At some point, you’ll be stepping back inside a Disney park again. When you do, however, things are going to be a lot different than what you remember. In fact, there are a ton of new changes now in Walt Disney World, including new guidelines that guests now have to follow.
What are those changes in Disney World? How long will these new guidelines be in place? When will Disney World go back to normal?
Things will not just go back to the way they were, at least not for a while. It’s going to take some time and a lot of patience from guests and Cast Members alike.
In this post, we are going to go over all the changes you will see the next time you visit the parks. Some of these include wearing face masks, guest distancing, and new ways of getting in line for attractions.
(UPDATE): Walt Disney World has removed the face mask requirement for fully vaccinated guests and they can go mask-free anywhere on Disney World property. Now only non-vaccinated guests are required to wear a face mask indoors. Read more below in the News section of this post.
Right now, Disney World executives have taken these new safety measures and guidelines and implemented them in the U.S. domestic Disney parks, and all around the world like in Tokyo Disneyland, Shanghai Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris.
Given the current situation, the health and wellbeing of your family is no doubt on your mind. Since Disney World has reopened, you may even ask yourself: “Is Disney World still safe?”
To help you imagine what a future trip could look like, we’ve come up with this list of changes that are now in place at Disney World, and ones we might see in the near future. Most of them are already in the parks and a few of them are just suggestions for now.
By knowing what changes to expect, it will help you plan for your upcoming trip, or even help you decide if you want to take one given the circumstances.
Before we get started, we suggest consulting our Walt Disney World Reopening Guide. That will give you updates on what is happening from now through the rest of 2021 and beyond.
Also, if you want to be notified when the Disney Parks make guideline changes and get other updates, don’t forget to sign up for our FREE Weekly E-Mail Newsletter. You can sign up here: Join our E-Mail Newsletter!
(NEWS) Walt Disney World Removes Face Mask Rule for Vaccnated Guests
Walt Disney World has updated its face covering policy once again and is now removing the face mask rule for all fully vaccinated guests. That means if you are fully vaccinated wearing a face mask is completely optional at Disney World both indoors and outdoors.
Non-vaccinated guests on the other hand still must wear a face mask when indoors at all times including in queues and while on attractions.
The only exception to removing the face mask requirement for vaccinated guests is while on Disney transportation (buses, monorails, etc). When using Disney transportation, ALL guests must wear a face covering, regardless of vaccination status.
The new change goes into effect starting February 17, 2022.
You can read more about it in our Walt Disney World Face Mask Guide and down below in this post.
(NEWS) Disney Eliminates Social Distancing in the Theme Parks
More and more safety guidelines are being loosened by the day in Walt Disney World, and today we have yet another one. Disney is relaxing the physical distancing requirement and removing ground markers in most places.
This change is taking place in both indoor and outdoor settings, in theme parks, and the resorts. Over the last few months, we’ve seen Disney slowly remove the ground markers in the attraction queues and shops.
Disney also recently reduced the physical distancing recommendation from 6 feet to 3 feet, and it doesn’t look like they will be enforcing this much moving forward.
The 6-foot social distancing requirement will remain in place in some areas like while dining.
They also mentioned that characters are still not able to have any physical contact with guests, but that could be changing soon.
Disney released a statement about the new changes to the physical distancing rule:
“We will be relaxing physical distancing guidelines for Guests. This will be visible in places like queues, shops, restaurants, attraction boarding, transportation and our theaters. It’s important to remember that some experiences and entertainment may still be operating with limited capacity or may remain temporarily unavailable. We’re not quite ready to bring back everything yet, but we are optimistic and look forward to the day when Disney pals and princesses are able to hug once again.”
This change is already in effect and Disney will continue removing all the ground markers in the queues.
This is only one of the many safety changes currently happening in Walt Disney World, keep reading this article for more info on the temperature checks and face mask changes. Stay tuned for more soon.
(NEWS) Bob Chapek Confirms Park Pass Reservations & Virtual Queues to Stay in Parks
If you’ve been in the theme parks recently or have been watching online, you can tell there are a lot of new safety protocols and guidelines in place. Since July 2020 we’ve been wondering how long these guidelines will remain at Disney World, and now we may have an answer.
During an interview at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media, and Communications Conference, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek, confirmed that the Disney Parks will continue to use the new Park Pass Reservations system and Virtual Queues for attractions even after the pandemic is over.
From its research, Disney has decided that the Virtual Queues and Park Passes are both useful to the company and help improve the guest experience.
Both systems have been highly contested by guests with some in favor and some against their continued use. Many were hoping they would only be used until things get back to normal, but this is now the second time Bob Chapek has confirmed they will continue to be a park of the park experience.
