Disney Parks and Resorts Update for July 13th
Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom have finally reopened. On Wednesday, EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will join them.
I’m sure that you have questions. I’ll try to answer them in the latest DVC Parks and Resorts update.
The First Stage of Park Reopenings
Last Tuesday, cast members became the first park guests since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
While Disney discouraged livestreaming of the event, the company did so with a wink and a smile. Everyone knew that a few invited guests would broadcast from the parks.
In truth, Disney needed this media attention to demonstrate that the parks were safe enough for guests to return. On Thursday, history would repeat itself when annual passholders got to spend the day at the parks for the first time since March.
Disney’s meticulous planning carried the day, as virtually all guests expressed pleasant surprise over the COVID-19 preventive measures in place.
In fact, the only hiccups occurred at Splash Mountain’s gift shop. Park guests know that Splash Mountain merchandise will become collectible in a matter of months.
One day soon, Disney will re-theme the attraction to The Princess and the Frog. At that point, all the current merchandise will be gone forever. So, people spent as long as four hours (!) waiting to buy Splash Mountain gear.
Coincidentally or not, the gift shop didn’t reopen with Magic Kingdom on Saturday. Disney may have it closed for safety measures, but it’s also possible that the company has no interest in re-stocking Splash Mountain before its impending closure.
Beyond this one significant wait, the parks felt empty. Several people on social media posted ride wait-time updates, and most of them were 30 minutes or less.
Some vloggers showed walk-ons for popular attractions like Space Mountain and Peter Pan’s Flight. Once again, the only ride that featured significant wait-times, ones that would seem like a regular park day, was Splash Mountain. I expect demand to remain high for it until Disney begins the re-theming.
Inside the Parks
You’re undoubtedly wondering about the state of the parks. Well, I’ll start with the negative, only because there’s little of it. I don’t want you to think I’m sugar-coating anything here. So, let’s hit the negatives.
haven’t even made it in the gate yet and my heart is pounding out of my chest.
just had to squeeze past a lane of opposite traffic while there’s this densely packed line for guest services.
this is unacceptable — and I haven’t even made it into the park yet. pic.twitter.com/GTzsAjRlD2
— 🍭 carlye wisel (@carlyewisel) July 11, 2020
Ms. Wisel is a highly regarded travel writer and Disney fanatic. So, if she’s complaining about something, it’s a problem. She later added:
seeing my tweet being picked up in news stories and want to clarify for non-disney outlets that it does not represent the entire scope of Magic Kingdom today.
some protocols are working well.
others, like what I experienced, were clearly not. https://t.co/b1zGom47tU
— 🍭 carlye wisel (@carlyewisel) July 11, 2020
Meanwhile, another frequent Disney writer, Brooke Geiger McDonald, posted this shot of lunchtime crowds around Cinderella Castle:
— Brooke Geiger McDonald (@BrookeGMcDonald) July 11, 2020
These images paint a picture regarding what you should expect from any upcoming summer park visit.
Disney did have at least two ride-related issues. Splash Mountain and Kilimanjaro Safaris both had to evacuate riders. Of course, as a Disney Vacation Club member, you’ve visited the parks enough to know that this happens sometimes.
Beyond these three problems, Disney’s park reopenings qualify as a best-case scenario. Park officials introduced many safety precautions that made guests feel comfortable…beyond the (substantial) problem that Ms. Wisel and others experienced.
Disney checks guests for high temperatures before allowing them into the parks. The parks have disabled the fingerprint scanners at the entrance areas, as cast members utilize tablets to verify guests.
Throughout the parks, Disney requires masks. However, the company has introduced Relaxation Stations as mask-free areas when guests need to catch their breath and cool off. Every park will feature at least two of these areas.
Magic Kingdom currently has three. You’ll find them at Golden Oak Outpost, Pete’s Silly Sideshow, and Tomorrowland Terrace. When you’re hot, Tomorrowland Terrace is the best choice since it’s a covered area.
