Living with COVID at Disney

COVID-19 has, for all of us, dramatically altered the art of going on Holiday. Most of us traveled less … And when venturing out, we were more aware of the risks of traveling, restrictions placed upon us by our destinations, and the presence of fellow visitors who could bring unwanted infections along with them. My extended family had traveled with us often, but COVID suspended these plans. My daughter, with her own children, was especially aware and concerned about the potential risks vacations posed to her unvaccinated kids.

So it wasn’t until this Autumn that we all got together for a much needed vacation. My elder grandaughter had been vaccinated, and despite one younger child yet to be stuck in the arm, everyone consented to the risk. So off we went to Orlando and Disney World.

So let me review the various ways COVID altered our Disney experience … And it started at the parking lot. First, no one can even enter the lot until you show proof of purchased park passes to the parking lot attendant. No buying your tickets at the window. And each park had a set number of admissions … Only the Magic Kingdom was sold out during our visit at a much lower total number. I’m not sure how much of a restriction was implemented, but a couple of the parking lots were empty.

Next, the parking lot trams were not operating … Which meant that all visitors had to walk from their cars to the gates. Disney took advantage of this by selling a Preferred Parking Pass for twice the money, which allowed you to park in the closest lot. This might not seem to be important, and it probably wasn’t at Epcot or Hollywood Studios, but it added a good mile or two to your daily walks at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. I had a couple days in excess of eight miles walked for the day. And Disney made it harder to be creative with your parking plans … They restricted visitors to staying at their designated park until 2:00 PM before allowing hops to other parks. So you couldn’t park at Epcot, make the shorter walk, and then take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom. I used my age, 71, to our advantage by leaving early, driving back to the villa, and returing to pick up the younger generations at a designated shuttle bus stop.

Disney is known for their parades and “Big Heads.” But not so much with COVID … No major parades. Once in a while, a single float would go down the main street with a choir or costumed characters lip synching a song. There were big fireworks shows, but without the cast of costumed characters who usually dance and sing. The fireworks were very impressive.

Finally, at Epcot, we found a Big Head … Winnie was perched on a hillside, far away from all of us. Close enough to see him, but no way was Winnie going to sign an autograph book for the youngsters. Still, it was nice to see him out there … I wonder what he was trying to catch with the butterfly net??

Any of you who have been following COVID-19 politics know that Florida’s governor led the opposition to any kind of vaccine mandate. He actually threatened to withhold state funds from school districts that mandated masks for their kids and staff. Well, Disney had a firm mask requirement. Anytime we went inside any of their buildings, masks were worn. There were lots of signs and attendants were very consistent about asking anyone who dawdled to put on their mask. More importantly, no one resisted or moaned about it, at least from what we observed. Once outside, everyone took their masks off … I don’t remember fully, but I don’t think cast members were wearing them outside either. It was kind of weird to see the photos of people, all masked, riding the roller coaster at Space Mountain.

My elder daughter was leery about dining at indoor venues because her youngest was not vaccinated. She departed for home first due to school schedules … We then became a little more liberal about our choice of dining options. We limited our major meals to one each day, and with one exception, stayed away from buffets. Even when venturing to the buffet, we chose a mid afternoon time, which put us in a room with half-filled tables and crowds. And it was really nice to listen to the German Polka Band while sampling their Beer and Cheese Soup.

So, you would think that the wait lines for rides would be reduced along with the reduced number of visitors … We were initially there on a holiday weekend, and the crowds seemed heavy but not outrageous. Things seemed to stay busy for the rest of the week as well. There were times when waits were surprisingly short. For example, we waltzed through Soaring in about 25 minutes. Anything new had ridiculous waits. We got on some sort of lottery for a new attraction at the French Pavillion, and finally had our number called. We rush over, thinking the line would now be like a Fast Pass, but NO … There was a throng that would have needed an hour or so to negotiate. SO, our lottery just got us permission to wait in a long line. I vetoed that choice.

Speaking of Fast Passes, there weren’t any. The only way you could cut a line was if you were given a special pass by staff. We got one when the Mine Train Roller Coaster was shut down during our wait. I liked this elimination because it always seemed like a psychological rouse to convince people to feel good about only having to wait in torturous lines 75% of the time. Disney was advertising some kind of substitute line program that is replacing the Fast Pass system later in the month. My guess is that guests can opt to spend more money to officially cut lines. Kind of like the new parking lot options. I am not a fan.

So Disney is still Disney … People still idolize their experiences, and the presence of COVID restrictions did not detract from that. It is still crowded, expensive, and a unique experience. And I think that the risks of leaving with a ghost from the Haunted Mansion or an unwanted virus are about the same.

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