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Disney Forced to Drastically Change Disability Policy at Its Parks

Disney Forced to Drastically Change Disability Policy at Its Parks


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As magical as Disneyland is, it's also incredibly crowded and a visit means spending half the day standing in lines. We've all wished we could jump ahead to the front to get on those rides quicker, but that was a perk solely reserved for those who have disabilities — and rightfully so. Unfortunately, enough people have taken advantage of the park's guest assistance policy that Disneyland and Walt Disney World will be changing their rules starting October 9.

According to NBC, people with disabilities will no longer be able to move straight to the front of the lines or get in through the exit. Instead, they will be issued a disability card and return time tickets with a shorter wait, similar to the FastPass. The change is mainly due to the uprising in disabled "tour guides" who charge able-bodied guests for their company, getting them around long ride lines. Considering the park doesn't require proof of disability, many people who are completely capable of waiting to get on Splash Mountain are getting assistant cards and abusing the system. The change will definitely make park visits more difficult for those who truly can't wait, but it's obvious the Disney Corporation is trying to find a balance between those who need it and those who just take advantage.


We braved Disney during COVID-19 here's what happened

Orlando, Fla. &mdash My family decided to brave Disney World during COVID-19.

I can't believe that is a sentence I just typed, seeing as when Disney World decided to reopen back in July, I watched crowds stream back in on the news through my fingers, mid-facepalm. Cases were spiking in Florida and elsewhere. I wondered to myself, what are these people DOING? Are they insane? What is Disney THINKING?

Well, it turns out, Disney has been doing A LOT of thinking.

To make a long backstory as short as possible, we had a family vacation to the beach fall through at the last minute. My 4-year-old son had been really looking forward to it, and just like most of you, we haven't been able to do much fun for him this summer. We were in scramble mode for an alternative. My husband turned to me jokingly and said, "Well hey, not like you'd ever agree to go to Disney, right?"

But at that moment? Fresh off of negative COVID-19 tests for the whole family and wanting to cushion the blow for my son, I thought well, I can at least consider it.

We happened to know a few people who have gone, and they all insisted it had been incredibly safe. But I think plenty of us have heard that sort of rhetoric during this pandemic, only to get to a particular place and see that human nature always wins. It's not easy or feasible to go around sanitizing frequently used surfaces or have staff members around just to enforce wearing masks and social distancing.

Disney didn't call itself the happiest place on earth by being just any other place though.

We found a good deal at the Swan and Dolphin, got a room at the Swan for a few nights, planned a pool day on Day 1 to help unwind after a long drive the day before and bought tickets for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the latter of which was walking distance from the hotel. And Saturday morning, just a day and a half after coming up with this plan, we headed down to Orlando around 6 a.m.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to Disney World myself since I was in my 20s. I am 37. But I have a lot of friends who've taken their kids (or gone as adults by themselves), and I have some awareness of how Disney works.

Rather than take you through the whole trip, I'll lay out some pros and cons of doing Disney during COVID-19. Obviously, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, it's probably not a good idea Disney says as much in its literature. There is one obvious con, of course, and I'll save it for last because it's worth acknowledging in more detail. But, of course, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, you probably shouldn't do this.

1. At least in our experience, everyone on Disney properties — hotels and the parks — were abiding by the rules. EVERY single person. I never saw a person without a mask unless they were taking a sip of a drink or eating something, either inside or outside. No one tried to cram on a hotel elevator with other groups. Even some solo guests would see me on an elevator and insist, "No, you go ahead and take this one and I'll get the next one."

The whole experience was like living in a weird COVID utopia. Not that those two words should ever go together, but it was a glimpse into a world that could exist as we try to get back to something resembling normality, incorporating elements of our pre-pandemic lives in a safe way with those safety measures never feeling intrusive or obstructive. THIS is what our new normal could look like, if we could all do the things recommended to us. I had to run to the grocery store when I got back home on Friday. I saw four or five people either not wearing a mask at all or wearing it beneath their noses. That was literally more people than I saw without a (correctly worn) mask in the entirety of our three-day stay combined.

The Swan and Dolphin has a great pool, and we spent an entire day there. The chairs were spaced out, and staff members walked around to make sure no one was breaking the rules. You couldn't wear masks in the pool, obviously, but there weren't all that many people by the pool anyway. Chairs were being sanitized between uses, and you weren't even allowed to reserve a chair by putting your stuff on it (no idea how they'd enforce that if an entire party were swimming, but hey). We've been to pools a few times before this trip and again, there were A. more people in a smaller space and B. fewer wearing masks. We didn't tell my son ahead of time where we were going, and he was so psyched to see the pool that he thought THAT was the surprise.

2. Wait times are significantly lower than normal, and that's probably an understatement. This all was especially evident during our trip to Magic Kingdom. We got there about 45 minutes before the park was technically supposed to open, but it usually opens up by about 8:30, and it did. The entrance process included a very quick temperature screening in a tent and that was basically it. They even had you go through the metal detectors with your bags on you, and our "ticket" was a card that you scan on a reader that doesn't require any contact. Quick and easy. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time to get in, and that's important to know.

Once inside, I was awestruck by the lack of other people around us. It was like having Disney to ourselves. We had done at least three or four rides before we had ANY wait time at all. There is no FastPass right now because it's not necessary. The longest wait time we saw listed for any ride was an hour on a ride that had been broken most of the day. (That was the only ride we wanted to do that we weren't able to do in either park, and it was Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.) At Magic Kingdom, I went back and counted: We got to hit 16 different rides or attractions. We went back later to ride the Haunted Mansion (which had been broken earlier) and grab dinner. But still. That's a lot to get to do in about seven total Disney hours, including meals.

This was Tomorrowland circa 10 a.m.:

There was not a single open ride or attraction that we wanted to do at either park that we weren't able to, except for the aforementioned broken ride. (Full disclosure: My son inherited my distrust of roller coasters, seemingly, and he refused to ride Slinky Dog Dash, among other things.)

Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, so naturally it was going to be a little bit more crowded. But we even made it into the final reserve group to go on the Rise of the Resistance and we did the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run ride three times because my kid loved it so much. Every Toy Story ride was ridden multiple times. The point is that we had plenty of time to do it, in large part because fewer people were at the park. It's a unique opportunity to use your time at Disney in a way that's more efficient than was possible before.

3. The folks at Disney have pulled out all of the stops to try to minimize the risk as much as possible. You have to reserve your spot at a park for a specific day ahead of time as they are limiting capacity, and you can't park-hop. There are hand sanitizer stations all around the park and at multiple points of a ride, both waiting in line and then after the ride. They give you a card to scan to enter the park. There are SEVERAL staffers all around enforcing both mask-wearing and social distancing, both at entrance and exit points and around the park itself. There were even staffers around the closed Frozen Singalong building, waiting for a passer-by to try to wander up so that they could explain that no, this is not open. And there are stickers at every possible point lines could form to enforce social distancing. There are even staff members that walk around sanitizing things that guests touch a lot — bathrooms of course, but also trash cans, railings, etc. Just to see that in action is reassuring.

4. You can get a pretty good deal if you decide to do what we did and wait until the last minute (not that I'd advise this!). Disney wants people to come back, and they know that they need to provide some encouragement to do so. Disney reportedly didn't get as many guests as expected upon its initial reopening, which is understandable. But they want to get people there.

5. You're less likely to get lost in the shuffle. When we were at Hollywood Studios, Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers came out on stage. He interacted with the crowd. There weren't that many people there (it was still early) and I coaxed him to go up to the stage.

Would that have happened under normal Disney circumstances? It might have. But if it had been more crowded, I would have been less likely to send my 4-year-old up to the stage alone. We had the freedom to do it because there weren't as many people. Every staff member and character we were able to interact with at all paid us a ton of attention. At a distance, of course.

6. Personal space is a wonderful thing, and you get a lot of that. Disney can be a claustrophobic experience during normal times, and it can feel that way even now. But at least you can wait in a line for a ride or for food along clear social distancing markers. Even just walking around the park, it's nice to not have to worry about navigating between hordes of people. There are still some indoor attractions that are open as well. But every 3D movie we saw was in a theater with limited capacity and sections of seats in each row blocked off:

1. It's just not going to be a regular Disney experience. You have to wear your mask at all times, including while on rides. (That part was surprisingly fine, but still.) Not everything is open. That's by necessity, of course, but if you were really looking forward to going to a Frozen singalong or seeing the Indiana Jones show, for instance, it's not going to happen. This even extends itself to food and some of the shops. You have to wait in a line at times just to get into some of the gift shops around the parks. And the parks all close earlier than they normally would, plus there are no fireworks at night. These are all things we have to live without, but if you want a fuller experience, you may be better off waiting.

2. You can't meet and greet the characters the way you normally can. We were careful not to tell our son that he could actually *meet* Mickey Mouse, because we knew that would not be possible. But we did tell him that we could say hello. He definitely did that. But you don't see the characters out and about nearly as frequently as you normally would. They would come through either in parades, flanked by multiple security guards to clear the way and make sure children didn't try to touch the mascots or on a stage, like Buzz Lightyear did.

But go back up to the pros — No. 5, to be exact — to see why that isn't the worst thing. In normal times, my 4-year-old was way likelier to get shoved out of the way when Kylo Ren came out than he was to get to wander up to the stage and have Kylo talk to him personally. He is *still* talking about that and remembers exactly what Kylo said to him.

3. Not all of the rides are cleaned between uses. In fact, I didn't see that being done very often. It would be pretty difficult to do that, especially as Disney staffers were stationed all around as you get closer to the ride, sending you to various different lines based on the size of your party and making sure each party had its own separate car. But the first moment it hit me was when we rode Tomorrowland Speedway (basically a bumper car without the bumping). I was not sure how I felt about the fact that we immediately got into a car and my 4-year-old was touching the same steering wheel someone else had just touched for a few minutes, and the person before them, and so on. But the nice thing is they also have hand sanitizer stations immediately off of each ride exit, so making sure he didn't touch his face for a few seconds until we reached one was not difficult.

4. Florida? It's hot. I realize that this is true even in pre-COVID times, but Orlando is basically 100 degrees more often than not from about May until . October? Maybe? The point here is that if you think it's hot normally, try adding a mask to that equation and being outside nearly all the time. I think we ate indoors more times at Disney than we had in the previous seven months combined, and that was in large part because we needed a break from the heat. The safer elements of Disney no longer felt quite as safe when we were indoors with a bunch of people who were removing their masks to eat and drink. But seriously, the heat is so oppressive. I felt like a rotisserie chicken.

Now, you should know that the restaurants are limited capacity anyway and the tables are pretty well spaced out, but we weren't the only ones looking to beat the heat. Basically, the process is that you get to a restaurant that's open (some are not, or have limited hours), scan a QR code on your phone to pull up the menu, place your order online and then you're allowed inside the restaurant to pick it up. You can either take your food and eat it outside or, if you can find a table, inside. But it can be a little crowded in the pick-up process, and tables weren't easy to come by. I am unaware of a way in which a family who didn't want to be indoors could avoid it while at Disney. But, to be fair, you have to wait for rides indoors as well.

Again, this is part of the COVID precautions, so you have to roll with it, but I wish that there'd been a few more shaded, cooled spots outside to eat and take a break. They do have relaxation stations where you're allowed to take off your mask and there's some shade, but when that Florida heat and humidity gets its talons into you, it's not letting go. They're not selling as much outdoor food because of COVID, including the famous drumsticks, because they don't want people walking and eating (thus taking off their masks). I understand that part, but it basically means that you either have to eat indoors (not ideal with COVID) or try to carve out a space for your family to sit and hope no one sits near you. I feel like eating while you walk is probably better than eating together indoors.

We had a stroller to save our little one's legs (and thank goodness, as he was constantly insisting that we pick him up even when we were in line for rides). There is stroller parking outside of the rides and that is . not regulated (except for signs that specify where you can and can't park strollers) or socially distanced. Many families return to their strollers to take a break or eat some food, and we found ourselves trying to navigate the closest thing to a crowd to retrieve our stroller. I did not love having to do that as a family was maskless and eating or drinking a foot or two away.

5. As safe as Disney itself is, you still have to drive or fly to get there. In our case, we drove, stopping as little as we could. But the gas station or restaurant stops were much more anxiety-inducing for us than any moment at Disney. My husband has actually flown recently (I have not flown since pre-COVID times) and said that, in hindsight, he would have rather flown than driven. Airports and at least some airlines are doing a lot more to actively prevent transmission (requiring masks, sanitizing frequently) than the average rest stop or gas station is doing. But doing either one of those activities isn't exactly ideal.

6. The most important con is, of course, that no situation is perfectly safe during this pandemic except staying at home. I compared Disney to the grocery store earlier. But obviously you have to go to the grocery store and no one ever HAS to go to Disney unless you work there. It's a luxury. And there is always the risk that you will either A. Contract the virus and remain asymptomatic and spread it in your community or B. Contract the virus and become very ill. I thought about this particularly when I saw older people with their grandchildren in the park.

But many of us have been in this extremely restricted world for going on seven months now. We're not entitled to things just because we want them, of course, and I would never advocate going to a concert or a bar based on what I know. I can only speak for my own family, but I have not held my nephew (who's now 16 months old) since March. I have not seen many of my friends in person for more than a few minutes at a distance. And my sacrifices pale in comparison to what I know many others are doing.

We're trying to keep things as fun for my son as we can, but we kept looking ahead and started to wonder, what was Halloween going to look like? This was going to be his first year trick-or-treating. What would CHRISTMAS look like? He's fortunate enough to have those holidays with his family, and we're all fortunate enough to have each other. But our hearts still hurt for our kid to not get to experience some of those things or have severely limited versions of them.

He had a great time. And so did we. It's the most fun we've had in months, and the most hopeful I've felt about what lies ahead as we attempt a return to normalcy when the last seven months have been anything but.


We braved Disney during COVID-19 here's what happened

Orlando, Fla. &mdash My family decided to brave Disney World during COVID-19.

I can't believe that is a sentence I just typed, seeing as when Disney World decided to reopen back in July, I watched crowds stream back in on the news through my fingers, mid-facepalm. Cases were spiking in Florida and elsewhere. I wondered to myself, what are these people DOING? Are they insane? What is Disney THINKING?

Well, it turns out, Disney has been doing A LOT of thinking.

To make a long backstory as short as possible, we had a family vacation to the beach fall through at the last minute. My 4-year-old son had been really looking forward to it, and just like most of you, we haven't been able to do much fun for him this summer. We were in scramble mode for an alternative. My husband turned to me jokingly and said, "Well hey, not like you'd ever agree to go to Disney, right?"

But at that moment? Fresh off of negative COVID-19 tests for the whole family and wanting to cushion the blow for my son, I thought well, I can at least consider it.

We happened to know a few people who have gone, and they all insisted it had been incredibly safe. But I think plenty of us have heard that sort of rhetoric during this pandemic, only to get to a particular place and see that human nature always wins. It's not easy or feasible to go around sanitizing frequently used surfaces or have staff members around just to enforce wearing masks and social distancing.

Disney didn't call itself the happiest place on earth by being just any other place though.

We found a good deal at the Swan and Dolphin, got a room at the Swan for a few nights, planned a pool day on Day 1 to help unwind after a long drive the day before and bought tickets for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the latter of which was walking distance from the hotel. And Saturday morning, just a day and a half after coming up with this plan, we headed down to Orlando around 6 a.m.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to Disney World myself since I was in my 20s. I am 37. But I have a lot of friends who've taken their kids (or gone as adults by themselves), and I have some awareness of how Disney works.

Rather than take you through the whole trip, I'll lay out some pros and cons of doing Disney during COVID-19. Obviously, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, it's probably not a good idea Disney says as much in its literature. There is one obvious con, of course, and I'll save it for last because it's worth acknowledging in more detail. But, of course, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, you probably shouldn't do this.

1. At least in our experience, everyone on Disney properties — hotels and the parks — were abiding by the rules. EVERY single person. I never saw a person without a mask unless they were taking a sip of a drink or eating something, either inside or outside. No one tried to cram on a hotel elevator with other groups. Even some solo guests would see me on an elevator and insist, "No, you go ahead and take this one and I'll get the next one."

