The New Disney World Normal: Visiting During the Current Covid Restrictions – What You Need to Know

When Walt Disney World reopened in July 2020, after a four-month closure, the park operated in a “phased reopening.” Many offerings were suspended and certain operations were modified. Slowly over time, restrictions have eased, many offerings have been brought back, and almost all restaurants and resorts have reopened. So while Walt Disney World may be out of its “phased reopening,” visiting Walt Disney World in the pandemic era is still different than those blissful pre-Covid days.

Some restrictions, closures, and modifications appear to be here to stay, or at least, there is no indication that things will entirely go back to the way they were before the parks closed in March 2020 (at least not anytime soon). When planning a visit to Walt Disney World, we want you to be aware of these “new normal” operations. Here’s what you need to know about visiting Walt Disney World during Covid Restrictions.


1 – A My Disney Experience Account is Absolutely Essential

We have always encouraged guests to have the latest version of the My Disney Experience app for the Walt Disney World vacations but now having an active account has become essential for planning and enjoying your Walt Disney World vacation. You might be able to get by without the app on your phone, but you must have the account. You’ll need an account to make park reservations, dining reservations, and use Mobile Order service. Also, now that Disney Genie, Disney Genie+, and Lightning Lane are here, you’ll need an account for those services. You can use the web version of My Disney Experience at home to set up your account and make reservations. While at Walt Disney World, you’ll use the app inside the parks for all of those services mentioned above. We certainly are fully in the digital age and a vacation to Walt Disney World is no different. When planning a Walt Disney World vacation, your first step is to set up a My Disney Experience account.

2 – Resort Scheduled Reopenings

All but one Walt Disney World Resorts have reopened. Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort has not reopened and does not have a reopening date at this time.

For the latest information on resort openings, click here.

3 – Disney Park Pass Reservation System

When the parks reopened in July 2020, Walt Disney World introduced a new Disney Park Pass reservations system as a way to monitor and limit capacity in the parks. However, even with capacity limits eliminated there is no indication that the system is going anywhere. Currently, reservations are available (and necessary) through January 2023. Also, with the recent rollout of a new annual pass program, extra park pass reservations are an integral benefit of the annual pass program. We believe the system is here to stay, so be prepared to make your park reservations as soon as possible after purchasing tickets. Visit the link below for more information.

Click here for information on Making Park Reservations at Walt Disney World and What You Need to Know.

4 – Face Coverings Are Still Required and Necessary for Your Visit

The face-covering policy has changed multiple times over the last year. As recently as August 18, 2021, Disney again revised its policy. Read the current full policy below:

Face coverings are required for all Guests (ages 2 and up) in all indoor locations, regardless of vaccination status. This includes upon entering and throughout all indoor attractions and indoor queues and in Disney buses, monorail, and Disney Skyliner, regardless of vaccination status. Face coverings are optional for Guests in outdoor areas.

All face coverings (whether disposable or reusable) should:

        • Be made with at least 2 layers of breathable material
        • Fully cover the nose and mouth and secure under the chin
        • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
        • Be secured with ties or ear loops and allow the Guest to remain hands-free

At this time, based on guidance from health authorities, neck gaiters, open-chin, triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not acceptable face coverings.

Costume masks are not considered appropriate and are prohibited from being worn, in alignment with our existing rules.

Face coverings may have an integrated transparent plastic panel to aid in viewing the wearer’s mouth. These face coverings should:

        • Be a fabric face-covering featuring a solid plastic panel containing no openings that is attached to the fabric on all sides using tight knit stitching
        • Meet all face-covering requirements listed above

Face Coverings for All Guests (Ages 2 and Up)

Face Coverings Required Face Coverings Optional
All indoor locations, including restaurants, except when actively eating or drinking while stationary
All enclosed transportation, including buses, monorails, and Disney Skyliner
All outdoor areas, including outdoor attractions, outdoor queues, and outdoor theaters

Please note, face coverings are not permitted while experiencing water slides or in the water.

5 – Transportation

Physical distancing measures have now been removed on Disney transportation. However, face coverings are still required on all Disney transportation. Finally, parking lot trams are also still not available at this time.

6 – Park Hours Still Reduced

The park operating hours have been reduced from normal operating hours. Each park has different operating hours. Disney has adjusted park hours and added more hours at busier times. We’ve also seen Disney extend hours much more this past summer and ahead of this October as the crowd levels continue to increase. However, it’s still not unusual for Disney’s Animal Kingdom to close at 7:00 pm, which means that the night offerings at the park may not being offered depending on when you are visiting. Always check the My Disney Experience app or the Walt Disney World calendar on the website for up-to-date hours.


7 – Fireworks Are Back!

Two new nighttime spectaculars are here as part of the 50th-Anniversary festivities. A new nighttime spectacular, “Disney Enchantment,” is at Magic Kingdom Park, and “Harmonious,” is over at EPCOT. Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, guests can again see “Wonderful World of Animation.” There is no word on when “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular” will return, however, Disney has confirmed that Fantasmic! will return sometime in 2022.

