Walt Disney World reopened in July 2020 after its longest extended closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since reopening, Disney World has changed many of their traditional policies and procedures to ensure guest health and safety.
Keep reading our guide for everything you need to know about the Disney World opening including new policies in place, exclusive come back travel discounts, and how to still plan for a magical vacation.
Early Entry Returns to Disney World
Early theme park entry will return for guests later this year in honor of the 50th anniversary celebration at Walt Disney World. Guests staying on-site at a Disney Resort hotel along with guests of other select hotels will receive 30 minute early entry to any theme park, every day.
The Extra Magic Hours benefit was suspended when Disney World reopened in Summer 2020 so it's good news to see some version of early entry return. Unfortunately, the traditional Extra Magic Hours ebenefit will not return as Disney continues to manage health and safety by attempting to spread early access out evenly across all four theme parks.
In the same announcement, Disney also announced that Disney's popular Magical Express service which transports Disney resor guests to and from the resort will be discontinued in 2022.
Walt Disney World Reservation System
Advance reservations for park admission is required for Walt Disney World as Disney uses limited capacity restrictions to ensure a safe environment for guests and cast members.
Booking Dates for Park Reservations
Park reservations are available through September 26, 2021, based on your Resort stay and ticket eligibility or ticket eligibility window. So in other words, you can expect to be required to make a reservation until September 2021 based on this news from Disney World.
How to Make a Reservation
- Link your park tickets/admission to your Disney account. You will need valid park admission to make a reservation.
- Create your party. Before you make a reservation, you'll be prompted to create a party from your Family & Friends list on your account. This ensures your group has the same reservations for your trip.
- Select a date and park. Choose the date and time you'd like to visit from the available reservations.
- Review and confirm your plans. You will also be prompted to agree to a COVID-19 liability waiver.
To help yourself prepare for making reservations you should make sure to:
- You’ll need a My Disney Experience account, as this is where your Walt Disney World Resort plans are stored and managed.
- You’ll also need a valid theme park ticket or Annual Pass that’s linked to your My Disney Experience account.
- If you have a Disney Resort hotel reservation, be sure to link it to your My Disney Experience account beforehand, as well.
Important Details for Making Reservations
Everything looks a bit different right now for visiting Disney World so it's important to be aware of these new policies for the reservation system and the state of the parks when they open.
- Reservations are limited and subject to availability and are not guaranteed until a reservation is finalized.
- Park hopping has returned but now guests must at least enter their first park of their day (with their Park Pass reservation) before park hopping to another park. A second reservation is not needed for the second park but you won't be able to enter until 2PM or later.
- A park reservation must be made for each day of entry. If you have a multi-day ticket, you will be required to make a park reservation for each date of your visit.
- It is highly recommend that you make your park reservation as soon as you complete your ticket purchase, as availability can change until the reservation is finalized.
Travel through 2021
You can also purchase 2021 packages and make your reservations up until September. Considering booking for 2021 with our travel partner and get FREE concierge Walt Disney World services! These services include having Get Away Today's Walt Disney World expert Brooklyn take care of all your dining reservations, FastPass+ reservations, and more! This really takes all the stress out of planning a Walt Disney World vacation. Rather than waking up at odd hours of the night to book all your reservations, why not let their travel agents take care of it for you- for free!
Technology and Magic Band Changes
Disney World plans to retire complimentary Magic Bands in 2021 as they upgrade the My Disney Experience App to include the same features that Magic Band provides with the app's existing digital key feature. Complimentary MagicBand distribution to Disney Resort hotel guests will end for new reservations with arrivals beginning Jan. 1, 2021. Disney Resort hotel guests will continue to have the option to purchase new MagicBands at a discount and guests who prefer not to purchase a discounted MagicBand will be able to use the My Disney Experience app or a Key to the World card during their visit.
Disney World's New Policies in Action
During the cast member previews social media has been flooded with pictures and videos of being welcomed back to the Most Magical Place on Earth with cast members greeting guests with “Welcome back, we've missed you!” Here are some of the highlights of Disney World's new policies in action.
