Flying to Florida and going to theme parks during a pandemic is something I thought I would never do after spending over a year in quarantine, planning on graduating college in three weeks, and just landing my dream job in South Korea.
On day 1 of my trip, my friends and I went to Universal. I heard from Facebook friends that while Covid restrictions were in place, they weren’t as heavily enforced as they were for Disney, and that was definitely proven true.
It was supposed to storm and rain all day so I figured crowd levels wouldn’t be that high and I was right. We arrived at the park an hour before opening because they did not do park reservations, unlike Disney. We got Voodoo Donuts and sat outside in CityWalk, waiting for 8:50am to roll around so we could enter the park a bit early. When we arrived, people were mostly social distancing, Team Members were all encouraging we use the hand sanitizer machines around the park, and everyone I saw at first was wearing their masks properly.
We first went on Rip Ride Rockit, then The Mummy, and then E.T. I started to notice people weren’t wearing masks over the nose when we got in line for the Mummy. The worst part was that Team Members weren’t saying anything to them to remind them. Once we got to E.T., we noticed a massive thunderstorm headed our way, so we sheltered in the SpongeBob store, then walked to Springfield (Simpsonsland) to get lunch.
The rain didn’t let up all day, but luckily Universal has a lot of indoor rides. We decided to do all the indoor rides we could and then head over to the other park, Islands of Adventure, via the Hogwarts Express. I noticed all the wait times for rides went to under 40 minutes, meaning the rainstorm was causing people to leave the park.
Over at Islands of Adventure, they recently opened Hagrid’s Magical Motorbike Adventure, the ride that everyone wanted to go on. Unfortunately, due to the rain and thunder, it was closed, so we decided to continue riding the indoor rides at the other park. The only thing that isn’t so great about the other park is the lack of indoor rides compared to the Universal Studios side of the park.
We had a reservation for Toothsome Chocolate Emporium so, soaking wet, we walked over. Cold, and miserable, we ate our dinner and before calling it quits, the rain and storm finally stopped. My friend suggested we try to give Hagrid’s Magical Motorbike Adventure one more try. A bit drier, and with some food in our bellies, we walked back over to Islands of Adventure and the ride was open. They let us on and after I rode it I kept telling my friends how it was the best ride out of all the parks. The day that started out crummy but ended on a great note.
Overall, I felt as though while Team Members did not enforce the mask wearing policy well, most people did social distance, and I liked how that made us put on hand sanitizer before we went on every ride.
On days 2-4 we went to Disney. I was most excited about these parks because of the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge ride, and the weather was supposed to be nice all three days we were going.
Our first day of Disney parks was spent in EPCOT. We enjoyed the Flower and Garden festival, plus Florida college students were on spring break, which meant crowds. EPCOT is known for selling alcohol so I knew it would be busy, and I was right.
We entered the park and the first ride, Spaceship Earth, was already at a 40-minute wait, which meant it was going to be a crowded day. We went on Soarin,’ Living with the Land, and then went to the world showcase. It was really hot that day and EPCOT is a big park so I knew we would be walking around a lot. We wanted to try all the specialty foods in the countries, so we went around, would eat some food in a country, and then go on rides that were in the area (Frozen Ever After, and Mexico Pavillion ride). The nice thing about the Disney parks is that they had indoor relaxation stations that allowed people to go inside with the AC, social distance, and take off masks to relax. We took every advantage of that on our trip.
We ended up leaving EPCOT over an hour before closing because we were so exhausted.
The next day we went to Hollywood Studios. This was the park I was most excited about because of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (formerly Great Movie Ride), and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. The tricky part about their main attraction, Rise of the Resistance, was that it was a virtual line, they were only giving out a limited number of boarding groups, and the only time they were handing them out was at 7am and 1pm. It was sort of like getting tickets for an event on the Disney app; you click on the boarding pass, select the amount in your group, then if you’re lucky, you will obtain a boarding pass/return time. If not, you will have to try your luck again in the park at 1pm. That day I woke up 10 minutes before 7am and immediately jumped on the app. Luckily, we got a slot for our group!
Both Universal and Disney did temperature screenings when we entered the parks. If your temp was over 100.4 degrees, they would put you in a separate tent and try to cool you down. Luckily no one in my group had a high temp so we could go in every time with ease. Once we got into the park, we would sanitize our hands and then follow the rules that were on signs in the park. Disney was definitely stricter with mask rules and anytime someone had a mask under their nose, a Cast Member would remind them to pull it up. If they didn’t comply, they would be forced to leave.
I didn’t see anyone who didn’t comply and most everyone social distanced in line. The only time I ran into an issue with this was at Universal. I had asked a family to stay on their social distance marker while we were in line for food and they snapped back at us and groaned as if it was a huge inconvenience for them. The next time we got snapped at was when we were in line for butterbeer at Three Broomsticks. Everyone was trying to exit through the entrance door and they weren’t social distancing (one man wasn’t even wearing his mask). I told him to use the exit door and he looked at me and said, “You don’t need to give me attitude, miss.” I rolled my eyes and then told the Team Member at the ordering station about what happened, and they apologized.
Hollywood Studios was definitely crowded, but the nice thing was that people actually social distanced and moved to their social distance markers in line if we asked them to. For our dinner reservations, we had character dining at Minnie’s Springtime Hollywood and Vine. The Cast Members told us we weren’t allowed to get up for photos with characters but that we could take seated selfies with them. Some parents didn’t enforce that rule with their children and the characters would walk away if children tried to run or go towards them. We ended our day early and decided to ride the new Skyline (which is a gondola sky ride that takes people from resort to parks).
Our final day was at Magic Kingdom. We had breakfast reservations for Whispering Canyon Café. The food was delicious, as always, and we took the ferry boat from the resort to the park. When we got there, there was no crowd and wait times throughout the day were all under 50-minutes. Funnily enough, Small World had the longest wait throughout the entire day.
We started in Tomorrowland, riding Space Mountain and Carousel of Progress. I noticed characters would meet from a distance and if someone wanted a photo, they would walk up to these dots about 10 feet away for a photo. During the day, the park would have short parades (called cavalcades), where characters would give as many interactions as a regular meet and greet. It was probably the hottest day of our entire trip but because we were well acquainted with the rides here, we were able to get the ones we wanted done and get back to relax our last night.
If I were to rank which parks had the best Covid protocols, I would have to go with Disney. Cast Members were on top of making sure guests were safe and following the rules in a kind and courteous manner. I felt super safe at Disney but less-so at Universal. The rides were equipped with plastic screens in between each row as well as barriers with glass in between rows of lines. Universal did not have this.
If I were to ever go back during Covid, I would rather go to Disney than Universal. However, I wouldn’t encourage going to the parks unless you are healthy and know you do not have Covid. Being vaccinated can help with making sure you are healthy to go and wearing a mask properly will save you from being asked multiple times a day to fix it.
If you follow all the rules, you can be guaranteed to have a fun Disney and Universal vacation.