Earlier this week, Walt Disney World announced its plans to re-open its Orlando theme parks this summer. The resort closed its gates in mid-March. Disney has now petitioned for state approval to open the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, followed by Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 15, 2020.
As much as every Disney fan wants things to return to normal soon, things will very much not be normal at Walt Disney World. In fact, the landscape in the parks will not look the same at all for at least the rest of the year.
Disney has made a number of announcements this week – with many more surely to come – that paint a fuller picture of how the resort will operate in the weeks and months to follow. TLDR: Expect big changes. Some of these changes are obvious – reduced capacity, additional cleaning, and more spacing between people in lines, in restaurants, and on rides.
Other changes are more significant operationally and mark a major change to the ways guests plan and tour the resort. Some have already sparked controversy. But if you want to visit the most magical place on earth, you need to understand the new developments as you plan your vacation.
Here are the big differences that will govern Disney World visits for the rest of 2020:
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9 Big Changes Coming to Walt Disney World When it Reopens
1. Advanced reservations will be required.
When the theme parks reopen, Disney will require an advance reservation for all guests who wish to enter on any given day. Disney expects to announce more details for how the reservation process will work very soon, so anyone with a trip planned for the rest of 2020 needs to pay close attention.
June 19, 2020 UPDATE: Disney has just now announced additional details about its new reservation process, the Disney Parks Pass System. Preference is given to on-property hotel guests, followed by Annual Passholders, followed by guests with tickets but no hotel reservations, as follows:
- June 22, 2020: Disney Resort and other select hotel Guests with valid theme park admission can make reservations.
- June 26, 2020: Annual Passholders without a Resort stay can make reservations.
- June 28, 2020: existing ticket holders can make reservations.
Park reservations will be available through September 26, 2021.
It’s still unclear what capacity will be and whether reservation space will run out before all these guests are accommodated. New sales and reservations are paused right now until existing guests are accommodated.
Disney has now also clarified that park hopping will not be allowed for the remainder of 2020. Disney plans to make cancellation or other modifications available to guests holding park hopper tickets.
2. No Fastpass+
Disney’s Fastpass+ system is the lynchpin of planning and touring strategies at Walt Disney World. It allows guests to pre-reserve three attractions in a single park for each day of their vacation. Guests with Fastpass+ reservations are able to shortcut the long regular queue for a much shorter wait during their Fastpass return time window.
But forget everything you know about Fastpass+ because it’s gone for 2020! Disney has canceled all guests’ Fastpass+ reservations and will not be offering Fastpass+ on any of its attractions when it reopens.
Disney hasn’t announced what sort of system, if any, will replace Fastpass+ yet. The company has said only that “we plan to use additional queue space to manage capacity at our attractions and maintain physical distancing.”
It’s possible that the parks’ capacity will be so low in the first days after reopening that there will be a return to old-fashioned physical queuing for attractions, albeit with more spaced out lines. Alternately, Disney could choose to offer virtual queues for some or all of its attractions, much like it did for the opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. It’s also possible Disney World could choose to implement a same day Fastpass system that’s more akin to Disneyland’s MaxPass.
3. Masks are mandatory.
Like at many places across the country, masks or other face coverings will be required to enter the parks. Disney has already been requiring masks at Disney Springs, which opened earlier this month. All guests ages 2 and up are subject to this requirement.
Disney has announced that it will offer relaxation zones where guests can take a break from the masks, presumably where there will be plenty of outdoor space to spread out.
Masks are probably the most contentious change at Disney to date. To be sure, masks can be hard to manage for some people in the best of times. Having to wear them for a full park day is an additional challenge. In the heat and humidity typical of a Florida summer (or in a torrential thunderstorm), the requirement may well be a deal breaker for many. And trying to keep them on young kids can be hard too (but my friend Patty at No Guilt Disney has some great tips for kids and masks for Disney trips).
4. Guests can only reserve dining 60 days in advance.
Before the parks closed, Walt Disney World guests could make dining reservations a whopping 180 days in advance. This meant that guests were meticulously planning the details of their vacation many, many months early.
Disney has now canceled all the dining reservations that guests have made for the rest of the year, wiping the slate totally clean for future dining plans. This change is likely to be one of the most disappointing for some, particularly for guests who snagged one of the most sought-after reservations by being on the ball six months early. Now that restaurants will have to reduce their capacity, however, it would have been nearly impossible to maintain or rework all the previous reservations, especially if not all the restaurants open at once.
