Are you planning a trip to Walt Disney World? Confused by the ever-changing rules and requirements due to the pandemic? You are not alone!
Navigating the world we live in today is difficult and challenging. Now add the element of planning a trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth, and well, that is challenging too! Rules and guidance frequently change, and unless you live and breath in the Disney space, it’s hard to keep up. That’s why we are here! To help break it all down and make planning easier.
Our world has changed quite a bit since COVID entered our lives in March 2020. Since then we’ve seen the Disney parks close and re-open all around the world. We’ve also seen lot of rules and requirements change (some for the better) for the safety of all Cast Members and Guests. It’s important to remember, while the rules and requirements are temporary, they need to be followed. Disney remains very strict at enforcing the rules for everyone’s safety.
Planning a trip to Walt Disney World during a pandemic looks and feels different. There are new things to focus on, new processes to be aware of, and new steps to take when planning.
So let’s get to all the details so you know exactly what is happening NOW at the parks. A lot of this information is a moving target, and could change overnight (literally, we’ve seen it happen). So check back often to be sure you are aware of the most up-to-date information.
Here’s everything you need to know:
- Park Capacity
- Disney Park Pass Reservation System
- Park Hopping
- Masks (Face Coverings)
- Social Distancing
- Dining Reservations
- Mobile Ordering Service for Dining
- Entertainment – Fireworks, Parades, Stage Shows & More
- Parking Lot Trams
- Disney Transportation
- Character Meets
- Character Dining
- Resort Re-Openings
There are currently no known capacity limits at any of the four parks at Walt Disney World.
Reduced capacity was put into place when the parks initially re-opened in July 2020, and have increased incrementally over time.
While the park crowds tend to ebb and flow, there are no longer limitations on the number of Guests being allowed into the parks (aside from the standard capacity limits per park, which are only met a few times a year).
Be mindful of this if you are still leery of crowds. I’ll address this further in the social distancing sections, but attractions are boarding at normal capacity, ride vehicles are being shared by different families, social distancing markers have been removed throughout the park, and large crowds gather shoulder to shoulder for cavalcades and fireworks. If this makes you uncomfortable, perhaps waiting to take a trip to Walt Disney World right now is a better idea.
Disney Park Pass Reservation System
The park reservation system is a critical step in planning your Walt Disney World vacation and is here to stay. It is an added step when booking your hotel and buying your park tickets.
Essentially, park attendance is managed by the Disney Park Pass reservation system. In order to enter a park each day, a valid park day ticket / Annual Pass and a park reservation is required. A park reservation guarantees that Guests will be able to enter the park of choice on a desired day. If you have a park reservation, you will not be turned away at the gate regardless of crowd levels.
Park reservations are made when tickets are purchased or when dates are secured for visiting Walt Disney World parks.
When you purchase your park day ticket, you will immediately be reminded to book your park reservations through the park reservation system. You can check park availability any time by clicking here.
Depending on the month/date, park reservations could be booked for any one or more of the parks. You want to make sure you secure your park reservations as soon as possible, and don’t delay.
Booking Your Disney Park Pass Reservations
The Disney Park Pass system is now open to Guests with valid admission. The number of theme park reservation days you can hold at one time varies based on your plans:
- Disney Resort and other select hotel Guests can make park reservations for dates during their stay for the number of days that they have a valid theme park admission.
- Annual Passholders can make theme park reservations for up to 5 days at a time (depending on the Annual Pass), and for the length of stay if staying at a Disney Resort or other select hotel.
- Existing ticket holders can make reservations for the number of days of valid theme park admission.
Disney Guests love park hopping. It’s the best way to see multiple parks in one day and focus on the things you love about each park before “hopping” to the next.
While Guests can still park hop, it’s not as flexible as it was pre-COVID. If you plan accordingly, you can still effectively hop from park to park and manage to visit all four in one day!
Here’s how it currently works:
- Guests make a park reservation for any park with a regular park ticket or Annual Pass, which must includes the Park Hopper option
- Visit that first park on the reserved day
- Starting at 2:00PM that same day, you can “hop” to any other park you wish to visit. And after that, you can continue to park hop with no limits (subject to park availability).
- How do you find out if there is availability before you hop to another park? Call this number: 407-560-5000. You’ll receive a recording alerting you which parks are available for you to visit.
