Friday night, we visited Magic Kingdom for the first time since late November, 2019. We typically didn't visit that park as often in pre-pandemic times, because it's always crowded and the whole monorail/ferry thing between parking and the park just adds time to the endeavor. But as far as the Disney parks go, that is where the most roller coasters are. With limited capacity and reservations required, this is the first date we could get after buying passes again at the end of April.
We can finally see what all of the screening changes look like at the Transportation and Ticket Center, and they were still doing temperature checks despite announcing they would stop, presumably because of whatever they contracted with Advent Health. The parks are using those new Evolv millimeter-wave body scanners instead of magnetometers, which are insanely fast and they no longer check bags since they can scan your undercarriage. It does appear that the chutes for the departing trams are not covered, which is unfortunate.
The monorails cars are divided up with plastic dividers and they make things weird and uncomfortable. The ferry (which we took back) loads the upstairs then the downstairs, with little circles on the floor indicating where your group should congregate. In practice, it's just less crowded than it would normally be. That's the theme of the visit, that things just were not crowded at all, and you could tell right away by just how close to the TTC you could park.
Inside the park, Main Street was still sort of crowded, but not the way it typically would be. We got our obligatory photo from one of the Photo Pass folks, and headed east to Space Mountain. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor was closed, as are most live entertainment venues, along with the absence of parades and fireworks. I'm not sure I realized how much of the atmosphere around the park could be attributed to that. For example, the dance party in Tomorrowland isn't there, just sad, empty lighting trusses. No cheesy shows in front of the castle. No Captain Jack in front of Pirates.
As Magic Kingdom has probably the most old school, traditional queues, it also has the most plexiglass barriers in them. This is the thing that I most look forward to going away at some point. It feels dystopian and claustrophobic. I get why they're there, but it's a reminder of where we are and have been for the last year, and that's in the place you go to forget the real world.
Also noticeable is how under-staffed the park is. As was the case at Hollywood Studios, a lot of stores and food stands are closed, or close very early. They don't have to manage Fastpass merging and what not, so that helps, but for example the dispatcher on Pirates was also counting people into the boats, when that used to be a separate person. They're relying on app ordering for food likely to compensate for few cashiers. I've heard repeatedly that they just can't hire people fast enough, and that seems obvious.
All things considered, things are running pretty well. They're over-stating wait times, presumably to distribute the crowd. Space Mountain was at 40 minutes and I think we waited 25. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was 45, but we waited 26. Everything else we did was more or less a walk-on, including Barnstormer, Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Pirates of The Caribbean. We did have to wait for People Mover, because as best I can tell, the new control system is a disaster and it stops constantly. I believe it now will dynamically space the trains, to fix what problem I'm not sure, but the system seems unsatisfied about how close they are. All of the crews were hustling, enthusiastic and getting it done as you would expect.
Food service, as I said, has a lot of closed venues, so we ordered mobile at Cosmic Ray's. It wasn't clear, but they appear to have specific entrances for mobile orders, and one to queue for a cashier. Some irate tourist unkindly told me, "The line to get in starts back there!" at which point I politely ignored her and asked the cast member how to get in to collect our ready order, and she let us in. Don't underestimate kid meals, they're a lot of food for the price of two sodas. The other thing we had to get, of course, was Dolewhip, and that was fantastic. I've been making it at home with our KitchenAid frozen bowl, but while the taste is the same, you need a soft serve machine to get the right texture and mix it with vanilla. Highlight of the night for me!
We had one snafu where someone forgot the water bottle we had on 7DMT, and the crew did not find it later, causing Simon to have a minor meltdown, but otherwise, it was nice to ride roller coasters for the first time in over a year and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the park. The only time I've seen it less busy was a day or two before Irma hit Florida, and we did a lot in very little time. No sooner did we leave before the company updated their mask requirement to make them optional in outdoor common areas, which is to say they're still required in queues and indoors. I have to trust the science here, which says that outdoor transmission is exceptionally rare, because Simon at best won't be old enough for the vaccine until the fall. The cast members were pretty good about mask enforcement indoors, as we watched them correct a great many chin-strappers.
Magic Kingdom is not my favorite park, but it was good to be back.