Modified Character Experiences
Disney World has gotten creative in order to still incorporate characters into their parks while still enforcing social distancing to keep cast members and guests safe.
In Hollywood Studios, Disney and Pixar characters will perform along Hollywood Boulevard and across the park in pop-up motorcades throughout the day. The motorcade features favorites like Mickey Mouse, Edna Mode or Doc McStuffins.
Mickey and Friends Motorcade features Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto and Chip ‘n’ Dale, accompanied by a bouncy musical score inspired by Disney cartoon shorts. The Pixar Pals Motorcade features the Incredibles, Woody, Buzz Lightyear waving to the beat of the Green Army Drum Corps. And the Disney Junior Stars Motorcade brings favorite TV friends Fancy Nancy, Doc McStuffins and Vampirina to Hollywood Boulevard.
See some of the social media posts below to see how characters will still bring magic to your visit!
MERIDA RIDING ANGUS!!!! pic.twitter.com/2GW0AYlfjj
— ✨Christie ✨ (@christier0408) July 7, 2020
— JAY-COB (@JayInFlorida) July 7, 2020
We love seeing the unique ways that Disney World incorporated characters into the Magic Kingdom! Putting Gaston and Merida on horses is especially a nice touch. As always, Disney does a great job at making magic happen even in a strained situation.
Dining Changes and New Policies
There have been many changes to the dining at Walt Disney World, here are some of the most important highlights to be aware of:
- Only modified character dining experience will be offered in the initial reopening phase with characters ensuring proper social distancing takes place along with no autographs.
- Dining packages are not being offered- likely in response to the limitation on entertainment and nighttime spectaculars not being initially offered
- Restaurants are operating in limited capacity and some locations remain temporarily closed
- Dining plans are currently suspended
- The booking window has been temporarily changes to 60 days in advance for making dining reservations.
- Increased cleaning in high traffic areas of restaurants and spaced seating areas to accommodate social distancing.
- For quick-service restaurants menus are displayed on the signs. For table-service restaurants there will be the option to scan a QR code with your phone to access a digital menu. Disposable paper menus will be available at most restaurants too.
- Items that used to be self-serve will now be served by cast members.
Guests will also be provided with a QR code to scan on their mobile device to access a digital menu or be provided with a paper/disposable menu at table-service restaurants.
Quick-service restaurants will continue to rely on menu signage for guests. You can also read all the restaurant menus on the Walt Disney World app!
Social Distancing in Attractions and Queues
Distancing is now being reduced as Walt Disney World slowly begins a return to normalcy.
You can see the effort to manage social distancing in the line queues and attractions at Disney World. Plexiglass barriers have been installed for attraction queues that are difficult to maintain six feet of distance. Ride vehicles are also spaced out with guests of the same parties only sitting near each other and some ride vehicles being used with just one party per ride (DINOSAUR- so we might see this with Indiana Jones in Disneyland). Haunted Mansion sees the biggest change with no pre-show in the stretching room, guests just walk in and out of the attraction without congregating together.
— JAY-COB (@JayInFlorida) July 7, 2020
— Theme Park Shark ???????? (@ThemeParkShark) July 8, 2020
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge has undergone the most changes in order to effectively create social distancing in this popular land… planet.. of Batuu! It's great to see that rather than just shut down areas of this land that Disney went out of their way to create safe ways for guests to still experience the magic of a galaxy far, far away.
Virtual Queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Disney World is using a virtual queue, nearly identical to the previous Boarding Groups that were used prior to the closure, for guests to access the popular Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction.
Guests will have a chance at 7AM and 12PM to request to join the virtual queue. The great thing about this change is that there is no need to arrive early to access it and will prevent those pre-morning crowds we were seeing at Hollywood Studios. You will only be able to access the virtual queue once per day.
Here are the steps to access the virtual queue:
- First, make sure you have the My Disney Experience app. Once you enter the park, log in to your account at one of the distribution times.
- Once you have logged in, select “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Virtual Queue” on the home screen. You will be able to view the current status and next steps for joining the virtual queue.
