Walt Disney World has been seeing many (many) changes this year due to the pandemic. Previously chatted in our Disney COVID FAQ. The safety and health protocols put in place by Walt Disney World have been quickly adjusting to new rules and mandates. While some services have completely returned, others are still in limbo. Here are all the ways Walt Disney World is Returning to Normal in 2021.
Face Masks No Longer Required
Effective immediately, Walt Disney World is no longer requiring the use of face masks. Anywhere.
Self-Service Refillable Mug Stations Have Returned
One of the first things that got pulled as part of Walt Disney World’s reopening plans was self-service refillable mug stations. If you have been to Walt Disney World during the pandemic you know that instead a cast member would take your mug and fill it for you. OR the service would be completely unavailable, allowing you to get a paper cup for your drink instead. BUT, now this has started to return across Disney Resorts and we couldn’t be happier! If you are a Disney Vacationer, you know there is nothing better than late-night commissary visits with your refillable mug in hand. And now, thankfully, Disney guests can refill their own mugs! A surefire sign that Walt Disney World is returning to normal, though we’re not sure just how widespread this practice is quite yet.
Temperature Checks are No Longer Required
Temperature checks are going away at Walt Disney World on May 16, 2021. While previously required not only at the Park gates but also table service restaurants, this health and safety protocol is now removed from the lineup of requirements. Which should help with getting guests in the parks faster. Enjoy!
Character Dining is Returning
Disney Character dining at a variety of restaurants is returning! While the character experience at the Topolino Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort has offered physically distanced character dining, now other restaurants are allowing characters to return as well. Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Cape May Café at Disney’s Beach Club Resorts, and Tusker House Restaurants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom welcome characters back for meals starting May 18th. A surefire marker that Walt Disney World is Returning to Normal. Even seeing Disney characters at a distance in a dining location is a big step forward.
Buffet Restaurants now Serving Meals Family-Style
A welcome change to buffet dining is that now all meals at buffet restaurants are now served family-style. We LOVE this change for a variety of reasons. The food across the board at these locations now is simply better! Blame it on the fact that food is no longer sitting under a warm light or that now the menu has to be a little more creative. This new way of eating an all-you-care-to-enjoy meal is so much better.
Mind you, this change has also taken away the uncomfortable communal sitting that sometimes happened. Biergarten is no longer requiring you to sit with another family (awkward) and you can really focus on your favorite foods. Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom, Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Biergarten at EPCOT Germany, Cape May at the Beach Club, and Tusker House at Animal Kingdom are all serving family-style. With physically distanced tables in each restaurant.
Attraction Wait Times Are Increasing
A sure sign that Walt Disney World is Returning to Normal is the crowds. Yes, even with lower capacity, the crowds are Walt Disney World are pouring in and heading to rides and attractions. What’s more is that since each attraction line has a 3-foot distance requirement between travel parties, the lines for these attractions wrap pall over the park. With crowds increasing our best recommendation is to Get to the Parks Early! We’ve shared that tip before in many (many) posts on this blog and it’s true now more than ever. If you’re staying at a Disney Resort and have the option to get in the parks 30 minutes before opening, do so. This will help you make sure you get on your favorite rides without battling the crowds later in the day.
Additionally, we recommend prioritizing all your MUST-DO rides early in the day. The lines for popular rides like Flight of Passage, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run will only get longer throughout the day.
Character Cavalcades are Your Best Chance to see Characters
While there are “no parades” and “no character meet and greets” at Walt Disney World, there are still Character Cavalcades and impromptu appearances across the parks. These cavalcades are kind of like parades. Offering you glimpses of characters at a distance with their arrival sometimes set to catchy music. You can watch princesses ride through Epcot in a cavalcade. Or Mickey in his car at Hollywood Studios in his motorcade. And even Pocahontas in her flotilla boat on discovery River in Animal Kingdom. This may not feel as intimate as a Meet and Greet but these little bits of magic are well worth catching. They usually run every hour or so. Check out all the places you can find Walt Disney World characters now.
Hand Sanitizing Stations are Gone
One of the most noticeable removals of the pandemic changes is the mass removal of handwashing and sanitization stations. With so many things changing so quickly, these units served their purpose during a difficult time and have been removed. As always, it is still important to practice good hygiene in the parks to prevent placing yourself in any unnecessary unsafe situations. And we highly recommend continuing to bring a personal hand sanitizer of your own to the parks.
Mobile Order is Taking Longer
Our favorite pandemic-friendly service, Mobile Ordering at Walt Disney World is now taking longer. With everyone going contactless and mobile ordering their food as recommended the wait time to pick up food can be close to 30-40 minutes! While it used to be our favorite Disney Pro Tip to order food when you exited Flight of Passage and grab it at Satu’li Canteen on the way out, that is no longer the case. Be ready to put in your meal requests in Mobile Order ahead of time. And as always, ordering outside of regular meal times ( between 2-4 pm, or 7-9 pm) offers the lowest wait times.
