I have started this post several times since last June. Here goes after eight months of mental composition!
My husband and I are Disney fans. Part of the reason we moved to Florida was to be closer to Disney World. We finally made it to California’s Disneyland in 2015. We even added a day to each of our trips to France to include visits to Disneyland Paris. At one point point in time my childhood goal was to be Alice in the parks when I grew up, and as an adult that dream matured into working in a Disney marketing department.
When Disney closed their gates last March we hoped it wouldn’t be for too long. Disney Springs shopping and dining district opened at the end of May, and the parks followed in mid-July. We talked about visiting Disney Springs for a day in June as an alternate to sitting in the house or one more day doing Lego. With a lot of caution and pact to leave if either of us felt uncomfortable we headed to Orlando. The day was a success! We visited Disney Springs in July as well since we felt OK there.
We headed in to the parks for the first time again in September. We chose to go during the week thinking crowds would be even lower than on the weekend. Again, we had the same “leave if we want to pact” but everything went well. People were masked, distance was observed. The only time we left early was one evening in Epcot as that park felt full to us, even at lower capacity.
Since our first visits we have been back to the parks for Christmas and several days last month with my parents. Again, those trips went well, except for our very short visit to the Magic Kingdom on a Sunday in December. The park was just too full to us, even at the park’s lower capacity levels of 35 percent. We left the park in less than two hours after entering.
Two questions we receive a lot from friends with wanderlust — “is Disney the same?” and “should we come now that capacity is reduced?” We could give quick answers, those being “yes, kind of” and “no”. But, it’s not that simple!
Yes, Disney is the same, kind of. The magic is still there, it’s just different. The escape from reality is there, it’s just different. Though you are in the parks and immersed in a world of fantasy signs of today’s world are all over. It starts with the new temperature check before entering the gates or going to a restaurant in a resort. There are social distancing stickers everywhere on the ground and in ride lines (which people observe) and around stores and resorts, there are signs that you are taking a risk of exposure to COVID by entering the parks, there are so many sanitizing stations (I hope those stay), and there are even mobile sinks dotted around to wash your hands. There is a lack of character meet and greets if you are into that. Now the characters come by periodically in a one vehicle or float parade or stand on a stage separating them from you. As you become used to these items you do still get immersed in the fantasy and escape for a little bit.
No, we have told many people not to come here now and invest the money in a plane ticket, resort, rental car, and park tickets. Though it is still the same, it is not. Menus are limited at many restaurants. We were able to get a reservation at Les Chefs de France in Epcot, but then read the menu and realized our favorite dishes were not currently offered, so cancelled that reservation. Some restaurants are not open yet, like our beloved Yachtsman Steakhouse. Some resorts are not open yet, and if they are some amenities are closed or limited. Yes, the lines are shorter as a result of reduced capacity, but they are still long. Almost no ride is walk-on. We waited about an hour each for Pirates of the Caribbean, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Test Track on visits. Yes, we did walk on to Haunted Mansion, but that could also be a fluke. Like restaurants, some rides are not open yet, or operating in a limited or modified capacity (you walk through the stretching room on Haunted Mansion now).
Like many things now, Disney is not the same, it’s just different. Not good or bad different. Just different. There is much more thought put into a visit, you need your masks (we have special ones for Disney and Disney holiday ones!), you will need to modify plans and change expectations. We are fortunate to be able to have a modified escape from reality once in a while since we live in Florida.
Walt Disney famously stated when he opened Disneyland park “To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past – and here youth may savor the challenge and promise the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America – with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” Well Walt, even with all of the modifications and changes to meet the needs of today’s world, your Disney parks are living up to your dream. When visiting with my parents we talked of our first visit to Disney when I was six, and second when I was 14. We continue to enjoy the parks and have fun there. We are looking forward to our next weekend in Disney, after the spring break rush, and will enjoy the magic and fantasy while wearing our Disney masks and keeping our social distance from others.