What it's like to visit the Magic Kingdom with new COVID-19 health and safety restrictions

27 days ago in "Magic Kingdom"

Magic Kingdom reopening from COVID-19 closure

The Magic Kingdom reopens to guests this week following a near 4 month closure due to COVID-19.

We attended the park on its first day of soft opening as cast members got to put the new health and safety measures into action for the first time.

There is no question that the Disney theme park experience is now very different than it was - some for the better, some for the worse. Here is a rundown of what you can expect.

Arriving at the Park

The Magic Kingdom is scheduled to open at 9am for the foreseeable future, and to help manage crowds, Disney is now holding cars at the auto plaza until 8am. This is a marked change from the before, when the parking lot would open hours before the park opened. The theory here is that guests in their own cars are socially distanced and not standing in groups.



The queue of traffic at the auto plaza is then moved through the parking lot in phases, again to eliminate large numbers of guests parking cars at the same time and grouping together.



Once in the parking area, cars are separated by at least one empty parking space.



Again to avoid grouping of guests, there are no parking trams, so everyone must walk to the front of the park. 

Temperature Checks and Security Screening

Following on from the process introduced at Disney Springs, all guests have a forehead temperature screening. Anyone exceeding the safe limits is directed to a medical tent for a re-screen or denial of entry. The process is fast and easy, which is more than can be said for what comes next, the security screening.

As of July 9, guests are asked to place any metal water bottles into the bin, and then carry their bag through the metal detector with them. In many cases, the detector alerts and the guest is sent to a table for further inspection. Guests are asked to empty the contents onto the table to be inspected

Thankfully, improvements may be in the pipeline. We saw at Disney Springs that a new scanner is under testing, and a couple of these have been deployed to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for more testing. You can read more about this in our original report. The scanners allow guests to pass through in groups with bags, and advanced computer software determines if there is any threat which requires closer examination.

Transportation

Despite very low guest numbers for the soft opening, Disney was operating all three transportation systems from the TTC to Magic Kingdom - ferryboat, monorail and bus.

It is here the social distancing really becomes noticeable, and a first glimpse at how social distancing makes for a vastly superior guest experience.

Buses now use boarding groups, with a cast member directing parties to sit in specific areas of the bus prior to boarding.

Inside, some sections are blocked off, and there is no standing.

Taking to the monorail, there is no more filling in every inch of space in the queue and being herded around like cattle. Physical distancing markers are on the ground, keeping parties apart by 6ft.

Reaching the top of the ramp, guests are directed to numbered gates, which largely equals one party per seating row on the monorail. There is no standing, and a partition screen divides the cabin. Riding the monorail is once again enjoyable.

A similar approach is taken with the ferry boat. Instead of being packed into a holding pen shoulder to shoulder, each party now stands on a numbered dot on the ground which corresponds to a boarding group.

As groups are called, they enter the ferry boat and stand on a brown marker on the ground.

Various parts of the ferry are closed off, including the benches But like on the monorail, it is a welcome relief to not be crowded and to actually have some space to your own.

Entering the Park

The entry process has remained largely similar at the tap styles, although there are markers on the ground to maintain distances. It isn’t clear yet if fingerprint scanners will be used again, since the park is currently in a soft opening and none were being taken.

Crowds

A crowd free Magic Kingdom experience in 2020? YES!

Physical distancing and massively reduced capacity means crowds are incredibly low - at least for now. For those who may have visited 20 years ago, on a mid-week September day - this is that. Walking along Main Street U.S.A. with just a handful of people, being able to see everything without being shoulder to shoulder with others - it is wonderful.

Attractions

Very low number of guests + no FastPass = do everything in Magic Kingdom easily in a single day.

If anyone needs a reminder of how great the park experience can be without FastPass+ and the endless pressure of planning and meeting those plans, this is it. Wait times are minimal, you are free to go to any attraction whenever you want, and experience the attraction within a sensible amount of time.

Maximum waits were around 30 minutes, but the majority of rides were 5 or 10 minutes. Try to imagine how it is to just on a whim decide to go ride Peter Pan, and just walk through the queue and get onboard. Or a mid-afternoon ride on Space Mountain with just the time it takes to walk the queue as the only wait.

For those of you have attended a Disney After Hours ticketed event, it is a similar experience.

The benefits of physical distancing don't just come to wait times and queues. Once on-board, expect to have empty rows between parties, or in the case of Splash Mountain, entire logs to yourself.