The whole experience was like living in a weird COVID utopia. Not that those two words should ever go together, but it was a glimpse into a world that could exist as we try to get back to something resembling normality, incorporating elements of our pre-pandemic lives in a safe way with those safety measures never feeling intrusive or obstructive. THIS is what our new normal could look like, if we could all do the things recommended to us. I had to run to the grocery store when I got back home on Friday. I saw four or five people either not wearing a mask at all or wearing it beneath their noses. That was literally more people than I saw without a (correctly worn) mask in the entirety of our three-day stay combined.

The Swan and Dolphin has a great pool, and we spent an entire day there. The chairs were spaced out, and staff members walked around to make sure no one was breaking the rules. You couldn't wear masks in the pool, obviously, but there weren't all that many people by the pool anyway. Chairs were being sanitized between uses, and you weren't even allowed to reserve a chair by putting your stuff on it (no idea how they'd enforce that if an entire party were swimming, but hey). We've been to pools a few times before this trip and again, there were A. more people in a smaller space and B. fewer wearing masks. We didn't tell my son ahead of time where we were going, and he was so psyched to see the pool that he thought THAT was the surprise.

2. Wait times are significantly lower than normal, and that's probably an understatement. This all was especially evident during our trip to Magic Kingdom. We got there about 45 minutes before the park was technically supposed to open, but it usually opens up by about 8:30, and it did. The entrance process included a very quick temperature screening in a tent and that was basically it. They even had you go through the metal detectors with your bags on you, and our "ticket" was a card that you scan on a reader that doesn't require any contact. Quick and easy. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time to get in, and that's important to know.

Once inside, I was awestruck by the lack of other people around us. It was like having Disney to ourselves. We had done at least three or four rides before we had ANY wait time at all. There is no FastPass right now because it's not necessary. The longest wait time we saw listed for any ride was an hour on a ride that had been broken most of the day. (That was the only ride we wanted to do that we weren't able to do in either park, and it was Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.) At Magic Kingdom, I went back and counted: We got to hit 16 different rides or attractions. We went back later to ride the Haunted Mansion (which had been broken earlier) and grab dinner. But still. That's a lot to get to do in about seven total Disney hours, including meals.

This was Tomorrowland circa 10 a.m.:

There was not a single open ride or attraction that we wanted to do at either park that we weren't able to, except for the aforementioned broken ride. (Full disclosure: My son inherited my distrust of roller coasters, seemingly, and he refused to ride Slinky Dog Dash, among other things.)

Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, so naturally it was going to be a little bit more crowded. But we even made it into the final reserve group to go on the Rise of the Resistance and we did the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run ride three times because my kid loved it so much. Every Toy Story ride was ridden multiple times. The point is that we had plenty of time to do it, in large part because fewer people were at the park. It's a unique opportunity to use your time at Disney in a way that's more efficient than was possible before.

3. The folks at Disney have pulled out all of the stops to try to minimize the risk as much as possible. You have to reserve your spot at a park for a specific day ahead of time as they are limiting capacity, and you can't park-hop. There are hand sanitizer stations all around the park and at multiple points of a ride, both waiting in line and then after the ride. They give you a card to scan to enter the park. There are SEVERAL staffers all around enforcing both mask-wearing and social distancing, both at entrance and exit points and around the park itself. There were even staffers around the closed Frozen Singalong building, waiting for a passer-by to try to wander up so that they could explain that no, this is not open. And there are stickers at every possible point lines could form to enforce social distancing. There are even staff members that walk around sanitizing things that guests touch a lot — bathrooms of course, but also trash cans, railings, etc. Just to see that in action is reassuring.

4. You can get a pretty good deal if you decide to do what we did and wait until the last minute (not that I'd advise this!). Disney wants people to come back, and they know that they need to provide some encouragement to do so. Disney reportedly didn't get as many guests as expected upon its initial reopening, which is understandable. But they want to get people there.

5. You're less likely to get lost in the shuffle. When we were at Hollywood Studios, Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers came out on stage. He interacted with the crowd. There weren't that many people there (it was still early) and I coaxed him to go up to the stage.

Would that have happened under normal Disney circumstances? It might have. But if it had been more crowded, I would have been less likely to send my 4-year-old up to the stage alone. We had the freedom to do it because there weren't as many people. Every staff member and character we were able to interact with at all paid us a ton of attention. At a distance, of course.

6. Personal space is a wonderful thing, and you get a lot of that. Disney can be a claustrophobic experience during normal times, and it can feel that way even now. But at least you can wait in a line for a ride or for food along clear social distancing markers. Even just walking around the park, it's nice to not have to worry about navigating between hordes of people. There are still some indoor attractions that are open as well. But every 3D movie we saw was in a theater with limited capacity and sections of seats in each row blocked off:

1. It's just not going to be a regular Disney experience. You have to wear your mask at all times, including while on rides. (That part was surprisingly fine, but still.) Not everything is open. That's by necessity, of course, but if you were really looking forward to going to a Frozen singalong or seeing the Indiana Jones show, for instance, it's not going to happen. This even extends itself to food and some of the shops. You have to wait in a line at times just to get into some of the gift shops around the parks. And the parks all close earlier than they normally would, plus there are no fireworks at night. These are all things we have to live without, but if you want a fuller experience, you may be better off waiting.

2. You can't meet and greet the characters the way you normally can. We were careful not to tell our son that he could actually *meet* Mickey Mouse, because we knew that would not be possible. But we did tell him that we could say hello. He definitely did that. But you don't see the characters out and about nearly as frequently as you normally would. They would come through either in parades, flanked by multiple security guards to clear the way and make sure children didn't try to touch the mascots or on a stage, like Buzz Lightyear did.

But go back up to the pros — No. 5, to be exact — to see why that isn't the worst thing. In normal times, my 4-year-old was way likelier to get shoved out of the way when Kylo Ren came out than he was to get to wander up to the stage and have Kylo talk to him personally. He is *still* talking about that and remembers exactly what Kylo said to him.

3. Not all of the rides are cleaned between uses. In fact, I didn't see that being done very often. It would be pretty difficult to do that, especially as Disney staffers were stationed all around as you get closer to the ride, sending you to various different lines based on the size of your party and making sure each party had its own separate car. But the first moment it hit me was when we rode Tomorrowland Speedway (basically a bumper car without the bumping). I was not sure how I felt about the fact that we immediately got into a car and my 4-year-old was touching the same steering wheel someone else had just touched for a few minutes, and the person before them, and so on. But the nice thing is they also have hand sanitizer stations immediately off of each ride exit, so making sure he didn't touch his face for a few seconds until we reached one was not difficult.

4. Florida? It's hot. I realize that this is true even in pre-COVID times, but Orlando is basically 100 degrees more often than not from about May until . October? Maybe? The point here is that if you think it's hot normally, try adding a mask to that equation and being outside nearly all the time. I think we ate indoors more times at Disney than we had in the previous seven months combined, and that was in large part because we needed a break from the heat. The safer elements of Disney no longer felt quite as safe when we were indoors with a bunch of people who were removing their masks to eat and drink. But seriously, the heat is so oppressive. I felt like a rotisserie chicken.

Now, you should know that the restaurants are limited capacity anyway and the tables are pretty well spaced out, but we weren't the only ones looking to beat the heat. Basically, the process is that you get to a restaurant that's open (some are not, or have limited hours), scan a QR code on your phone to pull up the menu, place your order online and then you're allowed inside the restaurant to pick it up. You can either take your food and eat it outside or, if you can find a table, inside. But it can be a little crowded in the pick-up process, and tables weren't easy to come by. I am unaware of a way in which a family who didn't want to be indoors could avoid it while at Disney. But, to be fair, you have to wait for rides indoors as well.

Again, this is part of the COVID precautions, so you have to roll with it, but I wish that there'd been a few more shaded, cooled spots outside to eat and take a break. They do have relaxation stations where you're allowed to take off your mask and there's some shade, but when that Florida heat and humidity gets its talons into you, it's not letting go. They're not selling as much outdoor food because of COVID, including the famous drumsticks, because they don't want people walking and eating (thus taking off their masks). I understand that part, but it basically means that you either have to eat indoors (not ideal with COVID) or try to carve out a space for your family to sit and hope no one sits near you. I feel like eating while you walk is probably better than eating together indoors.

We had a stroller to save our little one's legs (and thank goodness, as he was constantly insisting that we pick him up even when we were in line for rides). There is stroller parking outside of the rides and that is . not regulated (except for signs that specify where you can and can't park strollers) or socially distanced. Many families return to their strollers to take a break or eat some food, and we found ourselves trying to navigate the closest thing to a crowd to retrieve our stroller. I did not love having to do that as a family was maskless and eating or drinking a foot or two away.

5. As safe as Disney itself is, you still have to drive or fly to get there. In our case, we drove, stopping as little as we could. But the gas station or restaurant stops were much more anxiety-inducing for us than any moment at Disney. My husband has actually flown recently (I have not flown since pre-COVID times) and said that, in hindsight, he would have rather flown than driven. Airports and at least some airlines are doing a lot more to actively prevent transmission (requiring masks, sanitizing frequently) than the average rest stop or gas station is doing. But doing either one of those activities isn't exactly ideal.

6. The most important con is, of course, that no situation is perfectly safe during this pandemic except staying at home. I compared Disney to the grocery store earlier. But obviously you have to go to the grocery store and no one ever HAS to go to Disney unless you work there. It's a luxury. And there is always the risk that you will either A. Contract the virus and remain asymptomatic and spread it in your community or B. Contract the virus and become very ill. I thought about this particularly when I saw older people with their grandchildren in the park.

But many of us have been in this extremely restricted world for going on seven months now. We're not entitled to things just because we want them, of course, and I would never advocate going to a concert or a bar based on what I know. I can only speak for my own family, but I have not held my nephew (who's now 16 months old) since March. I have not seen many of my friends in person for more than a few minutes at a distance. And my sacrifices pale in comparison to what I know many others are doing.

We're trying to keep things as fun for my son as we can, but we kept looking ahead and started to wonder, what was Halloween going to look like? This was going to be his first year trick-or-treating. What would CHRISTMAS look like? He's fortunate enough to have those holidays with his family, and we're all fortunate enough to have each other. But our hearts still hurt for our kid to not get to experience some of those things or have severely limited versions of them.

He had a great time. And so did we. It's the most fun we've had in months, and the most hopeful I've felt about what lies ahead as we attempt a return to normalcy when the last seven months have been anything but.


We braved Disney during COVID-19 here's what happened

Orlando, Fla. &mdash My family decided to brave Disney World during COVID-19.

I can't believe that is a sentence I just typed, seeing as when Disney World decided to reopen back in July, I watched crowds stream back in on the news through my fingers, mid-facepalm. Cases were spiking in Florida and elsewhere. I wondered to myself, what are these people DOING? Are they insane? What is Disney THINKING?

Well, it turns out, Disney has been doing A LOT of thinking.

To make a long backstory as short as possible, we had a family vacation to the beach fall through at the last minute. My 4-year-old son had been really looking forward to it, and just like most of you, we haven't been able to do much fun for him this summer. We were in scramble mode for an alternative. My husband turned to me jokingly and said, "Well hey, not like you'd ever agree to go to Disney, right?"

But at that moment? Fresh off of negative COVID-19 tests for the whole family and wanting to cushion the blow for my son, I thought well, I can at least consider it.

We happened to know a few people who have gone, and they all insisted it had been incredibly safe. But I think plenty of us have heard that sort of rhetoric during this pandemic, only to get to a particular place and see that human nature always wins. It's not easy or feasible to go around sanitizing frequently used surfaces or have staff members around just to enforce wearing masks and social distancing.

Disney didn't call itself the happiest place on earth by being just any other place though.

We found a good deal at the Swan and Dolphin, got a room at the Swan for a few nights, planned a pool day on Day 1 to help unwind after a long drive the day before and bought tickets for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the latter of which was walking distance from the hotel. And Saturday morning, just a day and a half after coming up with this plan, we headed down to Orlando around 6 a.m.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to Disney World myself since I was in my 20s. I am 37. But I have a lot of friends who've taken their kids (or gone as adults by themselves), and I have some awareness of how Disney works.

Rather than take you through the whole trip, I'll lay out some pros and cons of doing Disney during COVID-19. Obviously, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, it's probably not a good idea Disney says as much in its literature. There is one obvious con, of course, and I'll save it for last because it's worth acknowledging in more detail. But, of course, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, you probably shouldn't do this.

1. At least in our experience, everyone on Disney properties — hotels and the parks — were abiding by the rules. EVERY single person. I never saw a person without a mask unless they were taking a sip of a drink or eating something, either inside or outside. No one tried to cram on a hotel elevator with other groups. Even some solo guests would see me on an elevator and insist, "No, you go ahead and take this one and I'll get the next one."

The whole experience was like living in a weird COVID utopia. Not that those two words should ever go together, but it was a glimpse into a world that could exist as we try to get back to something resembling normality, incorporating elements of our pre-pandemic lives in a safe way with those safety measures never feeling intrusive or obstructive. THIS is what our new normal could look like, if we could all do the things recommended to us. I had to run to the grocery store when I got back home on Friday. I saw four or five people either not wearing a mask at all or wearing it beneath their noses. That was literally more people than I saw without a (correctly worn) mask in the entirety of our three-day stay combined.

The Swan and Dolphin has a great pool, and we spent an entire day there. The chairs were spaced out, and staff members walked around to make sure no one was breaking the rules. You couldn't wear masks in the pool, obviously, but there weren't all that many people by the pool anyway. Chairs were being sanitized between uses, and you weren't even allowed to reserve a chair by putting your stuff on it (no idea how they'd enforce that if an entire party were swimming, but hey). We've been to pools a few times before this trip and again, there were A. more people in a smaller space and B. fewer wearing masks. We didn't tell my son ahead of time where we were going, and he was so psyched to see the pool that he thought THAT was the surprise.

2. Wait times are significantly lower than normal, and that's probably an understatement. This all was especially evident during our trip to Magic Kingdom. We got there about 45 minutes before the park was technically supposed to open, but it usually opens up by about 8:30, and it did. The entrance process included a very quick temperature screening in a tent and that was basically it. They even had you go through the metal detectors with your bags on you, and our "ticket" was a card that you scan on a reader that doesn't require any contact. Quick and easy. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time to get in, and that's important to know.

Once inside, I was awestruck by the lack of other people around us. It was like having Disney to ourselves. We had done at least three or four rides before we had ANY wait time at all. There is no FastPass right now because it's not necessary. The longest wait time we saw listed for any ride was an hour on a ride that had been broken most of the day. (That was the only ride we wanted to do that we weren't able to do in either park, and it was Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.) At Magic Kingdom, I went back and counted: We got to hit 16 different rides or attractions. We went back later to ride the Haunted Mansion (which had been broken earlier) and grab dinner. But still. That's a lot to get to do in about seven total Disney hours, including meals.

This was Tomorrowland circa 10 a.m.:

There was not a single open ride or attraction that we wanted to do at either park that we weren't able to, except for the aforementioned broken ride. (Full disclosure: My son inherited my distrust of roller coasters, seemingly, and he refused to ride Slinky Dog Dash, among other things.)

Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, so naturally it was going to be a little bit more crowded. But we even made it into the final reserve group to go on the Rise of the Resistance and we did the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run ride three times because my kid loved it so much. Every Toy Story ride was ridden multiple times. The point is that we had plenty of time to do it, in large part because fewer people were at the park. It's a unique opportunity to use your time at Disney in a way that's more efficient than was possible before.

3. The folks at Disney have pulled out all of the stops to try to minimize the risk as much as possible. You have to reserve your spot at a park for a specific day ahead of time as they are limiting capacity, and you can't park-hop. There are hand sanitizer stations all around the park and at multiple points of a ride, both waiting in line and then after the ride. They give you a card to scan to enter the park. There are SEVERAL staffers all around enforcing both mask-wearing and social distancing, both at entrance and exit points and around the park itself. There were even staffers around the closed Frozen Singalong building, waiting for a passer-by to try to wander up so that they could explain that no, this is not open. And there are stickers at every possible point lines could form to enforce social distancing. There are even staff members that walk around sanitizing things that guests touch a lot — bathrooms of course, but also trash cans, railings, etc. Just to see that in action is reassuring.

