The Reopening of Walt Disney World: What to Expect and What Is Changing

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Although the world is still struggling with how to live with the coronavirus (COVID-19), there are signs that life will go on and things will start coming back to a “new normal.” One of those signs is the reopening of Walt Disney World.

While Disneyland Shanghai was the first Disney property to close due to the pandemic and the first to reopen, Walt Disney World in Orlando will be the company’s first property to reopen in the U.S., starting in July 2020.

Disney recently sent out an email to Annual Passholders saying, “Soon it’ll be time to return to the enchantment. To laugh. To wish. To dream. To once again sing along with a small world. Journey to a galaxy far, far away. Conquer Everest. And sail through a Frozen land.”

Any Disney fan would get excited to read those words after seeing “The Most Magical Place On Earth” be closed for an unprecedented 118 days. But, travelers beware, there will be some major changes to your next trip to Disney if you are planning on going any time soon.

What Is Changing at Walt Disney World

Until there is a cure or a vaccine for the coronavirus, everyone is trying to figure out a way to go about their lives while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Here is what Disney will be changing about the health and safety protocols for parks:

Walt Disney Health and Safety Protocols COVID 19 Florida Reopening Presentation
Walt Disney World presentation for the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force. Image Credit: Walt Disney World

Health and Safety Protocols

For Walt Disney World to get approval to reopen its parks, the company was required to present a reopening safety plan to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force and then get approval from Orlando Mayor, Jerry Demings, and then final approval from Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis.

Disney broke up its Health and Safety Protocols into 5 different sections:

Enhanced Protective Measures

As expected, face coverings (masks) will be required for all guests above the age of 2, as well as for cast members. Disney classifies a face covering as something that:

  • Fully covers an individual’s nose and mouth while allowing the guest to remain hands-free
  • Fits snugly, but comfortably, against the side of the face
  • Should be secured with ties or ear loops
  • Should be made of breathable material, either disposable or reusable

For those who are concerned about wearing a mask for 8+ hours in Florida summer heat, there have been talks about “Relaxation Zones,” where guests can remove their masks while maintaining distance from other guests, similar to “U-Rest Areas” at Universal Studios Orlando.

Parks will now have more hand washing and sanitizing stations with reminders in strategic locations throughout.

Retail and food and beverage points of sale will have plexiglass shields when distancing cannot be maintained.

Hot Tip: Keep in mind that the regular rules for masks and costumes still apply, so adults will not be able to use character masks (like Darth Vader, for example) as a face covering. 

Physical Distancing

To help maintain physical distancing, there will be a capacity limit in the theme parks, restaurants, retail shops, attractions, buses, monorails, and other official transportation options.

Additionally, there will be a temporary suspension of parades, fireworks, and other events that attract large crowds.

While there is no official word yet on what limited capacity means, if Walt Disney World is going to follow the Disneyland Shanghai playbook for reopening, we could expect to see about a 30% capacity for Phase 1.

Enhanced Cleaning/Sanitation

On top of Disney’s already high standards, parks will receive more frequent cleaning across high-touch locations and surfaces.

This will be applied both inside the park as well as backstage for cast members.

Temperature/Health Screening

Guests will have their temperatures taken at the main entrances of each park. Currently, both Disney Springs and Universal CityWalk are using 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) as the temperature limit. If you read any higher, you will not be allowed in the park.

These screenings will be completed by a third party with a contactless, handheld device.

Limited-Contact Enhancements

Disney will be prioritizing the use of contactless payments with MagicBands, Apple Pay, and Google Pay by enabling cashless transactions at restaurants and retail stores.

There will be more locations that accept mobile ordering of food and beverage options.

Finally, there will be a temporary suspension of high-touch experiences such as meet-and-greets and playgrounds.

Reopening Dates

Walt Disney World Cast and Community Facebook Page
Image Credit: Walt Disney World Cast and Community Facebook page

Starting on July 11, 2020, Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom will begin a phased reopening followed by Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 15, 2020.

Currently, there are no reopening dates set for Disney water parks and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Disney Springs began a phased reopening on May 20, 2020. Currently, almost all restaurants and retail shops are open with limitations in place. For complete details about what to expect, visit the Disney Springs website.

New Reservation System

To adhere to the physical distancing rules that were presented above, park capacity will be limited using the following methods:

Revised Park Reservations

Initially, park capacity will be controlled via a new reservation system. To enter a park, guests will need both a park reservation and a valid ticket for the same park on the same date. This is limited to 1 park per day, and if you have a multi-day ticket, you will need to make multiple reservations.

