By Erik Johnson
[A version of this post recently appeared in Celebrations Magazine]
The year 2020 will be remembered for many reasons, but for many Disney fans, it will have special significance. Following the longest period of closure in Disney Parks history, Walt Disney World reopened on July 11th. This closure was so much more than just a Disney drought, but the reopened parks represent a very large step toward a new normal.
Notice the term “new” normal. It is hard to see in the near future how families can resume life the way it used to be. Disney created significant new rules designed to enhance the safety of its guests and cast members. These rules were designed based on health department guidelines and lessons learned from reopening Shanghai Disney in China. If you are planning a trip to the parks soon, these new rules will change the way your family enjoys Disney World. With a little bit of preparation, you can still enjoy the fun and magic of any Disney trip of the past.
Preparing for your day in the Parks
Disney makes regular updates to its reopening strategy, conveying information in a very open and transparent way. This makes a lot of sense. Disney wants all of its guests to feel confident and safe returning to their favorite vacation destinations. In addition to the now-accepted security checks, guests may go through temperature screenings when they arrive at the parks. Disney warns that families should check their own temperatures before leaving for the parks each day, potentially avoiding the disappointment of arriving at a park just to be turned back. Be wary of any temperatures approaching 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, the cutoff Disney has in place based on health department recommendations. Check out this site for updates.
By now, you are probably also aware of the need for masks everywhere except for dining locations and Disney’s designated Relaxation Areas. For now, nobody can stroll through the park enjoying their favorite treats, as those masks need to be in place on your face! Disney has some specific requirements for masks as well. Masks must have at least two layers of fabric and tie or loop around the ears. Gaiters, bandannas, and masks with valves are not allowed. Families will need to arrive prepared to wear masks all day long so it’s worthwhile to pack a few extras. If the day is hot enough, you will likely want to swap out a mask for a fresh one. Check out Bryn’s recent post about some of our favorite Disney-themed masks!
At this time, guests are only allowed to reserve admission to one park per day. For those used to park hopping, this may feel very restrictive. Disney limits the crowds in their parks as they reopen, ensuring they can maintain cleanliness and physical distancing between all guests. Download the My Disney Experience app, link all your tickets and guests together, and select the parks you will visit each day. Now that the process has been available for a while, the system seems smooth. Guests at the resort hotels seem to have the most availability for reservations, so do not worry too much about whether you can visit your favorite places.
How Disney is preparing
As I mentioned, Disney limits park capacity to help keep everything clean and safe. Cast members are always required to wear masks to protect your family. New cleaning procedures will step up their already-obsessive cleaning routines. Handrails, restrooms, elevators, tables, chairs, and ride vehicles will all receive the Disney cleaning treatment to a much greater extent throughout the day. In areas where distancing is not possible, physical barriers (think sneeze guards) are in place. No need to worry about getting too close to a cash register or a Guest Relations representative.
Physical distancing is a major priority in the parks as well. Guests are used to seeing tape lines to guide them around parade and fireworks viewing areas. Disney will place even more signage and directions on the ground. These efforts will help keep guests separated and direct crowd flow more than usual. Some of your favorite pathways through the parks may be altered, but this is for everyone’s safety. You might prefer to walk to the right or the left when you enter the Magic Kingdom, but for now, you may not have the same choices you used to!
Changes to attractions
Fireworks displays, shows, and Disney parades will be absent in the early days of this reopening. Instead of the spectaculars that caused families to congregate and stake out their spots hours in advance, Disney created some smaller cavalcades. These are short parades that let your family see the characters they love with a little more frequency and a little more distance. Character meet-and-greets will be changed as well, with fewer opportunities for that up-close hug and photo.
Crowds are lower right now, and that has made a huge difference. Disney now requires more spacing between people on rides and cast members often pause to do a complete clean on attraction queues and ride vehicles. Queues are changed to accommodate six feet between families. Fast passes are also temporarily suspended as most attractions have waits measured only in the time it takes to traverse the queue.
Some dining locations remain closed for the time being and many restaurants have reduced seating to allow for more spacing between tables. Dining reservations are still available, though. The Food & Wine Festival is in full swing at Epcot with a few changes. Resort openings were restricted to Disney Vacation Club properties in the earliest days, but other locations are starting to open more rooms over time.
More so than any other time, there are many factors to consider regarding a Disney vacation. Your family’s health should be first and foremost on that list. Disney recognizes that travel is inherently risky right now, and they have done as much as they can to keep guests safe within their protective bubble. From families visiting the parks to NBA players taking over a portion of the resort, they are doing great with what they have.
Every decision we make right now feels even more serious and important than usual. If you feel comfortable taking your family to Walt Disney World right now, it certainly would be an interesting time to visit. Your ConciEARS travel planners are here to answer any questions you have. We are staying up to date with all of the travel restrictions and will help make your trip preparation easier. Please give us a call with any questions you may have and let’s get planning!