Even for the most seasoned Disney World fan, there have been a number of changes to Disney World policies along with new park strategies to consider. As we plan our own Disney World vacations here at Mickey Visit, we want you to feel as prepared as possible as you make the leap to visiting the Most Magical Place on Earth.
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Traditional Character Meet and Greets Returning!
Disney as announced that as early as April 18th traditional character meet and greets will begin returning to Walt Disney World! Traditional meet and greets is defined as the way you interacted with characters before COVID with hugs and autographs!
While not all character locations will be available immediately, Disney has stated that they will begin reintroducing them throughout this spring and summer making it a great time to visit the parks! You can read all about Walt Disney World characters in our guide!
Face Masks Relaxed for Vaccinated Guests
Face coverings are now optional for vaccinated individuals indoors at Walt Disney World. Unvaccinated individuals over 2 years old are still required to wear masks in all indoor locations, including all indoor attractions and indoor queues.
Masks are required for all guests regardless of vaccination status in certain indoor settings including Disney transpotation and health settings – Disney specifically called out the First Aid areas.
As a reminder: guests aren’t required to show proof of vaccination. You can stay up to date on all of Walt Disney World’s health recommendations on their website.
Universal Orlando has relaxed their face covering guidelines as well to only requiring masks indoors for unvaccinated guests. You can stay up to date on all of Universal Orlando’s health recommendations on their page.
Walt Disney World’s Return to Normal
Disney World’s return to ‘normal’ has been moving quickly now that COVID-19 vaccinations are readily available. Each week we’ve seen steps taking place to slowly return the park to normal operations while still maintaining guest safety.
Here are all the updates you need to know as Walt Disney World balances guest satisfaction and safety.
Festival of Fantasy Parade Returns!
The Festival of Fantasy Parade returns to Magic Kingdom Park on March 9 which also happens to be the anniversary of the parade’s debut in 2014!
This parade features favorite characters from Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Peter Pan, Frozen, and more on parade floats themed to their individual stories. But the real show stopper of this parade is the 26 foot tall, 35 feet long, fire-breathing Maleficent Dragon float!
NEW- Mickey’s Magical Friendship Faire
A NEW entertainment stage show will debut on the Cinderella Castle Forecourt stage on Feb. 25th called Mickey’s Magical Friendship Faire! The show will feature scenes inspired by popular films like “Frozen,” “Tangled,” and “The Princess and the Frog” along with a new opening and finale with Mickey Mouse and the fab four in their EARidescent fashion.
The show will play multiple times a day and also features an all-new, original song entitled “Where the Magic Feels Like Home.”
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will move to a standby queue on January 10th. The virtual queue will no longer be used at this point but guests can purchase Lightning Lane access via Genie+ if they wish to skip the line.
Typhoon Lagoon Reopens
Typhoon Lagoon reopened on January 2nd after being closed since the COVID-19 pandemic. We are thrilled to see the waterpark reopen as this was one of the last areas of Walt Disney World waiting to reopen.
The reopening is celebrated with new menu items to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World along with Walt’s Chili Nachos and the EARidescent Ice Dream Cone.
Read everything you need to know about Typhoon Lagoon in our guide.
Modified Character Meet and Greets to Return
Disney has recently announced the return of character meet and greets! While these experiences will still be modified, no hugs or autographs just yet, guests will have a chance once again to get pictures with their favorite characters. This individualized time will allow for a distanced picture and time to chat with a variety of characters like Disney Princesses returning to Princess Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom, Minnie Mouse in Hollywood Studios and Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater on Main Street, U.S.A- sporting his new 50th anniversary look!
Each of these locations will begin these new modified meet and greets in November- we will update once we have a specific return date.
Entertainment Returns to Walt Disney World
Here is the full list of entertainment and nighttime spectaculars that are returning and have returned to Walt Disney World!
- Fantasmic! will return in 2022 to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. No official date has been set yet.
- Festival of Fantasy parade has returned to Magic Kingdom!
- “Disney Movie Magic,” the cinematic nighttime experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
- Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
- Wonderful World of Animation- this nighttime spectacular returned to Hollywood Studios this summer. This show transforms the park’s Chinese Theater into a projection show dedicated to 90 years of Disney Animation.
- Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor- this attraction featuring the Monsters, Inc characters returned to Magic Kingdom.
