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What To Expect If You're Heading To Disney World For This Weekend's Reopening

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Allison Varney

Nearly four months ago, Disney World closed its doors as the coronavirus pandemic gripped the country.

This weekend, the theme parks reopen. The Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom open to the public Saturday, while Epcot and Hollywood Studios open next week.

With coronavirus cases continuing to surge in Florida, it’s a very different experience for visitors: smaller crowds, no fireworks and no character meet-and-greet.

Matthew Peddie with WMFE-90.7 in Orlando caught up with Seth Kubersky, Orlando Weekly columnist and co-author of the Unofficial Guides, as he toured the Magic Kingdom during Thursday's soft reopening for annual passholders.

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Matthew Peddie: Seth Kubersky, thanks so much for joining us.

Seth Kubersky: My pleasure, as always.

MP: Give us a sense of what it’s like to be back there after a couple of months.

SK: Normally at this time of year, the parks would be packed, you’d be elbow to elbow with people, you’d be seeing lines of an hour or more for the popular attractions, if you didn’t have a Fast Pass. Today, there’s only a fraction of the people who would normally be in the park. I’m guessing only a few thousand people here. So we walked on to Peter Pan and Space Mountain and all of the top attractions with little more than a five minute wait for anything, which is both wonderful but also very eerie. The other big difference that you notice is that there aren’t character meet and greets like you’re used to seeing. There’s no one lining up to give Mickey Mouse a hug. Instead, you occasionally see a vehicle or a parade float go by with characters waving at you. It’s all very socially distanced, but the characters are here and making themselves visible.

MP: Talk to me about some of the other things that Disney has done to keep people socially distanced.

SK: The social distancing measures here at Walt Disney World start long before you even get out of your car, because they are parking cars with social distancing, using alternating rows, leaving extra spots in between each car, and then going back in afterwards and filling in that extra space. Once you get past that they have added temperature checks- it’s a contact free forehead thermometer. Once you’re inside the parks, things that you’re going to see are social distancing markers, and plexiglass shields just about everywhere: at every counter to check out or pick up food. And even inside the queues, making sure that you stay separated from the person next to you.

MP: What’s your sense of how excited people are to be back at Disney after the gates have been shut for so long?

SK: It’s a little hard to tell because everyone has a mask on their face so it’s not too easy to see if they’re smiling. But I think you can tell by people’s body language and at least their eyes, that people are really. excited to be back. This is a place that a lot of people have really strong emotional attachments to, and after months of being cooped up in their homes, you can see the little kids, and especially the big kids. definitely excited to be here. Even more than that though, is the energy coming from the cast members, employees who I’m sure are happy to be back on the job, no longer furloughed, collecting a paycheck again.

MP: Which has been the most popular ride you’ve seen today?

SK: The most popular ride just in terms of the pure wait time was probably Big Thunder Mountain. That was up over a half hour earlier today. But the longest wait in the park today has actually not been for an attraction it’s been for a gift shop. The wait for the Splash Mountain gift shop approached four hours because of people hoping to buy up the last of the Brer Rabbit merchandise before that attraction is closed down and turned into the Princess and The Frog.

MP: And then typically a day at the Magic Kingdom you end with fireworks right? This time, not so.

SK: You know, parades and fireworks are the two biggest elements of the entertainment here that are temporarily on hold. And I personally have always loved staying till closing at the Magic Kingdom for that last kiss good night, where they make an announcement and they play a little projection on the castle. And it sure will be a little anticlimactic.

MP: Seth Kubersky is a columnist for the Orlando weekly and one of the co authors of the Unofficial Guides.  We caught up with him at the Magic Kingdom. Thank you so much, Seth.

SK: Thanks so much. It’s always great talking to you.