How Walt Disney World was in September of 2020…A Look at the Change in the Fantasy
We all have our habits, our daily schedules that make our lives tick without fail…most of the time. And than a pandemic hits, and everything is turned upside down. Everyone deals with it in their own ways, and even though I am doing ok so far, I wasn’t sure about how I would feel returning to Disney. I didn’t have to go back, I never had to go back again if I didn’t want too. But we all know that Mickey runs in my blood, and already having been gone over the summer after the pandemic started, I hadn’t stepped foot in any Park for 6 plus months. Go ahead, eye roll away, but it is a part of my job, my brand, and a part of what I love. So for me, it was just off. Then I made plans, after returning home from my road trip, to go in a solid 2 weeks to get the whole feel of how different it was going to be now. I didn’t follow anyone Disney, so I purposely went in fresh, to experience it through my eyes only. Here’s what I felt, saw, and experienced.
So, the first thing I noticed was the medical tents at each Park entrance. Nothing like being shot between the eyes with a temperature gun by Advent Health, but everyone I encountered were kind and efficient. Next was a big change in security- no longer were they standing there, taking their wooden Pinocchio pole and stirring my bag of contents. They wanted my bag on my back, not carried, and everything left on me, and just a walk through the scanner. It was great, actually the lines went quickly, which were the point to keep people from crowding up. Now for all the Parks except Magic Kingdom, I just parked and walked in. The trams are NOT operating during this, so keep that in mind. I’m a Monorail girl, we all have our favorites. They had the markings on the ground, basically everywhere and anywhere there could be a line, and that included the Monorail area. What was GREAT about the spacing was that there was no more of the “crowd into a Monorail car and see how many people we can fit” feel. Instead, it was like dining at a fine Restaurant. “How many in your party?” Just me. “Go to circle number 3” and when the Monorail came, I was the only one in my car. AT PARK OPENING. I remember thinking “Can we keep this feature?” I know, it’s not going to be efficient when the crowds come back, and they will, but damn, it’s awesome right now to experience for those of us who call this a second home.
As far as getting IN the Parks, its just tapping your magic band, and zero finger scans right now. What makes THAT great is that, again, no lines. Everybody is getting in smoothly and quickly and that’s how I am sure they want it to run right now. As I am sure you are aware, masks ARE required. You CANNOT go in with one of those neck type masks or scarves and they have Cast Members watching everyone come in at the entrances. I saw someone stopped that was asked to get a different one, as his wasn’t allowed. And use some common sense- masks are like T-shirts at Disney, logos and all. Don’t wear something that you darn well know is going to set people off, it’s Disney, just go and enjoy Mickey for God’s sake.
In the Parks, well, it’s different. All the Characters have to stay 6 plus feet away from the public, so they have done some pretty creative things to show the love from afar. At Animal Kingdom they had them on boats in the water that runs around the Tree of Life, at Epcot they had small parades around World Showcase, as well as parades at Magic Kingdom and Studios. No meet and greets. None. Now, if you don’t care that your son or daughter doesn’t get that special Mickey hug and has to settle for a wave from a car- you’re good to go. I personally think it’s one of the most wonderful things to watch as a parent when they meet the Characters, but that’s just my opinion.
The first thing I wound up doing, not intentionally, was the Muppets 3D show. I tried to get onto “Rise” with no luck, and so I just decided to wander for awhile until I felt something I wanted to do. Idealy I would have been to MK as my first Park back, it’s my fav, Studios is actually my 4th, but with reservations as they are, you take what you can get. The line extended all away around the building, but with the 6 feet apart, it makes a normal line look twice as long. I thought I might as well try a show, just right out of the gate on risk, but I was happy with how they did it. The pre-show had everyone on circles, and then chairs were marked inside the theater. Noone was in front of me or behind me, and both sides were marked off- its the Disney bubble of my dreams!! They have always sanitized the 3D glasses, so keep that in mind, and yes, you won’t enjoy the show without them, so if you are worried about possible transmission that way, than skip the 3D shows. I personally felt safe at the show and felt they did a great job with distancing everyone.
Dining was different for me personally because I didn’t normally mobile order. For those of you not familiar with that, it’s through the “My Disney Experience” app which is basically your lifeline to your Disney vacation. I had always enjoyed just walking up to any dining pavilion and choosing on the fly what I wanted and enjoying the people watching as I ate. Well, except for a few places, everything is now mobile order- even the Milk Stand in Batuu! It took some getting used to, and they are betting on people not only HAVING phones to order, but also good Wifi. When everyone jumps on Disneys in the Park, it’s incredibly slow. I personally don’t use theirs for that very reason. So I had to get used to ordering online, always nervous saving a card on file with anything, and then walking through the steps of letting them know when you are there, then they prepare it and send you a notification when it’s ready, show the Cast Members that you indeed have your golden ticket worthy on entering, and then up to the counter number they provide you with, all on your phone. Obviously they want contactless payment to stop the spread of germs, and I will say it was nice to just walk up, show my receipt online, and then given my food and off I went! Refills are still a thing, what they did was have ONE Cast Member stand at the Drink Station and make your original drink and then also refill your drink. I did this at Satuli on Pandora and Earl of Sandwich at Disney Springs and it worked just fine. The only issue I really ever had is trying to be clear and loud enough amongst crowd noise and music through a cloth mask. I embarrassingly had a harder time hearing the Cast Members speak through theirs as well. A lot of “I’m sorry, what?” LOL
I will say I understand the contactless payment wants and needs from everyone, but let’s get real, some of us just have cash sometimes. So I was in the Festival Center building at Epcot and wanted to try the gourmet Mac and Cheese, and I had exact change for it, which excited me because I wouldn’t have to debit the small amount it was. Well, I pulled out my cash to pay and she said “We can’t take cash here.” I said “This stand, or the Center?” She said “This stand.” What? Not a big deal, just used the debit, but it gave me a complex the rest of my Disney Park time that whenever I wanted to get rid of my cash, I would ask “Do you take cash?” Many Cast Members must have thought I was an egg short of a dozen because the look I got was of “Did you take your meds this morning Miss?” I understand WHY they don’t want to handle it, but either make it a standard across the board, or not at all. It’s too confusing. And as far as “Food and Wine Festival” this year, I didn’t think it was anything THAT different. I still had food. I still had wine. Some booths didn’t come back, but I was happy with what was provided for choices. The merch was fun, grabbed a tervis and Passholder hoodie, and that was enough in this year of abnormality.
