Walt Disney World Resort: 7 takeaways from the July reopening

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Orange County, Florida (CNN) – I was one of the first guests to Disney World on Saturday after nearly four months of park closings due to Covid-19.I have visited Disney parks in California and Florida too many times to count.

But I put on my mask and packed my disinfectant because I was ready to see what this new Disney had in store for its guests.

My goal: to find out what has changed at Disney, what remains the same and whether the magic of the experience was enough to make up for the discomfort of wearing a face covering.

Here are the top seven things to remember about what you need to know before your next trip:

1. The new Disney is not the old Disney

For the moment, only Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom are open. Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are slated to begin hosting guests on Wednesday, June 15. CNN Travel should be at Epcot on opening day and report from inside the park.

The Magic Kingdom opened on July 11, but its capacity is limited and there are differences in the park’s pre-pandemic existence.

David Roark / Disney

In the parks that were already open, almost all of the rides were operational, but many stores, restaurants and food kiosks where cold water and a hot Mickey-style pretzel are easy to drink have been closed.

2. The entertainment is of the pop-up variety

Fireworks and parades are on hold indefinitely to discourage crowds from forming in the parks. Due to concerns about social distancing, Disney has also suspended meetings with the characters.

Guests are not allowed to approach the characters.

Julie Tremaine for CNN

You will always see some of your favorites.

On opening day, parade floats passed through Magic Kingdom at unexpected times, and characters appeared at safe distances from the crowd, like the evil half-sisters on the terrace of Cinderella’s castle.

3. No mask, no entry

At each location in the Disney complex, masks are required at all times.

The only exceptions: you do not wear them in the swimming pools of the complex and while you eat or drink actively. Bandanas and neck warmers are not acceptable forms of face covering – to enter them, masks must hang behind the ears.

4. Hotel and restaurant choices are limited

Hotels such as Disney’s Wilderness Lodge are open and some hotels are available for stays only in the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) areas.

Even without a DVC subscription, I was able to book a stay at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort for the opening weekend.

Captain Cook’s, the quick-service restaurant with take-out, is open during modified hours and Kona Cafe serves sit-down meals. Ohana and Trader Sam’s are currently closed.

Disney has a list of hotels with reopening plans, such as Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa on September 21, but all reopening announcements have yet to be made.

5. Disinfection is a group activity

Disney World reopens as coronavirus cases increase in Florida. Still, some park enthusiasts say they feel safer at theme parks than anywhere else. Natasha Chen of CNN reports.

The day of the opening at Universal Orlando, an employee distributed a hand sanitizer to everyone walking around. Its use was compulsory. At Disney, there are thousands of hand sanitizer distributors, but there is no mandate for customers to use it.

A unique addition: distributors of disinfectant wipes, available in parks and hotels, to clean any personal surface or table. The downside is that putting part of the cleanliness responsibility on the customer means that tables and benches are not necessarily cleaned by employees between each use.

This is particularly evident in hotels.

At Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, at least, the cleaning of the staff was uneven. During a Friday afternoon and the whole day of Sunday spent in the two Polynesian swimming pools, I only saw one employee cleaning the chairs and tables once.

I only realized that my table at Captain Cook was not clean when I saw food spilled by someone else underneath.

A friend at Disney’s Contemporary Resort reported that employees closely monitor used beach chairs – based on the practice of guests folding their chairs when leaving the pool. Judging by some of these details, they haven’t quite resolved all the bugs.

6. Some things have changed, others have not

At the 2019 D23 Convention, Disney announced a major renovation of Epcot, including new rides such as Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster: Cosmic Rewind.

The Earth spacecraft, an original route from Epcot’s beginnings in 1982, was to be closed for renovation this year, but because of Covid-19, this has been postponed indefinitely.

Disney purists will likely be delighted with this news, although they unfortunately turn to some of the other changes underway in Walt Disney World after it reopens on July 11.

7. The experience is worth it if you want it to be

Many people wonder if, with the modified experience, the Disney vacation costs are worth it this year – or, really, before there is a coronavirus vaccine.

The limited capacity of the parks is likely to be a boon for people who don't like crowds and long queues.

The limited capacity of the parks is likely to be a boon for people who don’t like crowds and long queues.

Julie Tremaine for CNN

Indeed, hotel and ticket prices are the same as before the parks were closed, so don’t expect to save money.

Occasional deals on things like early 2020 merchandise can be found in stores inside the park, which is rare at this time of year.

However, short lines for rides and a thin crowd may appeal to some.

Temperature controls and masks, whatever the temperature and humidity on the day of your visit, can be off-putting for others.

So, is it worth it? Yes – if you wish.

If you’ve never been to Disney and dream of visiting this year, you may want to wait.

Disney veterans, on the other hand, can do better. We are more used to being flexible in modifying the plans to take into account the last minute spots that have become available in the Disney app, which we are used to watching.

I made a reservation for dinner the same day at the California Grill, which overlooks the Seven Seas Lagoon and the Magic Kingdom, on July 10, the first which reopened on the same day.

In the end, there is no easy answer to deciding whether a trip to Disney is worth it. The amount of Disney magic required to justify the cost – and adhere to improved health and safety protocols – is a matter of personal preference.

In the end, to me, it looked like an almost normal Disney vacation.

There were a lot of things I wish I could have done. I missed being able to drink a tiki at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki bar, where the decorations come to life, but here’s what I found: when I did other cool things, it was easy to forget what I was missing.

It’s Disney magic – making it seem like whatever you do at the moment is the most magical thing on Earth.

Julie Tremaine is an award-winning food and travel writer, and her work appears in Travel + Leisure and Forbes, among others. Read it on Travel-Sip-Repeat.com.

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