Epcot Reopening: The Good, Bad and Unexpected
EPCOT may be the favorite Disney Park for Retirees. There’s less emphasis on rides, and more on culture and education. When our bodies can no longer handle the strain of Space Mountain, Epcot becomes a great alternative for fun.
On March 15, Epcot closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Four months to the day, it reopened. My wife Vivian and I went to experience this piece of Disney history.
Decision to Attend
Two days before the reopening of Epcot, we were watching a story on the reopening of the Magic Kingdom. There was some criticism of the decision and a few reported cases of social distancing issues on that first day. But overall, the crowds seemed sparse and Disney appeared focused on keeping the Park safe. Truth of the matter, we’ve seen more crowding at the local grocery store.
A benefit of being retired is that you finally have the freedom to choose last minute adventures. Epcot is our favorite Disney Park and the reopening would certainly be a memory to have and share. Our decision to go, led to this wonderful discovery! That Disney Magic was still alive and well!
To EPCOT we go!
Ticket options have changed, and reservations are required. We ended up buying one day passes and getting the Park Pass reservation online. Details on the process can be found at the end of this post under – If You’re Planning a Visit. We also reserved dinner at the Coral Reef Restaurant.
Now a look at what we discovered. The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected.
Unexpected: No Trams
Distancing was practiced starting with parking. A space was left between cars side to side. But cars still parked nose to tail. As we walked to the trams we encountered our first surprise. The trams were not operating. Since park attendance was limited, the walk from the parking lot wasn’t too far.
Good: Entry Lines and Temperature Screening
It was clear that we’d be screened for our temperature before entering the park, and Disney was true to that plan. I’m not sure what our temperatures were, but we passed. I did see two tents for additional screening and it appeared that some would-be park-goers had been directed there.
We arrived 30 minutes after Epcot opened, so lines were virtually non-existant.
Bad: Security Screening
Disney is trying to do ‘no touch’ screening of personal items. When possible you’re asked to use clear bags, which we bought specifically for this trip. When asked if we had any metal my wife mentioned a travel size can of bug spray in our backpack. The screener seemed to be indicating he wanted to confiscate it. What he really meant and didn’t explain was that he wanted her to take it out before going through the metal detector. His direction was confusing and attitude was not in the typical Disney spirit.
Good: Disney Cast Members
“Welcome Back!” “Nice to see you!” “Thanks for coming!” The Disney spirit was alive and well however in most of its staff, that the company calls Cast Members. Before we even entered the park, we’d been greeted by seven different people. I felt their greetings were genuine and we thanked them in return. We saw this attitude exhibited many times throughout the day.
Bad: What History?
Wasn’t this day historic? A celebration of a comeback from a world-wide pandemic? A sign of the courage of the human spirit to overcome an outside force? Except for the greetings you wouldn’t know it. We’d expected, I don’t know… something. A Disney pin commemorating the occasion. Maybe a certificate? How about a banner we could stand in front of and have our picture taken? “Epcot Reopens!” Nope. This felt like a Disneyesque moment in time, and a major fail on the part of Disney not to realize it.
The first stop after a long drive to Epcot was a restroom. Here we spotted another fail. The restrooms were clean – how could they not be after four months without visitors? What they didn’t have was a non-touch method to wash your hands.
The faucet is no touch, but you have to push on the soap dispenser, and use the crank on the towel dispenser. It’s possible that many companies are ordering no-touch equipment for their bathrooms and I hope that Disney is doing the same.
Good: The Lines
One of the most appealing reasons to go to Epcot right now is the limited attendance which means a lack of long lines. We experienced that immediately as we went to Soarin’ – typically the most popular Epcot ride.
From the time we walked up, until we walked out – 26 minutes! This for a ride where the normal wait can be two hours. Half of that 26 minutes was simply the walk to the ride, and the ride itself. (We rode Soarin’ again at 6pm and it only took 20 minutes).
Each step of the way is marked with a line to wait at, until the line ahead is clear. The markings are spaced about eight feet apart and it never felt crowded. During this initial wait my wife had to remind me a couple of times to get back to our line – my mind was on autopilot and wanted to use typical non-COVID spacing.
When you prepare to enter the room for Soarin’ you’re grouped by the members of your own party. There’s no sitting next to strangers at any of the rides we went on. Some seats are now blocked off entirely and have partitions that separate each group – providing a little extra comfort.
The biggest line of the day that we saw was for Frozen. It was probably about 30 minutes, but it promised a few minutes of waiting inside as the heat and humidity of summer started taking a toll on us. The ride itself – let’s face it – is for kids, but even so it doesn’t feel up to Disney standards.
Unexpected: Mask Wearing
It’s a requirement that everyone in the park wear a mask. And I can tell you this. On the first day of reopening, EVERYONE IN THE PARK WORE THEIR MASK. I fully expected to see people taking off their masks when no one was watching, or kids carrying theirs. Despite a heat index of 104, I did not see one person without a mask except when eating or drinking. That’s why this was Unexpected!
