- I recently visited Hong Kong Disneyland with a group of friends.
- Despite the relative lack of COVID-19 precautions I observed from Disney, I still felt safe.
- Hong Kong itself provided the feeling of safety, as it hasn't had case numbers as high as elsewhere.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
This story is part of our inside look at how Disney has dealt with COVID-19. Read the other stories in the series here.
When my friends and I recently stepped off the train at Disneyland in Hong Kong, I wondered how the magic would be changed by the inescapable reality of COVID-19. From temperature-screening tents at the entrance to signage reminding guests to socially distance, I assumed this visit was going to be unlike any other.
What I soon realized, however, was that the park's safety measures weren't going to be very intrusive – or even very good. The ultimate comfort wouldn't come from Disney but from Hong Kong itself, where rates of the virus have been comparatively low.
Since COVID-19 first arrived in the territory in January last year, 11,771 cases and 209 deaths have been reported as of this writing. By contrast, London, a city with a similarly sized population, has seen more than 700,000 cases and more than 14,000 deaths since last February.
While a theme park reopening in the midst of a pandemic may be an unnerving prospect in some countries, Hong Kong's relative success meant my friends and I were able to enjoy our day with few worries.
It was virtually impossible to socially distance
On the day we visited, we were funnelled through the temperature-screening tent. Afterward, we picked up our tickets, which were booked online and assigned to a particular day. In order to book tickets, we had to complete a declaration of health and leave our contact details in the event of a cluster of cases – a protocol usually reserved for guests entering restaurants, bars, or other indoor venues in the city.
We thought we were being smart by visiting on a Monday and hoped for a quieter experience, but half of Hong Kong seemingly had the same idea. The crowds were huge, and it looked no different to my visit in 2019, save for the face masks.
It felt like Main Street was bustling with hundreds of people. There were a few signs encouraging social distancing at the entrance, but the sheer number of guests made it almost impossible to comply. This likely would have been an uncomfortable sight in many other cities, but Hong Kong reported just one new case of COVID-19 the day before.
In contrast to Florida's parks – where audio messages reminding people to follow guidelines play on loudspeakers and signs reminding people of the new rules are everywhere – I didn't notice that in Hong Kong.
Costumed cast members were also out and about, but since meet and greets have been suspended, they were in cordoned-off areas and waved at guests who stood a safe distance away. (According to Disney, all cast members are tested for COVID-19 once every 14 days, as required by government regulations.)
There seemed to be fewer precautions on rides than at Florida's Disney World
Despite many attractions operating at reduced capacity, the line times were reasonable. We waited roughly 30 minutes for most rides, and only one had a wait of more than one hour.
Very little had changed other than the closure of the Fast Pass system. There were hand-sanitizer dispensers at the start of every line, but the social-distancing reminders on the ground were, ironically, covered by tightly packed crowds who weren't social distancing.
Still, the staff did a great job of tactically spreading guests out across the passenger cars. Many of the seats were blocked off entirely and separate groups were never mixed together – a change I wouldn't mind staying after the pandemic, so long as wait times remain tolerable.
Unlike in the US parks, where plexiglass screens between rows make it difficult to see the attraction, Hong Kong had no such dividers. For a period of time, Disney World experimented with editing masks onto barefaced guests on in-ride photos. Thankfully, such bizarre measures were never necessary in Hong Kong since mask-wearing became pretty much universal as soon as the virus reached the city.
High-touch locations such as railings and turnstiles were supposed to get cleaned more frequently, but I didn't see this happening with my own eyes.
I wasn't worried, but I was surprised by just how little Disney had done to make queueing safer. I would have had serious concerns had I not been in a part of the world with relatively low transmission rates.
The most noticeable difference was in the dining
Insider's Tarah Chieffi visited Florida's Disney World in September 2020 and found that some of the dining locations in the park were closed, but this wasn't the case in Hong Kong.
All dining locations were open, but half of the tables had been blocked off to comply with regulations. This, combined with the lack of a reservation system for most restaurants, meant big lines formed outside. We spent a decent amount of time finding a place to eat that didn't involve a long wait.
We ended up waiting around 20 minutes outside the Explorer's Club Restaurant before being seated. We didn't realize tables were assigned, so when we accidentally tried to sit at a table of our choosing, we were frantically ushered to another by a cast member. All meals were shielded with a plastic cover, and cutlery was prepackaged.
Unlike Disney World, eating is still permitted when walking around the park, and there was no plexiglass separating guests from members of staff in shops or restaurants.
The pandemic didn't take away from the Disney experience
Despite feeling safe anywhere I go in Hong Kong, I thought Disney would have done more to provide peace of mind for guests. Still, while Insider's Daryl Austin said the magic was missing from Disney World in Florida, I can't say the same for my experience.
Some changes have been made to dining and ride experiences, and some of the staple experiences – fireworks displays and parades, for instance – have been suspended, but that didn't detract from what turned out to be a great day.
Friends and family living in the UK, where I'm normally based, have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. I appreciated how lucky I was to be able to experience Disney when I did, and without worrying for my safety.