We were so excited to experience Disney World for the first time last week! Being from the west coast, Bryan and I (and Eloise) have only ever been to Disneyland in Southern California (that blog post linked here). When we first started planning this trip, we went to the Disney website, read a few blog posts, asked some friends for advice on ‘where to start’ and honestly – were completely overwhelmed.
Disney World is massive. At Disneyland all you really need is a place to stay and a park hopper ticket to walk between Disneyland and California Adventure. There’s a little more planning to be had when it comes to the Florida version, but it’s totally manageable once you get the hang of it.
Here’s a recap of what we did, what we experienced and how it was at Disney World during the pandemic. Enjoy!
(if you are looking for outfit details from the trip that Eloise & I wore, all of that info is at the bottom of this post).
Disclaimer: Many of you are Disney World experts. We are not. All we can communicate to you here is what we saw/experienced in January of 2021. We had an absolute blast but I’m sure we’ll be better versed at this the next time around. We’re also aware that there is a fair amount that is closed and/or modified currently as covid precautions. More to follow below, but the safety protocols put in place (from what we experienced at the hotel, monorail, and at Magic Kingdom) were noticeable, enforced by staff, followed by seemingly everyone we saw, and honestly pretty impressive.
You have to book reservations in advance for each day as they are limiting the amount of people in each park. (It was open to about 35-40% capacity while we were there). We were there for four days, so we picked which park we wanted for each day on the Disney website before we left for the trip. We booked far enough in advance that we got our first picks, but I have heard people say that it can become an issue as you get closer to your travel dates.
Face masks are required everywhere. The only time you are allowed to have it off is if you are eating (must be stationary), and socially distanced. If you pull your mask down to take a selfie in front of Cinderella’s castle, you will be approached by a staff member – quickly – and asked to place it back over your nose and mouth. Don’t ask how we know that, oops! We learned fast!
I’m not here to offer you an opinion of these rules, but these are the rules. Before every ride where they tell you to remain seated and keep your hands and feet inside the ride, they’ve added a line that reminds you to keep your mask on. It finishes with “if you are unable to do so, you will be asked to leave the park.” It also echoes over the loud speakers throughout the park as you walk around. If you have a child that has an issue keeping a mask on “all day” this may not be the best time to come to Disney.
There are hand sanitizing stations everywhere. Before rides, in line, as you board the ride, after the ride, and seemingly about every 50 yards throughout the park. There are disinfecting wipes stands anywhere there is food and in/out of all restrooms. Disney workers are all in masks, and most are also wearing face shields as well.
Ride spacing was also noticeable – you only ride with your party (for the most part). For “It’s a Small World” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” we had the front row and another family had the back row in the boat. There was at least a row of space (a whole row of horses) between you and anyone else on the carousel.
Maybe most impressive/noticeable is the signage throughout the park. If you get in line for ANY ride, there is caution tape on the ground with proper spacing between you and the next group. We did not have a single experience of someone “too close” while in line. It actually makes the lines seem like they go faster because you’re walking 6 feet everytime it moves. There are signs on posts, walls, rides, etc – everywhere – reminding people to give space and keep their masks on. Are signs going to stop 100% of people from breaking rules? No. But again, we were impressed by how it all seemed to go.
At the end of the day, the choice is pretty simple: follow the rules and you get to go to Disney World. We were just SO excited to watch Eloise play and explore! I will say this – it was in the 60-70 degree weather range while we were there, with no humidity – I feel like this would/could be much, much harder in the middle of summer. Sweat, masks that must stay on, carrying kids, lots of walking. Just something to consider when deciding if this is right for you.
That said, we heard a number of people (people who clearly visit a lot or are season ticket holders) say this was absolutely the best Disney World experience they’ve ever had. Small crowds, minimal wait times, great weather.
Do they sanitize the rides after each person has been on? No. They do it about every hour or so and do it pretty fast with multiple workers cleaning at a time.
After much consideration, we decided to stay at the Grand Floridian for our first trip. Pricey? Yes, but by many accounts, one of the best ways to go – especially knowing we’d be spending a fair amount of time at Magic Kingdom (best park for Eloise at the moment).
