Will Disney World still be the Most Magical Place on Earth after the pandemic?
When Walt Disney World reopened last July after a months-long closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it did so with new health and safety rules, capacity restrictions, and an altogether modified experience. It’s hard to imagine a Disney World vacation without fireworks, parades, and hugs from your favorite characters, leaving many visitors to postpone their trips until the world returns to some semblance of normalcy.
Based on the information Disney has released since reopening and the changes they’ve already put into place, we have a pretty good idea of what it might be like to visit the Orlando, Florida, theme park post-pandemic. Not surprisingly, the differences begin as soon as you start planning your trip.
You Need Reservations
In the “before times,” guests could purchase either a single park “base ticket” or a park hopper ticket that allowed access to multiple parks per day. Once you had your ticket, you could visit whichever parks your ticket allowed, without having to choose a particular park ahead of time. For the foreseeable future, however, Disney is requiring guests to choose a park for each day of their visit by making a Park Pass reservation. This extra step may go out the window at some point, but until Disney is no longer limiting capacity, it’s likely to stick around.
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As soon as you purchase your valid theme park admission (or reserve a hotel and ticket package), you can make Park Pass reservations for your trip. You can easily cancel or change your Park Pass choices, but you’ll want to secure them as soon as you purchase your tickets because they do fill up during busier travel times.
No More Free MagicBands
When Disney unveiled the Park Pass system last June, they also announced that, as of January, they would no longer be providing hotel guests with complimentary MagicBands–the RFID-enabled wristbands that can be used to enter the parks, pay for food and merchandise, and unlock your hotel room door. According to the announcement, Disney plans to “unveil an innovative new offering as part of the My Disney Experience app that will bring features of a MagicBand to your smart devices.” The bands can still be purchased and used in the same way they were prior to this change and, of course, you can continue to use MagicBands you already own.
FastPass+ Is Temporarily Suspended
MagicBands have a ton of uses, but one of the most convenient was the ability to easily check in for FastPass+ reservations. FastPass+ lets guests skip the line for most Disney attractions, but the service has been suspended since Disney’s reopening, with no word on when it will return. If you’re pushing off your next visit until everyone is safely vaccinated, it’s possible FastPass+ could return, but, for now, it’s standby-only unless you are utilizing Rider Switch or Disability Access Services.
Free Airport Transportation Is Being Retired
Also being retired is Disney’s complimentary airport transportation and luggage service. For years, Disney’s Magical Express has whisked guests from the Orlando International Airport to their Disney Resort, while also magically delivering checked luggage to their hotel room. Beginning January 1, 2022, guests will need to find alternate airport transportation to Disney World. Disney didn’t give a direct reason for the change, but with the surge in rideshare services like Uber and Lyft and the upcoming Orlando expansion of Brightline’s high-speed passenger train, it’s obvious the options for getting to the resort are on the rise.
According to Orlando’s Spectrum News 13, Mears Transportation, the company who currently operates Disney’s Magical Express, released their own statement that they “intend to continue offering transportation services between the airport and all area theme parks and hotels,” and it’s also possible Disney will develop their own offering between now and 2022.
Hotel Guests Can Get Into the Parks Early
Disney did throw in a bit of good news to soften the blow of their recent transportation announcement. Before closing in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, onsite hotel guests could take advantage of early morning or late evening access to one park per day. When Disney reopened in July, they did so without this exclusive perk, but they’ve now unveiled a new benefit for hotel guests that will begin later this year. Early Theme Park Entry, as it’s called, will allow Disney Resort hotel guests 30-minute early entry to any Disney World park, every single day. This change looks to be a permanent one, as Disney stated Extra Magic Hours has been officially retired.
Park Hopper Is Back
One perk that has returned as of New Year’s Day is the ability to visit more than one park per day. If you have a ticket (or annual pass) with the Park Hopper option, you can now visit multiple parks per day, though there are a few more hoops to jump through than there were pre-COVID. You must book the aforementioned Park Pass reservation for the first park you plan to visit and only after 2 p.m. can you “hop” to another park. You also have to actually visit the park you booked a Park Pass for before you can visit another park and all of this is subject to capacity limits. Until modifications to Park Hopper are lifted, it’s best to check the Disney app or website for the most up-to-date hours and information.
Dining Is a Bit Different
In addition to other COVID-era modifications, the window for booking Disney World dining reservations has significantly changed. Previously, guests could book table-service dining up to 180 days before their trip. For the time being, that’s been shortened to 60 days and Disney has yet to confirm if this change is temporary or permanent. With convenient mobile check-in and walk-up lists available at some table-service restaurants available through the park’s mobile app, Disney has far from left foodies out to dry.
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The Mobile App Has Been Upgraded
Additional updates have recently been made to the My Disney Experience app that we think (fingers crossed!) are here to stay. You can place mobile food orders at many of Disney’s quick-service restaurants, check in to your hotel room without ever visiting the lobby, and even get walking directions through the parks if you get lost. Basically, don’t leave home without it.
Some of these changes may be temporary and some may be here for the long haul, but if you are planning a future trip, you’ll want to get familiar with all of them just in case. Disney’s enhanced regulations and modified offerings are a reflection of the current environment and, like the rest of the world, the situation will continue to evolve as the pandemic improves.