4. You can get a pretty good deal if you decide to do what we did and wait until the last minute (not that I'd advise this!). Disney wants people to come back, and they know that they need to provide some encouragement to do so. Disney reportedly didn't get as many guests as expected upon its initial reopening, which is understandable. But they want to get people there.

5. You're less likely to get lost in the shuffle. When we were at Hollywood Studios, Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers came out on stage. He interacted with the crowd. There weren't that many people there (it was still early) and I coaxed him to go up to the stage.

Would that have happened under normal Disney circumstances? It might have. But if it had been more crowded, I would have been less likely to send my 4-year-old up to the stage alone. We had the freedom to do it because there weren't as many people. Every staff member and character we were able to interact with at all paid us a ton of attention. At a distance, of course.

6. Personal space is a wonderful thing, and you get a lot of that. Disney can be a claustrophobic experience during normal times, and it can feel that way even now. But at least you can wait in a line for a ride or for food along clear social distancing markers. Even just walking around the park, it's nice to not have to worry about navigating between hordes of people. There are still some indoor attractions that are open as well. But every 3D movie we saw was in a theater with limited capacity and sections of seats in each row blocked off:

1. It's just not going to be a regular Disney experience. You have to wear your mask at all times, including while on rides. (That part was surprisingly fine, but still.) Not everything is open. That's by necessity, of course, but if you were really looking forward to going to a Frozen singalong or seeing the Indiana Jones show, for instance, it's not going to happen. This even extends itself to food and some of the shops. You have to wait in a line at times just to get into some of the gift shops around the parks. And the parks all close earlier than they normally would, plus there are no fireworks at night. These are all things we have to live without, but if you want a fuller experience, you may be better off waiting.

2. You can't meet and greet the characters the way you normally can. We were careful not to tell our son that he could actually *meet* Mickey Mouse, because we knew that would not be possible. But we did tell him that we could say hello. He definitely did that. But you don't see the characters out and about nearly as frequently as you normally would. They would come through either in parades, flanked by multiple security guards to clear the way and make sure children didn't try to touch the mascots or on a stage, like Buzz Lightyear did.

But go back up to the pros — No. 5, to be exact — to see why that isn't the worst thing. In normal times, my 4-year-old was way likelier to get shoved out of the way when Kylo Ren came out than he was to get to wander up to the stage and have Kylo talk to him personally. He is *still* talking about that and remembers exactly what Kylo said to him.

3. Not all of the rides are cleaned between uses. In fact, I didn't see that being done very often. It would be pretty difficult to do that, especially as Disney staffers were stationed all around as you get closer to the ride, sending you to various different lines based on the size of your party and making sure each party had its own separate car. But the first moment it hit me was when we rode Tomorrowland Speedway (basically a bumper car without the bumping). I was not sure how I felt about the fact that we immediately got into a car and my 4-year-old was touching the same steering wheel someone else had just touched for a few minutes, and the person before them, and so on. But the nice thing is they also have hand sanitizer stations immediately off of each ride exit, so making sure he didn't touch his face for a few seconds until we reached one was not difficult.

4. Florida? It's hot. I realize that this is true even in pre-COVID times, but Orlando is basically 100 degrees more often than not from about May until . October? Maybe? The point here is that if you think it's hot normally, try adding a mask to that equation and being outside nearly all the time. I think we ate indoors more times at Disney than we had in the previous seven months combined, and that was in large part because we needed a break from the heat. The safer elements of Disney no longer felt quite as safe when we were indoors with a bunch of people who were removing their masks to eat and drink. But seriously, the heat is so oppressive. I felt like a rotisserie chicken.

Now, you should know that the restaurants are limited capacity anyway and the tables are pretty well spaced out, but we weren't the only ones looking to beat the heat. Basically, the process is that you get to a restaurant that's open (some are not, or have limited hours), scan a QR code on your phone to pull up the menu, place your order online and then you're allowed inside the restaurant to pick it up. You can either take your food and eat it outside or, if you can find a table, inside. But it can be a little crowded in the pick-up process, and tables weren't easy to come by. I am unaware of a way in which a family who didn't want to be indoors could avoid it while at Disney. But, to be fair, you have to wait for rides indoors as well.

Again, this is part of the COVID precautions, so you have to roll with it, but I wish that there'd been a few more shaded, cooled spots outside to eat and take a break. They do have relaxation stations where you're allowed to take off your mask and there's some shade, but when that Florida heat and humidity gets its talons into you, it's not letting go. They're not selling as much outdoor food because of COVID, including the famous drumsticks, because they don't want people walking and eating (thus taking off their masks). I understand that part, but it basically means that you either have to eat indoors (not ideal with COVID) or try to carve out a space for your family to sit and hope no one sits near you. I feel like eating while you walk is probably better than eating together indoors.

We had a stroller to save our little one's legs (and thank goodness, as he was constantly insisting that we pick him up even when we were in line for rides). There is stroller parking outside of the rides and that is . not regulated (except for signs that specify where you can and can't park strollers) or socially distanced. Many families return to their strollers to take a break or eat some food, and we found ourselves trying to navigate the closest thing to a crowd to retrieve our stroller. I did not love having to do that as a family was maskless and eating or drinking a foot or two away.

5. As safe as Disney itself is, you still have to drive or fly to get there. In our case, we drove, stopping as little as we could. But the gas station or restaurant stops were much more anxiety-inducing for us than any moment at Disney. My husband has actually flown recently (I have not flown since pre-COVID times) and said that, in hindsight, he would have rather flown than driven. Airports and at least some airlines are doing a lot more to actively prevent transmission (requiring masks, sanitizing frequently) than the average rest stop or gas station is doing. But doing either one of those activities isn't exactly ideal.

6. The most important con is, of course, that no situation is perfectly safe during this pandemic except staying at home. I compared Disney to the grocery store earlier. But obviously you have to go to the grocery store and no one ever HAS to go to Disney unless you work there. It's a luxury. And there is always the risk that you will either A. Contract the virus and remain asymptomatic and spread it in your community or B. Contract the virus and become very ill. I thought about this particularly when I saw older people with their grandchildren in the park.

But many of us have been in this extremely restricted world for going on seven months now. We're not entitled to things just because we want them, of course, and I would never advocate going to a concert or a bar based on what I know. I can only speak for my own family, but I have not held my nephew (who's now 16 months old) since March. I have not seen many of my friends in person for more than a few minutes at a distance. And my sacrifices pale in comparison to what I know many others are doing.

We're trying to keep things as fun for my son as we can, but we kept looking ahead and started to wonder, what was Halloween going to look like? This was going to be his first year trick-or-treating. What would CHRISTMAS look like? He's fortunate enough to have those holidays with his family, and we're all fortunate enough to have each other. But our hearts still hurt for our kid to not get to experience some of those things or have severely limited versions of them.

He had a great time. And so did we. It's the most fun we've had in months, and the most hopeful I've felt about what lies ahead as we attempt a return to normalcy when the last seven months have been anything but.


We braved Disney during COVID-19 here's what happened

Orlando, Fla. &mdash My family decided to brave Disney World during COVID-19.

I can't believe that is a sentence I just typed, seeing as when Disney World decided to reopen back in July, I watched crowds stream back in on the news through my fingers, mid-facepalm. Cases were spiking in Florida and elsewhere. I wondered to myself, what are these people DOING? Are they insane? What is Disney THINKING?

Well, it turns out, Disney has been doing A LOT of thinking.

To make a long backstory as short as possible, we had a family vacation to the beach fall through at the last minute. My 4-year-old son had been really looking forward to it, and just like most of you, we haven't been able to do much fun for him this summer. We were in scramble mode for an alternative. My husband turned to me jokingly and said, "Well hey, not like you'd ever agree to go to Disney, right?"

But at that moment? Fresh off of negative COVID-19 tests for the whole family and wanting to cushion the blow for my son, I thought well, I can at least consider it.

We happened to know a few people who have gone, and they all insisted it had been incredibly safe. But I think plenty of us have heard that sort of rhetoric during this pandemic, only to get to a particular place and see that human nature always wins. It's not easy or feasible to go around sanitizing frequently used surfaces or have staff members around just to enforce wearing masks and social distancing.

Disney didn't call itself the happiest place on earth by being just any other place though.

We found a good deal at the Swan and Dolphin, got a room at the Swan for a few nights, planned a pool day on Day 1 to help unwind after a long drive the day before and bought tickets for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the latter of which was walking distance from the hotel. And Saturday morning, just a day and a half after coming up with this plan, we headed down to Orlando around 6 a.m.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to Disney World myself since I was in my 20s. I am 37. But I have a lot of friends who've taken their kids (or gone as adults by themselves), and I have some awareness of how Disney works.

Rather than take you through the whole trip, I'll lay out some pros and cons of doing Disney during COVID-19. Obviously, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, it's probably not a good idea Disney says as much in its literature. There is one obvious con, of course, and I'll save it for last because it's worth acknowledging in more detail. But, of course, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, you probably shouldn't do this.

1. At least in our experience, everyone on Disney properties — hotels and the parks — were abiding by the rules. EVERY single person. I never saw a person without a mask unless they were taking a sip of a drink or eating something, either inside or outside. No one tried to cram on a hotel elevator with other groups. Even some solo guests would see me on an elevator and insist, "No, you go ahead and take this one and I'll get the next one."

The whole experience was like living in a weird COVID utopia. Not that those two words should ever go together, but it was a glimpse into a world that could exist as we try to get back to something resembling normality, incorporating elements of our pre-pandemic lives in a safe way with those safety measures never feeling intrusive or obstructive. THIS is what our new normal could look like, if we could all do the things recommended to us. I had to run to the grocery store when I got back home on Friday. I saw four or five people either not wearing a mask at all or wearing it beneath their noses. That was literally more people than I saw without a (correctly worn) mask in the entirety of our three-day stay combined.

The Swan and Dolphin has a great pool, and we spent an entire day there. The chairs were spaced out, and staff members walked around to make sure no one was breaking the rules. You couldn't wear masks in the pool, obviously, but there weren't all that many people by the pool anyway. Chairs were being sanitized between uses, and you weren't even allowed to reserve a chair by putting your stuff on it (no idea how they'd enforce that if an entire party were swimming, but hey). We've been to pools a few times before this trip and again, there were A. more people in a smaller space and B. fewer wearing masks. We didn't tell my son ahead of time where we were going, and he was so psyched to see the pool that he thought THAT was the surprise.

2. Wait times are significantly lower than normal, and that's probably an understatement. This all was especially evident during our trip to Magic Kingdom. We got there about 45 minutes before the park was technically supposed to open, but it usually opens up by about 8:30, and it did. The entrance process included a very quick temperature screening in a tent and that was basically it. They even had you go through the metal detectors with your bags on you, and our "ticket" was a card that you scan on a reader that doesn't require any contact. Quick and easy. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time to get in, and that's important to know.

Once inside, I was awestruck by the lack of other people around us. It was like having Disney to ourselves. We had done at least three or four rides before we had ANY wait time at all. There is no FastPass right now because it's not necessary. The longest wait time we saw listed for any ride was an hour on a ride that had been broken most of the day. (That was the only ride we wanted to do that we weren't able to do in either park, and it was Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.) At Magic Kingdom, I went back and counted: We got to hit 16 different rides or attractions. We went back later to ride the Haunted Mansion (which had been broken earlier) and grab dinner. But still. That's a lot to get to do in about seven total Disney hours, including meals.

This was Tomorrowland circa 10 a.m.:

There was not a single open ride or attraction that we wanted to do at either park that we weren't able to, except for the aforementioned broken ride. (Full disclosure: My son inherited my distrust of roller coasters, seemingly, and he refused to ride Slinky Dog Dash, among other things.)

Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, so naturally it was going to be a little bit more crowded. But we even made it into the final reserve group to go on the Rise of the Resistance and we did the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run ride three times because my kid loved it so much. Every Toy Story ride was ridden multiple times. The point is that we had plenty of time to do it, in large part because fewer people were at the park. It's a unique opportunity to use your time at Disney in a way that's more efficient than was possible before.

3. The folks at Disney have pulled out all of the stops to try to minimize the risk as much as possible. You have to reserve your spot at a park for a specific day ahead of time as they are limiting capacity, and you can't park-hop. There are hand sanitizer stations all around the park and at multiple points of a ride, both waiting in line and then after the ride. They give you a card to scan to enter the park. There are SEVERAL staffers all around enforcing both mask-wearing and social distancing, both at entrance and exit points and around the park itself. There were even staffers around the closed Frozen Singalong building, waiting for a passer-by to try to wander up so that they could explain that no, this is not open. And there are stickers at every possible point lines could form to enforce social distancing. There are even staff members that walk around sanitizing things that guests touch a lot — bathrooms of course, but also trash cans, railings, etc. Just to see that in action is reassuring.

4. You can get a pretty good deal if you decide to do what we did and wait until the last minute (not that I'd advise this!). Disney wants people to come back, and they know that they need to provide some encouragement to do so. Disney reportedly didn't get as many guests as expected upon its initial reopening, which is understandable. But they want to get people there.

5. You're less likely to get lost in the shuffle. When we were at Hollywood Studios, Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers came out on stage. He interacted with the crowd. There weren't that many people there (it was still early) and I coaxed him to go up to the stage.

Would that have happened under normal Disney circumstances? It might have. But if it had been more crowded, I would have been less likely to send my 4-year-old up to the stage alone. We had the freedom to do it because there weren't as many people. Every staff member and character we were able to interact with at all paid us a ton of attention. At a distance, of course.

6. Personal space is a wonderful thing, and you get a lot of that. Disney can be a claustrophobic experience during normal times, and it can feel that way even now. But at least you can wait in a line for a ride or for food along clear social distancing markers. Even just walking around the park, it's nice to not have to worry about navigating between hordes of people. There are still some indoor attractions that are open as well. But every 3D movie we saw was in a theater with limited capacity and sections of seats in each row blocked off:

1. It's just not going to be a regular Disney experience. You have to wear your mask at all times, including while on rides. (That part was surprisingly fine, but still.) Not everything is open. That's by necessity, of course, but if you were really looking forward to going to a Frozen singalong or seeing the Indiana Jones show, for instance, it's not going to happen. This even extends itself to food and some of the shops. You have to wait in a line at times just to get into some of the gift shops around the parks. And the parks all close earlier than they normally would, plus there are no fireworks at night. These are all things we have to live without, but if you want a fuller experience, you may be better off waiting.

2. You can't meet and greet the characters the way you normally can. We were careful not to tell our son that he could actually *meet* Mickey Mouse, because we knew that would not be possible. But we did tell him that we could say hello. He definitely did that. But you don't see the characters out and about nearly as frequently as you normally would. They would come through either in parades, flanked by multiple security guards to clear the way and make sure children didn't try to touch the mascots or on a stage, like Buzz Lightyear did.

But go back up to the pros — No. 5, to be exact — to see why that isn't the worst thing. In normal times, my 4-year-old was way likelier to get shoved out of the way when Kylo Ren came out than he was to get to wander up to the stage and have Kylo talk to him personally. He is *still* talking about that and remembers exactly what Kylo said to him.

3. Not all of the rides are cleaned between uses. In fact, I didn't see that being done very often. It would be pretty difficult to do that, especially as Disney staffers were stationed all around as you get closer to the ride, sending you to various different lines based on the size of your party and making sure each party had its own separate car. But the first moment it hit me was when we rode Tomorrowland Speedway (basically a bumper car without the bumping). I was not sure how I felt about the fact that we immediately got into a car and my 4-year-old was touching the same steering wheel someone else had just touched for a few minutes, and the person before them, and so on. But the nice thing is they also have hand sanitizer stations immediately off of each ride exit, so making sure he didn't touch his face for a few seconds until we reached one was not difficult.

