When Magic Kingdom Park reopened in July after having been closed for months, a lot of emotion hit me at once as we finally walked down Main Street, U.S.A. with Disney music blasting from the speakers and Cinderella Castle glistening in the background. Fast forward to now, and the progress for "returning back to normal" has slowly (but surely!) been moving in the right direction. Many of the health and safety measures, such as social distancing and face covering requirements, still remain in place. Character experiences and entertainment still have modifications, but we're starting to see the return of more character dining options, smaller pyrotechnics and the Electrical Water Pageant!
Disney World has limited capacity in its parks since reopening. Initially, crowds were low, even below the 25 percent capacity limit. Now that crowds have started to return and the capacity limit has increased to 35 percent, we imagine you have many questions: How has the park experience changed? What are the character experiences like? Are lines really long? What is it like now that park hopping has returned? Well, we've been frequently hopping to the park since July to keep an eye on things, so we can help you prepare if you decide to return to the parks in the near future.
Getting into Magic Kingdom Park
Just like the other Walt Disney World theme parks, you'll need a Disney Park Pass and valid admission if Magic Kingdom will be your first (or only) park — so be sure to reserve your spot as soon as you're able! We have continuously stuck to our own advice of arriving slightly after park opening in order to avoid lines for parking and the initial morning crowds. This strategy has not let us down yet! We tend to go through the parking toll booths shortly after park opening, so we're inside the park about an hour behind everyone else who showed up early. The parking trams are not running, so keep that in mind when you arrive and leave at the end of the day.
The entry process operates smoothly, and we usually zip through the temperature screening and security checkpoints. Security uses normal metal detectors (unlike the fancy new ones at Animal Kingdom), so everyone has to put their electronics and other metal items into a bin. You can keep everything else inside your bag and proceed to walk through. Security only checks bags if the detectors go off. One time, I set it off so I stepped aside. A security officer looked through my bag with a flashlight (he didn't touch anything inside with his gloved hands while I held it open) and finished by feeling the outside of the bag.
The monorail and ferryboat both have new procedures — each with their own pros and cons. Every monorail cabin has a partition in the middle so that the guests sitting back to back are separated. Each party has its own row. While we prefer the ferryboat for its open air, we have noticed that the monorail always smells very clean. Meanwhile, the ferryboat has circles on the ground to designate where each party should stand. This mode of transportation also results in some hiccups because larger parties tend to spread out a bit more. If you have a larger party, we suggest splitting up your group so you can leave enough space for others. There are also circles a little too close to the railings, and people still touch them. We like to choose one near the middle of the boat, then sanitize hands once we get off (though the same goes for before we eat and after we get off of an attraction).
The bus station, walkway from Disney's Contemporary Resort and resort ferries are operating as well. Each have their own temperature screenings and security bag checks. Previously, we've taken the monorail from Disney's Contemporary Resort at 10 a.m. (an hour after park open), and we went straight through the temperature check and security screening and hopped immediately on the monorail.
If your ticket includes park hopping benefits, you'll only need a Disney Park Pass for the first park you'll be hopping to. Park Hopper hours generally start at 2 p.m. and run until the park closes. We recently hopped from EPCOT to Magic Kingdom and found the process seamless. Cast members at EPCOT's bus transportation area scanned our MagicBand to confirm that we were eligible to hop and to check that Magic Kingdom was still available (since parks are still subject to capacity limits). While we didn't notice a big difference in wait times at Magic Kingdom once park hoppers started filling the park, things went up by about ten minutes or so. If you're planning a whole day at Magic Kingdom, that's even more reason to arrive as the park opens and take advantage of extra time without hoppin' guests in the afternoon!
Magic Kingdom Attractions and Wait Times
Initially, wait times were significantly lower upon reopening. Now that crowds have started to return to Magic Kingdom, you can expect the popular rides, such as Splash Mountain and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, to have about 90-minute wait times while the majority of the rides stick to 50 minutes or less. Sometimes, the lines end up being actually much shorter than the posted wait time. So far, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has been a consistent example of a ride queue that moves swiftly despite having a line that extends beyond the entrance. Every time we've gotten in line, the ride takes about half of the posted time.
