Our First Day Back in Magic Kingdom

We return to Walt Disney World with another quasi trip report, this time from the theme parks with our first visit to Magic Kingdom. We’ll share photos, our experience doing a full day in MK, info about modified operations, how comfortable it was to wear a mask for ~11 hours in 90 degree weather, and commentary about how safe it all felt.

We were apprehensive about this one, debating whether to go at all. Not because we’re on the fence about returning to Walt Disney World’s theme parks–we already have Disney Park Pass reservations–but because Annual Passholder special events are often anything but. As we’ve mentioned before, APs love the perception of exclusivity and importance.

This was true for the Annual Passholder reopening previews at Universal Orlando Resort, which were more crowded than any subsequent days in the park. We’ve also experienced and contributed to this at Walt Disney World, attending various things–like a Typhoon Lagoon event last year–that were more crowded than normal. In any case, we decided to go, but opted to hedge our bets a little…

Obviously, we’ve done hotel stays (see Our Surreal Stay at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and Our Vexing Visit to Wilderness Lodge reports), but resorts are fundamentally different from theme parks. Even in normal times, it’s easy to avoid other guests at these sprawling resorts if that’s your goal. The same is seldom true at theme parks.

Theme parks have a mix of open and more confined spaces, which makes them more in line with other retail establishments. I’ve gotten anxious just walking around Publix or Target, taking “the long way around” an aisle or section, and thought the same might be true with Magic Kingdom. Part of this is definitely in my head–if you largely stay at home, see only one other person, and consume a steady diet of apocalyptic news for ~4 months, that does something to you psychologically.

In any case, rather than going before or right at rope drop when crowds would potentially build up, we held off and arrived at the Transportation and Ticket Center at about 9:30 after the “first wave” would already be dispersed. (If social media is any indication, there really was no first wave.)

Our plan was to make a quick lap of the park, taking photos, seeing what was different, doing a ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and then assessing from there whether to stay. If crowds were in any way uncomfortable or lines were long, we’d bail. At least we’d get our steps in!

From the beginning, things went well. Parking at the TTC was staggered, meaning that cars were being parked in every other row so people weren’t exiting adjacent vehicles at the same time.

Then came the health screening tent and bag check, neither of which had any line whatsoever…

After the temperature screening, it was on to bag check, which was different than normal.

Walt Disney World has been tinkering with a new bag check system at Disney Springs, but I’m not entirely sure this is that.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand anything the security guard was saying to me (it can be tough to hear through masks and I’m hard of hearing–or so I’m often told!), so I just sort of fumbled my way through the process until they let me pass.

I think it would’ve been smoother without a bag full of camera gear–but even so, it was more efficient than normal. Top notch reporting here, I know.

From there, we took the ferry over to Magic Kingdom. The monorail was also operating, but open air was more appealing to us.

Plus, I just love the approach and this view. I’ve really missed it.

As soon as we stepped inside the park, our day was dealt a devastating blow: the TTA wasn’t operating.

In reality, I didn’t realize that for about the first 90 minutes we were in Magic Kingdom, as we both went wild taking photos of a very empty Main Street USA.

Whatever apprehensions we had immediately melted away (along with my sunscreen), as we just walked up and down Main Street and soaking up the ambiance.

It’s hard to even describe what this was like–a mix between euphoria and operating on a purely instinctive level.

Magic Kingdom looked and felt different. That was clear from the signage plastered all over trash cans, guests wearing masks, lack of crowds, and very vibrant Cinderella Castle.

I have a lot of thoughts on Cinderella Castle’s new paint scheme, but this is already going to be a long post, so I won’t delve into the topic here. Let’s keep things positive.

Nevertheless, the park provoked a very familiar sentimental and nostalgic response. The sights, sounds, smells, and more were all mostly the same, and with that a flood of emotions came rushing back.

We were on cloud nine from the get-go, and there was nothing throughout the rest of the day that brought us crashing back to reality.

