Last March Walt Disney World Resort closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Disney fans cancelled their vacations. Now that the gates have reopened, many are unsure of whether to pack their bags or stay home in isolation. Fortunately, Disney experts like Lou Mongello are stepping up to help.
Mongello is an author, entrepreneur and host of the WDW Radio podcast, a show that discusses all things Disney, which has 600 episodes and thousands of listeners. In his previous career, Mongello was an attorney, but now he spends his time talking about Disney. “I consider myself so fortunate and so lucky, and so blessed to be able to do what I do and share it with other people,” says Mongello.
As for whether or not to visit the Disney parks, Mongello quotes Disneyland’s Carousel of Progress theme song. “Now is the time. Now is the best time.”
Due to the lowered guest capacity, Mongello says it feels like he has Walt Disney World all to himself, and he is seeing the resort in a new light. “The sounds are louder. The colors are brighter,” says Mongello.
In fact, the long lines to which guests are accustomed are absent from the Disney experience. Mongello was thrilled to walk immediately on to Flight of Passage, an attraction that often has wait times exceeding an hour or two. “You know, those are the kinds of things you dream about as a Walt Disney World guest,” says Mongello.
Of course, Mongello understands the concerns many have about returning to the Disney resort. “The fear and the trepidation is legitimate,” says Mongello. That is why he is virtually taking Disney fans back into the park.
“I did a lot of Facebook Live from the parks, not just to bring the experience to people who couldn't be here, but I want you to be able to see unfiltered, unedited – completely authentic – exactly what the experience is like as a guest, so that you can judge for yourself.”
One of Disney’s priorities is safety, and thus, as guests navigate the parks, they are asked to stay physically distanced and are required to wear face coverings. Disney staff have also set up multiple hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations. Because of these new policies and procedures, Mongello feels safe.
“I feel safer at Walt Disney World then I do anywhere else I've been, whether it's a home renovation store, my grocery store, a restaurant,” says Mongello. “It's an incredibly coordinated and orchestrated group effort between cast members.”
And according to Mongello, guests are joining in on the safety effort by following the guidelines. “The guests are doing their part, too,” says Mongello. “Everybody's wearing the face coverings. Everybody’s staying physically distanced.”
Although a trip to the self-proclaimed “happiest place on Earth” may be a welcomed respite for families who have spent several weeks in quarantine, Mongello does caution that a Disney vacation will be different from what guests have previously experienced.
For example, instead of one-on-one character meet and greets, guests can only view characters from a distance. But because of the smaller crowds and better vantage points, Mongello says it feels as though the characters are more interactive. “I am convinced that Belle was waving only at me,” says Mongello. “If you're at Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s stepsisters are up on the castle talking to you, and they're waving and conversing with you. And it's happening in all of the parks.”
Those thinking of visiting Walt Disney World also have to purchase tickets in advance. Even as a local, Mongello cannot pop into the parks for dinner and fireworks on a whim. He says, “There is a little bit more planning that does have to take place.”
Guests also benefit from having a smart phone during their visit. Mongello explains that the Disney World application is essential in planning your Disney trip but that the app is user friendly. “Your mobile device is becoming much more of an integral part of your experience,” says Mongello. “If you do run into a problem, there are cast members there throughout the parks to help you along the way.”
It is likely the perks of visiting Walt Disney World in its current state will not last forever, but as for the future of the parks, Mongello is hesitant to make any guesses. “The last few months have told us predictions are a very tricky thing,” says Mongello.
Inevitably, some Disney fans will wait until the pandemic has passed before returning to Walt Disney World, but for those who weigh the risks and visit the resort, Mongellos says, “There is lemonade to be made from lemons.”