First time back to a theme park

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 6, 2021, 12:00 PM | comments: 0

Last week we were able to buy back in to our annual passes at Walt Disney World, and our first reservation was last night, at Disney's Hollywood Studios. We did a brief after-work visit for about three and a half hours. It was, as I expected, a little weird.

They're still doing temperature screenings, which I suspect will end soon now that the CDC says it's a waste of time, and Universal stopped doing it. Masks are required unless you're stationary and eating or drinking. Capacity is apparently limited to about 35%, which is why they're doing reservations. They do allow passholders to park hop after 1 p.m. now. They're not using the finger print readers for admission.

First off, what a good but weird feeling to walk in through those gates for the first time in more than a year. We didn't choose to live in this area specifically because of the proximity to the Disney property, but being this close is certainly a perk, and it's pretty great to have the kind of access that most people are lucky to have once a year at best. You kind of take a little ownership of it, like it's an extension of your backyard. Right away, we had our picture taken, which Disney is now OK with you unmaksing for.

There are no Fastpasses right now, and some queues for some rides extend outside with the 2-meter interval decals on the ground encouraging you to keep your distance. This results in fast moving lines in most cases. Some rides have staggered loading, reducing their capacity, which manifests itself the worst on Slinky Dog Dash, which never had a wait under an hour. They are still doing boarding groups for Rise of The Resistance, so we were not able to ride it because you have to either hit the app at 7 a.m., or be in the park for another shot at 1 p.m. In most queues, you can expect to find plexiglass barriers, and the barriers are at all of the food stands, and it's just hard to hear people. It's a little dystopian, even though I totally get the intention.

Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway was the new ride that opened just before the pandemic, and we didn't get a chance to ride it before the closures. Simon was pretty obsessed about the ride, watching all the YouTube videos and even recreating part of it in Minecraft, where he cleverly engineered the pre-show. Unfortunately, they're not running the pre-show, and that's one of the casualties of the pandemic. There are no pre-shows or any shows that result in people standing around together. That's particularly an issue at DHS, which ordinarily would engage thousands of people in various shows at a time.

The ride is absolutely the physical manifestation of the Mickey shorts that you can watch now on Disney+, which is to say they had a lot to work with stylistically. It's a fly-by-wire (wireless?) dark ride that's a lot of fun, and does video projection really well. We did it twice. I'm impressed with the precision involved in moving the cars, as they quite literally dance through one scene. I'm absolutely impressed. We waited 35 minutes the first time, about 15 the second.

From there we went to Star Tours, which was effectively a walk-on. They're loading every other row and put up dividers strapped to booster seats to block groups of 2 and 3 people. The barriers at each staging queue are very claustrophobia causing. The last act of our tour was on the planet with the salt flats and red dust, which I had never seen before.

Next was Smuggler's Run, which I think was just under 30 minutes. They are combining groups now, with 4 people doing the pilot and gunners, then groups of 2 filling the engineer seats, with clear barriers in between. My darling wife and son are terrible pilots.

We were ready to get something to eat at this point, when we realized that quite literally everything closed around 5 except for the counter service place half way down the street toward Tower of Terror. That location probably has the crappiest food, too. They're only taking orders via the mobile app (no cashiers), but what results is a bunch of crowding there and few open tables. I realize that there are likely staffing challenges and fewer people in the park in the evening, but it's not a great guest experience. Hopefully they'll figure out how to keep one of the other big locations, Backlot or Commissary, open later. One thing that felt immediately difficult is how expensive the food is, which I only notice after not buying any for more than a year. Our non-spending in the last year was extraordinary, and I can see partially why. Also, the quality of what's available isn't that great when comparing to the water parks, which I consider a more premium offering, or the counter service on the cruise line. I don't mind paying for theme park food, but don't be basic about it.

After dinner, we did a walk-on to Toy Story Midway Mania, and a walk-on to the flying saucers. Slinky was still an hour-plus, so we skipped that. That's when we took our second spin on Railway before calling it a night.

We were happy to be back in the park. Simon, in particular, needed the break because he's doing state testing this week, which stresses him out in a pretty serious and physical way. The 90 degrees outside with a mask is definitely uncomfortable, and hopefully as vaccinations continue to rise they'll consider dropping the masks for outdoors, though I'm sure the liability they face will keep them enforced for the foreseeable future. The neutered operations are very un-Disney-like, if necessary, but it's all temporary, hopefully.


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