Overall, the majority of rides are no longer walk-ons (as they tended to be upon reopening in July), but because there are many attractions to choose from, people are fairly spread out inside the park. There isn't necessarily a single attraction that sees higher wait times than others. However, attractions in Frontierland and Adventureland, as well as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, generally see the highest wait times throughout the day. During our most recent trip, we managed to get in nine attractions and lunch at Be Our Guest on an abbreviated park day. (While we loved dining in the Beast's castle, keep in mind that table-service meals take a bite out of your time left to hop on rides!) While the lines are long and spread out due to social distancing, they also tend to be constantly moving, which made for hoppy tadpoles who didn't quite feel like they were "waiting" long. Every once in a while, the queue may stop moving for cleaning and sanitization, though cast members will let you know via an announcement.
Every ride has new health and safety measures in place, including floor markings 6 feet (or more) apart and touchless hand sanitizer dispensers near the entrances and exits. Interactive elements in queues, such as the jewels in Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, are roped off. Some queues have plexiglass barriers when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing in switchbacks or places where the standby and FastPass+ lines are next to each other. There are no FastPasses available. However, people with a DAS card or those taking advantage of Rider Switch will typically use the FastPass+ line.
The majority of attractions are open, except for Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, Casey Jr. Splash 'N' Soak and Enchanted Tales with Belle. Nighttime spectaculars and daily parades are not currently running.
Character Experiences at Magic Kingdom
Speaking of parades, you can still see your favorite characters in cavalcades throughout the day. While you may not be able to hug them, they will wave and blow kisses to you from afar. There are several different cavalcades so you can see a variety of characters:
- The Royal Princess Processional: Merida & Angus, Rapunzel, Tiana, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Elena, Jasmine, Snow White, Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother
- Mickey & Friends Cavalcade: Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, Daisy and parade dancers
- Fantasyland Friends Cavalcade: Gaston, Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Aladdin, Mary Poppins and Tigger
- A Goofy Cavalcade: Goofy, Max, Clarabelle Cow, José Carioca, Panchito and parade dancers
- Tinker Bell & the Lost Treasure: Tinker Bell
- Main Street Philharmonic
All of the above cavalcades and processionals hoppen randomly and move along the normal parade route from Frontierland to Main Street, U.S.A. Shortly after the conclusion of a cavalcade, some characters will appear above Town Square at the train station. We've regularly seen the princesses and Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Pluto greeting guests down below. While not advertised as its own cavalcade, we also seen Eeyore, Piglet and Rabbit riding in a Main Street trolley. They travel down Main Street, venture around the Cinderella Castle hub and end their journey back in Town Square. Currently, there are three special Christmas-themed cavalcades mixed in with the regular cavalcades.
As you view the cavalcades, be mindful of the other frogs around you and maintain your distance. They go by slower than the character boats at Animal Kingdom, which means there is a little more time for people to gather. From what we saw personally, our fellow frogs next to us were respectful. But there aren't many ground markings along the route, so it can be easy to froget, especially when the tadpoles are excited to see the characters. The nice thing about reduced crowds is that there is increased attention on individual guests along the parade route — Lily toadally beamed that the Fairy Godmother told her "Happy birthday!" from atop her float!
You may also spot additional characters at designated locations throughout the park. Buzz Lightyear and Stitch can be found sporadically (raised on the Rockettower Plaza Stage) in Tomorrowland. The Country Bears, along with Chip 'n' Dale, greet guests from the balconies of the Country Bear Jamboree theater (in fact, one peeked down to ask for a bite of Leap's Dole Whip!). Jack Sparrow may suddenly appear in Adventureland. Our personal favorite interaction was Anastasia and Drizella bickering from above on the backside of Cinderella Castle.
