Magic Kingdom in Our Current COVID World- Is the Magic Still There?

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom reopened on July 11, 2020, following a nearly four-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were there on Reopening Day, and after mulling my thoughts about it for almost a month, I’m ready to share!

Magic Kingdom Reopening Day

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This summer we were originally planning to go on an extensive seven-week road trip of the Eastern US and Canada, but that obviously got canceled due to COVID. When Walt Disney World announced their reopening plans I quickly made hotel reservations “just in case” we decided to go and then as soon as they were released, I secured park reservations. Honestly, I went back-and-forth on the decision until a couple of days before we drove to Florida. Ultimately, I decided to go knowing that we would leave WDW if at any time I didn’t feel comfortable with the situation.

Rather than stay on site (super expensive with so many kids!!), we stayed at the nearby Marriott Harbour Lake, in a 2-bedroom villa with a full kitchen. This set-up gave us way more room to spread out as well as a kitchen where we *could have* cooked meals. We actually ate most meals in our villa, but we splurged and enjoyed take-out most days- it was a vacation after all!

Before leaving North Carolina, I explained to the kids that this trip was going to be VERY different from our usual visits to Disney since entertainment would be limited, I didn’t feel comfortable dining indoors, and everyone would need to wear a mask at all times. With cases rising in Florida and me getting more nervous as the trip got closer, we all agreed that we would give it a try and at a minimum, even if we just hung out at the hotel all day, it would be a change of scenery from our house.

Walt Disney World Where Dreams Come True Sign

I cannot begin to explain how exciting it was to drive under the Walt Disney World sign again. As an out-of-state passholder,  I obviously do not go as often as locals, but just driving under the sign feels like coming home again- and it was even more exciting following such a lengthy closure.

Magic Kingdom parking booth

On re-opening day, Magic Kingdom opened at 9am and we were in the line to get into the parking lot at around 815am. In the past couple of years, Main Street opened about an hour before the park officially opened, but that is not happening right now – hopefully, we get back to that soon. Parking was super easy- they’re alternating spaces in order to allow for distancing when you get out of your car. I hope that idea sticks around long-term because it was nice having room to get out of the car and get the stroller set up without worrying about hitting another car.

New temperature screening signage at Transportation and Ticket Center WDW

When you arrive at the Transportation and Ticket Center, new signage directs you to the temperature screening area.

Boy getting infrared temperature scan at Disney

The temperature screening is quick and painless- they use an infrared forehead thermometer and it took maybe five seconds per person- including the time to walk through the tent! The line moved quicker than I was expecting though I could see it getting bogged down a bit as capacity increases.

Masked girl getting infrared temperature scan at Disney

The girl doing ours was so sweet and explained the whole process to Ellie before she did it – even though Ellie wasn’t the least bit concerned. And yes, we still bring a double stroller even though Ellie is 6 and she’s the only one that can ride in it. The extra seat is great for carrying all of our stuff- like Clorox wipes and my camera gear!

Physically distanced monorail line at TTC

Once you are through the temperature screening and bag check, you can choose between the ferry boat and the monorail to get to Magic Kingdom. We are big monorail fans so we went with that, even though the line looked longer. The monorail queue had clear lines marking where exactly you were supposed to stand to maintain their physical distancing requirements and the area surrounding the railing was blocked off as well to ensure that there was enough distance between parties in the two lines heading up to the monorail platform.

Masked family riding monorail

Once you get to the front of the monorail line, your party is assigned a number for a corresponding section on the monorail and while we were there, only one party was assigned per side of the cabin. – there’s a vinyl divider in the middle of the monorail cabin creating two sides. Masks are required on the monorail, just like in the rest of the areas of the resort.

Magic Kingdom train station with CM cleaning railings

We made it through the tapstyles – which are no longer requiring a fingerprint scan – and headed into the park. Cast members were seen out and about sanitizing railings and that continued throughout our day at the Most Magical Place on Earth.

