This is What it Was Like to be at Disney World’s Official Reopening

My family just returned from reopening day of Disney’s Magic Kingdom and I’m here to share the good, the magical, and the things that could’ve used a little more pixie dust.

Before I take you on a literary journey of my day, I have to acknowledge the fact that today was an extremely important and significant day in the history of Disney Parks, and the entire Walt Disney Company. As guests poured into the park this morning, Cast Members lined Main Street, welcoming guests with a wave and warm smiles (under face masks, of course), and that’s when it occurred to me I was right smack dab in the middle of Disney history in the making. I could feel my emotions start to come to the surface, and all it took was one quick, “welcome home,” from a Cast Member and I was a complete sobbing mess.

Yes, I’m scared about what’s still happening in the world (especially in my home state of Florida), but for a brief moment, all that left my body and I got to be that carefree person I was pre-COVID-19. Many will argue with me that Disney wasn’t doing enough for social distancing, and they’re entitled to feel that way. But it was my personal experience today, that I witnessed months of Disney’s hard work finally paying off.

Security and Temperature Check Point

I have to admit, this was one of the things I was having the most anxiety about. I envisioned long lines moving very slowly, people not social distancing, and the entire process taking way too long. In reality, I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I was worrying about nothing.

There was no line for temperature checks or security. Disney’s security guards and representatives from Advent Health (who were taking temperatures) were properly trained and confidently greeted guests as they approached.

Normally, bag and security check would take our family 15-20 minutes to get through. We were done with temperature and security check today all within 5 minutes. Another element that seemed to expedite the entry process was Disney’s removal of finger print scanners. Swiping your magicband and entering the park is easier than ever now.

Signage, Signage, Everywhere!

It’s essentially impossible to forget about all social distancing guidelines while in the park, because Disney has properly placed signs everywhere, reminding all of us to do our part.

For the most part, I observed all guests following Disney’s new social distancing guidelines. Disney has done a terrific job preparing its guests, which ultimately allows them to maintain control of the situation. What Disney can’t control is weather, and if there’s one thing that’s certain in Florida during the Summer, it’s rain and thunderstorms. As it began to downpour this afternoon, guests were scrambling to take cover in a store or anything that would shield them from the rain. I witnessed several guest scramble to the Momento Mori’s covered front porch, and at that given time, there was at least 10-15 people huddled together in a small space. It’s not any Cast Member’s fault, and I’m confident that Disney is already on top of this situation, but it was certainly a situation that needs to be addressed.

As far as social distancing in attractions goes, I saw nothing but cooperation and a commitment from every guest to maintaining Disney’s new guidelines. Having little kids, this was another situation I worried about. I was sure that my kids would never be able to social distance in a line, surprisingly I was wrong. The thing is, due to low capacity and the lines not having as many people, they moved really fast. My kids didn’t have time to become board because we were almost always moving. I also had fun with them in line and would pretend I didn’t know what the social distancing markers meant in the queues, they got a kick out of “telling me” what they meant and made sure to tell me where to stand.

There are also hand sanitizer machines as far as the eye can see. Bus stops, throughout Main Street USA, just about everywhere you looked was hand sanitizer. There was also hand washing stations, as well. At the entrance and exit of every attraction there are hand sanitizer machines for guests to use. The only change I would make to this is having more than one. I noticed several guests bypassed them because others had lined up to use them. I’m not sure if they’re mandatory for before and after an attraction, but I appreciated them being there, I only wish there were one or two more at each location.

Transportation

I was waiting until the end to address the debacle that was this morning’s bus situation to the park. It’s literally, the only bad experience I had today.

The Magic Kingdom opened at 9 am and buses began running at 8 am. Taking into consideration Disney’s new transportation guidelines, I wanted to make sure we were at our resort’s bus stop by 8 am. I assumed not everyone at the bus stop would be able to get on the bus, so my thought was if we could get there and be one of the first groups in line, we would be guaranteed a spot.

By 8:05 am it was my family, another family of 3, and a party of two. My plan (and presumably the plan of the other two groups) was going to work and we would certainly be at the Magic Kingdom to watch the gates open. What sounded like a good idea in theory, proved otherwise. By 8:30 am, there had been five empty Animal Kingdom buses that stopped by, but no bus for the Magic Kingdom. 9:00 am rolled around (we had now missed the gates being opened) and all we saw was two more Animal Kingdom buses. Our bus stop was full of groups at this point, it was extremely hot and everybody’s kids (not just my own) were understandably, at their breaking point.

