After suffering Disney withdrawals for four months, I had the privilege of being invited to join a few friends at the Castmember preview for Epcot. I missed out on joining the Passholder previews the week before, so I was super excited to join my friends at Epcot.
The day started in true Disney fashion, a queue for parking.
The park opened at 11 AM, and we had hoped to be at the gate waiting to enter right at the top of the hour. But the parking queue had other plans. The parking attendants were parking every other space to allow for social distancing while guests got themselves collected for the day. After the Journey section was filled, they started backfilling the empty spots starting at the front.
Once we made our way to the front gate, we scanned in and started making our way towards Spaceship Earth. In our excitement, we were about halfway through before we realized that the new landscaping was finished. The area is beautifully done, and I can just imagine what it will look like after things have filled out.
I'm happy to report that Spaceship Earth is still open and accepting riders. A few months ago, concern started spreading across the fandom that we wouldn't be able to ride her again before she's taken offline for a multi-year reimagining. In true Epcot fashion, we made Spaceship Earth our first stop of the day. Making our way up the queue, the "wait here" markers on the pavement were spaced every six feet, and hand sanitizer stations were strategically placed.
After our journey through time on Spaceship Earth, we made our way Mousegears so I could get a new mask. Outside of each store's entrance are "wait here" markers as the stores are crowd controlled; props to Disney as this goes above and beyond the State of Florida's current Covid-19 limits, which are no longer limiting retail capacity.
By this point, it was just before noon, and we were getting hungry. We made our way over to The Garden Grill to add our name to the waitlist. For those that haven't experienced The Garden Grill, it's all you care to eat served family-style. It's also a traditional character meal; however, Disney has modified the character experiences across their properties. After a short wait, we were notified our table was ready and were escorted in. Once seated, the castmember thanked us for being the first guests in four months. He also explained that the characters would appear behind us in the upper tier of the restaurant.
During the meal, we were visited by Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale, each appearing behind us for selfies. The modified character experience doesn't allow for hugs and signatures. I felt they were still very interactive, and in the 80 minutes that we took to eat, we saw them four times. At the end of the meal, we were presented with an oversized postcard with the four's photos and signatures in place of being able to get their autographs.
After lunch, we made our way to World Showcase to check out the Food and Wine booths that were being previewed. My favorite snack from this year's F&W festival is the Nitro frozen cake-pop. You can find this delectable treat at the Desserts & Champagne booth inside the World Showplace Marketplace.
The Marketplace is located between Canada and the UK and is capacity controlled. If you want to make it inside, just sign up for the virtual queue with a castmember outside of the Marketplace. Once it's your turn to enter, you'll have two hours to return. Inside, you'll find four booths with plenty of seating and, most importantly, cold AC!
There have been a few changes this year to the Food and Wine experiences. First, each location has a generic F&W sign with a QR code that opens the My Disney Experience App. This is probably the only real issue I took with the changes made by Disney for Covid-19.
The constant opening and closing of the app is a battery drain; and unless you're prepared with a battery cell, you'll have to choose between seeing a menu and having your phone. My second issue with the QR code is that it's the same code for each booth, meaning once you scan it, you need to find the location you're at. It would have been a better experience if scanning the code would take you right to the menu of that booth.
Throughout the park, cast-members seemed genuinely happy to be there, and everyone was taking the Covid-19 measures seriously. During our day, I was approached by several leaders asking about the experiences and looking for feedback. The park is prepared to welcome guests back, but that doesn't mean they won't take advantage of any improvements that can be made after receiving feedback.
My overall impression was that I felt safe in the park. Sure, wearing a mask in the hot Florida summer stinks, but everyone survives at the end of the day. Just remember to take plenty of water breaks to keep yourself hydrated and take advantage of the relaxation stations when you need a breather without your mask. In places that physical distancing was not possible, Disney has added plexiglass barriers. These are most commonly present in established queue areas and on Soarin'.
Disney reopens Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios on Wednesday, July 15th. Tickets and packages for 2020 and 2021 are on sale now. When you visit, be sure to keep your eyes out for Characters who make appearances in mini parades and even just magically appear.
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