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Here’s what it’s actually like to stay at the Most Magical Place on Earth right now. 

By Elizabeth Rhodes
November 28, 2020
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Exterior of Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL
Credit: Courtesy of The Walt Disney Company

Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

Around the world, hotels and resorts have reimagined the guest experience amid the pandemic, adopting innovative technologies and introducing new practices to create a safer environment — and Disney is no exception. With over 20 hotels located at Walt Disney World, the massive theme park resort has implemented a number of new health and safety protocols since reopening this summer.

For those who have never had the magical experience of staying at a Disney resort, there are a few basic things to know. Each hotel is perfectly themed — Disney’s Wilderness Lodge draws inspiration from rustic national park lodges, while Disney’s Riviera Resort is reminiscent of the beautiful European Riviera, for example. They typically offer a range of benefits for guests, including complimentary transportation around the parks (other perks such as early access to FastPass+ and Early Magic Hours are currently on hold due to the pandemic).

I always opt to stay at a Disney hotel when visiting the theme parks because you never have to leave the magic — you’re immersed in the Disney experience from the time you arrive until your departure — and it’s much easier to get around. This month, I visited Disney World for the first time since the pandemic caused the parks to close in March. I stayed at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and visited a couple of other hotels to see what they’re like. So, is the Disney hotel experience still magical, even with all the new health and safety procedures in place? The short answer is yes. Many of these changes have streamlined the guest experience and seamlessly integrated best health and safety practices.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of their current procedures, and these policies are subject to change as Disney adapts to the ever-evolving situation, so you can find the most up-to-date information on the Disney website

Enhanced cleaning protocols offer peace of mind.

The resort hotels have increased cleaning in high-traffic areas and enhanced their housekeeping protocols — you can find the full list of cleaning practices on the Disney website. My room was immaculate, and I appreciated having the option to forgo housekeeping to avoid having other people in the space during my stay (they are offering a light housekeeping service every other day with removal of trash and towels, replenishment of amenities, and other light cleaning, if you wish). 

Online check-in streamlines your arrival.

Disney World hotels began offering online check-in long before the pandemic hit, but now, it’s the preferred way of getting your room information. Using the My Disney Experience app, you can check in and even open your room with your phone. I was able to check-in via the app a couple of hours before the 3 p.m. check-in time, so when we arrived, a cast member, ready to greet us at the door, just pointed us in the right direction and we were on our way. 

New signs and hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere you look.

One of the most obvious changes since my last visit was the proliferation of signage throughout the hotel. Everywhere I looked, there were reminders to wear your mask and maintain social distancing. Plus, I hardly used my own hand sanitizer because there were dispensers pretty much anywhere I needed it. They’ve also added partitions at the concierge desks and at the hostess stand for the restaurants. 

Mobile ordering makes busy days much easier, but character dining is hard to find. 

Also thanks to the My Disney Experience app, you can order meals from select hotel restaurants using your phone, and it will tell you when your food is ready to be picked up. This was a serious time-saver in the mornings before we left for the theme parks. We were able to order from our rooms and run down to pick up our breakfast once it was ready, avoiding any morning rush and streamlining our day, so we could get to the parks faster. One downside is that there are limited character dining options at the moment, and some hotels aren’t offering their usual character meals, so be sure to check the Disney World website to see what is currently available. Of course, many restaurants are still open at the hotels, and they have well-spaced tables and dining-specific protocols in place, too. 

Expect social distancing, even at the pool.

There are markers indicating where guests should stand to maintain social distancing throughout the hotels, including in dining and merchandise locations and common areas. Pool chairs are also evenly spaced out. The hotel I stayed in was still offering family-friendly poolside activities with health and safety measures in place, although these can vary by hotel. 

Complimentary transportation is still efficient, now with social distancing measures in place. 

Guests can still enjoy complimentary transportation to and from Orlando International Airport via Disney’s Magical Express, as well as around the parks, hotels, and Disney Springs via buses, monorails, Disney Skyliner gondolas, and boats. Masks are required, and social distancing measures are in place in lines and on the monorails, boats, and buses. They’ve also added partitions inside the buses and monorails. I took both the Skyliner and resort buses during my trip, and I appreciated how organized it was. There’s only one party per gondola, so you don’t have to worry about sharing that relatively small space with strangers, and the bus driver assigned each party a numbered space upon boarding to help maintain physical distancing. 

Elizabeth Rhodes is an associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure who loves all things theme parks. Follow her adventures on Instagram @elizabetheverywhere