Pooh and Friends Character Cavalcade

Characters are not at the usual meet and greet locations, but cute character cavalcades are running throughout the parks all day long. There are no posted times for these but when you hear music keep your eyes open because one will probably be coming your way soon. The character cavalcades (with the exception of the one carrying Pooh & Friends) all start in Frontierland by Splash Mountain and make their way to the hub and then down Main Street on the usual parade route.

Main Street Bakery Starbucks line and coffee + castle

Just like any day at Magic Kingdom, our first stop was the Main Street Bakery for a quick caffeine fix. The line was physically distanced, and running down the block, but it moved quickly and in an orderly fashion. There’s a CM posted of the door keeping an eye on everything and assisting with the flow of the line.

Excited girl running to Cinderella Castle

After we got our coffee, we headed down Main Street amidst light crowds and made our way to Cinderella Castle. Ellie was so excited to be “home“ she ran up the walkway towards the castle.

Selfies with masks at Cinderella Castle

It’s not a proper return to Cinderella Castle if you don’t take a few selfies!!

Masked family at Cinderella Castle

I know there has been a lot of debate about mask-wearing and if it’s still worth it to take pictures in the parks – or to have PhotoPass. For our family, it’s still important to have those pictures because it is an accurate representation of going to the parks during the COVID-19 pandemic. While I hope masks are not required forever, and it’s definitely not my preference, I still want to be able to look back on this time and have accurate pictures of what we went through.

NEW Mickey and Friends Cavalcade at Magic Kingdom + Castle

The Mickey and Friends Cavalcade is a fun one and Mickey and Minnie are still wearing their 90th birthday outfits. I was so happy to see my fave mouse again!

Masked girl in line at Space Mountain

While I stayed in the hub area and took pictures of Cinderella Castle, the kids made their way to Space Mountain – and Ellie was finally tall enough to ride!!

Masked kids riding Space Mountain

Masks are required on the rides and I don’t see that rule going away anytime soon. It honestly didn’t seem to bother the kids at all – their masks stayed on fine on every ride that we went on all day.

Dole Whip at Aloha Isle Refreshments

We don’t usually get dole whip in Magic Kingdom (we usually get it from the Pineapple Lanai at the Polynesian) but it sounded like a refreshing treat on a hot day. Mobile Order was the only way to order food so make sure that you have the My Disney Experience app set up with a payment method ahead of time.

New plastic dividers on Jungle Cruise boats

Jungle Cruise added plastic dividers on the benches in order to ensure that parties were separated from one another and they are not letting anyone sit in the center section. As could be expected, boats have way fewer people than normal, but with the limited capacity in the parks, wait times are still relatively short. We’ve always requested a seat towards the front where it is easier to hear the Jungle Cruise Skipper, and depending on the skipper that you get that is even more important with the current mask policy.

Masked girl using personal fan to stay cool at WDW

As a rule, we don’t visit Walt Disney World in the summer because it is ridiculously hot and humid. We have been in June and it was miserable, so if you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be visiting in July, I would have laughed at you. Seriously though, these personal fans were an absolute lifesaver and probably the item that I would recommend as most important for visiting the parks.

Physical distancing markers in the Pirates of the Caribbean queue

All of the ride queues are supporting these fancy new “please wait here“ markers to maintain physical distancing throughout the queue. Even with the switchbacks, we felt that the Pirates of the Caribbean line was adequately spaced and moved smoothly.

Mother and child in masks on Big Thunder

Row 15 for life!! The speed of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a great way to cool off on a hot day!

Tangled Toilets in Fantasyland of Magic Kingdom

The Tangled Toilets are one of my favorite areas in the park and I have never seen this area completely empty during the day.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train queue with plexiglass dividers

Next up we visited Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Plexiglass was added in the queue in order to minimize contact between people in the switchbacks in addition to the “please wait here” markers.

Disposable mask on girl

Ellie made the switch to a disposable mask before we rode and said it was much easier to breathe and wasn’t quite as hot. I definitely think disposable masks are the way to go if you’re doing the park on a hot and humid day.

