Walt Disney World Resort officially reopened its parks back in July, and they have been steadily hopping back to life ever since! There are, of course, some changes Disney has made in order to maintain the health and safety of guests. While certain experiences are limited at the theme parks during this time, we still see pixie dust around every turn during our visits. Perhaps best of all, we feel safe. Even though we are still saying hello from afar, it feels soooo good to see Mickey, Minnie, the princesses and so many more Disney friends. The magic is still there! In addition to character pop-ups and cavalcades, some modified experiences are slowly beginning to return, including character dining, minor pyrotechnics and the Electrical Water Pageant. This year, we also have Disney World's 50th Anniversary Celebration to look forward to!
While initially during the Disney World reopening, crowds appeared to be well under the 20 percent capacity limit, that is no longer the case, even as the capacity limit has increased to 35 percent. Now, several months since reopening, the crowds have gradually returned to Disney World. For the holidays especially, we saw longer lines and higher wait times, especially over weekends. However, with the typical January/February slowdown in full effect, we expect things to stay manageable until spring break. While rides may not be complete walk-ons as they often were upon reopening, the parks are still limiting capacity and continuing to enforce the health and safety measures such as mandatory masks, social distancing and temperature screenings. Disney is also finding ways to increase safety and capacity on rides, adding plexiglass dividers between ride cars, so some wait times are improving!
Below, we'll hop into current Disney World openings, reopening procedures and safety measures plus tips to help you make the very most of your visit. Let's hop to it!
Disney World Theme Park Reservation System, Park Hopping, FastPass+ & Dining Reservations
As mentioned above, Disney World is still limiting capacity after its reopening. To do this, it has implemented a new theme park reservation system that requires all guests to obtain a reservation for park entry in advance. Theme park tickets are required to make reservations, so make sure you buy your tickets right away! Find out more information about the Disney Park Pass System in our separate blog post.
For Disney World's initial reopening phase, guests were only able to visit one park per day — no park hopping was allowed. But there's hoppy news! As of Jan. 1, 2021, the Park Hopper option has returned with some slight modifications. Guests with passes or tickets that include the Park Hopper option must make a Disney Park Pass reservation for the first park they plan to visit and enter that first park prior to visiting another. At this time, a park reservation is not required after the first park (but this is subject to change, so stay tuned!). Additionally, there are specific Park Hopper hours — Park Hopper hours begin at 2 p.m. each day and end at the park’s scheduled close time, and entry is still be subject to capacity limits. Be sure 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.
On our first day of park hopping, we found the process to be quite easy! The only major difference is that if you're using any of the park-to-park Disney buses, cast members will scan your MagicBands to confirm you have a Park Hopper ticket or are an Annual Passholder. The buses come every 10 minutes, so we found that we didn't have to wait for very long. Since park hopping has returned, park availability has been open and accessible. For more details about park hopping policies, check out our separate guide.
As a result of accommodating physical distancing, restaurants and other experiences such as behind-the-scenes tours are limited in capacity. There has also been a shift from a 180-day booking window to a 60-day booking window for making dining and special experience reservations moving forward.
The FastPass+ reservation service is temporarily suspended to allow for extra space in queues to manage capacity and maintain physical distancing. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios is the only ride to utilize a virtual queue. The ability to join a Boarding Group takes place at 7 a.m. (which can be made from anywhere nearby) or 1 p.m. (which must be made in-park). You may only make one pass per person each day.
Extra Magic Hours will not be returning, but in its place, Disney will be introducing the Early Theme Park Entry benefit later in 2021. Instead of having early access for a full hour at one theme park, Disney Resort hotel guests and guests of other select hotels will have 30-minute early entry to any theme park, every day. Guests will need valid admission and a Disney Park Pass reservation.
Walt Disney World Resort Safety Measures
Disney World theme parks, hotels, restaurants, attractions, services and other experiences may be modified, limited in capacity and subject to limited availability or even closure. Disney has implemented the following safety measures based on the guidance of government officials and health advisers:
- Physical distancing and capacity measures: Disney has implemented physical distancing and guest capacity guidelines based on guidance from health and government agencies. You'll see floor markings to maintain physical distancing in ride queues, restaurants and retail locations. Empty rows or seats may separate parties on ride vehicles or shows, depending on the attraction.
- Cleanliness and sanitization: Disney has increased cleaning and disinfection measures. We saw cast members sanitizing the ride vehicles, tables and other high-touch surfaces frequently. Hand sanitizer dispensers and hand-washing stations are located throughout the park.
- Cast training: Disney is providing new training and reinforcement to emphasize a strong culture of health and safety among its cast members. At Disney Springs and inside the parks, there are dedicated cast members who walk around to help answer questions about new policies and gently remind guests to mind floor markers and guidelines in place.
