After an unprecedented nearly four-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, Walt Disney World reopened its four theme parks last week.
Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom reopened on July 11 and EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios reopened on July 15 with extensive new health and safety measures in place. We visited all four theme parks to see what the “most magical place on Earth” looks like now.
You’ll Need A Reservation To Visit
Before you can pass through the gates of any of Disney World’s four theme parks, you now need a reservation. Disney has rolled out a new Disney Park Pass reservation system to manage capacity, and you’ll need a Park Pass for every day you plan to visit each park as well as valid admission. You can view the Park Pass availability calendar online in advance to ensure the days you want to visit are available.
You Can Only Go To One Park Per Day
Another big adjustment to the Disney World experience is the elimination of “park hopping,” which gave guests with the Park Hopper option added to their ticket the ability to visit multiple parks in one day. Guests are still permitted to leave their chosen park and return later in the day though, so you can duck over to your resort for a dip in the pool or a nap. During our visit, crowds were lightest at the end of the day, so this is a great way to take a break then head back to the park to make sure you get to do everything on your list.
Physical Distancing Begins In The Parking Lot
Disney World is managing arrival procedures closely to support physical distancing, and that extends even to the parking lot. Guests are directed to park cars in every other spot in order to avoid having to exit their car right next to another guest. Parking lots are also typically not being opened until around 60-90 minutes before park opening to avoid guests congregating at the gates.
All Guests Undergo A Temperature Screening
Ahead of security and ticket scanning, all guests visiting Disney World’s theme parks or Disney Springs, Disney World’s shopping and dining district, must have their temperature checked. Temperature checks are done with a contactless forehead scan, and any guest with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be rescreened. If their temperature is still above 100.4, they will not be permitted to enter, nor will anyone else in their party.
Masks Are Required At Nearly All Times
All Disney World cast members (Disney-speak for employees) and guests ages 2 and up must wear face coverings at all times except when eating, drinking or swimming. Disney recently clarified that guests can only remove masks when actively eating or drinking and they must be stationary and maintain appropriate six-foot physical distance. When dining at table-service restaurants, guests are permitted to remove their masks once they sit at their table. Disney’s face covering guidelines state that acceptable face coverings must have ties or ear loops, cover the nose and mouth, and fit snugly to the sides of the face. Bandanas and gaiters are not allowed.
Every Park Has Designated Spaces Where You Can Take A Mask Break
Orlando can get pretty hot, so it’s nice to get a break to cool off and remove your face covering. Each of Disney World’s four theme parks has several Relaxation Stations where you’ll be directed to a distanced table or spot to stand where you are allowed to remove your mask. If it’s AC you’re after, there’s an indoor Relaxation Station in each park in addition to outdoor zones.
It’s Not Crowded
If you’ve only been to Disney World during a busy time (which, prior to the closure, was pretty much all the time!), get ready to see the parks as you’ve never seen them before. It’s entirely possible to find yourself in a quiet corner of the Magic Kingdom or even the uber-popular new land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios, and practically feel like you have the place to yourself. Now’s the time to seize those once-in-a-lifetime photo ops of near-empty parks!
Wait Times Are At A Minimum
When Disney World announced the suspension of the FastPass+ service, which allows guests to reserve times for certain attractions and bypass the standby line, people were nervous that this would mean long waits. But, because parks are so empty, most rides have virtually no waits at all. During opening week, we were able to walk right onto rides that used to have famously long wait times, like Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Space Mountain and Peter Pan’s Flight at Magic Kingdom.
Ride Queues Are Set Up For Physical Distancing
Even though you will rarely see long wait times at Disney World right now, the ride queues often still fill up because they are spaced out with distance markers for the entire length of the standby queue. Markers on the ground direct parties to stay six feet apart. Plexiglass dividers add an extra layer of protection where parts of the queue directly bypass each other, like the spot in the line for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in this photo.
