Disney World Changes in 2021

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Disney World has reopened after staying closed for a few months in the height of lockdown. The day Disney opened was a happy one indeed. However, nothing looks quite the same as it did. Disney has instituted a lot of health and safety rules for anyone travelling in 2021.

In addition the the health and safety changes, there have been some policy and procedural changes that are important to understand.

Disney takes safety very seriously, both of their cast members and guests. Because of that, the Disney health and safety protocol is pretty extensive. If you plan to travel to Disney anytime soon, you MUST understand these rules.

And once you’ve looked over all of these changes, make sure you take a look at my thoughts on whether it’s worth it to go to Disney in 2021.

If you’re serious about planning a Disney trip anytime soon, check out my tips for visiting Disney World during a pandemic. Hopefully, that helps give you a good idea of how the changes mentioned below are in actual practice.

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Disney Health and Safety Rules Overview

Let’s take a closer look at what a trip to Disney World looks like in 2021. All of these areas fall under the heading of changes to promote health and safety of guests and Cast Members.

Capacity

Disney did confirm that they will operate on a reduced capacity, they just never gave a specific number. When Disney first opened in the summer, it was evident that capacity was pretty darn low. Empty parks photos were everywhere.

Disney was transparent that the plan was to slowly increase capacity from this extreme low up to a level they felt was feasible to overall safety. Bob Chapek, Disney’s CEO, said they’ve done calculations to determine how many people can be in each park and still maintain physical distancing.

They will never share official capacity numbers, but we’ve already seen the capacity slowly increasing.

Florida’s governor has now removed all capacity limitations and even encouraged Disney to go to full capacity. I don’t expect Disney to do this anytime soon. However, they are definitely pushing the capacity as far as they safely can.

Park Entry Reservation Required

A large part of how this reduced capacity will be achieved is through the use of advanced reservation for park entry.

Essentially, anyone who wants to enter one of the parks on that day must make a reservation in order to gain admittance.

I have a separate post with details on how to use the Disney Park Pass System so head on over there to learn more.

Physical Distancing

Social distancing is the buzz phrase of 2020, so of course that is part of the plan. I’ve already mentioned the reduced capacity in the parks, but the idea of reduced capacity extends beyond that.

All areas of reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing:

  • Theme parks
  • Restaurants
  • Retail Locations
  • Transportation (buses, monorail, etc.)
  • Attractions

In recent weeks, Disney has begun removing physical distancing on a lot of the ride vehicles. Their argument is the fact that the CDC has identified that the highest risk of transmission occurs after 15 minutes of being within 6 feet of one another.

Of utmost importance is the following: “Temporarily suspend parades, fireworks, and other events that create crowds”. Disney still hasn’t announced any sort of official return of these events.

Temperature Screenings

Update May 5, 2021 – Disney just announced that they are phasing out temperature screenings for guests on May 16. Cast member temp screening stops on May 8.

First things first, all guests and Cast Members are required to undergo temperature screenings prior to entrance to the parks.

  • Guests with a temperature of 100.4 or greater will not be permitted to enter the park
    • Not only the guest is denied entrance, but all members of that individual’s party are also denied entry

All temperature screenings are conducted by 3rd party groups and done with a handheld, contactless device.

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Advanced Protective Measures

Disney has a series of new policies designed to keep guests and Cast Members safe.

There are hand washing and hand sanitizer stations located throughout the parks, especially at high touch areas. In addition to this, there are Plexiglas barriers in place at retail locations and food and beverage locations that don’t allow for appropriate physical distancing.

The queues on all of the rides also make liberal use of plexiglass barriers to further protect guests.

Face Masks are Required

This shouldn’t be a surprise in this day and age. Anyone who wants to enter a Disney property is required to wear a mask at all times except when eating.

Disney says they will not provide free disposable masks to anyone who shows up with them. However, there are reports of guests receiving masks when the masks they brought are unacceptable.

To give you all the information you need to know about the new mask rules, I put together a complete guide to face masks at Disney World.

Limited Contact “Enhancements”

Disney rolled out some policies on how to make certain transactions as contactless as possible. Some of these are pretty standard, but other things are a big disappointment…

  • Use of contactless payment options such as MagicBands, ApplePay, and GooglePay
  • Restaurants and food & beverage locations will use Disney’s mobile ordering service as much as possible
    • Menus will be paper and designed for one time use – they will be available upon request, the preference is for Mobile Ordering
  • Temporarily suspend high touch experiences
    • That’s right, there are no character meet and greets!
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Disney Resorts Health and Safety

Disney’s health and safety rules for all of the Disney resorts mimics those found in the parks.

Plan on wearing your face mask even as you’re wandering around the resorts. Disney requires that masks must be worn at all times except when dining and swimming.

Even if you want to go for a run on the path near your resort, you technically need to wear a mask.

For the latest details on what’s happening with the resorts, visit my post with all the Disney resort reopening updates.

That post has all the latest details on Disney’s health and safety protocols for the resorts, as well as an updated list of which resorts are open (because some remain closed for the foreseeable future).

Disney Policy and Procedural Changes

Blending in with the health and safety changes we have some other pretty major changes to understand. There have been changes to the Disney dining experience, tickets, and more.

Disney Dining Changes

As with resorts, not all of the Disney restaurants are currently opened. This list is constantly changing as more and more restaurants slowly open, but some remain closed.

In addition, the restaurant operating hours keep updating as well. So make sure you pay close attention to the operating hours of a restaurant you plan to go to the day you are there.

And as a final blow, many restaurants are presenting modified menus. Take a look at the most updated restaurant menus on Disney’s website so you know what to expect during your visit.

New Disney Dining Reservations Moving Forward

The Disney dining booking window has changed to 60 days instead of 180 days. The rest of the process to make a Disney dining reservation is the same, it’s simply the time frame has changed.