- Turtle Talk with Crush- This interactive show with the turtle from Finding Nemo in Epcot.
- Beauty and the Beast- Live on Stage- the story of Belle and Beast will return to the Theater of the Stars on Sunset Blvd.. in Hollywood Studio.
- Festival of the Lion King in Animal Kingdom.
Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebrations
With the kick off of the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary we’re seeing more entertainment return to the resort in greater numbers including nighttime spectaculars and daytime entertainment.
Walt Disney World Hotels Reopening Updates
In another great step back towards normalcy, now ALL Walt Disney World hotels are open and taking reservations for guests. This also includes Club Level service which has returned to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.
Other small, but worth noting, amenities have returned such as:
- Arcades in Walt Disney World hotels
- Activities for kids at all resorts such as Movies Under the Stars and Tie-Dye
- Outdoor play areas at resort hotels are now open
Fireworks Return to Walt Disney World
Fireworks returned to Walt Disney World in Summer 2021! The beloved fireworks show Happily Ever After is now playing nightly at Magic Kingdom with Epcot Forever showing nightly at Epcot!
See the footage from the first night they returned, it was a magical moment for all Disney fans!
Disney Enchantment, the new fireworks show debuting for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, is the current fireworks show running at Walt Disney World in honor of the resort’s 50th anniversary celebration. Harmonious, the new show at Epcot, is the current nighttime spectacular running at that park.
runDisney has returned to Walt Disney World resort for in person races! Here are all the upcoming race dates:
- Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend: February 24-27, 2022
- runDisney Springtime Surprise Weekend presented by Otterbox: March 31-April 3, 2022
You can also read all about the details for runDisney on their website.
Extended Evening Hours for Deluxe Hotels
Along with the early theme park entry for all resort guest, Walt Disney World has also announced Deluxe hotel guests and DVC members can enjoy extended evening hours at the theme parks during select nights.
Early Entry for Walt Disney World Guests
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 benefit will not return as Disney continues to manage health and safety by attempting to spread early access out evenly across all four theme parks.
Disney Transportation Reduces Physical Distancing
Walt Disney World is now moving towards normalcy in its transportation with the gradual removal of physical distancing procedures. Since more guests are being loaded together on transportation than before this is why Walt Disney World requires that all guests 2 years of age and older wear face coverings on transportation.
- Face coverings are required at all times while boarding and using Walt Disney World transportation.
- The Disney Skyliner is now seating multiple parties per gondola.
- Minnie Van Service continues to remain unavailable.
- Physical distancing barriers and markers on boat and monorail transportation are being gradually removed.
One thing to keep in mind the benefit of Walt Disney World returning to a sense of normalcy with these transportation measures is that it will cut wait times in half for popular transportation like the Skyliner and buses.
Walt Disney World Dining Changes
Dining has underwent a large transformation since Walt Disney World’s reopening with some changes that may be here to stay and others that are slowly being phased out. Here are the top things you can expect:
- Dining windows now open 60 days in advance
- Modified character dining
- Modified character dining experiences will include characters present at meals but with no hugs or autographs- characters will maintain proper distancing
- Limited menus in some restaurants
- Dining plans and dining packages are currently suspended
- Disney will encourage the use of disposable paper menus and QR codes for menu access
- Increased cleaning of high traffic areas of the restaurants and spaced seating
Despite some dining options not being available, Disney World still has an enormous amount of dining options to pick from and making your reservation as soon as possible is crucial to get your spot.
Park Pass Reservation System for Theme Parks
For each of the four theme parks at Disney World you will be required to make an advance reservation for each day of your visit for each individual theme park. The purpose of these Park Pass reservations is to forecast demand at the theme parks and ensure that crowds are as limited as possible throughout the parks. This is a precaution from COVID that is still in place. Since capacity is limited, it’s crucial to make these reservations as soon as you know your dates. As soon as you have your park tickets in hand, you can book your Park Pass Reservation.
Guests can make reservations for any date through January 2024!
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.
- At this time, Guests will be able to select one park per day; park hopping does not require reservations for entrance after 2 pm. Guests must still have a park reservation for the morning.
- Guests with existing tickets that include the Park Hopper Option or Park Hopper Plus Option have options available to them for ticket modifications and cancellations.
