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SYFY WIRE Theme Park News

What it's like inside the newly reopened Shanghai Disneyland as Disney World preps for change

By Carlye Wisel
A guest at Shanghai Disneyland's reopening

Hello, theme park friends! This is a very special week, because for the first time in (what feels like) forever, one of Disney’s theme parks is OPEN.

As you’ll read below the road ahead is a long one, but any way you slice it, we’ve got one down and five to go.

Here’s everything you may have missed about Shanghai’s big reopening, what will soon open in Florida, and what you can expect from other parks around the county:


At long last, we got one on the board! After 107 days, Shanghai Disneyland reopened to the public yesterday.

Even with TRON Lightcycle Power Run soaring through Tomorrowland and collectible popcorn buckets back on sale, it’s not exactly a typical day at the park. Shanghai reopened with many, many precautions in place, including advanced reservations, timed entry, masks required at all times except when dining, and temperature screenings and health QR code scans upon entry (the latter three of which had already been in place for Shanghai DisneyTown and Shanghai Disneyland Hotel, two other areas of the resort that had reopened weeks prior).

The park opened on Monday morning with limited capacity — less than the government’s allowance of 30 percent attendance, or 24,000 people, according to Disney CEO Bob Chapek  — but it’s clear that Disneyland’s first day may have been far below that, judging from the incredibly low queue times at a park that’s known for sky-high waits, entry tickets selling out, and Chapek stating that they’ll add 5,000 people in capacity each week until that 30 percent limit is hit.

Shanghai Disneyland Clock Tower

Numbers are all fine and dandy, but if you’re like me, you want to know what it’s really like to visit a park in the era of COVID-19, and I’m here to take you on that virtual journey. (And, where safety is concerned, it's so far so good. In a rudimentary search through social media, I’ve mostly seen patrons carefully observing the guidelines, employees wiping down the railings, and staffers reminding guests of the new protocols, but for a deeper look at the procedures, I recommend TDR Explorer's post from the park's first day.) 

Upon entering, guests with pre-assigned entry times will walk through an open-air tent where their temperature will be taken. (Masks are required, so be sure to bring yours!) After waiting in line for bag check — outlined with designated places to stand — lucky patrons will enter the park and be free to take in the limited offerings available during Shanghai Disneyland’s first days back. Want to grab a Frozen-themed popcorn and catch the castle show or parade? Stand or sit in one of the yellow taped boxes around the castle to see the Golden Fairytale Fanfare stage show or a shortened, special version of Mickey’s Storybook Express parade.

Hugs are a no-no, but if you’re hoping to wave hello to your favorite character, you can see them appear on stage in distanced greetings or throughout the day in group gatherings atop the park’s clock tower entrance. (More of a princess fan? Keep an eye on the massive castle’s turrets for occasional appearances by famed Disney royals.)

If you’re here for the rides, they’re open — just mind the queue separations and prepare to board every other row, like on Pirates of the Caribbean, or wear the provided disposable gloves on shooting gallery rides like Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue. (Don’t miss the hand sanitizer provided at the exit, either!) Fireworks aren’t yet offered, but there’s a nightly projection show and “kiss goodnight” goodbye from characters, providing a perfectly Disney send-off.

Now, before you echo the same question every Disney fan feels deep inside — is this what our first trip back will be like? — let me explain how the answer is both yes and no.

As the first theme park to re-open in the midst of COVID-19, the social distancing protocol put into place at Shanghai Disneyland will undoubtedly serve as some degree of a blueprint for what’s to come, but there is no direct correlation between its and future opening procedures.

American theme parks' timetables cannot be directly parallel to Shanghai's, so it’s an unlikely sign our opening will come at the same time as theirs or look exactly like it. This resort is a single theme park, whereas both domestic resorts in the U.S. have multiple gates and much more transportation infrastructure. Shanghai Disneyland’s debut is also occurring in a completely different culture and country, amidst a completely different phase of its city’s reopening. We are in a staggeringly different position from this Chinese park, at a local and federal governmental level, at a COVID-19 outbreak level, and even at a corporate level. (Shanghai Disney Resort is a joint partnership with the Shanghai Shendi Group, a government-owned entity with a majority share of the resort.)

