by Beth Keating
July 11, 2020
Like many Disney-centric families, we’ve been doing the should-we-or-shouldn’t-we dance over the past few months. We’ve watched (sometimes patiently, sometimes more frantically) as Disney changed the parameters of our trip several times over the past few weeks.
First, we lost our Dining Plan (originally, a deciding factor in when/if our trip was going to happen), then the activities we were anticipating started to disappear.
We began to rationalize that maybe the loss of our Fastpasses wouldn’t be so bad if attendance was being limited. After all, one of our best trips happened when we got caught by a hurricane. Though the parks themselves were closed on hurricane day, they were also near empty in the days bookending the hurricane’s landfall, and we didn’t need Fastpasses at all, riding our favorite rides multiple times in a row. We sometimes rode without even getting off the ride car before being sent along on another round. It reminded us of the Disney of the good ole days, when you could actually turn around in the park without knocking three other people over.
We still haven’t made a final decision about whether or not to cancel our reservations. But as the opening of the parks grew closer, we began to ask ourselves: If we do go, how would our favorite parts of the vacation change? Disney’s Magic Kingdom opens today (July 11). If our reservations had been for today, how would a July 11 park day look different for our family?
We typically don’t go into the park on our travel day, not wanting to waste a park ticket on a partial day, and in the somewhat likely event that our flights are delayed or that travel and transfers take longer than expected, we don’t want to pay a premium for using a valuable park ticket for only a few hours. So, on our last few trips, we’ve headed over to Fort Wilderness to enjoy the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue on our first night in Florida. It gets us into the Disney spirit, and we still feel like we’re enjoying some of that Disney magic and fun. That would be change #1: Dinner shows aren’t happening right now. Since we’re not heading to Fort Wilderness, maybe we’ll head to Disney Springs instead to check out a new-to-us restaurant. Perhaps Raglan Road.
Now for Perfect Vacation Day #1. Each family member has a different must-do first ride. Dad wants to head to Splash Mountain; Mom is voting for Pirates of the Caribbean. Sonny boy breaks the tie – we’re heading for Pirates! We’re still okay there – even without a Fastpass, we should be able to get on the boats in a reasonable amount of time.
It still remains to be seen, however, if we can squeeze in as much fun during the day as we would in other years because the park hours are scheduled to be shorter to allow Disney to get things cleaned up, sanitized and reset for the following day. In fact, Extra Magic Hours for Resort hotel guests are non-existent right now. Definitely a checkmark in the “minus” column for us, since we are rope-drop-to-rope-drop people, or at least I am. My family scoffs at the idea of Disney being a “vacation.” It is some of the most focused, extreme activity we’ll have all year. (My son thinks I’m a drill sergeant when it comes to park schedules. Yes, I’m the one with the color-coded spread sheets…) So, reduced park hours are a huge disappointment. My husband is hoping that it might mean he’ll finally get some poolside relaxation. That’s still in the “maybe” column, since many of the pools also have reduced hours of operation.
Next up: Where to eat? All three family members agreed. Our choice is the Skipper Canteen. It was one of our Advanced Dining Reservations before Disney pulled the plug. (See our dining review on the Skipper Canteen here.) As big fans of the Jungle Cruise as well, the quirky Skipper Canteen with its numerous Jungle Cruise Easter eggs is a hidden gem in the park. The food is giant steps a-“head” of your typical theme park cuisine, the staff has always been extremely knowledgeable and attentive, and the theming is the kind of fun Imagineering at which Disney excels. Since the menu is a bit more adventurous, we’ve never had trouble getting a reservation here. The restaurant is also well proportioned, and we’ve never felt crowded by other tables, so Disney probably won’t have to do too much finagling to accommodate new social distancing guidelines. Our big dining disappointment for our trip is that we finally(!) got reservations to StoryBook Dining with Snow White at Artist Point. Alas, Disney put that experience in the cancelled column. We’d tried a number of times to snag that reservation, and were really looking forward to exploring Wilderness Lodge along the way. Since it’s a character dining experience, it probably won’t be reappearing any time soon. If it does, it will likely be in a different iteration.
On to our snack choices for the day. There are three different selections for family members. Dad wants a Dole Whip, Sonny wants a turkey leg, and Mom wants a Mickey Premium Bar. This could be a slight hurdle. Walking around with masks on is going to make chowing down on a turkey leg while strolling Frontierland problematic. Dad would usually get his Dole Whip while sitting and waiting for the parade (no parades on tap for the time being). Mom gets the Mickey Bar while waiting for the others to come off of Space Mountain. Looks like we’ll just have to find a bench in the shade for three different snack stops and take a few minutes out of the day to let folks tuck in. The real change this time? There’ll be fewer snack purchases, since without the Dining Plan, we likely won’t be paying for two snacks for each person every day out of pocket. It’s more likely that we’ll each get a snack or two during the entire trip, as opposed to each day. Better for the calorie count, perhaps, but it’ll make choosing the snacks that much more significant. We won’t venture much out of the comfort zone to try a new specialty or seasonal snack, for sure.
