As residents of Oakland Park, we’re surrounded by “vacation” options. Before the pandemic, my go-to spot was Orlando. Therefore, I’ve become somewhat of a “self-proclaimed” expert when visiting Disney theme parks.
Due to COVID-19 Disney World theme parks closed across the world and some remain closed. However, on July 11th, 2020, Disney World re-opened four of its theme parks, which are: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios. Nearly six weeks since its reopening, I decided to visit for myself and see how things had changed. Below I am outlining my tips for others that are considering visiting the theme park(s).
It’s worth noting that if you plan on visiting Disney or any theme park, you should plan your visit to take place at the beginning of the week to mid-week. I found that Monday-Wednesday hosted the smallest crowds than the weekend crowds. My trip was from Monday-Sunday and I noticed an increase in crowd levels that started as early as Thursday, with Saturday being the busiest. Monday was the lightest day of all, and each day got progressively busier.
If you can’t visit during the middle of the week, the next best thing is to go a little later in the day. This tip is specifically for Hollywood Studios. Their new attraction Rise of the Resistance is highly coveted and is the only ride that requires you to join a virtual queue to be assigned a boarding group in order to ride it. The times for you to join the virtual queue are at 10 am or 2 pm. Being that the park opens at 10 am there are many folks that try to get to the park as early in an effort to join the first set of boarding groups since you cannot join the queue unless you’re in the park.
In my case, I was OK if I missed out on the ride this time. So I arrived at Hollywood Studios around noon. Most of the wait times for rides were low and dropped even more dramatically after 2 pm when the second round of boarding groups for Rise of the Resistance (ROTR) was released the crowds got even lighter. I will say I did get lucky and was able to snag a boarding group at 2 pm, but it’s important to note that the 2 pm boarding groups are considered “backup” boarding groups, so just because you have a boarding group number this does not guarantee that you will get on the attraction. So if you’re not a huge Star Wars fan you can visit the park close to 2 pm and get on every ride and explore the park with hardly any crowds.
Right now, Disney is limiting its capacity and this means having to make a theme park reservation to go into the park and priority is going to those that are staying on property at a Disney Resort or those that have same-day tickets. Annual Pass holders were last leaving many of them upset since they were not able to visit when the crowds were so light. My annual pass had expired so I was able to take advantage of the Florida resident offer which starts at $130 for a 2-day park ticket. Other options included 3-day park and 4-day park.
Other theme parks are running specials too, for instance, Universal has a special that for the price of one ticket you can return to visit the Universal parks for the remainder of the year. Universal, however, does not have a reservation system and their suggestion is to get their early to ensure entry since they “may turn you away” if you arrive when they reach their capacity. Also, you will have to pay for parking when visiting these parks.
We selected a hotel that had a small kitchenette and offered free breakfast as an amenity. This allowed us to have one meal “out” per day. We opted for Disney resorts that offered dining options and made reservations via the My Disney Experience App (whether or not you’re a Disney annual pass holder, you should be able to download the app). Initially, our plan was not to visit the parks. Instead, we had planned to “Resort Hop”, which is to explore the Disney Resorts either via the Disney Monorail or Skyliner.
Character Dining is a specialty dining where certain Disney characters walk by and wave hello. Obviously, due to COVID-19, the character dining has been modified and the characters do not come to your table but instead wave hello from a safe distance. This a great way to interact with Disney characters especially if you have kiddos.
At the time of my visit, only two places were offering this type of dining. One of them is off property at Disney’s newest Riviera Resort at Topolino’s Terrace. (Fun fact: Topolino is the Italian name for Mickey Mouse).The other dining option is Garden Grill which is located in “The Land” at Epcot.
At Topolino’s, you’ll find Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy and at Garden Grill, the characters are Mickey, Pluto, and Chip & Dale. Both restaurants gift you with a postcard autographed by the characters as a thank you for visiting and to make up for not being able to go up to the characters to get their autograph in your kiddos autograph book.
As I mentioned in the previous section, my recommendation is to go with Disney Dining. During our visit, we explored Riviera Resort (Topolino’s Terrace), Animal Kingdom Lodge (Sana’a), Contemporary Resort (Chef Mickey), and Disney’s Boardwalk Resort (Trattoria al Forno). The day we dined at Riviera Resort was the same day we opted to visit Hollywood Studios. We found this as a convenient option when visiting Hollywood Studios since, this is one of the stops of the Disney Skyliner, the newest mode of FREE transportation within Disney property. However, it does not run all night, typically it stops 90 minutes after parks close so it’s always best to double-check your times. Normally we would park and take Disney’s tram car service to the park entrance but the tram service is temporarily suspended. Riviera Resort is Disney’s newest resort and is also home to the largest mosaic wall. Peter Pan and Rapunzel mosaics wrap the archway leading to Disney Skyliner.
In my opinion, Disney has outperformed other theme parks regarding its safety measures. There is plenty of hand sanitizer pumps throughout the park as well as hand washing stations. I really liked the hand washing stations!
Every attraction queue throughout the park has social distant markers of where to stand and in some cases plastic dividers to separate guests. While most parks have similar measures I can say that I witnessed cast members enforcing these safety measures. Multiple announcements were made throughout the day reminding all attendees of the safety precautions. Every so often there were character cavalcades that “drove-thru” the park and the characters waved hello to park-goers from a distance.
Hopefully, you’ll find these tips helpful when planning your next trip. Whatever you choose to do I hope you have a great time and can relax and unwind even if it’s for a short time.
Maria Scudella-Beltran was born and raised in Bergen County, New Jersey, right outside of New York City. She moved to South Florida in 2004 and graduated from Florida International University with a bachelors’ degree in Marketing and Communications.
In 2010, she purchased her first home in the North Andrews Gardens area in Oakland Park. After several years of working in the retail industry, Maria took on a part-time internship at a marketing agency and continued her education through Walden University where she earned her Master’s degree in Marketing and Communications.
Currently, she works in Marketing and during her free time she enjoys spending time with her husband and traveling.