What is Different at Disney World Right Now?

Disney World looks quite different since it's reopening in July 2020 after an extended closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over on the West coast, Disneyland remains closed with no reopening guidelines being provided from the State of California which leaves many Californians, and Disneyland park goers alike, looking to plan a Disney World trip.

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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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 except when eating or swimming. This includes the theme parks, Disney World transportation, and your hotel resort grounds.

  • All face coverings (whether disposable or reusable) must:
    • Be made with at least two layers of breat
    • hable 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.
  • Face coverings need to be wor
    n at all times except when dining. If you're eating in the park, you must be stationary to remove your mask to take a bite of food or drink of water.

Face coverings are strictly enforced 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

Each of Disney World's four theme parks have Relaxation Stationswhich gives you a socially distanced space to take off your masks and give your face a rest. Here are the places you can find them:

  • Magic Kingdom
    • Fantasyland- Pete's Silly Sideshow (air conditioned)
    • Frontierland- Golden Oak Outpost (outdoors, no shade)
    • Tomorrowland- Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant (outdoors, shade)
  • Animal Kingdom
    • Discovery Island- Pizzafari (air conditioned)
    • Asia- Near the Up! A Great Bird Adventure (outdoors, shade)
  • Epcot
    • United Kingdom- Next to Rose & Crown (outdoor, some shade)
    • Future World- Near Mission: Space and Test Track (outdoor, some shade)
    • Norway- Akershus Restaurant (air conditioned)
  • Hollywood Studios
    • Galaxy's Edge- Near Rise of the Resistance (outdoors, some shade)
    • Animation Courtyard- Inside Star Wars Launch Bay (air conditioned)

Be sure to distance yourself from others in the mask relaxation zones and be mindful of where you set your mask. Bringing a large ziploc to safely store masks when removed is a great way to keep them sanitary.

Enhanced Cleaning Measures

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 

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 25% 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.

Reduced Operating Hours

Operating hours for all four theme parks have been temporarily reduced with most parks closing by at least 7PM. The good news is that Disney World has been slowly increasing their operating hours the closer we get to the holiday season. Here's an example of the average operating hours for the four theme parks in November:

  • Magic Kingdom
    • 9AM-8PM
  • Animal Kingdom
    • 8AM-6PM
  • Hollywood studios
    • 10AM-7PM
  • Epcot
    • 11AM-9PM

The hours vary based on week and day of your visit. When Disney World adds additional hours its often quickly and without much notice so be sure to be checking the operating hours for your trip on your My Experience App often.

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.

Park Pass Reservation System for Theme ParksTree of Life at Animal Kingdom- Disney World opening

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. There is currently no park hopping at Disney World so you must commit to one park for each day for your tickets. The purpose of these Park Pass reservations are to create a safe environment in the parks for effective social distancing in walkways, queues, restaurants, etc. 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.

How to Make a Reservation 

  1. Link your park tickets/admission to your Disney account. You will need valid park admission to make a reservation.
  2. 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.
  3. Select a date and park. Choose the date and time you'd like to visit from the available reservations.
  4. 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; visiting more than one park per day are temporarily unavailable due to attendance limitations.
    • 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.

Disney World Resort Hotelsbudget disney world hotels

There have been a number of policy changes at the on-site Disney World hotels with some hotels open now and some opening at a later date. You can also expect some modifications to resort amenities and resort restaurants such as:

  • Pools operating at limited capacity, feature pools may have limited hours but leisure pools mainly open 24 hours
  • Bell Services will deliver luggage to rooms, but will not escort Guests
  • Club-level service is temporarily unavailable
  • Deliveries may only be made to occupied rooms
  • In-room celebrations and dining are not available
  • Dry-cleaning and valet laundry services is temporarily unavailable; self-service laundry is available
  • Shipping services are temporarily unavailable
  • Resort airline check-in service will be unavailable
  • Hotel activities might be unavailable along with some hotel table service dining options

Disney World hotels are also going through extensive cleaning measures with attention to high touch areas, cleaning of housekeeping tools in between rooms, and single use packaging used on items like remotes, glasses, etc. Your room still will receive a light cleaning every other day but you can also decline this service if you want to.

Here are the Disney World hotels that are open and taking new reservations: 

Here are the staggered reopening dates for the other hotels: 

Some of these hotels, like Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, were revised recently to open later. Guests with stays booked before their opening dates can be accommodated by calling Disney. We've heard reports of free upgrades to higher cost resorts for guests impacted by these delayed openings.

October 16, 2020Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
November 1, 2020Disney's Art of Animation Resort
Summer 2021Disney's Polynesian Village Resort

Disney previously released reopening dates for Disney’s Beach Club Resort and Disney’s BoardWalk Inn but now these Disney Resort hotels will remain closed until further notice as Disney reevaluates their reopening timeline.

Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort and Disney's Vero Beach Resort are now open to Members and Guests.

