As a lifelong Floridian and Disney fan from birth, the pandemic has been an especially difficult time.
The “happiest place on earth” has always been just a few hours away by car, easily accessible and ever-present in the background of my life. That is until the pandemic forced the resort – and other similar centres – to fully shut down until further notice, and I found myself in a sudden state of serious Disney withdrawal.
Needless to say, when the company announced the reopening of Disney Springs, the sprawling retail and entertainment centre of the resort on May 20, I knew I’d be making the journey up north to visit my happy place, even if the theme parks and attractions were not yet open.
Disney Springs is running at reduced capacity from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and requiring guests to maintain social distancing and wear face coverings at all times. While most stores and restaurants are up-and-running again, some – such as Rainforest Cafe and Goofy’s Candy Co. – are still closed for the time being.
With the phased reopening of the four Disney theme park slated to start on July 11, I wanted to see how the company was handling operating amid a pandemic and what we should expect when the theme parks reopen. And while I feared I’d be thrown into some magic-devoid post-pandemic Disney apocalypse, my experience could not have been more different.
If the reopening of Disney Springs taught me anything, it is that this mammoth company might actually be magical. Simply put, Disney knows what it’s doing, in terms of preserving the Disney magic while maintaining a superior standard of safety that would make even the most neurotic Disney fan feel safe.
After my visit to Disney Springs, I have no doubt that the parks’ reopening next month will be a success. However, heading straight to the parks might not be for everyone, especially if you find wearing a face mask uncomfortable during extremely hot Florida summers.
Here was my experience at Disney Springs and what to expect if you visit the resort in the near future:
A friend and I drove about three hours early Sunday morning to meet another friend in Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
Though the theme parks are closed until July 11, Disney Springs began its phased reopening on May 20.
After parking, we walked through the entrance to get our temperatures scanned. Any guest exhibiting a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher would be asked to cool off in a tent before trying one more time.
Luckily, after no wait at all, we made it through without a hitch.
Even before we entered the complex, there were various signs with safety instructions as well as hand sanitizer dispensers.
Face coverings are required at the complex for any visitor over the age of 3, so my friends and I masked-up accordingly.
While we had arrived just as the park was opening for the day, it was still rather empty compared to the first week the centre reopened.
But we might have just been a bit early. Restaurants and stores seemed to just be opening up for the day.
As we walked the complex we noticed more signs explaining safety protocol for guests.
There were also social-distancing enforcing stickers located on the floors outside and inside certain stores.
Luckily, it didn’t seem like it would be too difficult to maintain a distance from other guests — at least at this early hour in the day.
Our first stop was the famed World of Disney store, which reopened later than the rest of the complex.
While massive lines were reported at the reopening of this particular store, we were some of just a few guests wandering around the massive gift shop.
Markers reminded us to keep our distance from others in the store, but with the lack of crowds and the cast members limiting capacity in the store, it wasn’t too difficult.
Plus, it felt like the spread-out layout of the store allowed for a lot more movement than we were used to, which also helped with social distancing.
We waited almost no time to pay for our items at checkout, which was filled with distancing markers, plexiglass-covered registers, and masked associates.
Next, we headed across the road to Basin, a Disney-themed soap and body shop.
Even through our masks, we could smell the delicious aroma of the various scents and scrubs being tested out at the communal, no-touch hand washing station.
Outside, we found some snack stations serving up some classic theme park goodies.
… plus some more conventional stores like Starbucks, which was actually serving up a brand new “welcome back” drink special for the Disney Springs’ reopening.
We picked up some coffee from Joffrey’s, Walt Disney World resort’s official specialty coffee brand, and removed our masks for the first time since entering the park.
Turns out that masks are allowed to be removed when eating or drinking in sitting and dining areas in the park.
And as the day wore on, we noticed more restaurants filling up with unmasked eaters consuming their meals at a good distance from other parties.
Some of the more popular restaurants, like the Boathouse, even started gathering lines for entry later in the day.
Even the trashcans were built to be safer by having the swinging side-lids removed to avoid any touching.
When it came to retail stores, all third-party-owned and Disney-owned stores had implemented safety measures and limited capacity.
In some cases, dressing rooms were closed.
Some stores, like the beloved Disney-themed Goofy’s Candy Co., had not yet reopened.
And some, like the soon-to-launch experiential M&M store, still have yet to open to the public for the first time.
The entertainment parts of the complex, such as bowling, Cirque Du Soleil, and the movie theatres, were still closed. But we did get to witness a few storm troopers going about their business for the First Order on a ledge.
And when we looked up, we saw the Disney Springs hot-air balloon lifting guests into the sky for a socially-distant ride among the clouds.
Before we headed out for the day, we picked up some pineapple Dole Whip, a classic Disney World frozen treat beloved by guests.
Overall, coming to Disney during the pandemic was somehow just as magical as it was before the outbreak.
Even in the presence of such enhanced safety measures, the magic of Disney was still present in the park, from the positive attitudes of the cast members to the little touches that make Disney the happiest place on earth.
Still, by the end of the day, the masks had become extremely uncomfortable, especially in the almost 90-degree heat.
After visiting Disney Springs, I have no doubt that the parks’ reopening next month will be a success.
But unless you’re ok with wearing a face mask in extreme Florida heat, heading straight to the parks might not be the best way for you to fill your Disney needs at this time.