Shannon goes over what it was like visiting Walt Disney World in July 2020 after the parks reopened following a temporary closure due to the pandemic.
These are notes from this episode. There’s much more info included in the audio so be sure to listen to the episode for a better explanation.
Shannon and Heather traveled to Walt Disney World from July 8 through July 18 for a 10-day trip to exprience the reopening of the parks.
They were also able to attend a special Annual Passholder park preview at Magic Kingdom.
They stayed at two different hotels during their trip. The first part they booked Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek and the remainder of their visit they stayed at Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
Arrival Day (July 8)
Shannon flew Southwest and felt comfortable with their health and safety procedures. They required all guests to wear masks, left middle seats open, and boarded in small groups of 10.
In-flight snack and drink service included only water and a snack mix. Shannon sat in her own row and the plane was about two-thirds full.
That said, Southwest’s de-boarding process wasn’t the greatest as people crowded the aisle. Shannon waited until it was safe for her to get up and exit while maintaining a safe distance.
After landing, she picked up her luggage and rental car from Fox, which was less expensive compared to the rental car companies inside the terminal. Fox was accessible via shuttle.
Eventually, Heather joined Shannon and they explored their hotel at Bonnet Creek. They had their own bedrooms and bathrooms, along with a living space and full kitchen.
Later, they went to Disney Springs and ate at Art Smith’s Homecomin’ on the new outdoor patio. They felt safe and people were being respectful of the new health and safety rules.
Annual Passholder Preview At Magic Kingdom (July 9)
Shannon and Heather attended the Annual Passholder preview at Magic Kingdom. They drove over early because they weren’t sure when guests would be allowed to enter.
The Magic Kingdom parking lot didn’t open until 8 a.m., so they sat at a gas station until they were allowed to park.
Eventually, they were allowed to enter, park, and get on a ferry to Magic Kingdom. Cast Members were amazing and they really enforced masks and social distancing.
Shannon placed her Mobile Orders early in case time slots got filled. They had an early lunch at Cosmic Ray’s after riding a bunch of rides without any waits.
Overall, the visit went better than Shannon anticipated. It was a nice first look at Magic Kingdom and far from the typical day because everyone in attendance were Passholders.
Shannon was enjoying the chance to drink water at the Relaxation Stations, the random character cavalcades, and being able to walk through ride queues that guests normally bypass due to FastPass+, like Peter Pan.
At 3:35 p.m., they left Magic Kingdom after an “incredible day.” Shannon also learned that neck gaiters weren’t considered appropriate face coverings.
Later that evening, they ate dinner at Wilderness Lodge.
Non-Park Day (July 10)
Shannon and Heather stayed at Bonnet Creek all day to have a computer work day. There was limited food availability, so they had iHop delivered in the morning via Uber Eats.
In the late afternoon, she toured Bonnet Creek and filmed footage for a YouTube vlog.
That night, they went to the new refurbished McDonald’s on Disney property and also had to get air in their rental car tire, becuase it was low.
Magic Kingdom Official Reopening Day (July 11)
On July 11, the official reopening day of Magic Kingdom, Heather and Shannon packed up their room at Bonnet Creek, loaded their rental car, and drove over to their next resort stay at Boulder Ridge.
They lined up at the Wilderness Lodge bus stop at 7:30 a.m., but buses weren’t running until an hour before park opening starting at 8 a.m.
Upon entering Magic Kingdom, Cast Members lined Main Street to welcome guests and Shannon said it was emotional.
They were able to ride three attractions before official park opening time: Mine Train, Peter Pan, and Thunder Mountain. Shannon said wearing masks on rides isn’t a big deal and there was a nice breeze.
They noticed touring changes when it came to boat rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise, because not as many guests are loaded onto the boats.
Shannon and Heather had lunch at Be Our Guest, which was Table Service for lunch and dinner. Breakfast wasn’t available.
Shannon said the food was still really good. The Beast walked through the dining rooms often for guests to take photos and videos from a distance. She noted that this wasn’t a cheap meal, but a good one if you’re willing to pay.
They left the park around 2 p.m. to settle into their room at Boulder Ridge, where they stayed in a one bedroom with a king-sized bed, a sleeper sofa, a main living space, a full kitchen, a balcony overlooking the pool, and a bathroom with access from both the living area and bedroom.
She also noted that Internet access was bad.
Animal Kingdom (July 12)
The parking plaza allowed them in at 7:30 a.m. for an 8 a.m. opening.
They got in line for Na’vi River Journey at 7:50 and then hopped in line for Flight of Passage. The latter was only a 20-minute wait.
After, they rode Kilimanjaro Safaris, which finally started requiring guests to keep their masks on during the ride. Guests were previously allowed to remove their masks, but that policy quickly changed.
In the early afternoon, they sat in the Rivers of Light stadium and were able to watch several character cavalcades float by.