Magical Express New Policies

Disney's Magical Express is the free airport transportation provided to all on-site Disney World hotel guests. You will need to book a reservation for to/from your hotel. If you've booked with a travel agency, like our trusted partner Get Away Today, they will make this reservation for you. All you have to do is provide your flight information. If you're booking on your own, all you have to do is call the Disney Magical Express number at (407) 939-1936 and they will make your reservation. Here are the new policies to know for the Magical Express:

  • Disney’s Magical Express service will no longer be providing luggage delivery for those arriving to and departing from Orlando International Airport.
  • Resort airline check-in service is also no longer available.
  • Face coverings required for everyone two years of ages and older. No gaitors/bandanas or masks with holes or valves of any kind. Face coverings must have ear loops or ties.

Restaurant Operational ChangesDisney World food

Dining has underwent a large transformation to create effective social distancing in restaurants and maintain a safe environment for guests and cast members. Here are some of the changes to be aware of:

  • Modified character dining
    • Modified character dining experiences will include characters present at meals but with no hugs or autographs- characters will maintain proper distancing
  • Dining packages not offered
    • Since popular entertainment options like fireworks, nighttime spectaculars, etc. are temporarily suspended there is no need to offer dining packages
  • Restaurants operating in a limited capacity and some locations are temporarily closed
    • This means that booking a dining reservation for any table service dining is more important than ever if you want to ensure your spot
  • Limited menus in some restaurants
  • Booking window for dining has been changed to 60 days in advance
  • Dining plans are currently suspended
  • Items that used to be self serve will be served by cast members
  • 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.

New Character ExperiencesDisney World characters

Individual meet and greet options with characters aren't available at this time but the characters are still 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!

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.

When a character cavalcade appears, music will start playing on the speakers to clue you in that characters are on the way. Just stand off to the side and wait for them to roll on by. They go past quickly which is great for getting that quick view of characters as you make your way to the attractions. The good news is that the My Experience App tells you which character cavalcades will appear in the park on your visit, where they will be, and gives a rough time of when to watch for them.

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.
  • Epcot 
    • 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.

You will also see characters spread out throughout each park from distanced areas like balconies, boats, and other creative areas waving and greeting guests. Characters are still extremely present in the parks even if you can't get autographs or do individual meets. The response to Disney's creative way of integrating characters has been really positive and we love the way Disney has created magic in these unusual times.

Currently Available Character Dining

Here are the restaurants currently offering modified character dining experiences at Disney World:

  • Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios
    • By far the most popular character experience right now as the Hollywood & Vine meal will change to be a seasonal meal depending on the current holiday from Halloween to Christmas. You can meet Minnie, Mickey, Goofy and various other characters at this meal.
  • Garden Grill at Epcot
    • This once buffet option is now served by cast members where you can see Chip n Dale, Mickey, and Pluto in farming attire.
  • Breakfast at Topolino Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort
    • This is a higher end dining experience with French and Italian inspired cuisine where you will get to see Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy in adorable Mediterranean outfits.
  • Chef Mickey's at Disney's Contemporary Resort
    • This character meal featuring Mickey and friends will return on December 15th.
  • Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom
    • The only character you will see at this character meal is the Beast as he will come out occassionaly to greet guests from a distance.
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table*
    • Currently, the Disney World website does not guarantee any characters at this meal but lately Cinderella has been making surprise appearances in the restaurant.

If you have any interest in these character meals, booking right at that 60 day window is an absolute must so you don't miss out.

Transportation Safety Measures

Since Disney World guests, especially those staying on-site, rely so much on transportation it's help to be aware of how Disney World is maintaining healthy standards. Here are the measures that Disney World is taking to protect guests and cast members when they travel across the resort:

  • 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 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.
  • Boat access is currently available to Magic Kingdom from Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Other boat access is currently not in operation.

One thing to keep in mind with these new measures is that the social distancing, especially on busses, can delay your transportation. Always arrive early to ensure you get to the parks on time.

Current Entertainment Options For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration

Disney World has paused all of their stage show entertainment options upon reopening for all the theme parks and now is slowly starting to bring back some stage show options in Hollywood Studios. This is great news since Hollywood Studios is in dire need of some other entertainment options to disperse guests to and alleviate some of the lines for the attractions.

“For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration” will return to Disney's Hollywood Studios on October 5th in a show that retells all the fun sing-along moments of Disney's Frozen. The show will remain the same with some adjustments to staging and audience seating to allow for appropriate physical distancing.

“Disney Junior Play & Dance!” will return in the Animation Courtyard. Each party performance throughout the day features a DJ spinning songs from Disney Junior TV shows with appearances from Disney Junior characters such as Mickey Mouse, Vampirina and more.

We hope to see more entertainment options over time and especially as Disney World navigates this new normal.

Virtual Queue for Rise of the Resistance

Over in Hollywood Studios, which is by far the most popular park right now, Rise of the Resistance is using a virtual queue that guests can access from their My Experience app. Currently, FastPass+ is not available for attractions since Disney World is using the FastPass queues as a way to create better social distancing while guests wait in line. But since the parks are at such a low capacity anyways there doesn't seem to be a need for FastPass at the moment.

Guests will have a chance at 10AM and 2PM 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.

How to Get A Rise of the Resistance Boarding Pass

  • 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 (10 a.m., 1 p.m. or 4 p.m.).
  • 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.

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