We also usually bank some of our snack credits to use on a blowout day at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, since many of the delicious dishes at the festival count as a snack credit. Each of us typically reserves four or five snack credits from our Dining Plan to use as we traverse the countries of World Showcase. Sharing our samples with other family members gives us a dozen or more dishes to enjoy at the various food booths. At even a conservative $5 a plate (plates often cost more), that would be upwards of $60 just for snacking. Not likely to happen without the Dining Plan. (And, for that matter, the modified Food and Wine Festival itself is going to look somewhat different under the circumstances… the free Eat to the Beat Concerts, which we have enjoyed a number of times, have already been cancelled.)
But I digress… Back to the Magic Kingdom. One of the saddest changes, for me at least, would be the loss of the Happily Ever After fireworks to close out the park day. My son once said he thought Happily Ever After was the whole reason I went to Disney, since I don’t really ride things like the three mountains, Flight of Passage, or Mission: Space. Last year’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party was a mixed bag for me, since the night we went they were able to show the projections on the castle, but without the accompanying fireworks. Bummer. For me then, the missing Happily Ever After is a huge change in the negative column. For my son, who usually uses fireworks’ time as an opportunity to take advantage of shorter lines for rides, it’s not as big of a loss.
And since we mentioned Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, that’s a checkmark in the “not happening” column as well. We have, in the past, given up an extra park day in exchange for grabbing tickets to the Mickey party while we are in town. Since parades, fireworks and unusual character meet-and-greets are such a huge part of the event, Disney has chosen to forego the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party this year. While we were scheduled to be at the Magic Kingdom during a party week, I had fortunately not yet purchased tickets, hedging my bets when activity scheduling began to go south earlier this year.
We had, however, earmarked birthday money to take Dad on the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage out of the Contemporary on this trip. Sonny boy and I had taken the excursion with family members a while ago, and had a ball. This time, we were hoping to treat Dad to some fun with Captain Hook, Mr. Smee and Patches the Pirate. Alas, that will not be, mateys, as neither the fireworks nor the specialty cruises such as the Fireworks Voyages are currently taking place.
On a smaller scale, we will also miss the package delivery service for sending our souvenir purchases back to our resort. Hubby will often forget about that service the first day or so of our trip, and end up carrying his souvenirs around all day with him. The package delivery lets you send your goodies back to the resort to pick up later so your hands are free to enjoy touring the park. Sadly, package delivery is temporarily shelved for now. You’ll have to save your souvenir shopping for the end of the day, or tote your haul with you throughout the park.
One change that will not be all that unusual for us is the hand sanitizer baths. We are already doing that…only now, it’s on Disney’s dime. It’s pretty standard fare for me to cart around those little pocket packs of scented hand sanitizer and hit everyone up as we come off of rides. We’ve been doing that since the kids were little and touching every solid surface they could lay their grubby little digits on (and even some not so solid surfaces). We’re used to stopping every hour or so to grab a free water to stay hydrated, so we’ll just add in some extra drops of hand sanitizer as we do so. And probably grab a dose as we pass Disney’s sidewalk dispensers as well.
I will also go days without turning on my phone while I’m at Disney. I really don’t want to know what the outside world is doing while I’m in the Kingdom. My husband is one of those guys, however, who is constantly checking his phone, so I’m not worried we won’t be reachable in an emergency. I generally haven’t had much need for a phone at the park, though. My Fastpasses and photopasses linked to my MagicBand, so if I had to, I could even leave my phone at the hotel. Not so much anymore. Now I’m going to have to figure out how to pull up QR codes on my phone, since many of the sit down restaurants are using QR codes for access to the restaurants’ menus to keep things more contact-free. And, since Disney is kindly requesting guests to use contactless payment methods whenever possible, I’ll need to link my MagicBand to my credit card. Or at the very least, carry a Disney gift card with me instead of cash. It looks like I may just have to carry the phone to access the My Disney Experience app during the day. Restaurants are also using phones to access Mobile check-ins so you can bypass the hostess stations.
Lastly, the biggest change is the wearing of the masks. As a teacher who’s recently had to sit on the lawn in a mask for a social-distancing graduation, it’s hard to do the mask thing in the sun. The day of graduation was a mild 70s temperature day here. I can’t imagine doing ten-plus-hours park days in Florida’s swamp-like heat and humidity with a swatch of fabric over my mouth. I rip the mask off my face as soon as I get to the car after grocery shopping now as it is. That’s a change that might be the proverbial nail in the coffin for our trip. Definitely put the mark in the “no” column on that one.
I’m sure the Disney vloggers will be out in full force for opening day at the Magic Kingdom. We’ll use them as a window into the parks as we try to make our final call on the journey to Lake Buena Vista, and we’ll tally up all the “yes,” “no” and “maybes” as we wait it out.
Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.