Hand Sanitizer Is Everywhere
There’s no way around it: There’s a lot to touch at Disney World, especially if you have little kids who can’t seem to keep their hands off every surface they come across. Luckily, hand-sanitizer dispensers are virtually everywhere, including at the entrance and exit to every ride. It’s still a good idea to also keep your own personal bottle of hand sanitizer on hand just in case you find yourself needing some between dispensers.
Rides Are Cleaned Regularly
We asked about cleaning frequency at every attraction we rode during opening week. Nine times out of 10, the answer was every two hours. Announcements are made frequently noting that rides are being paused for cleaning, and we often saw cast members spraying down rides with a cleaning solution. Still, every two hours means it’s a good idea to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after every ride.
You May Get To Ride Certain Rides Alone
Physical distancing is implemented on rides, too. Roller coasters and boat rides leave rows empty between parties, and on the rides that don’t have enough room to distance two parties, you’ll get your own vehicle. This means you’ll be splashing down Splash Mountain, racing around Test Track and piloting the Millennium Falcon with only your immediate family or friends.
Plastic Dividers Abound
Some rides also have plexiglass or plastic barriers to separate parties from each other or from cast members, like your skipper on Jungle Cruise. Other rides with dividers we spotted include those that typically accommodate large groups, like Star Tours, Soarin’, Kilimanjaro Safari (pictured) and Dinosaur. Even with the dividers, on some rides seats are still left empty for additional distancing.
Key Scenes Have Gone Missing From a Few Rides
In order to avoid having guests congregate in close quarters, several attractions have had their preshows cut, in some cases leaving out iconic scenes like Haunted Mansion’s Stretching Room. Some ride preshows remain intact or have been modified: Flight of Passage’s two preshows have been shortened and merged into one. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run’s preshow is still running, but guests may be asked to keep moving before they’ve heard audio-animatronic Hondo Ohnaka give his full spiel.
There Are No Parades — But It Doesn’t Feel That Way
Disney World’s parades have been suspended for the time being, but you’ll still get a chance to see some pretty impressive floats making the rounds. Adorable Character Cavalcades make impromptu appearances regularly throughout all four parks (at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, cavalcades are by boat down the Discovery River). Keep your ears peeled — when the loud music starts, there’s probably a float on its way!
Characters Appear Only Where They Can Keep A Safe Distance
In addition to the periodic cavalcades, characters regularly appear in a few locations throughout the parks where they can keep a safe distance, but you can still wave and snag a selfie. For example, at Magic Kingdom Captain Jack Sparrow hangs out on a stage across from Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland while Stitch and Buzz Lightyear appear on stage in Tomorrowland. Over in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, stormtroopers stand guard and Kylo Ren, Rey and Chewbacca have all been spotted.
Disney has implemented a lot of new procedures to reduce contact throughout the parks and resorts. From Mobile Dine Check-In, eliminating the need to line up at the host stand at restaurants, to contactless menus via QR code, to contactless payment methods like Apple Pay encouraged at retail and dining locations, your smartphone has become an even more important part of a Disney vacation. Be sure to download the My Disney Experience app and make sure you bring a portable charger to keep your phone juiced during long days in the parks.
Most Character Meals Are On Hold
Like character meet and greets, traditional character meals have also been temporarily suspended with two exceptions. Disney World is offering a “modified” character experience at Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera at Disney’s Riviera Resort and Garden Grill Restaurant at EPCOT. Characters still appear, parade around the room, and will wave and interact from a distance, but no more visits directly to your table for hugs and photos.
You’ll Notice Added Safety Measures at Your Hotel, Too
Disney World’s rigorous safety guidelines extend to the resorts as well. Masks are required and guests are encouraged to use online check-in via the My Disney Experience app, enabling them to bypass the front desk and go straight to their room. You’ll spot distance markers throughout the hotel common areas, hand sanitizer and (we loved this!) even wipes at the elevators so you don’t have to touch the buttons.
