Almost 3 months ago, Disney made the decision that they would reopen the theme parks and certain resorts at Walt Disney World in Florida. The decision was met with tremendous worry from regular guests, cast members, agents, management and the travel industry if Disney had opened too soon. Today, we have our 11th article in our Back to the Parks series and just like the previous 10, the consensus is still the same – Disney is still magical!
While she may be new to our articles, agent Hunter Anderson has been an awesome member of our team for over 2 years now. Her trip is the perfect example of not letting a national pandemic outright cancel a fun celebration at Disney but rather, postpone until later. Hunter was kind enough to share her experiences with the amazing cast members and give us a look at how Disney was doing 2 months into reopening…
The Trip Basics
What parks did you visit and when were the dates? We checked in on September 12th and checked out on the 19th. We visited all four parks starting with Animal Kingdom on Sunday, September 13th, Hollywood Studios on Tuesday, September 15th, Epcot on Wednesday, September 16th, and Magic Kingdom on Thursday, September 17th.
What made you risk going back so soon? My trip had been planned since February 2020. The trip was planned as my sister’s 30th celebration as she really wanted to celebrate at Food and Wine Festival in Epcot! We were unsure about going for awhile as we really prioritize both our safety and the safety of our family that we were leaving at home. As our dates got closer, we did our research on Disney’s safety precautions and really felt that we could safely return and celebrate while being flexible should anyone in our group feel uneasy or unsafe. Ultimately, we decided to go when Disney announced that they would continue to host the Food and Wine Festival.
The Resort Basics
Did you stay on the grounds somewhere? Yes! We were originally booked to stay at Disney’s Polynesian Resort split with Disney’s Coronado Springs, Gran Destino Tower. When Disney announced the delayed reopening of these two resorts, we were moved to Disney’s new Riviera Resort and Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. We eventually opted to move the second half of our stay to a Villa at Disney’s Polynesian Resort.
What modes of transportation did you use to get around? We flew from Nashville, TN (BNA) to Orlando, FL (MCO) where we took the Magical Express to the Riviera Resort. Once at our resort we utilized both Bus Transportation and Disney’s Skyliner transportation.
The Park Basics
Was there a certain ticket/package you purchased and what was the process of purchasing (different or the same)? Since we booked our package in February of this year, the process of our ticket + resort package was very much the same as previous bookings.
What were the new guidelines you had to follow (masks, could not do this, etc.)? There were plenty of new guidelines, some suggested and recommended for safety and some that were mandatory. One of the first we noticed was the recommendation of Online Check-In. Since we had a party of four, I would typically check-in at the front desk to have everyone’s cards linked to their own Magic Bands, but for safety, we opted to do online check-in about a week before arrival. Once we landed, we noticed the plexiglass between us and cast members when checking in for our Magical Express where we then were met with distancing markers in the queue for our bus. Masks were mandatory, both by Disney and MCO.
How was the crowd size? Crowds had definitely increased starting about two weeks prior to our arrival. Wait times increased as a result but it didn’t prevent us from riding every attraction on our list. Though the crowds had increased, there was always ample room to find a space to distance yourself should you feel uneasy or overwhelmed. The crowds were nowhere near the previous pre-COVID capacity levels which led my mom (a lifelong Disney parks visitor) to book a trip for later this year!
Were there any attractions/experiences that were closed due to COVID? We are huge foodies, so we were more shocked at the amount of restaurants and food carts still closed more so than the amount of attractions closed. We were sad to miss the evening fireworks, parades, and stage shows, but we oddly enjoyed being able to meet even more characters through a distancing experience as well as being able to return to our resort for dinner and enjoying Happily Ever After on our resort television.
What was the attitude like of the employees? The Cast Members were so excited to welcome guests back! Each Cast Member we encountered was full of joy and eager to converse with us and express their happiness in welcoming guests back. I also appreciated how kind and graceful they were in reminding guests to follow safety guidelines. There was an instance where we finished eating a snack in Epcot and got up to head to an attraction and we were stopped by a Cast Member and asked to wear a mask… my mother had totally forgotten her mask after eating! The Cast Member was gracious and we all had a good laugh about it. It is so easy to forget your mask or to distance in attraction queues when you’ve been to Disney Parks many times before the new guidelines so the overhead reminders from Cast Members is really welcomed.
What was the attitude like of the guests? Our first day, we noticed a bit of tension in guests. Many were seasoned Disney Park guests and the new guidelines and systems (such as mobile ordering) were something they were not use to. Most guests were very understanding once explained the new systems and many were just excited to be back in the Magic.
The New Regulations Basics
How was wearing a mask in Florida in the summer? I won’t lie and say that you get used to it. Florida is hot and there are moments where you really need to take a break and remind yourself to chug some water. I feel like Florida is hot, mask or no mask, and the best way to make yourself comfortable is to try out different shapes and sizes of masks prior to your arrival. It is nice that there are so many exciting things to see and do around the parks and resorts that it keeps your mind off of both the heat and any sort of uncomfortable you may feel. As avid mask wearers at home, the masks were never any sort of deal breaker for our trip.
Did you ever feel unsafe? There was never an instance where I thought, “This is not okay” or “This is not safe.” If areas got too crowded, you could always find an area to take a break and distance yourself. Cast Members were great at enforcing safety measures and making everyone comfortable. Nearly every guest we saw was being mindful of each other and had no problem following the safety guidelines.
The Final Advice Basics
What advice do you have for post-COVID times at theme parks? Be very familiar with the My Disney Experience app! It is more vital than ever as nearly every quick-service restaurant is requiring you to mobile-order prior to entry. This will also be key to viewing wait times, checking in to your room, and more! Make sure to try different mask styles before traveling so you know which best fits you. My number one recommendation would be to be flexible. Some attractions may be closed on days you plan for them, merchandise you may be looking for may be sold out, hours to parks may be shortened, and wait times may fluctuate, but you have to understand that these are unprecedented times and everyone, including cast members, are learning to operate in the safest way possible and learning to adapt!
Do you think they opened too early or was it fine for what it was worth? I wouldn’t say they opened too early. I trust Disney to prioritize the safety of their staff and guests above all else so I knew that when they would reopen they would have as many safety guidelines in place as possible. I am glad that we waited to take our trip until we saw how Disney was operating after reopening and until we felt safe enough to travel. I recommend waiting until you feel safe before you travel so that you can fully enjoy yourself!
Anything else I forgot? I’m happy to report that everyone in our party scheduled a COVID-19 test for after our trip and all of our results returned negative!