- The app will indicate when there is no availability for a specific distribution time. Some guests may join backup groups.
- As long as your My Disney Experience account is linked to park tickets for you and the others in your group, you can enroll everyone in the virtual queue at the same time. In order to give as many guests as possible the opportunity to join the Resistance, each guest can enter the virtual queue no more than once per day.
- Make sure push notifications are turned on for My Disney Experience so you will be alerted if your group is called to return. You’ll have up to an hour from the time of the alert to go to the entrance of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
- Please note that joining the virtual queue does not guarantee the ability to experience Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
All of the ride show areas have been marked with social distancing stickers and cast members are managing the experience to ensure guests remain distanced from other parties. You group will not be combined with other groups and only one group is seated per vehicle.
Oga's Cantina Reopening Experience
Oga's Cantina is open in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge which is welcome news as this is one of the most popular places on Batuu.
Oga's Cantina is subject to the same policies as other Disney restaurants during this time with limited capacity, six feet of spacing from other guests, and increased cleaning/sanitation measures.
Since the capacity of Oga's is small, we highly recommend booking your reservation for this popular site right when it becomes available for your visit. Based on reports so far, guests have seen only about seven other groups besides their own seated in Oga's at the same time. There is no more standing at the bar now and guests are all seated at the standing and seated tables. Guests are being told to wear their masks when not drinking including order more drinks or leaving from their table.
Modified Shopping Experiences
Guests wait in line at social distanced markers to access the Marketplace. Photo via WDW News Today.As for the Marketplace, the number of guests allowed in the area is limited to less than 30. Guests will check in with a cast member at the end of the Marketplace to enter. Only one party at a time is allowed inside the shops and guests will be asked to use hand sanitizer prior to visiting each shop. This might be a bit of a welcome change for some guests as the marketplace was always a place to felt pretty crowded when visiting Batuu.
In Droid Depot, plexiglass has been installed to protect guests in line when they check in for their droid building experience. Plexiglass has also been installed between the build areas where you build your droid. You can still pick out your droid pieces individually but Disney discourages touching pieces unnecessarily and provides the assistance of a cast member along with plenty of hand sanitizer to use.
Modified Character Greets
Like all other areas of the theme parks, modified character meet and greets are still available. In the case of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge Disney has utilized all the areas with ships and other Star Wars vehicles behind fencing to create authentic character experiences.
As always, Disney uses their creative genius to make the most out of a difficult situation to keep the experience as magical as possible.
Clarification on Face Covering Policy
Face coverings are now only required for ages 2 and up on Disney transportation like the Disney Skyliner, buses, monorail, and water transportation.
Transportation Changes at Disney World
Walt Disney World has started to seat guests normally again on Disney transportation.
Disney World is still offering complimentary transportation options for guests with some modifications to accommodate social distancing and enhance safety measures such as:
- Transportation is operating with physical distancing measures in place, including in the load zones and queues, as well as aboard buses, monorails and watercraft boats.
- Face coverings are required at all times while boarding and using Walt Disney World transportation.
- The Disney Skyliner will load one party per gondola.
- Physical barriers in select places where it is difficult to maintain strict physical distancing guidelines, such as partitions inside our buses and monorails.
- Minnie Van Service is temporarily unavailable.
- Self-parking is available. Valet service is temporarily unavailable, with the exception of Guests with disabilities who may require parking assistance.
Walt Disney World Re-Opening Safety Procedures
Walt Disney World has outlined clear safety procedures to protect guests and cast members which include:
- Certain Experiences Temporarily Suspended: Experiences that draw large group gatherings– such as parades and nighttime spectaculars – will return at a later date. In addition, “high-touch” experiences such as makeover opportunities, playgrounds and character meet and greets will remain temporarily unavailable. Characters will be in the parks, at a distance, to still greet guests.
- Reduced capacity: Walt Disney World will have a reduced guest capacity and an advanced reservation system in place to manage attendance. All guests will be required to obtain a reservation for park entry in advance.
- Cleanliness and sanitization: Increased cleaning and disinfection, determining where that should take place (for example, in high-traffic areas), and the cleaning products and processes used. Cashless transactions are recommended.
