I’d say 95% of people I talk to these days make comments about how Disney is “totally not worth it without XYZ.” 9 times out of 10 people say it isn’t “worth it” without parades and fireworks. I assume when they say “worth it” they are referring to the cost of traveling to and staying at Disney. Just to play devils advocate, airfare has never been cheaper … I just booked a round trip flight for later this month for $27!! Holy moly!! $54 total for me and my son to go back again in a couple weeks! That is our entire cost because we are staying with our DVC points and have already purchased and activated annual passes (for me at least…. he still doesn’t have one because he juuuuust turned 3 and a lady at member services said “they won’t ask for a birth certificate” when I tried to order his annual pass last month 😳… so we are still figuring that situation out). Damn near anything is worth $54 at this point, especially given that we’ve spent the last several months doing absolutely nothing remotely fun or entertaining, so they could have 2 rides open in each park and it would be a 1000% improvement over our lives at home right now. I digress though…
Here are the notable changes Disney has made since reopening the parks in July subsequent to the Covid closure:
1. No parades or fireworks: this seems to be everyone’s big concern when they talk about changes at the parks. Disney has indefinitely done away with parades and fireworks since they inevitably result in massive crowds. It makes a lot of sense given the typical parade crowds that you’d be dealing with. Social distancing would be completely impossible. If Disney wants to keep everyone safe, which it appears they seriously do, there is no way to have scheduled parades or fireworks right now.
So as an alternative, they have introduced “character cavalcades” in each of the parks. These basically consist of 1-2 floats with characters and music, similar to a parade but with much less fanfare. They are unscheduled, so no crowds form (literally no crowds, see the photo above). When we were in Magic Kingdom we saw one probably every 15 minutes. There was one with Piglet, Eeyore, and Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh (no Pooh or Tigger). There was another with Tinkerbell. There was another with a bunch of princesses…. Merida, Jasmine, Tiana, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Ariel, the Fairy Godmother, and some Princess I didn’t recognize from a TV show I think (I feel so old). Lastly, we saw Mickey and friends in a cavalcade multiple times. We also saw Mickey and co up in the train station waving at the start of the day and the end of the day (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Pluto… no Goofy). In Animal Kingdom we saw boats going by the bridges with characters. We saw a boat with Mickey and friends and then another with Rafiki and Timon I believe. I’m very excited for our August trip when we head over to Hollywood Studios to see all the Pixar characters in the cavalcades. I’ve heard the Incredibles, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc characters are all there, which will be enough to blow my son’s mind. Lastly, in Epcot I believe you can see Anna and Elsa, along with other princesses.
By no means are these cavalcades up to the standards of a Disney parade or a Disney fireworks show. I live for Fantasmic. Disney fireworks are the best in the world. Unfortunately, my kiddo is terrified of them, so no real loss for us there. I also tend to avoid parades because I hate the crowds and I see them as a prime time to get on rides with less wait time, so again, I don’t view either of these temporary losses as a huge tragedy. They are quite unfortunate but they are temporary losses. I will listen to the soundtracks on my phone and that will suffice for the time being.
2. No fastpasses: as an OCD planner, I cried when they announced no more fastpasses. I was legitimately heartbroken (well… not Disney wedding cancelled heartbroken….💔) and kept telling myself that hopefully they will be back on time for our December trip. However, for the time being, I’m just happy to go to the parks at all. So we went for our little July mini trip, not knowing what to expect, but feeling completely unprepared with no fastpasses to help us plan our day… and GASP…. it was BETTER!!! I’m not saying in general life would be better without fastpasses. Hell no. But right now, with crowds at these insanely low levels, we literally walked onto every ride. The longest line we stood on was a 10 minute line for Jungle Cruise. We also waited 3 minutes for Kilimanjaro Safari (posted wait time was 25 minutes). Other than that, we walked onto every single ride and could have stayed seated to ride again, that is how empty it is. There is absolutely no need for fastpasses right now. The loss of fastpasses will be a huge loss once crowds increase, but right now, the standby lines are all SIGNIFICANTLY shorter than any fastpass line I’ve ever experienced.
