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My First Trip to Walt Disney World Since Re-Opening – My Thoughts & What to Expect

It’s been over a year since I last visited Walt Disney World. To say I was a little skeptical of traveling since COVID hit in early 2020, was an understatement. But, at the end of the day, I have absolutely no regrets. The best thing I could have ever done for my soul and mental state was travel to my happy place, my “home” away from home.

It felt amazing to be out of the four walls of my house, to be amongst people, to be in a place that brings me so much joy. When I walked through the gates of Magic Kingdom and looked down Main Street U.S.A at that Castle, I got goosebumps. I couldn’t believe I was there, I was finally “home”.

I thought I’d break it down and give you a flavor of what my experiences were from flying, to park visits (complete with the new and almost critical mobile ordering), to my hotel stay. Each section below outlines various topics that I thought relevant to touch on that might help you decide if a trip to Walt Disney World is something you want to consider for yourself now or in the near future.

I am hopeful that as the year progresses, restrictions that are currently in place, will slowly lift. And little by little, we’ll see life as we once knew it, coming back. I can already see progress in the parks, and I only suspect it’s a matter of months, before we really start to see some normalcy. But, in the meantime, we are still in a pandemic and there are still limitations on what we can do. So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on all of it.

So let’s jump in…


General Travel


Airport Travel

I live in New Jersey, so I always fly to Florida. Since this was my first time traveling since COVID hit, I was a bit skeptical. I knew everything would be fine, yet I did not know what to expect, so I was a bit nervous. Overall, my travel experience was great, I cannot complain. Flights were on time both coming and going, and because of the current situation, airport traffic was light. It was so light, I wish it was like that all the time! Everything was a breeze from checking in my suitcase to getting through security.

My only caution to anyone traveling and venturing to the airports during this time, is to know that social distancing is not really happening. You will need to create your own barriers to others if you feel uncomfortable in any situation. It was generally not an issue for me, I wasn’t overly concerned or worried, but I did try to be respectful of others around me. So I kept my distance from others as best I could.

The flight was a full in both directions. I flew Jet Blue and they are no longer spacing passengers out on the plane, but I knew that when I booked the flight. Chances are you will be sitting next to someone if you choose to fly with them. When it was time to board the plane, everyone converged towards the jetway, just as normal.

Everyone wore their masks on the plane, there were no issues. But social distancing did not exist. Just be aware.


Disney’s Magical Express

When I arrived at Orlando International, I made my way to the Magical Express. The whole process could not have been easier, as always. I waited no longer than 5 minutes to board a bus. With social distancing in place, a Cast Member assigns you a row on the bus and you proceed to that seat. Rows are spaced out between families. It was very well organized, everyone took their respective seats and we were on our way to the resorts in no time. The bus driver was hysterical, he had a great sense of humor and had the Guests laughing! That always helps set to mood and the tone.


Hotel Arrival at Art of Animation

Art of Animation Lobby

Upon arrival to the hotel (about a 30-minute ride from the airport), I quickly realized I was the only passenger on the bus exiting for Art of Animation. I swiftly jumped off the bus and was greeted with a smile (behind the mask) by a wonderful Cast Member. I had been notified on the way to the hotel that I was assigned a room and it was ready. Having not ever stayed at Art of Animation before, I was a bit lost and unsure where to go. He kindly guided me in the direction I needed to walk to Building 9 (I stayed in one of The Little Mermaid rooms). It was a bit of a trek and I walked in a few circles, but I found it! (More on the hotel stay later in this post)


Visiting the Parks


I could not get to the parks fast enough. Once I was all checked in at my hotel, and dropped things off at the room, off I went to Epcot. It was my first scheduled park of the trip. Here’s a summary of what I experienced visiting the parks for the first time since COVID hit. While I’d like to say the visit was different because of the restrictions, overall it felt very normal to me, outside of having to wear a mask (and seeing people in masks). There were noticeable differences, don’t get me wrong, but it did not detract from the happiness and magic.


Masks

Haunted Mansion Mask made by Jamie @ Love of the Magic

Based on my experience, everyone was respecting the mask rule, wearing them properly and when required. I do not have a tendency to look for the negative necessarily or seek out when someone is doing something wrong, so I’m sure with the amount of people in the parks, someone was not wearing theirs correctly. But I did not see it. For me personally, it was a mission at first. I have not gone anywhere for any length of time while in New Jersey, so I was not used to wearing a mask for such an extended period of time. Day one was rough for me, I will admit. It was hot (about 85 degrees) and humid (about 90%), so I unfortunately ended up with a migraine the first day. Thank goodness for meds! The remainder of the trip got easier. I found that the paper masks were the most comfortable to wear, along with the masks that my friend Jamie makes from Love of the Magic. I’ll link her instagram page here, stay tuned, she has more masks coming!


