4. You may not have as many options for dining
Disney has done a pretty good job opening up their highest-demand dining experiences, but you may want to prepare for some restrictions on normal dining plans if staying at a Disney resort during this season.
The first place we noticed this was surrounding late-night dining. We arrived pretty late in the day for our visit—like past 10:30pm. While we are used to Disney only having limited options for dining late at night, we definitely were not prepared for how few options would actually be available. Usually, at least a few choices exist for guests to get ultra-late dining including Gasparilla Island Grill at the Grand Floridian, Picabu Market at the Dolphin (our favorite place to eat healthy), or in-room dining to grab a pizza.
None of these options were available. The resort markets were also closed by the evening, and we barely missed the window to hurry over to the lounge at the Contemporary to grab some snacks. We called the front desk, and the only option they could offer was meal delivery services like DoorDash, Uber-Eats, or GrubHub who can drop items at the front desk. In the end, we settled for just munching on some kale chips and getting to bed.
As for daytime dining, the biggest adjustment we noticed is that more options are contingent on reservation availability. Even visiting on a weekday, reservation options were definitely more limited than usual. While many of Disney’s restaurants are currently offering digital “Walk Up” lists accessible via the app, our experience was that these were almost always at capacity. In short, if you really want to eat at a table service restaurant during this season, snag a reservation as early as possible. Also be aware that it appears Disney buffets have currently been converted into family-style dining experiences (e.g. The Biergarten in Epcot), which may not be ideal for some.
Counter-service dining remains an alternative, but the catch is Disney is trying to manage everything through mobile order—meaning even quick-service restaurants have some limitations on walk-up availability right now. The app generally works well, but we did run into some issues getting it set up (put a card on file early so you don’t have to add one mid-order) as well as navigating a company-wide outage of all mobile ordering, gift cards, and some credit card systems during our day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This was eventually resolved but led to some long lines at quick service locations.
On top of this, there are a few locations that are not available at all due to refurbishment or continued closures (like our beloved Picabu Market). To sum things up, while most Disney dining experiences are available, expect to not have some of the myriad choices you might have enjoyed on previous trips.
5. Transportation is also limited right now
For many guests, Disney transportation is one of the top reasons to stay at a Walt Disney World resort. Especially if you’re planning to visit Magic Kingdom, avoiding the hassles of driving your own vehicle can prove a huge time and stress-saver. In general, Magic Kingdom resorts offer monorail and bus transportation, Epcot resorts utilize a mix of friendship boats, busses, and in a few cases, the Disney Skyliner, and the rest exclusively offer bus transportation.
In the current season, you should come prepared that transportation at your Walt Disney World resort may be less accessible than you’re used to. This largely has to do with social distancing measures, with a few options probably cut purely for cost purposes.
The biggest change we noticed for Magic Kingdom resorts is that the Epcot monorail is not currently available—you can only get to Epcot via bus just like the other three parks. The Magic Kingdom resort monorail is running but expect longer loading times due to social distancing. On one hand, this was kind of nice because it meant everyone on the monorail gets a seat, but it also means substantially longer waits as cast members have to direct guests to specific cars to keep parties distanced. I could have perceived this wrong, but it also seemed like the monorail was only running one direction (Contemporary à TTC à Polynesian à Grand Floridian à Magic Kingdom).
We ended up using our own vehicle to get to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but guests have been reporting that busses don’t appear to be running as frequently as usual. Busses also take additional time to load as guests are being divided into specific zones based on party. These little delays could prove problematic if you are trying to get to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in time to try for a Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding group—in that case, you will need to leave much earlier than usual to get to the park on time. Disney seems to be aware of the issues as they are encouraging guests to take personal vehicles to the parks when possible and busses to Disney Springs.
As for the Walt Disney World Skyliner and friendship boats, while social distancing is also being practiced with these options, they seem to be less affected than the monorail and busses.
6. Amenities may or may not be available
We ended up really enjoying our stay at Bay Lake Tower—it was a stunningly hot week for late-September and Disney’s Hollywood Studios was just a bit-too-busy in the morning, so having access to a room allowed for some really convenient mid-day naps. Despite how much we loved the room, however, there were a few amenities we noticed were not available or as lucrative as usual.
Disney has done a good job keeping major amenities like pools and sports recreation available, but some experiences like the arcade at the Contemporary were closed. We also got a hard no regarding all late checkout requests (which seemed odd to us, as many hotel chains are rotating rooms during this season to improve COVID safety—it did make me scratch my head wondering why Disney is in such a hurry to turn the room over). The lack of park-hopping may also make some resorts less appealing than before—our primary reason for staying at Epcot resorts, for example, is usually for park hopping purposes.
One kind of odd one was the effect of the current season on theme park view rooms. The friend who booked us the Bay Lake Tower room upgraded us to a theme park view, thinking how nice it would be to be able to watch the fireworks at night. It only occurred to me after the reservations was made that Disney isn’t doing any fireworks shows right now. While the room was fantastic, and we loved the view, I recognized this did reduce the overall value of that feature.
7. Crowds are definitely lower… for now
Despite some missing experiences, we truly enjoyed our visit during this season largely thanks to the fact crowds are still low compared to usual. Our resort felt noticeably quiet. We heard like one baby our entire visit, and maybe ran into like four other parties the whole trip. Both Bay Lake Tower and the lobby of the Contemporary were quieter than normal, and that trend carried over into the parks.
Since our pre-Labor Day update on Disney’s Hollywood Studios, attendance at Disney’s parks has definitely increased—even at Epcot, we noticed that social distancing was more challenging, and the park did not feel “empty”. The return of stand-by lines without FastPass+ also makes it confusing to measure crowd trends. Despite this, we feel the parks are still noticeably less busy than standard levels for this time of year.
The trend seems to remain that the parks are busiest in the morning (particularly Disney’s Hollywood Studios right at rope drop), with crowds tapering off very slowly throughout the day. At Epcot, we found unusually short waits for Soarin’ (20 minutes), Spaceship Earth (5 minutes), and even Frozen Ever After later in the day (20 minutes—granted it surged up to 70 minutes right after I got in line!). As for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the last three hours of the day felt really comfortable for exploring Galaxy’s Edge with lowered crowds, and we walked almost right onto Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run (the wait was posted as 40 minutes!).
Our overall assessment is this: if you like the rooms at a specific Disney resort and want to enjoy somewhat lower pricing, this might be a good time to book a stay at a Walt Disney World resort. It seems like an especially good time to stay at The Swan and Dolphin, as well as the Four Seasons Orlando if you want a deluxe resort experience. However, if you consider amenities, flexible dining availability, transportation, and fireworks viewing to be major selling points, you may want to wait before booking a Walt Disney World resort stay during this season—you may end up feeling you’re not getting your money’s worth and might be better off exploring other options or postponing your trip.
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