Mommy Frog's Note: Procedures and policies have evolved since Walt Disney World reopened in July. For the most up-to-date information, be sure to check out our Walt Disney World: Know Before You Go guide.
Yes, we are still in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Simply leaving the house to visit friends and family or even making a trip to the grocery store increases our risk of catching a disease. With several vaccines now rolling out to the public worldwide, we are hopful that these challenging days are coming to an end. We know many of you have not ventured out for most of 2020, or if you have it's with careful preparation. Rest assured, the theme parks have made keeping employees and guests safe a top priority. We have made a few dozen visits to the parks in the weeks since reopening and found them to be safe and welcoming, especially with all of the new health and safety measures in place. But is it the right time for you and your family to visit? Maybe, or maybe not. We're not here to decide for you, but we do want to explore the pluses to visiting the theme parks in 2021.
As theme park frogs, we’ve put a lot of thought into this. Yes, some people should take the opportunity to visit during this unique time. And also no, some people should definitely wait until later in 2021 or 2022 to visit, depending on their family's ages, health, interests and other factors. The risk of contracting COVID-19 is real. It's certainly challenging planning a vacation in an uncertain time. If you decide to visit, consider Mommy Frog's hopful tips for practicing health and wellness in theme parks. This post is all about the upside to visiting a theme park in 2021. We'll also go over the key factors to consider to help you make an informed decision about whether it’s worth it to visit a theme park this year.
Theme Park Reopening Guides
The Upside to Taking a Theme Park Vacation in 2021
Beyond research for all of you frog fans, we have several reasons why we are continuing to visit the parks. Even though there is a "new normal" in place at all of the parks, we've enjoyed giving the tadpoles a break from staying home. It has helped us find joy in this crazy time and gotten us outside and moving. Here are a few reasons why your family might be up for a theme park visit in the next few months.
Reduced capacity = low crowds
All of the theme parks have reduced capacity to maintain social distancing, which means the theme parks are less crowded than pre-COVID times. If you abhor crowds on a normal year, then you can seize this opportunity to get that extra theme park space and take advantage of short lines, perfect family photos and the use of virtual queues at some parks. Hotel pools are less crowded, and you'll have overall less competition for activities that are usually hard to access due to demand.
Less time needed to plan the perfect vacation
With fewer people in the parks, it's easier than ever to take a last-minute vacation. This is especially true for Disney World. Many families plan years in advance for their Disney World vacations. With FastPass+ temporarily suspended, and the opening time to book dining reservations shortened to 60 days, you can easily book last minute and still have a great trip.
While we still recommend you know your tools for skipping the lines at each park, there is a less chaotic pace in the parks. At Universal, you can use Universal Express to skip the lines and use virtual queues. Disney World has done away with the FastPass+ system temporarily, and the standard queues are flowing more quickly. Single Rider lines are not in use during this time at either Universal or Disney World.
Additional measures to ensure visitors' and employees' safety
As mentioned, capacity is low enough that you have room to physically distance. In fact, there are even markers in queues to ensure that that distance is maintained. Plus, the health and safety measures make it so that you can easily wash hands, access hand sanitizer and see that the employees and other guests have masks on to prevent the spread of illness. Temperature screenings and other measures have also been put in place to help ensure visitors' and employees' safety.
This is the time to experience the theme parks in an all-new way. Maybe you’ve always wanted to be chosen for wand pairing at Ollivanders in the Wizarding World at Universal, but the wand maker always selects someone else in the crowd. Well, now you have a much better chance. The odds are in your favor! Get a reservation to return from the wizard out front and get your camera ready (no flash)! Your experiences like this will be unfrogettable!
And while there are now fewer character experiences and limits on larger entertainment that typically draw bigger crowds, there are some toadally awesome new character experiences that offer unique ways to see them in action.
Rides, rides and more rides
If your family is all about the rides, then this could be a great time to go. With shorter lines, you can get in more rides than on a pre-pandemic day. Pay attention to physical distancing in the queues and expect that ride operators may skip seats, rows or even entire ride vehicles to keep parties separated from each other. On a normal day, you may have to wait hours for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Space Mountain or Avatar Flight of Passage, but now you might get on in a fraction of the time it usually takes. What's more, you may get to ride your favorites more than once or fit way more rides into your day than you're used to. Score!