More Walt Disney World Changes
To their credit, park officials were transparent about the needed changes at Walt Disney World. So, the return of the parks hasn’t included any real surprises.
Some line queues feature some new hardware now. Attractions like Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad include plexiglass barriers that prevent guests in one row from touching others in the adjacent row.
These changes reduce the risk of coronavirus infections, which is vital since scientists still haven’t settled on whether the disease’s transmission is airborne or droplet-based.
Other attractions come with interactive line queues. Disney built these to entertain guests while standing in line. Unfortunately, many of them are high-touch areas, which is problematic during the pandemic.
So, Disney has disabled such features on attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight, Haunted Mansion, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Haunted Mansion will befuddle you the most, as The Stretching Room no longer comes with its titular element.
Right now, guests walk through The Stretching Room on the way to their Doombuggies. However, the entertainment element has vanished for the time being. Instead, a roped-off path will lead you into the room, where the paintings on the walls already display at their full lengths.
Disney has also chosen not to reopen a small number of attractions for the same reason. Enchanted Tales with Belle and some shows would require too many interactions between cast members and guests, something Disney must discourage until coronavirus slows down.
What’s New and Different?
Using this logic, the parks don’t operate full-length parades, character greetings, shows, or fireworks presentations at the moment. However, Disney did introduce some replacement activities.
Magic Kingdom has hosted several unannounced cavalcades. Think of them as small-scale parades wherein costumed characters ride single floats. So, it’s a part of a parade that could happen at any time.
Since they’re unscheduled, lucky guests near the path receive much more attention than they would during a regular parade, which is usually just a general wave in your direction. Also, Disney has broken out some other entertainment elements.
Some members of Winnie the Pooh’s crew have ridden a Main Street Trolley down the street. At Splash Mountain, the Country Bears made a surprise appearance to put on a show.
In the past, Disney presentations were carefully planned and structured. There’s a wildness to them during the reopening phase, and I quite like it.
Many guests have complained that park visits have become too planned. Coronavirus has forced park officials to bring some randomness back to the parks. It makes me realize how much I’ve missed those elements.
The downside is that many of the shows that involve drumming, singing, and dancing remain offline. A frustrating part of coronavirus is that several outbreaks have involved musical performances. So, Disney doesn’t have any choice here.
Similarly, the parks are running at minimal capacity now and for the foreseeable future. As a concession to this change in guest volume, Disney won’t operate all its shops and restaurants.
On reopening day, Casey’s Corner was closed, something that would have seemed impossible until recently. Meanwhile, guests scrambled to find popcorn carts and snack stands, as several longstanding locations aren’t in operation.
Other Reopening Thoughts
I realize that some of this sounds bad, but it’s counterbalanced by a massive advantage to visiting the parks right now. They’re not crowded at all! When I went in late-January, the place was mobbed. Disney has since confirmed that it had experienced record attendance in January and February.
In a post-pandemic world, the parks seem different, yes, but an opportunity exists. With capacity limits of 50 percent or less, guests can do anything they want. As I mentioned, people are walking onto attractions that used to take an hour or longer.
Last month, park officials confirmed that FastPass wouldn’t return when Walt Disney World reopens. Then, they revealed that the parks wouldn’t employ any virtual queuing at all.
This statement proved false, as Disney recently revealed that Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will again utilize Boarding Groups when it returns on Wednesday. Still, all other attractions include regular standby lines, the ones we’ve used our entire lives.
Many people feared that standing in line during a coronavirus outbreak would be problematic. Instead, Disney has structured admissions in a way that all but guarantees social distancing everywhere because the parks just aren’t crowded.
To wit, DVC Resale Market’s Marissa Vallotton posted from Disney’s Animal Kingdom on opening day. On the company’s Facebook page, she published many Stories from her visit. They indicated a delightful park visit with minimal ride waits.
I strongly encourage you to like/follow the page for additional updates from the parks. They’ll give you a better idea of what to expect from your next trip.