4. Florida? It's hot. I realize that this is true even in pre-COVID times, but Orlando is basically 100 degrees more often than not from about May until . October? Maybe? The point here is that if you think it's hot normally, try adding a mask to that equation and being outside nearly all the time. I think we ate indoors more times at Disney than we had in the previous seven months combined, and that was in large part because we needed a break from the heat. The safer elements of Disney no longer felt quite as safe when we were indoors with a bunch of people who were removing their masks to eat and drink. But seriously, the heat is so oppressive. I felt like a rotisserie chicken.

Now, you should know that the restaurants are limited capacity anyway and the tables are pretty well spaced out, but we weren't the only ones looking to beat the heat. Basically, the process is that you get to a restaurant that's open (some are not, or have limited hours), scan a QR code on your phone to pull up the menu, place your order online and then you're allowed inside the restaurant to pick it up. You can either take your food and eat it outside or, if you can find a table, inside. But it can be a little crowded in the pick-up process, and tables weren't easy to come by. I am unaware of a way in which a family who didn't want to be indoors could avoid it while at Disney. But, to be fair, you have to wait for rides indoors as well.

Again, this is part of the COVID precautions, so you have to roll with it, but I wish that there'd been a few more shaded, cooled spots outside to eat and take a break. They do have relaxation stations where you're allowed to take off your mask and there's some shade, but when that Florida heat and humidity gets its talons into you, it's not letting go. They're not selling as much outdoor food because of COVID, including the famous drumsticks, because they don't want people walking and eating (thus taking off their masks). I understand that part, but it basically means that you either have to eat indoors (not ideal with COVID) or try to carve out a space for your family to sit and hope no one sits near you. I feel like eating while you walk is probably better than eating together indoors.

We had a stroller to save our little one's legs (and thank goodness, as he was constantly insisting that we pick him up even when we were in line for rides). There is stroller parking outside of the rides and that is . not regulated (except for signs that specify where you can and can't park strollers) or socially distanced. Many families return to their strollers to take a break or eat some food, and we found ourselves trying to navigate the closest thing to a crowd to retrieve our stroller. I did not love having to do that as a family was maskless and eating or drinking a foot or two away.

5. As safe as Disney itself is, you still have to drive or fly to get there. In our case, we drove, stopping as little as we could. But the gas station or restaurant stops were much more anxiety-inducing for us than any moment at Disney. My husband has actually flown recently (I have not flown since pre-COVID times) and said that, in hindsight, he would have rather flown than driven. Airports and at least some airlines are doing a lot more to actively prevent transmission (requiring masks, sanitizing frequently) than the average rest stop or gas station is doing. But doing either one of those activities isn't exactly ideal.

6. The most important con is, of course, that no situation is perfectly safe during this pandemic except staying at home. I compared Disney to the grocery store earlier. But obviously you have to go to the grocery store and no one ever HAS to go to Disney unless you work there. It's a luxury. And there is always the risk that you will either A. Contract the virus and remain asymptomatic and spread it in your community or B. Contract the virus and become very ill. I thought about this particularly when I saw older people with their grandchildren in the park.

But many of us have been in this extremely restricted world for going on seven months now. We're not entitled to things just because we want them, of course, and I would never advocate going to a concert or a bar based on what I know. I can only speak for my own family, but I have not held my nephew (who's now 16 months old) since March. I have not seen many of my friends in person for more than a few minutes at a distance. And my sacrifices pale in comparison to what I know many others are doing.

We're trying to keep things as fun for my son as we can, but we kept looking ahead and started to wonder, what was Halloween going to look like? This was going to be his first year trick-or-treating. What would CHRISTMAS look like? He's fortunate enough to have those holidays with his family, and we're all fortunate enough to have each other. But our hearts still hurt for our kid to not get to experience some of those things or have severely limited versions of them.

He had a great time. And so did we. It's the most fun we've had in months, and the most hopeful I've felt about what lies ahead as we attempt a return to normalcy when the last seven months have been anything but.


We braved Disney during COVID-19 here's what happened

Orlando, Fla. &mdash My family decided to brave Disney World during COVID-19.

I can't believe that is a sentence I just typed, seeing as when Disney World decided to reopen back in July, I watched crowds stream back in on the news through my fingers, mid-facepalm. Cases were spiking in Florida and elsewhere. I wondered to myself, what are these people DOING? Are they insane? What is Disney THINKING?

Well, it turns out, Disney has been doing A LOT of thinking.

To make a long backstory as short as possible, we had a family vacation to the beach fall through at the last minute. My 4-year-old son had been really looking forward to it, and just like most of you, we haven't been able to do much fun for him this summer. We were in scramble mode for an alternative. My husband turned to me jokingly and said, "Well hey, not like you'd ever agree to go to Disney, right?"

But at that moment? Fresh off of negative COVID-19 tests for the whole family and wanting to cushion the blow for my son, I thought well, I can at least consider it.

We happened to know a few people who have gone, and they all insisted it had been incredibly safe. But I think plenty of us have heard that sort of rhetoric during this pandemic, only to get to a particular place and see that human nature always wins. It's not easy or feasible to go around sanitizing frequently used surfaces or have staff members around just to enforce wearing masks and social distancing.

Disney didn't call itself the happiest place on earth by being just any other place though.

We found a good deal at the Swan and Dolphin, got a room at the Swan for a few nights, planned a pool day on Day 1 to help unwind after a long drive the day before and bought tickets for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the latter of which was walking distance from the hotel. And Saturday morning, just a day and a half after coming up with this plan, we headed down to Orlando around 6 a.m.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to Disney World myself since I was in my 20s. I am 37. But I have a lot of friends who've taken their kids (or gone as adults by themselves), and I have some awareness of how Disney works.

Rather than take you through the whole trip, I'll lay out some pros and cons of doing Disney during COVID-19. Obviously, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, it's probably not a good idea Disney says as much in its literature. There is one obvious con, of course, and I'll save it for last because it's worth acknowledging in more detail. But, of course, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, you probably shouldn't do this.

1. At least in our experience, everyone on Disney properties — hotels and the parks — were abiding by the rules. EVERY single person. I never saw a person without a mask unless they were taking a sip of a drink or eating something, either inside or outside. No one tried to cram on a hotel elevator with other groups. Even some solo guests would see me on an elevator and insist, "No, you go ahead and take this one and I'll get the next one."

The whole experience was like living in a weird COVID utopia. Not that those two words should ever go together, but it was a glimpse into a world that could exist as we try to get back to something resembling normality, incorporating elements of our pre-pandemic lives in a safe way with those safety measures never feeling intrusive or obstructive. THIS is what our new normal could look like, if we could all do the things recommended to us. I had to run to the grocery store when I got back home on Friday. I saw four or five people either not wearing a mask at all or wearing it beneath their noses. That was literally more people than I saw without a (correctly worn) mask in the entirety of our three-day stay combined.

The Swan and Dolphin has a great pool, and we spent an entire day there. The chairs were spaced out, and staff members walked around to make sure no one was breaking the rules. You couldn't wear masks in the pool, obviously, but there weren't all that many people by the pool anyway. Chairs were being sanitized between uses, and you weren't even allowed to reserve a chair by putting your stuff on it (no idea how they'd enforce that if an entire party were swimming, but hey). We've been to pools a few times before this trip and again, there were A. more people in a smaller space and B. fewer wearing masks. We didn't tell my son ahead of time where we were going, and he was so psyched to see the pool that he thought THAT was the surprise.

2. Wait times are significantly lower than normal, and that's probably an understatement. This all was especially evident during our trip to Magic Kingdom. We got there about 45 minutes before the park was technically supposed to open, but it usually opens up by about 8:30, and it did. The entrance process included a very quick temperature screening in a tent and that was basically it. They even had you go through the metal detectors with your bags on you, and our "ticket" was a card that you scan on a reader that doesn't require any contact. Quick and easy. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time to get in, and that's important to know.

Once inside, I was awestruck by the lack of other people around us. It was like having Disney to ourselves. We had done at least three or four rides before we had ANY wait time at all. There is no FastPass right now because it's not necessary. The longest wait time we saw listed for any ride was an hour on a ride that had been broken most of the day. (That was the only ride we wanted to do that we weren't able to do in either park, and it was Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.) At Magic Kingdom, I went back and counted: We got to hit 16 different rides or attractions. We went back later to ride the Haunted Mansion (which had been broken earlier) and grab dinner. But still. That's a lot to get to do in about seven total Disney hours, including meals.

This was Tomorrowland circa 10 a.m.:

There was not a single open ride or attraction that we wanted to do at either park that we weren't able to, except for the aforementioned broken ride. (Full disclosure: My son inherited my distrust of roller coasters, seemingly, and he refused to ride Slinky Dog Dash, among other things.)

Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, so naturally it was going to be a little bit more crowded. But we even made it into the final reserve group to go on the Rise of the Resistance and we did the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run ride three times because my kid loved it so much. Every Toy Story ride was ridden multiple times. The point is that we had plenty of time to do it, in large part because fewer people were at the park. It's a unique opportunity to use your time at Disney in a way that's more efficient than was possible before.

3. The folks at Disney have pulled out all of the stops to try to minimize the risk as much as possible. You have to reserve your spot at a park for a specific day ahead of time as they are limiting capacity, and you can't park-hop. There are hand sanitizer stations all around the park and at multiple points of a ride, both waiting in line and then after the ride. They give you a card to scan to enter the park. There are SEVERAL staffers all around enforcing both mask-wearing and social distancing, both at entrance and exit points and around the park itself. There were even staffers around the closed Frozen Singalong building, waiting for a passer-by to try to wander up so that they could explain that no, this is not open. And there are stickers at every possible point lines could form to enforce social distancing. There are even staff members that walk around sanitizing things that guests touch a lot — bathrooms of course, but also trash cans, railings, etc. Just to see that in action is reassuring.

4. You can get a pretty good deal if you decide to do what we did and wait until the last minute (not that I'd advise this!). Disney wants people to come back, and they know that they need to provide some encouragement to do so. Disney reportedly didn't get as many guests as expected upon its initial reopening, which is understandable. But they want to get people there.

5. You're less likely to get lost in the shuffle. When we were at Hollywood Studios, Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers came out on stage. He interacted with the crowd. There weren't that many people there (it was still early) and I coaxed him to go up to the stage.

Would that have happened under normal Disney circumstances? It might have. But if it had been more crowded, I would have been less likely to send my 4-year-old up to the stage alone. We had the freedom to do it because there weren't as many people. Every staff member and character we were able to interact with at all paid us a ton of attention. At a distance, of course.

6. Personal space is a wonderful thing, and you get a lot of that. Disney can be a claustrophobic experience during normal times, and it can feel that way even now. But at least you can wait in a line for a ride or for food along clear social distancing markers. Even just walking around the park, it's nice to not have to worry about navigating between hordes of people. There are still some indoor attractions that are open as well. But every 3D movie we saw was in a theater with limited capacity and sections of seats in each row blocked off:

1. It's just not going to be a regular Disney experience. You have to wear your mask at all times, including while on rides. (That part was surprisingly fine, but still.) Not everything is open. That's by necessity, of course, but if you were really looking forward to going to a Frozen singalong or seeing the Indiana Jones show, for instance, it's not going to happen. This even extends itself to food and some of the shops. You have to wait in a line at times just to get into some of the gift shops around the parks. And the parks all close earlier than they normally would, plus there are no fireworks at night. These are all things we have to live without, but if you want a fuller experience, you may be better off waiting.

2. You can't meet and greet the characters the way you normally can. We were careful not to tell our son that he could actually *meet* Mickey Mouse, because we knew that would not be possible. But we did tell him that we could say hello. He definitely did that. But you don't see the characters out and about nearly as frequently as you normally would. They would come through either in parades, flanked by multiple security guards to clear the way and make sure children didn't try to touch the mascots or on a stage, like Buzz Lightyear did.

But go back up to the pros — No. 5, to be exact — to see why that isn't the worst thing. In normal times, my 4-year-old was way likelier to get shoved out of the way when Kylo Ren came out than he was to get to wander up to the stage and have Kylo talk to him personally. He is *still* talking about that and remembers exactly what Kylo said to him.

3. Not all of the rides are cleaned between uses. In fact, I didn't see that being done very often. It would be pretty difficult to do that, especially as Disney staffers were stationed all around as you get closer to the ride, sending you to various different lines based on the size of your party and making sure each party had its own separate car. But the first moment it hit me was when we rode Tomorrowland Speedway (basically a bumper car without the bumping). I was not sure how I felt about the fact that we immediately got into a car and my 4-year-old was touching the same steering wheel someone else had just touched for a few minutes, and the person before them, and so on. But the nice thing is they also have hand sanitizer stations immediately off of each ride exit, so making sure he didn't touch his face for a few seconds until we reached one was not difficult.

4. Florida? It's hot. I realize that this is true even in pre-COVID times, but Orlando is basically 100 degrees more often than not from about May until . October? Maybe? The point here is that if you think it's hot normally, try adding a mask to that equation and being outside nearly all the time. I think we ate indoors more times at Disney than we had in the previous seven months combined, and that was in large part because we needed a break from the heat. The safer elements of Disney no longer felt quite as safe when we were indoors with a bunch of people who were removing their masks to eat and drink. But seriously, the heat is so oppressive. I felt like a rotisserie chicken.

Now, you should know that the restaurants are limited capacity anyway and the tables are pretty well spaced out, but we weren't the only ones looking to beat the heat. Basically, the process is that you get to a restaurant that's open (some are not, or have limited hours), scan a QR code on your phone to pull up the menu, place your order online and then you're allowed inside the restaurant to pick it up. You can either take your food and eat it outside or, if you can find a table, inside. But it can be a little crowded in the pick-up process, and tables weren't easy to come by. I am unaware of a way in which a family who didn't want to be indoors could avoid it while at Disney. But, to be fair, you have to wait for rides indoors as well.

Again, this is part of the COVID precautions, so you have to roll with it, but I wish that there'd been a few more shaded, cooled spots outside to eat and take a break. They do have relaxation stations where you're allowed to take off your mask and there's some shade, but when that Florida heat and humidity gets its talons into you, it's not letting go. They're not selling as much outdoor food because of COVID, including the famous drumsticks, because they don't want people walking and eating (thus taking off their masks). I understand that part, but it basically means that you either have to eat indoors (not ideal with COVID) or try to carve out a space for your family to sit and hope no one sits near you. I feel like eating while you walk is probably better than eating together indoors.

We had a stroller to save our little one's legs (and thank goodness, as he was constantly insisting that we pick him up even when we were in line for rides). There is stroller parking outside of the rides and that is . not regulated (except for signs that specify where you can and can't park strollers) or socially distanced. Many families return to their strollers to take a break or eat some food, and we found ourselves trying to navigate the closest thing to a crowd to retrieve our stroller. I did not love having to do that as a family was maskless and eating or drinking a foot or two away.

5. As safe as Disney itself is, you still have to drive or fly to get there. In our case, we drove, stopping as little as we could. But the gas station or restaurant stops were much more anxiety-inducing for us than any moment at Disney. My husband has actually flown recently (I have not flown since pre-COVID times) and said that, in hindsight, he would have rather flown than driven. Airports and at least some airlines are doing a lot more to actively prevent transmission (requiring masks, sanitizing frequently) than the average rest stop or gas station is doing. But doing either one of those activities isn't exactly ideal.

6. The most important con is, of course, that no situation is perfectly safe during this pandemic except staying at home. I compared Disney to the grocery store earlier. But obviously you have to go to the grocery store and no one ever HAS to go to Disney unless you work there. It's a luxury. And there is always the risk that you will either A. Contract the virus and remain asymptomatic and spread it in your community or B. Contract the virus and become very ill. I thought about this particularly when I saw older people with their grandchildren in the park.

But many of us have been in this extremely restricted world for going on seven months now. We're not entitled to things just because we want them, of course, and I would never advocate going to a concert or a bar based on what I know. I can only speak for my own family, but I have not held my nephew (who's now 16 months old) since March. I have not seen many of my friends in person for more than a few minutes at a distance. And my sacrifices pale in comparison to what I know many others are doing.

