Reopening of Walt Disney World : What to know before you go

I’ve been a Florida resident annual passholder at Walt Disney World, worked at the Disney Studios on the Disney College Program as Pluto, and grew up visiting there as a kid after a very long two day car trip from Pennsylvania to Orlando. In short, I’m a lifelong fan.

When the Disney parks closed earlier this year, it was just beginning of what was to come, but it was shocking to me at the time (not anymore). As the the country and rest of the world begin to slowly reopen, Walt Disney World is following suit. I struggled with writing this article a bit because I don’t want people to think that I’m advocating going to Disney, or implying that the life is getting back to normal. Far from it. It may be a bit early for you to feel comfortable heading to the parks just yet, but I anticipate we will be living in this “in between” world for a while and the new restrictions and protocols will continue for some time. If and when you choose to go to Walt Disney World, I wanted to provide some tips, tricks and observations after my annual passholder preview visit last week.

You’re going to need a reservation. Currently (July 2020) Disney is not selling new tickets, so only current ticket holders, annual passholders and resort hotel guests are able to go for the time being. In order to visit the park, you need to make a reservation on the Disney Go website or My Disney Experience mobile app. Annual passholders can make up to 3 reservations at a time on a rolling basis (meaning once you use a day, you can make a new reservation for another date), subject to availability. Hotel guests staying on Disney property are eligible to make reservations for the duration of their stay, subject to availability. Parks are limited to 25% capacity right now to help with social distancing, and park hopping and fast passes are not available. That being said, Disney is updating its rules and policies every day, so check the Official Walt Disney World website before your visit to make sure you have the most up to date information.

Guests are required to wear a mask for entry to the parks, and must wear it inside and outside for the duration of their visit. I know it sounds awful in the Florida heat, but it honestly wasn’t that bad. You are are allowed to temporarily take your mask down to eat and drink as needed, and there was at least one area I saw between Tomorrowland and Main Street where you can unmask to take a quick break at some distanced seating. Neck gators are not allowed as a mask, and Disney has just announced masks should be at least a double layer. Invest in a comfortable one, and bring a few backups in the event it rains or it gets sweaty.

As an extra precautionary measure, I made sure the shoes and bag I used that day could be washed. I also brought plenty of hand sanitizer, but didn’t need it very much because Disney has sanitation stations throughout the park, and usually at the entrance and exit of each ride. When I got home for the day I washed my shoes and left them outside, dumped the contents of my bag in one place to wipe down, and just threw everything I was wearing into the wash and jumped in the shower. It may be overkill, but you get pretty gross after a day at the parks anyway so why not?

Social distancing measures begin in the parking lot. Attendants direct guests to park every other space, so there will be plenty of room between your vehicles. The trams from the parking lot to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) aren’t running right now, so plan to walk from your car.

Before getting to the security check point each person will go through a temperature screening. This took all of two seconds and was a very easy process. If a guest has a temperature of 100.4 or higher they will be denied entrance to the park. Instead of security looking in each bag, guests are directed to place metal objects and electronic devices in a bin and the guest will proceed through a metal detector with their bag. I put my phone and keys in a Ziploc bag to make it easier and keep things cleaner.

You will have the option to take a bus, the boat or monorail to the Magic Kingdom. I chose the monorail but have heard good things about the other methods. There are three boats running, and each boat has markers where guests should stand to maintain social distance. Guests are directed to stand on a number to enter a specific car and either left or right seat on the monorail. Each car is split in half by a divider and only on party sits on each side.

All ques in the park are clearly marked where to stand at least 6 feet apart, and in many cases an even greater distance. Guests are supposed to remain in place until the next line marker is free and then advance one space. Folks are pretty diligent about keeping the distance between each party, and frankly its a more pleasant way to go through line than being crammed in like sardines. The route of many lines have been altered to avoid switchbacks where people pass each other, and when not possible, plexiglass dividers have been installed. In the Haunted Mansion, guests enter the front door and stand in single file line more than six feet apart and pass through the “stretching room” with a slightly altered script.

In the park, you will hear regular announcements reminding guests to keep a safe distance from one another, wash hands often, and keep masks on at all times. There are also signs posted throughout the park reminding guests to do the same. You no longer have to push to open any trash cans, and Disney has employees constantly cleaning the bathrooms.

Some of the guest experiences have been altered or are closed. In order to avoid large gatherings, there is no longer a large parade, shows at the castle or fireworks at night. Character meet and greets have also been suspended. Periodically a float with characters will make its way through the park, or do a drive by. On my way out, five princesses were standing at different locations at the train station on Main Street, waiving at guests as they leave the park.

Guests are encouraged to order and pay for food on the My Disney Experience mobile app to limit ques and touch points. Outside, I grabbed a Dole Whip float and headed to secluded place down by the Pirates of the Carribbean to eat it very far from anyone. Inside sit down restaurants there were signs on most of the tables instructing guests not to sit there, leaving only a limited number of tables spaced far apart. Many of the stores and some of the restaurants and food kiosks are closed, but don’t worry, there are still a few places to buy Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, drinks and popcorn.

During the passholder preview, most rides were walk on and one or two of the big attractions (like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) had wait times between 10-25 minutes. For the most part there was plenty of room to walk around the park and not be near other people. The density per square foot was a little higher on a few narrow pathways and in front of the castle, but there was mostly plenty of room to navigate around the park at a distance from others. I’m not sure how many people attended on the day I was at the Magic Kingdom, or whether it was near 25% capacity, so I am curious to see how future guests describe the experience.

Ride attendants spaced parties out with empty seats in between and cleaned the rides regularly. For example, on Thunder Mountain, a party of four would be seated in two continguous seats and then two seats back a party of two would be seated. Throughout the day, Disney stops the rides and cleans each of the vehicles with a disinfectant cleaner (I’ve reach taht its Perioxide Multi Surfact Cleaner that can kill Norovirus in 45 seconds) and will run the cars through empty before use again. I sanitized my hands before and after each attraction to be safe, and tried not to touch the safety bars or anything else in the cart besides my butt to the seat.

I will admit I was a bit nervous before going to the park, but if overall I felt pretty safe throughout my visit. People seemed to be following the rules, and it appeared that proper social distancing protocols were in place. In general, folks kept their distance from one another, there were no crowds, and guests were wearing their face masks properly. At home is always the safest place to be, but given what I saw during my visit I would go again so long as the current precautions are still place.

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