As for the current safety guidelines, they will remain in place through most of 2021. Chapek mentioned that we should see the full benefits of the relaxation of guidelines closer to the end of Q4, around September. By then we may see things like the face mask policy completely disappear from the parks.
Disney doesn’t have the only say in the matter when it comes to relaxing safety guidelines. The process has been slowed by OSHA guidelines protecting the thousands of cast members.
Disney is not expecting to need these new guidelines for most of 2022, which would mean returning to a “normal” theme park experience at some point during the year.
This is great news and something that should be encouraging to guests if they are thinking about taking a trip to Disney World later this year.
Chapek also confirmed that theme park capacity is increasing and they expect to see a “double-digit increase” over the next couple of months. When the parks opened in July they were capped at 25% capacity and were then increased to 35% and higher since.
We’ll keep an eye on this and let you know as soon as we have more.
In order to get the theme parks reopened, Disney helped create new guidelines on 2 economic recovery task groups in Florida and 1 in California.
Former Disney CEO Bob Iger, Walt Disney World President Josh D’Amaro, and Senior VP Thomas Mazloum each headed up those groups along with the brightest business minds, health experts, and government officials from each area.
From the meetings with these task forces, Disney World laid out their official reopening safety guidelines and explained how the parks would run after reopening them. Obviously, if things evolve, Disney is going to continue cooperating with whatever guidelines the authorities are recommending, and will try as many ways as possible to protect Cast Members and park guests.
Much is based on distancing guests from one another. Disney can’t have big groups of people close together like what normally happens in the parks. These changes help guests keep their distance from each other, therefore limiting the spreading of germs as much as possible.
Since Walt Disney World reopened in 2020, we have an official list of guidelines.
Here are all the changes you will see in Disney World and what is listed on their official announcements and guidelines list. They include:
- Phased Park Openings
- Requiring Face Masks (for non-vaccinated guests)
- Limited Park Capacity
- Distancing between guests (this has been relaxed)
- Distanced Ride Queues (this has been relaxed)
- Limiting attraction availability and capacity
- Limiting entertainment options
- No Character Meets
These changes and safety precautions are required at the Disney World theme parks, hotels, restaurants, and shopping areas, which we saw first in Disney Springs.
Here is the official Disney Springs safety guidelines poster:
Disney has also released charts with all the new safety protocols on them. As Disney makes more announcements or changes we will let you know the up-to-date rules.
The Health and Safety Protocols are broken down into five categories:
- Enhanced Protective Measures
- Physical Distancing
- Enhanced Cleaning/Santization
- Limited-Contact Enhancements
Here you can see those in greater detail and just what’s involved:
Before You Go
The changes in Walt Disney World and Disneyland start before you even get to the parks. That means a big change in how we plan for going to the parks and when we can go.
The first change is a phased reopening of Walt Disney World. The company is slowly opening the various areas of the resort (theme parks, hotels, etc) in phases and not all at the same time.
The theme parks reopened in phases, opening 2 at a time starting with:
- Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, 2020.
- EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 15, 2020.
Since then both of the Walt Disney World Water Parks have reopened (though only one is operating at a time) and most hotels, restaurants, and shops have also reopened. The remaining few mostly all have reopening dates. They will continue to open all these locations as the weeks and months go on.
This makes sense as demand has been improving over the last months and things are slowly getting back to normal.
Still, things take time and it doesn’t make sense to open everything all at once until it gets back to normal again. The smartest thing to do is to offer enough to cover the demand at each price level and slowly open more as the demand grows.
Disney is also limiting the number of guests they allow into the parks each day. When the parks reopened in July 2020, capacity was limited to 25% of the normal attendance. Disney decided that was enough to enforce the distancing rules.
The last time actual numbers were mentioned, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that the Disney World theme parks have increased to more than 35% capacity, though they haven’t revealed just what the current number is.
This announcement was made about a year ago, and after spending lots of time in the parks and seeing longer lines at practically all attractions, we think the real capacity is much higher.
Disney’s plan is to slowly increase capacity until they reach the limit of what they can realistically support and still follow the guidelines. Even Chapek said they probably won’t reach 100% while this crisis is still going on, but they can get close to that if everyone cooperates and follows the rules.
Limiting capacity is exactly what we saw in Shanghai Disneyland. There is was 30% at first and then moved up incrementally after that.
Making Reservations for the Theme Parks
Another big change is making reservations mandatory to have access to the theme parks. In Walt Disney World, guests cannot just show up to the parks when they want to but must make reservations first.
This is a way to control how many people are in the park each day and makes it easier for Disney staff to prepare the infrastructure and keep to the guidelines.
Reservations can be made online with a calendar-based system that shows which days have availability still and which ones don’t.
