Things seem a little different this year, but they’re still very happy.
Editor’s Note: People who choose to travel are encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and consider personal comfort and health status before departure.
Since Walt Disney World reopened on July 11, fans have been watching the changes closely at the theme park resort. And like the rest of the world, things look and feel differently inside the Most Magical Place on Earth. Safety signs warn visitors of the dangers of visiting the park, thousands of floor signs keep visitors physically away, and many typical entertainment services are restricted for health and safety reasons.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary’s famous Halloween party was canceled this year, leaving many fans wondering if Disney’s holiday celebrations were affected. On September 8, they had the answer. In an official Disney Parks Blog post, Disney announced a revised collection of holiday services, including entertainment, seasonal food, and decorations, that will begin on November 6.
Although Mickey’s Merry Christmas Party and the annual CandleLight Procession were not on that list, I never visited Disney World during the holidays, so I made arrangements with my family and went to Orlando for a Christmas day inundated with Magic Kingdom. Even with this year’s changes, I’m thrilled with Christmas and it’s the perfect way to start the holiday season.
As I walked through the gate, I was greeted by the Magic Kingdom’s 65-foot-tall Christmas tree in all its towering glory. As I turned toward Walt Disney World Railroad station, Mickey, Pluto, and even Alice in Wonderland were waving to guests. Around me on Main Street, USA, where much of the park’s décor can be found, are wrings, lights wring and holiday screens in store windows.
At the end of Main Street, Cinderella Castle looks like a Disney day (still sparkling, thanks to recent makeup), but it all changed as night fell. In place of Castle Dream Lights – the thousands of sparkling white lights that adorn the castle in a typical year – there are four different holiday-themed views displayed on the castle through a projection map. It’s all gorgeous, but especially my favorite is the ugly holiday sweater design.
Another point where everything is different from the usual is the menu of foods and drinks for the holidays. The options seem to be less than in previous years, but there is still a lot to choose from. It’s hard to decide because most dining locations have at least a few options for a limited time, but I brought a few delicious gingerbread churros and we couldn’t get home without a barrel of Mickey Christmas popcorn.
In a strategic play to discourage large crowds and better enforce physical balance, Disney has removed fireworks, parades, and character encounters since reopening. I didn’t expect much entertainment or “street atmosphere,” but I was surprised. Barbershop quartet Dapper Dans was singing at Walt Disney World Railroad Main Street station, costumed characters waving to guests from afar and cavalrymen happily strolling through the park throughout the day. I even took a selfie with Santa Claus on his sled.
I have trouble saying that I like any of these modified services (who wants to say something positive about the pandemic?), But there is something to appreciate about more intimate, improvised entertainment options. Without large crowds and long rows, I often feel like the characters are waving to me. I don’t care how old you are, there’s nothing like Minnie Mouse kissing you right away.
During Mickey’s Merry Christmas Party, some games like Space Mountain and Mad Tea Party often have overlays with a bit of holiday variation, like red-green lights and festive music. This year, however, only Jungle Cruise has had a holiday transformation in the form of the exotic Jingle Cruise. The captains have a treasure trove of hilarious Christmas jokes and some animals wear silly Santa hats.
Although I spent the day feeling like I was living in a snowball, my looming awareness of the pandemic prevented me from watching the Hallmark Christmas movie in its entirety. The dangers of traveling, visiting theme parks, and simply participating in daily activities are very real, but the safety measures Disney has adopted, along with my own precautions, have helped me feel safe and enjoy my tour.
Safety messages can be heard playing continuously throughout the day, actors often remind guests to wear masks properly and always wear masks, even when taking photos, and I don’t mind speaking out when someone doesn’t notice the floor marker while we’re queuing up for a trip. Hand sanitizer is everywhere in the park, so much so that I barely use my hand sanitizer.
If you are considering a visit this holiday season, there are many things to keep in mind before deciding to travel. Along with health and safety considerations, Disney has detailed information on the revised status of theme parks, restaurants, and resort hotels on its website.
Having said that, spending the day with my family at Magic Kingdom was one of the most special days I can remember having been at Disney World – and I spent a lot of time there. We still rusted each other’s ears, laughed, and ate too much cotton candy. Despite everything, the miracle persists, and being surrounded by the cheering of the holidays has made it all the more special.