The Re-Opening of Walt Disney World: 16 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting
On the evening of March 15, 2020, Disney fans faced an unprecedented event in Disney World history—the closing of the beloved Florida parks due to an also unprecedented villain, the COVID-19 global pandemic. Though the parks had closed for a day or two here and a day or two there because of hurricane forecasts and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in September of 2011, never before had the massive resort closed in an effort to prevent the spread of a virus affecting every country across the globe. For Disney World fans, the closure was a tough (but necessary) pill to swallow.
The good news—no, the great news—is that our beloved parks began a phased reopening on July 11! And just to make sure you don’t miss one bit of the magic, we’ve compiled this list of some things you’ll need to know before visiting again. Let’s take a look.
16. Yes, it’s still worth going.
Let’s just clear that up right now. My family and I just returned from the parks. We were there beginning July 15, and we visited every day with the exception of three days all the way through August 4. Yes, it’s absolutely worth it. Just be smart and follow precautions.
15. It’s impossible to access the parks without the My Disney Experience app.
Downloading the app has always been a good idea. But now, that download is imperative. The app is the only way you’ll be able to access quick-service restaurants. It’s also the only way you’ll be able to check in for your dining reservations. You’ll also need the app to request to enter virtual queues for attractions like Galaxy Edge’s Rise of the Resistance.
14. You will absolutely, positively be required to wear a mask in order to experience the magic.
And so will every member of your family who is two years old and older. Walt Disney World refers to them as “face coverings,” and there are a few rules about them that you’ll want to keep in mind. First, Guests are required to wear them on Disney property at all times, except when stationary, socially distanced and actively eating or drinking. (Translation: you can’t walk around with your Dole Whip and not wear a face covering; instead, you’ll need to be standing or sitting in one place and enjoying your Dole Whip at that time in order to be permitted to remove your face covering.)
13. Disney World is specific about those face masks.
If you want to visit Mickey’s stomping grounds during the pandemic, you’ll need to know that Disney is specific about the type of face covering that must be worn and the way in which those coverings must be worn. Disney World guidelines make it clear that face coverings worn by Guests must fully cover the nose and mouth and secure under the chin, be secured with ties or ear loops and allow Guests to remain hands-free. Also, certain types of face coverings are not permitted. These include neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas, costume masks and coverings with valves, mesh or holes of any kind.
12. Some of your favorite restaurants are not open at this time.
As disappointing as it was to see that places like Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom and Woody’s Lunch Box at Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Toy Story Land are not currently open, it’s for good reason. If you’re really looking forward to eating at a particular spot, visit Disney’s website before your visit to see if it’s open.
11. Dining reservations have changed a bit.
At Disney World, Guests usually have the option to make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance. Not so during this strange time. Currently, dining reservations can only be made up to 60 days in advance. Because of this shorter window of time, you’ll want to make your reservations as soon as possible.
10. Dining has also changed a bit.
During this unprecedented time, Disney World has changed the dining experience as well. About 15 to 20 minutes before your reservation time, you will receive a notification via the My Disney Experience app that tells you it’s time to check in for your meal. Instead of approaching the host stand to do so, you’ll check in via the app. It’s really simple. Also, once you are seated, you’ll notice there are no menus; you’ll instead be given a slip of paper with a QR code. Simply scan the QR code with your phone to see the menu. Keep in mind that places like Biergarten in the Germany pavilion at Epcot—an establishment that usually serves a buffet-style lunch and dinner—now serve food family-style. (We enjoyed it last week, and though it’s not the buffet, most all of the options are still there; the only difference is that a friendly server brings long trays of food to your table!)
9. Mobile orders are the preferred way to access quick-service food.
In fact, most quick-service venues at Disney World require you to place a mobile order and wait for your order to be ready before you can enter the restaurant. Once again, the My Disney Experience app is worth its weight in gold.
8. You’ll need a reservation.
Sorry, Passholders; this means you too. No need to make it complicated. Here’s the breakdown. If you’re an Annual Passholder, you’ll be able to reserve up to three days in the parks, whether consecutive or spread apart. If you purchase tickets, you can reserve park days equal to the number of valid days on your tickets.
7. Yes, you can now purchase tickets. But be careful.
Ticket sales have resumed, and Guests are invited to purchase tickets for admittance to the parks. But be careful—you’ll want to check Disney’s availability calendar before making your purchase so that you know you can reserve the park you want on the day you want. Check the availability calendar. Then purchase your ticket(s), and immediately make your reservation for days in the parks. You don’t want to purchase a ticket for tomorrow if there are no parks available tomorrow.
6. You’ve never seen so much hand sanitizer.
Thank goodness for hand sanitizer! At Disney World, hand sanitizer dispensers are almost as common as trash cans. Take advantage of them!
5. You can wash your hands with an audience!
It’s true. If hand sanitizer doesn’t make you feel safe enough, you’re not alone. Remember that the CDC recommends using hand sanitizer kind of as a way of buying time until you can wash your hands. Not only can you stop into any restroom at Disney World and wash your hands with soap and water; you can also take advantage of free-standing hand-washing stations along many thoroughfares in all four parks. And no, no one will make fun of you. If anything, others are waiting their turns to do the same. (Remember to scrub your hands briskly for at least 20 seconds!)
4. Park hours look drastically different.
Right now, all four parks at Disney World are seeing reduced operating hours. Right now, you can enjoy Magic Kingdom from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Epcot from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (World Showcase and Future World), Disney’s Hollywood Studios from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Disney’s Animal Kingdom from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
3. Shorter operating hours are coming in September.
Because of an increased number of cancellations at Disney World, the resort will be seeing a change in operating hours beginning next month. Magic Kingdom will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Epcot will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Guests will be able to enjoy the natural splendor of Disney’s Animal Kingdom from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
2. Rise of the Resistance is accessible ONLY via the virtual queue.
If you haven’t experienced the Rise of the Resistance attraction at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, you’re missing out. Don’t miss out any further by not getting in on the virtual queue. Presently, there are only two opportunities daily to enter the queue—at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. When the parks first reopened, there were three different times when the queue could be entered. Now there are only two. You need to know three important things—first, you can only access the virtual queue via the My Disney Experience app; second, you can only do so once you are physically on property at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and third, the queue fills up in less than 10 seconds (no, we’re not kidding). So set your alarm for 9:55 a.m. and 1:55 p.m. and try your luck. (It’s so worth it!)
1. The future is full of question marks.
While we are thrilled that the parks have reopened, the future is as predictable as the terrible pandemic itself. But for now, it’s an amazing experience to be back at home in the parks. Don’t sully the magic by not following all the rules. They are there for the health, safety, protection and enjoyment of all Guests and Cast Members.
I am a writer and a Mom to four children and two baby shih-tzus. My first experience with the Magic was in 1988, when my parents surprised my brother and me with a visit to Walt Disney World after a short trip to see friends in Georgia. I still hum the tune played during the Main Street Electrical Parade and remember the feeling of excitement from my very first visit. I introduced my husband to the Magic several years ago, and we take our children to the parks every time we can. No matter how many times I visit Walt Disney World, it seems it’s not enough! The ever-changing experience only gets better with each trip, and I’m thrilled to share the Magic with others, as well as some of the tips and tricks to getting the most out of the Magic with each visit!