Lines are Longer Now and Confusing
Blame it on the 3-foot line markers on the ground, but lines across Walt Disney World are simply getting longer as crowds get higher. Without FastPasses and more people in the park, this is of course to be expected so just be patient. More frustrating still is that it’s not always clear where the line begins or ends. Be sure to check with cast members as needed throughout your stay so you can make sure you’re in the right line for the right attraction.
There is an Entrance and an Exit Everywhere
Say it with me, “one-way traffic.” A dominant element of the pandemic restrictions in any public place is the need for and enforcement of one-way traffic. For buildings especially, there is an Entrance Door and an Exit Door and they are not the same. There are even some public areas where a one-way traffic flow is necessary due to the width of the space. Please be mindful and aware of these rules. Most doors will be clearly marked, Entrance and Exit. Make it easy on the cast members and less awkward for other guests by simply entering and exiting through the correct doors.
Everything is Taking Longer
Give yourself extra time for everything. Whether it’s waiting in a line at a ride or Starbucks or getting on a bus or waiting on the monorail. With fewer people working and more people showing up it’s naturally all going to take longer. Add in the fact that fewer people are supposed to be on shared transportation, and all lines have distancing rules in place and you’ll realize it’s naturally all going to take longer.
Disney Springs on the Weekends Hit Capacity FAST
By far one of the surest signs that Walt Disney World is returning to normal is the revenge shopping happening at Disney Springs. As a result, we highly recommend either going very early to Disney Springs on the weekend or not going at all. As part of our general Best Days to Visit Each Disney Park advice, Disney Springs has the lowest crowds on weekday mornings. At present, if you are waiting for the weekends to head to Disney Springs you are competing not only with other Disney guests but locals as well. This has caused the parking garages to fill up early in the day and the capacity for Disney Springs to be capped before dinner. If you’re planning to go, go early!
Security Sensors are the Gates are More Sensitive
Frankly, we love the new security setup in the Disney parks. It no longer requires you to wait in line while security digs through your bag, so that’s nice. BUT, this new sensitive security system can also catch the littlest things you may have in your bag. Metal drink containers, battery parks, umbrellas, and even glasses cases can set off the alarm and hold up your day. Anything cylindrical tends to set it off. So be sure to have those things held out in front of you as you walk through the scanner.
What is Still Restricted at Walt Disney World?
Walt Disney World Capacity is not full, but increasing
Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, had previously announced that Walt Disney World’s Capacity was at 35% and would remain so through the end of the year. But overall capacity has begun to increase.
“In terms of the parks, and when we’re going to sort of be able to raise our capacity limits, we’ve actually already started that, given the guidance that just came today, from the CDC, and earlier guidance that we got from the governor of Florida, we’ve already started to increase our capacities, those obviously today’s guidance that we got from the CDC in terms of those that were vaccinated do not necessarily need to wear masks anymore, both outdoors and indoors.” – Bob Chapek
The biggest issues right now are in-building and in-close quarters capacity. Places like restaurants, theater attractions, buses, and other Disney transportation may all continue to have certain capacity limitations even as the park’s overall capacity increases.
Disney Park Pass Reservations are Still Required
If you’re visiting Walt Disney World you will still need a Disney Park Pass Reservation to get into any park, in addition to a valid park ticket. Note that a Disney Resort Reservation does not guarantee a park pass reservation, so be sure to check the Park Pass Reservation calendar to make sure your vacation dates have park availability. Park Pass Reservations are currently slated to be required until 2023.
Physical Distancing is Still Required, but down to 3-feet!
UPDATE: All Physical Distancing Requirements are gone.
Physical distancing is still required both in and outdoors at Walt Disney World. Restaurants and lobbies at resorts have all actively adjusted seating to accommodate this distancing. And quick service and attraction lines have designated this spacing by using a tape marker on the ground.
Along with required physical distancing, and capacity limits here are a few other things that have not yet returned to normal.
- No Dining Plan
- 60 Day Dining Reservations
- In-Building Capacity
- No Character Meet and Greets
- Most Performances still unavailable
- No parades
- No fireworks
- Disney Park Pass Reservations Required
- Park Hopping after 2 pm only
- Room Service unavailable
- No FastPasses
While the ways in which Walt Disney World is Returning to Normal may not be just like the old days, it’s closer than it has been. We’ll be keeping tabs on all the changes at Walt Disney World as we begin to get over the pandemic. And if you decide to visit Walt Disney World you will have plenty of things to look forward to. New rides, restaurants, and shows are coming as part of Disney’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations that start October 1, 2021.
Rochelle Mariah is a writer, designer and photographer with an MLIS in Information Science and a B.S. in Arch and Design. Determined to make Planning a DIY Disney Vacation easier she makes lots of lists and drinks lots of coffee. When not designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's watching old movies and planning the holidays. She has been traveling to Disney destinations since 2010.