In addition, in order to make a dining reservation at a restaurant located within a park, you MUST have a park ticket corresponding with that date AND a park entry reservation in place. No more just grabbing something in Magic Kingdom in case you want to pop in there that day.

Use Technology to Minimize Contact in Dining

Disney is encouraging the use of various forms of mobile ordering and check-in to minimize unnecessary direct contact.

  • Mobile Ordering Service: This was already in place and makes ordering food at quick service restaurants so quick and easy. I have a full guide all about mobile ordering and how to use it.
    • Table Service Mobile Ordering: That’s right! Disney is now rolling out the ability to use “to go” mobile ordering for select table service restaurants. The list of available restaurants keeps growing. You can get the latest on this service in my post all about table service mobile ordering.
  • Mobile Check-In for Reservations: This allows guests to check in to their Disney dining reservation without going to the hostess stand. The My Disney Experience app will be used for this.
  • Scannable Codes for Select Restaurant Menus: Scanning this code at table service restaurants allows guests to see the menu in a contactless way.
  • Cashless Payments: While not required, Disney strongly recommends the use of cashless payment options such as MagicBands, gift cards, debit cards, credit cards, mobile wallets, etc.

What About Character Dining?

Initially, there was only one character dining experience in all of Disney World (at Topolino’s Terrace). However, more and more character meals have slowly started opening up around the parks and resorts.

All character experiences are modified. The modified character dining experience involves seeing the characters from a distance. They still move about the room, but they don’t visit each table. There’s no meet and greet, no hugs, and so on.

However, you can still interact with the characters and take selfies with characters in the background.

Disney Dining Plan

At this time, Disney is not offering any of the dining plans. They were cancelled on any reservation that included them and they are not available to book at this time.

Disney has given no time frame on when the Disney Dining Plan will return, but you can bet it will return eventually.

Park Tickets

There are some modifications to the tickets offered and Annual Passes. Ever since reopening, Disney froze the ability to buy annual passes.

There is now some ability to RENEW annual passes for people who are standing passholders. This can only be done over the phone. However, if you don’t have an Annual Pass already, you can’t buy a new one yet.

For Guests with Unused Park Tickets due to Cancellations:

For guests who had their trips cancelled, there were a lot of questions about what happens with already purchased park tickets.

Disney quietly extended the expiration date on all unused park tickets from cancelled trips. At this time, unused park tickets expire on 9/26/2021. This gives people an extended period of time to reschedule their trips. If the ticket isn’t used by that date, it turns into a credit towards the purchase of a future ticket.

What about Park Hoppers?

However, starting in January 2021, the ability to buy park hopper tickets returns. But just like everything else right now, Park Hopper tickets come with some new rules.

What if I have a Park Ticket but Didn’t Get a Park Entry Reservation?

Frankly, you want to make sure this doesn’t happen.

When you go to buy new park tickets, there’s a link to show Park Pass availability for the dates you want to visit the parks. This allows you to see availability before you buy.

Once you buy your tickets, I highly recommend booking your Park Passes immediately. At this point dates aren’t filling up until closer to the actual date, but do you really want to take that chance? Don’t risk having a ticket and no park to visit.

If you know you want to be in a certain park for a very popular event, like the official 50th anniversary, book that park pass immediately.

FastPasses

At this time, the Disney FastPass system is closed. Disney stated this was necessary in order to utilize the FastPass queue areas for standby lines in order to facilitate physical distancing.

Will FastPasses come back?

This is the million dollar question, and Disney hasn’t answered it yet. Frankly, I don’t anticipate an answer anytime soon, either.

There has been chatter for quite a long time now about the FastPass system changing in some way. Whether that was making FastPasses an upcharge option, turning more to the MaxPass system of Disneyland, or getting rid of them altogether, we don’t know.

In the more immediate future, I’d put my money on virtual queues starting to take on a more important role. They already have the technology set up for Rise of the Resistance. It also allows for a bit of a more dynamic manipulation of crowds.

But time will tell what they end up with. For now, FastPasses aren’t entirely necessary. With the drastically reduced capacity in the parks and not having FastPasses to slow down the standby line, waits shouldn’t be horrific.

Extra Magic Hours

Likewise, Extra Magic Hours have been temporarily suspended. If you’ve read any of rope drop or itinerary posts, you know I’m a HUGE fan of the low crowds during AM Extra Magic Hours.

However, with the new park entry system and everything else going on, it’s just not possible to maintain them. I do hope they come back sometime soon though.

MagicBands

With some of the new information coming out, Disney announced that the functionality of MagicBands will be largely replaced by enhanced capabilities of the My Disney Experience app.

Because of this, complimentary MagicBands with Disney Resort stays will end for trips in 2021.

There will still be MagicBands available to purchase (at a discount for Disney resort guests) online through My Disney Experience and at retail locations within Disney World.

“Other” Experiences

This is another area we don’t have a lot of answers for. Disney has stated the most upcharge extras (think tours, dessert parties, and so on) are cancelled and not offered for booking at this time.

There is one particular tour you can book: The VIP package. This is a VERY expensive upcharge which gives you a private tour guide, private transportation, park hopping, and no waiting for any rides.

Final Thoughts

These are some pretty significant changes. Not everyone is going to agree with them, and that’s ok. A trip to Disney World definitely looks different right now.

However, different isn’t the same as bad. The magic is still there for those who are willing to give it a try.

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Your Thoughts

What do you think of these plans? Do you give the a thumbs up or a thumbs down? Are you willing to wear a mask in order to spend the day at Disney? Let me know in the comments below.

Don’t forget to follow The Disney Journey on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook to stay up to date with all the latest news and updates.

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