Regular readers might recall our Perfect Pre-Park Opening Breakfast at Magic Kingdom from an eternity ago early March, in which I captured this shot–my white whale–for the first time.

I took it many times over yesterday, returning again and again when the lighting was a little better, clouds were puffier, fewer people were around, etc. While Main Street was often devoid of people, the biggest challenge was people stopping in their tracks right behind the statue, stopping dead in their tracks and overcome with emotion. Can’t blame them one bit!

While spending so much time on Main Street, we saw every entertainment act.

There are a lot of them, running unscheduled about once every 15 minutes.

This was the most surreal thing about the day, as these cavalcades and smile & wave shows were routinely running to only a handful of guests.

Performers often outnumbered the guests viewing each entertainment offering.

Except the Country Bears, who drew a record-breaking crowd of nearly 7,000 guests.

I couldn’t help but overhear hundreds of guests saying, “I would spend thousands of dollars on merchandise and expensive hotel rooms if Country Bear Christmas returned.” Just an interesting observation I thought was worth sharing–no ulterior motives at all.

Aside from the colossal Country Bears crowd, these performances to a handful of guests felt a tad weird.

When attendance picks up, I assume that feeling will go away, and these will instead help hype up guests and add a sense of energy and life to Magic Kingdom.

Behind Cinderella Castle, a duck wanders through a performance by Cinderella’s stepsisters.

The stepsisters were heckling guests, and doing an A+ job of it. After the Country Bears, this is the best entertainment act right now.

Speaking of the ducks, it’s unclear how they feel about guests being back. As we covered in Ducks of Disney: Donald’s Dynasty, these waterfowl and cats basically rule the parks, and have done so without us pesky guests for months.

In the interest of investigative reporting, we spent a lot of time photographing and “interviewing” with the ducks. They were very chatty. Given that they eagerly approached us for interactions, our conclusion is they are happy to have humans back. (Note: we did not, and never do, feed the ducks.)

We didn’t even start doing attractions until afternoon, by which point all except one had posted wait times of under 20 minutes.

In reality, all but one were complete walk-ons.

The amount of thought and effort that went into retrofitting the queues with safety barriers, signage, and markers was truly impressive.

Again, we only waited in one line so the jury is at least partially still out on this for us, but what we observed and experienced was perfect.

Our one wait was for Jungle Cruise, and the experience in line was flawless. It’s also obvious a lot of thought and effort went into the ride experience.

However, I’m in no hurry to do Jungle Cruise again with these measures in place. In my view, this attraction is wholly dependent upon the connection between the Skipper and guests. That simply isn’t possible right now (it’s not the fault of our Skipper–she tried her best), and the ride fell flat for us. Your mileage may vary on this–if you ride Jungle Cruise for the scenery, it might still be fine.

Nothing else had a wait, and we got through most of Magic Kingdom’s limited lineup in no time.

Nevertheless, I want to withhold further judgment until we have more of a chance to experience modified attractions on a more normal day at Magic Kingdom. We’ll have a follow-up post on that later.

While we’re advocates of masks, we’ve been pretty up-front with our view that they are not easy or enjoyable to wear. Honestly, we were dreading a full day with masks plus Florida heat, humidity, and sun. We figured most of our visits would be in chunks of only a few hours.

To our surprise, it really wasn’t that bad. Even spending the overwhelming majority of the day outside in the sun, we were fine, and are getting more used to them. Although we still wouldn’t call masks “comfortable,” they have become more familiar. Nevertheless, going to one of the relief stations and removing the mask is still like a breath of fresh air!

Aside from feeling like the surface of Mars, the weather was pretty nice in Magic Kingdom. It rained for about 10 minutes, but that passed quickly.

While almost every other guest on Main Street took shelter during this, two idiots were out in the open.

In our defense, it was worth the wet shoes for the photos and video. (Note: in case it wasn’t clear, we are the aforementioned idiots. Sarah recorded the video, and hence is the person in my photo.)

Doing everything we could to bring ourselves down, we opted to have a late lunch/early dinner at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant…

Our efforts failed. Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the day was that we actually enjoyed our meal here!