8 – Park Hopping Has Been Modified

Park hopping was initially suspended when the parks reopened in 2020. In January 2021, it returned, with an important modification. Guests can now only park hop after 2:00 pm and only after they have visited the park where they have their park pass reservation. After 2:00 pm, you can hop from park to park as before. But keep this in mind when planning which park to visit first.

Mickey and Minnie greet guests from a distance at EPCOT.

9 – Character Greetings Are Still Modified

Part of the magic of visiting the theme parks is getting an autograph and a hug from your favorite Disney character. Unfortunately, you still can’t do that. Since July 2020, up and close character greetings are suspended, including character dining at certain resorts. In all four parks and at the character dining locations, you’ll be able to see and greet characters, but from a distance. At Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, you’ll see characters in cavalcades that will come through the parks (at Animal Kingdom look to Discovery River). At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’ll find a mix of motorcades and characters around the park. At EPCOT, characters are now scattered throughout the park and you can greet them from a distance.

Some structured character greetings have returned with modifications. Greetings will be distanced, but guests will be given “individual time” with characters. No autographs are available at this time.

The following meet and greets are now open:

    • Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater at Magic Kingdom
    • Disney Princesses at Princess Fairytale Hall at Magic Kingdom
    • Disney Junior stars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
    • Minnie Mouse at Red Carpet Dreams at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
    • Mickey Mouse at the Imagination! pavilion at EPCOT


10 – Some Live Entertainment and Parades are Still Not Available

Many fan-favorite live entertainment shows such as Festival of the Lion King and Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage are back. Finding Nemo – The Musical has been closed but will return sometime in 2022. Disney recently also confirmed the Festival of Fantasy parade will return sometime in 2022, along with a new stage show that will replace Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire, which is now retired. You can find the complete list of unavailable entertainment by clicking here.

11 – Extra Magic Hours and FastPass+ Have Been Retired; Genie+ and Lightning Lane Now Available

Please note, Extra Magic Hours were suspended during the phased reopening and Disney announced Extra Magic Hours will not return. Since October 1, 2021, Disney resort guests have an early entry benefit that works differently than Extra Magic Hours. All resort guests are allowed to enter all parks, all days, 30 minutes early. This option will be available every day and at every park. Deluxe resort guests will get some extended hours at select parks on a limited basis.

Click here to learn more about the Resort benefits that will be available to guests during the 50th Anniversary celebration, beginning October 1, 2021.

Also, the FastPass+ service was suspended during the phased reopening and Disney recently announced that is being retired as well. A new option, called Genie+ and Lightining Lane are now available. Click here for more details on Genie+ and Lightning Lane. 

12 – Dining – New Reservation Window and Other Changes

The dining reservation window has been reduced from 180 days to 60 days. This is another one of those changes that was made during the phased reopening, that appears to be here to stay. Please note, because not all restaurants have reopened it is especially important for guests to make dining reservations as soon as their reservation window opens at 60 days. Resort guests still have the added benefit of making reservations for their entire length of stay for up 10 days, potentially given them the ability to make reservations 70 days out. Dining reservations are still in short supply and it is very difficult to get reservations at popular restaurants.

If you can’t get a dining reservation for a restaurant of your choice, there is still a walk-up option. One new feature that was rolled out during the phased reopening is the ability to join a walk-up waitlist in the My Disney Experience app. This alleviates the need to walk to the restaurant to check availability. In the app, simply click on the plus button on the bottom of the screen, then click “Check Dining Availability,” enter your party size and the day of the visit, then click “Now” instead of a time of day. This will give you a list of restaurants that are accepting walk-ups. It’s a great feature that really is convenient for guests.

Another new feature that was added was the ability to check-in for a dining reservation through the app instead of having to visit the hostess stand. We recently used this feature at Topolino’s Terrace and were able to enjoy drinks at the lounge and check-in from our seats. It’s another great feature.

Finally, at this time the Disney Dining Plan is still temporarily unavailable, however, Disney has confirmed that it will return. No timetable has been given on its return.

13 – Enchanting Extras–Events, Tours, Recreation, and Other Experiences Update

There are a lot of extra activities such as certain special events, tours, recreation, and more, like spa services, that are still not available.  Click here to learn what is available and what is not. 

For a no obligation, FREE Quote on a Disney vacation package, please contact our travel partner Magical Vacation Planner at 407-442-0227 (407-442-0215 for Spanish). You can also request a FREE quote online by Clicking HERE.


Chad & Cindy Nykamp

After years of multiple Walt Disney World vacations, Cindy and Chad's dream of living in Orlando came true in 2010. After friends and family made them their go-to-people for Walt Disney World advice, Cindy and Chad launched DisneyLists.com in August 2015 to share their knowledge and love of Disney. Chad and Cindy have been Disney World Annual Passholders for years, DVC members, together have raced more than 70 runDisney races, and particularly love cruising on the Disney Cruise Line. Chad and Cindy also regularly represent DisneyLists.com at Walt Disney World media events. While attending these events, they get an insiders view of all the new things that have come to Walt Disney World. These experiences have helped them gain knowledge and expertise they happily pass on to their followers. They still can't believe how lucky they are to have such an amazing opportunity and will continue to share Disney with anyone who will listen!
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