America is reopening, and so is Florida’s Disney World. It’s a favorite fun spot for people of all ages, including Retirees. Like much of our country, Disney is different than it was at the beginning of 2020, but there is still magic to be found.
After huge interest in our story about the reopening of Epcot, we decided to visit each Disney World park to give you an inside look at what’s different under the cloud of COVID. Today we take you to Disney Hollywood Studios, home of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story Land, and Sunset Boulevard.
Planning a Visit
Disney has limited attendance to help with social distancing. It’s believed the parks are operating at around 20-30% of normal capacity. To keep to the new limits, you need to buy a ticket and then reserve a dayand a park. Disney calls this a Park Pass. Before buying your ticket, make sure the Park you want to visit is available on the day you want to go. You can find that information here.
You won’t be able to spend as much time in the park as in the past. Disney limited hours when the parks reopened. After Labor Day an extra hour or two was shaved off of those opening and closing times. Some media reports speculate that’s due to limited interest from the public. But to me it feels more like Disney is trying to cover each theme park with a single full-time employee shift. For example, Hollywood Studios is open 10-7. Animal Kingdom is 9-5. Any longer and you’re looking at paying overtime, or hiring an overlapping shift.
Health and Safety
The first sign that something is different comes in the parking lot. At both Epcot and again at Hollywood Studios, we were able to park A LOT CLOSER to the Park Entrance than we ever have in the past. Which is good because the second sign that something is different actually is … a sign.
Yep. You gotta hoof it. I suspect two reasons for this – 1) Limit social distancing and touch points on trams 2) Not enough attendees to add the expense of hiring back tram drivers.
But again, we were able to park close.
Before entering the park there are two stops. The first is new. It’s a temperature check. We apparently passed that with flying colors. The second step was security with metal detectors. I was carrying our knapsack, so I got pulled aside. I had a nice interaction with the security officer who quickly determined that the offending material was part of an eyeglass case.
Then we finally headed to the entrance to scan our Disney ID cards. We got there 45 minutes after the park opened, and here’s a look at the line.
Most people had their masks on from the time they left their vehicle in the parking lot. And just like Epcot, we were impressed that EVERYONE we saw inside the park – including small children – kept their masks on all day. The exception, of course, is for eating or drinking. Disney recently closed a loophole that some people may have been taking advantage of. You now have to eat or drink in the same place – in other words, you can’t take off your mask, grab a soda, and stroll leisurely between attractions. We have not noticed anyone try this, but signs are now posted.
Disney cast members (employees) are required to wear masks as well. They also have the option to wear a face shield if they wish.
Disney Hollywood Studios Attractions
Throughout Disney World’s parks, many popular attractions are closed, particularly those that include live interaction between cast members. Fireworks and scheduled parades are also canceled, although shorter “pop up” parades do happen. The reason for this is social distancing. Visitors will stop where they are to watch the short parade go by, but won’t be standing side by side for a half hour waiting for a parade to start.
At Disney Hollywood Studios, the closed attractions included Beauty and the Beast Live, A Frozen Sing Along, and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. Here’s the current list of closings. You can sort that list by park.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
One area that is busy and has long lines is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. This is where we spent much of our time.
While I’ve seen a few Star Wars movies, I’m no expert on the subject. But the attention to detail in this section of Hollywood Studios is amazing. Disney has created the remote planet of Batuu – once a thriving stop for traders and travelers, but now a haven for the Galaxy’s most notorious characters. Or so, I’m told. While here, you may be asked to side with the First Order or the Resistance, although concerns about COVID apparently kept these roaming characters hidden during our visit.
If you want to know more about Batuu, you can find details in these books on Amazon.
There are two main attractions at Galaxy’s Edge; Rise of the Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. Rise of the Resistance requires you to wait in a virtual queue, which opens at 10am and 2pm each day. Here’s why.
We were warned that within seconds of the queue opening, it closes. And that proved true. I was ready on the My Disney Experience App. The moment my phone showed it was 2:00 I tried to join the queue for Rise of the Resistance.
Here’s what I got for my effort.
So, Smugglers Run, here we come.
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
This attraction seems to be at the heart of Batuu. We joined the line that was about 45 minutes long – but properly social distanced. As Disney likes to do, there were plenty of twists and turns and things to see along the way. Announcements would be made from time to time as if we were listening in on some space based air traffic control. Not being fully versed in Star Wars, I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate all the detail of what we were seeing along our path. But it sure looked like Star Wars fans would be impressed.
There are six seats available on Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. But Disney is currently limiting each cockpit to a single group of family or friends due to COVID concerns.
