Disney World began the re-opening of its theme parks just over two weeks ago. The process has been a long one, with the original announcement taking place back in June. It involved many enhancements to the cleaning at the resorts and the parks, but—for least two weeks—Disney seems like it has succeeded. Disney World is open.
Disney World has been a significant part of Elyssa’s and my life. From our engagement, honeymoon, and, of course, the discovery of her brain tumor, quite a few of our major milestones have either involved or taken place at Disney World. After the parks were closed for four-months as a result of the pandemic, I had hoped that Disney World’s reopening would again be a milestone. Specifically, I hoped that the opening of Disney World would signify that things were a little more “normal.” After these two weeks, I am not yet sure if I feel that way.
With any luck, Elyssa and I will visit Disney World in the next month or so. I know there are differing opinions about whether or not the parks should have opened. I do not intend to get into that debate. Disney World is open, and we may visit in the semi-near future. To prepare for that visit, I have been reading a lot (all?) of the coverage of the reopening. Here are some highlights of that coverage, along with some of my thoughts about them and the reopening.
Disney has been making a lot of posts about safety. Both CEO Bob Chapek and Chairman of Disney Parks, Josh D’Amaro have given interviews explaining the safety-related changes and justifying Disney’s decision to reopen its largest and most important theme park resort. Even before people saw how these changes were implemented, the commentary about Disney’s steps was positive, including from the local hospital community.
The first set of announced changes addressed specific risks associated with COVID-19, such as allowing payment via Apple Pay and Disney Gift Cards when placing heavily encouraged mobile orders, and adding plexiglass to cashier stations where mobile ordering is not possible. The next announcements were that certain seasonal entertainment would not take place, that there would be no character meet and greets or nighttime spectaculars,, and that certain attractions and restaurants would not be part of the initial reopening. Disney also eliminated Fastpass+ to permit ride queues to be re-configured to allow for social distancing between parties on all attractions.
The biggest change, however, was the announcement of the new Disney World Park Pass system. This system requires Disney World guests to pre-select a single park for each day of their visit (no park hopping is allowed during this phase of the reopening) in order to ensure that the parks do not exceed their limited capacity on a given day. Each park gets a limited number of Park Passes per day, and the passes are broken up between resort guests, regular guests, and AP holders.
Initial Reopening Reports
Originally, Elyssa and I had a trip booked that would have put us at Disney World for reopening weekend. After some discussion, we decided we were going to wait and watch how things played out from afar. Though we have only been following other people’s coverage, it looks like the reopening experience went pretty smoothly
Here is a sample of the reopening reports that I read and found interesting:
- Josh at easyWDW’s write-up about Magic Kingdon’s reopening: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6
- Tom Bricker on Animal Kingdom’s reopening
- Josh at easyWDW’s write-up about Animal Kingdom’s reopening: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
- Len Testa’s write-up of eating at the Poly, Wilderness Lodge, and Contemporary
- Tom Bricker on EPCOT’s reopening
- Blog Mickey on the reopening of The Studios
Guides for Planning a Trip this Summer
Planning a Disney World trip this year will be a very different process from the process that has evolved over the past few years. This new process involves planning a trip based on visiting only one park per day, with no Fastpass+, and with limited capacity at restaurants. After only a couple of weeks, the recommendations for putting together the best version of this type of plan appear to be still in flux. Thankfully, the usual suspects have been putting together resources to help figure things out, including Disney World itself:
After selecting your lodging, the first major step in planning your trip is to secure your Park Pass reservations. Josh over at easyWDW has a comprehensive guide on how to use the Park Pass system. You should pay attention to all the details in the guide, but the main thing to keep in mind is that reservations for Disney’s Hollywood Studios seem to go the quickest (in fact, AP holders cannot get a reservation through all of August). There are different theories about why this is true, but I believe it is likely a combination of The Studios having two of the newest, headliner attractions (Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway), along with The Studios having a limited possible capacity due to the inability to run live shows (Indiana Jones, Beauty and the Beast, etc…) that are normally places to “hold” people when they are not in line for other attractions. Whatever the reason, though, Hollywood Studios is the toughest park reservation to get and you should factor that into your planning.
If you are someone who wants to simply be at Disney World, and is less concerned about any particular attractions, Disney’s decision to—essentially—start Food & Wine now has made EPCOT a particularly interesting option. EPCOT gives guests a chance to walk around, in the open air, and enjoy something that is normally reserved for the fall season. Of course, being at EPCOT also does involve being outside in the Florida sun during July and August, but—if your main goal is to be in Disney World, while staying outside and generally away from people—Epcot might be worth a look.
The lack of any Fastpass+ system give the potential for spontaneity on the day you are actually visiting a park, especially with the overall lower wait times. Personally, I thought Disney would implement a broader virtual queue system, but—to date—the only virtual queue is for Rise of the Resistance. The lack of any virtual queuing allows you to roam the parks more freely and otherwise evaluate wait times dynamically throughout the day. One thing to keep in mind, Disney shuts down its attractions about every 2 hours to clean them thoroughly. This cleaning-related delay does cause a longer wait (and may result in a visibly longer line), but reports are that things move pretty quickly once the ride re-opens.
There is a lot new about planning a Disney World vacation during 2020, and I anticipate the advice will continue to evolve over the next couple of weeks. If you want singular resources right now about planning your trip, I suggest you check out these guides from easyWDW and Blog Mickey
Predictions for how the Summer will Play Out
Early predictions are that there might not be a lot of demand at Disney World this summer. I agree with these predictions. For me, the most significant indicator of continuing low crowds is that Disney is offering large merchandise and hotel discounts through at least Mid-August and sometimes into September. Discounts of this kind are an indicator that Disney has looked at its upcoming bookings and determined that it needs to do something to try and convince people to book a vacation. With the nature of this pandemic, however, I am not sure if there is any financial incentive that will persuade some people to travel to Central Florida in 2020.
Summary and Final Thoughts
A lot has changed since mid-March, when Elyssa and I sat in an auditorium with Bob Iger and Bob Chapek. Mr. Iger explained that Disney had weathered uncertainty before, but I am confident that he did not anticipate that Disney’s crown jewel theme park would be closed for four months (and that its original theme park would have no re-opening date even announced for that same period.) Now that the parks are open, I am starting to feel the pull to get back down there and visit. My expectations are tempered due to the necessary limitations that Disney has put on visits as a result of COVID-19. However, I am hopeful that there is still enough “Disney” left in the experience that I will be able to enjoy being back at Disney World, even while everything else goes on. Ultimately, I think I am just going to have to see for myself whether the Disney magic really is back.