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A Return to DVC, Disney World, and Universal: What Does it Look and Feel Like?

*DIS Contributors review meals, resort stays, and entertainment that they have paid for during their own vacations. They only utilize discounts and offers if they are available to the general public, such as annual passholder discounts, Tables in Wonderland, or DVC membership discounts. They receive no additional compensation for dining experiences or events, so that they may give their honest opinions about price and value.

We came back. Unsure of how to feel coming in or during, it felt the right choice for us finally to return. I acknowledge that doesn’t mean it is or will be the right choice for everyone. Regardless, one of the questions more on people’s mind is: How does it feel?

I am here to tell you what it was like from one lens over five days. 

Day 1: Arrival and Disney Springs

Day 1 was relatively low key. Most of the time, our arrival days are a sprint from the airport to the hotel in order to change and go directly to a park while we wait for our room to be ready. Given the limitations of the parks due to cast previews, we decided to lay low and try out some Disney Springs in the late morning and early evening with some pool and nap time in between. 

In the late morning, we arrived at Disney Springs around 10:05am. Arrival at the Orange Garage (the Lime Garage was closed) was painless. We traveled up the second floor for temperature checks, which we both passed within seconds. We walked around and did some shopping and housekeeping (some masks at the Co-Op, clothing at World of Disney, replacing a misplaced yellow AP card) before having lunch at The Daily Poutine. We were surprised even during these times by how much of a ghost town it felt like. 

Don’t get me wrong, there were pockets of people in stores and in parts of Town Center and Marketplace. However, it was but a fraction of anything we are close to seeing. It still had the same magic of Disney Springs even without the same level of hustle and bustle. Everyone wore masks (with the exception of sitting at tables and eating) and traffic outside and within stores was organized even beyond our expectations. It felt safer than any local grocery store, frankly. 

We got out just in time to miss a classic Disney downpour. After some rest and pool time at Old Key West, we traveled back from an evening Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ dinner reservation. We were asked to check in 15 minutes early, and were given options of inside, porch, bar area, and outside for seating. As always, the meal was fantastic. 

At around 7:30pm, Disney Springs was considerably busier. It was still not at a “normal” level of busy, but the change was noticeable. Regardless, it was still impressive how hundreds of people were all aligning to and following social distancing guidelines. Disney has really knocked this out of the park and their guests are listening. At this point though, the main event of returning back to the park the next morning was upon us and it was time for some rest. 

Day 2: Magic Kingdom Passholder Previews

I cannot remember the last time I felt this much excitement for a park day. It was the first opening beyond cast members for Magic Kingdom in almost 4 months. We arrived for parking around 8:10am and it was already well backed up. Within reason, things moved pretty quickly. Once we arrived at the TTC, we went through temperature screening, security, and line set-up for the monorail within 3 minutes. There was social distancing throughout for paramount safety. 

As many have mentioned before, the safety feeling and measures were significantly higher than any local area of commerce.

Getting into the park and seeing the castle again was the first sense of normalcy in a long time. We are fully aware that we are still in the midst of a pandemic and that we are not close to normal. However, Disney has gone above and beyond in safety measures that rival and surpass any single institution or company I have seen since this all began. 

We were able to do 24 attractions during the 9am-7pm park window including the following attractions 2-3 times each: Pirates, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Under the Sea with Ariel, Haunted Mansion, and Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin

There were hand sanitizer stations before and after every attraction. Attractions were frequently stopped for full scale cleaning. Social distancing markers were prevalent and all guests were held to distancing and mask standards. It was beyond even what I expected Disney to be able to pull off. Guests were constantly aware of their surroundings and created space for others to feel safe. It was the lightest crowds and most distance I have ever experienced in the parks. 

We ate a fantastic meal at Topolino’s Terrace that night. They were a little behind on seating and so allowed an appetizer to be on the house. As always, the meal and service were fantastic. It was a magical end to a magical return. All servers and staff were wearing masks, which was the common theme through all dining experiences. 

Day 3: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure

We spent the day in between passholder previews and the public re-opening of the parks to slide over to Universal. It was another productive day with little to no wait times across both parks. We accomplished all the major attractions we wanted to in both parks by 4pm. Universal in some ways took it a step further, forcing you to sanitize via a team member before entering the loading area. Mask compliance was pretty good here. We did see a few people who needed to be reminded as opposed to the zero reminders needed at Disney World. Overall though, it was impressive how respectful guests were of safety measures. 

We ended the day with a fantastic meal at Wine Bar George, sampling multiple small plates. 

Day 4: Magic Kingdom Opening Day

The same protocols were in place as with passholder previews. The crowds were certainly heavier, which was to be expected, and wait times rose in parallel. However, the same compliance to masks and social distancing procedures was evident. We were still able to get onto all the rides we wanted and accomplish 20+ attractions throughout the day. By the afternoon, Main Street USA was almost unrecognizable in how empty it was. 

Still, the magic was there. The cast members were thrilled to have guests back. The welcome by multiple levels of cast members on Main Street upon entry was what Disney dreams are made of. The day ended with a near empty BoardWalk and a meal at Trattoria al Forno

Day 5: Animal Kingdom and Departure

Animal Kingdom was even more impressive than Magic Kingdom. The new security measures allow you to walk directly through without taking items from your bag, If someone had the detector go off, they were pulled to the side for further screening. 

All attractions adhered to the same strict social distancing guidelines we had seen previously. The wait time for Flight of Passage, Dinosaur, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Expedition Everest were consistently 10 minutes or shorter for an overwhelming majority of the day. Mask compliance was flawless. The measures for safety in the queues and eating areas were overly impressive. Disney has outdone themselves yet again. 

Like Magic Kingdom, the park was the most empty we have ever seen it. That in an of itself made for a more enjoyable experience than any loss of fireworks, character interactions, and parades. It is still well worth the price of admission. 

Conclusion: How Did it Feel?

I cannot stress enough how incredibly safe the parks felt and how well prepared Disney was. Mask compliance was near perfection. Social distancing was taken seriously by cast members and guests. Compliance was the best I have seen anywhere since this pandemic began. It is undoubtedly a bubble of sorts, but that is exactly what has needed to be put in place to make this work. 

It felt safe. It felt like home and normalcy again. If Disney can keep it up, they should be able to ride out the anticipated peaks and valleys of the months ahead. 

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