All things considered, Walt Disney World has actually done a rather good job handling this global pandemic…
While necessary cutbacks like no fireworks, up-close character greets, or cultural representatives have taken a little bit of the magic out of the Most Magical Place on Earth, Disney has done a laudable job setting policies to keep guests safe. There have not been any major COVID outbreaks linked to Walt Disney World, and despite encouragement from the state of Florida to increase capacity, Disney has maintained caution and kept capacity capped at 35%. They’ve walked a thin line between keeping the parks enjoyable while encouraging good policies like required mask wearing, social distancing, extra sanitizing measures, and temperature checks.
Despite Disney’s best efforts, however, there are still some issues…
In our recent visits to Walt Disney World, we have noticed there continue to be some pandemic policies that some guests struggle with. This isn’t really that different from anywhere else in the country—it’s been a weird season for everyone, and old habits are sometimes hard to break. Most of the cases we’ve seen of this aren’t necessarily people being malicious or blowing up in anger. In most cases, the problems seem to stem from confusion or aloofness rather than outright rudeness.
What are the pandemic policies guests still seem to be struggling with? Here’s what we’ve seen…
1. Following queue markers
You’ll notice a common thread with most of these—they almost all surround social distancing. Distancing can be awkward in the best of cases, but in one area, people seem to still be confused even when Disney has made things as simple as connecting the dots.
Some people just don’t get the concept of queue markers…
If you haven’t been to Walt Disney World since reopening, you may have seen this practice at local stores—tape markers on the ground to help people to know how far apart to stand to maintain social distancing. In most queues, Disney has gone above and beyond to make this simple by marking every single spot for guests to stand. If a queue turns a sharp corner, the markers are spaced further apart to prevent clumps of people separated only be a metal bar. Your job is simple—when the party ahead of you moves to another marker, you move to the next one behind them.
It's not a particularly hard concept to follow, but this has continued to be the top area we see many guests struggle with—we’ve been so preconditioned to “fill in all available space” in lines that people close the space in front of them by instinct. Others seem to either not see the queue markers or don’t realize they’re meant to be specific “stops” in the queue. They may leave some distance in front of them but often stop in awkward spots that may leave guests behind them confused where they’re supposed to stand. Big parties understandably have had some challenges with this system—do you have your big family stop at the line or cluster around it at the center? It’s as complex a question as whether to indent a document using the tab key or spaces.
Are there some inconsiderate people who are just determined to flout queue markers even if they see them? Probably—there’s been a lot of that sort of weirdness this year. We can’t guess people’s motives, but most cases seem to simply surround guests not paying attention.
What Can Be Done About it?
The answer to this one is simple—as much as is possible, follow Disney’s queue markers. Connect the dots. They’ve already done the hard work of figuring out social distancing in queues so you don’t have to. Resist the impulse to fill in all available space—it won’t get you through the line any faster. It’s one less thing for us all to worry about. If you’re stuck in a queue with someone who doesn’t get it, do what you can to adjust accordingly to keep distanced.
2. Fastpass bottlenecks are still a thing (even with no Fastpasses)
Fastpass+ had many upsides—Fastpass bottlenecks were not one of them.
Fastpass bottlenecks were a phenomenon that used to regularly occur at Disney parks. In short, it’s what would happen when a family would stall at the entrance to the Fastpass queue, usually to search for their MagicBand or park ticket. The delay would cause other parties trying to get onto the ride to stall as well, and within seconds, you’d have a slowly growing blob of people all stuck in place trying to get into the same queue.
You would think with Fastpass+ having gone the way of the Dodo (by the way, you can meet that bird’s closest living relative at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!) that Fastpass bottlenecks would be a thing of the past, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
Surprisingly, bottlenecks at the mouth of queues continue to be an occasional problem at Walt Disney World—even with no Fastpass+ involved. These human traffic jams seem to happen for myriad reasons. Usually, the situation occurs when a family is about to enter a queue and realize someone is lagging behind—instead of stepping out of the way, they remain in place, urging the slow person to hurry up. On other occasions, we’ve seen parties stall right at the queue entrance when they realize someone with them doesn’t want to actually go on that ride or even to figure out if they want to go on a particular ride.