- Face coverings: Face coverings must be worn by guests ages 2 and older, as well as cast members, at all times, except for dining, swimming and designated mask relaxation areas. (If actively eating or drinking, you should remain stationary.) All face coverings must be made with at least two layers of breathable materials, fully cover the nose and mouth and be secured by ear loops or head ties. Neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not acceptable face coverings. There are no exceptions or alternatives for people with medical reasons.
- Temperature screenings: Guests and cast members are required to undergo temperature screenings. Anyone displaying a temperature of 100.4 Fahrenheit or above will be directed to an additional location for rescreening and assistance. If a second screening reads a 100.4 (or above) Fahrenheit temperature, the individual and their party will not be allowed entry.
- Additional barriers: Plexiglass in ride queues and vehicles, retail and dining locations protect guests and employees where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
- Contactless payment: Payment through MagicBands, Apple Pay and Google Pay is available at restaurants and retail shops. Mobile ordering at restaurants has been expanded and is highly encouraged or required.
- Crowd-inducing experiences: Parades, fireworks, character meet and greets and other events that create crowds or high-touch experiences are temporarily suspended.
A New Experience at the Disney World Theme Parks
Most attractions are available at each theme park. At Magic Kingdom Park, popular rides including Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain and Peter's Pan Flight are ready to take your frog family on fun adventures. Experience the magic of nature on Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain and Avatar Flight of Passage at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Travel to a galaxy far, far away on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, or become part of the cartoon world on Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Over at EPCOT, Spaceship Earth is available as its refurbishment plans are temporarily on hold, along with other favorites such as Test Track and Soarin' Around the World.
Rides have modifications, such as ride vehicle barriers between parties, as seen above on the Jungle Cruise. Likewise, the "Stretching Room" in Haunted Mansion won't be available as a pre-show to promote social distancing (which means you'll need to recite the spiel in your best Ghost Host voice in the queue — "there's no turning back now!"). As you take a wild ride through the savanna, dividers between rows protect separate parties on the jeeps of Kilimanjaro Safaris. These are just a few examples! Each ride varies with its own safety measures.
Even though parades, fireworks and individual character greetings aren't immediately available, there are still chances to see familiar faces!
From special cavalcades down the Magic Kingdom parade route and friends cruising down Discovery River, to processions along the World Showcase promenade and motorcades along Hollywood Boulevard, each theme park has special opportunities to see your favorite Disney pals throughout the day. Even though we can't hug them, we love the new character experiences, such as Merida riding Angus and Cinderella's evil stepsisters jeering at guests from the balcony of Cinderella Castle.
If you want to check if your favorite ride will be open, here's a full list of available attractions and experiences that are open. We also have detailed guides for each park, so you know exactly where to find the best spots for character viewing and adjustments to our park plans:
Mask Relaxation Areas
Wearing a mask to the grocery store is obviously not the same as wearing one at a theme park for an entire day. That's why there are mask relaxation areas! Each park has two to three specific locations where you can take off your face covering and rest for a bit. While the relaxation areas technically have a time limit of 30 minutes, cast members monitoring these areas said most people do not stay for that long. There is a mix of indoor locations and covered outdoor spots. Here's a list of these relaxation areas:
- Magic Kingdom: Tomorrowland Terrace, Pete's Silly Sideshow (Storybook Circus) and Golden Oak Outpost (between Adventureland and Frontierland)
- Animal Kingdom: Pizzafari and Upcountry Landing (across from UP! A Great Bird Adventure theater)
- Hollywood Studios: Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge (near Rise of the Resistance) and Star Wars Launch Bay
- EPCOT: Yorkshire County Fish Shoppe (UK), Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Norway) and Future World (near Test Track and Mission: SPACE)
- To help with keeping cool, we've noticed multiple groups of fellow frogs wearing neck fans. One group recommended wearing them as they give some relief while simultaneously wearing face masks, and advised us that you can easily find them on Amazon.
- As long as you have a Park Pass reservation and valid admission, you may leave and re-enter the park that you're visiting for the day. So if you want to head back to the hotel midday for a break, that's toadally fine!
- It should go without saying, but wash or sanitize your hands frequently! The hand sanitizer dispensers and hand washing stations are available throughout each park. You can always bring your own bottle for extra backup.
- Have your own disinfectant wipes ready if you plan to go on any rides that have high-touch features, such as the pull-string cannons on Toy Story Mania!
- Bring multiple masks for each member of your frog squad. Trust us, a fresh mask during the middle of the day is a must-have. An extra face covering would also come in handy if you hoppen to lose a mask on a ride or get caught in the rain. Pack a small plastic baggie for each used mask, if it's reusable.
- If you froget or don't bring an approved face covering, there are vending machines available with disposable masks for $2 each outside of each park.