We're trying to keep things as fun for my son as we can, but we kept looking ahead and started to wonder, what was Halloween going to look like? This was going to be his first year trick-or-treating. What would CHRISTMAS look like? He's fortunate enough to have those holidays with his family, and we're all fortunate enough to have each other. But our hearts still hurt for our kid to not get to experience some of those things or have severely limited versions of them.

He had a great time. And so did we. It's the most fun we've had in months, and the most hopeful I've felt about what lies ahead as we attempt a return to normalcy when the last seven months have been anything but.


We braved Disney during COVID-19 here's what happened

Orlando, Fla. &mdash My family decided to brave Disney World during COVID-19.

I can't believe that is a sentence I just typed, seeing as when Disney World decided to reopen back in July, I watched crowds stream back in on the news through my fingers, mid-facepalm. Cases were spiking in Florida and elsewhere. I wondered to myself, what are these people DOING? Are they insane? What is Disney THINKING?

Well, it turns out, Disney has been doing A LOT of thinking.

To make a long backstory as short as possible, we had a family vacation to the beach fall through at the last minute. My 4-year-old son had been really looking forward to it, and just like most of you, we haven't been able to do much fun for him this summer. We were in scramble mode for an alternative. My husband turned to me jokingly and said, "Well hey, not like you'd ever agree to go to Disney, right?"

But at that moment? Fresh off of negative COVID-19 tests for the whole family and wanting to cushion the blow for my son, I thought well, I can at least consider it.

We happened to know a few people who have gone, and they all insisted it had been incredibly safe. But I think plenty of us have heard that sort of rhetoric during this pandemic, only to get to a particular place and see that human nature always wins. It's not easy or feasible to go around sanitizing frequently used surfaces or have staff members around just to enforce wearing masks and social distancing.

Disney didn't call itself the happiest place on earth by being just any other place though.

We found a good deal at the Swan and Dolphin, got a room at the Swan for a few nights, planned a pool day on Day 1 to help unwind after a long drive the day before and bought tickets for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the latter of which was walking distance from the hotel. And Saturday morning, just a day and a half after coming up with this plan, we headed down to Orlando around 6 a.m.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to Disney World myself since I was in my 20s. I am 37. But I have a lot of friends who've taken their kids (or gone as adults by themselves), and I have some awareness of how Disney works.

Rather than take you through the whole trip, I'll lay out some pros and cons of doing Disney during COVID-19. Obviously, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, it's probably not a good idea Disney says as much in its literature. There is one obvious con, of course, and I'll save it for last because it's worth acknowledging in more detail. But, of course, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, you probably shouldn't do this.

1. At least in our experience, everyone on Disney properties — hotels and the parks — were abiding by the rules. EVERY single person. I never saw a person without a mask unless they were taking a sip of a drink or eating something, either inside or outside. No one tried to cram on a hotel elevator with other groups. Even some solo guests would see me on an elevator and insist, "No, you go ahead and take this one and I'll get the next one."

The whole experience was like living in a weird COVID utopia. Not that those two words should ever go together, but it was a glimpse into a world that could exist as we try to get back to something resembling normality, incorporating elements of our pre-pandemic lives in a safe way with those safety measures never feeling intrusive or obstructive. THIS is what our new normal could look like, if we could all do the things recommended to us. I had to run to the grocery store when I got back home on Friday. I saw four or five people either not wearing a mask at all or wearing it beneath their noses. That was literally more people than I saw without a (correctly worn) mask in the entirety of our three-day stay combined.

The Swan and Dolphin has a great pool, and we spent an entire day there. The chairs were spaced out, and staff members walked around to make sure no one was breaking the rules. You couldn't wear masks in the pool, obviously, but there weren't all that many people by the pool anyway. Chairs were being sanitized between uses, and you weren't even allowed to reserve a chair by putting your stuff on it (no idea how they'd enforce that if an entire party were swimming, but hey). We've been to pools a few times before this trip and again, there were A. more people in a smaller space and B. fewer wearing masks. We didn't tell my son ahead of time where we were going, and he was so psyched to see the pool that he thought THAT was the surprise.

2. Wait times are significantly lower than normal, and that's probably an understatement. This all was especially evident during our trip to Magic Kingdom. We got there about 45 minutes before the park was technically supposed to open, but it usually opens up by about 8:30, and it did. The entrance process included a very quick temperature screening in a tent and that was basically it. They even had you go through the metal detectors with your bags on you, and our "ticket" was a card that you scan on a reader that doesn't require any contact. Quick and easy. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time to get in, and that's important to know.

Once inside, I was awestruck by the lack of other people around us. It was like having Disney to ourselves. We had done at least three or four rides before we had ANY wait time at all. There is no FastPass right now because it's not necessary. The longest wait time we saw listed for any ride was an hour on a ride that had been broken most of the day. (That was the only ride we wanted to do that we weren't able to do in either park, and it was Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.) At Magic Kingdom, I went back and counted: We got to hit 16 different rides or attractions. We went back later to ride the Haunted Mansion (which had been broken earlier) and grab dinner. But still. That's a lot to get to do in about seven total Disney hours, including meals.

This was Tomorrowland circa 10 a.m.:

There was not a single open ride or attraction that we wanted to do at either park that we weren't able to, except for the aforementioned broken ride. (Full disclosure: My son inherited my distrust of roller coasters, seemingly, and he refused to ride Slinky Dog Dash, among other things.)

Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, so naturally it was going to be a little bit more crowded. But we even made it into the final reserve group to go on the Rise of the Resistance and we did the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run ride three times because my kid loved it so much. Every Toy Story ride was ridden multiple times. The point is that we had plenty of time to do it, in large part because fewer people were at the park. It's a unique opportunity to use your time at Disney in a way that's more efficient than was possible before.

3. The folks at Disney have pulled out all of the stops to try to minimize the risk as much as possible. You have to reserve your spot at a park for a specific day ahead of time as they are limiting capacity, and you can't park-hop. There are hand sanitizer stations all around the park and at multiple points of a ride, both waiting in line and then after the ride. They give you a card to scan to enter the park. There are SEVERAL staffers all around enforcing both mask-wearing and social distancing, both at entrance and exit points and around the park itself. There were even staffers around the closed Frozen Singalong building, waiting for a passer-by to try to wander up so that they could explain that no, this is not open. And there are stickers at every possible point lines could form to enforce social distancing. There are even staff members that walk around sanitizing things that guests touch a lot — bathrooms of course, but also trash cans, railings, etc. Just to see that in action is reassuring.

4. You can get a pretty good deal if you decide to do what we did and wait until the last minute (not that I'd advise this!). Disney wants people to come back, and they know that they need to provide some encouragement to do so. Disney reportedly didn't get as many guests as expected upon its initial reopening, which is understandable. But they want to get people there.

5. You're less likely to get lost in the shuffle. When we were at Hollywood Studios, Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers came out on stage. He interacted with the crowd. There weren't that many people there (it was still early) and I coaxed him to go up to the stage.

Would that have happened under normal Disney circumstances? It might have. But if it had been more crowded, I would have been less likely to send my 4-year-old up to the stage alone. We had the freedom to do it because there weren't as many people. Every staff member and character we were able to interact with at all paid us a ton of attention. At a distance, of course.

6. Personal space is a wonderful thing, and you get a lot of that. Disney can be a claustrophobic experience during normal times, and it can feel that way even now. But at least you can wait in a line for a ride or for food along clear social distancing markers. Even just walking around the park, it's nice to not have to worry about navigating between hordes of people. There are still some indoor attractions that are open as well. But every 3D movie we saw was in a theater with limited capacity and sections of seats in each row blocked off:

1. It's just not going to be a regular Disney experience. You have to wear your mask at all times, including while on rides. (That part was surprisingly fine, but still.) Not everything is open. That's by necessity, of course, but if you were really looking forward to going to a Frozen singalong or seeing the Indiana Jones show, for instance, it's not going to happen. This even extends itself to food and some of the shops. You have to wait in a line at times just to get into some of the gift shops around the parks. And the parks all close earlier than they normally would, plus there are no fireworks at night. These are all things we have to live without, but if you want a fuller experience, you may be better off waiting.

2. You can't meet and greet the characters the way you normally can. We were careful not to tell our son that he could actually *meet* Mickey Mouse, because we knew that would not be possible. But we did tell him that we could say hello. He definitely did that. But you don't see the characters out and about nearly as frequently as you normally would. They would come through either in parades, flanked by multiple security guards to clear the way and make sure children didn't try to touch the mascots or on a stage, like Buzz Lightyear did.

But go back up to the pros — No. 5, to be exact — to see why that isn't the worst thing. In normal times, my 4-year-old was way likelier to get shoved out of the way when Kylo Ren came out than he was to get to wander up to the stage and have Kylo talk to him personally. He is *still* talking about that and remembers exactly what Kylo said to him.

3. Not all of the rides are cleaned between uses. In fact, I didn't see that being done very often. It would be pretty difficult to do that, especially as Disney staffers were stationed all around as you get closer to the ride, sending you to various different lines based on the size of your party and making sure each party had its own separate car. But the first moment it hit me was when we rode Tomorrowland Speedway (basically a bumper car without the bumping). I was not sure how I felt about the fact that we immediately got into a car and my 4-year-old was touching the same steering wheel someone else had just touched for a few minutes, and the person before them, and so on. But the nice thing is they also have hand sanitizer stations immediately off of each ride exit, so making sure he didn't touch his face for a few seconds until we reached one was not difficult.

4. Florida? It's hot. I realize that this is true even in pre-COVID times, but Orlando is basically 100 degrees more often than not from about May until . October? Maybe? The point here is that if you think it's hot normally, try adding a mask to that equation and being outside nearly all the time. I think we ate indoors more times at Disney than we had in the previous seven months combined, and that was in large part because we needed a break from the heat. The safer elements of Disney no longer felt quite as safe when we were indoors with a bunch of people who were removing their masks to eat and drink. But seriously, the heat is so oppressive. I felt like a rotisserie chicken.

Now, you should know that the restaurants are limited capacity anyway and the tables are pretty well spaced out, but we weren't the only ones looking to beat the heat. Basically, the process is that you get to a restaurant that's open (some are not, or have limited hours), scan a QR code on your phone to pull up the menu, place your order online and then you're allowed inside the restaurant to pick it up. You can either take your food and eat it outside or, if you can find a table, inside. But it can be a little crowded in the pick-up process, and tables weren't easy to come by. I am unaware of a way in which a family who didn't want to be indoors could avoid it while at Disney. But, to be fair, you have to wait for rides indoors as well.

Again, this is part of the COVID precautions, so you have to roll with it, but I wish that there'd been a few more shaded, cooled spots outside to eat and take a break. They do have relaxation stations where you're allowed to take off your mask and there's some shade, but when that Florida heat and humidity gets its talons into you, it's not letting go. They're not selling as much outdoor food because of COVID, including the famous drumsticks, because they don't want people walking and eating (thus taking off their masks). I understand that part, but it basically means that you either have to eat indoors (not ideal with COVID) or try to carve out a space for your family to sit and hope no one sits near you. I feel like eating while you walk is probably better than eating together indoors.

We had a stroller to save our little one's legs (and thank goodness, as he was constantly insisting that we pick him up even when we were in line for rides). There is stroller parking outside of the rides and that is . not regulated (except for signs that specify where you can and can't park strollers) or socially distanced. Many families return to their strollers to take a break or eat some food, and we found ourselves trying to navigate the closest thing to a crowd to retrieve our stroller. I did not love having to do that as a family was maskless and eating or drinking a foot or two away.

5. As safe as Disney itself is, you still have to drive or fly to get there. In our case, we drove, stopping as little as we could. But the gas station or restaurant stops were much more anxiety-inducing for us than any moment at Disney. My husband has actually flown recently (I have not flown since pre-COVID times) and said that, in hindsight, he would have rather flown than driven. Airports and at least some airlines are doing a lot more to actively prevent transmission (requiring masks, sanitizing frequently) than the average rest stop or gas station is doing. But doing either one of those activities isn't exactly ideal.

6. The most important con is, of course, that no situation is perfectly safe during this pandemic except staying at home. I compared Disney to the grocery store earlier. But obviously you have to go to the grocery store and no one ever HAS to go to Disney unless you work there. It's a luxury. And there is always the risk that you will either A. Contract the virus and remain asymptomatic and spread it in your community or B. Contract the virus and become very ill. I thought about this particularly when I saw older people with their grandchildren in the park.

But many of us have been in this extremely restricted world for going on seven months now. We're not entitled to things just because we want them, of course, and I would never advocate going to a concert or a bar based on what I know. I can only speak for my own family, but I have not held my nephew (who's now 16 months old) since March. I have not seen many of my friends in person for more than a few minutes at a distance. And my sacrifices pale in comparison to what I know many others are doing.

We're trying to keep things as fun for my son as we can, but we kept looking ahead and started to wonder, what was Halloween going to look like? This was going to be his first year trick-or-treating. What would CHRISTMAS look like? He's fortunate enough to have those holidays with his family, and we're all fortunate enough to have each other. But our hearts still hurt for our kid to not get to experience some of those things or have severely limited versions of them.

He had a great time. And so did we. It's the most fun we've had in months, and the most hopeful I've felt about what lies ahead as we attempt a return to normalcy when the last seven months have been anything but.


We braved Disney during COVID-19 here's what happened

Orlando, Fla. &mdash My family decided to brave Disney World during COVID-19.

I can't believe that is a sentence I just typed, seeing as when Disney World decided to reopen back in July, I watched crowds stream back in on the news through my fingers, mid-facepalm. Cases were spiking in Florida and elsewhere. I wondered to myself, what are these people DOING? Are they insane? What is Disney THINKING?

Well, it turns out, Disney has been doing A LOT of thinking.

To make a long backstory as short as possible, we had a family vacation to the beach fall through at the last minute. My 4-year-old son had been really looking forward to it, and just like most of you, we haven't been able to do much fun for him this summer. We were in scramble mode for an alternative. My husband turned to me jokingly and said, "Well hey, not like you'd ever agree to go to Disney, right?"

But at that moment? Fresh off of negative COVID-19 tests for the whole family and wanting to cushion the blow for my son, I thought well, I can at least consider it.

We happened to know a few people who have gone, and they all insisted it had been incredibly safe. But I think plenty of us have heard that sort of rhetoric during this pandemic, only to get to a particular place and see that human nature always wins. It's not easy or feasible to go around sanitizing frequently used surfaces or have staff members around just to enforce wearing masks and social distancing.

Disney didn't call itself the happiest place on earth by being just any other place though.

We found a good deal at the Swan and Dolphin, got a room at the Swan for a few nights, planned a pool day on Day 1 to help unwind after a long drive the day before and bought tickets for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the latter of which was walking distance from the hotel. And Saturday morning, just a day and a half after coming up with this plan, we headed down to Orlando around 6 a.m.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to Disney World myself since I was in my 20s. I am 37. But I have a lot of friends who've taken their kids (or gone as adults by themselves), and I have some awareness of how Disney works.

Rather than take you through the whole trip, I'll lay out some pros and cons of doing Disney during COVID-19. Obviously, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, it's probably not a good idea Disney says as much in its literature. There is one obvious con, of course, and I'll save it for last because it's worth acknowledging in more detail. But, of course, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, you probably shouldn't do this.

1. At least in our experience, everyone on Disney properties — hotels and the parks — were abiding by the rules. EVERY single person. I never saw a person without a mask unless they were taking a sip of a drink or eating something, either inside or outside. No one tried to cram on a hotel elevator with other groups. Even some solo guests would see me on an elevator and insist, "No, you go ahead and take this one and I'll get the next one."

The whole experience was like living in a weird COVID utopia. Not that those two words should ever go together, but it was a glimpse into a world that could exist as we try to get back to something resembling normality, incorporating elements of our pre-pandemic lives in a safe way with those safety measures never feeling intrusive or obstructive. THIS is what our new normal could look like, if we could all do the things recommended to us. I had to run to the grocery store when I got back home on Friday. I saw four or five people either not wearing a mask at all or wearing it beneath their noses. That was literally more people than I saw without a (correctly worn) mask in the entirety of our three-day stay combined.