All Disney guests must make park pass reservations, including Disney World Annual Passholders, though no extra tickets must be purchased. Passholders are limited to holding only 3 reservations at once, and guests can only go to one park per day. Park-Hopping is now allowed once again.
Guests staying in the Walt Disney World Resort hotels have priority access to the parks and an easier time making reservations. This will keep attendance low and stimulate hotel room bookings from locals who are anxious to have a 2 or 3-day getaway.
Read our Guide to Making Disney Parks Reservations to see how exactly everything works.
Arriving at the Parks
Once all your plans are made and you arrive at Walt Disney World, there are some more safety measures you will find. The way guests enter the theme parks, for example, is very different, and might even take a bit longer to go through.
Temperature Checks (No Longer In Use)
Temperature screening while entering the parks and table service restaurants in Disney World Resort hotels is mandatory for both Cast Members and guests. This is standard and we’ve seen similar procedures happening in all Disney parks worldwide.
- Anyone with a temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit is not allowed entrance. This goes for guests and Cast Members alike.
- If ANYONE in your party has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, the ENTIRE PARTY will not be given entrance to the park or restaurant either.
- On Transportation – Temperature screening is required before getting on some forms of transportation, like the monorail and ferries heading to the Magic Kingdom.
Disney executives were talking about temperature screening for the parks months before the parks opened, including former Disney CEO Bob Iger and Disney Chief medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel.
This has been relatively easy to implement as trained AdventHealth representatives take your temperature with a no-touch reader on your forehead. The whole process sounds hard, but it only takes seconds to do.
Shanghai Disneyland is a bit different as they have thermal readers in a tent and as you walk by they scan you without you even having to stop.
While it’s not a perfect system, combined with all the other new safety measures it can be effective.
Face masks are also on Disney World’s list of required safety measures and are required in the parks, hotels and almost any other public space guests can go. The face covering policy has been greatly modified however and is now more lenient.
Face masks are required for Cast Members and all Unvaccinated Guests ages 2 and above.
The face mask policy has been removed for fully vaccinated guests, and face masks are 100% optional anywhere on Walt Disney World property.
There are a few places in Disney World, however, where unvaccinated guests don’t have to wear a face mask. They are:
- In all Outdoor Areas
- While Dining
This has recently changed as before both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests had to wear face coverings in all indoor areas, and originally, in outdoor areas too. Now with this change, snacking your way around World Showcase is a lot easier.
Right now both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests have differing amounts of freedom at Walt Disney World with unvaccinated guests required to wear a face covering indoors and on all indoor attractions,
The only place where both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests still are required to wear a face mask is on Disney transportation such as the monorail, buses, and Disney Skyliner.
Guests are NOT provided with face masks, so you need to bring your own to the parks. If you forget yours, disposable face mask vending machines are located outside the park entrances. Once inside the parks, you can always buy some of the Disney-themed ones.
Read more about Face Masks in Disney World in our recent post explaining it more.
Fingerprint Scanning/Facial Recognition
Right now, the fingerprint readers located at the tapstiles at the park entrances have been re-enabled. This means we are going back to the pervious system.
Before the closure of the Disney World parks in March 2020, fingerprint readers were used for years as a way to link guests and their theme park tickets together, verifying proper admission. Guests must once again place their finger on a reader to confirm their identity before entering the Disney World theme parks.
At the start of the reopening in July 2020, fingerprint readers at the park entrances were temporarily disabled in order to help limit the spread of germs between guests. Disney instead started scanning guests with MagicBand readers or tablets to verify tickets.
Disney also tested the same facial recognition system they have been testing and you now see it in many airport terminals, though they have stopped, at least for the time being.
General Health & Safety
Cleanliness is at the forefront of everyone’s mind these days, and Disney is doing their best to make sure the parks are kept as clean and sanitized as possible to increase guest safety.
Cast Member Training
Training the Disney Cast Members is probably the most important step in keeping guests safe. Implementing all these new changes and guidelines without properly training the Cast Members on how to put them in practice or making sure guests are adhering to them, would not work very well.
It takes a long time to get Cast Members trained and up-to-speed with all the new procedures and this is one reason why the parks took so long to get back open and continue to open in phases.
Disney is spending lots of time to make sure the Cast Members know how to handle all the new protocols, making things go a lot smoother when guests start showing up.
Sanitization of Areas
Even before Disney World closed, we saw an increased emphasis on cleaning and sanitization around all public areas. Things that are “high touch” areas are now sanitized with even more regularity.
Door knobs, handles, buttons, counters, handrails, etc, all get significant attention to keep the germs down. To help with sanitization, Disney is increasing the number of cleaning staff throughout the resort.
Increased Signage throughout the Parks
Increased signage has been installed throughout the parks along the walkways, and at the restaurants and attractions. Here is what some of the safety protocol signage looks like:
The signs are easy to read and understand and guests shouldn’t have a hard time identifying the rules they need to follow.
