Disney can’t sell the fantasy in a pandemic

You know it the moment you pass under the Walt Disney World archway. With all the hopes of a carefree day at the place “Where Dreams Come True” you know something is different. 

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It’s 15 minutes before the gates open at Animal Kingdom on a Thursday (Aug. 13th), the school year has not started yet and still there is not a car in sight.
 
The first interaction with a cast member wearing a face mask and a face shield happens at the parking booth and that brings you back to the reality of the pandemic.
You get used to the idea as you exchange hello waves with the parking lot crew donning the same PPE as they direct cars to park in every other space.
 
And so the social distancing begins.
No trams are running, no buses either. Face masks on and not one person is in line at the front ticket booths. There are so many smiles and the usual welcome greetings by the cast members, but you have to look carefully at the eyes above the face masks to see those smiles.
To enter the park, guests are required to wear a face covering, have their temperature screened and be agreeable to the practice social distancing, which is spelled out throughout the park on signs and announced periodically over the sound system. There are blocked-out seat spaces and circles or lines marking where you need to stand as you wait in line for attractions.
If you forget and touch the handrails while entering an attraction there are Purell stations every 30 feet (it seems) and portable hand wash stations throughout the park. Don’t expect to refill your water bottle as those stations have been removed.
Safety measures
It is clear Disney has done due diligence in providing a safe experience. From the space they have created for guests to social distance, from the lines and circles on the ground measuring six feet from other guests, to the plexiglass dividers that prevent face-to-face interactions with other park goers when lining up to load onto rides. The finger scanner at the front entrance is covered and not being used.
Disney is operating with a skeleton crew. Kiosks, interactive play areas such as the Pandora Drummers near The World of Avatar remain covered and silent. 
 

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The major indoor shows such as Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo-The Musical are closed. The entire game area in Dinoland is empty, but a few kiddie rides are in action.
There are no characters meandering through the park for guests to high five or for kids to hug and get autographs. Instead, Chip and Dale and Goofy are riding back and forth on a boat in the canal wearing festive outfits and blasting upbeat music. The Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe who usually perform outside of the Lion King theater ride on another boat traveling back and forth playing for their fans who wave from bridges.
Most merchant shops remain closed as do at least half of the food carts and restaurants.
 

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Check here about making a reservation to visit a park and for information about what attractions and restaurants are open. The park closes at 6 p.m. which means there are no evening light shows that might draw a crowd.

 

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A new approach
 
We chose to visit Animal Kingdom on our first time back to Disney since the end of April because of the shade offered throughout the park and the many outdoor experiences such as the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride.
We were delighted that we could ride the Avatar Flight of Passage by walking right on and then were invited to take a side entrance to ride it again and again without waiting. But we learned that invite was probably because so many other rides and attractions remain closed.
 

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What we enjoyed about our day was seeing our favorite animals. Grace the baby gorilla was just a month old when we last saw her, so watching her jump on her mom’s back and see her personality come out was a joy.
The animals are thriving, healthy looking, and active. The tower of giraffes, the bloat of hippos, the crash of rhinos seem unphased by the pandemic and well cared for. 
It felt great to ride the Expedition Everest and hear the roar of the Yeti again. We rode the silly TriceraTop Spin for the first time. We meditated during our Na’vi River Journey and we were startled even though we knew what was going to happen at the end of It’s Tough to be a Bug!
 

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We got beat up on DINOSAUR, got soaked on the Kali River Rapids, had a giant vulture fly right over our heads during the Great Bird Adventure.
The fantasy that we could escape the stress of the real world and leave the COVID-19 pandemic behind by visiting a Disney park ended upon this visit.
So we now will think of Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a visit to a zoo that has a few rides instead of an amusement park with resident animals.
 

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