Previously, guests only needed to show up at the gate with a valid ticket, no reservation required.

Important dates:

  • Disney Resort Hotel guests with a valid park ticket can make reservations beginning June 22, 2020
  • Annual Passholders who do not have hotel reservations can make a park reservation beginning June 26, 2020
  • Existing ticket holders can make park reservations beginning June 28, 2020

New Ticket Sales

Currently, all new ticket sales are temporarily paused. Annual Passholders and guests who have already purchased tickets will be able to make reservation requests in phases before new tickets are sold to the general public.

Once those guests have been accommodated, new ticket sales will resume.

New Walt Disney World Resort Hotel Reservations

Currently, new reservations at Walt Disney World Resort hotels are temporarily paused. At the moment, only Disney Vacation Club Members can still make new reservations.

Once guests with existing reservations have been accommodated, new reservations will resume.

Dining Reservations

Mickey Mouse Waffles and Bacon
Image Credit: Walt Disney World

Starting on June 22, 2020, a limited number of Walt Disney World Resort hotel restaurants will reopen. Unfortunately, Disney has canceled all existing dining reservations and dining plans that are included in packages through the end of the year.

Dining and experience reservations will reopen in limited numbers when the parks reopen and the reservation window will go down from 180 days to 60 days in advance.

Guests that have had their reservations canceled will have priority access to rebooking them when the time comes.

Additionally, character dining will unavailable due to physical distancing concerns.

If you will be dining at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you will need:

  • A confirmed room reservation
  • A confirmed dining reservation (if you are not a hotel guest)
  • Face coverings for all guests above the age of 2 in all public areas except while seated for dining

FastPass+ and Experiences

Disney Springs Cast Member via Walt Disney World Instagram
Image Credit: Walt Disney World via Instagram

Disney has temporarily suspended FastPass+ and canceled existing FastPass+ reservations to manage capacity and maintain physical distancing when parks reopen in July.

Although we are still waiting to hear what the new procedure will be, it wouldn’t be surprising to see something similar to the virtual queue and boarding groups that are used at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

This means that those of us who are over-planners and love a good touring plan will be starting from scratch.

And as mentioned before, upon reopening, there will be no Extra Magic Hours, fireworks, character meets, parades, and other events that create large crowds.

Transportation

Monorail Walt Disney World Orlando
Image Credit: Heather Maguire via Unsplash

There is some good news when it comes to transportation. Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests will still have access to the complimentary airport transportation, Disney’s Magical Express. Since physical distancing practices will need to be maintained, so be aware that there may be delays.

Additionally, buses, monorails, and ferry boats will be running on a limited basis starting July 11, 2020, with physical distancing being enforced. Again, due to the limited amount of people allowed, delays may occur. The Disney Skyliner is set to open on July 15, 2020.

Unfortunately, at reopening, Minnie Vans will not be available.

Finally, guests with disabilities can rest assured that the Disability Access Service (DAS) will continue to operate the same way it did before.

What to Expect at Walt Disney World Resort Hotels

Video Credit: Disney Parks via YouTube

Select Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground will reopen on June 22, 2020.

The current list includes:

  • Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
  • Disney’s Beach Club Villas
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
  • Disney’s Old Key West Resort
  • Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
  • Disney’s Riviera Resort
  • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort
  • The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort

Hot Tip: Wondering where to stay on your next trip to Disney? Be sure to read our article on the best places to stay in Orlando for your Disney vacation.

Reservations

Guests with existing reservations at a hotel that is not scheduled to be open can move their reservation to an open hotel at no extra cost, but they cannot choose the hotel.

Disney is currently reaching out to guests with a checkout date of June 11, 2020, or earlier to help with modifying, canceling, or confirming their reservation.

At the Resort

The Disney health and safety team has looked for ways to keep you and your family safe while keeping the magic alive.

Beginning June 22, 2020, guests can chat with a resort cast member via the My Disney Experience app for assistance during their stay. This will allow guests to resolve issues 24 hours per day, remotely, so there will be no need to visit the front desk or stand in line.

Guests can expect to see more online check-in options, increased cleaning in high-traffic areas, more hand sanitizer locations across the property, and many more initiatives.

Leisure pools will be open 24 hours per day, but with limited capacity to enforce physical distancing.