The Swan and Dolphin has a great pool, and we spent an entire day there. The chairs were spaced out, and staff members walked around to make sure no one was breaking the rules. You couldn't wear masks in the pool, obviously, but there weren't all that many people by the pool anyway. Chairs were being sanitized between uses, and you weren't even allowed to reserve a chair by putting your stuff on it (no idea how they'd enforce that if an entire party were swimming, but hey). We've been to pools a few times before this trip and again, there were A. more people in a smaller space and B. fewer wearing masks. We didn't tell my son ahead of time where we were going, and he was so psyched to see the pool that he thought THAT was the surprise.

2. Wait times are significantly lower than normal, and that's probably an understatement. This all was especially evident during our trip to Magic Kingdom. We got there about 45 minutes before the park was technically supposed to open, but it usually opens up by about 8:30, and it did. The entrance process included a very quick temperature screening in a tent and that was basically it. They even had you go through the metal detectors with your bags on you, and our "ticket" was a card that you scan on a reader that doesn't require any contact. Quick and easy. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time to get in, and that's important to know.

Once inside, I was awestruck by the lack of other people around us. It was like having Disney to ourselves. We had done at least three or four rides before we had ANY wait time at all. There is no FastPass right now because it's not necessary. The longest wait time we saw listed for any ride was an hour on a ride that had been broken most of the day. (That was the only ride we wanted to do that we weren't able to do in either park, and it was Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.) At Magic Kingdom, I went back and counted: We got to hit 16 different rides or attractions. We went back later to ride the Haunted Mansion (which had been broken earlier) and grab dinner. But still. That's a lot to get to do in about seven total Disney hours, including meals.

This was Tomorrowland circa 10 a.m.:

There was not a single open ride or attraction that we wanted to do at either park that we weren't able to, except for the aforementioned broken ride. (Full disclosure: My son inherited my distrust of roller coasters, seemingly, and he refused to ride Slinky Dog Dash, among other things.)

Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, so naturally it was going to be a little bit more crowded. But we even made it into the final reserve group to go on the Rise of the Resistance and we did the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run ride three times because my kid loved it so much. Every Toy Story ride was ridden multiple times. The point is that we had plenty of time to do it, in large part because fewer people were at the park. It's a unique opportunity to use your time at Disney in a way that's more efficient than was possible before.

3. The folks at Disney have pulled out all of the stops to try to minimize the risk as much as possible. You have to reserve your spot at a park for a specific day ahead of time as they are limiting capacity, and you can't park-hop. There are hand sanitizer stations all around the park and at multiple points of a ride, both waiting in line and then after the ride. They give you a card to scan to enter the park. There are SEVERAL staffers all around enforcing both mask-wearing and social distancing, both at entrance and exit points and around the park itself. There were even staffers around the closed Frozen Singalong building, waiting for a passer-by to try to wander up so that they could explain that no, this is not open. And there are stickers at every possible point lines could form to enforce social distancing. There are even staff members that walk around sanitizing things that guests touch a lot — bathrooms of course, but also trash cans, railings, etc. Just to see that in action is reassuring.

4. You can get a pretty good deal if you decide to do what we did and wait until the last minute (not that I'd advise this!). Disney wants people to come back, and they know that they need to provide some encouragement to do so. Disney reportedly didn't get as many guests as expected upon its initial reopening, which is understandable. But they want to get people there.

5. You're less likely to get lost in the shuffle. When we were at Hollywood Studios, Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers came out on stage. He interacted with the crowd. There weren't that many people there (it was still early) and I coaxed him to go up to the stage.

Would that have happened under normal Disney circumstances? It might have. But if it had been more crowded, I would have been less likely to send my 4-year-old up to the stage alone. We had the freedom to do it because there weren't as many people. Every staff member and character we were able to interact with at all paid us a ton of attention. At a distance, of course.

6. Personal space is a wonderful thing, and you get a lot of that. Disney can be a claustrophobic experience during normal times, and it can feel that way even now. But at least you can wait in a line for a ride or for food along clear social distancing markers. Even just walking around the park, it's nice to not have to worry about navigating between hordes of people. There are still some indoor attractions that are open as well. But every 3D movie we saw was in a theater with limited capacity and sections of seats in each row blocked off:

1. It's just not going to be a regular Disney experience. You have to wear your mask at all times, including while on rides. (That part was surprisingly fine, but still.) Not everything is open. That's by necessity, of course, but if you were really looking forward to going to a Frozen singalong or seeing the Indiana Jones show, for instance, it's not going to happen. This even extends itself to food and some of the shops. You have to wait in a line at times just to get into some of the gift shops around the parks. And the parks all close earlier than they normally would, plus there are no fireworks at night. These are all things we have to live without, but if you want a fuller experience, you may be better off waiting.

2. You can't meet and greet the characters the way you normally can. We were careful not to tell our son that he could actually *meet* Mickey Mouse, because we knew that would not be possible. But we did tell him that we could say hello. He definitely did that. But you don't see the characters out and about nearly as frequently as you normally would. They would come through either in parades, flanked by multiple security guards to clear the way and make sure children didn't try to touch the mascots or on a stage, like Buzz Lightyear did.

But go back up to the pros — No. 5, to be exact — to see why that isn't the worst thing. In normal times, my 4-year-old was way likelier to get shoved out of the way when Kylo Ren came out than he was to get to wander up to the stage and have Kylo talk to him personally. He is *still* talking about that and remembers exactly what Kylo said to him.

3. Not all of the rides are cleaned between uses. In fact, I didn't see that being done very often. It would be pretty difficult to do that, especially as Disney staffers were stationed all around as you get closer to the ride, sending you to various different lines based on the size of your party and making sure each party had its own separate car. But the first moment it hit me was when we rode Tomorrowland Speedway (basically a bumper car without the bumping). I was not sure how I felt about the fact that we immediately got into a car and my 4-year-old was touching the same steering wheel someone else had just touched for a few minutes, and the person before them, and so on. But the nice thing is they also have hand sanitizer stations immediately off of each ride exit, so making sure he didn't touch his face for a few seconds until we reached one was not difficult.

4. Florida? It's hot. I realize that this is true even in pre-COVID times, but Orlando is basically 100 degrees more often than not from about May until . October? Maybe? The point here is that if you think it's hot normally, try adding a mask to that equation and being outside nearly all the time. I think we ate indoors more times at Disney than we had in the previous seven months combined, and that was in large part because we needed a break from the heat. The safer elements of Disney no longer felt quite as safe when we were indoors with a bunch of people who were removing their masks to eat and drink. But seriously, the heat is so oppressive. I felt like a rotisserie chicken.

Now, you should know that the restaurants are limited capacity anyway and the tables are pretty well spaced out, but we weren't the only ones looking to beat the heat. Basically, the process is that you get to a restaurant that's open (some are not, or have limited hours), scan a QR code on your phone to pull up the menu, place your order online and then you're allowed inside the restaurant to pick it up. You can either take your food and eat it outside or, if you can find a table, inside. But it can be a little crowded in the pick-up process, and tables weren't easy to come by. I am unaware of a way in which a family who didn't want to be indoors could avoid it while at Disney. But, to be fair, you have to wait for rides indoors as well.

Again, this is part of the COVID precautions, so you have to roll with it, but I wish that there'd been a few more shaded, cooled spots outside to eat and take a break. They do have relaxation stations where you're allowed to take off your mask and there's some shade, but when that Florida heat and humidity gets its talons into you, it's not letting go. They're not selling as much outdoor food because of COVID, including the famous drumsticks, because they don't want people walking and eating (thus taking off their masks). I understand that part, but it basically means that you either have to eat indoors (not ideal with COVID) or try to carve out a space for your family to sit and hope no one sits near you. I feel like eating while you walk is probably better than eating together indoors.

We had a stroller to save our little one's legs (and thank goodness, as he was constantly insisting that we pick him up even when we were in line for rides). There is stroller parking outside of the rides and that is . not regulated (except for signs that specify where you can and can't park strollers) or socially distanced. Many families return to their strollers to take a break or eat some food, and we found ourselves trying to navigate the closest thing to a crowd to retrieve our stroller. I did not love having to do that as a family was maskless and eating or drinking a foot or two away.

5. As safe as Disney itself is, you still have to drive or fly to get there. In our case, we drove, stopping as little as we could. But the gas station or restaurant stops were much more anxiety-inducing for us than any moment at Disney. My husband has actually flown recently (I have not flown since pre-COVID times) and said that, in hindsight, he would have rather flown than driven. Airports and at least some airlines are doing a lot more to actively prevent transmission (requiring masks, sanitizing frequently) than the average rest stop or gas station is doing. But doing either one of those activities isn't exactly ideal.

6. The most important con is, of course, that no situation is perfectly safe during this pandemic except staying at home. I compared Disney to the grocery store earlier. But obviously you have to go to the grocery store and no one ever HAS to go to Disney unless you work there. It's a luxury. And there is always the risk that you will either A. Contract the virus and remain asymptomatic and spread it in your community or B. Contract the virus and become very ill. I thought about this particularly when I saw older people with their grandchildren in the park.

But many of us have been in this extremely restricted world for going on seven months now. We're not entitled to things just because we want them, of course, and I would never advocate going to a concert or a bar based on what I know. I can only speak for my own family, but I have not held my nephew (who's now 16 months old) since March. I have not seen many of my friends in person for more than a few minutes at a distance. And my sacrifices pale in comparison to what I know many others are doing.

We're trying to keep things as fun for my son as we can, but we kept looking ahead and started to wonder, what was Halloween going to look like? This was going to be his first year trick-or-treating. What would CHRISTMAS look like? He's fortunate enough to have those holidays with his family, and we're all fortunate enough to have each other. But our hearts still hurt for our kid to not get to experience some of those things or have severely limited versions of them.

He had a great time. And so did we. It's the most fun we've had in months, and the most hopeful I've felt about what lies ahead as we attempt a return to normalcy when the last seven months have been anything but.


We braved Disney during COVID-19 here's what happened

Orlando, Fla. &mdash My family decided to brave Disney World during COVID-19.

I can't believe that is a sentence I just typed, seeing as when Disney World decided to reopen back in July, I watched crowds stream back in on the news through my fingers, mid-facepalm. Cases were spiking in Florida and elsewhere. I wondered to myself, what are these people DOING? Are they insane? What is Disney THINKING?

Well, it turns out, Disney has been doing A LOT of thinking.

To make a long backstory as short as possible, we had a family vacation to the beach fall through at the last minute. My 4-year-old son had been really looking forward to it, and just like most of you, we haven't been able to do much fun for him this summer. We were in scramble mode for an alternative. My husband turned to me jokingly and said, "Well hey, not like you'd ever agree to go to Disney, right?"

But at that moment? Fresh off of negative COVID-19 tests for the whole family and wanting to cushion the blow for my son, I thought well, I can at least consider it.

We happened to know a few people who have gone, and they all insisted it had been incredibly safe. But I think plenty of us have heard that sort of rhetoric during this pandemic, only to get to a particular place and see that human nature always wins. It's not easy or feasible to go around sanitizing frequently used surfaces or have staff members around just to enforce wearing masks and social distancing.

Disney didn't call itself the happiest place on earth by being just any other place though.

We found a good deal at the Swan and Dolphin, got a room at the Swan for a few nights, planned a pool day on Day 1 to help unwind after a long drive the day before and bought tickets for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the latter of which was walking distance from the hotel. And Saturday morning, just a day and a half after coming up with this plan, we headed down to Orlando around 6 a.m.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to Disney World myself since I was in my 20s. I am 37. But I have a lot of friends who've taken their kids (or gone as adults by themselves), and I have some awareness of how Disney works.

Rather than take you through the whole trip, I'll lay out some pros and cons of doing Disney during COVID-19. Obviously, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, it's probably not a good idea Disney says as much in its literature. There is one obvious con, of course, and I'll save it for last because it's worth acknowledging in more detail. But, of course, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, you probably shouldn't do this.

1. At least in our experience, everyone on Disney properties — hotels and the parks — were abiding by the rules. EVERY single person. I never saw a person without a mask unless they were taking a sip of a drink or eating something, either inside or outside. No one tried to cram on a hotel elevator with other groups. Even some solo guests would see me on an elevator and insist, "No, you go ahead and take this one and I'll get the next one."

The whole experience was like living in a weird COVID utopia. Not that those two words should ever go together, but it was a glimpse into a world that could exist as we try to get back to something resembling normality, incorporating elements of our pre-pandemic lives in a safe way with those safety measures never feeling intrusive or obstructive. THIS is what our new normal could look like, if we could all do the things recommended to us. I had to run to the grocery store when I got back home on Friday. I saw four or five people either not wearing a mask at all or wearing it beneath their noses. That was literally more people than I saw without a (correctly worn) mask in the entirety of our three-day stay combined.

The Swan and Dolphin has a great pool, and we spent an entire day there. The chairs were spaced out, and staff members walked around to make sure no one was breaking the rules. You couldn't wear masks in the pool, obviously, but there weren't all that many people by the pool anyway. Chairs were being sanitized between uses, and you weren't even allowed to reserve a chair by putting your stuff on it (no idea how they'd enforce that if an entire party were swimming, but hey). We've been to pools a few times before this trip and again, there were A. more people in a smaller space and B. fewer wearing masks. We didn't tell my son ahead of time where we were going, and he was so psyched to see the pool that he thought THAT was the surprise.

2. Wait times are significantly lower than normal, and that's probably an understatement. This all was especially evident during our trip to Magic Kingdom. We got there about 45 minutes before the park was technically supposed to open, but it usually opens up by about 8:30, and it did. The entrance process included a very quick temperature screening in a tent and that was basically it. They even had you go through the metal detectors with your bags on you, and our "ticket" was a card that you scan on a reader that doesn't require any contact. Quick and easy. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time to get in, and that's important to know.

Once inside, I was awestruck by the lack of other people around us. It was like having Disney to ourselves. We had done at least three or four rides before we had ANY wait time at all. There is no FastPass right now because it's not necessary. The longest wait time we saw listed for any ride was an hour on a ride that had been broken most of the day. (That was the only ride we wanted to do that we weren't able to do in either park, and it was Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.) At Magic Kingdom, I went back and counted: We got to hit 16 different rides or attractions. We went back later to ride the Haunted Mansion (which had been broken earlier) and grab dinner. But still. That's a lot to get to do in about seven total Disney hours, including meals.

This was Tomorrowland circa 10 a.m.:

There was not a single open ride or attraction that we wanted to do at either park that we weren't able to, except for the aforementioned broken ride. (Full disclosure: My son inherited my distrust of roller coasters, seemingly, and he refused to ride Slinky Dog Dash, among other things.)

Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, so naturally it was going to be a little bit more crowded. But we even made it into the final reserve group to go on the Rise of the Resistance and we did the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run ride three times because my kid loved it so much. Every Toy Story ride was ridden multiple times. The point is that we had plenty of time to do it, in large part because fewer people were at the park. It's a unique opportunity to use your time at Disney in a way that's more efficient than was possible before.

3. The folks at Disney have pulled out all of the stops to try to minimize the risk as much as possible. You have to reserve your spot at a park for a specific day ahead of time as they are limiting capacity, and you can't park-hop. There are hand sanitizer stations all around the park and at multiple points of a ride, both waiting in line and then after the ride. They give you a card to scan to enter the park. There are SEVERAL staffers all around enforcing both mask-wearing and social distancing, both at entrance and exit points and around the park itself. There were even staffers around the closed Frozen Singalong building, waiting for a passer-by to try to wander up so that they could explain that no, this is not open. And there are stickers at every possible point lines could form to enforce social distancing. There are even staff members that walk around sanitizing things that guests touch a lot — bathrooms of course, but also trash cans, railings, etc. Just to see that in action is reassuring.

4. You can get a pretty good deal if you decide to do what we did and wait until the last minute (not that I'd advise this!). Disney wants people to come back, and they know that they need to provide some encouragement to do so. Disney reportedly didn't get as many guests as expected upon its initial reopening, which is understandable. But they want to get people there.

