Please Remain Seated: This Month in Theme Park News (October 2020)

Parade at Disney's Magic Kingdom During COVID-19 Pandemic
Photo: Disney
Photo: Tarah Chieffi

That masked-up photo of my husband and me with Alice can only mean one thing: I went to Walt Disney World. This was our first visit since Disney reopened in mid-July and we chose to leave the kids at home so we could assess the situation before adding them into the mix.

We wanted to feel out the crowds and the new procedures to determine how well our kids would adhere to the rules. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t different than previous visits, but after spending a few days at the parks, we are already planning a trip with the kids later this year. We even made matching Mickey tie-dye shirts to wear!

Full disclosure: we are planning on leaving the baby with grandma and just bringing our two older boys who are 4 and 7. That way we won’t be outnumbered and can more easily focus on keeping everyone safe and happy. We won’t tell the baby how much fun we had if you don’t, OK?

In the News 

Now that I’ve sworn you to secrecy, let’s get into September’s news.

Disney World’s Dining and Entertainment Options Are Growing

Photo: Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World

Many Disney World restaurants, experiences, and entertainment did not immediately reopen with the park. Popular shows like the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and add-on experiences like Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique remain closed, but certain Disney experiences are returning.

As of September 24, Cinderella’s Royal Table began welcoming diners back inside Cinderella Castle. Cindy herself has been holding court in the restaurant, albeit from a safe distance. Also back is Minnie’s Halloween Dine at Hollywood Studios’ Hollywood and Vine restaurant, where Mickey, Minnie, and friends stroll through the room in their spookiest costumes while you eat.

Savi’s Workshop, the Galaxy’s Edge shop where guests can build their own lightsabers, recently reopened as well, and beginning October 5, visitors at Hollywood Studios can relive their favorite Frozen tunes at For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration.

Halloween Is Back, Baby

Photo: Universal Orlando Resort

In last month’s column, we briefly discussed what’s in store for Halloween at the major U.S. theme parks. Since then, most have added even more tricks and treats to their Halloween lineup (and Disney’s already prepping for the holidays, but we’ll get to that next month).

LEGOLAND Florida’s Brick-or-Treat runs every Saturday and Sunday through Halloween, with trick-or-treating, dressed-up LEGO characters, and more. SeaWorld Orlando is celebrating October weekends with a SeaWorld Spooktacular and a drive-in movie experience called Flicks & Frights

In Ohio, Cedar Point is celebrating with seasonal food, activities, entertainment, and trick-or-treating. Also in Ohio, Kings Island is swapping their Halloween Haunt event (which will return next year) for a family-friendly Fall Fest.

In California, Knott’s Berry Farm is offering a modified Halloween food event called Taste of Fall-O-Ween, SeaWorld San Diego is having their own Halloween Spooktakular, and LEGOLAND California is celebrating Halloween in Miniland.

Walt Disney World is celebrating through October 31 with themed treats at all four theme parks, costumed characters, entertainment, and decor at Magic Kingdom, and the aforementioned Minnie’s Halloween Dine. There’s also lots of at-home fun to keep the Halloween spirit alive.

Universal Orlando (which had previously canceled their annual Halloween Horror Nights) surprised spooky season fans with a full month of fiendish fun. From October 3 through November 1, Universal is opening up two of its haunted houses during regular park hours.  These are strongly recommended for visitors ages 13 and up, but guests of all ages can wear costumes, take part in a scarecrow scavenger hunt, and visit the immersive Tribute Store (psst… they have Halloween snacks in here, too). Kids 12 and under can also trick-or-treat at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

A New Breed of Coaster is Coming to Universal Orlando

Photo: Universal Orlando Resort

It’s hard to hide a 155-foot-tall coaster, but Universal sure did try. Though the coaster has been under construction for more than a year, the park only announced the name and details of the coaster in late September. The Jurassic World VelociCoaster will be Florida’s fastest and tallest launch coaster when it opens in summer 2021 (and I’m already predicting it’ll overtake Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure as my favorite Central Florida coaster).  I’ll share more details as they are released.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Photo: Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort

Although Walt Disney World has been open since July, Disneyland remains closed. California Governor Gavin Newsom has been much more reserved in reopening the state’s economy than what we’ve seen from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and he has yet to issue the guidelines that California theme parks need in order to reopen. According to the OC Register, those guidelines could be coming any day now so there may be a plan in place by the time you read this.