It’s not only the Cast Members’ job to sanitize, but also the guests’ responsibility. Hand washing after all is one of the most important ways to limit infection according to the CDC.
Disney has made this easy by installing many hand washing and sanitizing stations around the parks. They are very visible and have easy access, being located in many areas.
Some of these stations just have Purell hand sanitizer, while others are full washing stations. They are commonly found at the entrances and inside restaurants, attractions, and shops. Expect to see many more of both kinds pop up in Walt Disney World, along with bottles of hand sanitizers on counters.
Read more about Hand Sanitizer and Washing Stations in Disney World in our guide and see how you can locate them with My Disney Experience.
We’ve already seen some of the new guidelines regarding general safety around the park, but what about the attractions? Big changes have been made here too.
Limited Attractions & Capacity
The first step Disney is taking is to limit the attractions available and their ride capacity. Some attractions keep you in close quarters with other guests so these might continue to be closed for a while. All attractions have seen the hourly number of riders reduced to keep distancing measures in place.
Only the attractions/shows that can be adapted to fit the spacing needs of the guests are currently allowed to run. Read the Full List of Disney World Attractions & Entertainment available after reopening.
This has worked well so far, but it depends on the number of people that actually show up to the parks while they are running like this. Even if you have half capacity as normal, greatly reducing the number of people that can ride each hour might increase wait times.
(Update) – Disney has changed their minds about this multiple times, but as of now, Disney World is using the Virtual Queue system in Walt Disney World after the reopening, though not as much as originally thought.
The Virtual Queue is important because ride queues are one of the worst places to be for spreading germs since you are in a tight, closed area with people all around. One way to help is to use the virtual queues and boarding groups. Yeah, that’s right, “Virtual Queues,” as in multiple ones.
The way it works is guests reserve a spot in the queue using the My Disney Experience app, which then notifies them when it’s their turn in line. At that point, they start walking toward the attraction and get in the physical queue.
I’ve been a big supporter of the Virtual Queue ever since Disney started using it and I think it’s a big time-saver for guests. They can go off and explore the park, grab something to eat, and not have to wait hours in line.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened up in Disneyland using it, and Rise of the Resistance has been using boarding groups and the virtual queue for months now, so the infrastructure is already in place.
Once Disney started using it, I predicted that it would slowly get worked into other attractions outside of Galaxy’s Edge too. This has already started happening more in Disneyland with multiple rides now using it including Indiana Jones Adventure and the new WEB SLINGERS ride.
Will we start seeing more, if not all Disney World attractions using the Virtual Queue very soon? We’ll have to see what Disney decides to do as the weeks and months go on.
Queue Distancing (No Longer in Use)
What about when it’s your time to get in line? When the theme parks reopened, Disney needed to make sure guests followed safety guidelines from the health experts and kept them far enough apart in the attraction queues, security checkpoints, and park turnstiles.
Disney placed tape or markers on the ground indicating where you should and shouldn’t stand. These markers were distanced apart between 3-6 feet, which is enough to keep a healthy distance between guests while standing in the queues.
Remember, queue distancing is not just for attractions, but also for shops and restaurants too. Anywhere you normally stand in line, expect to find these markers on the ground telling you where to stand.
UPDATE: With Disney recently eliminating physical distancing guidelines they have removed all the markers in the queues and things are going back to normal.
The attraction pre-shows were a problem because you have lots of people standing together in a small room. Think of a pre-show like you find in the Tower of Terror or Flight of Passage and how small they are. The pre-shows then either need to have a much smaller number of people in them or skip them altogether.
Originally, on many attractions, Disney was skipping the pre-shows. This was the case on the Haunted Mansion where guests just walked through the stretching room without stopping for the usual show.
However, this has changed and almost all pre-shows are now back including, Dinosaur, Flight of Passage, Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and more.
In the Ride Vehicles
Distancing has also been enforced on the ride vehicles themselves. On larger vehicles like the one for Dinosaur or Pirates of the Caribbean, whole rows are skipped and remain empty, allowing for space between guests.
In some smaller vehicles like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, you are only allowed to ride with members of your travel group.
(UPDATE) Again, Disney has been slowly changing the guidelines here and most all attractions are back to loading ride vehicles at full capacity once again. This has helped reduce wait times.
Sanitizing Ride Vehicles
Since guests are touching and getting in and out of the same ride vehicles as each other, Disney has made a concentrated effort to sanitize ride vehicles as often as possible.
It isn’t feasible between each and every guest, especially on omnimover rides like the PeopleMover, as you can’t stop each car to clean it when someone gets off. In any case, Disney has increased the frequency cleaning of ride vehicles to multiple times per day.
