It’s certainly been quite a year. When Walt Disney World closed in March, most people believed it would be short-term, and things would go back to normal soon. As we now know, the parks remained closed until mid-July, and even when they did re-open, it was a different experience for both guests and Cast Members alike.
I have no health problems; however, I am in one of the more at-risk groups, as I am 65. I was hesitant to go back to Walt Disney World. I did not know what to expect or how I would feel. I knew from reading online that Disney had safety rules in place, yet I was cautious whether guests would follow the rules or if Cast Members would be overwhelmed trying to enforce them.
As most of you know, reservations are now needed to get into any of the Walt Disney World theme parks. The reservation system and how to use it can be found here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/experience-updates/park-reservations/. I decided to try for Epcot on July 16 and was successful in getting a park reservation that day.
I went with my friend Elaine. Upon arrival, we saw signage at the front of the park listing symptoms of Covid-19 and informed guests if they had any of them, they should not enter. Other signs said masks were mandatory and must be worn at all times unless seated and eating or drinking (later, this was amended to clarify that masks must cover both mouth and nose).
Everyone had to have their temperature taken before being admitted. As there were many Cast Members filling this role, there was no wait. They use an infrared thermometer on your forehead, and it is touchless.
There’s also a new bag check system, where security doesn’t have to rummage through bags. Instead, park security asks you to remove metal objects from your bag/pockets (I had a camera and a portable charger that had to be removed), but you do not have to remove your cell phone from your bag or your pocket. It’s very efficient and very quick.
Lines for attractions were non-existent that day, and weekdays still remained quieter than weekends. Wait times are still less than before the closure, but there can be considerable lines on Saturday and Sunday.
Places you would normally see bottlenecks are much less crowded. For example, the area between Peter Pan and It’s a Small World in Magic Kingdom and the area where the band plays just before you get to the Kilimanjaro Safari in Animal Kingdom.
For our first time back, Elaine and I had decided to take a walk around the park to get the lay of the land. We were happy with what we saw. Distance markers were everywhere that there was a queue.
Guests we saw were complying with mask rules. Stores that were too small to enable safe distancing were closed. Announcements were made regularly over loudspeakers, reminding guests to comply with the new rules. There were hand sanitizing and handwashing stations everywhere.
By the end of our walk, we decided we would go on some attractions next visit. This is a personal decision, of course, and we agreed we would give it a try. We initially were reluctant to do any “theater” type things, such as Philharmagic. But we took a chance, and we were pleasantly surprised. They have entire rows blocked off, as well as seats within the rows that are blocked, so no guests (except those visiting together) sit too close to each other.
This was the case on other attractions, such as the train ride to Conservation Station and It’s Tough to be a Bug in Animal Kingdom. Rides like Living with the Land at Epcot and the Kilimanjaro Safari at Animal Kingdom have clear shields installed between rows.
I must emphasize that the Cast Members DO sanitize the rides regularly. The only times we had to wait in a queue was because the attraction was being cleaned. It takes about 15 minutes for the process to be completed.
As mentioned earlier, the wait times on weekends have been going up since the parks re-opened. I have noticed in the last few visits that even mid-week, it’s getting busier than it was at first. But compared to a normal day at Disney World, there are fewer people and shorter wait times. It’s still best to get there early, as at opening and the first hour or so everything is a walk on. My experience has been that all the parks open about half an hour before their official opening time.
Here’s a list of what to expect if you visit in the near future:
- Some restaurants and shops are currently closed. Be sure to check in advance if you have a favorite. The list changes all the time, so it’s best to inquire before you leave AND when you check-in.
- There are no parades or meet and greets at this time. But there ARE “Character Cavalcades” that randomly appear in all of the parks. The times are not listed in order to avoid crowds gathering in anticipation. I have noticed the most variety of Cavalcades at the Magic Kingdom. The Cavalcade at Animal Kingdom takes place on boats that sail by on the water!
- The Cavalcade at Animal Kingdom takes place on boats that sail by on the water!
- In addition to the cavalcades, you will see characters waving to guests from afar. I saw a number of characters on the park side of the train station in the Magic Kingdom; The “evil” stepsisters interacting on a balcony behind the Cinderella Castle; Pooh with a butterfly net on a large grassy area next to the Imagination Pavilion at Epcot.
- On hot days we make sure we make use of air-conditioned attractions and stores to cool off. There are Comfort Stations in all the parks where you can take your mask off if you are seated. The only air-conditioned one I know of is at Akershus in Epcot, but they may have opened more.
- Epcot’s Future World has several construction walls up at the moment. You cannot walk straight through the park; you have to go either left towards Mission Space or right towards Nemo. The front of the park has removed all the Leave a Legacy Tiles. There are large crystals, similar to ones that had been there at opening day, in front of the park, but behind a wall waiting to be permanently placed and completely revealed.
- Park hours are reduced. They normally are in the Fall, but check before you go to any of the parks; times can change with little advance notice.
- The water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, are both currently closed.
- Winter Summerland Miniature Golf is closed, but Disney’s Fantasia Gardens is currently open for guests (extra fee)
- For DVC Owners looking to use the DVC Lounge: They will seat you when you arrive. You must wear your mask unless seated and eating or drinking. A Cast Member will fill your drink cup for you. No snacks are being offered at this time. The lounge was nearly empty both times I visited (midweek)
- Guests we encountered went out of their way to be extra polite, making sure not to get too close to others.
- Cast Members did an excellent job of making guests feel welcome. They waved excitedly as you walked by, and you could see by their eyes they were smiling.
- The UP! Bird show at Animal Kingdom has been replaced by a bird show similar to the one that was there originally.
- The only place to currently see live music at Epcot is the America Gardens Theater (located on the water opposite the USA Pavilion). The JAMMitors (drummers from Future World) alternate with an offshoot of Mariachi Cobre (the band normally found in Mexico)
- The Monorails, Buses, Skyliner, and most of the boats (excluding boats on the Sassagoula River) are running.
Interestingly enough, although it took some adjustment to get used to the change, I noticed some positives (other than the short wait times) as I returned to WDW. Years ago, there was no such thing as scheduled character meet and greets. To ensure they would get pictures with characters, guests would book character meals.
Otherwise, it was a surprise experience to run into characters in the parks. I have found I really enjoy the spontaneity of the cavalcades in the parks and seeing characters waving from afar unexpectedly.
Yes, the experience is different, but the magic is still there!