Today was an historic day in Disney World history. After an unprecedented four month closure, Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom re-opened for their very first previews — welcoming Disney World Cast Members to test and explore the theme parks’ new health and safety procedures and protocol while enjoying their favorite rides and attractions for what felt like the “first time in forever.”
Cast Member previews are common for big deal experiences — like the opening of a new land in a theme park, or the opening of a new ride or attraction. They’re Disney’s way of offering Cast Members a fun job perk (“Be the FIRST to ride this new attraction!”), but also of testing out the new experience on a small audience. It’s the perfect way to work out any remaining bugs in the system.
So how did today’s Cast Member preview go? Let’s take a look at the good and the…could be better…experiences from today!
New Health and Safety Procedures and Enforcement
The parks debuted several new policies and procedures to protect the health and safety of both guests and Cast Members. These include social distancing markers, required face coverings, required temperature checks, and a focus on limiting contact between guests and Cast Members when possible.
The security bag check prior to entering the parks has gotten a new, low-contact makeover. Now, guests place all electronics into plastic carriers, then walk through the new security system WITH their personal bag instead of having it searched by a security guard.
If your bag still sets off the alarm, it’s time to dump it all out into a security bin in hopes of finding the offending article (for our reporter, it was a fuel rod that set off the alarm).
Was this faster than the traditional bag check? Possibly. Pulling out your electronics and putting them into plastic bags can take a lot of time, but that time could be won back if you walk safely through the new automated detectors without having to have a Cast Member go through your things. Either way, however, the process does minimize contact significantly between guests and Cast Members.
This, along with mandatory temperature checks, were the main additions to the park entry system, and seemed to go relatively well today. If you experienced a big back-up or time sink here, please let us know in the comments.
But a major concern from our readers has been Disney’s ability to enforce and maintain social distancing and required face coverings with the new game plan. In our experience, the Cast Member “guests” at the preview were doing a decent job of rule-following. We didn’t see too many maskless folks, or even guests who had pulled their masks down below their nose.
Social distancing was being adhered to in nearly all situations we encountered. And for most of our visit, the parks were sparsely populated, so it was easy to keep that 6-ft invisible bubble around oneself.
But some things did break down a bit a few times during the day. In addition to reportedly having a couple of rides malfunction and/or break down, there might be some implications from the lack of a virtual queue system on some attractions as well. While most ride wait times were 5-10 minutes most of the day, more popular rides like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Splash Mountain saw some longer waits and/or social distancing hiccups.
But, like we said, this is why Cast Member previews exist. Disney’s job is to measure twice, cut once, and test, test, test. And it’s much easier to test out big change roll-outs with a small, dedicated group of guests — like Cast Members — than with a much larger crowd on re-opening day. You can expect some wrinkles to be ironed out by Thursday’s Annual Passholder preview, and again by Saturday’s grand re-opening. Stay tuned.
Ride And Attraction Wait Times
As predicted by Disney CEO Bob Chapek, due to very limited guest capacity in the parks, FastPass in today’s experiment wouldn’t have been necessary for most attractions. And our reporters were pretty much able to ride anything they wanted to ride today with just a 5-15 minute wait per attraction.
But note that when a ride breaks down or experiences technical difficulties, or needs an enhanced cleaning, the socially distanced line can get a little bit longer than what’s comfortable; and when guests run out of social distancing markers on the ground, it can be difficult to figure out where the 6ft mark is. This could lead to some crowding if Cast Members aren’t there quickly to manage the process.
Speaking of virtual queues, the rides and attractions may not have ’em, but those popular stores definitely can if needed!
Locations like The Emporium and Uptown Jewelers in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom have the ability to turn on and off their virtual queue line systems depending on crowd-levels. These shops are allowing only a fraction of their capacity inside at a time, so on busy days, there may be waits.
While it’s weird to have to get into a virtual line to just pop in and check out the newest necklaces, it does seem to be a procedure that’s working for Disney right now when days get busy at Disney Springs. And we like that it allows guests to continue to enjoy the park while technically “waiting in line” to get into a shop.
Characters no longer meet face to face, give hugs, or take photos with guests (unless they’re selfie photos from afar), but you can still see them every day!
Character Cavalcades and boat float-bys are a new, fun way to see characters at sporadic, super random times. Why sporadic and super random? To make sure guests don’t congregate together in anticipation of catching the show.
While it’s a bummer to not be able to meet Mickey for a hug, the Cavalcades we saw were SO much fun! Merida and Gaston on horses? A Trolley full of Hundred Acre Wood pals? Aladdin and Mary Poppins on the same float? The crystal PRINCESS FLOAT back in action?
We saw a LOT of characters and it was a LOT of fun. So while it’s different from what we’re used to, the random “you never know when you’ll next see a character” factor is a rad throwback for many of us to our childhood where Disney characters were always out and about and you never knew who you’d see!
So, overall, the Disney Cast Member preview we attended went well. The park seemed deserted, guests were generally following the rules, and wait times were minimal except at the most popular rides and attractions. Of course, we didn’t see everything that went on in the park. If you had different experiences you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments.
Were there hiccups? Yes. Are they debilitating for Disney? No. The hiccups we saw and experienced are mostly fixable, which is why Disney prioritizes running events like Cast Member and Annual Passholder previews. Run the show, find the bugs, fix ’em, run the show again. That’s why shows rehearse.
We’ll be experiencing the (likely more populated) Annual Passholder Preview later this week, and the official Re-Opening Day this weekend, to see any implemented updates to current policies and procedures.
Disney stated in a health and safety media panel today that they weren’t “complacent” about the protocol they were implementing, and that they were eager to continue to learn and update their policies based on data and experience gathered both here in Orlando and at Disney parks around the world. So it will be interesting to see what evolves.
As always, we’ll be sharing with you any changes to Disney’s plans as well as our own experiences and those of our readers in the parks as the re-opening continues.
Are you headed to Disney World soon? Are there more measures you think Disney should implement to keep guests and Cast Members safe? Let us know in the comments.