For me, it was a little uncomfortable, but much more bearable than I had anticipated. I have mild symptoms of asthma, so I did find a few occasions when no one was nearby to slide the mask aside briefly to catch a few deep breaths.
Good: Social Distancing
95% of the visitors were very aware of keeping distance from each other. Even in areas where it was difficult to establish distancing markings – such as the shops – people did their best to give space. The worst places for distancing were some of the wide open areas walking between exhibits. Here, Disney could do more to mark the pathways – clearly indicating which side to walk on and even make some narrower paths one-way.
Bad: Lunch Counter at The Land
On the first day back in business, you expect some training issues. After Soarin’ we went to get a soda and a water at The Land. This process took at least 20 minutes if not longer, as if there’d been no training at all.
Here, there’s no signage for directions so people are entering what is now the exit. Then, we got contradictory instructions from different staff members, including the manager who seemed to be very frustrated. Finally after waiting for a very long time, an employee walked up handing us our soda and water bottles – holding them by the tops of the bottles without gloves. That required us to sanitize the parts our lips might touch.
Good: Dinner at Coral Reef
When we bought our tickets we booked 4:30pm reservations for dinner at the Coral Reef. We checked in on the Disney App as requested and within one minute our table was ready.
The service was exceptional with our waiter Tim. The food was just as good. And the ambience was special as well, with a giant aquarium along one wall. Every other table was blocked off to allow for distancing, and you would either look at the menu on your phone, or be provided a paper menu which you could keep or they would throw away. As an added benefit, we happened to time this perfectly with the typical afternoon thunderstorm – it was starting as we arrived, and mostly gone by the time we left.
It was our first time at this restaurant and we’ll be back.
Bad: Lots of Closings
We went to the Coral Reef because my favorite restaurant in Japan – Teppan Edo – was closed. It feels like a good 1/3rd of the park was closed. This is because the Disney International program which brings in students from around the world as Cast Members, is not able to operate due to Coronavirus travel restrictions.
In a number of areas, Disney has tried to keep the cultural magic alive by having Americans staff the locations. But it does take a lot of luster off of a visit to Epcot to not talk with these representatives of their countries, or see them perform in the World Showcase venues.
Our worst experience was at The American Adventure. Nowhere posted or online could we find show times. We waited for 30 minutes or more and finally there was an announcement and we were allowed to enter the theatre. With only a meek request to social distance, this set off a fast paced scramble through the corridors to the theatre. Once there, seats were marked to allow for spacing, but no one was in charge. Suddenly the theatre was filled to capacity with about 50 people standing on the side and more trying to get in.
We helped… by getting out of our seats and leaving the chaos.
Good: Hand Sanitizer
Disney has placed automated hand sanitizer dispensers at locations throughout the park – before and after rides and in the shops and restaurants. The only issue here is about a quarter of the time, the sanitizing stations were empty. So, some adjustments will be needed to make sure the sanitizers are refilled more frequently. We brought our own sanitizer as well.
Epcot Reopening: Conclusion
This was a historic day to be back at Epcot and one that we’ll remember for a long time. The crowds were limited which made a mid-Summer visit enjoyable. Almost everyone was on good behavior and doing their best to social distance. The Disney Cast Members were clearly excited that the park is open again and very happy to see us return.
For the amount of venues that were closed, Disney should have discounted the ticket price. The Company also should have provided some type of commemorative item to mark the return after the four-month closure.
Overall we had a good visit, but we won’t be going back to Disney World until at least the fall. It will certainly be cooler, but perhaps more of the Parks will be open to enjoy.
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If You’re Planning a Visit
Getting in the Park: You can no longer walk up to Disney Parks and buy a ticket. You must purchase a ticket and then get a Disney Park Pass. First, go here to check and see if the date/park you want to attend is available. Then buy your ticket on line here. Note: Ticket Options have changed, and I was told will be in effect for the remainder of 2020. I initially thought I was buying a package of four tickets for my wife and myself to use anytime over the next year (an option before COVID). Turns out it was only for a week, and I needed to spend 45 minutes on the phone to get the situation corrected. Also, there is a One Park per Day limit at the time of this writing. Park Hopper tickets are NOT available.
After you’ve bought your ticket, you’re still not done. Stay online and make a reservation for you and your group and get a Disney Park Pass. Disney is limiting the number of guests each day. Even if you have a ticket, without your Park Pass reservation, you won’t be allowed into the Park.
Finally, a multi day ticket requires you to make a reservation and get a Park Pass for each day.
Disclosure: I am a shareholder in Disney stock. I did not write this story because of that, and I do not anticipate that it will have any impact on the value of my -very- limited holdings.