How Disney Is Remaking The Magic Kingdom For Social Distancing

After officially shutting its doors in mid-March and furloughing staff, Disney World is planning its comeback. The park has officially scheduled a grand reopening for July.

Disney officials plan a phased reopening that will see the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom parks fire back up on July 11, followed by Epcot Center and Disney’s Hollywood Studios park on July 15. How and when Disney’s associated resort hotels will reopen remains a work in progress.

In the meantime, the Disney parks that reopen in mid-July will look far different than the ones that shut down in mid-March. Customers and staff will have to submit to temperature scans when they enter, and will have to wear face masks at almost all locations. The only exceptions will be while dining or on rides or attractions that have an extreme risk of masks becoming soaked with water.

Disney is also temporarily canceling character meet and greets, playground areas, make-overs, fireworks displays, parades and other high touch/high density experiences where social distancing would be impossible to maintain. Additionally, the company has started reformatting its dining packages, eliminating its Disney Dining Plan for the next year. That will make it simpler to manage reduced capacity in various dining spots around the park.

But the big question experts are asking is whether the new Disney experience will actually draw people back to the parks. Will Disney World still be “the most magical place on Earth” if you have to wear a face mask everywhere?

Disney’s new CEO Bob Chapek thinks it will be. “We have something that is the envy I think of every company, which is one of the strongest if not the strongest brands on Earth [and] unbelievable casts that are passionate about what they do — about the magic that they deliver to our guests,” Chapek told CNN Business. “So really, our strength in the past is our strength in the future. And that’s what will drive us to that restoration of the magic.”

Some guests agree. Emily Branson of Cary, N.C., will be among those seeking to make a return this year, planning to come with her husband and son after being forced to cancel a trip planned for early 2020.

“We got engaged there. We had our honeymoon there. We went there before my son was born. We took him there when he was 15 months old. We also went back as a family in November 2019,” Branson told CNN.

Her family is planning to go back during Branson’s preferred late fall/early winter period and is ready to accept the limitations. “I think it’s going to be an adjustment — for guests and cast members, too,” Branson said. “I think a lot of things in the next several months will change. The situation is going to be fluid.”

Scott Warner of Fishers, Ind. — another superfan who’s been to Disney World 31 times in 31 years — also plans to make a return this year. Warner told CNN he’s even excited to see what innovations Disney can add to social distancing.

“One thing I have a good feeling about, Disney will come back with an incredible way to provide a magical experience and do all they can to improve their guest services,” he said. “I am actually very excited to see what amazing technology and systems they develop to help with distancing.”

But Disney superfans are a unique group who tend to place a higher-than-standard value on spending time with Mickey Mouse and/or a cast of princesses. Many “regular” tourists will rethink their Disney plans for the foreseeable future.

Patrick Lindich, who operates the YouTube channel CoasterFanatics and falls into the latter camp, is more of an amusement park enthusiast in general. He’s less concerned about getting sick at a park than he is of simply getting bored under the new rules.

“For me, I think parks should stay closed until they can open with little to no limitations,” Lindich said. “Until that happens, you probably won’t see me at any of the parks. At the end of the day, rollercoasters are designed to be a social experience with your friends, family and the others around you.”

Whether more tourists will feel like Lindich or Warner remains to be seen. For now, Disney will be wishing upon a star that consumers will return in sufficient volume to the new, safety-focused Disney World — even if hugging Mickey Mouse is no longer an option.