Physical distancing does come with some costs when it comes to rides. Show elements have been sacrificed to enable distancing. Specifically, Haunted Mansion loses its pre-show. The stretching room is now a walk-through, although the audio does play as you pass through. Splash Mountain has its water cannons turned off, which means less of splash down. Winnie the Pooh has its interactive queue elements roped off, as does Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

The main takeaway though, is waits are low, you can ride what you want, when you want, and can easily do everything at the Magic Kingdom in a single day, with some repeats. If anyone was in any doubt at how FastPass+ has negatively impacted the park experience, its absence illustrates the point very clearly.

Entertainment

Unlike rides, which are in most ways now a better experience, entertainment has taken a big hit. Shows, parades and fireworks are no more. Such an integral part of the Disney theme park experience, guests now have a limited number of entertainment options to take in.

Popup character appearances take place around the park, including Tomorrowland, Main Street station, and Frontierland.

No meet and greets are available, the closest resemblance would be getting within 6ft of Stitch on the Tomorrowland stage.

Character cavalcades run frequently throughout the day along Main Street U.S.A. The idea being that there is no need to wait or stake out a spot on the parade route.

Each cavalcade features a handful of characters, usually on a single float, similar to those found in the old street party. Even the castle float makes an appearance with Disney Princesses aboard.

Should the health and safety restrictions persist, there seems to be a lot of scope for adding much more entertainment while still maintaining distances. Smaller offerings, running more frequently, and in more places appears to be the answer - and could no doubt be developed to plug the entertainment gap should these conditions exist into the future.

Dining

The dining experience has undergone a number of changes to unravel the old system of congested registers and dining rooms.

At quick service restaurants, the only option is Mobile Order using My Disney Experience. Guests who have placed an order are told to remain outside, and return when notified.

Once notified, guests are directed to a specific pickup point to collect the food.

Inside the dining rooms, tables are blocked off to enforce distancing.

Like the attractions, dining is a much more pleasant experience now than it was before. No more eating on the top of trash cans at Pecos Bills, or waiting 45 minutes at a Cosmic Rays register to place an order.

At table service restaurants such as Be Our Guest, some tables are blocked off to allow adequate spacing, and menus can be found on-line using the guests own device.

Bills come in a disposable folder, and service is a little more hands-off than normal.

Health, Safety, and Cleaning

Disney is the worldwide leader in operating theme parks and it shows when it comes to how they have managed the health and safety aspect of reopening the parks.

Hand sanitizer stations can be found at the entrance and exit of every attraction. They are hands-free, and always filled.

Cast Members are all wearing masks as a minimum, and the majority are also wearing face shields.

It isn’t the look that you may be used to, but it offers a further level of assurance that the Cast Member is safe, and you as a guest are protected.

Ride vehicles are sprayed with disinfectant throughout the day, but not between every ride cycle.

Park-wide announcements are made roughly every 15 minutes reminding guests to wear masks, maintain distances, and to wash hands. Although strangely only in English at this time.

Signage can be found everywhere reinforcing the message.

Teams of dedicated health and safety enforcers are patrolling the park to remind guests where needed. They are quite particular, even correcting issues of masks not being quite high enough over the nose. It appears, at least from day one, that guests are following the rules. We didn’t see a single case of masks not being warn through the 10 hour opening day.

On the rides, physical barriers have been installed in queues to operate groups, and even on ride vehicles.

None of the above steps are going to eliminate your risk, but it would seem that Disney is doing all it can reasonably do to ensure guest and cast safety while trying to operate as normally as possible.

Should You Go?

None of the measures are going to eliminate your risk of COVID-19 in the theme parks, and Disney outlines that as you enter the park. So if you have any concerns at all, the advice is simple - stay way.

However, if you are venturing back into the world and are wiling to accept some degree of risk, then a day at the parks can still be a great experience, and in some ways even better than before.

Disney has gone a long way to ensure a safe environment, and most people will be comforted by that.

Wearing masks for an entire day is a challenge, especially in the 90 degree temperatures frequently found in Florida. Most will be counting down the minutes until they can rip the mask off to eat or at the end of the day. For kids, it may be even more of a challenge.

Spending a day in these conditions is one thing, but how about a week-long vacation? That is where things become less clear, and it probably comes down to the individual party. Is wearing masks, constantly applying hand sanitizer, and staying way from everyone an actual vacation or a job? For those who are willing to do the work, they can certainly have a good time and will be rewarded by doing more attractions in a day than they typically did in a week.

And where things become even more difficult to manage is when the attendance numbers are increased. It is clear that Disney cannot operate long term with such low attendance. So what will the experience look like when the capacity is raised, but the same restrictions remain in place.

The virus is going to dictate Disney’s theme park future, along with guest behavior and acceptance of the restrictions put in place. Stay tuned for more coverage as the phased reopening continues.

Click the gallery for more pictures of the reopening of Magic Kingdom.

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Article Posted: Jul 08, 2020 / 9:57am ET