After more than 100 days of isolation in the sanitised cocoon of my flat, a heady cocktail of excitement and nervousness slips down my throat as I walk through the familiar gates of Disneyland Paris.
Four months after the resort closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the two parks are welcoming back guests with an array of health and safety measures in line with guidance from the French government and health authorities.
Disney’s Newport Bay Club Hotel, Disney’s Hotel Cheyenne and the Disney Village shopping and entertainment district have reopened. Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe follows tomorrow then the Disneyland Hotel will throw open its doors on September 7.
Face coverings are mandatory for visitors aged 11 and older at all times, except when eating.
It feels restricting, at first, to conceal my smile behind filtered fabric. However, within 30 minutes, my breathing has slowed and I acclimatise to the new normal.
Physical distancing of at least one metre in queues is enforced using colourful bilingual stickers on the ground. There are no temperature checks like some Disney properties, but security is tight and it’s second nature to cleanse hands at more than 2,000 sanitiser and washing stations, conveniently dotted around the resort, especially at the entrances and exits of attractions, restaurants, shops and theatres.
Trepidation melts from my body as Mickey, Minnie and friends dance and wave from their prime vantage point on the elevated railroad platform. Crowd capacity is being limited in line with social-distancing guidelines, through an online ticket system, that requires you to reserve admission for a specific date.
Single rider queues and the nifty Fastpass services, allowing guests to pre-book a timed slot for eight key attractions, have been suspended to aid queue management. Popular rides like Peter Pan’s Flight and Star Wars: Hyperspace Mountain often command wait times in excess of an hour. Today, the longest queue is 30 minutes.
Rollercoasters including Big Thunder Mountain and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Peril keep entire rows free to ensure physical distancing. Even with this limited capacity, falsetto screams and hollers are just as satisfyingly loud.
Nestled inside the Disney bubble, guests largely police themselves. In the gently winding queue of the Meet Mickey Mouse pavilion, a little girl with an icy glare to complement her twinkling Frozen outfit, admonishes a distracted parent fixated on a mobile phone screen. “Mummy, you can’t stand there!” frostily chirrups the pint-sized princess.
Twice, I notice visitors pull down face coverings or remove them for a snapshot beneath the spires of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Each time, a cast member materialises like a masked ninja to politely remind offenders about the rules. In addition, official attraction and ride photos are withheld if anyone in shot isn’t fully masked.
Eating out is definitely “in”. Restaurants have reduced seating capacity, so takeaway options are actively promoted to encourage guests to eat al fresco around the parks’ impeccably tended gardens. Buffet restaurants have adopted an all-you-can-eat table service offering instead.
Daily experiences likely to draw big crowds have been suspended, including the Disney Stars On Parade procession and Disney Illuminations. And a warm hug from a favourite character at the meet-and-greets is also no longer possible. In response, the resort has introduced “Selfie Spots” where visitors can take a few pictures on their own device with beloved figures from the Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel universes.
Donald Duck is in fine form when I strike a pose at a safe distance. Unbridled joy glistens in my eyes. The magic of the resort seems to have natural immunity from the sobering reality of the outside world.
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