- 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 recommended that you make your park reservation as soon as you complete your ticket purchase, as availability can change until the reservation is finalized.
You can also change your Park Pass reservation, as long as there’s availability to switch things around, once you arrive. Most guests, especially those staying on-site, have had good luck doing this if they change their mind at the last minute.
Park Hopping at Walt Disney World Right Now
Here is how park hopping at Disney World now works:
- Guests will still make a Park Pass reservation for the first park they plan to visit AND must enter that first park prior to visiting another. At this time, a park reservation is not required after the first park, however, reservation requirements are subject to change.
- There will be specific Park Hopper hours during which this option will be available. Park Hopper hours will start at 2 p.m. each day and end at the park’s scheduled close time. Guests will soon be able to check DisneyWorld.com/ParkHours and the My Disney Experience app for the most up-to-date Park Hopper hours, as they could start earlier at a later date, depending on the day and park.
New Character Experiences
While modified character meet and greets have returned you can still expect to see characters present in each theme park. Disney has gotten pretty creative with incorporating unannounced ‘mini parades’ that will come through the parks throughout the day featuring many favorite characters. You will also be able to spot them in out of reach places around the parks including Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Character dining is still available at a few locations but it’s modified- meaning that characters maintain a proper distance while they interact. So no autographs or hugs, unfortunately. These character dining experiences are really popular so be ready to make your dining reservation at the 60 day mark! Read more about character dining here!>
Character Cavalcades and Appearances
Cavalcades are like a mini parade that utilize cars, parade floats, boats, horses, and more that will spontaneously appear in all four theme parks for guests to view the characters. People love these cavalcades! Since they happen randomly throughout the parks, there’s no need to wait around and this way you always have characters appearing during your visit. Read more about how to find character cavalcades at the parks here!>
Here is a quick rundown of some of the character cavalcades you can expect at each park:
- Magic Kingdom
- This is where you will find the seasonal cavalcades with Disney villains for the Halloween season heading down Main Street throughout the day. During the holidays, you will see Mickey and friends in their holiday attire along with characters you usually see in the Christmas parade like the Toy Soldiers.
- Fantasyland Friends features Alice, Winnie the Pooh, Aladdin, and Mary Poppins on a large float. You will also see Gaston horseback and Tigger.
- A Goofy Cavalcade features Goofy, Max, Clarabelle Cow, Panchito, José Carioca on a parade float with a dance crew following behind.
- Mickey & Friends features Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Pluto on a float with a parade of dancers.
- The Royal Princess Processional features all your favorite princesses in a large royal procession.
- Tinkerbelle & The Lost Treasure features Tinkerbelle and a big treasure chest parade float.
- Hollywood Studios
- 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.
- Disney Junior Stars Motorcade brings favorite TV friends Fancy Nancy, Doc McStuffins and Vampirina to Hollywood Boulevard.
- Mickey & Friends World Tour features Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Goofy.
- Frozen Promenade features Anna & Elsa greeting guests around the World Showcase.
- Princess Promenade features Belle, Aurora, Jasmine, and Snow White waving from a carriage.
- Animal Kingdom
- Since Animal Kingdom doesn’t have the same large pathways as the other theme parks they rely on using the Discovery River to show off their characters by boat.
- Discover River character cruise features Pocahontas and Meeko or Rafiki and Timon.
- Goof and Pals Set Sail features Goofy and characters from Dino Bash (usually Chip n Dale).
- Mickey & Friends Flotilla features Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto.
- Discover Island Drummers will pass by playing music.
- Donald’s Dino Boat Bash features Donald, Daisy, and Launchpad McQuack.
Our Review of Disney World’s Safety Policies and Tips- November 2020 and February 2021
I took a trip to Disney World in November 2020 the week before Thanksgiving to see Disney World’s safety policies for myself and experience the magic of the resort. This trip gave me great insight on what it’s like to be at Disney World right now, what the safety policies look like in action, and my best advice on how to navigate a trip with Disney’s new safety policies.
We visited again in February 2021 and Disney World’s lines were shorter than ever and we still had an extremely positive experience with Disney’s health and safety policies!
Keep in mind our review took place before vaccinations were readily available to everyone 12 and up and we weren’t vaccinated- so in general, comfort levels looked a lot different at this point than they do now but we will leave this review up for reference as we were impressed by Disney’s commitment to health and safety during our visits.
