As of July 15, Disney has reopened all four of their Orlando theme parks. With Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom opening on the 11th and EPCOT and Hollywood Studios following closely behind on the 15th. During their opening week, we learned a lot about how the parks will be operating and what it might be like to head back in the near future.
Before we get to our list of what we learned, if you are interested in getting started with planning your adventure, check out our post about why we think heading back to either Disney World or Universal this fall or winter may be a great idea.
Here are 5 things that we learned this week!
1) The crowds are light
And by light, we mean that for most attractions the waits were 5 to 10 minutes for most of the day - this was even true for some of the best rides in the park. We did see a few sneak up to around 30 to 40 minutes, but that was a far cry from the usual 120 minutes that we often see on busy Saturdays in the summer.
However, it should also be noted that this lower capacity is not completely due to the limits that Disney put in place with their reservation system as there were still park passes available for opening day on the 11th when Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom opened.
Instead, we should look to Hollywood Studios, the only sold out park, for a better idea of what crowds will be like once guests start to fill up the hotels and feel more comfortable traveling. While not as empty as what we saw in the other three parks, the wait times were still reduced to about a quarter to half of what we would expect to see. The only ride with a that was consistently 60 minutes or more was Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad.
While we would expect the crowds to increase in the other parks over the summer and maybe into the fall, there is reason to be excited about lower crowds for the foreseeable future. Just be careful to not assume that it will be as light as it has been every day moving forward.
2) Touring strategy as we know it has changed
In the past, there were clear cut strategies for how to maneuver around the parks to utilize FastPasses, leverage rope drop effectively, and park hop as needed. Now that has all changed and must be re-learned and analyzed. Over the next few weeks we will be studying the park wait times to update our planning guides and touring strategy information to accurately reflect this new reality.
In the meantime, there are a few key takeaways that we think will be important to the new strategies.
First of all, rope drop has changed significantly. Instead of hustling guests into the parks only to hold them at a designated location, Disney has now created intentional bottlenecks in other areas where social distancing is easier to maintain and enforce. Bus transportation from the hotels and entry to the parking lots are not starting as early in the morning. Additionally, Disney is using the security and temperature screening areas to slow the flow of guests into the park and keep large crowds from forming around the actual park gates which they are often opening earlier than the scheduled time. Once inside, guests can go straight to the attractions rather than wait at “rope drop” areas with most already operational before the scheduled park opening.
Secondly, ride capacities have changed, making some rides that used to have very high capacity now be much slower loading when compared to their in-park neighbors. From what we can tell, boat rides seem to be the most impacted by this change, including Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Navi River Journey, Frozen Ever After and Living with the Land. This throws off the general thinking as to what order in which to visit different attractions. Additionally, without FastPasses, you now have to ride every ride via the Standby line so the order of your morning in the parks will likely be different than before.
Finally, with the limited park hours (each park is only open for 10 hours each day) and no park hopping, it is now very difficult to manage the mid-day break that we always recommend. You definitely can leave the park and return the same day, but it may make more sense instead to find your rest times during the morning or evening. Plus, since there are now 5-20 minute waits for top attractions throughout the day, it is no longer imperative to arrive an hour before opening to snag multiple rides on Flight of Passage, Space Mountain or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. This makes the evenings great times to tour the parks as well.
Our main take away from all of this is that rope drop is significantly different and likely less important than before. As stated above, we are working on some new strategies on how to plan your day in the parks for the coming weeks. Make sure to subscribe to our base camp to stay up to date!
3) Disney has done a great job of doing everything they can to keep those who choose to visit safe.
Most of the people that we have seen visit the parks this week are Orlando residents and have agreed that they feel quite safe when they are at Disney World.
Disney is actively requiring everyone to wear masks and cast members are actually reminding people and enforcing the rules on this. All of the queues are marked with sections 6 feet apart for guests to stand in while waiting in line. Pre shows are no longer being used on most rides and the ones that are, are significantly limiting the number of people in the room. Plus, any queue where people would end up standing beside one another have plexiglass to separate guests.
As we mentioned above, ride capacity is also being limited with most rides leaving 1-2 rows between parties or only loading one party per ride vehicle. On a few rides they have even installed plexiglass between the rows for additional safety. Additionally, they are shutting down every ride and doing a full and thorough cleaning every 2 hours.
Finally, since the parks are so empty, there is no real need to get within 6 feet of another guest while walking throughout the park, with entire areas often being completely empty.
In summary, Disney appears to be well equipped to welcome guests back into the parks. For Orlando residents, a visit to WDW is likely not any riskier than a visit to a restaurant or grocery store around town.
4) Some guests still need to feel more comfortable before they go
We have also seen the multiple viral posts and the corresponding negative press and public opinion (just read the comments on this post) regarding the reopening of Disney World. And, it is definitely true that there are risks of reopening while COVID-19 cases continue to grow in Florida and throughout the US. This is especially for out of state visitors as traveling to Florida right now is definitely risky.
While we do feel that Disney World really has done a great job of preparing for reopening, we personally have chosen to not return yet and likely won’t until cases start to decline in Florida. But everyone should feel open to making their own decision for whatever is best for them and their family.
5) We can’t wait to get back!
While we have chosen to not visit this summer, all of the insta stories, youtube videos and blog posts we have been watching and reading are really tickling our itch for getting back as soon as we feel that it is safe for us to travel. I can’t tell you how many times we would ride Flight of Passage or Expedition Everest with 5 minute waits all day! Also, it just looks way more peaceful and relaxing than a Disney trip has in the past.
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