Walt Disney World began the phased reopening of its four theme parks on July 11 with Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Then on July 15 Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios reopened for guests to visit. As part of Disney’s reopening process, the theme park giant created new health and safety procedures to keep all visitors and employees (called cast members) as safe as possible in the parks.
There is an enhanced focus on sanitizing high-touch surfaces in all four theme parks. These high-touch surfaces include door handles, countertops, and railings. Typically guests would see custodial staff wiping down surfaces but now, with the new procedures, merchandise and attractions cast members are also cleaning. However, that's just one of the many changes happening in Disney Parks.
Use of QR Codes to Limit Interaction
QR codes are in use throughout Walt Disney World to reduce person-to-person interaction between guests and cast members. In restaurants, QR codes are used in lieu of traditional menus. A small sheet of paper with the restaurant's QR code is placed on a dining table. Scanning the code with a smartphone brings up the menu. At Disney-owned resorts, QR codes are used to skip the front desk and check-in upon arrival if someone missed the online check-in window. QR codes are also used to get help with handling luggage. Inside the parks, QR codes might be used to enter a virtual queue when large merchandise locations like The Emporium at Magic Kingdom hit capacity. The codes are on a sandwich board outside the entrance, and visitors will get a text message when it’s their turn to head into the store.
Revised Park Entrance Procedures
Before the shutdown, guests scanned their fingers after tapping their MagicBand at the entrance gate. Finger scanning is no longer required for entry, and the scanners have been covered up so guests aren’t tempted to touch them. Once inside the parks, visitors will have to make quick decisions about where to go as some walkways can get crowded, especially first thing in the morning when parks open. Crowded walkways are most prevalent in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where three of Disney’s most popular attractions—Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Slinky Dog Dash, and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance—are located. Deciding on a path through the park before you arrive will cut down the amount of time you spend in crowded areas close to the entrance.
Handwashing Stations in the Parks
Guests will find hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations all over Walt Disney World. Hand-washing stations are typically found in areas where restrooms are not nearby, allowing someone to wash their hands without making a long detour. Each station is equipped with a foot pedal to pump water to the spout, a soap dispenser, paper towels, and a trash can.
Hand-sanitizing stations are found at the entrance and exit of attractions, restaurants, and restrooms. The automatic dispensers are also found near elevators at hotels and in hotel lobbies. Cast members are highly encouraging guests to use the stations as they walk onto attractions or before heading to a hotel room on an elevator.
How Riding Attractions Has Changed
Each attraction at Walt Disney World has been updated to allow for social distancing measures. In each queue there are markers on the ground placed 6 feet apart, signaling where to stand. In some attractions, plexiglass barriers have been added between switchbacks and between rows in the loading zones. The type of vehicle an attraction uses will determine how the ride is filled. Roller coasters are skipping rows to allow for social distancing, some omni-mover attractions like Haunted Mansion are skipping every other ride car, and others like Kilimanjaro Safari have a barrier between rows to allow the entire car to be filled. Every two hours or so, every single ride vehicle gets fully sanitized and is sent through the attraction without anyone in it to dry before loading in new guests.
Disney Is Strictly Enforcing Masks
Anyone visiting Walt Disney World must wear a mask over their nose and mouth at all times unless you are eating or drinking at a table or bench, swimming in the hotel pool, or are in your hotel room. This policy is strictly enforced by all cast members. If a cast member sees anyone without a mask or wearing a mask incorrectly they will ask for the person to put a mask on or wear it properly. Face masks must have ear loops or ties, and neck gaiters or bandanas will not be accepted. Guests are allowed to wear a face shield as long as they are also wearing a mask underneath it.
There are designated areas in each park and Disney Springs where guests can take their mask off and sit without being told to put the mask back on. There are three of these mask-free relaxation zones at each park; two of them are outside and one is inside with air conditioning. Social distancing measures are also in place in these zones. However, there are no cast members actively wiping down tables between groups.
Social Distancing on Disney Transportation
Each mode of Disney transportation is using social distancing measures to ensure guest safety. Disney buses are only allowing six groups at a time on a bus, and the bus driver assigns each group a numbered section to sit in. Each section is divided by plastic barriers. The bus is loaded back to front, then unloaded front to back to ensure no one has to walk in front of another group.
The monorails that travel to resorts, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot have barriers to divide each individual car into two sections. One to two groups are placed in each section, but everyone must be sitting to allow for social distancing. The Magic Kingdom ferry that takes visitors from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the entrance of the park has marks on the ground where groups are to stand to allow for social distancing. The Disney Skyliner that services seven different hotels and two parks is only putting one group per gondola.
Crowd Size in Disney Parks
Disney has vastly decreased the number of people allowed in each park and is enforcing this by using a new theme park reservation system. The reservation system requires visitors to choose which park they want to visit on which day.
Some areas of the parks feel empty, especially at Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom where side paths can be taken to get to a destination, and lengthy wait times keep people occupied for longer periods of time. Because of this visitors can walk through entire lands and never see another guest.
Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios feel more crowded because of the smaller amount of attractions or things to do, and fewer routes through the parks. This can make the park feel crowded, especially near the entrance or in popular areas like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Is It Safe to Visit Disney World Right Now?
Despite all the safety measures in place in the parks, the coronavirus is still a very prevalent threat and Florida is regularly reporting more than 10,000 positive cases each day. The safest option would be to postpone your trip, however, the experience of being in Walt Disney World is quite similar to that of any major tourist attraction.