Planning a Walt Disney World Resort vacation can be months, even years, in the making.
There’s deciding on which of the four theme parks and two water parks to visit, where to stay, where to eat, what experiences to make time for and how to navigate around the 40-square-mile resort (which is about the size of San Francisco).
The coronavirus pandemic has been a big game-changer, with Disney World closing in March and gradually reopening in phases starting in May, with new guidelines, procedures and temporarily unavailable attractions and amenities.
To make the most of your Disney World trip if you’re planning to go in 2020, here are the top five tips, strategies and new processes to know.
Note that as of July 16, Florida still had an executive order mandating a 14-day quarantine for many travelers arriving from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Unless you plan to stay more than two weeks in Florida, a Disney World trip is not an option until this restriction is lifted.
1. Prioritize buying park tickets and getting park reservations
One of the most important Disney World changes is that a park ticket and a park reservation are required to enter Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
For now, you can only visit one park per day, and you must select specific dates for your tickets and reservations. You can view park availability calendars on the Disney World website before buying tickets and locking in your vacation dates, which is especially important if there is a must-visit park on your list.
Disney recommends making park reservations immediately after buying tickets to secure your desired spot.
If you’re concerned about maintaining a safe distance from others, two Disney World theme parks stand out as top picks for your reservations.
She explains that theme parks with the most rides and high-capacity attractions will handle the influx of people the best. At Disney World, that’s Magic Kingdom by far. There are more than 20 rides, plus walk-through experiences such as Tom Sawyer Island and theater shows with technology or animatronics in the starring roles (Enchanted Tiki Room and Carousel of Progress to name two).
Epcot has fewer rides, but has many exhibits and large outdoor spaces, especially in the World Showcase.
2. Be prepared to use technology
To seamlessly get your tickets and park reservations, you’ll need to create or log into a Disney account.
While logged in, you can book a Disney hotel, buy park tickets, make park and dining reservations and link any existing bookings and tickets.
Once you’re set with tickets and reservations, download and use the My Disney Experience app to reduce touch points and physical contact while you’re at Disney World. Disney Resort hotel guests can use the app to check-in, unlock room doors and virtually chat with the front desk.
All guests can use the app for mobile food ordering (no waiting in line or interactIng with a cashier) and to check-in for dining reservations. At table-service restaurants, you’ll also be able to scan a code to get a digital menu.
MagicBands can also be linked to your account and are a contactless way to enter the theme parks. If you don’t already have a MagicBand or aren’t getting one as part of your Disney vacation package, you can purchase one online or at Disney Springs.
Disney Resort hotel guests can also use MagicBands to purchase food and merchandise. Otherwise, Disney recommends using other forms of cashless payments such as debit cards, credit cards and Disney gift cards.
3. Focus your planning efforts on food
Securing FastPass+ selections, character greetings and prime parade-watching spots were major parts of Disney World trip planning before the pandemic. For now, these experiences are temporarily unavailable (though check before your trip as that situation could change).
Instead, focus your planning efforts on food.
Not only will you need a reservation to dine at table-service restaurants inside the theme parks, but you’ll also need dining reservations to enter Disney Resort hotels (unless you are staying on the property).
This new requirement can impact your planning if you want to explore the various themed resorts for the first or 10th time. For now, your Disney Resort hotel adventures must be combined with a table-service meal.
While an air-conditioned dining experience can be a welcome respite from Florida heat and humidity, if you prefer outdoor dining as an added coronavirus safety precaution, almost all the quick-service restaurants have outdoor seating.
You can also make a reservation at the Rose & Crown Pub or Spice Road Table in Epcot — both have patio dining. The Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which started July 15, also has many outdoor food kitchens.
You can view the full list of open theme park and resort restaurants on the Disney World website. Dining, like all Disney experiences, is subject to change, so check all the fine print and the menus before your trip.
Lastly, don’t forget you can also bring snacks and meals into the parks for the ultimate contactless eating experience.
4. Be strategic with your transportation and hotel choices
Disney transportation, like the theme parks, will operate at reduced capacity to follow distancing guidelines.
As a result, you might experience delays unless you are planning to drive to the theme parks or use ride services such as Lyft or Uber.
Booking accommodations at a resort in walking distance of a Disney theme park is one strategy to minimize transportation time.
Disney’s Boardwalk Resort, Beach Club Resort, Yacht Club Resort and the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort are in walking distance of Epcot and Hollywood Studios. You can also walk to Magic Kingdom from Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
Another great option is the Disney Skyliner gondolas, which you can ride alone or just with the people in your party.
The Skyliner stops at Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Art of Animation Resort, Pop Century Resort and Riviera Resort.
Be sure to check resort reopening dates when planning your trip, especially if you have a specific one in mind as some are not reopening until the fall.
And whether you plan to stay on or off Disney property, you might want to consider purchasing travel insurance in case you need to cancel your trip. Hotels have various cancellation policies, so look for one that has no or minimal fees if you want to have low financial risk should plans change.
5. Find and practice wearing comfortable masks
Face masks with two layers and either ear loops or ties are required on Disney property for all guests 2 and older.
Disney is very committed to this policy, according to Wolfe. She recommends finding comfortable masks and wearing them before your trip, such as on long walks.
“What’s been surprising to us that even though it seems and feels like a huge change on the outside, it’s really not that bad of an experience. As along you spend time beforehand getting used to a mask, it’s doable,” she said.
Wolfe also recommends packing two or three masks for each day of your trip unless you plan to wash your masks at your hotel. Be sure to take a back-up mask with you to the theme parks in case your mask gets lost or wet from rain or water rides.
“If you want to ride everything in the parks, Disney’s reopening is probably going to be a dream come true as that’s pretty much all you can do,” said Wolfe.
However, she advises that you might want to wait until 2021 if you plan to travel with a large group as park and dining reservations may be limited in 2020.
Another perk of waiting until 2021 is more things to see and do, and not only because experiences such as fireworks and parades might return.
“You’re going to have a lot more blockbuster rides and attractions in 2021, probably later in the year. At least four big-budget, major things are opening up,” said Wolfe.
As for Wolfe, she’s ready to see what Disney is going to do differently from everyone else when the parks reopen.
“Disney wants to set the bar above and beyond what other parks have done. They’ve promised that guests will still have a ‘magical’ experience — so how will they pull that off?”