Which Recent Disney Park Changes Will Stick?
Walt Disney World’s theme parks reopened just over a month ago…and not a moment too soon!
We’ve had enough time to evaluate what’s different and draw some conclusions.
Which recent Disney park changes will stick? Read on to learn our thoughts.
Park Entry Procedures
Let’s begin with an easy one. When Disney’s Animal Kingdom reopened, Disney tested a new entrance procedure.
Guests no longer had to stop and wait for their turn at metal detectors. Instead, they merely walked through a state-of-the-art security system.
The new safety technology allowed guests to enter the park more efficiently. On Disney’s end, it also provided greater insights into potential dangers.
These sensors relay detailed imagery about personal belongings, allowing security guards to spot guns.
In fact, Disney already prevented at least two armed guests from entering the park thanks to the new security measures.
Other parks have introduced this system, too. Magic Kingdom stands as the only holdout for the old entrance procedure, and I’m confident that’ll change soon.
This improved entry system is here to stay.
Surprise Character Appearances
While some aspects of park visits have frustrated guests this summer, one new practice has delighted one and all.
Walt Disney World theme parks have sprinkled surprise character appearances throughout the day.
To avoid social distancing measures, you’ll never know when they’ll happen. But that’s part of the charm!
Some characters arrive with much fanfare, as loud audio signals their appearance.
Often, such characters participate in Cavalcades wherein they ride cars, boats, or floats.
I’m especially fond of the boats, which make exceptional use of the unique park design at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Other character appearances are more mercurial.
At a particular World Showcase pavilion, a surprise celebrity chases butterflies in the forest.
Attentive Magic Kingdom guests will receive a different “reward” when they walk near Cinderella Castle. Some evil stepsisters may heckle innocent onlookers.
Disney has trained cast members to portray characters in new and exciting ways. Since guests cannot approach them, the characters must put on a show.
The entire experience delights everyone and isn’t unprecedented at Walt Disney World.
During hurricane weather, characters appear at the hotels to prevent guests from getting bored.
This idea proved so successful that some hotels like Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort started hosting more permanent character greetings onsite.
Obviously, close interactions are impossible now, but park officials have undeniably warmed to the premise.
I fully expect this change to remain in place in the future. In fact, I expect Disney to expand the premise as normalcy returns.
Reduced Amenities and Show Changes
Okay, here’s the first significant change that I don’t expect to stick.
Circumstances dictated modifications to some popular amenities and attractions.
Pandemic-related concerns prevented Disney from hosting many of its show-based attractions.
Movie theaters have remained closed during the pandemic for a reason. Indoor settings increase the risk of the spread of Coronavirus.
Also, the Actors’ Equity Association refused to return to work until Disney provided free onsite COVID-19 testing.
This stalemate only recently resolved, and we still don’t know when the impacted attractions will come back.
Similarly, Disney has canceled some other amenities like fireworks and parades due to safety concerns.
Of course, another factor plays into these decisions. Parks must cut costs during the pandemic, and so operating with fewer amenities saves money.
I absolutely do not expect these changes to remain in effect long after the pandemic ends.
Now, Disney might not bring everything back the instant that a vaccine exists. A lot depends on the state of the economy at that point.
However, Disney operated all these attractions and amenities for a reason. They drew more guests to the park and thereby made money for the company.
Some folks will criticize the parks if not everything comes back as it was, but that’s a ridiculous thought process.
Disney’s always changing. So, some of its amenities may return in different forms than we remember, but that’s how plussing is supposed to work.
Hand Sanitizer Stations and Social Distancing
This answer isn’t as cut and dried as you may believe.
Presuming that a vaccine arrives, Disney officials will happily roll back park behaviors to previous norms.
However, guests won’t suddenly forget all the stuff that happened during the pandemic.
Frequent use of hand sanitizer and social distancing practices have become the new normal.
Disney will struggle to persuade guests to huddle together in ride queues and during shows. It may be impractical to expect wholesale changes in customer behavior.
A large number of people will remember the pandemic for years after the fact.
So, that aspect doesn’t leave Disney with much wiggle room. The management team cannot suddenly remove hand sanitizer stations.
People know too much about high-touch areas and their associated risks now.
For this reason, expect that Disney will take a half-and-half approach here.
Stringent cleaning practices will remain in place for the foreseeable future. However, most of the social distancing measures will vanish over time.
Face Mask Policies
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Disney removes face mask requirements at the first possible opportunity.
I don’t merely view this change as temporary. I strongly suspect that it’ll end within six months.
While necessary at the moment, face masks produce nothing but aggravation for most park guests.
Some of them do deserve bonus points for style, though. I’ve enjoyed the race to display the most fashionable masks during the pandemic.
FastPasses and Single Rider
This part of the conversation requires a bit more thought. Here’s what we know.
Single Rider lines will remain closed until the pandemic lessens in scope, which could be a while.
However, all the information at hand suggests that Single Rider lines work quite well for Disney as a means of maximizing throughput.
Ergo, the return of Single Rider seems like an easy conclusion…but what about FastPasses?
Disney seemingly killed this digital queuing system with a suck punch outta nowhere.
Nobody saw it coming, and FastPasses went down so quickly they didn’t even have time to scream.
Your instinct might lead you to say, “Of course, they’ll come back!” I wouldn’t bet my life on it, though.
At the 2019 D-23 Expo, Disney already confirmed that a replacement to FastPass is in the offing.
The new Disney Genie system will work as a combination of a virtual assistant and a ride pass scheduler.
Park officials had stated last year that Disney Genie would debut in 2020. However, those statements came from the Before Time.
Nobody has any idea whether Disney can still meet that timeline or even wants to try.
A new Disney scheduling isn’t a pressing matter during a time when park capacity remains limited. It is an excellent time to test the product in a safe setting, though.
Should Disney Genie arrive this year, FastPass as we know it has ended.
If not, the FastPass system should return once Disney dismisses capacity limits.
This one could go either way.