Hand Sanitizer After the Rides
Another thing that’s helped with hygiene is putting hand sanitizer before and after the rides. Most of the time at the end of the queue before you get on the vehicles and near the exit when you get off, you will see hand sanitizer. That way everyone has a chance to disinfect their hands after touching the ride vehicle.
Changes to the entertainment offerings in Disney World were inevitable when trying to keep park guests out of crowded spaces. Things like nighttime spectaculars, fireworks, stage shows, parades, and character meets are all areas where germs can spread easily.
Since Disney is putting guest safety first, some of these entertainment offerings have to be temporarily closed or highly modified to allow access for guests.
Because most shows are held indoors where guests need to crowd together to see them, they are not optimal to have in this new version of Disney World. We saw some shows closed down in the international parks before the full Disney World closure, and that has continued in the domestic parks too.
Some shows like “Finding Nemo – The Musical” and “Beauty & the Beast Live on Stage” are not currently running in the parks.
In the theaters and stage shows they have kept running like “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” or “MuppetVision 3D,” many of the rows of seats are blocked off, and there are big gaps of spaces between each guest.
It also makes more sense to keep the open-air shows open rather than the indoor ones, but this also depends on agreements with the entertainment labor unions.
The last problem is in fact the actors. Many of the shows require the performers to get close or touch each other which would put them at risk too. Some of the shows like The Festival of the Lion King have come back so we are seeing progress across Walt Disney World.
What’s a better way to finish out your day in the Magic Kingdom than standing in front of Cinderella Castle and taking in the fireworks show? Thankfully, fireworks are now back at the Disney World parks!
At the beginning of the reopening, since distancing was being enforced, you couldn’t have everyone gathering in front of the castle to see the fireworks in big groups. This definitely was a guideline that helped with distancing, but experiencing the Magic Kingdom though without Happily Ever After was a really sad thought.
Even though they are still fun, the parks just weren’t the same without a nighttime show. It’s a tradition to gather around World Showcase lagoon or in front of Cinderella Castle and watch the fireworks at the end of the night with your family.
In July however, the fireworks started again at the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT and should continue moving forward.
We go into this in more detail in our post on “When are fireworks coming back to Disney World?”
Since people need to maintain distance while in the parks, touching and hugging characters is off-limits. Because of this, there aren’t any character meets in the Disney World parks at this point.
Characters are still visible in the theme parks and walk around greeting people from a distance, they even have new processionals where they will walk through the parks. However, there are not any character meets where you can get your picture taken with them or get autographs signed.
This may change in the future, and as restrictions ease, it may be possible to get your picture taken while still not touching the characters. Of course, this will upset a lot of little kids hoping to meet their favorite character, but it’s what must be done at this time.
Disney “face characters” (Mary Poppins, Cinderella, Ariel, Disney Princesses, etc) in the parks will NOT be wearing masks so don’t expect to get a shot of Cinderella with her face covering on.
Read our post “When are Character Meets Coming Back to Disney World?” to see all the changes. Also, check out our Guide to Character Cavalcades in Disney World to see what alternative methods there are to find the characters in the parks.
As much as we love the parades, people crowded up together all along Main Stree U.S.A doesn’t exactly allow for much distance between guests. That is why Disney suspended parades for the first two years of the parks being reopened.
However, Disney has announced that the Festival of Fantasy Parade is coming back to the Magic Kingdom in March. This will be the first real parade Disney brings back.
One factor in keeping it out of the Magic Kingdom for so long is that it saved a ton of money not having to pay the performers all this time. (Don’t get me started on this one.)
The new guidelines aren’t only for walking around the parks and riding the attractions, dining in Disney World is also very different with many changes to the way guests enjoy a meal.
In the Disney Parks and Disney Springs, shops and restaurants have protective plastic barriers up at the cashier’s counter to help maintain a safe distance between the staff and guests.
A fantastic addition Disney started using in the parks a couple of years ago is the Mobile Ordering system. This allows guests to order their food from the My Disney Experience app and skip the lines in Quick Service dining locations.
Anything that helps people avoid lines will be useful and it will be highly encouraged for anyone who has a smartphone.
Check out our full guide to Mobile Ordering at Disney World to see exactly how to do it and some great tips to follow.
Disney also recently announced that you can order take-out from sit-down restaurants in Disney World with a new service called Table Service To Go. It’s essentially Mobile Ordering for table service restaurants and is great if you want a higher quality meal but don’t want to eat in a restaurant.
Just like the overall park attendance and ride capacities are lower than normal, so are the restaurant capacities. Tables are spaced out further from each other according to the CDC guidelines, making it impossible for Disney to fit as many people in each restaurant as they usually do.