Sleepyheads can sleep in
Did the idea of waking up early to get a Boarding Group for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance weaken the Force? Now you have more chances to join a Boarding Group at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., so you latecomers might actually get a shot at riding! And unlike in past times, where we have recommended you arrive at the theme parks ahead of official opening to get a hop on crowds, you can sleep later and still ride a ton. But don't show up too late, sleepyheads, because parks may close earlier than usual these days, and you still want to maximize your time.
Should You Visit a Theme Park in 2021? Yes, If You're OK with These Things
You are all on board with wearing a face covering
All major theme parks in Florida require masks for tadpoles ages 2 or 3 and up. Be sure to check the mask policy and age requirements for the theme park you are visiting before you visit. Disney and Universal both have stricter rules as to how face coverings fit (no gaiters or bandanas). We have a handy guide with tips for wearing masks at theme parks. Know that you can only remove the mask in special mask-free zones or while sitting at a table to eat or drink. These face coverings keep you healthy but also keep employees healthy, as they come into contact with thousands of people every day. So be nice to them when they remind you to keep your mouth and nose covered.
Is wearing a mask our favorite part of visiting theme parks right now? Nope. They get hot and sweaty. But we gladly wear face coverings in public because they keep us safe and help keep others safe. We want to prevent spread of this virus. Plus, with the mask, we can go do exciting things such as visit theme parks and zoos. We toadally appreciate getting out and doing the things we love as a family.
What we’ve found is that if the mask is well-fitting, after a few hours we even froget we are wearing it. But we do find that we like to sit and take frequent breaks to drink water, eat our favorite theme park snacks and get a fresh breath of air. Research shows that face coverings do not affect oxygen levels or health in a negative way and that they play an important role in preventing the spread of the disease.
We expect mask requirements to continue well into 2021, perhaps all of 2021, so this isn't going away any time soon. We recognize masks won't work for every family. If you cannot comply with mask requirements, this is not the time for you to visit a theme park.
You take responsibility for your family’s safety and are considerate of others
We’ve spent a little time in theme parks and zoos so far, and we have learned that it’s really up to us to be vigilant with our tadpoles and spacing. We cannot control other families who might froget to stay at least 6 feet away. All we can control is our own tadpoles, reminding them to stay close to us and away from others. It’s easy to froget to stay away from others when faced with something exciting to see. Carry wipes and hand sanitizer and extra masks. Wipe or wash hands every time your children touch surfaces. You should have a sense of how your kids do in masks and in public by now.
You do not have underlying health conditions
If your family is young and healthy and has no other underlying health conditions, then it is safer to visit than for a family at risk for serious complications. Everyone is still at risk, though, so you have to decide based on your family even if you do not have any known health problems.
You are OK getting your character fix from afar
If you are satisfied with seeing characters from a distance and forgoing the hugs and autographs for now, then this is a good time to visit. You just might get to see characters in new and exciting ways.
You can pay with credit card and apps
Many parks are moving away from transactions that involve close contact. They are moving toward cashless pay and using apps and Mobile Order to purchase food. You'll want to bring credit cards and gift cards and download the latest theme park apps to the parks. A recent visit to the LEGOLAND SEA LIFE Aquarium saved us some money in the gift shop. We only carried cash that day, but the resort is cashless right now. Oops! We knew that but frogot in our effort to go bagless. While the tadpoles were momentarily sad to hop away without souvenirs, our wallets in the car were hoppy. Perhaps we've stumbled on a new way to save money at theme parks ;)
You are flexible with your travel and can adapt to changes
We thought 2020 was the year of change, but this one will be too. If you can roll with the changes and adapt to new policies, then you are going to have an easier time than travelers who do not have flexibility or have trouble with plans getting messed up. You'll need to go with the flow in 2021. Visitors who live closer to the parks, especially those in state, will have the additional benefit of not having to worry about possible travel restrictions.
It's not your first visit
If you have been to the parks before, then this is an especially good time to visit. We are not saying first-timers shouldn't go, but you will not get the traditional full experience. Some shows, parades, play areas and experiences (such as Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disney) are unavailable. To get the full magical theme park experience, wait until later this year or 2022 to visit.
Have you visited the theme parks since reopening? Share your experience here, so other families can make a decision. Have questions about visiting the theme parks right now? Drop us a line in comments below!