Hotel Rooms Get Some Extra Attention
Inside your Disney World resort hotel room, you may notice a few changes as a result of enhanced cleaning procedures. Items not typically cleaned between guests like bed skirts and throw pillows have been removed from rooms. High-touch surfaces like remote controls and refillable toiletry bottles are bagged with a “Clean” sticker confirming they have been sanitized. Even the extra pillows and blankets are packaged in a sealed bag to reassure guests that they have been cleaned before your stay.
Pools Are Still Open
With reduced park hours and no park-hopping, you’ll probably find yourself with some extra time to hit the pool during your trip. Most of Disney World’s resort pools are open, though some children’s splash pads remain closed. Complimentary life jackets and towels are still available, and poolside activities are still happening, with new distance precautions in place.
There Are Some New Pool Rules
Guests are allowed to remove their face coverings while seated in their pool chairs and while swimming. However, you’re encouraged to keep masks on while walking around the pool deck, and asked to wear a mask if you visit the pool bar to place an order. Masks can be removed for eating and drinking once seated. On the pool deck, chairs are spaced out and guests aren’t allowed to move them.
Say Goodbye to Crowded Buses
If you’ve stayed on property at a Walt Disney World resort in the past, you’ve probably put in your fair share of time on packed buses. Kiss those days goodbye because Disney World buses now limit capacity to a maximum of six parties. Each party will be assigned a numbered section, with sections separated by dividers as well as blocked-off seats. This system means buses can fill up quickly, but we never ran into significant bus delays during reopening week. Nonetheless, Disney recommends allowing extra time for travel just in case.
Other Modes of Disney Transportation Have Been Modified Too
Hopping the Disney Skyliner to travel to EPCOT or Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Your party will now get your own gondola. Monorail cabin capacity is limited to two parties per section. Ferry boats and water taxis are also limiting capacity. Overall, we’ve found that since park and resort capacity is also limited, reduced capacity really isn’t impacting transportation times much right now.
Quick-Service Dining Has Gone Mobile
Once just a smart tip for Disney pros looking to save time in the parks, Mobile Order, which lets you place your order and pay at many of Disney World’s quick-service dining locations via your phone, is all but a necessity for eating at the parks now. Guests must place their order and receive confirmation that it’s ready before being allowed to enter the restaurant to collect their order. A cast member stationed at the door will direct guests to the appropriate pick-up window. After you pick up your order, you can proceed to the seating area and remove your masks once at a table.
One Ride Uses A Virtual Queue
If you’re hoping to face off against the First Order on Disney World’s epic new ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, you won’t be able to just hop in the standby line. To manage queue capacity, this is the only ride that requires you to join a virtual queue. You’ll need to be inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios when boarding groups are released via the My Disney Experience app at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. If you don’t want to miss your chance, it’s a good idea to be there before the 10 a.m. drop so you get three chances to snag a boarding group. When your group is called, you’ll receive a notification on your phone to join the physical queue.
Using The Standby Queues Can Bring New Experiences
If you’re used to relying on FastPass+ to avoid waiting in lines, you might moan and groan at having to wait in the standby queue. But what you may not have realized is that Disney World’s standby queues have elaborate theming you will have missed if you always stick to the FastPass line. Walt Disney Imagineers put a lot of effort into the theming of the queues, and diehard Disney fans will love getting to see all of the details, possibly for the first time.
EPCOT’s Famed Food and Wine Festival Is Still On
While a lot of Disney World’s park extras like fireworks and parades have been canceled, there’s one big event happening right now that’s still on. EPCOT’s annual food and wine festival has been slightly reimagined this year, but it’s happening. The Taste of EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival launched on July 15 when the park reopened, and it’s a sort of mash-up of the park’s annual food and wine fest along with this year’s EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival, which was abruptly cut short by the park’s closure in March.
Will you be visiting Disney World now that it’s reopened? Let us know!