Disney World Is Open: Here’s Everything You Need to Know Before Planning Your Trip
The gates to the happiest place on Earth are open, with Walt Disney World welcoming visitors of all ages to enjoy its attractions, delicious Dole Whip and sense of magic. But while things are starting to return to normal in the U.S., not everything is quite same at the theme park, which started slowly reopening last summer. Disney has stepped up its safety measures, with boosted cleaning and extra physical distancing, and if you plan ahead it’s still possible to have a carefree day exploring Disney World’s many parks. And, in fact, this might be the best time to go: Thanks to limited capacity, you won’t have to worry about crowds or not being able to book a table at beloved eatery Victoria & Albert’s.
From face masks to cashless service, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Walt Disney World this summer.
Tickets and Annual Passes
All Disney fans heading in to one of the Walt Disney World parks must have a booked ticket. We repeat: Do not go to Disney World unless you have a confirmed ticket or an existing annual pass. Once you do, use the Disney Park Pass system to make your park reservations. Sadly, there are no new purchases of annual passes, so if you don’t already have one you’re going need to buy a ticket. Existing customers with annual passes are allowed to renew them online.
There are numerous ticket options, from one-day tickets to week-long “Ultimate Tickets,” so do some research before booking. The Park Hopper option, which lets you visit a second park on a given day, is back from 2 p.m. daily. If you need to change or cancel a ticket, call the Disney Reservation Center.
New Capacities and Opening Times
This may be the least crowded you’ve ever seen Disney World. The parks are operating with limited capacity to ensure physical distancing, which means less guests (and hopefully shorter lines). It’s unclear when exactly Disney World will get the greenlight to reopen to full capacity again, but Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Chapek recently confirmed he hopes that will happen by the winter holiday season.
Walt Disney World is open daily, with Magic Kingdom Park unlocking its doors from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. The hours of the other parks vary, so it’s best to check online for your specific date ahead of a visit. Note that while the parks are open into the evening, there are currently no parades or fireworks shows to keep you there after dark.
To Mask or Not to Mask
Disney World recently announced that face coverings will be optional for fully vaccinated guests in most areas. Face coverings will still be required on Disney transportation, including Disney buses, monorails and Disney Skyliner. “While we will not require proof of vaccination, we expect Guests who are not fully vaccinated to continue wearing face coverings in all indoor locations, and upon entering and throughout all attractions and transportation,” read the guidelines on the Disney website.
Physical distancing guidelines will also be relaxed, according to Disney. While the theme park has not given exact details about the new distancing requirements, the website says the changes will visible “in places like queues, shops, restaurants, attraction boarding, transportation and our theaters.”
For those who are unvaccinated, masks must be worn in all indoor areas except when actively eating or drinking. They’re also required in all attractions and transportation with the parks.
Disney World specifies what sort of face coverings are allowed in the park, so make sure you have the right accessory before you head in. All masks must include at least two layers, be secured with ties or ear loops, and, most importantly, cover both your nose and mouth. Not allowed: costume masks, neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind.
What’s Open—and What’s Not
The four theme parks, Magic Kingdom Park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, are currently open, as is Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park. However, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park has yet to allow visitors back inside. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is welcoming wannabe Jedi knights, although you need a specific reservation for Disney’s Hollywood Studios to join the virtual queue to enter the attraction. Disney Springs, a shopping and eating area, is open to the public.
While you can ride the rides to your heart’s content, Disney World has paused some of its experiences due to safety concerns. At the moment, there are no parades or nighttime shows, and no access to playgrounds. Sadly, this also means you won’t be able to snap that Instagram shot of you hugging Cinderella as character meet-and-greets are on hold. The characters are still around, with many roaming the parks, but physical distancing is key, so give Mickey that two meters of space.
Most of the attractions are open, but Disney has used the pandemic as an opportunity to refurbish a few spots in the parks. Unfortunately, that means no Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for you. The iconic The Hall of Presidents is also closed for renovations.
Most of Disney World Resort’s hotels have welcomed guests back in for overnight stays, with Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and Disney's Polynesian Village Resort to follow in July. Still, you should anticipate your stay having a few extra safety measures, including face masks in all indoor areas for visitors who are unvaccinated. Guests can opt for Online Check-In service and Direct-to-Room service to help maintain distance, and the My Disney Experience app can be used as a digital room key. Most importantly, all guests need a confirmed hotel reservation before they show up—this isn’t the summer to head to the resorts on a whim.
Where to Stay Near Orlando
Reservations are highly recommended for dining (and they are required in some restaurants, so check online ahead of time). You can book a table 60 days in advance. Expect to see people wearing face masks inside except when actively eating and drinking, QR code menus and less self-service options. If you’re tech savvy, order in advance on the My Disney Experience app, which lets you select your meal online and then pick it up without waiting.
Tips for Visiting
Cash is not king at Disney World—or really anywhere—these days. Make sure you have a credit or debit card to pay for food and merchandise. If that’s not possible, head to Guest Relations and use your cash to buy a Disney Gift Card, which is basically like a cooler credit card. Guests staying in one of the resort hotels can also pay with their MagicBands, which allow charges to go straight to the hotel bill (thanks Dad!). Parking is also cashless.
There have been a few adjustments to the security screening process when you enter the parks. Guests now have to carry all bags and belongings directly through the metal detectors, which obviously can cause some delays. Disney World recommends using clear bags and traveling light, if possible, and removing any umbrellas before walking through. Speaking of carrying things, Disney’s package delivery service to the front of the parks and the resort hotels is not in operation, so if you buy something you’re going to have to haul it around all day.
Want some souvenir photos? You can still get them with the Disney PhotoPass Service, but Disney PhotoPass photographers can’t touch your phone or personal camera to do it. Additionally, at some photo sites, touching the props and background isn’t allowed. Be respectful of the photographer and keep your distance—the picture will still look amazing and enviable on Instagram. We have FOMO already.