How Far Disney Has Come Since the Pandemic

Two years ago today, Disney theme parks closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

At the time, Disney officials (and I) naively believed that the parks could return in four-to-six weeks as long as everyone did what was asked of them.

Disney Giving Away $50 Gift Cards

Then, Walt Disney World would remain closed for nearly four months instead.

Even when the parks opened, they were a shell of what we’d come to expect.

So, I see today’s anniversary as a day of celebration. Let’s talk about how far Disney has come since the parks reopened.

July 2020 flashback

Jul 11th2020, will always stand tall for Disney fans as the day the magic returned.

On that date, two of Walt Disney World’s four theme parks reopened. The other two would return on July 15th.

Effectively, guests waited four full months for all the Disney parks in Orlando to reopen.

Even then, we were missing a lot. For starters, Disneyland Resort couldn’t come back due to more stringent health guidelines in California.

In fact, Disneyland wouldn’t return until April of 2021, more than nine months later than Walt Disney World.

For the longest time, the Most Magical Place on Earth represented the only option for Americans.

We couldn’t travel abroad due to the pandemic, and Disneyland stayed closed. So, it was Walt Disney World or nothing.

Walt Disney World

Even then, Walt Disney World didn’t start with much. We can trace Disney’s big comeback through the various return engagements over the past 20 months.

Changes in Park Capacity

Do you remember the start of the Park Pass system? Disney created this reservation program out of necessity.

Chapek park reservations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that Disney could only protect guests by guaranteeing social distancing.

The best way to do that involved stringent limits on the number of guests who could enter the parks.

Park Passes

For this reason, a small number of people fondly look back on their Disney vacations in July and August of 2020.

Those people fortunate enough to visit Disney at the time can share almost unbelievable stories about attractions’ wait times.

Avatar Flight of Passage worked as a walk-on ride for the body of four months.

Guests would speed-walk through the extended but empty line queue, ride Flight of Passage, and then turn right back around and do it again.

Disney barely operated its parks at a profit during these early days.

Contrast that to now when the parks have largely returned to normal in terms of capacity.

Disney executives state that the crowds aren’t quite what they were in 2019, but that’s by design.

enchantment

Management developed a fondness for the natural crowd controls of Park Passes.

A Stark Difference in Restaurants

I vividly recall how I felt when Disney announced the restaurants that would reopen with the parks in 2020. As I evaluated the list, I thought, “That’s it???”

restaurants

Photo: Matt Stroshane

Staples of Magic Kingdom dining such as Columbia Harbor House and Casey’s Café didn’t return with the park. Guests couldn’t eat at Cinderella’s Royal Table, either.

In fact, we suffered through a Disney Princess shortage with all the dining options, too. Disney eliminated character for meals a time.

Opening Day

Contrast that to today. I recently posted a list of the best Disney restaurants yet to reopen. Spoilers: there are only a handful.

Disney is almost completely back to full strength with its dining options, a statement that would have sounded impossible just a year ago.

Disney After Dark Is A Thing Again

Here’s something else you may have forgotten about Walt Disney World’s shaky first year back in business.

The parks closed MUCH earlier than they ever had before. Seriously, some parks closed at 5 pm or 6 pm at times.

Thunder Mountain night

I had to publish this list of suggested Disney after Dark activities to provide night owls with some entertainment options.

One of my suggestions was catching a movie at Disney Springs.

DisneySprings

Image: Disney Springs

Folks, I’m here to tell you as a box office expert that NOBODY was going to movies in September of 2020.

Once the sun set at Disney, the night was over. Contrast that to now, when the parks are back in full swing.

France Pavilion at Night

We’ve got EPCOT festivals that last until late in the evening. After-hours events have returned after an absence of more than a year.

Best of all, nighttime fireworks presentations are lighting up the night again. Guests can watch Disney Enchantment or Harmonious or the Electrical Water Pageant.

The nights no longer end at 8 pm

Health requirements have changed dramatically

For many years to come, Disney fans will divide into two groups. One side won’t remember any of the stringent health requirements in place.

Magic Kingdom temperature check

The other group will vividly require the absurdities of Disney temperature checks.

No, I’m not talking about the requirements themselves. I mean the strange ways people would try to skip a simple thermometer to the forehead.

We watched a mother spend five minutes arguing against an action that took two seconds at most to complete.

I doubt anything made cast members happier than the elimination of those temperature checks. Remember this guy?

During those early days, park officials worried so much about guests wearing face masks that they introduced Relaxation Stations.

These socially distant places allowed guests to remove their face coverings and breathe for a bit.

In the scorching Florida sun, that was a viable concern in July and August of 2020.

Similarly, Disney added hand sanitizer stations throughout the parks. I’m talking about one about every 50 feet to ensure that guests killed all germs.

Also, cast members counted off the measurements to create six-foot markers between guests standing in lines.

Longtime Walt Disney World vacationers barely recognized the place for a time.

Contrast that to today. The need for social distancing has thankfully passed. Temperature check tents and hand sanitizer stations are a thing of the past.

Recently, Disney dropped the requirement for face-coverings in indoor locations as well.

Now, the parks look just as they did before the pandemic. It’s inspirational.

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