We will keep things updated as we learn more about these new policies and Disney's commitment to safety.
Walt Disney World Dining and Experience Reservation Changes
There have been significant changes to reservations for the rest of 2020 at Walt Disney World including vacation packages, dining, FastPass, and other experience reservations.
Dining and Experiences
Disney World has shifted from a 180-day booking window to a 60-day booking window for dining and experience bookings to allow Guests to make their plans closer to their visits.
FastPass+ and Extra Magic Hours
FastPass+ service will be suspended for the time being as Disney uses additional queue space to manage capacity at attractions and maintain physical distancing. Extra Magic Hours are also temporarily suspended.
The good news with this new information? Low waits for popular attractions is what comes to mind first! Disney is going to do their best to ensure everyone still has a magical trip even if things look a bit different.
Disney Springs Phased Re-Opening
Disney Springs is also returning to a level of normal no longer requiring temperature checks or face coverings.
- Limited parking and reduced entrances
- Temperature screenings prior to entry
- Face coverings required for everyone
- All Guests ages 2 and older, Cast Members and Operating Participant employees are required to wear an appropriate face covering. Guests must bring their own face coverings and wear them at all times, except when dining.
- Physical distancing practices including physically-distanced queues and physical barriers
- Temporary operation modifications, including reduced hours at select locations and no scheduled entertainment offerings or high-touch interactive areas
- An increased focus on disinfecting and sanitation, including the addition of hand-washing stations and hand sanitizers in key areas
- The area will operate with limited hours from 10 am to 10 pm daily
The Frequently Asked Questions portion of the Disney Springs website also gives insight into how dining reservations and other activities are being handled:
- Following state guidance, bars will not reopen during this initial phase.
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique remains temporarily closed.
- Rideshare drop offs will be allowed.
- Guests may park in the Orange and Lime parking garages. Surface parking lots and valet will remain unavailable.
- There will be reduced entry points into Disney Springs.
- Hand sanitizing stations will be available at a variety of locations throughout Disney Springs.
- Entertainment venues (Splitsville, the Void, etc.)will not be available at reopen and we will share more details at a later date.
- Once the parking garages are full, Guests will no longer be able to park and visit Disney Springs. This includes Guests who have a booked a dining reservation.
- Guests will not be charged a dining penalty fee if they cannot get in due to limited capacity.
You can see above that guests are being spaced out in the entrance lines. The signs indicate that guests need to have a mask on and are required to go through a temperature check.
Throughout the area there are arrows on the floor indicating guest directional flow and boxes indicating where not avoid stepping.
These Cast Members seen above are demonstrating what the process of waiting in line for a restaurant looks like in Disney Springs during this COVID 19 reopening.
Disney has also brought over a team of Cast Members to focus specifically on helping to keep guests safe and following social distancing procedures. You will find them dressed in these bright colors.
There are also hand washing stations and hand sanitizer throughout the area.
You can read more FAQ in further detail on the official Disney Springs website. It's also important to note that the website does state that “by visiting Disney Springs you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19” so that is something to keep in mind.
Universal Orlando Opening Date
Universal Orlando opened to the public with new safety and health procedures on June 5th 2020.
The new safety and health procedures are similar to the ones they have been utilizing for the CityWalk Phased Re-Opening process such as limited capacity, temperature screenings, mask requirements, etc. Additional specific theme park measures include:
- no single rider lines
- virtual queues for popular attractions
- no interactive water/play areas
- single use menus at restaurants
- no buffet or self serving options
- post-show meet and greets closed
- water elements on attractions reduced or closed entirely
Keep our guide bookmarked as we constantly update with more information! Universal Orlando is encouraging future travel and our travel partner, Get Away Today, has great discounts including:
- Buy two days, get two FREE at Universal Orlando. Book here>>>
If you're unfamiliar with Universal Orlando, be sure to read our guide to the theme park which includes everything you need to know about attractions, dining, and hotels!
