It feels SO good to be on Walt Disney World soil again! Stepping back into Magic Kingdom after Disney's longest closure ever was nothing short of a dream (a very toasty summer-in-Orlando kind of dream) but a dream none the less :) We honestly didn't know what to expect on our first day trip back as a family, but were very pleasantly surprised by how the magic still was maintained, just at a much cleaner and safer level with new protocols in place. Also... seeing Cindy's castle all made-over was a fun little surprise that made MK feel both nostalgic and brand new at the same time!
In today's post, I'm sharing our top seven takeaways from our Magic Kingdom adventure, so you can know what to expect during your next visit.
1. First things first, you can't enter the park without a Disney Park Pass reservation... this is in addition to your theme park ticket - Although this process is pretty simple when you get the hang of it, it's the remembering to do it far in advance that's the challenge. For annual passholders who are used to showing up for a few hours on any day that their pass isn't blocked out, this is the biggest difference to the park experience. For guests who are purchasing day tickets or attaching their tickets to their resort stay, it's much easier to make these reservations right now since there are larger numbers of park passes available for these attendees. But, no matter what, you'll need to reserve your park day via the Disney Park Pass website before you can enter. Park passes were started to ensure that park capacity stays at a safe number to ensure effective social distancing.
2. Crowd sizes are AMAZINGLY small - This BY FAR was my favorite part of the Magic Kingdom experience, after years of navigating through serious crowds at the parks, I didn't know what I was missing having a socially distant park!
People at the park actually acted like they were on vacation, they weren't racing to the next spot, they were truly enjoying the moments.
3. Don't expect everything (mainly indoor shops) to be open - We were really surprised that most of the shops weren't open, and discovered this fact just about the same time we realized how much we relay on these mini air-conditioned breaks throughout the park day. For the shops that are open, like the Emporium and the Confectionery, major floor plan changes have been made to allow for less congestion and more social distancing.
At the Emporium (like a lot of the Disney-owned shops at Disney Springs), the Cast Member team is ready to turn on a virtual queue at any time it's necessary.
There is only one entrance and a few exits to the shops with Cast Members stationed to keep count of how many individuals are leaving and coming. If a virtual queue is in place, you'll give you phone number to the Cast Member at the shop's entrance and they'll text you when you can safely come in and shop. When you bank on some air-conditioning and shopping throughout your day to cool off, this can be a bit challenging update to prepare for.
4. No Fastpass+ reservations are required, in fact, they aren't even available - This is another amazing aspect of the current protocols. With no Fastpass+ guests merging into queues, lines for rides are always moving and you can enjoy the ride much sooner than usual.
Plus it's nice to not have to stress about arriving at a certain FP+ return time for an attraction. You can pick and choose what you want to experience throughout the day. It's fantastic if you enjoy flexibility on your Disney days :)
5. You can make dining reservations online or you can mobile order at quick service locations - Right now you can make reservations for table service dining locations at the park which I definitely recommend. It would be nice to have been guaranteed an air-conditioned hour at lunch time. (I'm sure you can see the theme... AC is Orlando summers is a must for us :) ) If you don't make a dining reservation, you can use mobile ordering at a quick service location.
TIP - If you order in advance of getting in the line to get into the restaurant, your meal will be ready faster and they'll usher you inside sooner than other parties who need to place their order while in line.
If you've mobile ordered before, the ordering process will essentially be the same with one small difference. You'll need to select a 30 minute return window when you'll be coming to pick up your food. Previously, you could just select "I'm Here" at whatever time you arrive and your order would be made on demand. Choosing a return window helps ensure social distancing measures while picking up food (your app will tell you what number window to pick your food up at) and while seated in the restaurant.
TIP - Also be aware that some snack locations like the Dole Whip stand are enforcing mobile ordering to purchase food. It's easiest to set up your mobile ordering account now versus having to do that while you're at the park. (I saw a guest who didn't have the app for mobile ordering as an option and she had to wait in a designated line to order at the counter but they were strongly encouraging her to mobile order if there was anyway she could.)
6. Wearing a mask is a hot but doable activity, and the other safety measures don't seem to interfere with your day, except to keep you extra safe and healthy - Honestly, we felt safe going back after we learned about Disney's safety measures. We would never put our family in harms way just to visit somewhere if we didn't feel safe.
Disney has done a fantastic job with social distancing markers, temperature checks, sanitation stations around every corner in the park, ensuring masks are worn properly and that group clustering doesn't happen throughout the day.
They are also sanitizing ride vehicles every two hours, which I do have to say, I like Universal's method better on this front since they wipe down the vehicles after every rider exits versus it being a timed activity, but Disney is heavily sanitizing the vehicles none the less.
I'm sure it doesn't come as a surprise that it's insanely hot in July in Orlando, but wearing a mask and not getting fresh air definitely makes the heat harder to bear. However stopping by one of the relaxation stations as you make your way around the park is a great place to cool off and breathe deeply.
TIP - The air-conditioned relaxation area at MK is at Pete's Silly Sideshow in Storybook Circus :)
TIP - Although masks are hot, we all want to keep each other safe. For some of our tips on wearing a mask in Orlando in the summer heat, you can check out my article here.
7. Touches of Disney magic can be found everywhere - We were worried we'd loose some of the magic when returning to the parks since we knew things would be different. Honestly, I miss the traditional character meet and greets and the fireworks, but I know they'll be back one day, hopefully soon. However, missing these experiences didn't take away from the day. Just being back and smelling the smell of Main Street popcorn and hearing the music in each themed land brought the magic back full-force.
TIP - Photopass photographers are back capturing the magic, however they only can use their cameras vs a personal phone. They are doing a fantastic job of taking fun magic shots and giving each party quality time!
Disney has excelled at incorporating their characters into the park day experience. To ensure guests aren't lining up in large groups as they would for standard parades, various character cavalcades happen intermittently (and pretty often) throughout the day. You can see Rabbit, Eeyore and Piglet on the Main Street Trolley which starts by Harmony Barber Shop and loops around the castle hub before returning to the barber shop area.
There is an amazing princess float that starts by Splash Mountain and goes all the way down Main Street. The princess floats are lead by Merida on her horse Angus.
Seeing her riding Angus through the park was a pretty epic sight. (Note - all of the cavalcades except for the trolley start by Splash and end on Main Street :)
You can also see Goofy, Gaston, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Alice and Pooh, and at a different time, Tinkerbell sits atop her own float and makes her way through the park.
Lastly, Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Daisy and Donald are on a really fun party float that at the end of the day stops by the Main Street Train Station where the characters get out and wave goodbye :)
These character experiences were the touch of magic that made the day feel all the more normal!
I hope these tips helped give you some insight on what to expect at Magic Kingdom during its reopening. When you feel comfortable to return to the parks, you're in for a sweet and heartwarming treat :) I can't wait to hear how you enjoy your experience!
If you have any questions about the changes, I'd be happy to answer them in the comments section below.