Many people are waiting for a majority of the world to reopen so they can do something as fun as going on vacations again. Popular spots such as theme parks have slowly been reopening slowly, but one place that has been open again since July of 2020 is Walt Disney World in Florida. Employees and guests have gone back to what they consider the happiest place on Earth to experience the joy they had pre-pandemic, but since shutdown so much has changed in the way things are run.
In March, Walt Disney World furloughed thousands of cast members due to the pandemic. As it reopened, the company started calling many of these employees back for another chance at making magic. For some people who wanted to get back into this specific workplace, they applied and were accepted through third party companies- all for the purpose of stepping foot back in Disney World. Kaley Dovale is one of these special cast members.
Dovale, 23, was a cast member through the Disney College Program from January to March of 2020 before being let go due to the pandemic. As a Florida resident she was one of the first to jump back into work when July came around through a third-party company. Coming back to work, there were many changes.
“It’s gone well, but I definitely miss not having to wear a mask. It makes guest interaction a lot harder when we have to wear masks. I’d say every interaction is a little bit more tense than I’ve experienced in the past, especially when asking them to put masks on,” says Dovale.
Since its reopening the Walt Disney Company has provided rules about their new safety practices, which were put in place to protect not only guests but cast members as well. Even though there are many new rules, Dovale knows there is more that can be done.
“I do feel safer and feel like I’m getting sick much less than before, but I think we could use more handwashing or sanitizing stations throughout the theme parks. I think the expectation from guests is to be greeted immediately, but I feel like I need to wash or sanitize my hands after every interaction,” explains Dovale.
Disney has extensive rules about what to expect and how to act when returning to the parks and hotels on their property. Their website includes cleaning procedures, distancing rules, and a guide to everything they’ve done to reduce contact as much as possible. Guests who plan on going back are expected to know and stick to these rules, which was no problem for Hannah Wheeler.
Wheeler, 21, is also a past college program participant from before the pandemic. Even though she has not yet returned to work, she has done her fair share of revisiting since the resort has been reopened. She definitely noticed some changes, but nothing intense enough to change her overall experience.
“I have felt very safe. Disney is very on top of people wearing their masks. They also have cool-down relaxation sports where you are allowed to remove your mask, but other than that, there is no exception for removing your mask which makes me feel safer,” says Wheeler.
Aside from masks or social distancing, the resort has placed a lot of their focus on cleaning and how they present these procedures to their guests. Wheeler went on to explain the different distancing and cleaning she saw and experienced first-hand the times she was able to travel back to Florida.
“Because of COVID-19 there is social distancing in lines, which makes them super long, but they move fast and feel safe as long as people keep their distance. Disney is also top notch when it comes to cleanliness anyway, so with the pandemic they are triple cleaning everything. The best addition is they plexiglass added in different ride queues when needing to stand side by side with someone else to stay separated,” Wheeler explained.
Although the experience of vacationing at a theme park today is much different than it would have been a year or so ago, the magic of Walt Disney World has stayed the same. Both guests and cast members have shared concerns about what it may be like returning during a pandemic, but have similar experiences with the safety precautions, rules, and regulations put in place. The feeling of safety gives hope for what reopening more theme parks like this can look like further down the road.