Social Distancing

This is a little more difficult to give a straight up answer. When standing in line for attractions, yes, most everyone was abiding by the social distancing rules. There are markers along the ground to help keep people standing where they need to. Every once in a while, (including myself truthfully), someone would get too close. If it’s not top-of-mind (and it wasn’t always for me), you would almost forget the rules. A simple (and nice!) reminder is all that was needed.

As far as social distancing anywhere else in the park, that’s debatable honestly. Not for the lack of anything that Disney is doing, I think they have perfected this, but when walking through certain areas of the park, you will naturally converge with people. There are bottlenecks. For example, in Fantasyland near the Tangled Restrooms, people squeeze through that area and it’s tough to distance yourself. It happens, you have to decide for yourself if you are just going to forge ahead or take a different route. That’s an individual choice. I was ok proceeding as normal, it didn’t bother me, but everyone has their own comfort level. Keep in mind, Disney is still only operating at 35% (although I heard it recently went up to 40% – unconfirmed). So while it may seem crowded at times, it’s all relative.


Crowd Level

Similar to above, there are crowds. I can’t deny that. The park did feel “normal” in many ways. And people are coming back to the parks to visit and enjoy what it has to offer – albeit a scaled down version right now. So you will encounter crowds at times throughout your time at the parks. I did not get to the park at rope drop on any of the days I visited, so I can’t speak to what it looks like when the gates open for the day. When I got there in the morning (about 60 minutes after park opening), the crowds already dissipated. But, as mentioned before, there are areas in the parks that naturally draw crowds and sections that are a little tighter to walk through. So you will sometimes be closer to others than you may want to be. Again, it didn’t bother me, but it may for you.


Attraction Wait Times

The wait times varied; the more popular attractions still had long waits. For example, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train estimated at 90 minutes, as did Flight of Passage. This is better than when parks are “normal” and at max capacity, but still a decent wait. There are no Fast Passes still, so you either choose to wait or move on to something else. Also remember that while most attractions are operating, shows and entertainment are not, so there is “less” for people to spread out and do. In many cases, the actual wait time was much shorter than the posted wait time. For example, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was a 60-minute wait, however we ended up only having to wait about 40 minutes. It always leaves you happier when you wait less than expected!

Always check the My Disney Experience app for the most up-to-date wait times throughout the day.


Attractions

Most attractions are boarding Guests every other row or have plexiglass dividers between parties to keep everyone safe. Either scenario worked in my opinion, and neither caused any issues with the overall ride experience.

I know Walt Disney World takes time out to disinfect and clean the ride vehicles, etc. I honestly however did not notice any type of cleaning taking place on the rides. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening. I just may not have even been lucky enough to notice, so I can’t confirm it either way. But I never once worried. There is plenty of hand sanitizer to go around. Which brings me to the next point.


Hand Sanitizer

There are hand sanitizer stations all throughout the parks, you can’t look in any one direction and not find one. And during the entire trip, I never came across one that was empty, they were always full. Trust me, I think I tried every single one of them! The best part is there was always one stationed as you entered a queue, and as you left, so you could sanitize before and after a ride.

I carried so many wipes and multiple containers of my own sanitizer with me and found I did not need them. I felt like what Disney provided was enough for me. Again, everyone’s level of comfort is different, so you may want to carry more with you. I will personally not carry as much next-time, a small sanitizer will be enough to have as backup. Disney has you covered, and then some!


Quick Service Dining (Mobile Ordering)


Ordering food through the My Disney Experience App could not be easier. And I think Disney has been forced to almost perfect this as an option to their Guests not only to get through these challenging times, but for the future as well. I think the system worked decently before COVID, albeit there were plenty of times I had to wait long to get my food, however this time it was breeze.


What’s Available

Most every Quick Service restaurant now has the mobile ordering option. It is quick and efficient. And in most cases, you have to use it, standing in line to order food is not an option right now. Cast Member are waiting at the door of the restaurant to confirm with you that your order is ready for pick-up. You can’t proceed inside unless you have the notification. So when you get hungry, pull out that phone and place your order!


How It Works

You use the My Disney Experience app to mobile order. I have a post with step by step instructions to help guide you. Visit that here.


Wait Times

I have had situations in the past where mobile ordering hasn’t been efficient and it took quite some time to get my food. Not this time around. In most cases, the food was ready within minutes of placing the order. Upon entering the restaurant, you step up to the respective line to pick up your food and you’re ready to go! Easy peasy.


Seating Availability

I found this not to be an issue at any of the Quick Service locations. There was plenty of indoor and outdoor seating available. In most cases, I preferred to sit outside, mostly because I wanted to take advantage of the warm weather (considering it is winter up here in NJ!). But it’s also still recommended to eat outside if possible, so we did that whenever we could. Tables are socially distanced and there was always plenty of room between you and other parties.


Initial Thoughts – Art of Animation


I plan to do a full review of Art of Animation (AoA) at a later date (so more to come), but for the purposes of this post, I will share my initial thoughts.

