Disney in a Pandemic: Part 2 – Mitigating Personal Risk at Disney World


So, you read Part 1 and made a well-informed decision that you are going to Disney World! It is now time to start thinking about how you will reduce your personal risk. Disney’s safety protocols are great, but much of the responsibility for safety relies on the behavior of guests. Make no mistake, there is no such thing as a perfectly safe Disney trip right now, and following all of these tips will never reduce your risk to zero. 

When I was in Disney World in mid-August, the best models estimated that between 2 and 4% of Florida’s population were currently infected with coronavirus. That number continues to drop, but it is still alarmingly high.  Given the proportion of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals, I will let you make an estimate of how many people are walking around the parks infected. It is more than zero.

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on practicality and bang for your buck when it comes to measures to reduce risk. To assess activities for risk, we will rely on this MIT article. At Disney, there are 5 factors we should consider when assessing the risk of an activity:

  1. Is the activity indoors or outdoors?
  2. How crowded is the activity?
  3. Are the participants wearing an effective mask properly?
  4. How long is the activity?
  5. How loud are the people at the activity?

Indoor ventilation quality is not a knowable thing as a guest, so we will skip it. Keeping these 5 simple factors in mind will help you quickly assess a situation on your vacation to see if it exceeds your risk tolerance. You need to plan around some situations before you go so that you are not forced into something you find uncomfortable and not worth the risk.

Based on the 5 factors, here are my recommendations:

Do not eat indoors

This is the most risky activity available at Disney World right now. With the current infection numbers in Florida, I am shocked this is even allowed. It hits all 5 of the risk factors above. Indoor peak hours for quick service dining at Disney is a catastrophe on this risk scale. It is crowded, maskless and loud. Table service dining is slightly better spaced and not as loud, but only marginally so. Six feet is not a magical barrier from aerosols. If you must eat indoors, try eating at very off hours when it will not be as busy. Quick service gives you the opportunity to choose based on the situation.

Send in one person to retrieve quick service food and exit quickly

You still need to eat at Disney World and there are few outdoor restaurants. That means mostly quick service for your trip. Send in one or two people from your party to carry the food and then exit as soon as you can. It is far too crowded and populated with maskless people to linger. Unfortunately, cast members do not have this option.

Pack your patience

There are numerous opportunities for chokepoints at Disney World that could be avoided if you are patient. The worst are exits to rides. It can be quite the contrast going from an orderly, distanced queue to a cattle chute at the exit. Lingering back a few seconds for the mob to pass is the safest route unless you are quick and the first off. In outdoor spaces, you can often walk the long way around if a path is congested.

Don’t pack your patience

It is important to have grace for others as people are bound to make innocent mistakes, including yourself. There will be times, however, when other guests will deliberately flout the rules. In most cases, this does not directly impact you and you are not responsible for enforcing Disney’s policies.  When it puts you in direct danger, though, do not be overly polite and ignore this behavior. Sometimes you will need to tell a maskless group seated near you in a show to please put them back on. At times, you will need to tell someone that is habitually overshooting their queue markers behind you to back off. Often, a few nasty eye glares will do the trick. Ultimately, you cannot control others, and if it continues, you should try and remove yourself from the situation.

Give maskless people a wider berth

I was raised not to treat other human beings as if they were lepers. Well, I have gotten over that and you should, too. We are all lepers now. Masks reduce the range of aerosols and droplets. It stands to reason then that the margin for error in social distancing is less for people without masks than for people with masks. Try not to walk closely to people eating or drinking as much as you possibly can.

Don’t allow masks to give you a false sense of security

Masks are not a free pass to crowd other people. Many guests will act like it is. Be proactive and avoid them.

Assess the indoor situation

Avoiding indoor environments entirely is not practical. When being seated for a show, scan the guests around you to ensure they are wearing their masks. If not, ask to be moved farther away. Do not enter chaotic and busy stores. If a ride queue exits into a gift shop, try and leave as soon as possible, but without crowding others.

Don’t crowd hand sanitizer stations

I know Disney means well with the hand sanitizer stations, but they are the enemy of social distancing. Countless times, guests would crowd the hand sanitizer. If there is a crowd, then skip the public one and use your own.

Use the leisure pools

We found on our vacation that the feature pools would get crowded and just about no one used masks while walking around the pool deck. The leisure pools are less crowded and easier to social distance.

You will notice nothing I suggested is focused on transmission from fomites. You should still wash your hands and use hand sanitizer, but this is likely not the primary mode of transmission. If it were, visiting Disney World would be a nonstarter. But if you need to wipe down every surface with bleach wipes to feel safe, then by all means do it. Be aware that cast members will rush you onto rides and you may not have time to sanitize everything. This type of risk mitigation did not meet the practicality and bang for the buck criteria, but it couldn’t hurt to focus on high touch surfaces. 

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