The New Disney World Normal: What has Changed Post Pandemic

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 nearly all restaurants have reopened. So while Walt Disney World may be out of its “phased reopening,” visiting Walt Disney World in the post-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 in the near future.


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 – Disney Park Pass Reservation System

When the parks reopened in July 2020, Walt Disney World introduced a new Disney Park Pass reservations system to monitor and limit park capacity. However, even with capacity limits eliminated, there is no indication that the system is going anywhere. Currently, reservations are available (and necessary) through January 2024. Also, with the 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.

3 – Transportation

Physical distancing measures and face-covering requirements have now been removed on Disney transportation. Tram service has returned to the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom parking lot. While Disney has announced that the other park Trams will return “throughout 2022,” we still haven’t seen them return to EPCOT or Disney’s Hollywood Studios.


4 – 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 visiting 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. It appears this change is here to stay.

5 – Normal Character Greetings (Mostly) Back!

Part of the magic of visiting the theme parks is getting an autograph and a hug from your favorite Disney character. Thankfully, the return of “normal” character greetings, including hugs and autographs, returned to many locations, including dining locations. However, many Meet and Greet locations and character dining meals have yet to return. As 2022 progresses, more and more offerings have become available. To find the many different locations and times of the character greetings, be sure to check the My Disney Experience app.


6 – Favorite Live Entertainment Are Back, But Some Entertainment Offerings 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 Big Blue and Beyond!” has recently opened and shouldn’t be missed. The Festival of Fantasy parade is back, and a new stage show is an updated version of Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire. However, not all entertainment offerings have returned. Be sure to check the My Disney Experience app if you’re looking for your favorite entertainment offering.

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

Please note that 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, thirty minutes early. This option is available every day and at every park. Deluxe resort guests get some extended hours at select parks on a limited basis.

Also, the FastPass+ service was suspended during the phased reopening and has also been retired. A new option, called Genie+ and Lightning Lane, is now available. Click here for more details on Genie+ and Lightning Lane. 

8 – 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 were made during the phased reopening that appears to be here to stay. Please note that because not all restaurants have reopened, guests should 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 to ten days, potentially allowing them to make reservations 70 days out. Dining reservations are still in short supply, and it is very difficult to get reservations at popular restaurants, especially for non-resort guests.

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 added feature was the ability to check in for a dining reservation through the app instead of visiting the hostess stand. We 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.

Be aware that because most restaurants require the use of Mobile Ordering through the My Disney Experience app, actually getting your food can take a long time, especially on busy days. Click here to learn more about the service.

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.

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

A lot of extra activities, such as certain special events, tours, recreation, and more, are still unavailable. The Grand Floridian Spa was the first spa to reopen, but others still remain closed. 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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