The Magic is Alive and Well at the Walt Disney World® Resort!
Since the official re-opening of Walt Disney World in July 2020, there have been a lot of changes within the Parks, Resorts and Disney Springs. In addition to new processes and changes now in place, we see an absence of Firework shows, character meet & greets and parades, which have all been suspended, leading many to wonder if these changes have taken away from the magic guests have grown to love and expect upon their visit to the most magical place on earth. Disney is known for its superb safety, courtesy, show and efficiency, and keeping things moving seamlessly, but are they able to handle all of the new health and safety guidelines while maintaining the exceptional quality they are known for? After my own recent experience as a guest, I can happily say, the answer is a resounding YES! In fact, many of the recent changes actually feel like perks, making many hopeful that some of the changes will stick around for good.
Although character meet & greets, as we’ve known it for many years, are currently suspended, there are still opportunities to see characters and greet them from a distance! Characters will pop up when you least expect it, maybe on a balcony or in a grassy area skipping around. These are special new surprise appearances guests are able to experience, and adds an extra smile, laugh and pixie dust to the day!
Big parades have been replaced, at least for the foreseeable future, with cavalcades. These are unscheduled, much shorter parades that seem to pop up out of nowhere, when you least expect it! Each cavalcade lasts about 5 minutes with cute characters on floats, in cars and carriages! And, the characters are great at spotting anyone trying to get a photo of them or with them, via selfie. There is a total of about 15 different cavalcades throughout Walt Disney World, with 3-5 different ones at each Park (sometimes alternating days). It’s a burst of surprise and excitement! And, the best part, since there are no set times for these cavalcades, it allows extra time for guests to enjoy more rides and attractions, instead of guests feeling the need to wait on the sidewalks holding a good spot to watch a parade.
Social Distancing and Reduced Capacity
There are still great character meal options available, modified to fit into the new health guidelines. Restaurants that were previously buffet, have been transformed into family-style dining, and characters now make social distanced appearances, which still allow for pictures of the characters or selfies with the characters in the background.
A big question that many have is, how Disney is able to enforce social distancing with so many people in the park at one time. I was truly amazed at how well they were handling this new challenge. The lines for rides and attractions all have markers on the ground, noting where to stand, maintaining distance from the guests in front of and behind, and to our surprise, most followed these rules perfectly. At times there may be a guest who just isn’t paying attention or maybe used to abiding by the former announ
cements of “fill in all the available space”, and a polite reminder is all that is needed. I have to say, it was really nice to have the extra space and not have strangers right at your heels! Because of the social distance, the lines do appear to be much longer; However, with the addition of plexiglass to many of the rides, along with updated safety guidelines allowing for filling in all the rows of rides, and the suspension of the general FastPass system, the lines, on average, tend to move quicker than posted wait times.
As mentioned above, the FastPass program has been suspended indefinitely, and replaced with Park Passes, which allows for reserving a specific Park on a specific day. This change is related to the lower than normal limits on capacity at each Park. Currently (early 2021), the capacity limit is at 35% and guests need to secure a Park Pass in order to guarantee entrance into the Park of their choice for a specific day. It is highly recommended to book Park Passes on the same day as purchasing tickets or vacation packages. This new process allows for a little more flexibility in the day, and the ability to make more use out of the ride wait times listed in the My Disney Experience app.
Reduced capacity in Parks also extends seating capacity inside restaurants. As a result, the Disney Dining Plans have been suspended for now. Additional changes made include the modification of when dining reservations can be booked. The booking window has been modified from 180 days to 60 days from arrival. Even with the reduced capacity in restaurants, as long as guests start booking dining right at the 60 day mark, there should be plenty of great dining options in which to choose. And for those that like to really play it loose, there have been more fun features added to the My Disney Experience app! For guests that do not have a dining reservation, but day of would like to eat at a full-service restaurant, the app will now show if a restaurant is accepting walk-ups and what the wait times are for those restaurants. And, though the option to mobile order from some quick service restaurants has been a feature for a while, Disney has recently expanded this feature to include many more quick-service restaurants, and some full-service restaurants! This is such a great option, as it cuts way down on time spent standing in line just to order food and allows take-away, if reservations are full.
Bonus Tip: The My Disney Experience app now allows guests to use Disney Gift Cards as payment through the mobile order system! Although there is currently no way to store the gift cards in the app, but I suggest adding the number to notes in your phone for a quick and easy copy / paste each time you order.