The hotel itself is stunning. The lobby is one of the prettiest we’ve ever seen, the staff is unbelievably kind and helpful and the rooms are great – spacious, clean, and exactly what we needed. There are obviously a ton of other hotel options around but we had multiple people recommend this one to us and we are so glad that we listen to them!
There’s a monorail system that picks you up from a platform (after a temperature check) on the second floor of the hotel and drops you off at the entrance to the park. It’s extremely convenient in the morning, and even more convenient if we need to take an afternoon break. The train comes every few minutes and the trip to the park takes about 5 minutes. Fun, fast, clean, easy.
They were not passing out magic bands (at the hotel) currently but you could order them before you arrived. This worked for us, because we’ve never had a magic band. We instead received a plastic card that apparently has all the same information. We only used it once today – to get into the park.
What we used a ton of was the Disney App. It has some really awesome features that are worth checking out. We checked into our room the night before and they had it ready for us at 9 AM this morning! You get key cards for your room, but your phone/app unlocks your door as well.
You can mobile/advance order your food from anywhere in the park and at the hotel via the app. This was huge for us at times because all three of us got to a point where we would get hungry and (to be honest) needed a mask break. We found tables in the shade, ordered from the app, and sent Bryan to pick it up as soon as we received a notification that it was ready. Pick up was socially distanced and prepaid, so there was minimal contact. For those wondering, yes, you can order alcoholic drinks through this system at restaurants that offer it.
There’s an interactive map that shows wait times for rides and you can search for your favorite food/snack and figure out where it’s located. There’s a chat feature if you have any questions – they’ll be answered real time. You’ll also find all of your tickets, pictures taken in the park by cast members, reservations you’ve made, and plans you’ve set for the day. It’s a really nice feature! Worth exploring before you go so you can get the hang of it.
We spent three of our four days at Magic Kingdom. Eloise loved it! We aren’t really at the “roller coaster” phase with her yet, and she’s pretty much terrified of any character that gets too close, so the cast member covid restrictions are ‘fine’ by her.
There is no ‘big’ parade at night, but they have several ‘smaller’ parades throughout the day. It was actually really fun, because they would kind of come out of nowhere. All of a sudden you’d hear music, turn around, and there’s all of her favorites waving and dancing on a float. With the lack of a huge crowd all huddled around waiting for the big parade, this actually made for a fun, more intimate experience. It was also perfect for an almost three year old’s attention span. She loved it – especially the princess float.
No character meet and greets, autographs, or fast passes currently. We know these are things that people really enjoy. It didn’t really affect us, but we wanted to make sure to communicate that this is the current set of rules being enforced. If your kid is excited & set on collecting character autographs in their book, this might not be the time to visit.
Some of our favorite foods we enjoyed: Pineapple Dole Whip at Aloha Isle by Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride (Bryan likes the plain pineapple, Eloise and I had the Vanilla/Pineapple swirl – so good!). Spicy Chicken Sandwich and greek salad at the Starlight Cafe by the teacups. You also can’t forget the churros, so delicious. Another great find for Eloise is that a lot of the restaurants have Uncrustables (kids PB&J) which she devours and lots of fresh fruit. She ate really well which is definitely huge for successful nap times and making it through days without (generally) any kind of meltdown.
Here was our itinerary for the week:
Sunday: Travel Day. Fly to Orlando, stay at the Gaylord Palms Resort Center for the night. We did this because we decided to head to Florida a day early because of flight times from Indy. Staying at the Gaylord was super nice and the pool was so much fun! That night, we were able to check in (via Disney app) to the Grand Floridian and asked for early room entry the next day. We were given a 9 AM check in time.
Monday: Drove about 15 minutes to the Grand Floridian. Checked in, un-packed, and walked to the monorail platform to head to Magic Kingdom. Train ride takes 5 minutes.
Spent the day at Magic Kingdom – mostly Fantasyland. Some of Eloise’s favorite rides: Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, It’s a Small World, and the carousel. (FYI – We never waited longer than 30 minutes for any ride).
