As Disney World has started its initial reopening this week, we are back in the parks to say hello to our favorite characters and eat all the snacks our stretchy pants can handle!
And, along the way, we’ve encountered plenty of surprises since Disney World looks completely different than we’ve known it to be before.
Although we had expectations about how the parks would be operating when we returned, we were shocked to see that these things weren’t featured during Disney World’s initial reopening!
When Disney Springs first opened, we saw Virtual Queues put in place to stagger guests visiting stores to distance them from one another. Then, Universal Orlando started using Virtual Queues at its attractions as an effective way to help guests get the most out of their experiences in the parks.
In the past, Disney World has used their own form of Virtual Queues with the Boarding Passes on Rise of the Resistance and, to some extent, with the creation of the FastPass system. Many Disney go-ers (including ourselves) thought that Virtual Queues would be the next normal part of going to theme parks once they reopened. Since there has been a need for distancing efforts, Virtual Queues have been helpful for reducing crowds at even the most popular attractions.
Then Disney announced that the parks wouldn’t be utilizing FastPasses, Single Rider lines, or Virtual Queues before the parks reopened initially. Instead, guests are only able to use Stand-By queues, which was a completely unexpected choice for Disney to make, in our opinion.
But, what shocked us even more than that was the announcement that Rise of the Resistance would be suspending Boarding Groups in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (which COMPLETELY changed the game for visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios).
Eventually, Disney backtracked to state that Boarding Passes would actually be available with a new modified system, including dispersed releases of passes throughout the day, a limit of only one Boarding Group per person, and more.
Even though there haven’t been Virtual Queues put in place for other attractions, Disney has still made sure to maintain distancing though markers, partitions, barriers, spaced seating, and more throughout the attraction and ride queues.
We were surprised by how quickly lines are moving and how low wait times are. While the wait times have been consistently low during the first week of reopening, we aren’t sure when (or even if) crowds will pick up in the parks. This may really depend on if Disney increases park capacity.
However, if they do, there might be some changes as time goes on to accommodate guests and abide by distancing measures. So, Virtual Queues could pop up for attractions later on (since Disney has been surprising us left and right recently).
More Brand New Merchandise in Stores
Many of our favorite merchandise locations have reopened to guests. Although we’ve spotted loads of merch we had seen prior to the closures, as well as a few newer items dropped online during the closure, we were pretty taken aback to see the LACK of brand new items.
However, that didn’t stop fans from flocking to store to pick up souvenirs to take home. The need for Disney merchandise was VERY real, especially over at the Splash Mountain gift shop.
While there weren’t any new things for sale, plushes, tees, and more were selling out ridiculously fast since Disney announced that the ride would be redesigned to a The Princess and the Frog theme. The line ranged from a 180-minute wait to a 240-minute wait before the Virtual Queue line for the store eventually reached capacity at one point.
But, there was one new line of merchandise that DID sell out in the parks initially. Disney rolled out a “Together Again” collection to welcome everyone back into Disney World. Since people were obviously excited about the prospect of the latest merchandise to hit the shelves, the collection began to sell out fast as well (since it didn’t seem like the parks stocked a lot of the tees anyways). We’ve seen a few of the shirts appear today in the parks, but the demand on reopening day was certainly high.
Although there wasn’t a lot of new merchandise, the biggest change that we saw in the retail world of Disney was that there was a new way to shop. The stores operated with designated entrances and exits, distancing measures, glass partitions, the capability to turn on a Virtual Queue, and more.
Fan-Favorite Menu Items
Oh, how we’ve missed snacking our way through the parks with all the amazing eats and treats Disney World has to offer! We’ve been grabbing Mickey Bars and Dole Whips galore, but a few of our favorite snacks are missing from the parks (say it ain’t so!).
While we were at Aloha Isle, we spotted that the classic Pineapple Upside Down Cake and Kakamora Float were both missing. In case you never got to try the Moana-themed float, the coconut flavored Kakamora had become one of our FAVORITE versions of a Dole Whip float since it debuted at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (and then secured a spot as a full-time featured item in Magic Kingdom).
If that doesn’t make your Dole Whip loving heart sad enough, the Peter Pan Float also disappeared from Storybook Treats. BUT, the good news is that you can still get a Lime Dole Whip over at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort!
While we were exploring Animal Kingdom, we found that the Simba Pretzel had gone missing (we can’t believe it either)…
…on top of Flame Tree Barbecue‘s Pulled Pork Fries! Although a basket of fries may not seems like a big deal, the Pulled Pork Fries were a GREAT snack option (that could practically serve as a meal) with so much pulled pork and plastic cheese piled on crisp fries. We’re getting a little emotional just thinking about them being missing now… .
Since the Disney Resorts have also opened along with the parks, disappearing menu items were bound to make their way over to the hotels too. While we recently dined at the newly reopened California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort, we spotted that the cheesy and delicious Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli was missing from the menu.
Although there are SO many other items vanishing from Disney World right now, we will be keeping a close eye on these treats to see if they come back as the parks move past their initial reopenings. Cast Members have informed us that kitchens have limited access to certain ingredients and menu items in order to maintain distancing in kitchens (and since third-party manufacturers may not have all the items available). Fingers crossed that we’ll see you again, Kakamora!!
No More Pin Trading
Pin Trading is a serious business for many guests who spend time collecting and exchanging their pins to make the ultimate collection. However, Disney originally stated that Pin Trading wouldn’t be happening in the parks during the initial reopenings as a health and safety measure. When Disney Springs opened, spots like Pin Traders had the experience suspended, so we weren’t really expected to be able to trade in the parks, at least not initially.