Making the divide between Disney’s east coast and west coast parks even more stark was this week’s announcement from DeSantis that Florida was moving into Phase 3 of reopening. That means bars and restaurants can operate at full capacity and people can no longer be penalized for not wearing a mask in public. 

This doesn’t mean Disney, Universal, and other Florida theme parks will be returning to business as usual just yet. According to ABC Action News in Tampa, Disney World issued a statement saying they are evaluating the governor’s guidelines, but are making no immediate changes. Face coverings, temperature checks, and social distancing are sticking around until Disney says otherwise.

The Themed Entertainment Industry is Suffering, But You Can Help

Photo: Disney

With the exception of Disneyland, every Disney park worldwide has reopened. Even so, with capacity limits in place and many people understandably not ready to travel, the Walt Disney Company is losing massive amounts of money. As a result, Disney recently announced widespread layoffs, affecting approximately 28,000 domestic employees. The hit this pandemic has taken on our economy extends far beyond Disney’s gates, but anyone who has visited a Disney park knows it is the Cast Members who make Disney so special. 

If a Disney Cast Member has touched your life in some way, there are ways you can say “thank you,” even if it isn’t in person. The Disney news site has an excellent resource detailing the layoffs and how you can support Cast Members in need.

Tale as Old as Time Comes to Tokyo

Photo: Tokyo Disneyland

On September 28, Tokyo Disneyland unveiled its largest expansion since the park opened in 1983. There’s a few fun new experiences, but I’m most enchanted with the Beauty and the Beast Castle, which houses the new Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast attraction. I’m not planning a trip to Tokyo anytime soon so I let this ride-through video from Attractions Magazine spoil the whole dang thing for me and I was practically in tears.

Tips for Your Trips

Photo: Universal Orlando Resort

Whether you’re ready to travel now or later, most theme parks are offering some heavily discounted ticket and hotel packages to incentivize you to visit. Universal has a “Buy Two Days, Get Three Days Free” promotion that can be used as late as August 31, 2021 and hotel prices start at only $79 per night. Disney is offering savings of up to $500 on four-day, four-night room-and-ticket packages for stays through December 25, 2020. 

If you’re considering a trip, but aren’t quite sure how to make it work with virtual school in the mix, some Orlando resorts are even offering “schoolcation” deals. The Four Seasons Resort Orlando will supervise your kids while they work, and Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek’s “Back to School, Back to Your Bucket List” package comes with school supplies for students and noise canceling headphones for parents.

Just Desserts

Photo: Tarah Chieffi

I’ve been wanting to become a permanent resident of the Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store at Universal Orlando since it opened. When I was in Florida a few weeks ago, I finally had a chance to check it out and sample the tasty treats they had on display.

Tastewise, you can’t go wrong, but you really do have to see them in person to get the full effect. Most of them give off an eerie glow under the store’s blacklights and there are heart-shaped gummies that actually appear to be beating. 

Photo: Disney

If you aren’t planning a theme park vacation anytime soon, Disney and Universal continue to release fan-favorite recipes families can enjoy from home. Disney recently shared the recipe for a Warm Chocolate Cake with Molten Raspberry-Caramel Center, which can be found at Topolino’s Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort when you are on property, and Universal is feeding us at least a tidbit of Halloween Horror Nights by sharing the popular recipe for Fried PB&J With Bananas Sandwich

That’s our ride, folks. See you next month!

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Tarah Chieffi
Tarah Chieffi is a theme park and family travel journalist who discovered her words were best used to help travelers plan fun-filled family vacations. When she isn't eating theme park food and riding roller coasters, she can be found cycling wherever her bike will take her, tucked under the covers with a good book, or planning her next adventure with her husband and three sons.