Instead of fretting about specifics — like if we'll stand in boxes or if Annual Passholders will need to scramble to nab reservation times — instead choose to interpret it like this: You know that feeling of longing for the parks, remembering your favorite ride, or craving your favorite Epcot food and swiftly remembering you cannot go? For many Disney fans abroad, that feeling disappeared earlier this week. And, eventually, it’ll be our turn too, even if it takes a little longer or looks a little different from what we're seeing in Shanghai.

But — that doesn’t mean nothing is opening stateside...

Disney Springs Water Tower


Disney Springs, the downtown shopping, dining, and entertainment district at Walt Disney World, will begin its first phase of reopening on May 20. Only select third-party restaurants and shops will have the option to open their doors; nothing Disney-owned or Disney-operated is opening up at this time.

So far, Disney Food Blog has confirmed Wine Bar George, STK Orlando, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC, and Häagen-Dazs will all open on May 20, as well as women's clothing store Anthropologie. As its site works to confirm further openings, Disney has confirmed that safety precautions will be put in place, including increased cleaning and a mask requirement for employees and guests. Parking, hours, and overall capacity will also be limited. 

While nothing else at Walt Disney World Resort will open next week, Disney Springs’ debut will bring the first group of furloughed Disney employees back to work, specifically custodians and security staff, and easily begs the question of when others may return.

It all brings us back to the question permeating every Disney group chat, Facebook feed, and website comment thread: Should Disney Springs be reopening this soon? Will Disney feel the same with face coverings? Is it safe to go when the parks open?!

I don't know the answers to those hot questions, but what we do know, according to a CNBC interview with CEO Bob Chapek earlier this week, is that it seems more than likely that masks will be a priority when Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks do welcome back guests.

“Along with social distancing, one of the things that we’re likely going to require is masks for both the cast and the guest,” Chapek explained. “In Asia, as you know, it’s fairly commonplace even before COVID for folks to walk around in public with masks on. That is not the case in the U.S. So that will be something that will be a little trying I think, for some of the guests, particularly in hot humid summers that we tend to have.”

A massive debate still rages across DisTwitter, fan forums, and Facebook groups. Some argue that masks will ruin the magic, while others need and expect guests to wear face coverings in order to feel safe returning to the parks. Chapek all but shut down the argument that it's too hot in Orlando to wear one — even if the issue of how to keep a mask on squirmy children, particularly young ones, is still being raised by many moms with future Disney vacations on the books. (Speaking of — it looks like the next available Disneyland and Walt Disney World hotel booking dates have been pushed a month later to July 1.)

Still, with safety of the utmost importance, Chapek emphasized to CNBC that guest cooperation will also be needed to meet the company’s safety standards — something to keep in mind as these parks prepare to reopen.

For more information on Disney’s possible phased reopenings and health guidelines, click here.

Hogwarts at Universal Orlando


- There was a new Universal Orlando Resort survey sent out last week, shedding light on some interesting and new possibilities for how they may reopen the resort. 

- The Orange County Register is reporting that Knott’s Berry Farm may possibly be closed until 2021, but its CEO has released some preliminary safety procedures for when it open. Still, its Knotts Bear-y Tales attraction will open when the park does and its 100-year anniversary celebration and annual Ghost Town Alive! is being postponed until next year. Need a taste of Knott’s now? You can still swing by and pick up a chicken dinner and boysenberry pie.

- SeaWorld in Florida and Texas are likely to open before San Diego, according to the Orange County Register.

- When Six Flags reopens, it will require advanced reservations and implement safety procedures including face masks, cashless transactions and temperature checks.  


In lieu of more social media mania, we’ve got something better.

Any chance you didn’t get to ride Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway before it opened? Now, you can experience it by way of augmented reality right in your living room with DisneyNow.

I’ll be honest, it’s somewhat hard to find — download the DisneyNow app, go to “Games” and scroll down to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway Adventure Kit — but it’s a hefty dose of joy, complete with the catchy upbeat tune that accompanies the actual Disney World attraction. While I couldn’t quite figure out how to back my car up from the building I slammed into (whoops), it just turned my patio into a 2D city with Mickey at the helm, making for an unbelievable sight that feels like you’ve dropped straight into a cartoon world without getting up off the couch.


- This Reddit AMA with the actor in the Avatar Flight of Passage pre-show video, sent to me by fellow reporter Valerie Marino is, uh, extremely enlightening.

- This Disney Twitter takeover by in-park security staff is just the thing to make the parks feel alive again.

- Shrek stans, unite!

- Magic Kingdom Cheeseburger egg roll recipe?! Yes please!