who are happy to travel to the parks. When we visited in 2018 our villa was a 40 minute drive each way to Disney World. There are villa’s much closer so it is essential to check the distance and make sure you are happy to drive that far every day for the duration of your visit. Some villas are offered as generic villas within a certain distance of the parks. Each villa is individually styled as they are privately owned but meet certain criteria to be offered within a villa category. Many have private pools and games rooms. There is also the option to book a specific villa when you want to know exactly where you are staying.

For our accommodation this time we chose to stay in a hotel offering self catering suites. The Staybridge Suites – Orlando Royal Parc is a 10 minute drive to Disney World. Like many hotels, it offers a complimentary shuttle to Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, as well as other Orlando parks such as Universal Studios. We haven’t used the shuttle every day as there is just the one bus to and from the parks which means spending 12 hours each day. Most American’s visit Disney World for just a few days and so the shuttle service is (at least currently) aimed at them making the most of their short stays. Perhaps adults visiting for 2 weeks would have the stamina for 12 hour days, but with a 6 year old we have elected for some shorter days which has meant driving into Disney World. Parking charges at Disney are from $25 a day, which is over £250 for a 2 week visit. You can park for free at Disney Springs, Blizzard Beach Water Park and at Disney resorts if you have a dining reservation. If you are staying at a Disney hotel with a car, you will pay a daily parking charge at your hotel but will be able to park at Disney parks for free.

Disney World is made up of 4 parks and 2 water parks, although Typhoon Lagoon Water Park remains closed. Changes to the park tickets available in the UK for travel in 2022 means that your ticket is either valid for 7 days in the parks in a 15 day period or 14 days in the park in an 18 day period. Changes as a result of Covid also require you to make a park reservation for each day you are visiting. Other than peak days such as Halloween, we have been able to get availability to change our existing park reservations the day before visiting. Park hopping is available, giving you the option to visit one park in the morning and hop across to another park after 2pm the same day. Our ticket also came with a Memory Maker which gives us access to photos taken by the on-site photographers as well as ride photos.

Covid has changed how things are done at Disney World; for example, gone are the queues to meet characters and get their autographs. As a replacement, your favourite Princesses and other characters can be found socially distanced behind short fences and hedges where you can stand in front and they will suitably pose. Personally, I prefer this; it is a whistle-stop way to get the photo and then move on to the next ride.

Travelling when we did, during October half term, we avoided many of the crowds. The 2 week half term that Nottinghamshire schools have makes it a perfect time to visit. Peak visiting time is Easter holidays, while many would find the summer in Orlando too hot to bear, and certainly while standing in long queues. Florida does get cooler in the winter months but with temperatures comparable to UK summer temperatures, it is also a great time.

October 2021 saw Disney World celebrate it’s 50th anniversary, as a result (and despite Covid!) there are 18 months of celebrations taking place throughout 2022. Golden statues of popular characters can be found across the 4 parks and limited-edition merchandise is available in the various stores. The evening fireworks shows are a celebration of 50 magical years.

A few things to bear in mind if you are planning on visiting in 2022, is that masks are mandatory in all indoor locations for anyone over 2 years of age. No medical exemptions and cast members will gently remind you if your mask isn’t fully covering your nose and mouth. Hand sanitizer is located throughout the park, at entrances and exits to all rides.