Guide to Doing Disney in the Pandemic: V. 2021, Part I

February 17, 2021


Looking for more Disney pandemic related information? Check out this guest post, here!

I recently got back from a wonderful 5 day vacation to my home away from home, Disney World. Prior to this trip, the last time I had set foot on Disney property was August 2019, so it's safe to say a lot had changed in the time between that last trip & this one (like, a whole pandemic's worth of changes). We had been holding off our next visit because we just didn't know what to expect: would it be safe to go? Would we be sweltering in our masks? Would my daughter Lilly even wear a mask? Would it still be magical?

The moment we set foot on Disney property, all my worries were alleviated. I will say that it was definitely a different kind of trip (especially with a toddler), but having to do the whole mask thing was surprisingly - a non-issue (mostly). It was still magical and can absolutely be worth it to get your Disney fix in.

So for this guide & trip recap, I'm going to run through how it went, in case you're curious what Disney is really like during the pandemic, beyond the glittering and gilded Instagram posts and highlight reels. Plus, I'm throwing out a lot of pro tips throughout this post, so be on the lookout for those!

A c c o m m o d a t i o n s

My suggestion is always to stay on property, but probably even moreso during a pandemic. Disney goes above & beyond to ensure the safety of their guests, as much as they can anyway. They are taking great precautions to keep guests safe by adhering to social distancing, encouraging mobile ordering, and the biggest safety move of all: enforcing the mask rule & policing guests who do not comply.

With capacity still well below their typical operating standards, the resorts are pretty empty & Disney is offering some great rates on hotel rooms through early summer. If you've had a deluxe resort on the top of your Disney bucket list for a while, it's a great time to just go ahead & book it. Some resorts, like the Polynesian, are only booking DVC rooms right now, but the best part is you don't even have to be a DVC member to do so (& keep reading and I'll tell you how you don't have to pay rack rates or DVC prices either)!

Polynesian has always been our #1 Disney bucket list resort, so for the first time in forever (yup, I went there), we booked a stay. And before you start gasping (or rolling your eyes), no, we did not pay the kind of prices that a typical mention of "Polynesian Village Resort" typically conjures up. We got a discounted rate by using DVC points & booking through a 3rd party website, rather than directly through Disney. It wasn't a massive life-changing savings, but it definitely was a significant savings, and for Disney, any savings is a good savings!

Pro tip: Rent DVC points for the high end $$$$ Disney resorts! We used David's Vacation Club Rentals and it was incredibly easy to book. With DVC rental sites, you're essentially buying a current DVC member's points & then the middle man (the DVC rental site) facilitates the booking by getting in contact with a DVC member who has the points available, for the resort you want, for the days needed. You put in your request, it gives you an estimated cost, and then you sit back & they do the rest. Once they've connected with a DVC member that has everything lined up, you pay the balance due & it's done! We had zero issues whatsoever using the site & the agents were incredibly helpful when I had questions. Once paid, I was given the reservation number to link on the My Disney Experience app, and utilized mobile check in to go straight to our room.

Since there's no way around the masks, you just have to embrace it. You can still look cute at Disney & have fun with it, too! I liked to match my masks to my outfits & definitely still planned some Disneybounds and cute looks for the parks, complete with mid-park outfit changes because #contentcreator (plus it had been almost 2 years since my last trip. I wasn't about to let the opportunity of wearing every Disney outfit that never saw the light of day in 2020  pass me by!)

My husband is so used to me disappearing into a bathroom dressed like a princess one second & emerging 5 minutes later dressed in something else that he doesn't even comment on it anymore: he knows the drill. For me, the fashion & outfit planning is just as much a part of the trip as the trip itself. Getting to wear something fabulous & fun (& often silly - like sporting a tiara in the parks, because if you can't wear a tiara at Disney, when can you!?) brings me so much joy, so I'm always packing & wearing approximately 600 outfits for any given trip. Everyone who has ever traveled with me knows this about me & fully embraces/supports (& often encourages) it, so you guys are the real MVPs.

But back to resorts! Another great reason to stay on property during the pandemic? Uh, well, the resorts are pretty empty! When else could I get 3 open lounge chairs poolside at the Polynesian in the middle of a hot Florida afternoon?! And side note: you don't have to wear your mask if you're either in the pool or stationary on a chair with food/beverages, so all the more reason to grab a cocktail or two! 

Plus, the food at the Polynesian is ace. The coconut meatballs are always my go-to, but the nachos & pork sandwich are pretty delicious as well. 