Ironically, we may have seen at least one actual Fastpass bottleneck take place since reopening—people still stop sometimes to try to use the MagicBand buttons thinking they need to scan their bands to get into the queue. The result is the same growing mass of people who can’t enter the queue until the party in question steps out of the way. While this was previously a minor annoyance, in the age of social distancing, it’s a more significant problem.
What Can Be Done About It?
If you have to pause at the entrance to a queue, the answer is simple—step out of the way and let other guests pass while you figure things out. There is no Fastpass+ right now, so there’s no need to use the MagicBand buttons in queue entries. If you read Theme Park Tourist, you probably already knows this.
If you end up in a bottleneck, there may not be much you can do but be patient. If things get too gnarly, you can always try to meet the eyes of a nearby cast member in hopes they’ll help (which they usually will), but patience remains the best medicine in these situations.
3. Social distancing in close spaces
Certain places in Walt Disney World lend themselves really well to social distancing. Disney’s Animal Kingdom, in particular, seems to be the most social distancing-friendly park thanks to its wide pathways and abundance of space… with one exception.
Tight spaces are still a bit difficult to social distance in at Walt Disney World. While we saw this a fair deal at Epcot (due to its many narrow paths and plentiful construction barricades), we noticed one common scenario where this can be a real problem, particularly at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Social distancing can prove a little bit of a challenge at time when it comes to animal exhibits where lots of people might want to see a particular thing at the same time. We noticed this both at Epcot’s The Seas as well as on the walking trails at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Despite the presence of distancing markers and increased cast member presence, on a number of occasions we saw guests who cast social distancing to the wind once animal viewing was involved. Some of this had to do with the normal awkwardness of multiple parties all wanting to see something at the same time, but many cases also seemed to come down to a lack of awareness or courtesy.
This scenario seems to play out two ways from what we’ve seen. The first is when lots of guests want to see something in a small space—such as the windows to view the tigers on the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Several large parties camped out the windows and wouldn’t budge when a tiger came close. Other parties curious about the excitement crowded in, quickly creating a zero-social-distancing scenario. A cast member nearby saw the crowding and quickly chimed in to encourage those who had been hanging out to continue down the trail, but there wasn’t much she could do but hope guests listened. Some did and some didn’t.
The other scenario is guests who are, unfortunately, just not social distancing period. We had a little trouble with this at the flying fox portion of the Maharajah Jungle Trek. The area had markers on the floor for guests to view the flying foxes, but it seemed like no matter where we stood, other guests crowded extremely close—even if the place shouldn’t have been that crowded in the first place because other spots were available. These cases, I think, came down to a lack of courtesy. While some of this behavior is par for the course at a theme park, it’s more frustrating when you’re trying to follow the rules and others just won’t. Once again, cast members were on standby to spread people out, but they usually are only able to catch what they see—or intervene when things are already getting too cramped.
What Can Be Done About It?
If you’re more on the introverted side (like this writer), social distancing might be your natural state—you’re intuitively already aware of how close people are. For others who are more comfortable with crowds, distancing may not be something that feels natural, even this far into the pandemic. Mistakes happen, and that’s all right—the best thing we can do is try to stay aware of other guests around us. Be patient and keep an eye out for distancing markers on the floor. If there are no distancing markers, try to keep a few steps away from other guests. If an area is crowded, try to wait until some people move on before stepping in. Even if you have previously had COVID or been vaccinated, your fellow guests won’t know this (not to mention there’s still a lot we don’t know about those two scenarios); distancing is still the rule for everyone.
If you find yourself in a situation where guests keep encroaching on your space and won’t distance, do what you can to try to spread out. A polite “excuse me” may be necessary if someone gets really close. Once again, making eye contact with a cast member can help—the one time I had to skip out of the way when people crowded really crazy close, a cast member quickly intervened. You can even politely ask them for help finding a place to stand if need be. The cast members have been doing a very good job from what we’ve seen, even when it regards to the cat-herding exercise of keeping guests distanced.