- A park reservation is ONLY required for the first park, however keep in mind that reservation requirements are subject to change at any time.
I have not encountered a scenario where I could not park hop due to capacity limits. I don’t know anyone in my circle who has either. On busy days however, I do recommend calling the number to double-check, just in case.
Masks (Face Coverings)
General guidance: Required indoors, including in all indoor attractions and indoor queues and when using Disney transportation. Optional in outdoor areas.
Face covering requirements at Walt Disney World are forever-changing, and probably the most frequent of changes compared to anything else. Truth is, always have a mask (or several), because you will need it at some point throughout the day.
Face coverings are required for all Guests (ages 2+) in all indoor locations, regardless of vaccination status. This includes upon entering and throughout all indoor attractions and indoor queues and in Disney buses, monorail and Disney Skyliner, regardless of vaccination status.
Face coverings remain optional for Guests in outdoor areas. If you feel more comfortable wearing it, by all means do so. This is a personal choice.
Disney requires the following:
All face coverings (whether disposable or reusable) should:
- Be made with at least 2 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
Neck gaiters, open-chin, triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not acceptable face coverings.
Social (physical) distancing markers have been removed from around the parks at Walt Disney World.
As mentioned in the park capacity section, if being around crowds makes you leery, you may want to wait until you visit Walt Disney World. Attractions are boarding at normal capacity, ride vehicles are being shared by different families, social distancing markers have been removed throughout the park, and large crowds gather shoulder to shoulder for cavalcades and fireworks.
People are back to their usual behaviors and standing very close to one another. If this makes you uncomfortable during these times, you can walk away to separate yourself from the crowd, or perhaps choose a different time to visit the parks.
Dining reservations can now be made 60-days in advance of your planned trip (this is effective until 11/14/21). The previous booking window was 180-days in advance of your trip – that’s right folks, 6 months! It will be interesting to see if Disney extends the 60-day window or if it changes to something else.
If you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, the reservation window will open for the entire duration of your trip on day 1 of your vacation. If you are staying off-property, you will have to make dining reservations daily for the extent of your stay.
The booking window opens at 6am EST. Visit here anytime to make dining reservations.
Note that due to several factors, such as staffing shortages, a large portion of restaurants are not yet open to full capacity. You may find difficulty making dining reservations right now. My biggest piece of advice is to keep trying! People cancel dining reservations all the time, and something might pop up. Be persistent.
Once in the parks, if you don’t have a dining reservation at a table service restaurant, you can use the My Disney Experience mobile app to add your party to the walk-up list at select table-service restaurants. This is a convenient and easy way to try to get into your favorite restaurant!
Mobile Ordering Service for Dining
Mobile Ordering is one of the easiest and quickest way to order, pay and grab food while in the parks. In today’s world, this is the way to go, if you ask me! All you need is a mobile device and the My Disney Experience app.
If you have a hard time planning dining reservations as mentioned in the section above, there are countless Quick Service options to choose from!
Here’s how it works:
- Begin by opening the My Disney Experience app and selecting “+” at the bottom of the screen, and then choose “Order Food.”
- Pick an available restaurant, select your arrival time and then make your selections. You can even customize certain menu items to your taste.
- After you’ve reviewed your details, pay for your order using a credit card, debit card, Disney Gift Card, Disney Rewards Redemption Card, Apple Pay or Disney dining plan.
- Once you’re at the restaurant during your designated arrival time, just select the “I’m Here, Prepare My Order” button so the kitchen can begin making your order.
- You’ll receive a notification from the app when your food is ready to retrieve at the counter with the “Mobile Order Pick Up” sign.
It’s that simple! More and more Quick Service locations throughout Walt Disney World participate in Mobile Ordering, including those at Disney Resort hotels. It’s a great, fast and efficient way to order food!
Entertainment – Fireworks, Parades, Stage Shows & More
Entertainment across the parks is slowly returning for all Guests to enjoy. Fireworks, parades, stage shows, character meet & greets and more were all paused for quite some time until just recently.
Live shows are starting to make a comeback like A Celebration of the Festival of the Lion King in Animal Kingdom and Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage stage show in Hollywood Studios. They have returned in a modified version (less stage actors and socially distanced) to protect the Cast Member performers, but it’s still great to see their return!