Change is an expected occurrence these days and happens frequently, as options and benefits continue to gradually make a comeback. Recently, Park Hoppers have made a return with a new process. Park Hopping may occur starting at 2PM each day. Guests with the Park Hopper option on their tickets can hop to any other Disney Park, as long as the capacity limit has not been met. Guests can call 407-560-5555 to listen to a recording to find out if any Parks have reached capacity. There are buses available that will transport guests from Park to Park, making it an easier transfer. Cast Members are also available to check capacity at each Park prior to boarding the bus or the Disney Skyliner.
Added Features to My Disney Experience
In addition to the expanded mobile ordering and restaurant walk-up wait time feature, some other great new features to the My Disney Experience app are:
Mobile Check-in for full-service restaurant and ability to add additional guests to your reservation (if capacity allows for it).
Ability to join the Rise of the Resistance virtual boarding group, BEFORE entering Disney’s Hollywood Studios (at 7AM from the comfort of your hotel room!) or at 1PM inside the Park.
Some other great ways Disney is making it easier the Parks during this time
No longer need to use a finger print scan to enter the Parks.
The security monitors have been streamlined so that every guest goes through a metal detector, eliminating the need to manually check every bag (this makes the process so much faster!).
Sanitation and washing stations added around Parks, Resorts and Disney Springs.
Periodic sanitation spray down of rides and outdoor food kitchens.
Scannable codes for select restaurant menus.
Temperature checks at entrance of Parks and Disney Springs.
One entrance and one exit in the gift shops with Cast Members standing on either end to keep count of guests entering and exiting, in order to control capacity.
Disney is recommending guests use the online Check-In process through the My Disney Experience app to limit the need to visit the lobby for Check-In.
Guests can add their phone number and receive a text once their room is ready.
MagicBands and the app’s digital key feature can be used to unlock the Resort room door.
In addition to the many new health and safety guidelines added, here are some additional steps each guest can take to limit exposure:
Choose restaurants that offer outside dining or take-out.
Eat earlier or later than normal lunch and dinner times.
Bring your own sanitizer, to have on the ready.
Bring some snacks or purchase a snack from one of the many outdoor kitchens to enjoy in an area you feel comfortable.
Bring an extra mask to switch out if one gets wet.
Throughout the many recent changes, one of the wonderful highlights that stands out, are the amazing Cast Members. They are truly the ones who make the magic and help keep it alive. Cast Members have always had that special touch, but even more so now it seems, with reduced capacity, they have time to be more attentive than usual, whether it be striking up a happy conversation while waiting on your mobile order, or PhotoPass Cast Members really taking the time to make a connection while creating magic through photos.
Bonus Tip: If you are looking for Magic Shots, just ask any PhotoPass photographer, they are happy to oblige or point you to a location with fun Magic Shots!
While there are many great reasons, as I’ve listed above, to visit Walt Disney World now, some may still be hesitant, and that is understandable under the current global circumstances. If you are on the fence in whether to book a trip or not, keep in mind that to secure a reservation, a $200 deposit is needed up front and is fully refundable up to 30 days from arrival (due date of final payment). And, until April 30, there is an even more lenient cancellation policy, allowing for cancellation, without penalty, up until the time of Check-In.
Here are some other things to consider when thinking about a trip in the near future.
Masks are required to be worn in public areas throughout Walt Disney World (Resorts, Parks and Disney Springs) when not actively eating or drinking.
Never underestimate the magic of taking a break and going back to your Resort for a nap or swim in the pool!
There is a Relaxation Stations inside each Park, which are open air areas, with social distance measures, allowing guests to take a break from wearing their masks.
Guests are required to be stationary while eating or drinking (not allowed to walk around while actively eating).
It’s nice to take a snack break and sit or stand in a quiet area. There are plenty of amazing snacks to choose from, including the various outdoor kitchens at the 4 EPCOT festivals throughout the year!
Popcorn also makes a great snack that can be enjoyed throughout the day. Purchase a popcorn bucket for about $12 and get unlimited refills throughout your stay ($3 each refill).
Whether you are considering a trip this Spring or Summer, or waiting to celebrate Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary (which begins in October 2021 and runs through 2022), we are here and available to answer your Disney questions and plan the most magical vacation that is perfect for your family and friends!