5. You're less likely to get lost in the shuffle. When we were at Hollywood Studios, Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers came out on stage. He interacted with the crowd. There weren't that many people there (it was still early) and I coaxed him to go up to the stage.

Would that have happened under normal Disney circumstances? It might have. But if it had been more crowded, I would have been less likely to send my 4-year-old up to the stage alone. We had the freedom to do it because there weren't as many people. Every staff member and character we were able to interact with at all paid us a ton of attention. At a distance, of course.

6. Personal space is a wonderful thing, and you get a lot of that. Disney can be a claustrophobic experience during normal times, and it can feel that way even now. But at least you can wait in a line for a ride or for food along clear social distancing markers. Even just walking around the park, it's nice to not have to worry about navigating between hordes of people. There are still some indoor attractions that are open as well. But every 3D movie we saw was in a theater with limited capacity and sections of seats in each row blocked off:

1. It's just not going to be a regular Disney experience. You have to wear your mask at all times, including while on rides. (That part was surprisingly fine, but still.) Not everything is open. That's by necessity, of course, but if you were really looking forward to going to a Frozen singalong or seeing the Indiana Jones show, for instance, it's not going to happen. This even extends itself to food and some of the shops. You have to wait in a line at times just to get into some of the gift shops around the parks. And the parks all close earlier than they normally would, plus there are no fireworks at night. These are all things we have to live without, but if you want a fuller experience, you may be better off waiting.

2. You can't meet and greet the characters the way you normally can. We were careful not to tell our son that he could actually *meet* Mickey Mouse, because we knew that would not be possible. But we did tell him that we could say hello. He definitely did that. But you don't see the characters out and about nearly as frequently as you normally would. They would come through either in parades, flanked by multiple security guards to clear the way and make sure children didn't try to touch the mascots or on a stage, like Buzz Lightyear did.

But go back up to the pros — No. 5, to be exact — to see why that isn't the worst thing. In normal times, my 4-year-old was way likelier to get shoved out of the way when Kylo Ren came out than he was to get to wander up to the stage and have Kylo talk to him personally. He is *still* talking about that and remembers exactly what Kylo said to him.

3. Not all of the rides are cleaned between uses. In fact, I didn't see that being done very often. It would be pretty difficult to do that, especially as Disney staffers were stationed all around as you get closer to the ride, sending you to various different lines based on the size of your party and making sure each party had its own separate car. But the first moment it hit me was when we rode Tomorrowland Speedway (basically a bumper car without the bumping). I was not sure how I felt about the fact that we immediately got into a car and my 4-year-old was touching the same steering wheel someone else had just touched for a few minutes, and the person before them, and so on. But the nice thing is they also have hand sanitizer stations immediately off of each ride exit, so making sure he didn't touch his face for a few seconds until we reached one was not difficult.

4. Florida? It's hot. I realize that this is true even in pre-COVID times, but Orlando is basically 100 degrees more often than not from about May until . October? Maybe? The point here is that if you think it's hot normally, try adding a mask to that equation and being outside nearly all the time. I think we ate indoors more times at Disney than we had in the previous seven months combined, and that was in large part because we needed a break from the heat. The safer elements of Disney no longer felt quite as safe when we were indoors with a bunch of people who were removing their masks to eat and drink. But seriously, the heat is so oppressive. I felt like a rotisserie chicken.

Now, you should know that the restaurants are limited capacity anyway and the tables are pretty well spaced out, but we weren't the only ones looking to beat the heat. Basically, the process is that you get to a restaurant that's open (some are not, or have limited hours), scan a QR code on your phone to pull up the menu, place your order online and then you're allowed inside the restaurant to pick it up. You can either take your food and eat it outside or, if you can find a table, inside. But it can be a little crowded in the pick-up process, and tables weren't easy to come by. I am unaware of a way in which a family who didn't want to be indoors could avoid it while at Disney. But, to be fair, you have to wait for rides indoors as well.

Again, this is part of the COVID precautions, so you have to roll with it, but I wish that there'd been a few more shaded, cooled spots outside to eat and take a break. They do have relaxation stations where you're allowed to take off your mask and there's some shade, but when that Florida heat and humidity gets its talons into you, it's not letting go. They're not selling as much outdoor food because of COVID, including the famous drumsticks, because they don't want people walking and eating (thus taking off their masks). I understand that part, but it basically means that you either have to eat indoors (not ideal with COVID) or try to carve out a space for your family to sit and hope no one sits near you. I feel like eating while you walk is probably better than eating together indoors.

We had a stroller to save our little one's legs (and thank goodness, as he was constantly insisting that we pick him up even when we were in line for rides). There is stroller parking outside of the rides and that is . not regulated (except for signs that specify where you can and can't park strollers) or socially distanced. Many families return to their strollers to take a break or eat some food, and we found ourselves trying to navigate the closest thing to a crowd to retrieve our stroller. I did not love having to do that as a family was maskless and eating or drinking a foot or two away.

5. As safe as Disney itself is, you still have to drive or fly to get there. In our case, we drove, stopping as little as we could. But the gas station or restaurant stops were much more anxiety-inducing for us than any moment at Disney. My husband has actually flown recently (I have not flown since pre-COVID times) and said that, in hindsight, he would have rather flown than driven. Airports and at least some airlines are doing a lot more to actively prevent transmission (requiring masks, sanitizing frequently) than the average rest stop or gas station is doing. But doing either one of those activities isn't exactly ideal.

6. The most important con is, of course, that no situation is perfectly safe during this pandemic except staying at home. I compared Disney to the grocery store earlier. But obviously you have to go to the grocery store and no one ever HAS to go to Disney unless you work there. It's a luxury. And there is always the risk that you will either A. Contract the virus and remain asymptomatic and spread it in your community or B. Contract the virus and become very ill. I thought about this particularly when I saw older people with their grandchildren in the park.

But many of us have been in this extremely restricted world for going on seven months now. We're not entitled to things just because we want them, of course, and I would never advocate going to a concert or a bar based on what I know. I can only speak for my own family, but I have not held my nephew (who's now 16 months old) since March. I have not seen many of my friends in person for more than a few minutes at a distance. And my sacrifices pale in comparison to what I know many others are doing.

We're trying to keep things as fun for my son as we can, but we kept looking ahead and started to wonder, what was Halloween going to look like? This was going to be his first year trick-or-treating. What would CHRISTMAS look like? He's fortunate enough to have those holidays with his family, and we're all fortunate enough to have each other. But our hearts still hurt for our kid to not get to experience some of those things or have severely limited versions of them.

He had a great time. And so did we. It's the most fun we've had in months, and the most hopeful I've felt about what lies ahead as we attempt a return to normalcy when the last seven months have been anything but.


We braved Disney during COVID-19 here's what happened

Orlando, Fla. &mdash My family decided to brave Disney World during COVID-19.

I can't believe that is a sentence I just typed, seeing as when Disney World decided to reopen back in July, I watched crowds stream back in on the news through my fingers, mid-facepalm. Cases were spiking in Florida and elsewhere. I wondered to myself, what are these people DOING? Are they insane? What is Disney THINKING?

Well, it turns out, Disney has been doing A LOT of thinking.

To make a long backstory as short as possible, we had a family vacation to the beach fall through at the last minute. My 4-year-old son had been really looking forward to it, and just like most of you, we haven't been able to do much fun for him this summer. We were in scramble mode for an alternative. My husband turned to me jokingly and said, "Well hey, not like you'd ever agree to go to Disney, right?"

But at that moment? Fresh off of negative COVID-19 tests for the whole family and wanting to cushion the blow for my son, I thought well, I can at least consider it.

We happened to know a few people who have gone, and they all insisted it had been incredibly safe. But I think plenty of us have heard that sort of rhetoric during this pandemic, only to get to a particular place and see that human nature always wins. It's not easy or feasible to go around sanitizing frequently used surfaces or have staff members around just to enforce wearing masks and social distancing.

Disney didn't call itself the happiest place on earth by being just any other place though.

We found a good deal at the Swan and Dolphin, got a room at the Swan for a few nights, planned a pool day on Day 1 to help unwind after a long drive the day before and bought tickets for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the latter of which was walking distance from the hotel. And Saturday morning, just a day and a half after coming up with this plan, we headed down to Orlando around 6 a.m.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to Disney World myself since I was in my 20s. I am 37. But I have a lot of friends who've taken their kids (or gone as adults by themselves), and I have some awareness of how Disney works.

Rather than take you through the whole trip, I'll lay out some pros and cons of doing Disney during COVID-19. Obviously, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, it's probably not a good idea Disney says as much in its literature. There is one obvious con, of course, and I'll save it for last because it's worth acknowledging in more detail. But, of course, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, you probably shouldn't do this.

1. At least in our experience, everyone on Disney properties — hotels and the parks — were abiding by the rules. EVERY single person. I never saw a person without a mask unless they were taking a sip of a drink or eating something, either inside or outside. No one tried to cram on a hotel elevator with other groups. Even some solo guests would see me on an elevator and insist, "No, you go ahead and take this one and I'll get the next one."

The whole experience was like living in a weird COVID utopia. Not that those two words should ever go together, but it was a glimpse into a world that could exist as we try to get back to something resembling normality, incorporating elements of our pre-pandemic lives in a safe way with those safety measures never feeling intrusive or obstructive. THIS is what our new normal could look like, if we could all do the things recommended to us. I had to run to the grocery store when I got back home on Friday. I saw four or five people either not wearing a mask at all or wearing it beneath their noses. That was literally more people than I saw without a (correctly worn) mask in the entirety of our three-day stay combined.

The Swan and Dolphin has a great pool, and we spent an entire day there. The chairs were spaced out, and staff members walked around to make sure no one was breaking the rules. You couldn't wear masks in the pool, obviously, but there weren't all that many people by the pool anyway. Chairs were being sanitized between uses, and you weren't even allowed to reserve a chair by putting your stuff on it (no idea how they'd enforce that if an entire party were swimming, but hey). We've been to pools a few times before this trip and again, there were A. more people in a smaller space and B. fewer wearing masks. We didn't tell my son ahead of time where we were going, and he was so psyched to see the pool that he thought THAT was the surprise.

2. Wait times are significantly lower than normal, and that's probably an understatement. This all was especially evident during our trip to Magic Kingdom. We got there about 45 minutes before the park was technically supposed to open, but it usually opens up by about 8:30, and it did. The entrance process included a very quick temperature screening in a tent and that was basically it. They even had you go through the metal detectors with your bags on you, and our "ticket" was a card that you scan on a reader that doesn't require any contact. Quick and easy. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time to get in, and that's important to know.

Once inside, I was awestruck by the lack of other people around us. It was like having Disney to ourselves. We had done at least three or four rides before we had ANY wait time at all. There is no FastPass right now because it's not necessary. The longest wait time we saw listed for any ride was an hour on a ride that had been broken most of the day. (That was the only ride we wanted to do that we weren't able to do in either park, and it was Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.) At Magic Kingdom, I went back and counted: We got to hit 16 different rides or attractions. We went back later to ride the Haunted Mansion (which had been broken earlier) and grab dinner. But still. That's a lot to get to do in about seven total Disney hours, including meals.

This was Tomorrowland circa 10 a.m.:

There was not a single open ride or attraction that we wanted to do at either park that we weren't able to, except for the aforementioned broken ride. (Full disclosure: My son inherited my distrust of roller coasters, seemingly, and he refused to ride Slinky Dog Dash, among other things.)

Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, so naturally it was going to be a little bit more crowded. But we even made it into the final reserve group to go on the Rise of the Resistance and we did the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run ride three times because my kid loved it so much. Every Toy Story ride was ridden multiple times. The point is that we had plenty of time to do it, in large part because fewer people were at the park. It's a unique opportunity to use your time at Disney in a way that's more efficient than was possible before.

3. The folks at Disney have pulled out all of the stops to try to minimize the risk as much as possible. You have to reserve your spot at a park for a specific day ahead of time as they are limiting capacity, and you can't park-hop. There are hand sanitizer stations all around the park and at multiple points of a ride, both waiting in line and then after the ride. They give you a card to scan to enter the park. There are SEVERAL staffers all around enforcing both mask-wearing and social distancing, both at entrance and exit points and around the park itself. There were even staffers around the closed Frozen Singalong building, waiting for a passer-by to try to wander up so that they could explain that no, this is not open. And there are stickers at every possible point lines could form to enforce social distancing. There are even staff members that walk around sanitizing things that guests touch a lot — bathrooms of course, but also trash cans, railings, etc. Just to see that in action is reassuring.

4. You can get a pretty good deal if you decide to do what we did and wait until the last minute (not that I'd advise this!). Disney wants people to come back, and they know that they need to provide some encouragement to do so. Disney reportedly didn't get as many guests as expected upon its initial reopening, which is understandable. But they want to get people there.

5. You're less likely to get lost in the shuffle. When we were at Hollywood Studios, Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers came out on stage. He interacted with the crowd. There weren't that many people there (it was still early) and I coaxed him to go up to the stage.

Would that have happened under normal Disney circumstances? It might have. But if it had been more crowded, I would have been less likely to send my 4-year-old up to the stage alone. We had the freedom to do it because there weren't as many people. Every staff member and character we were able to interact with at all paid us a ton of attention. At a distance, of course.

6. Personal space is a wonderful thing, and you get a lot of that. Disney can be a claustrophobic experience during normal times, and it can feel that way even now. But at least you can wait in a line for a ride or for food along clear social distancing markers. Even just walking around the park, it's nice to not have to worry about navigating between hordes of people. There are still some indoor attractions that are open as well. But every 3D movie we saw was in a theater with limited capacity and sections of seats in each row blocked off:

1. It's just not going to be a regular Disney experience. You have to wear your mask at all times, including while on rides. (That part was surprisingly fine, but still.) Not everything is open. That's by necessity, of course, but if you were really looking forward to going to a Frozen singalong or seeing the Indiana Jones show, for instance, it's not going to happen. This even extends itself to food and some of the shops. You have to wait in a line at times just to get into some of the gift shops around the parks. And the parks all close earlier than they normally would, plus there are no fireworks at night. These are all things we have to live without, but if you want a fuller experience, you may be better off waiting.

2. You can't meet and greet the characters the way you normally can. We were careful not to tell our son that he could actually *meet* Mickey Mouse, because we knew that would not be possible. But we did tell him that we could say hello. He definitely did that. But you don't see the characters out and about nearly as frequently as you normally would. They would come through either in parades, flanked by multiple security guards to clear the way and make sure children didn't try to touch the mascots or on a stage, like Buzz Lightyear did.

But go back up to the pros — No. 5, to be exact — to see why that isn't the worst thing. In normal times, my 4-year-old was way likelier to get shoved out of the way when Kylo Ren came out than he was to get to wander up to the stage and have Kylo talk to him personally. He is *still* talking about that and remembers exactly what Kylo said to him.

3. Not all of the rides are cleaned between uses. In fact, I didn't see that being done very often. It would be pretty difficult to do that, especially as Disney staffers were stationed all around as you get closer to the ride, sending you to various different lines based on the size of your party and making sure each party had its own separate car. But the first moment it hit me was when we rode Tomorrowland Speedway (basically a bumper car without the bumping). I was not sure how I felt about the fact that we immediately got into a car and my 4-year-old was touching the same steering wheel someone else had just touched for a few minutes, and the person before them, and so on. But the nice thing is they also have hand sanitizer stations immediately off of each ride exit, so making sure he didn't touch his face for a few seconds until we reached one was not difficult.

4. Florida? It's hot. I realize that this is true even in pre-COVID times, but Orlando is basically 100 degrees more often than not from about May until . October? Maybe? The point here is that if you think it's hot normally, try adding a mask to that equation and being outside nearly all the time. I think we ate indoors more times at Disney than we had in the previous seven months combined, and that was in large part because we needed a break from the heat. The safer elements of Disney no longer felt quite as safe when we were indoors with a bunch of people who were removing their masks to eat and drink. But seriously, the heat is so oppressive. I felt like a rotisserie chicken.

