Walt Disney World is Open: What You Need to Know Before You Go
On Saturday July 11th, Walt Disney World began its phased opening of its 4 theme parks. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom opened first and Epcot and Hollywood Studios opened on July 15th. Things look different to returning guests, but no need to fear, Disney magic is still all around.
Safety Protocols: Disney has worked with health experts to ensure that guests are as safe as they can be. Several protocols have been put in place such as additional handwashing and hand sanitizer stations and social distancing markers throughout the park. Masks are required for all guests aged 2 and over. Relaxation stations are located in each park where guests can rest, while socially distanced, and take a break from their masks. Cast members are doing extra cleaning of attractions, railings and all touch points. Plexiglass barriers have also been put up in locations when social distancing may not be possible.
Park Reservations: Disney has also implemented a new “Park Reservation” system, which will help maintain lower crowd capacities. These are necessary to enter the theme parks each day. Guests are being advised to book them as soon as their vacation package is confirmed or they purchase tickets for best availability. At the current time, Disney has suspended Park Hopping. Guests are limited to the one park that they have reserved each day, but guests can leave the park and return later in the day if they choose. If you plan on dining in a theme park, you must have a park reservation for that park prior to making reservations.
Resort Locations: Another change during the phased reopening are the availability of Disney resorts. Not all of the resorts are opening when the parks open. All of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resorts, except for Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House, along with the Contemporary Resort and Pop Century are currently welcoming guests. At the end of July, Caribbean Beach Resort will also reopen. August will see the re-opening of the Yacht and Club resort. The Grand Floridian will re-open in late September and by mid-October The Polynesian Resort (non DVC rooms) and Coronado Springs Resort will also be open for guests. On November 1, Art of Animation will welcome guests back. At the current time (and through some of 2021) Disney’s All Star Resorts, both Port Orleans resorts, Animal Kingdom Jambo House and the non-DVC portions of Beach Club, Boardwalk and Wilderness Lodge do not have set plans to re-open. Guests should be aware that even though a resort may be open, not all facilities and dining options will be open.
Dining: As resorts open up in stages, the same can be said for Disney World dining locations. The first big change is with character dining. Some locations such as Topolino’s at the Riviera Resort and Garden Grill in Epcot have opened with a modified character experience. Characters continue to walk through the restaurant, but they no longer stop at each table for individual photos and autographs. Guests are given a card with all of the character autographs and “socially distanced” selfies can be taken. Other character locations have either changed to non-character dining or have not opened at this point in time. Another change is to locations that were buffets. These locations are either remaining closed at the current time or adapted their selections to family style serving at the tables.
At table service locations, guests will also notice that menus are now either single use paper versions or that they will need to scan a QR Code to the view menu on their smartphones. At Quick Service locations, Mobile Ordering is definitely encouraged as the way to go. As more people utilize this service, don’t forget to place your order early.
Changes in the parks: For the foreseeable future, some in-park experiences have been put on hold. Fan favorites such as parades, fireworks and personal character interactions are not happening. In effort to make some of the magic for guests, random character cavalcades and appearances are happening in each park. Disney is taking this opportunity to bring back some rare character appearances as well. While not the up close and personal interaction of the past, rare character sightings without the long waits, can be a good trade off.
Transportation: There are also some changes to transportation as well. Depending on when guests visit, not all services will be running from all the resorts. Bus wait times may be longer than normal. A new procedure seems to be in place where bus drivers are assigning areas for families to sit, depending on family size, in order to maintain social distancing for everyone.
How to visit: Vacation packages, room only reservations and ticket sales recently were re-opened for guests who wish to visit in 2020. With capacity limits in place for both the parks and resorts, planning early will give guests the best options.
Guests who wish to visit in 2021 are also welcome to book now for dates through September 26, 2021. The last portion of 2021, which will include the 50th Anniversary celebration, should be opening sometime soon.
With all the changes that have taken place and will probably be taking place in the near future, working with a travel planner is more beneficial to guests than ever. I work with each client to ensure that they have all the information they need for the most relaxing and least stressful vacation, especially in these uncertain times.
Not everyone is comfortable traveling now but when you are ready, Disney is making every effort to keep you safe. Things do look a bit different in the “new normal”, but there is magic to be found.