A Magic Kingdom bus finally came around 9:15 am. Aside from waiting over an hour for one Magic Kingdom bus to come, I was impressed with how guests are able to social distance on the bus. Disney had the bus set up for 5-6 groups to be on at a time, partitions were placed to divide those groups and there were signs that marked where you could not sit for social distancing purposes.

Our transportation experience improved after the morning, but I still decided to ask guest services if they knew what happened. Apparently, the issue was there being several bus stops at our resort, and there was no communication between the drivers. The buses kept going to the first stop, their bus would become full right there and they would just go to the park. Anyone at stop 2, 3, 4, etc. didn’t even have a chance. There was no communication between the drivers and they just kept going the first stop, then leaving.

I’m interested to see if the morning bus process improves, over the next few days. I’m confident that Disney will figure everything out and have a better plan in place for resorts with several bus stops. Actually, knowing Disney, they already have a team assigned to this very issue and have already implemented that plan.

Top Tips 

Above all, know your limits and stay in your comfort zone. Trust me, no one is judging you, and we all have our own ways of getting through this comfortably. For my husband and I, we took our queues from our children. Within 10 minutes of walking in, my oldest was drenched in sweat and I could tell the heat was definitely getting to them a lot faster with masks on. We asked them id they wanted to leave and they said no, so we ultimately decided to stay. However, I made a conscious effort to continuously let them know that, at any moment, they could say the word and we would go back to the resort pool. I have to say, they were (storm) troopers and we lasted almost 7 hours today.

I credit taking several, longer than usual breaks for our long stay in the park. In fact, this is my top tip when it comes to face masks in the park, lots of breaks! Normally, we’d buy a Mickey pretzel and walk with it to the next attraction. Today we approached things a little differently. When our kids expressed they were hungry,  we bought a few pretzels, some drinks, and found a place in the shade to take our masks off. Disney permits guests to remove masks while eating and drinking. Rather than rush to the next ride, we took our time and enjoyed a solid 45 minutes of not having to wear a mask (while eating delicious Mickey pretzels). Without doing that, several times throughout the day, we probably would’ve gone back to our resort sooner.

It also goes without saying that making sure you remain hydrated is key to combatting Florida’s Summer heat. Disney is great, in that they allow you to bring in your own food and beverage. I packed several Gatorades and bottles of water, which we went through within a few hours. But another great thing about Disney is that you can ask for a cup of ice water from any quick service, and it’s not only refreshing, it’s complimentary! Disney also had fans blowing on guests throughout almost all the queues, which immediately cooled you off.

The Overall Experience

After months of hearing about the new changes coming to Disney World, I admittedly was not entirely sold on Disney’s plan for its parks and resorts. But tonight, I’m singing a different tune.

Despite an entirely reimagined experience, the magic of Disney is still there. It’s in the attractions that remain open, the new character cavalcades (which, by the way, we saw more characters today than ever before in the parks), and in the faces of its Cast Members. Even more so, I felt Disney really took the time to make sure the “new normal” of its parks reflected its “old normal.” They knew their guests would crave the Disney experience we knew pre-pandemic, and absolutely they delivered on that to the best of their ability.

I feel more comfortable taking my children to Walt Disney World than I do anywhere at home. Disney has updated their already high standards for cleanliness across their parks and resorts, with a special emphasis on areas such as attractions, queues, dining, lobbies, transportation and other common spaces. Not 5 minutes would go by during my time in the park today, where I didn’t see a Cast Member doing their part to maintain the safe environment Disney has created for its guests and other Cast Members.

Today was a day that my family will never forget. If Disney has taught us parents anything, it’s that our children are only little for a little while and I can’t help but think about all the time I lost with my kids in the parks these last few months. My husband and I were ready to get back into a park and make up for lost time, literally 4 months worth of Disney Magic Moments. As far as my children go, I haven’t seen them smile this much in a very long time. During quarantine, I can’t tell you how many meltdowns we had that ended in them saying they missed Disney World and hated the virus. In March when our Disney World trip and cruise was cancelled, I explained to them that Mickey wasn’t feeling well and we would see him when he was better. I had all but forgotten about that story I told them in the very beginning of all this, but they hadn’t. As we walked down Main Street, my youngest looked up at me and said, “Mommy, every day I wished Mickey would feel better and he finally does!” That special spark inside them, the one that fuels their imagination and allows them to believe dreams really do come true, was lit once again.

Finally, we’re back home.

 

Kristi is the Media and PR Director for The Kingdom Insider. She's a lifelong Disney fan and grew up spending her family vacations at the Happiest Place on Earth. She resides in Florida with her husband and two boys, ages 4 and 6.