You’re Ready to Come Back. What Are the Parks Like?
So, you’ve got your vaccination and immediately feel safer.
After a long year in your home, you’re ready to come back to Walt Disney World.
Understandably, you have questions. You want to know what the parks are like. Read on to find out!
Stuff That Hasn’t Returned Yet
I’ve described Walt Disney World to friends as 95 percent of the experience that you remember.
Virtually everything is the same. Only a few amenities haven’t returned.
For example, several restaurants have yet to reopen due to a lack of demand.
Disney wouldn’t need to operate 100 percent of its restaurants with only 35 percent of its maximum park capacity, right?
Similarly, fireworks and character greetings have yet to return due to safety concerns.
As you’ll read, replacements exist for many of these enhancements.
At this point, the only things that really haven’t come back in any format are the nightly fireworks presentations.
Otherwise, the amenities that you’d expect during a Disney vacation are available in some form.
Park Changes Still in Place
Let’s start with the most significant ones. You will still need a Park Pass to visit a theme park on a given day.
Disney has released the Park Pass calendar into 2023, indicating that this process is here to stay.
Yes, the company could always rescind that policy at a later date. However, you shouldn’t expect that to happen.
I suspect Disney will use Park Passes for crowd control purposes throughout its 18-month celebration of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary.
Also, Disney CEO Bob Chapek has already stated that face masks will remain a requirement throughout 2021.
Again, that decision could change, but Disney’s understandably erring on the side of caution for the foreseeable future.
Park officials know that many guests have received vaccination in recent days. Even those people must wear masks at the parks.
Remember that a mask protects the people around you rather than the wearer. As such, you could still theoretically infect others as a silent spreader.
Disney won’t risk other guests that way. So, we’re still wearing masks at the parks until society achieves herd immunity.
Stuff That Has Returned
Let’s start with the most recent return. At the start of 2021, Disney reintroduced Park Hopping.
Yes, at 2 p.m. each day, you may switch from the place where you have a Park Pass to one of the other three gates.
I’ve used Park Hopping multiple times, and it works smoother than ever.
Disney has even added extra buses in the 1-2:30 range to ensure quick transportation to your next theme park.
Similarly, we’ve watched the rollout of character meals over the past few months.
When Walt Disney World reopened, only two places offered anything equivalent to a character meal.
Now, places like Hollywood & Vine, Chef Mickey’s, and Crystal Palace have brought back the dinner/entertainment combo.
You cannot interact with the characters at a close distance because you know…pandemic. Still, you can take plenty of pictures.
Also, the characters put on a show in a way that entertains more people at once than we’d witnessed in the past.
This thought process ties into what I just said. All pandemic rules remain in place and will do so for several more months at a minimum.
Line queues and other parts of the park include social distancing markers and plenty of signs.
Guests may only remove their masks when they are eating or drinking something. You cannot walk while you do so.
Disney expects you to stand off to the side and take a bite/sip. Then, you should replace your face covering.
This rule even applies at restaurants now as an added precaution.
Cast members will remind you to follow these rules. After all, even though you may have the vaccine, others don’t.
As such, Disney offers one set of rules for all guests. Again, this policy appears likely to remain in place until herd immunity arrives.
Another change at Disney involves FastPasses. They’re still not in use at the parks. You’ll stand in line more, but you’ll also experience more.
Wait-times vary based on the day and the park you’re visiting. Weekends obviously include larger crowds than weekdays.
As such, Tuesdays through Thursdays present the best opportunities for a full park day where you maximize your rides.
Still, until now, wait-times at Walt Disney World during the pandemic have blown my mind. It’s seriously the smallest crowds of the 21st century.
You could get so much done during a visit. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom and EPCOT, the lack of crowds has allowed us to do whatever we wanted.
Magic Kingdom hasn’t been quite as empty because it’s, you know, the most popular park in the world. Still, most of its attractions have had short waits.
The only park with any significant wait-times has been Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
For this reason, the people who have braved Walt Disney World during the pandemic have loved every second of it.
These park guests got more done than they ever would have believed possible.
However, I must be honest that I cannot promise the same. Disney attendance has increased to capacity during Spring Break.
Simultaneously, COVID-19 vaccinations have increased confidence among potential tourists. As such, Disney could feasibly increase capacity limits.
Until then, you’ll want to visit the parks while the getting’s good. After that, well, crowds will grow mightily during the second half of 2021.
Of course, Disney will likely bring back some sort of FastPass or the equivalent. So, you’re gonna have a spectacular time no matter what.
I’m genuinely surprised to type this, but my pandemic transportation experiences have been universally positive.
Disney has done a terrific job in shuffling buses around the campus as needed.
You’ve surely heard by now that the company performed layoffs, which has led to the perception that buses might appear understaffed.
Instead, I’ve watched with awe as a bus has rolled around the corner pretty much every time I’ve needed it.
Now, I’ve read complaints from others who were less fortunate, but there’s no data on this topic. As such, it’s all anecdotal. My anecdotes are positive.
Some social media posts have indicated delays at the Disney Skyliner, particularly the International Gateway station.
This problem strikes me as plausible since so many people head to Hollywood Studios.
Personally, we never experienced anything like this, but I want you to be aware of the possibility.
Of course, you’ll have your choices of buses, boats, and monorails, too. So, if you notice that the Skyliner comes with a long wait, switch plans.
By the way, the EPCOT monorail line remains offline for the time being. That’s the only significant transportation change at the moment.
Dining at Walt Disney World
I’ve already mentioned the character meals, the face covering rules, and the restaurant situation.
Still, there’s more you should know about your Walt Disney World visit.
When you dine, Disney will do everything possible to encourage you not to interact with cast members.
You no longer stand in lines to place your order. You don’t even tell the person at the host station that you’ve arrived at your meal.
Instead, you’ll handle most interactions through your phone. My Disney Experience offers restaurant check-in and Mobile Ordering.
When you dine at a Table Service restaurant, a QR code will sit on the table. Your server expects you to pull up the menu via that code.
In doing so, you streamline the process and avoid needless interactions.
You also get your food faster…and it’s more likely to be correct. You’re the one ordering, after all.
You cannot sit down at Quick Service restaurants until your Mobile Order displays as ready on your phone.
Disney reserves tables for guests with completed orders. Otherwise, social distancing requirements would prevent guests from having a table.
These changes actually work very well. For example, you can get a table at Woody’s Lunch Box now! Before the pandemic, it was like a knife fight.
Now, a cast member verifies your order and allows you to pick up your food. Since nobody else can sit down, you’re assured a table!
Many of these changes work so well that I cannot help but wonder whether Disney will keep them in future years.
Yes, the parks have changed since the last time you visited. In some ways, they’re better, though! You’ve picked a perfect time to come back!
Feature Image Rights: Disney