Fitness centers will be open in alignment with state regulations and may have reduced hours and capacity. However, instructor-led fitness classes will not be available.

In the Room

Housekeeping cast members have received updated training and rooms will receive a thorough cleaning before check-in with a focus on high-touch areas like TV remotes and door handles.

Floors will be steam cleaned and vacuumed between guests and housekeeping tools will be cleaned between rooms.

During a guest stay, a light cleaning service will be offered every other day, which will include trash removal and replenishment of towels and amenities.

Hot Tip: The coronavirus has changed the way we travel, be sure to read Traveling with Kids During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) to be prepared. 

What Will Not Be Available at Walt Disney World

Disney Character Meet with Tiana
No character meet-and-greets in the near future. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

Unfortunately, even though ticket and hotel prices will remain the same, many classic parts of the Disney hotel and park experience will not be available upon reopening, including the following:

  • Arcades
  • Campfires
  • Character experiences
  • Dog parks
  • Electrical Water Pageant
  • Fireworks voyages and tasting cruises, including the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage
  • Fun runs
  • Hula lessons
  • In-room childcare services
  • Marina rentals
  • Mermaid school
  • Playgrounds
  • Spas, salons, and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
  • Special classes and programs—including culinary, cultural and animal programs
  • Wonderland Tea Party at Park Fare
  • and more…

For a complete list of impacted experiences, visit the Walt Disney World website.

What to Pack for Your Next Disney Vacation

Braun Touchless Forehead Thermometer on Away Carry On Bag
Touchless thermometers are great for use on kids. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

Packing for Disney under normal circumstances is a daunting task.

Traveling and packing with the coronavirus very present, priorities shift towards safety and sanitation. We should all be familiar with the best ways to sanitize our airplane seats, hotel rooms, and luggage.

A standard travel list, nowadays, will probably look something like this:

  • Face masks
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Thermometer
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Portable UVC light

Final Thoughts

Disney Springs Cast Member via Disney Springs Instagram
Image Credit: Disney Springs Instagram

While the reopening of Walt Disney World doesn’t mean that the threat of the coronavirus is gone, it is a sign that things are starting to come back to normal, well… a new normal.

For many Disney lovers, just stepping foot on Main Street, U.S.A in the Magic Kingdom will bring some much-needed joy that has been missing for so many these past few months.

Just remember, visitors from certain parts of the country will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arriving in Florida. So plan accordingly.

That being said, the classic, magical Disney experience is modified for now, but hopefully, someday soon, it will be back.

For now, we have a safer, socially distant version that will certainly scratch the itch for many Disney fans.

If you are one of the limited number of guests who will have access to the parks, have a safe and magical trip!


Frequently asked questions

Will Disney World require face masks?

Yes, guests will be required to wear face coverings at Walt Disney World and Disney Springs in Orlando.

Disney classifies a face covering as something that:

  • Fully covers an individual’s nose and mouth while allowing the guest to remain hands-free
  • Fits snugly, but comfortably, against the side of the face
  • Should be secured with ties or ear loops
  • Should be made of breathable material, either disposable or reusable

When will Disney World reopen?

Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom will begin a phased reopening starting on July 11, 2020. Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will open on July 15, 2020. Currently, there is no reopening date for the Disney water parks or ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Will there be a capacity limit at Disney World due to the coronavirus?

Yes. During Phase 1 of the reopening, it is anticipated that about only 30% of normal capacity will be allowed into the park. Guests will need a reservation as well as a valid ticket for the day that they want to visit.

What is Disney doing to make reopening safe?

Walt Disney World is taking multiple precautions when it comes to reopening its parks safely. These steps include enhanced protective measures (face protection), physical distancing (limited capacity), enhanced cleaning and sanitation, temperature/health screenings, as well as contactless payment enhancements.

Chris Hassan

About Chris Hassan

Chris is from Boston and is currently living in Rio de Janeiro with his wife, two kids, and their dog, Shelby. When Chris was in college, he spent a semester abroad studying hotel and business management in Switzerland. That is where he caught the travel bug and met his wife. Quite a successful trip!

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2 comments

  1. Abroad with Ash June 24, 2020

    Visiting the park when it’s at 30% capacity is enticing…wearing a mask in the heat and humidity all day is not…it will be interesting to see how opening goes.

    Reply

    • Chris Hassan June 29, 2020

      Both of those points are very true. And I agree with you, it will certainly be interesting to see how things go, especially now since Disneyland has delayed its opening.

      Reply

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