Ok, you’ve been waiting a long time for the Disney Parks to reopen their gates. What will be different? Well, some things have lots of changes, while other things seem pretty much the same. Read on to find out what’s MISSING and what’s NEW when visiting the Disney Parks.
After being completely closed for four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they announced the Disney Parks reopening in July 2020. Disney World resorts began to slowly reopen as well.
We watched and observed how the reopening procedures were going, and we decided to try it out for ourselves in early September. Masks on. Sanitizer at hand. We took off and flew from the west coast to the east coast and landed at the happiest place on earth – Walt Disney World.
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We enjoyed our five-night stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge – Kidani Village. During our trip, we spent one day at EPCOT and one day at Magic Kingdom. I won’t be able to speak first-hand about Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios because we did not visit these parks on this trip. However, most of the policies surrounding the Disney Parks reopening apply to all the parks and everything that exists on the Walt Disney World Resort property.
Know before you go
There are a few details about the Disney Parks reopening that you will want to prep for before your trip. Take care of these couple of things first, then hop on that plane for the happiest place on earth–masks and all!
You will want to purchase your park tickets online or over the phone before you go. WHY? Let me tell you…
After you purchase your tickets, you will need to use the Disney Park Pass System to reserve which park you will visit on which exact date. This is one of the ways they are keeping parks at limited capacity.
Adding a park hopper option to your tickets is not currently available. As a result, you will be buying 1 park 1 day tickets for as many days as you plan on spending in the parks.
PRO Tip: Compare the park hours on a few different dates during your stay to determine which day will get you the maximum number of hours.
Anywhere you go on the Walt Disney World Resort property, people 2 years old and up are required to wear a mask. Disney does not accept neck gaiters, bandanas, or other loosely tied around styles as masks. Everyone’s mask needs to go over your nose and chin with loops/ties around your ears/head.
If you’re concerned about how these restrictions will resonate with your little kids, read my 5 Tips for Kids Wearing Masks while Traveling.
Ever since they reopened, they have held very tightly to their rule of wearing masks everywhere. The only exception to this rule is when you are eating or drinking, and they require you to be stationary. No more eating your Mickey Mouse ice cream bar as you stroll around the park (sigh…).
We saw a lot of people trying to take their masks off for pictures, which is also not supported. There are cast members enforcing this mask policy. Despite your personal feelings about the mask requirements, don’t take it out on the cast members. I’m sure they are thankful to have their jobs back even if they get stuck with the not so fun role of enforcing mask wearing.
PRO Tip: Carry at least 1 extra mask for each person in your party, or be prepared to purchase a mickey mouse face mask at the parks should yours malfunction. Actually…that could be one way to make it more fun anyway! Plus, with all the humidity, having a fresh mask at the end of the day is nice.
Changes at Disney Parks
Alright, let’s get to the details! Take a look at this list of categories to see what’s missing and what’s new around Walt Disney World.
There are a limited number of busses, boats, and monorails running on a consistent basis. This means that you may experience longer wait times in between the arrivals of transportation vehicles.
Each mode of transportation has a new socially distanced seating arrangement. The seats on the Disney busses have stickers with numbers on them or words saying DO NOT SIT HERE. Each number allows for one family group to occupy it. Additionally there are plastic dividers and open seats in between the groups to maintain further social distancing.
Before boarding the bus, you will tell the bus driver how many people are in your party (just like in line for rides). They will give you a number. Proceed onto the bus. Find your number. And sit only in those seats.
Extra Magic Hours are currently not being offered for resort guests. While this extra hour in the park is usually a great opportunity to have shorter lines, that’s not too big of an issue right now.
Long lines at the Disney Park turnstiles are also missing. Disney World is doing their best to avoid large crowds of people gathering outside the gate. As a result, you are able to walk into the park before the actual open time.
Before you walk through the security screening and turnstiles, you will undergo a non-contact temperature check. They have it set up under a tent, and the people are friendly but efficient to not waste too much of your time.
Like I mentioned above, they are letting people into Disney Parks before they open. We arrived at EPCOT about 45 minutes before it opened. We walked right through the turnstile and straight to Test Track. We then got to wait in the socially distanced ride line until the park opened.
This new change was gladly welcomed by our family! We enjoyed waiting in line in an air-conditioned building much more than standing in the hot sun for 45 minutes.
If you were a huge Fastpass+ fan, you’re going to be straight out of luck. Disney World’s fastpass service is currently suspended. But it’s really not as bad as you might think.
Even though with the Disney Parks reopening, they have held off on running Fastpass+ lines, all of the ride wait times are shorter. Less crowds = shorter lines.
The longest line we waited in was about 35 minutes for Frozen Ever After in EPCOT. And that was ON Labor Day–one of the busiest holiday times. On average we waited 10-15 minutes (or less–walking right on) for almost every other ride we went on.
After 5-6 hours at the Magic Kingdom, we had gone on every single ride we wanted to. So we decided to go back and re-ride things for a second and third time!
Also, each Disney ride line has socially distanced markers on the ground. We found them to be rather delightful because we weren’t shoulder-to-shoulder with smelly people in line.
Because everyone is spaced out, you are pretty consistently walking through the lines instead of standing in one place and only inching forward every 5,000 seconds.
In addition to the markers, some ride lines have certain ailes blocked off so you skip rows to maintain a greater distance from other guests. If rides don’t have that kind of space, they have plexiglass dividers. Actually, almost every ride line has some sort of plexiglass divider somewhere. (Whichever company is making plexiglass for Disney World right now must be making a KILLING!)
