I visited Walt Disney World (WDW) in August and November 2020 in a landscape no one could have imagined when these trips were planned in 2019. Masks, social distancing, and various closures have greatly altered the experience of visiting the parks. More guests are returning, and some are holding off on planning until the experience is more certain. But I can report that the experience of visiting WDW is as magical as it has ever been.
The experience of visiting in August versus November was very different. In August, I arrived at my resort and proceeded to Magic Kingdom, where at 10 a.m., I basically walked on Peter Pan’s Flight. In November it was 20 – 40 minutes generally, which is still incredibly low. Transportation, such as the monorail which often had no wait, had a bit of a crowd. It appears crowds are building as guests feel more comfortable traveling and accept that restrictions, such as masks, are not going away anytime soon.
Many of these restrictions actually allow for an enhanced experience. Without Fastpass+ in place, all guests must proceed through the full queue in order to board an attraction (there are some exceptions). Avatar Flight of Passage is one attraction many guests would never consider waiting the typical two to three hours for. But at 60 minutes, with the fully immersive queue, the time really flies. The full queue allows you to truly observe the wonders of Pandora, walk through caves, and a laboratory many guests who have ridden the attraction never saw. The Jungle Cruise’s queue begins to spill out of the attraction at about the 25-minute mark, allowing you to really see the building which houses the line and a view of the Swiss Family Treehouse not normally observed.
Character cavalcades are a way to see characters without any real time investment. Intermittent throughout the day, either small groups or mini parades of characters help enrich a day at the parks. During August, Tinker Bell on a large float frequently traversed Magic Kingdom. Chip n’ Dale, Mickey Mouse, and other major characters rode by on boats in Animal Kingdom. For the holidays, reindeer and Santa Claus added to the holiday spirit. Balconies are used so that characters can wave at guests. Jiminy Cricket at Pinocchio Village Haus and the Country Bears all added life to upper balconies which are often overlooked. At The Crystal Palace, Piglet, Eeyore, and Rabbit greet guests from the porch of the currently closed restaurant. Hopefully these impromptu interactions will continue to expand. They serve as great surprises. Rather than formal and structured meet-and-greets, these are spontaneous and quick.
With mass layoffs, many Disney fans were concerned the character and fabric of the parks would begin to deteriorate. However, they are not skimping on what they have kept. Holiday decorations in Magic Kingdom and elsewhere were absolutely stunning with Main Street, U.S.A. decked out in garland and decorated lights. Windows were themed to the holiday season, and background music was converted to match the spirit of the season. I have not visited during the holiday season so I cannot say for certain, but it appears that the decorations have not been scaled back. Castle projections at night and the Jingle Cruise all add to the beauty of the park.
The cast members who are working clearly are happy to be back at work and do not hesitate to enforce safety regulations. Masks pulled down with noses exposed is absolutely not tolerated, and ride vehicles as well as general areas, are as clean as ever. The empty parks in August were pristine and well-groomed. November’s building crowds have not diminished these efforts.
One must remind themselves while visiting the parks that the experience is very different. I have only ever visited with Park Hopper tickets. On one day when Animal Kingdom closed at 5p.m. I found myself thinking I could return to my resort and take the Skyliner to Epcot or Hollywood Studios. But of course, park hopping is suspended. Knowing where carts to purchase beverages normally are, one must remember many are closed, as are numerous food locations.
On one afternoon, I endeavored to get in the queue for Avatar- Flight of Passage. At a 60-minute wait, the queue swerved back to Africa almost to the entrance of Festival of the Lion King. To get in this line, the cast member informed me I would need to walk back through Africa, Discovery Island, and through Pandora to get in the queue. I decided to enjoy the trails around the Tree of Life instead and got a picture of this happy guy!
With some flexibility and an open mind, there is still plenty of fun to be had. Whether to visit Walt Disney World at any time is a highly personal decision you and your potential companions must make. I am happy to report that while the experience is significantly alerted, the magic of the Walt Disney World resort is alive and well.
Have you visited since re-opening? What are your thoughts?