Family in masks on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Like other rides, masks are required on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train- and if you take yours off during the ride, you will not be able to get your PhotoPass picture. An empty row is left between parties so the ride is definitely not running at full capacity. When we exited the ride they announced that there would be a brief delay to sanitize the cars – I’ve heard this happens roughly every two hours.

Girl in mask on carousel at Magic Kingdom

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel is one of Ellie‘s favorite rides, so of course, we had to go on it- the fact that there was literally no line was just an added bonus. The rows of horses are marked with a number that is assigned to your party at the front of the line. No longer is there a mad dash to your favorite horse, you can only pick from the ones in your assigned row.

Sword in the Stone

I still let the kids try their hand at the sword in the stone, but their hands were properly sanitized afterward. Cinderella‘s ugly stepsisters were greeting/harassing guests from the back of the castle and it was absolutely hilarious. We probably stood there for about 15 minutes listening to them interact with the (minimal) crowd and this character interaction is one that I hope sticks around for a long time.

Backside of Cinderella Castle

Check out those cute kids and the back of Cinderella Castle! I love all of the gold accents on this side and the new paint job made them really pop! We walked through the castle and back down Main Street to Tony’s Town Square for an early afternoon lunch.

Enjoying pizza outdoors at Tony's Town Square

Tony’s is is the only table service restaurant at Magic Kingdom that has outdoor seating. At this point, I’m not comfortable taking masks off and dining indoors, so all of our meals on this trip were either outdoors or in our villa. We had never eaten at Tony’s before but were pleasantly surprised – make sure to check out the full review of Tony’s Town Square!

Smiling girl on the terrace of Tony's Town Square

One of the best things about sitting on the terrace at Tony’s Town Square is that you can watch all of the entertainment going down Main Street from the character cavalcades to the main street marching band.

New character interactions at Magic Kingdom

After a (spoiler alert!) delicious lunch, we walked over to the train station to check out the characters on the second floor. Oh my gosh, these characters were probably the highlight of my day! We’ve never been big on character meet and greets – the kids always preferred to use their time on rides instead of waiting in lines to awkwardly meet characters. So unless we just happened upon a character, it was it an exclusive meet and greet at an event, or it was character dining, we usually skipped meeting the characters.

COVID character interactions at Magic Kingdom

However, the interaction with the characters at Magic Kingdom right now far exceeded my expectations. Pluto played this game of blowing kisses and catching them with Ellie for a solid five minutes before Mickey jumped in on the fun and tried to steal Ellie‘s kisses. She thought it was hilarious and her laughter was infectious, passing to others as they were walking by. I would go out of my way for this type of interaction if it continues when things are back to normal.

Family in masks at Cinderella Castle Magic Kingdom

As we made our way back into the heart of the park, we stopped for a quick photo in front of the castle. Never in my life have I seen Magic Kingdom this empty during the day.

Empty Haunted Mansion and Memento Mori

As is a common occurrence in the late afternoon of a summer day in Florida, gray clouds rolled in and gave way to periods of heavy rain, which quickly cleared out the park.

Teen boy in front of Haunted Mansion WDW

We rode Haunted Mansion a couple of times in the afternoon – the dark and air-conditioning were a welcome break from the weather. Masks are obviously required, and while we kept ours on, I cannot guarantee that others did the same . . .

Thumbs up from girl in mask with personal fan

During the breaks in the rain, the humidity was HIGH so our portable fans were on in full force. I honestly don’t know why we ever went to the park without them and we won’t be making that mistake again!

Empty Frontierland at Magic Kingdom

This is Frontierland over an hour before park closing. While the pictures I’ve seen more recently definitely have more people in them, I think that the last couple of hours before closing are still the least crowded of the day at every park (except for EPCOT). Most people are getting to the park first thing in the morning and because ride lines are so short, they’re able to accomplish everything that they want by afternoon and the parks are clearing out several hours before closing. The late afternoon thunderstorms are helping clear out the parks, too.

