Disney World and Fort Wilderness Campground during the pandemic

This week we take a look at what it is like to travel during the pandemic. A Disney World and Fort Wilderness regular, our friend Niki shares her recent experience visiting the vacation hotspot.

Guest Author Niki Meza regularly shares her love of Disney, gardening and camping on her YouTube channel NixPix

A year of firsts

This trip was very different from our normal trips to Disney for many reasons. It was our first time back since the shutdown of Disney on March 16, 2020 and it was also the inaugural test trip for our 20 ft. Horton Hauler that my husband Rick spent the last two years converting into a camper.

This was also the first time my now adult daughter did not join us. One of the biggest firsts; the first time our 17 year old son, Ricky (who is autistic and still mostly nonverbal) did not sleep under the same roof as his father.

Rick Sr. went up to Fort Wilderness the night before our arrival to test out the new trailer. Ricky stayed home that evening with me. I had about six hours of Ricky running to the window and door looking for his father before he finally understood that we would be joining him the next day and all would be well.

Make sure to reconfirm reservations before arrival to Fort Wilderness Campground

Fort Wilderness Campground

Fort Wilderness Cabin

We typically rented a cabin and with not knowing quite what reaction Ricky would have to being in the new camper, we went ahead a rented a cabin as well as a campsite for our trailer. This worked out well for us, however I will warn you, if you book more than one reservation on the same date with the same guests on each reservation, the Disney Reservation system may automatically cancel one of them so be sure to reconfirm all is well before your arrival.  

No buffets, but plenty of options available

The next day Ricky and I joined Rick Sr and the first thing on the schedule was P & J’s Southern Takeout at the Settlement. When entering you will go into Crockett’s Tavern, and though the buffet is closed, the walk-up bar is still open and you are able to sit at the tables. We did notice most guests just got their meals to go. I ordered my pizza and we walked to the Marina where, unfortunately, the pontoon boats are still not available, but we were able to watch the boats running to and from the Magic Kingdom.

Not having access to the playgrounds and the pontoon boats was a negative for us. The stores had shorter hours than usual and we definitely missed the main restaurant. 

Disney World’s Tri-Circle D Ranch Barns – limited hours

Our campsite was on the 700 loop and it was a great location to be; the loop sits right across from the Settlement and the Tri-Circle D Ranch barns. The barns are open for limited hours during the day, so make sure to check their times daily. Not as close to the Marina as the 100, 200, and 300 loops, but there is the added bonus of it being a bit quieter and private. I would definitely stay in this spot again. 

This trip was during the last week of October, so we were lucky to have all of the fabulous Halloween decorations to admire. As one of Ricky’s favorite things to do is ride around in the golf cart, this was a nice experience.

The Magic Kingdom and social distancing

The next morning while Rick Sr. and Ricky snored in their beds I took a ride over to Magic Kingdom. The bus to the boats has a numbered seating system to aid in social distancing. I was excited to catch a peek of Cinderella’s Castle and her new paint job. I would say I felt safer entering Magic Kingdom than my local grocery store.

Assigned seating and dividers on bus aids in social distancing

Long lines, fewer rides open and entertainment changes

As for the parks, there are many rides and experiences that are not open which can make it hard when parents have to explain to their children “not this time,” and the lines for food are long because there are limited places open. The longest line I saw was for the shop at the Haunted Mansion. The lack of extra entertainment that makes the parks feel so magical is also felt. Characters are up on balconies or placed in such a way that maintain social distancing. If you are looking for a photo with Mickey or Minnie, you’ll have to wait for another time. In other words, Walt Disney World during COVID is a popped bubble for me. 

Final thoughts on Disney World in 2020

Finally, my personal thoughts on returning to Disney during the pandemic. We have spent the past 12 years frequenting the parks on a regular basis, it was the one place we could go as a family together. It was our bubble. We went through the initial changes to the disability system that were hard and unfair for those on the Autism Spectrum so many years ago. Through some trial and error, we were able to adapt as well as we could. I am optimistic that I will feel that magic again and I look forward to seeing my favorite performers return. And I hope— as I’m sure we all do— that it will be sooner rather than later.

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