Walt Disney World has done a great job with the phased reopening of its resorts and theme parks. Our experiences at Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot have been largely superb. Health safety measures have been thorough and thoughtful, and guest compliance with rules like mask-wearing has likewise been exceptional.
There’s a lot to praise about what Walt Disney World’s policies and protocol, which we’ve done in our various reopening reports. About 98% of our experiences visiting the parks during this period of ‘temporary abnormal’ have been positive, giving new meaning to the idea of a Walt Disney World bubble.
Make no mistake: Walt Disney World is mostly crushing it on the reopening front; as a silver lining, some of the ‘temporary’ changes are an improvement on the norm (we’ll be back with a list of these in the next couple weeks). Perhaps most significantly, Walt Disney World has used previews for Cast Members and Annual Passholders, as well as observed behavior in the parks and guest surveys, to adjust policies and communications to ensure greater safety…
We offer this as preface because there are plenty of people and reporters eager to latch onto any unflattering photo or one-off rule-breaking to vindicate beliefs that the parks should not have reopened. Regrettably, the headline here alone will undoubtedly provide fodder for that crowd.
However, we think it’s still valuable to lay out these areas for improvement. Most of this feedback we’ve already offered directly to Disney (we’ve received more surveys via email following recent visits–including a request for a video interview–than ever before), but thought it would be worth reiterating here. This way, you have knowledge of current shortcomings and can plan accordingly–or perhaps adjust your own behavior…
It’s disappointing that Walt Disney World restaurants haven’t added temporary outdoor seating sections–to the contrary, some have even temporarily closed their permanent outdoor seating areas due to being short-staffed. Part of this is understandable due to a lack of guest demand during the hottest time of year in Florida. However, Walt Disney World could shape guest opinion and behavior on this front by imploring people to spend time outdoors as much as they encourage hand-washing and sanitization.
At Epcot in particular, adding tables in shaded areas or with umbrellas overhead is necessary. Walt Disney World cannot reasonably expect guests to stop walking and eating without presenting a suitable alternative. Most guests are not barbaric bloggers–they will not be comfortable eating on top of a trashcan in the sun.
4. Food Quality – It’s completely understandable that Walt Disney World would shutter restaurants and reduce menus. While some of our favorite dining spots are not operating, we can make do–especially in Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and to a lesser extent, Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Magic Kingdom is another story entirely. With the full toppings bars removed from Pecos Bill and Cosmic Ray’s, the only decent counter service option is Sleepy Hollow…and a waffle isn’t always going to cut it. We’ve already had one surprisingly good table service meal in Magic Kingdom, but we’re not going to be willing to drop $60+ on food every time we visit the park. That means we’ll be eating at home before and after visiting, rather than eating at the park. We’ll happily spend money in Magic Kingdom on food, but we need to be presented with worthwhile snacks and quick service options.
3. AP Appeal – This is less of an immediate concern, but something about which Orlando leaders should begin to consider. Walt Disney World guests are disproportionately locals and Annual Passholders right now. The percentage of longtime fans versus first-time visitors will likely be skewed towards the former for the next few years as compared to the recent (pre-March) norm.
This means that Walt Disney World is suddenly much more like Disneyland in terms of guest demographics than it has been any time in its history. This is significant because Disneyland has operated differently, being much more aggressive with seasonal entertainment, attraction overlays, special menus, AP events, and more to entice locals to visit frequently–especially during California’s off-season.
Walt Disney World should borrow a page from Disneyland’s playbook, figuring out how to appeal to its most passionate (and local) fans. We’ll have a post next week about what this means when it comes to Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary…
While Walt Disney World has made an adjustment with boarding pass distribution times that has improved things a bit, we have two additional suggestions. First, dump the queue as soon as it’s clear there will be a downtime of 30 minutes or more. Don’t even give guests the option of waiting–just allow them to reenter later.
Second, allow guests with confirmed Disney Park Pass reservations at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to attempt to join the virtual queue without entering the park. Since this would be a small subset of all guests and only ones who are definitely going to attend DHS that day, it shouldn’t cause problems or crash the My Disney Experience app. Doing this would help modulate morning crowds, better distributing attendance throughout the day.
1. Tap Water Availability – Drinking fountain water at Walt Disney World is sourced directly from the swamp, and is actually 3% alligator urine. (I cannot prove that’s true, but you cannot either it isn’t true.) Due to the disgusting taste of Florida water, we carry our own bottles to the parks, and normally fill them up at counter service restaurants.
The problem with this is that Walt Disney World is currently only admitting guests with Mobile Order pickups into most venues. This is a totally understandable policy and we can get behind it. However, that means it’s long past time for Walt Disney World to address its dearth of water bottle filling stations. A few have already been added–finish the job.
Alternatively, a long-term solution that would also be a revenue generator would be to add Coke Freestyle machines (like at Grizzly Peak Airfield in DCA) and sell in-park refillable mugs. This is something Walt Disney World guests have wanted for years, and would likely be pretty lucrative for Disney. (It is for Universal!)
BONUS: Teach Guests How to Walk in Public – One of this blog’s longstanding Walt Disney World pet peeves is walking etiquette. I’ve gone on various diatribes about it over the years in random posts ranging from construction updates about pathway widening to crowd reports. I’ll spare you all of that again. Suffice to say, walking briskly is one of my greatest passions and the way guests aimlessly wander in disorganized hordes drives me bonkers.
In fairness, it’s not our collective fault that Americans do not know how to walk in public. We live predominantly in suburbs or rural areas, get around by SUV, and shop in spacious big box stores. Not being used to congested city sidewalks, the walkways of Walt Disney World are an exotic novelty. Parties often spread out, taking up as much room as there is available space.
We’ve noticed there are times outdoors when physical distancing is difficult to accomplish even though the parks are totally uncrowded. Groups should never walk four-wide, as that always impedes other guests from passing even if it doesn’t block oncoming traffic. With physical distancing now, parties should always walk two-wide at most. In large part, this is simply a matter of guests unlearning old habits. That will take time because it’s unnatural to leave that much space as a buffer between parties in mostly uncrowded areas.
This would be #1 on my list, but the reason it’s a bonus entry is because it’s not really practical for Walt Disney World to address. Disney could put directional tape down or have Cast Members hold signs (like is done quite successfully on New Year’s Eve and other busy times), but honestly, there’s already enough temporary signage and markers. The onus is on guests–we need to be more cognizant of spacing and change our behavior. Part of this will happen over time. Hopefully this diatribe serves as a gentle reminder of that. 😉
If you’ve visited Walt Disney World since the parks reopened, what areas for improvement did you see? Any changes you’d like Disney to make as the phased reopening continues? Do you agree or disagree with our suggestions? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!