3. No character meet and greets: Again, this one hit me hard. With a two year old, our park experience has shifted from riding all the big ticket rides to hunting down characters for meet and greets anywhere and everywhere. We spend our days meeting dozens of characters and riding only a handful of rides typically (oh to be a childless millennial…). Fortunately, we can improvise for the time being and piece together enough character time to satisfy our kiddo completely. There are actually a ton of characters out that you don’t necessarily always get to see. I already listed all of the cavalcades up above in the parade section, but I will report back in a couple weeks for a concrete list of which Pixar characters are able to be seen in Hollywood Studios currently. We are really excited for that. I don’t think my son will necessarily notice that he doesn’t get to shake their hand or hug them, because he will be so thrilled to see them in person. Plus, there are absolutely no crowds for these cavalcades, so you get good photos with the characters and it feels like you are up close and personal with them. On top of the cavalcades, we saw Mickey and friends waving at the train station multiple times and made sure to get breakfast at Topolinos, which was AWESOME. It definitely was enough to carry us over until things get back to normal. We miss the hugs and the high fives, but my son still came home and was ranting and raving that “Mickey waved at me!” and “Mickey made me waffles!!”
4. Limited character dining options: Limited is an understatement right now. Typically there are DOZENS of character dining options available for any given meal. You can normally eat with any character your heart desires. Our favorites are Chef Mickeys and Cape May Cafe, but we were eager to try Ohana this trip since we have a new Lilo and Stitch fan in the house. There are also typically many options where you can dine with princesses at the resorts and in the parks, which I imagine is a must for all the princess fanatics out there (our son loves Anna and Elsa, but is quite nervous around them, HA). All of these are not operating as character dining currently. As far as I am aware, the only two character dining options currently are Topolinos (at Riviera Resort with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy) and the Garden Grill in Epcot (Chip and Dale, Pluto, and Mickey typically). We went to Topolinos in July and absolutely loved it. You can see my whole review in Part 3 of the Magical Return spiel a couple posts ago. It is a must do for us from now on. Right now it is not normal character dining where each character visits each table for photos and autographs, but instead they each do a lap around the room and pose at various spots near each table. They do interact with you to some degree. Donald acted offended that we had a Mickey stuffed animal for example. We plan to go to the Garden Grill in a couple weeks and will report back. We went last fall and loved it, so we will be able to compare the new and old experiences. Key takeaway here: if character dining is important to you, jump on reservations at one of these two locations. I believe the Beast has also been spotted walking through Be Our Guest on occasion as well FYI.
5. No park hopping : of the items listed here, this is the one that I think people should consider a potential deal breaker if this is their one big trip of the year. I personally could never comprehend paying for a park pass without the park hopper feature, and I cannot remember the last day I spent in Disney without visiting 2+ parks. Part of the main appeal of staying in the Boardwalk area is the quick access to Epcot for a bite to eat or a quick ride in between other plans. We also typically walk through Epcot to ride the monorail to MK. My strategy with a little kid is also to go to one park first thing in the morning, take an afternoon nap, and then head to another park for an evening of less hot fun and dinner in another park. Obviously none of these things can happen currently. You can only pick one park per day, and you need to pick them in advance. This is a huge downer. For me, it isn’t necessarily making me not go on my trips, but it is changing where I plan to stay and how I plan our trips entirely. We stayed at the Polynesian in July instead of the Boardwalk because the close proximity to multiple parks wasn’t a major priority (granted HS and Epcot also weren’t even open yet on the dates we visited, so that made the decision easy). Using a park hopper typically is the best way to truly get your money’s worth and maximize your time in Disney. You can go absolutely anywhere you heart desires at any time, with no limitations. If you have a free hour, you can head to the closest park and do whatever you can. The lack of ability to do this really takes away your ability to fully maximize your time on your trip, so if you like flexibility and maximizing your park time, now is not the time to travel to Disney unfortunately (this goes hand in hand with park hours being reduced and extra magic hours being removed as well).
