After spending three days in Disney's Orlando theme parks, it's clear that while nearly everything has changed, some old trends have emerged.
Parks are permitted to operate at limited capacity, but that means everything else has to have a limited capacity: Restaurants, shops and attractions. And, social distancing is encouraged everywhere, with lines spilling across the parks where they never have before.
This has led to park dynamics similar to what they used to be, at least during the days I visited (during peak or holiday periods, I imagine this dynamic can be different). Crowds are lighter when parks first open in the morning. Around lunchtime, they become more and more crowded. Things thin out by the early afternoon and evening.
VISITING THE PARKS
I based this around anecdotal wait times. For instance, on Sunday, April 18, in the Magic Kingdom, I arrived at the park around 8:30 a.m. It officially opened at 8 a.m. I was able to essentially walk on to Peter Pan's Flight, It's a Small World, the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad within a period of about two hours. I was with my wife, who is pregnant, so we moved at a pretty leisurely pace.
By 11 a.m. or so, lines started to get longer; walk-ons turned to 30- to 40-plus- minute waits in many cases, especially for the more popular offerings.
This mirrors what we experienced on Friday at the Magic Kingdom, and to me it's reminiscent of crowd ebb and flow pre-pandemic.
On Friday and Saturday, we spent our early afternoons and evenings in Epcot. We found most attractions that weren't the park's most popular -- namely Soarin', Test Track or Frozen Ever After -- were essentially walk-ons. Sometimes they required short 5- or 10-minute waits.
Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada
My old advice remains true: Get to the parks early, enjoy what you want and get out to relax by the pool (this recommendation comes with caveats now) or take a nap. Venture out again in the afternoon or evening.
On Saturday afternoon, we took to the Courtyard Pool at the Grand Floridian. This was possibly the only time I felt uncomfortable around other people.
To recap: My wife is fully vaccinated. So is my mother, the only other person in our at-home "Covid pod." I'm about a week away from my second Moderna shot, so I have some protection, but I'm not fully vaccinated.
At the pool, most people opted to go maskless even if sunbathing. This is, technically, against the rules: You can remove a face covering to swim, or while actively eating, drinking or taking an outdoor photo, but the latter activities must be done while completely stationary. Some folks by the pool were eating or drinking, but many weren't.
I also didn't like navigating around maskless people to enter or exit the pool. It was easy enough to distance once in the pool, but the entry and exit points would naturally draw more people, making it tougher to avoid them. I probably wouldn't opt to swim again on property until I was fully vaccinated, but that's my personal comfort level.
THEME PARK MASK USE
Overall, I felt very safe on Disney property, in and outside of theme parks. If people had their masks affixed improperly, or not on at all while moving (more rare), they were easy enough to avoid thanks to those aforrementioned managed capacities.
The Magic Kingdom. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada
Previous Dispatches: Walt Disney World
Read Jamie Biesiada's previous Walt Disney World Dispatches: arriving in Orlando and her first visit to a Disney theme park since the pandemic began.
I would offer one warning for advisors with particularly sensitive clients. Epcot's Taste of Flower and Garden Festival is currently ongoing. It's definitely the prettiest time to visit Epcot, with topiaries and floral arrangements on abundant display, and there are a number of special food and drink offerings that are creative, tasty and fun to sample while moving around the park. We visited on both Friday and Saturday night, and the park did feel more crowded than the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios during the day (it was also open the latest, until 11 p.m., obviously drawing park-hoppers once they left their first park of the day or it closed).
Lines for festival food were notably shorter than they were during pre-Covid festivals. I never waited for more than five or 10 minutes. But as the night wore on, so did people's propensities to not wear masks, it seemed. It was more common to see masks under noses or chins.
I still felt fairly successful in dodging those who weren't complying (and, to be clear, the majority still were), but it is worth noting.