Disney World has been known to be set apart from other theme parks. Their attention to detail and exemplary customer service have set the industry bars high. However, the pandemic has really shaken things up at the House of the Mouse. I’m going to explore how it is affecting the Disney World Guest experience to help you make decisions about your upcoming trip.
So Many Changes
Daily life has changed. That’s just the truth of the matter. Since the pandemic began, we have had to change our way of thinking for much of every day life. How we shop, how we dine out, how we socialize, and how we travel have been impacted by COVID-19.
Disney World has done a wonderful job adjusting their operations to make the parks a safe place to visit. However, how much of the Guest experience has been sacrificed to accommodate safety? Let me be clear that safety is above everything. If we aren’t safe at Disney, then what is the point of going? I’m not saying our level of enjoyment or our experience is the most important thing.
However, I do want to explore the ways our experience in the parks has changed so you can make an informed decision about traveling to Disney World.
One of the most obvious ways the Guest experience has changed is in regards to masks. What was once something only doctors and nurses wore in the operating room is now a part of life for most people.
I won’t sugarcoat it. Masks add a layer of inconvenience while visiting Disney World. Having to remember it every time you leave your resort hotel, fidget with it all day if it slides around, and pack extras in case you lose it, drop it, or get it dirty is a lot. For one person, no it’s not a huge deal. However, if you have a lot of family members and/or young children, it will definitely affect your day in the parks.
If you decide to visit during the warmer months, be sure to add in water breaks and visits to the relaxation stations so you can get a break from the heat (and your mask). You can find a map of all the relaxation zones on Character Locator.
Lastly, the masks are an obvious “enemy” of PhotoPass. While I definitely argue that the PhotoPass photographers are doing a much better job since the reopening, I also do miss seeing full faces in my photos. Many of you agree with me and state you won’t purchase Memory Maker or visit Disney until the masks are gone. The photos you take home with you are definitely impacted by the pandemic.
But, you can also turn around and use those masks as a fun accessory to match to your outfit. Many people, myself included, love to go all out for their park outfits. Coordinating ears, masks, and shirts do add a fun element to planning your trip.
The barriers/dividers that have popped up everywhere is another marker that the Disney experience has changed. With the addition of either plexiglass or soft plastic barriers in many ride vehicles, the ride changes for Guests. It is hard to see through those, meaning you won’t get to experience the ride as it was intended.
Additionally, if you are on a vehicle that has a barrier, your ride photo will turn out different. Frozen Ever After and Dinosaur are among the rides where your photo will look different. It’s possible we may see more in the future.
Not only are dividers placed in ride vehicles, there are also in between tables at restaurants, in front of just about every cash register on property, and in the queue lines. Disney has done as much as they could to keep people from being face to face with each other.
Some have argued these dividers do nothing for keeping people safe because it’s just one more place for germs to hang on to. Think about how many hands touch those dividers and how many people cough/sneeze on them. Disney is not cleaning those in between each party so it’s entirely possible these are doing more harm than good.
Of course, some have also argued that this extra layer of protection does make them feel safer. The barriers certainly do their job in keeping you separated from the person on the other side. Disney has made the health and safety of Guests a top priority so they can continue to operate responsibly.
Other Safety Protocols
Disney is requiring masks and installing barriers everywhere, but those are not the only ways Disney is focusing on safety. Guests must have their temperature checked before entering the theme parks and table-service restaurants. You can read all about the temperature checks here.
Although this adds another couple moments to your day, the temperature screenings do not affect the Guest experience hardly at all. Unless, of course, your temperature is too high and you are not allowed to enter the park or restaurant. But, that’s a story for another day.
Additionally, hand sanitizing stations are located throughout Disney World property. I would argue this is one of the most welcome changes to the parks and resorts! If anything, these stations do not take away from the Guest experience but actually add to it in a positive way.
I would file the new park pass reservation system under safety protocols because Disney is implementing it to control the number of Guests in the park. Keeping the crowds spread out is very important to Disney, and by limiting the number of people in the park it is also a more pleasant experience for those Guests who have a park pass.
This does make wait times shorter depending on the number of Guests Disney lets in. Additionally, this helps clear out walkways and crowding in shops. Do I really need to say why this is better for the Guest experience? As long as you can purchase your tickets and get your park passes for the days of your choosing, I don’t see anything about park passes that negatively affect the Guest experience.
Lack of…Well, Almost Everything
Are you ready for a really long list of benefits and amenities that have disappeared since the reopening or are scheduled to be discontinued? Here we go.
- Fireworks and all firework parties (Happily Ever After, Pirates and Pals, etc)
- Other nighttime entertainment
- Character meet and greets
- Dining plans
- Many restaurants and shopping
- Extra Magic Hours (to be replaced with Early Theme Park Entry)
- Special events like After Hours and Early Morning Magic
- Complimentary Magic Bands
- Luggage tags (that are sent to your home)
- Magical Express (beginning in 2022)
- Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom
- A water park (Blizzard Beach reopens in March 2021)
- Spas and salons
- Campfires and other resort activities
- Select tours
- Fun runs and in person runDisney races
- Special experiences like Wonderland Tea Party and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
- Most of the BoardWalk
I am sure I am missing some things in my above list. There is a lot that has disappeared from the parks and resorts. Of course, Disney had to make financial cuts where possible. This pandemic has devastated the economy, and Disney had to cut things that would cost them a lot of money or would be unsafe for Guests and Cast Members. After all, you can’t exactly successfully social distance from others during fireworks.
On the other hand, they have cut so much it is absolutely affecting the Guest experience. Yes, there is the obvious – no more fireworks means that’s one less thing you get to do. The discontinuation of the Magical Express is going to create a whole host of problems for travelers.
However, thousands of Cast Members have also been laid off. That one is a hard pill to swallow because it really is the Cast Members that make Disney so magical. With the lack of Cast Members means the ones who are working may be spread a little thin. This can affect the customer service that they are able to provide for Guests.
But for the Same Price?
With all these cuts, you might think it is cheaper to visit Disney World. I am sorry to tell you that you are wrong if you think that. Tickets, food, and merchandise still cost as much as they did before the pandemic. You still have to pay for parking, and rack rates for resort hotels are still climbing.
Thankfully, Disney does offer room discounts, but they have always offered those. That’s nothing new they are doing to make up for what the pandemic took. The new protocols they have implemented have taken the spot of everything that was taken away. The Guest is just paying for something new now.
I don’t think Disney is having problems filling rooms or getting Guests into the park so I don’t think they will do anything financially drastic to get more people to come to Disney World. It is a bit of a blow though knowing you are paying the same (or more) amount of money for less experience.
Yes, masks can be downright miserable in the Florida heat. Yes, we absolutely miss our fireworks and FastPasses. However, beyond a few major items, the Guest experience is very much the same as it was before. I’ve always argued that Disney Magic is still at Disney World. However, each person must decide for themselves if the changes are enough to continue visiting Disney World.
I have not exhausted every possible way the Guest experience has changed in this article. There are many others I simply don’t have time to touch on. For me, the Magical Express situation, lack of FastPasses, and the suspension of many entertainment options are what have changed my opinion of the Guest experience.
Before each trip, I will need to assess what my expectations are for that visit and whether or not they can be met based on the present circumstances.
But, sometimes, ya just gotta go see Mickey.