6. Park reservation system: At this point, everyone has presumably heard that in order to manage park capacity, Disney has implemented a park reservation system. So on top of having a park pass (annual pass, regular park ticket, whatever), you need to go onto mydisneyexperience and make a park reservation for your designated days. The good news is, this has been a complete non issue as far as parks reaching capacity. There are a small handful of days that reached capacity for annual Passholders at Hollywood Studios, but otherwise all days are showing availability for all parks. There is separate “inventory” for annual Passholders, resort guests, and neither of the above (people with park tickets but no resort stay), and only annual Passholders have been having issues with capacity apparently, and that is only at Hollywood Studios in the month of August so far. So availability is not a concern. I was quite distraught at the thought of anticipating what parks I planned to be in every day of our December trip already, but at this point, it looks like we will have the flexibility to revise our park days during our trip if needed. Also to answer a common question: you are allowed to enter, leave, and return to the park during the day if you have a reservation. We left MK, took a nap, and came back later. No issues. The huge downside right now, as noted above, is that you can only have a reservation in one park each day. I pray this is adjusted by our trip in December, in effect allowing the return of park hopping, but for now, one park per day.
7. No dining plans: When Disney announced their reopening, they added a lot of disclaimers. Not all of the restaurants are open. There is practically no character dining. The restaurants that are open have limited menus (some are very limited). As a result, Disney is not offering dining plans right now. My best guess is that this is to avoid people paying full price for the dining plan and then complaining that they didn’t get their money’s worth due to such limited offerings. This isn’t an issue for us because we never get the dining plan. It just doesn’t suit our eating style. I’m an all day snacker. One day I’ll make a post analyzing the pros and cons of the dining plan, but i think there have been countless analyses that have shown tables in wonderland works out to save you more money if you qualify to get that discount. Regardless, you still have the ease of using your magic band to pay for food, there just aren’t prepaid food credits loaded onto your account unfortunately. Obviously this is a bummer for people who love the free dining promotions Disney runs sometimes (although I’ve always thought they were somewhat foolish because it was always free dining with a full priced room, whereas for the rest of the year you can get a discounted room…. so it basically nets out to be the same ….). This also means no free refillable mugs included with dining plans. You can still buy the refillable mugs at the resorts, but they won’t actually let you refill them anywhere. You show them to a cast member and they give you a free drink in a paper cup. This is for sanitary reasons. No one is allowed to touch the drink machines except cast members for the time being.
8. Temperature screenings: this is an absolute non issue. It’s debatable what value it adds, given that people can be asymptomatic carriers, but it is a common screening practice that offers comfort to people, so I respect that Disney is doing it. Fortunately it causes no delay whatsoever at this point. During our recent trip we never experienced a line at any screening. They have tents set up at park entrances and the TTC, as well as at the monorail resorts, similar to security screenings. There were no bottlenecks whatsoever. I personally didn’t see anyone get a temperature that caused them to not be allowed to enter, but I’ve heard that if that happens, they ask you to step aside and they recheck you a few minutes later. Again, we experienced no issues and no delays whatsoever.
9. Mask wearing: this is a big one. This is a pervasive part of your every day experience. If you hate wearing masks, this should be a deciding factor for you, because you have to wear a “face covering” at all times on Disney property, indoors and outdoors. You are only allowed to not wear a mask in your hotel room, at the pool, while dining (stationary, not walking around the parks eating or drinking), or in designated mask free relaxation zones in each park). That being said, we are from NJ where masks have been mandatory indoors for many months now, but we are in the habit of taking them off outdoors, and we survived ok during the July heat on our Disney trip. I wore mine at all times as required, except in empty monorail cars, completely deserted walkways at the resort, etc, but my almost 3 year old probably wore his about 50% of the time. I thought that was a huge success. Cast members seemed to agree because he didn’t get any comments, outside of one cast member at the TTC temperature screening reminding him to put it on when he was done with his sippy cup. For the most part, when he was in his stroller and we were outdoors, he wasn’t wearing his mask, and no cast members had any issues. I think they aren’t going to focus on toddlers in strollers if you are maintaining appropriate distancing. That was my experience. Again, he did his best. He always wore it indoors and when we were on line near people. Just for more background, he was one week away from turning 3 and he is 39” tall. He’s a big guy.