Fireworks have returned to the parks! You can catch nightly shows at Magic Kingdom (currently Happily Ever After is playing until Sept 29; Disney Enchantment starts Oct 1!) and EPCOT (currently EPCOT Forever is playing until Sept 28; Harmonious starts Oct 1!).
Currently, in lieu of parades, catch several mini cavalcades and flotillas throughout the day. These short 3-minute parades are a great way to see your favorite characters. Cavalcades and flotillas happen sporadically throughout the day and can be seen in Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. A cavalcade or flotilla is basically a miniature parade. Instead of a full-fledged 20-minute spectacle of floats, it’s a few characters on a few vehicles passing by and waving. Each one lasts about 3 minutes.
Traditional character meet & greets are still currently on pause. Characters are sporadically seen throughout the parks and available for socially distanced selfies. I yearn for the return of traditional character meets, but until then, it’s wonderful to see our beloved friends around the parks.
Live Performers have returned to the parks as well! Catch beloved classics like the Dapper Dans at Magic Kingdom and the JAMMitors (name changes seasonally) and the Voices of Liberty at EPCOT!
Parking Lot Trams
Parking Lot Trams are currently not running at the parks. This means, when you park at any one of the four parks, you will need to walk to the main gate. *TIP: Remember to note where you parked! Jot down what section and aisle you parked in. I recommend taking a photo so you remember hours later when it’s time to go home.
Until recently, not having trams wasn’t an issue. With limited capacity and fewer Guests at the parks, parking was relatively close to the main gate. Walking was not necessarily a problem. As park capacity increases, the need for trams is growing.
Rumor has it that trams are returning to the parks shortly as Cast Members have recently been going through training. This is a good sign!
Disney Transportation is the glue to everything at Walt Disney World. There are multiple forms of transportation and options to get you from point A to point B at any given time. Since the parks re-opening in July 2020, there have been varied versions of transportation available to Guests.
Masks are required when riding aboard Disney transportation.
Here’s the current transportation situation:
- Busses are running continuously both too and from the parks.
- The Disney Skyliner is currently operating and is now seating multiple families in one car.
- The Monorail is currently operating at full capacity.
- The Resort Monorail, makes the following stops:
- Magic Kingdom park
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC)
- The Express Monorail originates at the TTC and offers express round-trip service to Magic Kingdom park.
- The EPCOT Monorail runs from the TTC to the entrance to EPCOT.
- The Resort Monorail, makes the following stops:
- Water taxis and ferries sail to and from Magic Kingdom park, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and resort hotels. Most routes run on 15- to 30-minute intervals. Disney Springs water taxis are currently not operating.
- Disney’s Magical Express transports Guests to and from Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Disney Resorts. The Magical Express will end at the end of 2021.
- Minnie Vans are currently on pause and not operating.
Traditional Character Meet & Greets are not currently operating. Instead characters are randomly located throughout the parks and are ready to take socially distanced selfies with Guests.
Craving seeing your favorite characters? Me too!! A great way to see characters is to catch the cavalcades or flotillas throughout the day.
Disney has replaced parades with cavalcades and flotillas. A cavalcade or flotilla is basically a miniature parade. Instead of a full-fledged 20-minute spectacle of floats, it’s a few characters on a few vehicles passing by and waving. Each one lasts about 3 minutes. Catch all your favorites in Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
Currently, only modified character dining experiences are available at the parks and resorts. Traditional character dining is on pause until further notice. Rather than characters visiting Guests at their individual tables for autographs and pictures, the characters will pass by at a distance and you can take character selfies with them. While different, it’s great fun! The characters are very interactive and get in on the selfie fun!
Catch some of your favorites at Cinderella’s Royal Table, where Cinderella herself comes out and greets Guests, Garden Grill in Epcot where you can visit with Mickey & his friends while eating a fantastic family-style meal or Hollywood & Vine in Hollywood Studios where you can catch Mickey and friends all dressed in their seasonal best.
Visit here for a list of all character dining options across Walt Disney World.
It’s worth noting that not every hotel has opened yet on property. And not only that, not every resort that is open, is operating at full capacity. Finding a room right now on property can be challenging. Disney stated they would like to be fully staffed and operational by the end of 2021. Let’s hope that is the case.
Here is the remaining hotel opening schedule:
- October 14 – Port Orleans Riverside Re-opens
- October 28 – Port Orleans French Quarter Re-opens
- TBD – Disney’s All-Star Sports Re-opens