Let’s start here. The room was absolutely adorable. When I booked my reservation I chose the the Little Mermaid room at the resort. My other option was a suite, and while that was tempting, I knew it would ultimately be too big for my needs as I was traveling solo this time around.

When I walked in, the first I noticed was everything was themed “under the sea” and it could not be more darling. The greens and blues were vibrant, the use of character such as Sebastian, Flounder and of course Ariel were scattered all over the room. Even the dinglehopper made an appearance! Every little detail was considered. It was one of the cutest rooms I’ve ever stayed in on property.

One of two double beds in the hotel room
The adorably themed sink area – note the Octopus coat rack on the wall

The room was a great size. Considering I was staying at the hotel by myself, I had more than plenty of room to move around and organize my paraphernalia. Having not traveled for over a year, I was a bit rusty on packing, and essentially brought way too much. So, I had a lot with me. But even if I had a travel partner, there would still be plenty of space in the room to be comfortable.

The room came standard with 2 double beds, a small table with 2 chairs, a dresser, tv, mini fridge, coffee pot, one sink (all Value Resorts only have one sink), a standard bathroom with a toilet and shower, an ironing board/iron, hairdryer, lockbox and more. Everything you can possibly need is available for you.

The hotel was priced fairly for the time of year and dates I visited. I paid an Annual Passholder rate of $174/night. AoA is considered a Value Resort, but falls between the All-Star Value Resorts and the moderate resorts, so the pricing is usually a bit higher than you would find at one of the All-Star Resorts.  

While there, I chose to have light cleaning services in my room. During the COVID situation, full service housekeeping is not available. You can choose this during the online check in option. You can opt out completely for the length of your stay, or opt to have light cleaning services every other day where they will give your room a once over, change your towels, empty garbage, etc. They will not however change your sheets. I “made” the bed every morning (so it at least looked made, I am on vacation after all!), because I can’t stand a messy bed! I did miss having the full cleaning service, I will admit. I like to come back to a clean room each night – it’s one of the nice benefits of staying in a hotel. But, I understand why it’s temporarily changed given the circumstances.

Description of cleaning services in my room

Everything so far is great. But, here’s where it all goes wrong for me. I thought the beds were incredibly hard and uncomfortable at the resort. Like, terrible. I know many may disagree with me because this is a pretty popular resort, but that’s ok. I had such a tough time sleeping, which added to the tough time waking up in the morning to get ready for the parks. As a result, I had several nights of very little sleep, which did not make me too happy. I also though the wifi situation in the room was horrible. Unless I was standing near the tv, I basically had zero service in my room. I am not one of those that is attached to my phone 24/7, however to be able to lay in the (uncomfortable) bed and play on my phone, would have been nice. But, that was not an option because service was so bad. I know Walt Disney World’s wifi service isn’t stellar to begin with, but this was not acceptable. My phone barely had service even when using data. It was bad.

So, based on the bed situation and the lack of (or non-existent) wifi, I would probably not be willingly choose to stay at Art of Animation again. Which is a shame, because the hotel has a lot to offer and is reasonably priced in comparison to other hotels on property.

The last point I’ll address is the dining services at the hotel. I chose to have breakfast at the cafeteria-style Landscape of Flavors for two of the mornings, and quite honestly, the food neither morning was very good. Unfortunately, because of COVID and only mobile ordering, everything is served in to-go type containers, nothing is made to order. So my “bounty platter” was served in a square brown box (think Chinese food) and that’s what you ate out of. It wasn’t very appealing. The second day I tried the egg/cheese sandwich. It was kind of dry, had no taste, and overall was not that great. Guys, it looked so bad I didn’t even take pictures for this post. I couldn’t get myself to do it! The coffee/tea/soda stations were managed by Cast Members – so no one could self-serve. This part wasn’t so bad, it beats fighting the crowds to get coffee. I did end up trying dinner one night as a last resort at Landscape of Flavors because I got back very late from the park and needed to eat. The grilled chicken sandwich I chose was ok, the French fries were a bit soggy. Edible, but not great.

All-in-all, my multiple attempts at eating a decent meal at Landscape of Flavors weren’t that great, and I wouldn’t recommend it until things go back to normal. I’ve had the food under normal circumstances in the cafeteria-style dining halls at the All-Star Resorts many, many times, and I’ve always been satisfied. If you have no other choices, then you will have to manage. But I suggest to look elsewhere, at least for the time being.


So this is just a flavor of my hotel stay during my trip. Stay tuned for my full hotel review with complete details coming in the next few weeks.



Although there were a few hiccups with my hotel stay, which left me a bit less than satisfied, overall my trip was an absolute blast. There were so many magical experiences within the 4 days that I didn’t even touch on in this post, that I plan to share with you over the next few weeks. It was a jam packed 4 days of complete bliss and I am already counting down the days until I can return to the Most Magical Place on Earth!


There is no better time to us an expert travel agent to book your vacation to Walt Disney World! They are here to help you navigate the challenging world we currently live in, and plan the BEST, most magical vacation customized for you and your family.


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