As we begin to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel, we realize the world will never be the same. Sure there will be things that will go back to ‘normal’, but others will be forever changed. Some of these changes will be welcome, some may even say needed. While no one will ever be able to put a price on what has been lost, what else can we do but move forward -hoping to have learned a thing or two from our pandemic experience.
Not a single thing has been left untouched by COVID. Not even the almighty Disney. When the big shutdown began in March 2020, a particularly difficult moment in our family was watching the news reports that Disneyland and soon after Walt Disney World were temporarily closing their doors. The fact that not even Disney was immune to this virus suddenly made the seriousness of this event all too real. As the world began to rebound and slowly, methodically reopen, the reopening of Walt Disney World again acted as a gauge that we might be able to make it thru this pandemic after all.
We are a Disney family. We love the parks, the properties, the movies, the characters – all of it – and we recognize we are extremely lucky to have had these experiences. Many of our ‘escapes’ during COVID have been Disney related. We celebrated when Frozen II was released early and we could watch from the comfort (and safety) of our living room. My kids signed up for the virtual Star Wars races when runDisney went virtual to have something to do. Neighbors thought nothing of seeing them run thru our neighborhood, the youngest in her Chewbacca one piece sleeper outfit.
The announcement that Hamilton was to be released earlier than planned on Disney+ led to over a month’s worth of listening to the Hamilton soundtrack non-stop (pun intended) as well as planning a family watch party – intermission snacks and all.
When it was clear our trip planned for Easter 2020 would not happen, we tried to make the best of it by recreating our favorite Disney foods at home and watching YouTube videos of favorite rides and previously recorded firework shows. Diving into the previously untouched Marvel Universe turned into an evening ritual. Many nights, we came together as a family, taking turns deciding in which Marvel movie to lose ourselves.
Disney Parks During COVID
We also had the opportunity to escape to the parks during COVID. Was it the same – no. Shows, parades, and fireworks were either altered or not available at all. Some rides were not operating, some resorts remained closed, many restaurants were either closed or difficult to get into due to social distancing protocols and staffing issues. Was it great – in some ways, yes.
Crowds were low, people – both cast members and visitors – were quite friendly. There was an air of “I’m so happy to be here”. We explored areas we’ve never taken the time to explore before. The mad rush to get to the big ride or visit the character-of-the-moment or make it to our dinner reservation on time was gone and allowed us to experience the parks and properties on a more relaxed schedule. We discovered new areas and attractions we never knew existed and will certainly revisit in the future. We took the time to explore our resort and much of what it had to offer – again something we did very little of in the past. In short, we found a way to re-envision our future Disney trips-something I never thought possible.
Was it a welcome relief to return to our ‘happy place’ and find it still brought us happiness – absolutely. When our children were younger, we often took the opportunity of a school long weekend in early November to escape to Disney World, allowing us the ability to take in the parks in all their holiday glory. As our kids have gotten older and more involved in activities, that November trip became more and more difficult.
Quite possibly the highlight of our COVID Disney experiences was my teenage daughter looking down on Main Street from the Railway balcony. As the lights and decorations sparkled in the warm evening air, she whispered, almost to herself but loud enough for me to hear, “I really miss Disney at Christmas”. Hearing the love in her voice made me realize all the years of planning, chaos that comes with traveling with children and-let’s be honest-all the money spent were, in a moment, worth it all. Knowing she had that indescribable ‘feeling’ you get when you can just sit back and take it all in made a mom’s heart swell with love and gratitude.
Is the Magic Still There?
Since the parks have reopened, many have asked, “is the Magic still there?” My answer is yes. Is it different – Yes. There are new procedures and programs. The Annual Pass Plan has been updated, FastPass is being replaced by Genie+, the way we order and get food has been altered (some say for the better), not to mention all the changes that have been in the works for years preparing for the big 50th Anniversary Celebration at Walt Disney World.
But Walt Disney’s original hope for the parks remains – a place where parents and children can have fun together. Because the Magic comes not from the newest rides or the way in which we get to or wait for them, it doesn’t come from the quickest or fanciest of eateries, and it doesn’t come from how we go about physically getting to the park. The Magic of Disney is intangible. It is the sense of nostalgia upon the first whiff of popcorn and confectionary as one first steps onto Mainstreet, USA. It comes in the slight catch of breath as the Castle first comes into site or when hearing a favorite classic tune seeming to arise out of the pristine Florida greenery. But most of all, the Magic of Disney appears at the most unexpected time – like seeing your teenager’s eyes light up when something sparks that sense of nostalgia in her. Mr. Walt Disney himself said “laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, dreams are forever”.
Yes, even in the age of COVID and beyond, Magic still lives in the world of Disney. All that surrounds it might look a bit different than before, but what makes Magic so special is it’s ability to pop up when and where you least expect it. And that surprise makes the Magic even more special – especially today!!