I tested the no neck gaiter policy and was told almost immediately that I needed to wear a normal mask FYI, so that is definitely being enforced. I went with disposable masks 95% of the time because they were the most breathable in the heat and I could just throw them away after sweating through them. I did make a post about the Disney masks though, and we officially have about 20 of them, so feel free to look at that other post if you have questions about sizing or anything.
10. Not all resorts open: Disney is reopening the WDW resorts on a staggered basis after closing them all for an extended time period for the first time ever. Since there are such severe capacity restriction in the parks, and even less demand than expected right now, there is no need for every resort to be open fully unfortunately. The first resorts to reopen in June were all of the DVC resorts (except Jambo House) so as to quickly get some DVC points back to use and try to mitigate a huge inventory problem in the future with a flood of points in the system due to expiration extensions and whatnot. They’ve subsequently opened a few non DVC resorts so that the list below reflects all resorts currently open.
Additionally, they’ve released the following timeline for opening additional resorts. There are still a few resorts with no reopening dates sadly. They must be waiting to reassess whether attendance picks up over the next couple months. The virus has been so unpredictable that they unfortunately have to keep taking a wait and see approach with some of these things.
This is a huge disappointment for people with reservations at resorts that aren’t open for the dates they had reserved. I had a trip planned in March when everything closed, so I get it, it’s sucks. At least there are a ton of other options though. Hopefully you’ll be offered a comparable resort to switch to if your resort isn’t open, or you’ll be allowed to cancel entirely and rebook by renting cheap DVC points (seriously they have never been so cheap). Thankfully all of the most amazing resorts are open in some capacity (I’m a big fan of the deluxe resorts, plus they made sure to throw in a value and a moderate as options), so everyone should have an option that suits their needs and has availability. Availability should not be a problem for the near future ….
11. No water parks open: at this point, I’m just taking what I can get. A month ago, all of Disney World was closed. I’m elated that all 4 parks are open, along with all the DVC resorts and a handful of regular resorts. The water parks are an after thought at this point. I don’t really understand why they are closed, given that the pools are open, as well as Universal’s water park, but maybe since mask wearing isn’t possible in pools, it is too much of a risk to open a water park right now. It might also just be a cost cutting measure. They are barely making a profit from the parks as-is, so maybe they don’t think opening the water parks would be worth the expense right now. Typhoon Lagoon is my favorite WDW park by the way, so this is a huge bummer…. but all of 2020 is a huge bummer. This isn’t a deal breaker for me… just a disappointment. We rarely get to go to the water parks during our November trips anyway due to the weather being chillier so I’m used to missing out on these.
12. Mobile ordering required for quick service meals: at this point in society you basically have to embrace technology and get on board with mobile ordering. If you were holding out for some reason, I think coronavirus is kind of laughing in your face right now. I’ve commented at home that mobile ordering is no longer the best kept secret at places like Starbucks and Panera. Everyone has come to embrace these things and they will be more prevalent in the future as people have realized how awesome mobile ordering really is. I swore by mobile ordering for quick service meals at Disney before this, so no complaints here. The only real change for me is that they don’t let you into the restaurant to find a table or sit down until you can show that your order is ready on your phone. This keeps people from clogging up the tables and making it more crowded than necessary, which is great. I love process improvements and I think mobile ordering is super efficient when you have a hangry toddler. I highly recommend it to anyone who has been resisting it, whether you travel now or when it goes back to being optional.
13. Miscellaneous safety measures on property: None of these should really impact anyone’s decision to visit Disney, but I thought I should at least mention these other changes Disney has made which help make the parks feel so safe. I’ll include photos of things I remembered to take pictures of while I was there. Items not photographed include: hand sanitizers EVERYWHERE and dividers on the monorails.