Why I probably won’t go back to Disney any time soon…

Despite having just finished a decent 4-mile night run on the boards, which usually calms me down, right now as I start writing this, I am angry. Therefore, please excuse my tone if I come off a bit snarky. I’m angry that I’m currently re-visiting an already difficult, anxiety-inducing decision to send Georgie to a full-time preschool program thanks to Delta Tau Chi and mask mandates. I’m angry that NJ Marathon announced this week that it is cancelled. Again. I’m angry that the other side of the world is falling apart. I’m angry that we’re living in a world where even the Most Magical Place on Earth – a place I’ve visited at least a hundred times and typically defend until I’m blue in the face- has become a source of serious frustration. Such an incredible amount of  people have asked about our recent trip to Walt Disney World, whether out of curiosity or because of upcoming trips, that I decided an in-depth blog post was the best way to describe my experience and observations. The bottom line is that the Disney of right now is NOT the Disney I know and love and it is not worth it for me to go back until more things go back to sort-of normal. If health and safety are your concerns, I also recommend waiting. They do a good job keeping up a public appearance of caring about safety with limited park capacity and bringing back mask mandates, but both are a bit of a smoke screen. I explain why in the long-winded paragraphs below. Disclaimer- we are DVC members, runners, parents to two small kids, and were Annual Pass holders for a very long time until 2020. We traveled to WDW quite often PCT (pre-covid times). Therefore, our routines and subsequent frustrations may differ from your own.

This trip was ALMOST as frustrating as trying to pull Excalibur out of stone.

What you need to know:

You need to declare your park destination ahead of time for every day of your trip and reserve it in your My Disney Experience app. I did NOT like this process. Some of you are serious planners- if you enjoy this aspect of a Disney trip, you may not have a hard time with it. I did. I don’t like having to plan out my vacation ahead of time. I prefer to go with the flow and move about based on weather, crowds, special events, the temperament of my kids, etc. This, coupled with the no park hopping until 2pm is reason enough for me to not go back until something changes.

Oh, you can’t park hop until 2pm, regardless of what kind of park tickets you have or current park capacities. These two changes, put in place to control the flow of numbers in the parks, are highly contradictory to what’s going on INSIDE and BETWEEN the parks. While capacity may be limited in the park itself, attractions and transportation have no such limits. * What!? Let me get this straight… I have to plan my vacation on my phone or computer ahead of time and spend MORE time in an enclosed bus or monorail when I want to eat lunch somewhere other than where I am,** both in the interest of safety and keeping numbers low …but you’re NOT going to control the number of people on said busses or monorails, pack us like sardines in pre-show waiting rooms, and fill up your indoor theaters- some of which were more crowded than I’ve seen them in the last decade. Great. Good to know you’re consistent.

Disney currently requires everyone ages 2 and older to wear masks at all indoor locations, including busses & monorails, regardless of vaccine status. While I loathe mask-wearing myself, I understand it as a rule. I’d understand it BETTER, however, if social distance were encouraged and adhered to anywhere in this place – b/c if we need to wear masks, don’t we also need to give each other space? Otherwise, what’s the freakin’ point? Masks were not required on any boats we were on (and we were on a lot of them). However, in addition to indoor locations, masks are ALSO required (and enforced) on ALL attractions, as well as IN LINE for all attractions. Why caps lock “in line?” With fast passes gone, many queues have been re-routed to minimize crowding, keep lines moving and/or to keep people outside as much as possible. Are you following this?  Outside, in a single-file line, where I could stand (theoretically) as far away from the person in front of me as I wanted, in 95-degree heat and blistering sunshine, I needed a mask. While flying on Dumbo, in the open air, where my own toddler was the only person anywhere near me, I needed a mask. But on an over-crowded boat with walls, half-closed windows, and a ceiling, I did not. There were contradictions at literally every turn, every day, in every location. Lazy policymaking. Every time I describe it to someone, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. The piano-key necktie. I Invented it!

There is a lot of construction on property. Most of it probably won’t matter to you, though, so if you’re NOT a huge fan of EPCOT, a frequent flier at Fort Wilderness or the Wilderness Lodge, or a runner, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.

A huge chunk of Future World is gone. Just leveled to the ground. Another part of it has been refurbished and re-purposed (ba-bye Innoventions- a staple of my nerdy childhood that my kids will never get to appreciate). The construction here makes getting in and out of the park via the front entrance a huge pain – I felt like a rat in a maze. Guardians of the Galaxy is STILL under construction (since summer of 2017). Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure isn’t open yet, either, but they’re saving that one for the MK 50th birthday on October 1st. You’ll see a giant float twice the size of the Illuminations globe perpetually hanging out in the middle of the World Showcase Lagoon. It’s just there. Not being used, just existing as an enormous eyesore. The new show doesn’t start for months. The current show is just some fireworks w/ a Kidz Bop-like Disney soundtrack playing. Not worth staying in the park for, risking a standing-room-only bus-or-boat ride home for anyone not on the Skyliner route (if you want a nighttime show- go catch Happily Ever After before it leaves at the end of September- just head towards an exit when the Pirates music comes on, pausing before you leave just to hear Hercules sing).

Construction also impacted my miles. I was so excited to [finally] stay at Wilderness Lodge again because one of my top 5 favorite places to run is on the trails from the Lodge to and around the campgrounds. The trails were previously closed due to construction of the planned Reflections resort (on the gravesite of River Country – RIP), but seeing as how construction has been stalled indefinitely, I went for a run our first day there in hopes they would be open again. WRONG. Not only were there barricades up but the trails were not maintained…at all…as if they’re never coming back. So instead of getting the 15+ miles in I’d scheduled myself for the week, I struggled to find enough space to finish running 2 and called it quits. Never made it out again b/c I felt so defeated. I blame COVID for this. If construction hadn’t halted, MAYBE Disney’s “Lakeside Lodge” would have come to fruition and said trails would have been opened… reimagined, even. It’s hard down there to find shaded areas to run, especially ones that can give you a lot of mileage- would have been nice to have that one spot back. Instead, check another box on the negative side of my list.