One of my favorite surprises of my Magic Kingdom day was to here the “Boo to You” music being piped in out of nowhere. I was just walking in Frontierland and I heard it starting up- again- I wasn’t following any Disney news so to me this was like Christmas had come early! It was the Villains float from “MNSSHP” and one of my FAVORITES was dancing with the crew – GOOB from “Meet the Robinsons!!!” It was such a joyful moment, and it felt so warm and wonderful to see a piece of the parade from the Party, especially since they had to cancel all of them this year. All of the Characters were dressed up in their Halloween costumes all around the Park – Pooh and friends were at Crystal Palace, Stitch was in Tomorrowland, the Fab 5 were at the Train Station in the morning and then another crew again at the end of the day. So at least you’d get to see them that way.
The only spots where I felt a bit concerned were the animal viewing paths in Animal Kingdom and the bigger shopping areas like Emporium and Mousegear. At one point, I was on the Gorilla Falls path and there is that one spot where it’s already close corridors, inside the bird sanctuary, where no one was social distancing. Now, I understand that it can actually be a thing to forget when at a Theme Park and you are just there trying to forget the outside world. But folks, we are in this together, so it’s something we all have to be aware of 24/7. I forget too, trust me. Especially being in there as much as I am, my habits are what they are, and I have to remind myself every day like you all do. I chalk it up to excitement with the animals, as well as when we all shop Disney, and we tend to forget our surroundings. They ARE limiting how many in what store at a time, BUT, I still felt that many would crowd me around a new jersey or something and I would start to panic a bit. Just being honest. So please keep that in mind.
The rides? I thought they did a great job here as well! I was never next to someone, in fact, it felt like I had the place to myself! I was alone in my Test Track car, I was alone in my own Train car on Runaway Railway, and I was alone in the first section of Mine Train and of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. On boat rides I was either spread apart by plexi-glass (plastic?) on Jungle Cruise, or sat in front or back row of Pirates, Small World while others sat the opposite. On rides like Haunted Mansion and Little Mermaid, they had us grabbing a doom buggy or conch shell about every 2-3 vehicles apart from others. Now Safari at Animal Kingdom was an odd one for just the fact that they put up plastic barriers between each row so they could still fill the vehicles- I did get the row to myself though. River Navi I had my own boat, and on Flight of Passage I not only watched the entire pre-show from the first room and then proceeded to my Ikran, but I also was three away from the next rider when I finally sat down. Dinosaur I also had my own row in the back, and they only seated a couple in the front- the second row seperating us. Rides like Soarin had me seated about 5 spots away from people, lining up as well in the same way. Journey into Imagination had us one to a car, and Living with the Land also had the plastic shower curtains that were similiar to Safari. It’s surprising the noise they also block from others, another plus. Also, all pre-shows are either running and you walk through (Dinosaur) or not at all (Haunted Mansion) and you just follow the marks on the ground. Basically, that stretching room aint stretching. So the magic of wondering the “is or isn’t it” is just not in service for the time being.
So, is Disney World safe? Should you go right now? Is it worth it to go right now? First, let me say, I felt safer at Disney World then the local food store. They are committed to sanitizing everything, taking temps, monitoring everyone walking in the parks to make sure they have their masks on, seating you well away from others on rides, shows, and restaurants, hand sanitizer stations are EVERYWHERE, relaxing stations for taking your mask off, markings on the ground to keep safe distances, and plastic walls everywhere in queues to keep you safe.
Should you go right now? Well, it depends on what you are wanting out of it. If you are a seasoned, Disney tourist who knows their way around, done it many times before, and you are there for your magical fix- then it’s right up your alley! Lines were small, you have space to enjoy more things, and you can get in and get out at a decent time. Now, if you’re talking about taking the family for the first time, or it’s your first time, and you want to experience the true Disney vacation, then no, wait until next year or 2022. Fireworks make it magical, character hugs make it magical, sitting on Main Street eating a Mickey bar with your kids as it drips down their chin…makes it magical. Besides, I feel you are paying full price for half the experience. We all are watching our dollars and cents right now, so why waste it on something you won’t get the full deal out of anyways? Just my opinion, having been there hundreds and hundreds of times, I just get it.
Is it worth going right now? Well I pretty much just answered that. You aren’t getting the full experiences of parades, characters, nighttime shows, stores and restaurants that are normally open, streetmosphere who aren’t there right now, etc.. Can you have a magical time? Yes, I believe you make it what you want it to be. But if you can wait until its back to something of a normal Park system again, whenever that will be, I would wait. Now I will say that if you have problem with crowds or a child with anxiety, this is a great time to go because everyone is forced to stay away from each other, it was nice to have the space.
No, its not the same Disney, and wearing a mask in the heat and humidity did get hard at times, but I still enjoyed being back and I’ll be doing it again soon. If anything, its nice to share the magic with others who cannot go right now. I hope this helps anyone who is deciding on whether to go or not. Leave in the comments if you are planning on going and your feelings on the safety of Disney right now, plus any other tips for dealing with this time in the Parks- thanks!
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