Granted, it probably didn’t even come close to what we could’ve had at Skipper Canteen, but that restaurant doesn’t have outdoor seating. The lack of open air seating options would be our biggest complaint about Magic Kingdom, but given that we didn’t see any other guests dining outdoors, this is likely unique to us. Hard to fault Disney for not offering much of something no one else seems to want.

Suffice to say, Walt Disney World crushed it. I cannot think of a single thing to critique or criticize. All of the physically distancing markers and barriers were thoughtfully installed, Cast Members were great, and rules were enforced.

There was tremendous attention to detail, and execution has improved by leaps and bounds since the opening of Disney Springs. My one other complaint would be that it was really sunny and I apparently forgot how to apply sunscreen, resulting it some “interesting” sunburn patterns on my arms. That’s not Disney’s fault, though.

Guests also deserve a lot of credit. I didn’t see a single mask rule-breaker, or even an uncovered nose! There was zero entitlement, no meltdowns, or rudeness to Cast Members. To the contrary, guests seemed genuinely grateful to be there. Even with low crowds, there was a palpable energy and happiness that permeated the air. It was truly something else.

It might be easy to write this off as it being exclusively Annual Passholders, but APs are often the worst offenders in some of these regards. (There’s a reason “Passhole” is a term.) As previously discussed in our ‘Surreal Stay‘ post, I think this has been a transformative event that the world will emerge stronger out of, with renewed senses of togetherness and conviviality. Our experience yesterday further solidifies this belief.

However–and this is a tremendous however–our experience is not necessarily representative of what’s to come. There’s a very good chance that Walt Disney World limited attendance to half of what it’ll be on Magic Kingdom’s reopening day, which is itself likely less than what limits will be in October and beyond.

Magic Kingdom’s Annual Passholder preview absolutely bodes well and demonstrates that Walt Disney World is taking its health and safety protocol seriously, and this is not just theater. That should be the primary takeaway from this. The jury is still out on crowd levels, though.

In other words, don’t race off to book a trip based solely on this glowing report. Don’t pay attention to crowd levels during these previews or the initial opening period, look at random dates in late July or early August. Even then, those dates aren’t representative of what things will be like in November or December.

We’ve already covered this in our Reopening Discount & Crowd Predictions, but remain of the belief that pent-up demand will fizzle out by the end of July. After that, August and September should be light with things picking up by October into the end of the year.

Again, we would encourage a wait and see approach for anyone who is contemplating an out of state visit. In part, to see what happens with crowds, wait times, and everything else operationally.

There’s also the matter of spiking cases in Florida. Proceeding cautiously to see how/if/when the state gets a handle on things is wise. Even with Walt Disney World doing a great job with safety, there’s still the reality that it’s not 100% safe–and you have to fly or drive down, and more exposure entails more risk.

Ultimately, despite our initial trepidations, this ended up being one of the best days we’ve ever had in Magic Kingdom. Pretty much everything about it was perfect, and as cheesy as this might sound: the magic is back. The way Walt Disney World has handled a lot of things in the lead-up to reopen has been frustrating and deserving of criticism, but Disney totally delivered on the in-park guest experience. Thus far, they’ve knocked it out of the park.

While our other things we’ve done and reported about during Walt Disney World’s phased reopening have been surreal and conflicting, this day didn’t have that vibe to it once we were inside Magic Kingdom. There were fleeting “this is weird” moments, but we were mostly caught up in the emotion of being back in the park. I feel slightly guilty writing this against the real world backdrop, but our first day back in the park at Walt Disney World was truly magical.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


Did you attend the Annual Passholder preview at Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom? What was your experience? Are you eagerly awaiting your next vacation ‘escape’ to Walt Disney World, or still apprehensive about everything going on right now? Do you have any questions about the current modified Magic Kingdom experience? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this summer or fall, or are you waiting until 2021 or beyond? 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!

123 Responses to “Our First Day Back in Magic Kingdom”
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