Disney has applied these same principles to the ride vehicles themselves. They skip rows and have plastic dividers on many rides. We had an entire boat to ourselves in It’s a Small World, and that happened on several other rides as well.
Characters + Entertainment
If you have little kids, listen up! This is something you want to be aware of. Make sure to properly set expectations for your kids.
Most character experiences are not currently being offered. This includes character meet & greets, parades, and character breakfasts (although I hear there are a couple modified versions being offered).
Many forms of entertainment are also missing. such as street performers, in-park shows, dinner shows, and fireworks. I know the fireworks can be a painful pill to swallow, but they do show a live recording of the Magic Kingdom fireworks on your resort TV every night.
One night, I turned it on. Cranked up the volume. Cuddled up on the couch my little guy. And made the most of that special moment together. Afterwards, we left it on repeat so we could enjoy the music while getting ready for bed. BONUS – no hauling a cranky, exhausted kid through massive crowds of people and onto a bus to get him to bed.
With the Disney Parks reopening, you know they weren’t going to eliminate all character appearances completely. Enter–character cavalcades! It’s like one single float with a few characters on it.
Your little one can still wave to Mickey & Friends or the Disney Princesses or Anna & Elsa. They just won’t be able to get hugs or autographs.
These cavalcades happen quite frequently, sometimes with more than one in an hour, giving you plenty of opportunity to witness it. While we never saw any cavalcades at EPCOT (I can only assume it was because it was Labor Day and the crowds were too big…just my best guess), we saw the Mickey & Friends cavalcade a few times at Magic Kingdom.
Austin wanted to give his friend, Mickey Mouse, a hug. And he also asked to play hide and seek with Pluto (read about his personal connection to Mickey & Pluto). But after reminding him, he understood they were busy waving to all the guests at Disney World.
Beyond the cavalcades, you may also happen upon characters that make socially distanced appearances and interact with you from afar.
We spotted Joy from Inside Out on a fenced-off lawn in EPCOT. I also saw Jack Sparrow on a stage in Adventureland. As I walked over to take a picture of him, he said, “Come over here, love. Turn ‘round and take a selfie” in a completely authentic Capt’n Jack accent!
A number of restaurants are still closed, even after the Disney Parks reopening. Some dining establishments have limited menus or limited hours, and I found this to be especially common at resorts.
PRO Tip: Take note of these limitations for the specific places at your resort. You don’t want to get stuck late at night without any food available–ask me how I know. A hungry mom is NOT a happy mom.
Although a number of restaurants in EPCOT’s World Showcase were not open, there was a wide variety of food available because of the Taste of EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival! The deliciousness never stopped!
Most fast casual restaurants are accepting mobile orders only. You can arrive in person and place your mobile order on the spot, or you can place your mobile order ahead of time on the My Disney Experience mobile app.
There is indoor and outdoor seating available at some restaurants with tables blocked off to maintain social distancing.
PRO Tip: Especially with limited availability due to dining closure and social distancing guidelines, I HIGHLY recommend making reservations ahead of time for any table service restaurant you want to dine at.
Some restaurants have changed their format all together. For example, Be Our Guest Restaurant is no longer fast casual. It is now a table service restaurant with a pre-fixed menu that packs a punch on your wallet.
Similar to restaurants, not all shops are open. This is especially noticeable around World Showcase. When we were there, most country pavilions would have 1-2 stores open at the most.
However, the majority of shops were open at Disney Springs. Since Disney Springs has SO MANY stores, even if a couple are closed you still have plenty to choose from!
These store closures also exist at the Disney World resorts, but some are open with limited hours. If your resort store is open, get what you need and find out what their hours are. If your resort store is closed, find out if you need to go to a sister resort to access a store.
There are two distinct changes that you will notice with the stores since Disney Parks reopened–capacity limits and traffic flow.
Cast members are tracking capacity limits using an app to count how many people are walking in and how many people are walking out. They are on top of it, comparing numbers with their fellow cast members regularly to ensure they are accurate. If a store reaches capacity, they will have people wait in a socially distanced line outside the entrance until someone else leaves.
The only time I witnessed them NOT enforcing this procedure was during the INTENSE thunderstorm (lighting STRUCK 50 ft from us…no lie!!!) when people needed to take shelter. Should I risk being too close to people with masks on or risk getting struck by lightning??? No question–I’ll take the former!
Additionally, you will have to enter and exit the stores through marked doors. I think they are doing this to help maintain consistent traffic flow while also more easily monitoring their headcounts. Don’t worry if you mess up (like I did), the cast members will kindly direct you to the appropriate door to exit through.
Some stores will have specific areas roped off or signs telling you not to touch certain items. The plexiglass dividers mainly exist just at the checkout counter, but you may happen upon a divider or two preventing you from touching items. Understandably, more hands-on stores, like the Lego Store, do not have their products available for playing with or building.
With the Disney Parks reopening, some things are missing and some things are new, but they’re not all bad. As a matter of fact, some of them make the experience more enjoyable!
I spoke with several cast members before and during our trip who all said the same thing in regards to the new policies and procedures – things are constantly changing. Every. Single. Day.
So I’m sure that even more has opened up since we left. In any case, it’s always good to double-check disneyworld.disney.go.com for the latest information updates before taking off on your Disney World vacation.
Hopefully more and more will become available each day as their full magical experience is restored. In the meantime, Disney is doing a great job at making the best out of what they can offer. It can STILL be the happiest place on earth, which makes it Worth Every Trip!