Tuesday: Back to Magic Kingdom: More Ariel and It’s a Small World (many times!). We had lunch at the Be Our Guest restaurant aka the Beast’s Castle. The food was delicious! A couple of recommendations: the menu is probably better for dinner. Make sure if you have small kids they do not sit you in the West Wing area (dark, thunder storms, scary – Eloise started crying immediately so they moved us with no issues at all). Main dining room was awesome! $62 per adult, Eloise was free. In our opinion, worth doing at least once. (We also had to make reservations in advance FYI).
Wednesday: We drove to Hollywood Studios (about 15 minutes). Saw the Frozen sing a long…it was fun, but not a must do. Toy Story land and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway were the highlights of our day there. We loved the Runaway Railway ride so much we got off and got right back in line to do it again. We also did the Disney Jr dance party as well which was fun and only about 10 minutes long. You had to sit spread out in the room with each family in their own “bubble” area.
We ended up driving to Disney Springs for dinner and ate at Paradiso 37. The food was very good & the atmosphere was super fun. There are tons of restaurants to choose from there and a whole lot of shopping as well.
Thursday: One last day at Magic Kingdom. We rode all of the rides Eloise wanted to ride another time or two (lines were so short all week) and watched several smaller parades. We ate Dole whip again, found corn dogs in frontier land, and took Eloise on the Jungle Cruise & to Autopia – she loved both! We ended up taking the boat back to the hotel instead of the monorail which is another fun option for transportation to and from the hotel & Magic Kingdom. We waited a little bit longer for pickup, but the ride was beautiful and a fun change.
We had dinner at the Grand Floridian Cafe and loved it so much we ate there twice. We both agree they had amazing fried chicken (Bryan had the impossible burger and said it was also delicious). Perk….it was about a 2 minute walk from our room so very convenient.
Friday: Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until after dinner, so we checked our luggage at the front desk and headed to the beach first. We spent a couple of hours playing in the sand, then headed to the pool to swim and have lunch. It was awesome to just spend the day soaking up some sun and relaxing. We drove to the airport in time for our flight and 2 hours later were back in Indiana!
A handful of tips that worked for us:
- One park a day. Don’t try and do more than that. There’s plenty to see/do.
- Rental car was worth it. There are buses that will take you everywhere, but a rental means no waiting, and not sharing a bus with lots of other people. We always add a car seat to our rental car reservation so we don’t have to travel with one.
- At Magic Kingdom, there are two lawn/picnic areas in front of the castle that are great to spread out, eat, let the kids play – also a great spot to watch the parades. I’m sure they are busy during peak season, but right now, they were wide open.
- Order food via the Disney App. They’ll let you know when it’s ready, pre-paid, and minimal contact. We used this at the hotel as well – you can order take out and bring it up to your room. Gasparilla Grill was our morning go to for coffee and breakfast while we got ready.
- Build in travel days. Not always possible, but having a day at the beginning and end of your trip where you don’t have park days scheduled was really nice. This allowed us plenty of time to un-pack/pack and take it slow. We were also ready to roll on day 2 to Magic Kingdom.
OUR OUTFITS OF THE TRIP:
Packing for Eloise is always super easy and of course fun for me! We grabbed a lot of her Disney attire before the trip at Target as they have a huge line there right now that is super adorable and affordable. I ordered her these amazing pajamas from Amazon before we left and she loved them – HIGHLY recommend for all my mama friends. These masks are her favorite, aka they fit her face the best and are the most comfortable for her. She doesn’t even touch them when they are on + they are super affordable as well.
All of her outfit items are linked up in one spot HERE.
I’m all about comfy and casual when I’m going to be walking around Disney all day. Since I was also 6 months pregnant during this trip, comfortable shoes were a MUST for me. Both of the Adidas pairs that I packed were perfect and left me with no blisters the entire trip. That’s a win for me! (Black Adidas linked up HERE. White Adidas linked up HERE. I sized down a 1/2 size in both of them which is what I normally do for all Adidas shoes). This little black dress is one of my all time favorites as you can dress it casually with sneakers like I did OR you can dress it up with heels and a blazer (I’m wearing a medium – it’s not see through and doesn’t ride up throughout the day).
All of my outfit details are linked up in one spot HERE & all of my jewelry from the trip is linked HERE.
Overall it was an amazing trip even with the current traveling circumstances and mask rules. We still were able to make so many great memories together as a family of 3!