Now, you should know that the restaurants are limited capacity anyway and the tables are pretty well spaced out, but we weren't the only ones looking to beat the heat. Basically, the process is that you get to a restaurant that's open (some are not, or have limited hours), scan a QR code on your phone to pull up the menu, place your order online and then you're allowed inside the restaurant to pick it up. You can either take your food and eat it outside or, if you can find a table, inside. But it can be a little crowded in the pick-up process, and tables weren't easy to come by. I am unaware of a way in which a family who didn't want to be indoors could avoid it while at Disney. But, to be fair, you have to wait for rides indoors as well.

Again, this is part of the COVID precautions, so you have to roll with it, but I wish that there'd been a few more shaded, cooled spots outside to eat and take a break. They do have relaxation stations where you're allowed to take off your mask and there's some shade, but when that Florida heat and humidity gets its talons into you, it's not letting go. They're not selling as much outdoor food because of COVID, including the famous drumsticks, because they don't want people walking and eating (thus taking off their masks). I understand that part, but it basically means that you either have to eat indoors (not ideal with COVID) or try to carve out a space for your family to sit and hope no one sits near you. I feel like eating while you walk is probably better than eating together indoors.

We had a stroller to save our little one's legs (and thank goodness, as he was constantly insisting that we pick him up even when we were in line for rides). There is stroller parking outside of the rides and that is . not regulated (except for signs that specify where you can and can't park strollers) or socially distanced. Many families return to their strollers to take a break or eat some food, and we found ourselves trying to navigate the closest thing to a crowd to retrieve our stroller. I did not love having to do that as a family was maskless and eating or drinking a foot or two away.

5. As safe as Disney itself is, you still have to drive or fly to get there. In our case, we drove, stopping as little as we could. But the gas station or restaurant stops were much more anxiety-inducing for us than any moment at Disney. My husband has actually flown recently (I have not flown since pre-COVID times) and said that, in hindsight, he would have rather flown than driven. Airports and at least some airlines are doing a lot more to actively prevent transmission (requiring masks, sanitizing frequently) than the average rest stop or gas station is doing. But doing either one of those activities isn't exactly ideal.

6. The most important con is, of course, that no situation is perfectly safe during this pandemic except staying at home. I compared Disney to the grocery store earlier. But obviously you have to go to the grocery store and no one ever HAS to go to Disney unless you work there. It's a luxury. And there is always the risk that you will either A. Contract the virus and remain asymptomatic and spread it in your community or B. Contract the virus and become very ill. I thought about this particularly when I saw older people with their grandchildren in the park.

But many of us have been in this extremely restricted world for going on seven months now. We're not entitled to things just because we want them, of course, and I would never advocate going to a concert or a bar based on what I know. I can only speak for my own family, but I have not held my nephew (who's now 16 months old) since March. I have not seen many of my friends in person for more than a few minutes at a distance. And my sacrifices pale in comparison to what I know many others are doing.

We're trying to keep things as fun for my son as we can, but we kept looking ahead and started to wonder, what was Halloween going to look like? This was going to be his first year trick-or-treating. What would CHRISTMAS look like? He's fortunate enough to have those holidays with his family, and we're all fortunate enough to have each other. But our hearts still hurt for our kid to not get to experience some of those things or have severely limited versions of them.

He had a great time. And so did we. It's the most fun we've had in months, and the most hopeful I've felt about what lies ahead as we attempt a return to normalcy when the last seven months have been anything but.


We braved Disney during COVID-19 here's what happened

Orlando, Fla. &mdash My family decided to brave Disney World during COVID-19.

I can't believe that is a sentence I just typed, seeing as when Disney World decided to reopen back in July, I watched crowds stream back in on the news through my fingers, mid-facepalm. Cases were spiking in Florida and elsewhere. I wondered to myself, what are these people DOING? Are they insane? What is Disney THINKING?

Well, it turns out, Disney has been doing A LOT of thinking.

To make a long backstory as short as possible, we had a family vacation to the beach fall through at the last minute. My 4-year-old son had been really looking forward to it, and just like most of you, we haven't been able to do much fun for him this summer. We were in scramble mode for an alternative. My husband turned to me jokingly and said, "Well hey, not like you'd ever agree to go to Disney, right?"

But at that moment? Fresh off of negative COVID-19 tests for the whole family and wanting to cushion the blow for my son, I thought well, I can at least consider it.

We happened to know a few people who have gone, and they all insisted it had been incredibly safe. But I think plenty of us have heard that sort of rhetoric during this pandemic, only to get to a particular place and see that human nature always wins. It's not easy or feasible to go around sanitizing frequently used surfaces or have staff members around just to enforce wearing masks and social distancing.

Disney didn't call itself the happiest place on earth by being just any other place though.

We found a good deal at the Swan and Dolphin, got a room at the Swan for a few nights, planned a pool day on Day 1 to help unwind after a long drive the day before and bought tickets for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the latter of which was walking distance from the hotel. And Saturday morning, just a day and a half after coming up with this plan, we headed down to Orlando around 6 a.m.

Full disclosure: I haven't been to Disney World myself since I was in my 20s. I am 37. But I have a lot of friends who've taken their kids (or gone as adults by themselves), and I have some awareness of how Disney works.

Rather than take you through the whole trip, I'll lay out some pros and cons of doing Disney during COVID-19. Obviously, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, it's probably not a good idea Disney says as much in its literature. There is one obvious con, of course, and I'll save it for last because it's worth acknowledging in more detail. But, of course, if you consider yourself to be high risk in any way, you probably shouldn't do this.

1. At least in our experience, everyone on Disney properties — hotels and the parks — were abiding by the rules. EVERY single person. I never saw a person without a mask unless they were taking a sip of a drink or eating something, either inside or outside. No one tried to cram on a hotel elevator with other groups. Even some solo guests would see me on an elevator and insist, "No, you go ahead and take this one and I'll get the next one."

The whole experience was like living in a weird COVID utopia. Not that those two words should ever go together, but it was a glimpse into a world that could exist as we try to get back to something resembling normality, incorporating elements of our pre-pandemic lives in a safe way with those safety measures never feeling intrusive or obstructive. THIS is what our new normal could look like, if we could all do the things recommended to us. I had to run to the grocery store when I got back home on Friday. I saw four or five people either not wearing a mask at all or wearing it beneath their noses. That was literally more people than I saw without a (correctly worn) mask in the entirety of our three-day stay combined.

The Swan and Dolphin has a great pool, and we spent an entire day there. The chairs were spaced out, and staff members walked around to make sure no one was breaking the rules. You couldn't wear masks in the pool, obviously, but there weren't all that many people by the pool anyway. Chairs were being sanitized between uses, and you weren't even allowed to reserve a chair by putting your stuff on it (no idea how they'd enforce that if an entire party were swimming, but hey). We've been to pools a few times before this trip and again, there were A. more people in a smaller space and B. fewer wearing masks. We didn't tell my son ahead of time where we were going, and he was so psyched to see the pool that he thought THAT was the surprise.

2. Wait times are significantly lower than normal, and that's probably an understatement. This all was especially evident during our trip to Magic Kingdom. We got there about 45 minutes before the park was technically supposed to open, but it usually opens up by about 8:30, and it did. The entrance process included a very quick temperature screening in a tent and that was basically it. They even had you go through the metal detectors with your bags on you, and our "ticket" was a card that you scan on a reader that doesn't require any contact. Quick and easy. You do have to make a reservation ahead of time to get in, and that's important to know.

Once inside, I was awestruck by the lack of other people around us. It was like having Disney to ourselves. We had done at least three or four rides before we had ANY wait time at all. There is no FastPass right now because it's not necessary. The longest wait time we saw listed for any ride was an hour on a ride that had been broken most of the day. (That was the only ride we wanted to do that we weren't able to do in either park, and it was Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.) At Magic Kingdom, I went back and counted: We got to hit 16 different rides or attractions. We went back later to ride the Haunted Mansion (which had been broken earlier) and grab dinner. But still. That's a lot to get to do in about seven total Disney hours, including meals.

This was Tomorrowland circa 10 a.m.:

There was not a single open ride or attraction that we wanted to do at either park that we weren't able to, except for the aforementioned broken ride. (Full disclosure: My son inherited my distrust of roller coasters, seemingly, and he refused to ride Slinky Dog Dash, among other things.)

Hollywood Studios has Star Wars, so naturally it was going to be a little bit more crowded. But we even made it into the final reserve group to go on the Rise of the Resistance and we did the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run ride three times because my kid loved it so much. Every Toy Story ride was ridden multiple times. The point is that we had plenty of time to do it, in large part because fewer people were at the park. It's a unique opportunity to use your time at Disney in a way that's more efficient than was possible before.

3. The folks at Disney have pulled out all of the stops to try to minimize the risk as much as possible. You have to reserve your spot at a park for a specific day ahead of time as they are limiting capacity, and you can't park-hop. There are hand sanitizer stations all around the park and at multiple points of a ride, both waiting in line and then after the ride. They give you a card to scan to enter the park. There are SEVERAL staffers all around enforcing both mask-wearing and social distancing, both at entrance and exit points and around the park itself. There were even staffers around the closed Frozen Singalong building, waiting for a passer-by to try to wander up so that they could explain that no, this is not open. And there are stickers at every possible point lines could form to enforce social distancing. There are even staff members that walk around sanitizing things that guests touch a lot — bathrooms of course, but also trash cans, railings, etc. Just to see that in action is reassuring.

4. You can get a pretty good deal if you decide to do what we did and wait until the last minute (not that I'd advise this!). Disney wants people to come back, and they know that they need to provide some encouragement to do so. Disney reportedly didn't get as many guests as expected upon its initial reopening, which is understandable. But they want to get people there.

5. You're less likely to get lost in the shuffle. When we were at Hollywood Studios, Kylo Ren and some Stormtroopers came out on stage. He interacted with the crowd. There weren't that many people there (it was still early) and I coaxed him to go up to the stage.

Would that have happened under normal Disney circumstances? It might have. But if it had been more crowded, I would have been less likely to send my 4-year-old up to the stage alone. We had the freedom to do it because there weren't as many people. Every staff member and character we were able to interact with at all paid us a ton of attention. At a distance, of course.

6. Personal space is a wonderful thing, and you get a lot of that. Disney can be a claustrophobic experience during normal times, and it can feel that way even now. But at least you can wait in a line for a ride or for food along clear social distancing markers. Even just walking around the park, it's nice to not have to worry about navigating between hordes of people. There are still some indoor attractions that are open as well. But every 3D movie we saw was in a theater with limited capacity and sections of seats in each row blocked off:

1. It's just not going to be a regular Disney experience. You have to wear your mask at all times, including while on rides. (That part was surprisingly fine, but still.) Not everything is open. That's by necessity, of course, but if you were really looking forward to going to a Frozen singalong or seeing the Indiana Jones show, for instance, it's not going to happen. This even extends itself to food and some of the shops. You have to wait in a line at times just to get into some of the gift shops around the parks. And the parks all close earlier than they normally would, plus there are no fireworks at night. These are all things we have to live without, but if you want a fuller experience, you may be better off waiting.

2. You can't meet and greet the characters the way you normally can. We were careful not to tell our son that he could actually *meet* Mickey Mouse, because we knew that would not be possible. But we did tell him that we could say hello. He definitely did that. But you don't see the characters out and about nearly as frequently as you normally would. They would come through either in parades, flanked by multiple security guards to clear the way and make sure children didn't try to touch the mascots or on a stage, like Buzz Lightyear did.

But go back up to the pros — No. 5, to be exact — to see why that isn't the worst thing. In normal times, my 4-year-old was way likelier to get shoved out of the way when Kylo Ren came out than he was to get to wander up to the stage and have Kylo talk to him personally. He is *still* talking about that and remembers exactly what Kylo said to him.

3. Not all of the rides are cleaned between uses. In fact, I didn't see that being done very often. It would be pretty difficult to do that, especially as Disney staffers were stationed all around as you get closer to the ride, sending you to various different lines based on the size of your party and making sure each party had its own separate car. But the first moment it hit me was when we rode Tomorrowland Speedway (basically a bumper car without the bumping). I was not sure how I felt about the fact that we immediately got into a car and my 4-year-old was touching the same steering wheel someone else had just touched for a few minutes, and the person before them, and so on. But the nice thing is they also have hand sanitizer stations immediately off of each ride exit, so making sure he didn't touch his face for a few seconds until we reached one was not difficult.

4. Florida? It's hot. I realize that this is true even in pre-COVID times, but Orlando is basically 100 degrees more often than not from about May until . October? Maybe? The point here is that if you think it's hot normally, try adding a mask to that equation and being outside nearly all the time. I think we ate indoors more times at Disney than we had in the previous seven months combined, and that was in large part because we needed a break from the heat. The safer elements of Disney no longer felt quite as safe when we were indoors with a bunch of people who were removing their masks to eat and drink. But seriously, the heat is so oppressive. I felt like a rotisserie chicken.

Now, you should know that the restaurants are limited capacity anyway and the tables are pretty well spaced out, but we weren't the only ones looking to beat the heat. Basically, the process is that you get to a restaurant that's open (some are not, or have limited hours), scan a QR code on your phone to pull up the menu, place your order online and then you're allowed inside the restaurant to pick it up. You can either take your food and eat it outside or, if you can find a table, inside. But it can be a little crowded in the pick-up process, and tables weren't easy to come by. I am unaware of a way in which a family who didn't want to be indoors could avoid it while at Disney. But, to be fair, you have to wait for rides indoors as well.

Again, this is part of the COVID precautions, so you have to roll with it, but I wish that there'd been a few more shaded, cooled spots outside to eat and take a break. They do have relaxation stations where you're allowed to take off your mask and there's some shade, but when that Florida heat and humidity gets its talons into you, it's not letting go. They're not selling as much outdoor food because of COVID, including the famous drumsticks, because they don't want people walking and eating (thus taking off their masks). I understand that part, but it basically means that you either have to eat indoors (not ideal with COVID) or try to carve out a space for your family to sit and hope no one sits near you. I feel like eating while you walk is probably better than eating together indoors.

We had a stroller to save our little one's legs (and thank goodness, as he was constantly insisting that we pick him up even when we were in line for rides). There is stroller parking outside of the rides and that is . not regulated (except for signs that specify where you can and can't park strollers) or socially distanced. Many families return to their strollers to take a break or eat some food, and we found ourselves trying to navigate the closest thing to a crowd to retrieve our stroller. I did not love having to do that as a family was maskless and eating or drinking a foot or two away.

5. As safe as Disney itself is, you still have to drive or fly to get there. In our case, we drove, stopping as little as we could. But the gas station or restaurant stops were much more anxiety-inducing for us than any moment at Disney. My husband has actually flown recently (I have not flown since pre-COVID times) and said that, in hindsight, he would have rather flown than driven. Airports and at least some airlines are doing a lot more to actively prevent transmission (requiring masks, sanitizing frequently) than the average rest stop or gas station is doing. But doing either one of those activities isn't exactly ideal.

6. The most important con is, of course, that no situation is perfectly safe during this pandemic except staying at home. I compared Disney to the grocery store earlier. But obviously you have to go to the grocery store and no one ever HAS to go to Disney unless you work there. It's a luxury. And there is always the risk that you will either A. Contract the virus and remain asymptomatic and spread it in your community or B. Contract the virus and become very ill. I thought about this particularly when I saw older people with their grandchildren in the park.

But many of us have been in this extremely restricted world for going on seven months now. We're not entitled to things just because we want them, of course, and I would never advocate going to a concert or a bar based on what I know. I can only speak for my own family, but I have not held my nephew (who's now 16 months old) since March. I have not seen many of my friends in person for more than a few minutes at a distance. And my sacrifices pale in comparison to what I know many others are doing.

We're trying to keep things as fun for my son as we can, but we kept looking ahead and started to wonder, what was Halloween going to look like? This was going to be his first year trick-or-treating. What would CHRISTMAS look like? He's fortunate enough to have those holidays with his family, and we're all fortunate enough to have each other. But our hearts still hurt for our kid to not get to experience some of those things or have severely limited versions of them.

He had a great time. And so did we. It's the most fun we've had in months, and the most hopeful I've felt about what lies ahead as we attempt a return to normalcy when the last seven months have been anything but.