Restaurants and Retail at Magic Kingdom
Certain restaurants are using mobile ordering exclusively, including Aloha Isle, Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe and Pinocchio Village Haus. You select an arrival time window — like a choosing a FastPass+ window — when you order, and once you're near the restaurant, you can hit "I'm Here, Prepare My Order." If you're prepping your meal during a busy dining period, it may take a while before your food is actually ready for pick up as there are a lot of other orders being processed, so take that time into consideration.
Tables are designated as off limits (and chairs may even be removed from unavailable tables). Whenever we've finished eating, we've noticed a cast member cleaning our table as soon as we left.
For retail locations, pay attention to the signs when entering or exiting a shop, especially the Emporium, which has multiple entryways. There is a designated entrance near the middle of the Emporium. While queues for registers have floor markings, it is harder to figure out the correct flow of traffic inside. For that reason, we recommend being extra vigilant in gift shops. If possible, try to get your shopping done earlier in the afternoon, as opposed to waiting until just before the park closes. Walking through the Emporium before park close can feel a bit chaotic, and during our most recent visit, there was a long line to get in at park closing.
Touring Advice for Magic Kingdom
Pre-COVID, we always recommended arriving early, ahead of the official opening time. Now, there's less need to arrive early, as ride wait times stay fairly consistent throughout the day; however, keep in mind that, especially if you're heading to the park on a day when hours are limited, that cuts into your riding time. You may not see higher waits, but you may also not have time to hit all of your must-dos. At Magic Kingdom, there isn't a singular ride that attracts more people and has a longer wait than all the others. Instead, we have found that frogs are spread fairly evenly throughout the park. Splash Mountain and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are some of the popular rides with higher waits. Not too much of a surprise there!
During our repeat visits, we noticed that the attractions in Frontierland and Adventureland consistently had higher wait times all day, and were shortest first thing in the morning. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train averages 75 to 90 minutes, but dips down in the late afternoon and early evening. Meanwhile, most attractions in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland have lower wait times that stay the same for the majority of the day.
If you're a big character person, Magic Kingdom is the best park (so far) to see the most characters. We know it's strange not being able to get close to them, but we think these cavalcades are pretty neat! We don't normally see this many princesses together, and the Fantasyland Friends Cavalcade has a unique mix of characters. Never knew I needed to see Aladdin and Winnie the Pooh on the same float!
Early on during this initial phased reopening, we noticed crowds thinned out considerably by the late afternoon. While it still holds true that the later half of the day is less busy, it seems that more and more frog families are staying until park close. With the return of park hopping, we expect crowds to fluctuate more in the afternoons and evenings.
Additional Magic Kingdom Tips and Tidbits
- If you need to take your mask off for a quick break, there are three mask relaxation areas: Tomorrowland Terrace, Pete's Silly Sideshow and Golden Oak Outpost. We recommend the Tomorrowland Terrace location because while it's not indoors, the area is covered and has overhead fans to cool you down. While Pete's Silly Sideshow has AC, we just feel more comfortable in an outdoor setting. Golden Oak Outpost is located between Frontierland and Adventureland and is the smallest relaxation area out of the three. Technically, there is a 30-minute time limit, but cast members are not enforcing it because most guests do not stay that long.
- Because there are a lot more rides at Magic Kingdom, we still suggest getting your higher priority rides done earlier in the day, so you don't risk the chance of not being able to ride them due to cleaning or weather delays.
- PhotoPass photographers will not take any photos without masks or use your personal devices to take a photo. On a similar note, if you take masks off during a ride, you will not get the ride photo (these rules apply at any of the parks).
- Take advantage of the low crowds to get photos or video of Cinderella Castle's new colors at many different angles! Seriously though ... Tad has done some of his best work to date.
Do you have any questions about Magic Kingdom reopening? If you're planning to visit the parks, let us know what you're most excited about in the comments below.