The problem with the ride is that once you take your seat, there are a half dozen touch points – levers to pull and buttons to push – for each person. Perhaps these are being sanitized between rides, but we saw no evidence of that. All we noticed was a hand sanitizer stand after we left the ship.
After making our run, we returned our spaceship to its docking station – apparently heavily damaged from the battle. It took a few minutes for my stomach to recover as well.
Socially Distanced Seating
Elsewhere at Disney Hollywood Studios, seating was well-thought out and there was plenty of room between visitors.
Waiting lines have been placed all over the park. This assures proper distancing whether you’re headed to an attraction, or a meal. These lines are often more than six feet apart, plenty of space for your group to stay distanced from others.
Toy Story Land
Woody, Buzz and friends are the main attraction for children at Disney Hollywood Studios. Having none of those, we didn’t spend much time in Toy Story Land, but it seemed to be the other busy area of the park, with lines for rides such as Slinky Dog Dash.
Again, part of the fun is missing as Cast members are unable to circulate through the crowds and pose for photos with the kids.
Most of the food and drink kiosks are closed. Our first encounter with this was an ice cream shop on Sunset Boulevard. People were inside, which gave us hope – but as I waited for someone to open one of the windows, I noticed they were just working on the machines.
So we were limited to restaurant or “food court” fare. For lunch we stopped at Rosie’s All American Cafe (Sunset Blvd). To limit standing in line and promote social distancing, everyone needs to place mobile orders on the Disney App. I felt sorry for the cast member guarding the entrance. She had to cheerily explain to everyone how to place mobile orders, then ever-so-gently steered them to find a seat at a table until they were informed by push alert that their order was ready. She was a gem.
Our order took about 25 minutes to complete – probably due to my gluten allergy. But I can tell you that the staff took very good care to make sure I received the proper order (which was not the case in 2019 at the Magic Kingdom). I watched as the manager went back and finished preparing our order in the kitchen, and then brought it out to me personally. The chicken strips and fries were delicious!
Dinner was a different story.
Brown Derby Dinner
You should make Reservations for Disney World restaurants in advance. I’d recommend doing this when you get your Park Pass, which is when we made our reservation for the Brown Derby. The restaurant is a throwback to the golden age of Hollywood. In fact, that’s the theme for Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards which are located near the park entrance. We were a little ahead of schedule and got to the Brown Derby about 40 minutes early. We asked if there was a way we could be seated any earlier. Turns out there wasn’t.
A couple of minutes after our reservation time, we received a text message that our table was ready. We were seated quickly. That’s when we noticed that this restaurant was not smooth sailing.
The Brown Derby seems to have four or five hosts responsible for seating people, but limited wait staff. Our server didn’t show up for at least five minutes, and when we asked for water and coffee it took another five minutes to get the water – the coffee was even longer. We’d experience this slow service throughout dinner.
But the most frustrating part was that the non-serving staff was standing around, either gazing off into space or chatting with each other. None of them even gave a glance our way to see if we need anything. We have a local diner where the waitresses are constantly in motion, covering each other’s tables – filling water glasses and coffee cups. To see this lack of basic service at a supposedly upscale restaurant was very annoying.
Unfortunately the Cobb Salads that we had were as poor as the service. The delicious desserts and restaurant ambiance were the only things that kept our visit from being a total disaster.
The Brown Derby certainly wasn’t worth $80, or even our time.
Disney Hollywood Studios Cast
Overall though, one impressive thing we’ve noticed at both Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios is that most of the Cast Members are very welcoming, friendly and helpful. We experienced this many times at Hollywood Studios, but one stood out above all others.
As we were standing in Center Stage (the main crossroads of the park) staring at our map, Dale approached us and asked if we needed help. When we explained it was our first time visiting, he was excited to answer our questions and share all that the park had to offer. Disney encourages cast members to go out of their way and create “Magical Moments,” and that’s what this was for us. After our briefing from Dale, we had a much better idea on what we wanted to see and how to get the most out of our visit. And we felt officially welcomed to the park.
Dale and others who we’ve talked with have made our two post-COVID visits to Disney World much more enjoyable than they could have been. Even though we can’t see their faces, we can see the smiles in their eyes.
As we headed out from Disney Hollywood Studios, we spotted other cast members who we should give thanks to. The Street Beautification Hosts. Not only do they work to keep the parks litter free, but there’s the added responsibility of wiping down high touch areas to help prevent the spread of COVID. Next time you see one of these cast members, make sure to give them an extra thank you!