Disney World Is Going to Be Different When It Reopens — Here Are the Major Changes

Disney World will begin reopening its theme parks on July 11.

Ever since Disneyland first opened its gates on July 17, 1955, the Disney theme parks have welcomed millions of guests who visit in search of entertainment with a dose of magic. For the first time, all six Disney theme park resorts around the world closed this winter because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many fans wondering when they would reopen. In a recent announcement, Disney World unveiled plans to begin reopening its theme parks on July 11, and now, Disney enthusiasts and future theme park guests are asking themselves another question: What will the Disney experience look like when the parks reopen?

It’s going to be different, but magical nonetheless.

New health and safety protocols, the implementation of mobile technologies, temporary pausing of events that draw crowds, and other changes mean that the theme park experience is going to be very different when Disney World reopens next month. And even though these changes may seem to take away from the Disney magic, they’ve been put into place to protect the health of visiting guests. Of course, even with all these new rules, Disney has found ways to keep the experience as real and as memorable as possible.

Here are seven ways Disney World will be different upon reopening.

Walt Disney World Resort from aerial view of the castle in Magic Kingdom
Walt Disney World Resort theme parks in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., plan to begin a phased reopening in July, pending approval from local and state authorities. Magic Kingdom Park (pictured) and Disney’s Animal Kingdom are planned to reopen on July 11, 2020, followed by EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 15, 2020. Matt Stroshane/Disney

1. Masks, Screenings, and Social Distancing

At this point, most theme park fans know that masks, temperature screenings, and social distancing will be common as parks across the country begin to reopen. Masks will be required for guests ages two and up, and everyone must have their temperature checked upon arrival. People with temperatures of 100.4 degrees or higher won’t be allowed in, nor will the other members of their party — the Disney World website recommends checking everyone’s temperature before leaving home as an extra precaution. Disney has also started selling their own masks online, featuring favorite characters. Of course, there will also be signs and cast members working to ensure guests practice social distancing.

New nighttime spectacular “Epcot Forever” debuts Oct. 1, 2019, above Epcot’s World Showcase Lagoon at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
David Roark/Disney

2. Parades and Nighttime Spectaculars Temporarily Paused, Some Events Cancelled

According to the Disney World website, “experiences that draw large group gatherings — such as parades and nighttime spectaculars — will return at a later date.” There are no further details about when these events will return, so guests visiting soon after reopening will probably not see fireworks shows or parades. Unfortunately, this also means that events including Mickey's Not-so-scary Halloween Party and Disney H2O Glow Nights at Typhoon Lagoon are cancelled, and Disney World has not yet decided if holiday events like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays will happen this year.

3. Increased Use of Mobile Technologies

For years, Disney has offered mobile ordering via the My Disney Experience app, so it makes sense that the use of this service is now highly encouraged. They’re also encouraging guests to use the online check-in for Disney hotels in order to bypass the front desk and instead receive a text when their room is ready. Once it's ready, guests can even open their room door with the app. This technology isn’t new for Disney either, but it will make the contactless experience even easier. Disney is also adding scannable codes for digital menus at select table-service restaurants. If you’re planning to visit Disney soon after it reopens, be sure to download the latest version of the app, so you have access to any new technologies. Guests can also use their MagicBands to streamline their on-site, contactless purchases.

4. New Social Distancing Squad

During a meeting with the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force, Jim McPhee, the senior vice president of operations at Walt Disney World, outlined the parks’ plans to reopen, listing the use of a “social distance squad.” This group will be made up of cast members engaging and encouraging guests to follow social distancing guidelines. Recently, Star Wars Stormtroopers took to Disney Springs to inspire guests to follow the new health and safety guidelines, adding a bit of Disney magic to the new rules.

5. Ticket Changes and Reduced Crowds Across the Parks

In order to adhere to CDC guidance on social distancing, theme park attendance will be limited, as will capacity on attractions, modes of transportation, at food and drink locations, and at merchandise locations. Hypothetically, reduced crowds at a popular theme park sounds like an ideal situation, but that does mean that guests (including annual pass holders) will need to make date-based reservations in order to visit. Disney recently unveiled the Disney Park Pass System, created to manage attendance by requiring park reservations in addition to tickets. Disney also announced that guests will not be allowed to visit more than one park in a day for now, so say goodbye to park hopping for the near future.

Princess Elena of Avalor at Princess Fairytale Hall
David Roark/Disney

6. Character Meet and Greets Are Temporarily Unavailable

Whether you’re meeting a favorite princess or Mickey Mouse himself, character greetings are a magical and memorable part of any Disney vacation. According to the Disney website, those will be temporarily unavailable upon reopening, too, but don’t worry — characters will still be out and about to delight guests of all ages (from a safe distance, of course). A recent post on the Disney Parks Blog described plans for socially-distant character interactions throughout the park — you might see Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom or Anna and Elsa around the World Showcase in Epcot.

7. Fastpass+ and Extra Magic Hours Are Temporarily Suspended

Fastpass+ and Extra Magic Hours are two ways that Disney World guests can skip the line for popular attractions and avoid crowds. Extra Magic Hours allow Disney resort guests to enjoy extra time in certain parks, and Fastpass+ lets guests make reservations for attractions of their choosing, so that they can go through a shorter line during an allotted time period. Both of these are going to be temporarily suspended upon reopening — Fastpass+ queue space will be used to ensure physical distancing in attraction lines.

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