How is Mask Compliance at Disney World right now?
During our visit masks were required in all areas of the resort except when you were eating, drinking or swimming.
During our recent visits to Walt Disney World, we saw near perfect mask compliance at every single theme park consistently. Cast members are actively reminding guests to keep face coverings on during rides and there are announcements with reminders that play over the loud speakers throughout the day. You will also see signage all over the park reminding guests of this requirement. And also reminding guests if they cannot comply that they will be asked to leave. These constant reminders seem to work, we rarely saw any issues with face coverings.
The only time we saw a few instances in the theme parks (by few, I mean maybe two or three people) removing face coverings was in Magic Kingdom. I didn’t see it happening at any of the other parks. Disney Springs on the other hand there were more issues with face coverings being removed to take pictures and noses peeking out of masks. Or in some cases, no masks at all.
As for our experience wearing masks, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. We got used to them quickly and didn’t bother us as the day went on. It’s all in the attitude- if you overly focus on them, they will bother you- if you try to ignore them, you can still enjoy yourself. I saw plenty of small kids doing great wearing them! I brought extra masks for both of us so we could switch throughout the day which was great if they got sweaty. I wore the Disney brand masks everyday and found them the most comfortable.
Are people physical distancing at Disney World?
During our visit Walt Disney World was still maintaining 6 foot of distance between guests in all areas.
In line queues and restaurants at Walt Disney World, the ability to physical distance was easy to manage. The tables in dining locations have been expertly distanced from each other so you’re never within six feet when you’re dining which was really important to me since you have to remove your face covering to eat. Inside line queues, the ‘stand here’ stickers were placed carefully so you’re never side by side other guests in the queue and have enough distance behind you and in front. There was also plexiglass added for an extra barrier in areas of the line queues that get closer together. Overall, I felt safe when we were dining and in line.
Plexiglass has been installed on ride vehicles which allows them to load the vehicle as normal- just with plexiglass separating parties. This cuts down drastically on wait times which has made many guests happy!
The walkways would become trickier to physically distance depending on what area of the park you were in and what time of day it was. In the mornings, we were easily able to distance from other guests even in bottleneck areas- this became harder in the afternoons when more guests arrived to the park.
The worst areas and times for physical distancing at Walt Disney World were:
- Magic Kingdom – the walkway between Peter Pan and it’s a small world
- Magic Kingdom- Adventureland near the Enchanted Tiki Room
- Hollywood Studios- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge near Oga’s Cantina and the Milk Stand
- Animal Kingdom- the bridges that cross the Discovery River
- Epcot- the area by the entrance to Spaceship Earth
You can usually go the ‘long way’ in most of these areas or just move quickly to get past other people when you do have to use that pathway. If you’re concerned about being close to others in walkways, keep in mind that mid-afternoon will always have the most people even with reduced capacity. You could save those areas of the park for early mornings or late evenings when things aren’t quite so congested.
Shops follow a similar pattern with physical distancing, at the end of the night the shops were more crowded and it became trickier to space out from others. Plan your shopping in the morning or afternoon, don’t leave it for the end of the night.
Cleanliness in the Parks and Hotel
Disney has always been known as a clean park and they really shine during this time! Every time I turned around I saw cast members cleaning quick-service tables, handrails, shop counters, etc. Our resort hotel was also spotless when we arrived with high touch items like tv remotes wrapped in plastic and marked as ‘sanitized’ so we knew they were recently cleaned. I have not a single compliant with Disney’s attention to cleanliness during our stay. The parks have never looked cleaner! You can read my hotel review of our stay at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort Hotel to see what I mean about that attention to detail.
Are the rides long at Disney World right now?
This is where arriving early to the parks is essential! The parks will start operating about 20 minutes before official opening so if you’re there early you can be on your first ride of the day before they open. My rule of thumb was to be at my transportation 90 minutes before the park opening time.
Most of the time the ride times seem to be inflated and this is likely to incorporate ride cleaning if it does occur during your wait. At Epcot the line queue said 25 minutes for both Soarin’ and Test Track but they were both walk ons. The lines will look longer than they actually are because of the need to physically distance in the line queue. In Magic Kingdom, the line for Jingle Cruise was out past Swiss Family Robinson but yet we only waited 30 minutes to ride- it looked much worse than it was. Overall, we got to ride everything we wanted to and waiting in line wasn’t too bad, the most we ever waited was 60 minutes for Slinky Dog Dash at closing in Hollywood Studios.