- Take your time and drink lots of water! Without FastPass+, you'll find that you won't have to rush from one ride to the next, so it's OK to slow your roll. From our experience, we tend to get extra thirsty while wearing our masks, so we make sure to stop for water frequently.
- Be flexible! Disney is adapting every day and the rules may change due to the fluidity of the current health situation. Be nice to the cast members who are trying their best to maintain a safe environment for everyone at the parks.
Reopening of Disney World Resort Hotels and Lodging
Disney Vacation Club resorts at Walt Disney World and Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground reopened June 22. Disney Vacation Club resorts at Vero Beach, Fla., and Hilton Head, S.C., reopened to members and guests June 15.
Walt Disney World Resort hotels that are currently open include:
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
- Disney's Art of Animation Resort
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas
- Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
- Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney's Contemporary Resort
- Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
- Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
- Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
- Disney's Pop Century Resort
- Disney’s Riviera Resort
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort
- Disney's Yacht Club Resort
- The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort
Disney has also announced that the following hotels will open on these specified dates:
- March 22, 2021: Disney's All-Star Movies Resort
- May 30, 2021: Disney's Beach Club Resort
- June 6, 2021: Disney's Wilderness Lodge
- Summer 2021: Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
As the current health environment evolves, these dates are subject to change, and guests' reservations could still be modified to other Disney Resort hotels. Opening dates for the remaining Disney Resort hotels have not been scheduled yet at this time. If you booked your hotel stay with Undercover Tourist and your arrival dates are impacted by the resort's phased reopening, please contact us by phone at 1 (800) 846-1302 or by email at Info (at) UndercoverTourist.com — we're hoppy to help!
Starting Jan. 1, 2022, Disney's Magical Express service for airport transportation will no longer be offered. For the remainder of 2021, the service will operate for new and existing reservations made at Disney Resort hotels.
If you're staying at a Disney Resort hotel, you can find additional details about the health and safety measures in place, as well as changes to housekeeping, transportation, parking and hotel services, amenities and recreational activities, in our separate guide about Disney Resort hotels.
Disney Dining Updates
In addition to the booking window shifting to 60 days for Advance Dining Reservations, there are a few other updates guests can expect when it comes to Disney dining. Around the resort, dining experiences are undergoing some changes to ensure the health and safety of guests and cast members during this initial reopening phase. These updates include:
- You may remove your face covering while actively eating or drinking, but you should be stationary and maintain appropriate physical distancing. Find a secluded spot off to the side instead of walking while eating or drinking.
- Seating areas, dining areas and pagers will be cleaned between guests.
- Menus will be shared in ways to minimize contact. At quick-service restaurants, menus will be displayed on signage. And at table-service restaurants, you can scan a code with your mobile device to access the digital menu.
- Beverages and other items that were previously self-serve (such as condiments) will instead be served by cast members or come pre-packaged.
- At this time, it is recommended all guests use cashless payment options, including debit cards, credit cards and Disney Gift Cards. Guests can also opt for contactless payment options — such as mobile wallets — or use cash to purchase a Disney Gift Card at Guest Relations and select merchandise locations. Disney Resort hotel Guests can also use MagicBands to charge their purchase to their Disney Resort hotel folio.
- Menu items may vary. For specific menu information, check the restaurant’s online menu when the restaurant reopens (no physical menus will be available.)
- Character dining has gradually returned with modified experiences, including Topolino's Terrace - Flavors of the Riviera, Garden Grill, Chef Mickey's and Minnie's Seasonal Dine at Hollywood and Vine.
- Dinner shows will not be offered during the initial reopening.
- You can view Walk-Up availability for select table-service restaurants in My Disney Experience. Some table-service restaurants even use mobile ordering for pick-up orders.
- Dining locations will be limited in capacity. Some locations will remain temporarily closed.
- Private dining and in-room delivery will not be offered during the initial reopening window.
- Mobile order service will be offered at select quick-service dining locations throughout the Walt Disney World theme parks (when open), Disney Springs and select Disney Resort hotels.
- Mobile Check-In will be available for table-service dining via My Disney Experience.
Find more information and a list of all dining locations that are currently available at Disney Springs, the Disney Resort hotels and theme parks, check out our complete guide to dining at Disney World.
Disney Springs Updates
Upon arrival at Disney Springs, guests undergo temperature checks and security screenings, and all guests over the age of 2 are required to wear facial coverings. We have a separate post with details you need to know about visiting Disney Springs now, including a full list of all of the shops and restaurants that are currently open for you to enjoy.
As the Walt Disney World Resort continues to increase capacity, rules and policies may change due to the fluid situation, but rest assured, your favorite frogs will keep you updated! We hope this guide helps you prepare for your visit to Disney World and gives you an idea of what to expect. Be sure to check back later, as we will update this post as new information becomes available.