Pro tips: 
#1 - Split your food! The portions are more than big enough for 2 people to share. 
#2 - Order the tonga toast from Captain Cooks because it's half the price of the tonga toast at Kona (same exact thing - it just won't come with the strawberry sauce).

N o n - p a r k   D a y s

We arrived in the afternoon, so we weren't doing a park on our first day since that would have been a waste (& sadly, I am not an AP anymore). So we spent our afternoon lounging poolside & enjoying the resort for a couple of hours, and then spending our evening at Disney Springs. 

Something to be wary of though is that Disney Springs can still get pretty crowded. Because the parks close early right now (Animal Kingdom closed at 5pm and the other parks followed suit around 7pm or 8pm, and select nights Epcot closed at 9), a lot of those guests and many FL locals flood Disney Springs in the evening, so make reservations and be prepared to still wait in those crazy looking socially-distanced lines (they aren't as bad as they look...except Gideon's Bakehouse. That 5 hour line is still a joke.)

I recommend Wine Bar George. I did a full brunch review of this place back in 2019 so if you want an in-depth look at how awesome this place is, check out this post. We knew we wanted to do Chicken Guy for dinner, so Wine Bar George was a great stop for appetizers and cocktails. We ordered the cheeseboard, which will set you back about $26 but it's well worth it. I also recommend their specialty, the froscato, a blend of of pineapple Dole Whip, moscato & prosecco. I pretty much get one every time I'm there because it's that good.

Pro tip: eat at Chicken Guy if you want a very budget friendly & delicious meal at Disney Springs. Since we splurged on cocktails & appetizers, we went low-budget for dinner at Chicken Guy, a place I'd been wanting to try. It's incredibly affordable (I think our total meal was under $10, but Barry & I did split our tenders) and the best part is you can pick & choose which of their sauces you want to try, or try them all (well, maybe skip the wasabi honey - it looked like melted lime jello and tasted...very odd).

T h e   P a r k s

Disney requires extra planning these days due to the park reservation system, requiring you to declare & "book" which parks you plan to do on which days. Thankfully, park hopping is finally back so you don't have to stay at your initial park all day (unless you want to of course) and can now park hop beginning at 2pm each day. 

Pro tip: Check the park hours for the days you will be going & plan your park reservations accordingly! 

For example, if you want a full morning of glorious park time, you probably don't want to book Epcot first thing, since it doesn't open until 11am. Additionally, if you want to make sure you see & do everything at Animal Kingdom that your heart desires, you're better off booking a park pass and going at opening rather than chancing it when park hopping opens, since AK closes at 5pm. If you're set on an Epcot morning (like me!), don't waste all that good morning time. Book a special breakfast or maybe squeak in some coffee by the pool in the morning. See? You just have to be strategic, but it's all in what you want out of your trip!

(Bonus pro tip: Disney will often let you in typically about 30-40 minutes early prior to the official posted park opening time. 

We booked Epcot as our first park day (since Festival of the Arts was basically the entire reason for planning this trip during February), so we had several hours to fill before park opening & booked a very early breakfast at Grand Floridian Cafe. We always stop here at some point on every Disney trip, so it's just become tradition. Plus, the food is really good!

Story time...

After breakfast, we still had some time left before we needed to head to Epcot, so we drove over to check out the new Riviera Resort, grab coffee, and jump on the skyliner to Epcot. I guess park hopping by car still isn't technically allowed unless you have a dining reservation (or mobile order pickup), but up until this point, no one at the gate had been checking to make sure we had reservations or anything (they had just been asking for ID only), so we assumed we could just roll right up to Riviera and check it out. Of course we got the one guard gate who asked for our names/reservations. I'm not good under pressure or thinking on the fly so I would have cracked, but luckily my husband played it cool.

Guard: Welcome home, folks. Where are you headed?

My husband: We have a reservation. (*technically, we did. It was just for dinner...the next day....)

Guard: Name?

My husband: Grove.

Guard: Christopher?

My husband: (*kind of stunned there just happened to be a Grove party registered for breakfast*)  Barry...

Guard: (laughing) Ok, I'll take your word for it.

He waved us on through and we just parked at Riviera for the day so we could wander the resort & then hop on the skyliner. Pro tip: If you want to check out Riviera (& its totally worth checking out!), just do a mobile order of something small so you don't have to tell a kind-of-sort-of white lie that may or may not work out in your favor. If you have a dining reservation or mobile order pickup, just show the guard at the gate your phone & they'll wave you on through! 

This post is already long enough, so stay tuned for Part II!

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