There are still a bunch of things that have not re-opened since closing for COVID in 2020. The list includes some hotels, restaurants, quick-serves, buffets, character meals, shows, attractions, etc., though new things are coming back every day. Some locations and attractions are on a limited schedule- check the dang app for what’s available and operating times.

There are no bookable fast passes for attractions. I don’t HATE this, b/c we don’t use them often, but with little kids, it was kind of annoying for a few select things, like Slinky Dog Dash and Splash Mountain, which Georgie has been talking about for over a year. Both had exceptionally long wait-times. We waited. Whatever. But we don’t normally choose wait on any lines more than 25 minutes. If you don’t do Disney often and want to get as much bang for your buck as you can, it’s worth it to wait until FP (or whatever wacky replacement they dream up next) returns.

You will (still) probably not get assigned to a boarding group for ROTR. And you can only try on the days you reserve the Studios ahead of time. If you get in, congratulations- you’ve found the golden ticket. But you can’t park hop until 2pm, so you’re stuck at the Studios for the entire day until your boarding time. Have fun w/ that.

Then there’s the cost. Sure, the price point may not affect us in the same way it might affect many people because of our situation and how we go about paying (or, rather, not paying) for our Disney trips. But it’s worth noting that despite the changes, the inconveniences, the contradictions, the non-attention to actual safety vs the public appearance of caring about it, the limited or un-availability of lots of things, limited park hours, etc. you’re still paying the same price (or more) for your park tickets and hotel stay.  Sure, the Walt Disney Company took a hit during COVID (though those worldwide Disney+ subscriptions must be helping), have massive expenses, staff to pay and a business to run, I get it. I do. But you have the right to gather information to make informed consumer choices. In the end, Disney is a product. And right now, my opinion is that you’re getting drastically less of a product (with lower quality) for the same or a higher price. For us, it’s worth it to wait it out.

There were SOME positive takeaways:

No bag-check lines! Hooray! I’d never carried a bag into Disney until I had Georgie and NOT being able to skip the line was maybe the most annoying part of doing Disney w/ kids (PCT). At first it was all the damn diapers- now it’s to satiate the human garbage pail and his sometimes-hungry sister with all the snacks. I did not complain when all I had to do was walk through a metal detector. There was one day we saw random checks happening, but it was not nearly as involved as PCT. No bag-check is one change I can get behind.

Don’t expect to see any contrived character meet & greets w/ long lines that require a fast pass (something about them always seemed disingenuous to me). This trip felt a little retro- like stepping back into my own childhood where you just happened upon characters walking through the streets, popping up behind a bush, or standing in your resort lobby. Sure, they stayed a few feet*** away from people, but they were there. All over. More often than I’ve seen them in YEARS. It was awesome.

There are no parades. The crowds a parade draws irritates me- always has (to those of you rolling your eyes saying, “Go figure,” zip it). They make it hard to get from one section of a park to another, if you’re not in the front row, you can barely see anything, they’re so damn loud you can’t hear the person next to you and if you have a sleeping kid, forget it. Instead, they have small cavalcades one at a time throughout the day- one float with a few characters, a few street dancers and one song playing, all traveling rather quickly. It prevents crowds from forming while still giving those who crave it, a surge of joy. Kids were happy, I was happy. They can stay if it means no more parades.

So, while the kids had a fine time and there were a few decent changes I would be happy to see stay, there were too many frustrating experiences and confusing observations last week in WDW to warrant another trip any time soon. Today we decided to cancel our upcoming plans- a twice rescheduled Disney cruise set to finally embark in January plus a few adjacent days on property. Masks indoors and 2 PCR tests “paid for at the Guest’s expense” for all passengers REGARDLESS OF AGE. No. Thank you. I don’t care what your opinion is on COVID-19 safety protocols or vaccines, so any comments on that will be ignored. I do care about having stuff shoved up my toddlers’ noses by strangers TWICE …on a Disney trip (oh, but thank you to The Company for offering to cover the mandatory $98 per test for those under 12). Talk about being traumatized by Villains. Sheesh! I’ll choose Stay at Home for $500, Blossom. And until Disney Parks end their stream of contradictions and decide which side of the line they want to be on and stick with it, I’ll be watching Behind the Attraction on Disney+ from my couch, thanks.

Notes:

*Kind of feel like even the park capacity limits might be bs based on what Hollywood Studios looked like last week. It was BONKERS crowded!

** Once we do a few things we want to do in a given park in the morning and lines begin to lengthen, we’re usually hungry and ready for lunch. When we’re hungry and we’re NOT already either at the hotel or EPCOT, we GO directly to EPCOT. Or, PCT, if we’ve booked a fast pass at the Studios for the afternoon, we do EPCOT in the morning and walk or boat over to the Studios to make the FP window (b/c seriously, WHO can spend more than like 2 hours in that place?). Now, our only option is to go back to the resort and do the hopping later, which means double the amount of time on transportation…which is NOT limited in numbers and requires more time in a mask (both of which stink). Unless you’re on a boat, which can’t be accessed from every hotel or to every park.

*** Or a quarter-mile away like you saw in my story of Pooh outside of Figment’s house- lol- so they DO encourage social distance….for fluff-filled bears chasing butterflies.

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