For a while, Disney was even putting little cards on each table to indicate to guests which ones they could sit at and which ones they couldn’t. This was a good system, but they are no longer using it and dining rooms have gotten back up to almost 100% capacity.
If you can, we suggest eating at open-air tables whenever possible, though it can be difficult in the Florida heat in the Summer.
Reservations & Wait Times
Right now, advanced dining reservations in Disney World are mostly required for guests dining at sit-down restaurants. Reservations up to this point are a little harder to get with a lower dining capacity at each restaurant.
As Disney slowly increases hotel and park capacity and as people start to travel more, we have also seen restaurant capacity expand to offset the increase in guests.
Thankfully, Disney has come out with the Mobile Dine Waitlist which lets you see the stand-by wait times for each restaurant in case you don’t already have a reservation.
Mobile Dine Check-In
Disney has just released a new app through My Disney Experience which lets guests skip the traditional check-in when arriving at a table service restaurant, and go straight to the table.
Just open Disney’s Mobile Dine Check-In when you arrive at the restaurant and scan the QR code in the lobby. You will be notified through the app when your table is ready and which part of the restaurant it’s located in.
For more info, read our post on the Mobile Dine Check-In and see how it works.
We love getting unlimited plates of food at a Disney buffet as much as the next person, and now that is possible once again in Walt Disney World.
After being suspended for more than one year, Disney has brought back buffet-style restaurants.
This is a change as all buffet restaurants were either closed or forced to change the way they served guests. Up until this latest change, all restaurants that normally had buffets were turned into family-style meals like what is usually served at Ohana’ for example.
Restaurants have already started transitioning away from family-style and back to buffets with Boma the first to make the change. Disney has already announced more restaurants going back to buffet-style service in the near future.
Read our Disney World Dining Reopening Guide for more info.
Using cash as a form of payment is being discouraged in Disney World with an emphasis on touchless payment forms like credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, or mobile wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Pay.
In this way, the guest can simply swipe or scan their payment form without anything being touched by the cashier.
Character meals go hand-in-hand with buffets since many are one-in-the-same. Since there are not going to be any character meets, there also will not be any characters coming up to your table for a photo op for the time being.
The problem with character meals is that they don’t allow guests to keep a safe distance from the Cast Members and hugging them means passing germs on to other guests doing the same.
There are only a few character meals that are currently running in Disney World, such as The Garden Grill, Hollywood & Vine, and Breakfast at Topolino’s. The characters are there, but they keep their distance from guests and wave to everyone. These restaurants are big enough and there is enough space for characters to put on a show but keep a safe distance at the same time.
For a full look at how the dining experience has changed in Disney World, read our post on Disney World Restaurants During Reopening Phase.
Besides the traditional attractions and shows, there are some other experiences in Disney World that have to change or be closed for a while as part of these new safety measures. Anything that keeps guests too close to Cast Members or to each other is on the chopping block.
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques is a dream come true for your little princess, but a nightmare for distancing. Walt Disney World closed all these locations down very quickly and they will remain that way during the initial Disney World reopening.
The new health guidelines require guests to make as little contact as possible with Cast Members, but the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique certainly doesn’t allow for that to happen. It will remain closed for the time being.
Main Street Barber Shop
The Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street U.S.A is one of the coolest non-attraction experiences in the parks, but right now it is closed and will be for a while.
It’s true that many stylists and barbers are open across the country, but there is too much physical contact to make distancing possible here and Disney won’t take the risk.
Savi’s Workshop in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a definite “Wow” moment for any Star Wars fan visiting Disney World, but it will probably have to change to stay open. Guests are gathered together in a small room around a table where they build their own lightsabers.
Savi’s Workshop was closed for a while, but it’s now reopened and letting guests build their own lightsabers once again.
The number of guests that can experience Savi’s has been lowered to keep capacity down and allow guest distancing. The climax moment in the end when everyone lifts their lightsabers was more impactful before the changes, but it’s still nice to have it open and is better than nothing.
The Droid Depot is a similar situation and has guests shoulder-to-shoulder at building stations where they make their custom droids. Even so, the Droid Depot opened on July 15 when Hollywood Studios opened its doors.
Droid-building stations have been spaced out so guests can’t get too close and plexiglass dividers have also been installed between them. Capacity has been limited and fewer guests are being let into the building at a time.
At this time, tours have returned to Walt Disney World after being canceled for almost 2 years. However, right now, only some of the many tours are back and we are still waiting for the rest.
This has been a challenge for Disney over the past 2 years as they were trying to keep large groups from forming as much as possible. Down the line, we will see the rest of the tours return, but for now, it’s limited.
Listening devices would need to be thoroughly sanitized before guests can use them and they will have to keep a good distance between them.