Physical distancing at Country Bear Jamboree

Country Bear Jamboree has the physical distancing thing down. Before you even enter the theater the entire process is explained – there is enough room for parties of four to sit between the “not available” markers and every other row is closed. We split into two groups since there are more than four people in our family and it worked out fine. The staggering of groups also allowed for an unobstructed view and it was the most pleasant viewing of CBJ I’ve had in years!

Teens watching Hall of Presidents

Hall of Presidents is one of our favorite attractions and we see it nearly every time we’re in the park. I didn’t know until this trip that the last showing is actually at park close so catching that last show is a great way to ensure you’re in the park past closing time if you’re hoping to leave after the crowds or get empty park photos.

Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom

The 7pm showing turned out to be a private affair for our group.

Physical distancing at Hall of Presidents

Like Country Bear Jamboree, Hall of Presidents has seating for parties of four in the same every other row format, and space is marked off to ensure that people are physically distanced.

Family in masks at Cinderella Castle + cloudy sky

After coming out of Hall of Presidents, we took our time walking back to Cinderella Castle and had it all to ourselves for a while. I noticed other people coming through the castle from Fantasyland (I assume from the last dinner seating at Be Our Guest) until close to 8pm.

Partners statue and Cinderella Castle at sunset

Seeing the park devoid of guests as the sun was setting was a surreal experience. We’ve been in the park countless times as the last guests, but that’s always been in darkness, in the wee hours of the morning, not at 830pm as the sun was setting.

Smiling girl with Chip & Dale statue + Cinderella Castle

We stopped for a quick picture of Ellie with the Chip & Dale statues in the hub. Sidenote: she calls them Woodnut and Chuck and I have NO CLUE why or where it came from, but it’s the cutest thing. After one of the big kids corrected her, I had to assure her that their real names are Woodnut and Chuck but they go by Chip & Dale in the parks!

Family in masks on an empty Main Street

Smiling faces on an empty Main Street– and yes, they really are smiling behind their masks because they successfully made it ALL DAY wearing masks in the heat and humidity of Florida in July. We didn’t think the masks were thaaaat bad – I mean, Florida in July is already pretty gross – but we discovered that disposable masks were much cooler than the variety of cloth/reusable ones that we brought.

Also, the kids said that it was worth it to put up with the masks/heat for Magic Kingdom but they vetoed our EPCOT day later in the week because they “didn’t think it was worth it to deal with masks just for EPCOT” (and my kids love EPCOT). I’m guessing the difference in the number of rides between MK and EPCOT was the driving factor in that decision.

Empty Main Street just after sunset

Goodnight, Magic Kingdom – Reopening Day was one for the record books. It was such a surreal experience to be back at Magic Kingdom, deep within the Disney bubble, while the rest of the world was in the midst of a pandemic. Even with all the masks, distancing requirements, and handwashing/sanitizer, visiting Magic Kingdom was easily the most normal thing our family has done in the past four months… and yet, it still felt completely weird.

Ultimately, we had a fantastic day. Lines were short, crowds were non-existent, the new character interactions were fabulous, but the whole being at Disney and immersed in magic thing is tough to reconcile with the fact that we’re in the middle of a global health crisis and things most definitely are not normal. I never felt unsafe while we were at Disney (and if I had we would have left immediately), and while the magic is still there, the magic is different.

On one hand, I can say, without a doubt that I am glad we made the drive to Florida and went to Reopening Day at Magic Kingdom. The experience is one that I will never forget and we made great memories. Even though Disney has taken lemons and made lemonade with the whole situation and the magic is definitely there, there is still something missing. My die-hard ride kids probably didn’t miss the parades, the shows, or even the fireworks, but I did. Part of the magic of Disney is from all of those extra experiences so even though the park was less crowded and wait times were low, it wasn’t the full experience.

Magic Kingdom train station at dusk

Should You Visit Disney World Right Now?

To finally answer the question that everyone has been asking, in my opinion, it depends . . .