So back to the drawing board everyone goes! And this time around, guests can make a reservation no more than 60 days in advance – the same timeline that is in place for Disneyland dining reservations. This will give guests who plan more last minute Disney World vacations in these rapidly changing times a chance to get dining reservations too.
5. There’s no Disney dining plan.
One of the popular Disney World vacation options that many visitors choose is the Disney Dining Plan. For a fixed fee, guests are given dining credits with well-defined rules that they can redeem for meals and snacks. During some times of the year, the dining plan is even offered as a free perk. In fact, Disney offered a free dining plan to some guests whose reservations were displaced during the first few weeks of the March and April closures.
But unfortunately the dining plan is on pause now too for the rest of 2020. This may make budgeting for food a bit more challenging for some families, since the dining plan allowed guests essentially to pre-pay for it all.
6. Say goodbye to Extra Magic Hours.
Extra Magic Hours are a special perk reserved only for select on-property and partner hotel guests at the Walt Disney World resort. They allow guests to enter some parks earlier in the morning than all other guests, or stay later at night. Often, these hours mean shorter lines for popular attractions.
Once Disney World reopens in mid-July 2020, however, Extra Magic Hours will be no longer for awhile. This removes one of the more important benefits of staying on-property, so some guests may choose to stay off-site to save money and get more spacious accommodations.
7. Parades, shows, and fireworks won’t return just yet.
Large gatherings within the theme parks simply aren’t possible in these early stages of re-opening. So that means that Disney World won’t be able to offer its usual parades, stage shows, or fireworks and night time spectaculars.
8. Character appearances will be from afar.
One of the favorite activities for many Disney guests is character meet and greets. Snapping a photo with a beloved character or getting an autograph is part of the Disney magic. The need for distancing, however, makes traditional character meet and greets impossible for now.
But that doesn’t mean characters will disappear in Orlando for the time being. As we saw from Shanghai Disneyland’s re-opening, Disney is prepared to bring out the characters into the parks, but they’ll be strategically separated from guest interactions. Hopefully, Disney might bring a few more obscure favorites back for an appearance to make the revised experience special in its own way.
9. Not all on-property hotels will be open.
The details on this last change are most definitely the sketchiest so far, but it seems very likely that Disney will not open all of its hotels to regular guests right away. Savvy guests in recent days noticed that they were blocked from making reservations at hotels like Coronado Springs, which is rumored as a potential host hotel for the NBA should it choose to resume its season in an Orlando bubble.
We already know that all Disney Vacation Club Resort properties will be reopening as of June 22, based upon Disney’s updates so far. As for the other hotels, the news has been vague and changing. While I’m speculating now, I’d anticipate hotels that are located on transportation like the monorail or the Skyliner and that don’t rely exclusively on crowded buses may make the most sense for reopening.
But for now, we’ll have to wait for the official word from Disney. If you already have a hotel reservation for the rest of this year, I’d recommend you not get too attached to it. It’s very possible Disney may shuffle guests around just as it has done in wiping out previous dining and Fastpass+ reservations.
Important Lessons & Predictions for Disneyland
Being a West Coaster myself, I travel more regularly to Disneyland than to Disney World. And like a lot of Disneyland fans, I’ve been watching Walt Disney World in large part to plan for the potential reopening of Disneyland.
California is moving more slowly, and Disneyland’s opening will likely come later. But it’s certainly interesting to see that a lot of the changes Walt Disney World is making are to make the operations function a bit more like the default system at Disneyland. Perhaps the changes won’t seem as drastic to West Coasters!
The one lesson and take away for now is that if you don’t have a reservation yet for Disneyland and think you may want to go in 2020, make a reservation now. Once a Disneyland opening date is announced, Disney may well pause future reservations just like it has done at Disney World. This site’s travel agency partner Get Away Today is still taking Disneyland reservations, offers discounted park tickets, and has the highly flexible Peace of Mind plan to give you trip protection during these uncertain times. The company took care of all its guests and then some when Disneyland first announced its closure. (If you are booking a vacation package with a least 2 tickets and 2 nights of hotel with Get Away Today, use the code TYKES10 for an additional $10 off!)
So what do you think of all of these Disney World changes? I’d love to know whether you are planning to go in 2020. If you are waiting until certain of these changes are rolled back first, share what is most important to you!