When it was announced that Annual Passholder previews would happen at Magic Kingdom and at Disney’s Animal Kingdom prior to the parks reopening to the general public at Walt Disney World, part of me was excited but there was some serious apprehension lingering, too. Despite that, I went ahead and booked a room at Bay Lake Tower using my Disney Vacation Club points from a family vacation that had to be cancelled back in May. My goal was to stay within walking distance of Magic Kingdom just in case Disney transportation wasn't running which, I'd later find out that it was not.
Once registration opened for Annual Passholders to sign up for either July 9th or 10th at either theme park, I decided to register for the 10th for Magic Kingdom. See, that apprehension I had is why I didn't want to go on the first day that was available. I needed to be able to sit back and watch other people's experiences without feeling the need to be first – not because I didn't think that Disney was not doing everything they possibly could to make things safe, but because I wasn't too sure of how they'd accomplish it in real life with real guests. Everything sounded great as I read it on their site, but seeing it in practice is a whole other ballgame.
We decided to head to Disney Springs the night we arrived and it was the first time I'd been out in public with a face mask on. No, I'm not kidding. I have been super uncomfortable at the mere thought of going out and being around people – any number of people. Here's the thing about our evening at Disney Springs; we ate dinner at Chicken Guy! for the first time because I didn't want to venture too far from where we parked in case I suddenly felt the need to bolt. Physical distancing was easy at the tables that were outside but it was hotter than fire – even in the shade, so that wasn't my most favorite thing ever. People walked way too close to us a few times and it gave me the heebie-jeebies for real.
As we sat there eating our delicious grilled chicken skewers, I was staring people down with more conviction than I ever have in my life. I really hate to announce that, but I couldn't help myself because despite there being a rule that all guests must wear face masks when on Disney's property, many guests weren't wearing them correctly; i.e. had them hanging by a loop off of their ear or it wasn't covering their nose or they had it around their neck but under their chin. I couldn't wait to get out of there so when we were done eating, we walked around just a hair at my daughter's request, but it was already about 8:20 p.m. and most of the shops had already closed, so we went back to our Resort hotel.
When we crawled into bed that night, we had not yet made the decision on whether or not we were even going to go to Magic Kingdom even though we had a reservation to do it. I liked what I saw in the Best Magic Kingdom Day During the Passholder Reopening Preview video that Craig Williams and Deni Sunderly recorded, but I still wasn't convinced that I wanted to go there myself. It wasn't until after we had a late breakfast at Chef Mickey's (which I'll tell you all about in another post) that I convinced myself to give it a try, even if just for a couple of hours on Main Street, U.S.A. only.
Now, I’m going to be keeping it real here, folks, because I think it’s important to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. During the Passholder preview, the crowds were basically non-existent, the wait times were minimal, but it was a completely different feeling from Disney After Hours or DVC Moonlight Magic events. Going in, we know that those events are intentionally designed to have low crowds, but our “new normal” was sort of looming whenever I walked up to an attraction and saw an extremely low wait time like 10-minutes for Peter Pan’s Flight. It reminded me, in a not-so-blaring sort of way, that we are in the middle of a pandemic. For the most part, the lines on the ground in the queues were enough to keep people distanced, but when we went on Pirates of the Caribbean, there was a party of seven in front of us and they took up more room than just two people so we stayed back an additional line.
Something else I noticed on some of the attractions we rode – the ones that typically have interactive features in the queues – was that those features were not on. For example, the water feature near the gems in the queue for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the "hunny" wall in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
While seeing the park so empty was actually an amazing thing, it was an odd feeling, nonetheless, because we know that things are not okay in our world and that's the reason. I couldn't get enough hand sanitizer and used it every time I passed a dispenser. We rode SO MANY ATTRACTIONS in such a short period of time that I really couldn't believe it. I usually hit a wall within a couple of hours in the middle of July when the weather is unbearable. It was so cool to see many of the standby ride queues because we typically use FastPass+ and don't often get the chance to see some of the neat touches.
Let’s talk about Cinderella Castle now because seeing that beautiful site may or may not have been my very favorite part of our day. I know there have been mixed feelings about the paint color choices, but I have to say, the way the tones change depending on the time of day and condition of the beautiful Florida skies whether it’s bright and shiny or gray and cloudy is really cool. I think the paint is going to fade in the sun before too long, so I don't believe that the bright blue will be quite that bright forever.
As we walked up the ramp on the right-hand side of the Castle, it just got more beautiful. It was swoon-worthy and I'm in love. There is no denying it.
We did not stay until dusk because the heat and humidity wore us all out faster than we thought it would. As you know, mid-July in Central Florida is hotter than the surface of the sun, and wearing a face mask didn't make that situation any better. I'm not convinced that wearing one made it worse just because it likely did double-duty as a sweat catcher, but it was rough. There are three "relaxation stations" throughout the park (one of which is air-conditioned), but again, it was too hot to relax there for us.
I also wasn’t feeling terribly comfortable sitting in an air-conditioned location – even physically distanced from others – without a mask and breathing circulated air; just a personal preference.
As someone who spent two years actively answering guests’ questions on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, I’ve been very lucky to have experienced a fairly decent number of special events and I have to be honest with you guys, the special cavalcades that appear along the parade route might be the most awesome things ever. I feel like many folks don’t realize just how special these things are, so I’m here to tell you that having the opportunity to see special things like these are pretty cool and have been pretty few and far between in the past. You get to see so many characters at once and you don’t need to stake out a spot an hour ahead of time which is not the greatest thing ever in the blazing Florida sun. The best part about the cavalcades is that they're completely random so guests don't line up or gather and you have no idea when they're going to pop up. You can find the special entertainment listed under each theme park on our Walt Disney World Resort Reopening Information and Updates page.
As we were heading toward the park exit, every single Disney Princess was walking down the ramp toward City Hall from up on the Main Street Train Station and it was such a treat to see. They were moving fast and I really couldn't get photos, but trust me, it was SO cool!
The last thing I want to touch on is the fact that personal responsibility is a really big deal when it comes to the success of these beloved theme parks staying open with all of the modifications that have been put into place. If you see crowding around certain areas like Quick-Service restaurants where folks are waiting to pick up their Mobile Order, take a walk a little bit further out. We saw this happening at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe but there was plenty of wide-open space and seating just a few steps away. It is apparent that there are more cast members actively cleaning and far fewer guests than ever before which makes me wonder how long this will be sustainable; Disney is a business after all, and the magic doesn't come for free.
All in all, I had a great day and actually spent so much time talking with cast members and thanking them for all of the magic they’re making. They are so happy to be back at work and even though we couldn’t see each other’s smiles under our face masks, our smiley eyes were showing! Vacation as we know it is going to look different for a little while and if you're okay with that, you'll have a great time. I'm not exactly sure when I'll be heading back into a theme park, but I'm sure glad I had the experience so I could share it with all of you!
If you have any questions for me, drop them in the comments below and I'll do my best to get answers for you!