Impressions of Disney World During Pandemic – Day One

By Erik Johnson

We embarked on a red eye flight, leaving Denver just after midnight. This was already a new experience. My wife and I had not flown since the start of the pandemic and entering DIA was eye-opening. The flight was comfortable, but not comfortable enough for me to actually sleep. Besides, in less than four hours we would be back in Orlando!

A too-long wait for baggage reminded me how great Disney’s Magical Express was just a few months ago. The service used to pick up your bags for you and bring them to your room, usually as you were off enjoying the Parks. The bus service portion still exists, but also in an altered form. We found that since we were the only two people heading to the Riviera Resort, we got into a large passenger van with another couple. Our driver laughed that since this wasn’t the “real” Magical Express, we could listen to whatever radio station we wanted to. The four of us settled on some hits from the 1980s. My wife drifted into a power nap, mouthing the words to Spanish Lullaby under her mask.


The Riviera Resort is a fantastic place, full of the flair and design of the French Riviera. Our room was far from ready, as it was just barely 7 am. We explored a bit and popped out our phones to set up breakfast via Mobile Order. Primo Piatto is the quick-service option on the property and it just so happened to be opening at 7. We were impressed with the massive portions of Croque Madame and the eponymous Primo Piatto Breakfast. I felt bad throwing away some of my food as there was far too much egg, cheesy polenta, bacon, and Italian sausage to eat all at once.


We had a reservation for Epcot, but the park does not currently open until 11 am. That was quite a way off and we had no room in which to relax. We found a nook behind the coffee shop on the main level called the Voyageur’s Lounge. The room is filled with old books and some cases featuring items actually owned and worn by Walt. An original Mickey Mouse plush reminds us that everyone’s favorite mouse has had some work done over the years. I sipped on coffee for a while, editing a podcast episode.

Somehow, it was after 11 and we decided to stick around. We relocated to Bar Riva downstairs, along the pool. This smooth-tiled space is an open-air bar, but the cool shade and a dozen ceiling fans helped keep us from melting into the Florida humidity. A quick lunch of excellent chicken wings coincided with our room finally becoming available.


We crashed for a bit.

But just a bit! We had dinner plans at Disney Springs.

The hotel was just a microcosm of Disney etiquette. Most people were fully masked at all times. There were rarely large groups moving anywhere. Getting onto a bus meant standing in our first line. The old bus system has changed significantly, forcing drivers to maintain their queue just like a ride operator. We were told to sit in specific, numbered seats. There were plastic partitions raised throughout the bus, allowing all of the seats to be used without exposing guests to each other.


Disney Springs was fairly busy. People mostly kept to their lanes, following the loose arrows painted on the ground. We observed the occasional nose peeking out from a mask, but in most cases, a second glance would show the offender had realized their mask slipped and had corrected the concern. People were having fun. Talking, laughing, shopping. It was a lot like “old times,” and I felt pretty good about it.

We had a cocktail and a snack at Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar, enjoying the cool breeze and staying out of a brief rain. Dinner was at Paddlefish where we watched more rain fall and the volcano at Rainforest Café belching flames into the night sky.


People are going to make mistakes. We all have to learn how to dance around each other and remind ourselves we cannot cluster together or follow each other into a doorway. Milling about waiting for a mobile order might require some of us to stand a bit further back. Wearing a double-layered piece of cloth and getting our foreheads scanned everywhere is not comfortable, but we are all doing this together, sharing in the face sweat and constant desire to fiddle with elastic straps around our ears.

In all, we had a great day. If this is any indicator of the rest of our week here at Disney World, we have a lot to which we can look forward. See you all tomorrow!

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