Resort Hotel Changes
Once guests leave the parks, they will also find a myriad of changes and new safety guidelines to follow in the resort hotels. Resorts obviously have an even higher emphasis on cleaning and sanitization and “high traffic” areas will be cleaned on a regular basis.
- Not all the Walt Disney World Resort hotels are opening right away since there won’t be a need for all those rooms with lower overall attendance.
- The resorts are opening in different phases and right now there are openings scheduled from now through the rest of 2021, and some resorts are still without reopening dates.
Besides that, there are a few other resort-specific changes you should be aware of.
Avoiding guests assembling in the lobby of a hotel is a priority and because of that, Disney’s Online Check-In service is highly encouraged. This is a service that lets you check into your room and even go there, without ever having to stop by the front desk.
Your room number and virtual key are sent to your mobile device and you can open it directly. Hotel lobbies will still remain open but will have fewer guests in them because of this change. We love this feature and think it’s been a huge time saver when we’ve used it.
Guests visiting the resorts are still able to use the pools like normal. In fact, as with all outdoor locations, you aren’t required to wear a face covering.
This would be absurd and you can’t expect people to keep their faces covered while swimming or in the pool vicinity.
So far, other restrictions like a limited number of people in the pool at one time have not been required, but we’ll keep an eye on things and see if any other restrictions are added.
New housekeeping guidelines have also already been implemented by Disney to reduce exposure between the staff and guests.
All housekeeping members have received increased training on new cleaning measures and sanitization methods for each guest room. These include the best cleaning practices and how to clean around various amenities, luggage, etc.
All rooms will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before your arrival. Light cleaning will be offered every other day.
Before Your Arrival
- High-touch areas, like TV remotes and door handles
- Housekeeping tools will be cleaned between rooms
- Floors, which will be steam cleaned and vacuumed between Guests
Cleaning During Your Stay Optional
- DVC members will receive in-room cleaning on the 4th and 8th days of their stay.
- Guests can choose to decline in-room cleaning during their stay if they desire.
In-room cleaning services during your stay will consist of:
- Removal of trash and used towels
- Replenishment of towels and amenities throughout the room and bathroom
- Wiping and cleaning of the vanity and counter surfaces
- Vacuuming if needed
Disney has made some improvements to the hotel rooms including:
- Extra linens and towels wrapped in single-use packaging
- Individually wrapped glassware
- Double-cased pillows
- Additional items that have been cleaned and wrapped in single-use packaging
Read more about how staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel during the reopening phase is going to be different.
I know you’ve been crammed on a bus coming back from the theme parks with 80 other tired guests before, and have had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder until reaching your hotel. That cannot happen if Disney wants to put guest safety first.
There have been some big changes in order to keep them running with new guidelines for Disney World transportations like the Monorail, Buses, and the Disney Skyliner.
Just like in restaurants and on rides, expect to find some seats blocked off, forcing guests to keep distant. At times, overall capacity for transportation vehicles has been reduced for the monorail, Disney Skyliner, and buses with fewer people allowed per vehicle. At times they have even installed partitions separating the groups in each car.
Check out our post on Disney World Transportation after reopening to see how these changes have affected the already slow Disney transportation systems.
Event Cancelation or Date Changes
There are many large events held in Walt Disney World every year and many have either been canceled or highly modified in order to run. Some Disney World events that have been affected are:
- runDisney Races
- Epcot Festivals
- Sporting Events
- After Hours Events
In 2022, runDisney events are back including the Walt Disney World Marathon, Disney Princess Half-Marathon, and the Disney Wine and Dine Half-Marathon.
EPCOT festivals like the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival have returned and will be running in 2022 and beyond. It has been starting earlier every year since 2020, and will likely be earlier once again this year.
The Flower and Garden Festival and Festival of the Arts are back for 2022 are similar to the Food and Wine Festival.
Hard-ticketed events are now starting to return to Disney World including Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (Disney After Hours Boo Bash). The modified version of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has also been running (Disney Very Merriest Christmas After Hours Special Event).
Disney has also recently brought back the DVC Moonlight Magic events which we are super pumped about since we consider them the best after-hours events of the year.
H2O Glow Nights, Disney After Hours, and Disney Villains After Hours events, among others were all canceled in 2020 and have not come back yet. We are hopeful
Besides just the safety reasons, with fewer guests, it just doesn’t make sense from a profitability standpoint to keep the parks open for that late at night.
Festival of the Holidays ran in EPCOT this past November and December, and it was back to the full version and not a reduced one like it was for a time.
The ESPN Wide World of Sports is off-limits to guests and not running any cheerleading or dance competitions.
When Will Disney World Go Back to Normal?
These are a lot of changes that have happened at Disney World and it has taken a while for guests to get used to them. I say “get used to them” because we don’t know how long these extra safety measures are going to be in place and when things will return to normal.