Buuut, then Disney changed their tune by saying that Pin Trading would be available in a modified fashion. We weren’t really sure what to expect with the new form of trading since so much of the experience was based around people physically being able to swap out pins for others.
However, we’ve now seen Pin Trading return on boards around the parks and resorts for guests. The experience has changed so there is less contact happening during Pin Trading. Now, a guest will be able to choose up to two pins to trade, which will be given to them by a Cast Member who handles the board.
Cast Member lanyards, pouches, books, and other means of Pin Trading have been suspended at this time to encourage distancing and prevent unnecessary contact.
We’ve seen Pin Trading so far in places like the Artist’s Palette at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort, near DinoLand U.S.A. in Animal Kingdom, stationed at Fantasy Faire in Magic Kingdom, and multiple other locations that are available in Disney World currently. You may not find the pin boards EVERYWHERE you used to see them before the closure for now, but if you’re looking to trade, you can scratch your pin trading itch!
Very Few Characters Out and About in the Parks and Resorts
When Disney announced that fireworks, parades, and character meet-and-greets would be suspended, we thought that there would be way fewer opportunities to see characters. Although Character Cavalcades were announced as the next form of modified Disney entertainment, we didn’t expect there to be as many characters out as we ended up seeing!
On top of the floats going by with Mickey and his friends, the Disney Princesses (and a special appearance from Angus), boat-rides with Chip and Dale, and more, the character experiences didn’t stop there in the parks!
Characters were stationed around the parks to wave to guests passing by from distanced stations or even on the balcony of Cinderella Castle (what’s up, Anastasia and Drizella??).
We were excited to see pals like Buzz and Stitch in Tomorrowland…
…the Country Bears at the Country Bear Jamboree…
…Jack Sparrow near the Pirates of the Caribbean…
…and so many more (our hearts were full of joy seeing them again)!
Although there aren’t many Character Dining experiences returning back to Disney World at this time, we visited Topolino’s Terrace to see all our friends out and about in the restaurant. While you might not be able to take pictures with them (you can take distanced selfies or pictures of the characters instead), you actually have the potential to see the characters a few more times since they don’t have to stop by every table!
At Topolino’s Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy paraded around the restaurant so guests could interact with them at a distance. Plus, there was even a giant dance party where all four characters came out to give a performance!
Another unexpected character surprise appearance came over at Be Our Guest Restaurant in Magic Kingdom. The restaurant typically only serves a table-service meal in the evenings but since reopening, lunch is served as a prix-fixe sit-down meal and with it, a special guest is present! You can wave hello to the Beast!
While the parks start to open again, more Character Dining meals may be instated with similar experiences for guests. We already know that Garden Grill Restaurant in EPCOT will be open with a character experience again!
Water Fountains Would Be Shut Off
Since Disney is following strict health and safety measures, we expected to see the water fountains around the parks shut off when Disney World reopened. However, we were shocked to see that many water fountains were on, while some refillable water bottle stations were turned off (which seems a little strange to us).
Although we’ve seen water fountains on in Disney Springs, we weren’t entirely sure if water fountains and refillable water bottle stations would be turned on in the parks upon reopening. Water fountains in particular seem to not meet with distancing guidelines put forth (you know, since they require guests to put their mouths so close to them!). Bottle fillers seem a bit more sanitary, so we were surprised to see them on some places like the Flight of Passage queue…
…and marked off as closed for safety reasons at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in Magic Kingdom. It doesn’t seem like there are set regulations surrounding where and whether the fountains will be turned on or closed.
However, the water fountains and refillable water bottle stations aren’t the only ways to get water in Disney World!
The quick-service restaurants are still providing free water cups for guests who ask for them so you can cool off while you beat the heat in the air-conditioning. Even though Cast Members are limiting guests from entering Quick Service locations without a Mobile Order or the intention of ordering, if you mention you want water you’ll be allowed in.
Longer Wait Times and No Pre-Shows
While Disney stated that the wait times would be low when the parks initially reopened, we honestly expected them to be a LOT longer than they were. Five minute wait times for Flight of Passage ALL DAY LONG?? UNHEARD OF.
Both Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom had some of the lowest wait times we’ve ever seen in the parks. While Animal Kingdom had lines that ranged from five to 20 minutes for Tier One attractions (we’re still shook), Magic Kingdom’s longest wait time of the day was for Splash Mountain.
The attractions also went through routine cleaning every two hours, so the lines were dispersed consistently throughout the parks. Although we thought that the distancing and use of new health and safety regulations would make the lines longer, we were surprised to find that wasn’t the case during the initial reopenings.
We also thought that pre-shows for attractions would be halted, but we happened to find many of them in action (in a modified way). Instead of hosting two pre-shows, Flight of Passage spread guests out over the two rooms and only showed the first pre-show without the “connection” sequence to the Avatars.
However, Dinosaur’s pre-show was completely normal, except for the limited room capacity and distancing measures put in place.
While Hollywood Studios and EPCOT haven’t opened yet, we will have to keep you updated on how the other parks’ wait times and pre-show situations look when the parks welcome guests again on July 15th.
Although Disney just keeps surprising us over and over again, we are looking forward to seeing all the ways that the parks have changed. And, while we’re back in a newly reopened Disney World, we’ll be taking you with us to check out all the things that are different in the parks!
What things surprised you about Disney World’s reopening? Let us know in the comments below!