They had lunch at Yak & Yeti, but the restaurant didn’t handle protocols like other Disney-owned restaurants.
They didn’t have to check in via My Disney Experience, there were disposable menus, and the check came in a leather folder. That said, their food was good.
Around 1:30 p.m., they left the park and Shannon said Animal Kingdom would be an easy park to navigate compared to the other three.
That evening, they ate at Geyser Point at Wilderness Lodge, which is a favorite, especially since it’s a covered area outside.
They also had to sit in the lobby for a bit to do some work, since it had a better internet connection compared to the room.
Magic Kingdom (July 13)
This was their third day at Magic Kingdom.
They tried for the first bus to the park, but it didn’t come until 8:58 a.m. — two minutes before official park opening. Shannon said it ended up being fine though.
Shannon suggested guests bring umbrellas to block the sun when standing in the hotter outdoor queues, like Jungle Cruise and Space Mountain.
They left the park around 2 p.m. becuase it was very hot.
With the shorter park hours at the time, Shannon recognized that resort activities and amenities are much more important, especially due to some resorts having more options than others.
Second Non-Park Day (July 14)
They chose to have another non-park day. They also had to exchange their rental car because the tire wouldn’t hold air.
Shannon thought the rental car company would bring them a new car, but they had to drive all the way back to the airport to make the exchange.
They spent time at the BoardWalk and later in the evening they ate dinner on the top deck at Paddlefish.
Shannon said it’s easier to make reservations, especially last-minute ones, via OpenTable for Disney Springs restaurants, compared to My Disney Experience. There is also usually more availability.
They also had a drink at the bar on the top level of the Coca-Cola Store which had great views of Disney Springs. It’s also located right next to the bus stops.
Epcot (July 15)
During their visit to Epcot, Shannon and Heather had lunch at Garden Grill. They sat on the bottom row of the restaurant, while the upper ring was strictly for characters to make socially-distanced appearances.
They rode Soarin’, Living with the Land, and Spaceship Earth and also tried some of the food booths at the Taste of Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.
That evening, they met up with some patrons in an outdoor area at the BoardWalk, where they were able to keep their masks on and sat apart.
Hollywood Studios (July 16)
Before Hollywood Studios, Heather and Shannon ate at Topolino’s Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort. At the time, this was the only character breakfast. Garden Grill was only available for lunch or dinner.
They said it was pretty much the same and the food was good, but the characters were just at a distance.
The parking plaza at Hollywood Studios opened at 8:57 a.m. for a 10 a.m. official park opening.
They got in light immediately for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and were able to do all three Toy Story Land rides in just over an hour.
The unfortunately didn’t get a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance due to some technical issues with the My Disney Experience app.
Overall, they didn’t wait more than 20 minutes for any of the attractions they rode the entire day.
Last Day (July 17)
Shannon and Heather went to Epcot on their last day. They got to the parking plaza at 10 a.m. and they were allowed in at 10:15 a.m. Epcot officially opened at 11 a.m.
They were the fourth party of the day on Frozen Ever After, hopped right on Gran Fiesta Tour, and then got in line for Soarin’ at 11:43 a.m.
Between the Land and Imagination pavilions, characters (Joy and Pooh) appeared on the grass for socially-distanced photos and interactions.
Throughout the day they watched cavalcades go around the World Showcase and saw two performances at the America Gardens Theatre (you can check times in the app).
They didn’t get to see Mary Poppins and Alice in the United Kingdom pavilion and there aren’t published times to prevent gathering.
They ended their day by riding Spaceship Earth, which they had to wait for due to Cast Members cleaning the ride. Attractions were cleaned every two hours, which meant they had to shut down for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Overall, Shannon said this was a “surprisingly amazing” trip and if everyone everywhere could behave like Disney World, she’d feel more comfortable going out and trying to live a somewhat normal life.
Departure Day (July 18)
Shannon said they had a “bad end to the trip,” due to the many individuals not following the health and safety protocols.
Specifically, Shannon said to never rent a car from Fox, which was a “nightmare.”
After they dropped off their rental car, they had to get on a shuttle back to the airport. But, the shuttle was packed full of people and many weren’t wearing masks.
They chose not to ride the shuttle and got a Lyft to the airport. She said being outside of the Disney World bubble after so long was “jarring.”
On the way home, she said both the Orlando International Airport and her home airport in Lovefield had many people not complying with the measures in place.
The airport experience was definitely the downside of their trip.
- Never rent a car from Fox
- Place Mobile Orders early before time slots fill up
- Rider Switch and Disability Access Service are still available
- Be Our Guest is still a good choice, if you’re willing to pay the high price
- Boulder Ridge doesn’t have great internet service in the rooms
- Rivers of Light is a great spot to watch character cavalcades at Animal Kingdom
- Bring an umbrella to block the sun when standing in line or walking around
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