Is Disney World still fun with COVID-19 precautions?
Absolutely, yes! We had a wonderful time. We loved experiencing Disney World at a lower capacity and enjoying the character cavalcades. We are already planning our trip to go back! I was able to forget the reason why I was wearing a mask (this doesn’t mean I became lax in my safety but I focused on it less mentally!) and just enjoy myself. We laughed so hard after riding Expedition Everest for the first time and I haven’t felt myself laugh so hard with my family in months. We cried during the castle projections in Magic Kingdom because they were so beautiful. I nearly fainted with full on nerdy excitement when I rode Rise of the Resistance for the first time. The smells, sounds, and sights of the park were exactly what my family needed right now.
Live from Disney World!
Watch our live video above to see what Main Street in Disney World is like right now along with a surprise Princess holiday cavalcade! You can also read some of my tips and live from the park experiences in our Facebook update including plenty of beautiful holiday pictures.
Disney World New Safety Policies
Disney World has implemented a number of safety measures which will change the way you plan your Disney World trips. This varies from limited capacity, social distancing in lines and attractions, face coverings required for ages two and older, and other health safety measures that our Disney World reopening guide covers extensively.
Face Coverings Required
Everyone ages two years and older are required to wear a face covering on Disney World property indoors and when using Disney World transportation.
- All face coverings (whether disposable or reusable) must:
- Be made with at least two layers of breathable material
- Fully cover the nose and mouth and secure under the chin
- Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- Be secured with ties or ear loops and allow the guest to remain hands-free
- Unacceptable styles:
- At this time, based on guidance from health authorities, neck gaiters and open-chin triangle bandannas are not acceptable face coverings nor face coverings containing vales, mesh, or holes of any kind.
- Costume masks are also not considered appropriate and are prohibited from being worn, in alignment with Disney’s existing rules.
- If you’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 you are still required to wear a face covering indoors.
Face coverings are strictly enforced indoors and you will be asked to leave if you refuse to comply. Keep in mind this also applies to wearing your mask properly: your face covering must cover your mouth and nose or you will be asked to leave. There are no exceptions to this policy.
Mask Relief Relaxation Stations
All mask relief relaxation stations have now been removed since Walt Disney World lifted their outdoor mask policy.
Enhanced Cleaning Measures and Safety Policy Signage
Disney World has increased their cleaning measures with an extra attention on high touch areas around the parks, hotels, and transportation. All the reports since Disney World’s reopening have been incredibly positive on how dedicated the cast members are to cleanliness. Which is saying something because the parks have always been consistently clean! You will also be able to find hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the park especially in ride queues.
Every two hours each attraction is stopped so the ride vehicles can undergo a sanitation cleaning procedure which is just another way that Disney is showing dedication to their health practices.
Limited Capacity in Theme Parks, Restaurants, and Transportation
Plexiglass and limited capacity has now been removed for all line queues, transportation and restaurants.
Disney World has limited capacity for entrance into the theme parks with the use of a reservation system with guests required to make advanced park reservations. According to Bob Chapek in a recent press release, park capacity is capped at 45% of their usual attendance numbers.
In order to create physical distancing between groups you will also see reduced capacity in other areas of the park such as attraction vehicles, shops, and restaurants. Because of this reduced capacity, especially in restaurants, you will want to book your dining as soon as possible so you don’t miss out on any of your must do restaurants. As for ride vehicles, Disney will not place you directly next to other parties and everyone is spaced out on rides- in some cases your group may ride alone in the vehicle. You will also see plexiglass installed on ride vehicles and in line queues where physical distancing may be harder to manage.
Transportation is also limiting capacity and separating groups from each other. For the buses and boats, you will be told where to go with your party and space will be limited so you are never too close to other groups. For the Disney Skyliner, each party is given their own gondola and you will not have to share with another group.
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.
We anticipate that Disney World will slowly bring these experiences back over time as we are already seeing a larger presence of characters in the parks (at a distance) and some limited entertainment offerings returning to Hollywood Studios.
Plan Your Walt Disney World Vacation!
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