Walt Disney World’s theme parks have once again opened their gates following the coronavirus closure, and we were among the first guests to experience a whole new world of social distancing inside the “most magical place on Earth.” Here are our top 7 tips that you should take into consideration before planning your own return to the newly reopened Magic Kingdom.
Much like at Universal Orlando up the road, COVID-19 has prompted many changes at the Walt Disney World theme parks that we’ve come to know and love. There’s still magic to be found at the Vacation Kingdom, but even seasoned WDW veterans should heed some advice when returning to the attractions.
First, to give you a sense of the socially distanced Disney experience, here are some video highlights from our first visit to the reopened Magic Kingdom during an annual passholder preview on July 9, 2020:
Now that you’ve got an idea of what the reopened Magic Kingdom looks like, here are some timely tips if you’re eager to reunite with Mickey and his pals.
#1: Plan your Park Pass Reservations in Advance
Walt Disney World is strictly limiting the number of guests allowed into the parks each day, so you’ll need to learn all about the Disney Park Pass reservation system before ever setting foot on property. The good news is that there’s currently pretty good availability for onsite hotel guests and standard visitors; on most days you can still walk up to the park and purchase a ticket.
The bad news is that annual passholders are basically blocked out into August, with Disney’s Hollywood Studios being an especially hard ticket to come by. A loophole allows passholders to purchase single or multiday passes, and then apply the value towards their next renewal; ask at guest relations or a ticket window for assistance.
#2: Forget about Park Hopping and FastPass+
Part and parcel with the new Park Pass reservations is a revocation of any park-hopping rights you may have paid for. In compensation, annual passholders were given an extra month’s extension, and partial refunds are available to ticket-holders on request. That means you’ll have to carefully plan out in advance which park you will visit on each day of your vacation.
Fortunately, that’s about the last planning you’ll have to do because the entire FastPass ride reservation system has been suspended indefinitely. (Guests who need special access, Club 33 members, and child-swap users will still be accommodated.)
#3: Bring the Right Mask, and Make It a Double
Rule number one of social distancing in the reopened Magic Kingdom (and all the Walt Disney World theme parks) is that all guests must wear face masks.
All the cast members also wear masks (except for the characters) and those who interact face-to-face with guests go one step further with full-face shields.
Make sure your mask is two-ply and secures behind your ears with loops or ties. If you try to walk in wearing a neck gaiter or bandanna, you’ll be asked to purchase a $2 disposable mask from the vending machine, or return to your car.
While you’re at it, bring a spare mask for each member of your party. Water rides and Florida-induced sweat can easily soak through your face mask, turning it from a manageable inconvenience into a medieval torture device. Pack plastic zip-top bags, as well, so you have somewhere clean to put your mask while you’re eating.
#4: The Early Bird Doesn’t Necessarily Get the Worm
Social distancing has turned everything upside-down, including our traditional touring advice to always arrive early.
If you show up for rope drop, you’re more likely to face a traffic backup as cars are pulsed into the socially distanced parking lot.
You’ll also have to hoof it from the lot to the park gates no matter when you arrive because parking trams are not running at this time. Fortunately, only the closest lots to the park are being filled.
This does have the benefit of making waits for the mandatory temperature checks and new touch-free security scan extremely short. Waits for transportation from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom on the newly socially distanced monorail or ferry weren’t exceptionally long.
However, the constantly cycling buses (with dividers separating numbered seats) are your best bet when available.
Once inside the park, the streets have been eerily empty, and while wait times for popular rides have been peaking at 45 minutes around mid-morning, by early afternoon all the E-Tickets were offering walk-ons.
In fact, the only significant wait times during reopening week were for the Splash Mountain gift shop, as collectors snapped up all the now sold-out merchandise themed to the ride, which is slated for a Princess and the Frog makeover.
A text-based virtual queue was used to handle the wait, which grew up to 4 hours; a similar system may be used at other stores if maximum capacity is reached.
Attraction queue lines have been carved up into mazes of Plexiglass walls, and some fan-favorite elements (like the Haunted Mansion’s stretching room spiel) are missing.
Some of the ride vehicles also have new protective dividers and are loaded with a limited number of guests at a time to maintain plenty of separation between parties.
But if you can look past those precautions, you can enjoy all of your favorite rides with hardly any waiting—unless you hit one of the periodic shutdowns to sanitize the vehicles.
The bottom line is that, even without rushing in at rope drop and following a touring plan, we were easily able to complete more than a dozen of the park’s top attractions in under 8 hours, so don’t feel bad about grabbing a little extra shut-eye.
#5: Plan On a Sit-Down Meal or Two
Many Magic Kingdom fans are used to eating their meals on the move; while the comfort-food snack carts are still available (albeit in fewer number), guests are discouraged from removing their masks to eat outside of designated areas.
To enjoy a meal from many of the quick-service restaurants, you’ll need to use the My Disney Experience smartphone app’s Mobile Order feature to make your selections. You won’t even be allowed inside the restaurant until you’re notified that your meal is ready, so find a shady spot instead of loitering near the entrance.
The system works fairly well, considering the greatly reduced seating capacity in the restaurants, but be aware that vegan or allergy orders can take 30 minutes or more to prepare.
Better yet, the newly shortened 60-day dining reservation window means it’s more likely you can secure a table at a sit-down restaurant, which will be a welcome refuge during your day. Selections have been greatly limited, with as few as four entrées available at some venues, and menus are provided as digital QR codes instead of on paper.
Diners are only allowed to remove their masks while at their table, which will be placed a considerable distance from other parties. If you’re concerned about air circulation, the Jungle Skipper Canteen’s main dining room has exceptionally high ceilings and ample room between occupied tables.
#6: Keep an Eye Out for Character Cavalcades
All the important rides may be operating, but the character meet-and-greets, live stage shows, parades, and fireworks you’d expect at a Disney parks are unfortunately still on hiatus. However, all is not lost, because in their place you’ll find a variety of unscheduled character cavalcades and socially distanced appearances.
These impromptu mini-parades happen frequently around the Magic Kingdom and provide opportunities to see your favorite Princesses without having to wait in line or stake out a spot on the sidewalk.
Watch this video for a sampling of the reopened Magic Kingdom’s socially distanced character appearances:
#7: Remember to Relax
By taking away the need to beat the crowds to your next headliner, or rush so you don’t miss your FastPass appointment, Disney has turned the Magic Kingdom’s clock back to the 1990s—when laser discs and car phones were still cutting edge (as the Carousel of Progress says), and there was still an appreciable “off season” in Orlando. Admittedly, it’s a bit harder to inhale the pixie dust when you’re wearing PPE, but the current capacity cap means every guest who does make it inside can feel like a VIP.
Now that there aren’t mobs of fellow visitors surrounding you on Main Street U.S.A., be sure take the time to notice details of architecture and horticulture that you may have missed for years. And when the physical and emotional overstimulation of your return takes its toll, remember to retreat to one of the park’s relaxation zones, where you’re allowed to remove your mask for some socially distanced downtime.
We especially liked the Tomorrowland Terrace location, which has widely spaced open-air seating and a spectacular view of the vibrantly repainted Cinderella Castle.
For a more in-depth look at the freshly reopened Magic Kingdom during its first day of annual passholder previews, take a full tour of the theme park with Unofficial Guide co-author Seth Kubersky in this video:
For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, or to plan your family’s trip to Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2020. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.