EDITORIAL: 10 Tips for Social Distancing at Disney Parks You’ve Not Been Told
With the official reopening of the Disney theme parks in Florida, many fans are weighing the pros and cons of venturing out for a mask-covered day at their favorite magical destination.
This is, without a doubt, a personal choice and one that comes with assessing the risk to, not only one’s self, but those around you. But such an assessment is hard to make when you’re only provided with the basic guidelines. What is it actually like on the ground? What should you know that only actual experience could tell you?
After attending the Annual Passholder preview for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I’ve thought up some tips for social distancing in the parks that you’re not hearing from Disney but certainly can make a visit more enjoyable.
To note – I speak only from personal experience. I’m no scientist nor claim to be. The tips provided may even go obsolete as Disney daily adjusts how best to keep everyone safe. This is also not an endorsement for park attendance. That decision is, again, a personal choice.
Now, in no particular order…
10. Skip Dine In Restaurants and Eat Outside
From what early CDC studies show, indoor eating furthers the risk of infection due to ventilation. Yes, Disney has put forth great effort to spread out seating and limit Cast Member interactions with guests, but they also have plenty of outdoor eating venues.
So, skip those dine-in restaurants that you love with assigned tables and grab some counter service. It limits your interactions with people and lets you take your food to an area you’d be comfortable taking off your mask.
On our Animal Kingdom trip, we hit up Flame Tree BBQ and sat down near the Discovery River. Plenty of open air space and a yard away from the nearest guest.
9. Skip The Gift Shops
If I made one mistake (I’m sure I made more) on my first socially distanced Disney trip, it was thinking that a gift shop stop would work. It is simply impossible to social distance when you turn a corner around a merchandise shelf and run into someone.
Disney is attempting to curb interactions with a limited number of people let into stores and, in extreme cases, actually having a virtual queue, but one must recognize that these stores were literally designed to attract guests and maximize merchandise space. It’s not a surprise that this is a difficult place to social distance, even with great caution.
You can only go so long with wearing a mask in the Florida heat before sweat begins dripping off your lip and things get less fun. You’ll need a mask break and Disney’s relaxation stations, especially the more naturally ventilated ones, are perfect for this sort of thing.
While you don’t want to spend forever there, so others can enjoy the space, it is also a great place to bring in some food from counter service and eat quickly. The main reason for this is that you are “off the beaten path” and no other guests might run into your bubble by mistake like they may if you’re just eating next to a walkway.
7. Bring a Reusable Water Bottle with Straw
This is pretty much theme park visit 101, but now bringing a water bottle to the parks is even more essential. Not only should you be aware of hydration needs while wearing a mask, but this helps you stay away from open-mouth water fountain use.
During our trip, we filled up our water bottles at the fountain and then, when thirsty, simply tucked the bottle’s straw under our mask for a moment to sip. With this method, we stayed hydrated in that Florida heat and remained covered.
6. Use Every Hand Sanitizer Station You See
There is just a level of hand to surface contact you can’t avoid. You will touch a door or a handrail that others have too as well. But, unlike so many other places out in the world, you’re hanging out in a place full of hand sanitizer stations. In fact, Disney has added 4,000 sanitizer stations on property.
Many of these stations you’ll see in high traffic areas, such as attraction exits, but they’re peppered throughout and should be used even if you feel you just sanitized. It’s time for your inner Adrian Monk to come out a little.
Also, if you run across an empty one, let a Cast Member know so they can fill it up ASAP. They’ll be happy you told them.
5. Be the First or Last Off a Ride
After riding Expedition Everest, my wife and I experienced what would be the most bottle-necked event of the day. Disney had placed a hand sanitizer station at the ride’s exit gate, but a motion sensor can only activate so fast when everyone makes a pit stop. In seconds, we were backed up and in a group waiting to sanitize. Whoops.
So how to combat this? The easiest way is to either be the first one off the ride (so first to the hand sanitizer) or simply hang back and let the rest of your unloading party in front of you first. That desire to get out and on to the next ride is a hard one to curb, but, if you can, you won’t find yourself in the mess we did.
Another simple approach is to bypass the ride exit sanitizer all together and head for the next closest station. Yes, this technically breaks my last tip, but it saves you from the possible pile-on altogether.
4. Bring Extra Masks & Mints
Little known fact – Florida is humid. True story. Because of this, you’ll find yourself sweating bullets and your breath has nowhere to really go. Make sure to bring more than one mask so you can change them out when needed. Also, bring a plastic bag to put your used mask in so it’s not spreading germs in your purse or backpack.
Also, a pro-tip is to bring along a tin of Altoids. Disney food doesn’t come back up smelling that rosy and now you’ll get the full experience. It’s like “Stitch’s Great Escape” all over again, but you can only blame yourself.
3. Stand Off to the Side When Not Walking
This is another tip that’s sort of elementary Disney knowledge, but, to help the flow of traffic and not knock into people, it is now essential to help with social distancing. Just assume that most people are looking at the sights and might not stop if you come to a halt.
If you need to get on restart the My Disney experience app or want to take a picture, simply stand off to the side and, if you can, turn your face away from the path you’re on. This helps you stay out of the way and keeps you from breathing in everyone’s general direction.
2. Plan for a Shorter Day
Due to Disney’s reservation system, there is a good chance that you’ll be able to ride just about anything you want in your day trip. My wife and I did both of Pandora’s attractions in around half an hour. Disney has also reduced operating hours, closing before nightfall.
But what I’m discussing isn’t really about the theme park, but the guest experience. Especially on your first visit back, it’s good to be okay with the idea that you’re not going to fill that day. Take your time and leave when you’re tired. Mask wearing is exhausting and even the most diehard Disney fans haven’t set foot on the property in months. We’re out of training and that’s okay. Take it easy.
1. Watch for Those Social Distancing Markers
It can be a bit of a learning curve to get used to all the new social distancing markers on the ground in the parks. While it’s clear that’s where you are supposed to stand, the overall flow of using them can be tricky.
So a few things to consider…
There Are Entrance and Exit Only Floor Signs – many shops and restaurants now have a one-way path. Keep that in mind before you end up running into someone.
Split Up Your Group – attraction queues now have markers, but a group of people can fill up the distance between markers rather easily – taking away the six feet rule. If there are more than three in your party, split up and have half take up another marker.
Look for Your Next Marker – if a curve in a queue means you’d end up passing another guest without plexiglass in between, Disney has cut off that interaction by having a floor marker at one end and then none throughout the curve. Multiple times on our trip, guests got used to the flow of movement and simply stopped looking for the next marker. Due to this, they found themselves where they shouldn’t be. Make sure you’re actually looking for that next marker.
So there you have it – some extra tips to make your next Disney trip a little more comfortable. Will it be the Disney you’re used to? Not exactly, but hopefully, you and the guests around you will feel a bit safer. I know we did.