At this point that most of these guidelines have been loosened quite a bit in the last year or so, and they could continue to loosen throughout the rest of 2022. Social distancing is a thing of the past and face masks are only required for non-vaccinated guests which is a huge step forward.
Disney is planning on using the park reservation system well into 2023 so don’t expect that to go away anytime soon, maybe ever.
Vaccines being widely distributed has had a significant effect on things going back to normal, and we are almost back to the normal Walt Disney World experience we are used to and love so much.
Chapek has said that they aren’t expecting to need these guidelines in 2022 if everything goes well. That means things could be finally “back to normal” at some point in 2022!
Bob Iger commented on all these changes in a recent interview with Barron’s:
“I don’t think we’re ever going to see a return to business as usual in the sense that, I can’t speak for all companies, but Disney will take this opportunity to look for ways to run our businesses more efficiently when we come back.”
“One of the things that we’re discussing already is that in order to return to some semblance of normal, people will have to feel comfortable that they’re safe. Some of that could come in the form of a vaccine, ultimately. But in the absence of that, it could come from basically more scrutiny, more restrictions.”
That’s not to say that going to the Disney Parks isn’t fun anymore. It still is fun, just different. Families can still have a good time in Disney World, they will just need to manage expectations.
My personal recommendation is that if you aren’t a regular traveler to Walt Disney World, and will only be taking one trip in the foreseeable future, it is better to wait until all these restrictions pass and things are back to normal.
You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a trip that will be completely different and severely restricting compared to how it normally would be.
If on the other hand you are like us and are Disney World regulars, going to the parks might just be the stress-relief you need during this difficult time.
We’ll be paying close attention to all the new guidelines and changes coming to Walt Disney World and updating you as things change. Stay tuned.
If you are stuck deciding when you are going to book your next trip to Disney World, we have a series of posts that might make your decision a bit easier:
- 2022 Disney World Vacation Planning Guide
- When is the Best Time to Go to Disney World?
- 2022 & 2023 Disney World Crowd Calendars
- Is it Better to Go to Disney World in 2022 or 2023?
I want to know what you think about the new guidelines and policy changes for Walt Disney World…
- Which one do you think works the best?
- What other changes would you like to see implemented?
Let us know in the comments section below!
If you enjoyed this article, as always I appreciate it if you’d share it with others via social media. I work hard at making this website into a useful resource for you and your family to plan your visit to the Disney Parks and I hope it can help you! Thanks 🙂
Friday 28th of May 2021
Disneyworld 50th celebration starts in just a few months, unfortunately the magic will not be there. No fireworks,parades,character meets or even extra magic hours will keep us home. As for using your phone for EVERYTHING, no thank you. Getting kids up early and ready for the parks is hard enough for parents.Now with all the extra things to do and plan for, not to mention the cost, I certainly hope the CEO and staff listens to the loyal PAYING customers when it comes to decision making.
Friday 28th of May 2021
The only way I see guests being okay with expanded virtual queues is if they allow guests to join boarding groups from home in advance of their trip. That way guests would not be expected to head off to the parks without knowing if they could ride those attractions that are important to them. But then, how is that really different from the fast pass system? No one wants to spend what a Disney vacation costs without knowing if they can even experience the attractions they are paying to see. I can see how it would be fine for those who live close to Disney. But, for those of us who live far away and have to pay for resorts and restaurants for the entire trip, it would make going to Disney less attractive.
We have reservations for September 2021. We are only considering making a trip this year because our tickets that we purchased for a trip in 2020 now expire this September. However, if masks and distancing and many of the other changes made last year don't disappear, we will cancel our reservations and lose the $1,000 we have invested in those tickets. I can't see spending another $5,000 on a less than Disney experience.
Friday 28th of May 2021
@Patricia, I agree with you totally- sad that you cannot get a full refund. You should!!
Friday 14th of May 2021
Slowly getting back to normal Disney one "step" at a time. (dumb pun intended) It's a start. :)
Friday 13th of November 2020
Yes, the parks are already to crowded and now they’re increasing capacity? Insane. My experience has been that once you get into a park there is no social distancing. Men are not washing their hands after using the restrooms. Many, many guests are either not wearing masks or are not wearing them properly even after cast members tell them they must be worn. Lines are too long at every attraction in every park and food venues that are open have very limited menus at higher prices. The Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom offers only one entree at twice the price. Cast members are trying really hard but they are also clearly over stressed. Tempers are beginning to boil on both sides of the fence.
Monday 17th of August 2020
I know that Magic Kingdom canceled Mickey's not so scary Halloween party, but do you know if they will still decorate the park for Halloween. Or allow guest to dress up on October 31 this year?