  • If you’re a local, an annual passholder, someone who goes to WDW often, and you don’t mind that it won’t be the full Disney experience, then yes, this is a great time to go. Crowds are low- I imagine the last time they were this low was right after 9/11, wait times are short, and there are some fun new character interactions/parades.
  • If you’re planning your first trip, this will be more of a once-in-a-lifetime trip, or the extras are super important to your family, wait until at least 2021 to go. A Disney trip can be super expensive, and right now discounts are limited, there is no dining plan (the restaurants aren’t even all open!), and you have to wear a mask in the heat – it is not that same trip that you could have taken a year ago or even six months ago. Honestly, WDW will still be around in 2021, plus it will be the 50th Anniversary of Magic Kingdom, and hopefully, things will be a heck of a lot better COVID-wise.
  • I get that not everyone is comfortable with traveling right now, and I strongly believe in the idea of doing what works for you/your family, no judgment needed. I felt comfortable with the 8-hour drive to Florida because I was driving and could completely control all of our stops- we drove through Chick-fil-A and ate in the car, and stopped at a gas station once to use the bathroom (fully masked and appropriately hand-sanitized). Personally, I’m not at the point where I would feel comfortable flying or doing a longer road trip and stopping at attractions/restaurants on the way.
  • It should go without saying, but just in case, if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or have COVID-like symptoms, please stay home and quarantine.

So, have you been back to Walt Disney World?? Do you have a trip coming up soon or are you planning on waiting until 2021 (or later!) to visit?? Share your plans in the comments!

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10 Comments

  1. August 7, 2020 / 9:30 am

    I have had a family trip planned for 2 years, since we went to Disney in Cali, we had sucha magical time and i wanted to get another trip in while my kids are still on the younger side, 11 and 12. We are coming from WA. State so we do need to fly, that part does not scare me. Parts of our package did get cancelled, but i still feel the steong urge to go, our trip os planned for November during Thanksgiving. I still have time to cancel so we are all just waiting to see what happens!

    • Jennifer
      Author
      August 10, 2020 / 8:09 pm

      I definitely would go with the wait and see approach right now- you still have so much time for things to get better or worse (though hopefully it’s better!).

  2. August 23, 2020 / 6:29 am

    I was actually wondering how Disney looked now that it has reopened again. It looks like there are a lot less people hanging around which is probably a good thing. It’s good to know that they are cleaning railings and putting the proper precautions in place!

    • Jennifer
      Author
      August 25, 2020 / 11:29 pm

      Yes, such low crowds though they have been picking up in the last couple of weeks. I’m always in awe of the attention to detail (including cleaning) that Disney provides.

  3. August 24, 2020 / 10:47 am

    I would love to visit the Magic Kingdom during this period of limited visitor numbers, selfish though that is. Like you, we don’t usually stay in the on-site hotels, the ones nearby are such great value, we save the money to spend on dining and shopping! I like how much care they are taking with capacity of facilities and rides and in maintaining social distancing. Good to know about the mobile app for food ordering too.

    • Jennifer
      Author
      August 25, 2020 / 11:29 pm

      The low crowds was such a nice perk though it’s obviously not sustainable longterm so I’m sure those numbers will increase as time goes on.

  4. August 25, 2020 / 4:23 pm

    Obviously, it’s very important to stick to all those rules. However, travelling is not the way it used to be – and I wonder when we’ll get back to normal. It’s nice that at Disney’s they try to offer fun – with a safety net.

    • Jennifer
      Author
      August 25, 2020 / 11:28 pm

      Totally agree, Renata! I can’t wait for the day that things are back to normal and we can travel like we used to!

  5. Kendra
    August 25, 2020 / 9:30 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I love Disneyland (the original) and hope to see WDW someday. But I agree with you, if it’s a first-time experience or once-in-a-lifetime, better to wait until more stuff is open and operating as “normal” as can be!

    • Jennifer
      Author
      August 25, 2020 / 11:27 pm

      I love Disneyland, too!! I’m waiting (not so patiently) for them to announce their reopening plans!

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