Universal Orlando CityWalk Phased Re-Opening
Universal Orlando's City Walk (similar to their version of Disney Springs) are also open with preventative health procedures in place.
This procedures are nearly identical to what we've seen outlined as required in the Disney Springs opening with face masks, temperature screenings, limited capacity, floor markings for social distancing along with other distancing measures.
Here are a few takeaways from the re-opening at Universal ‘s CityWalk:
- Bars, nightclubs and movie theaters remain closed.
- CityWalk is only open from 4-10pm daily.
- All Team Members are undergoing temperature checks and will wear face coverings. Team Members with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater will not be permitted to work.
- Limiting capacity at venues to help enforce social distancing.
- Continuously and thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting all tables, chairs and high-touch surfaces.
- Offering cashless payments at all venues.
- Guests can remove masks to dine at tables (then put them back on afterwards)
It's helpful to note that most guest experiences with the new procedures at CityWalk have been positive with touchless temperature checks being quick and easy. Masks are also available to purchase on site, in case guests forget their own. There is no getting around the mask policy, however, you have to wear a mask to be admitted. Guests also noted that Universal employees were diligent about cleaning surfaces, such as the popular Voodoo Donut chair, immediately after guests touched it. So far, it appears that everything is operating smoothly with these preventative measures in place which is great news for all theme parks.
Discount Walt Disney World Tickets
Our favorite Disney-approved re-seller, Get Away Today, offers the best Walt Disney World discount tickets around. In addition to great discount prices, their customer service and easy support is absolutely fantastic. They have an entire department dedicated to making sure every order has a wonderful experience and they are on-call to help you during your vacation if you need them.
And at no additional charge, you get FREE concierge Walt Disney World services! These services include having Get Away Today's Walt Disney World expert Brooklyn take care of all your dining reservations, FastPass+ reservations, and more! This really takes all the stress out of planning a Walt Disney World vacation. Rather than waking up at odd hours of the night to book all your reservations, why not let their travel agents take care of it for you- for free!
Buying tickets from Get Away Today is easy and convenient since all their tickets are sent electronically. You can take their vouchers and head straight to the gate without needing to wait in any ticket booth lines. They also offer layaway plans so you can pay off your vacation over time.
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Tips for Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation During this Unusual Time
We get it- planning a vacation right now is difficult. It's hard to anticipate what the world will look like in a few weeks much less a few months away. All you can do is go into this with a balance of optimism and plan realistically! We have a few tips to help you- many of our own staff has had their vacations impacted by the closure so much of this advice is based on our own personal experiences!
Book Airlines with Refundable Options
If you're rebooking a trip through an airline or booking one for the first time, many of the airlines are being pretty generous on waiving change fees for rebooking and offering flexible options. Another thing I noticed when researching all these new policies in affect due to the COVID-19 concerns, many airlines are extending this flexibility to future travel which can help reassure customers that if this continues to impact travel- you can get a refund.
Whatever you end up needing to book whether it is airfare, shuttle tickets, etc. make sure that it is all refundable so you can plan with peace of mind.
Get Refundable Tickets and Hotel Options
This is one of the reasons why I absolutely love Get Away Today! We often plan our Disney vacations up to a year in advance and they offer so many great add on options to cover an unexpected circumstances.
Get Away Today offers refundable ticket options for an additional $25 per ticket purchase which allows you the option of refunding your park tickets! This is a great way to ease any hesitation about planning your Disney Parks vacation. Park tickets are also valid through 2020 and can be rescheduled. They are the only ticket reseller that offers the refundable ticket option.
If you book your hotel and tickets through Get Away Today, consider purchasing their Peace of Mind package which allows you full refundability on your hotel and any tickets in your vacation package. I always use this option regardless because you never know what might come up. But also keep in mind, if your travel was or will be impacted by a closure Get Away Today will work with you on rescheduling with no penalty fees. They have been absolutely fantastic to everyone during this- I cannot applaud them enough. Support a small business and book with them for your trip!
You can contact 855-GET-AWAY for more information and get things rolling to plan your trip for Disney World opening!
Plan Your Walt Disney World Vacation!
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