In Spring 2021, my family and I packed our suitcases for a trip to Walt Disney World. We knew this trip was going to be a little different, so our bags included a surplus of masks, a thermometer, and plenty of hand sanitizer. Still, my kids, my husband, me, and my (fully vaccinated) mom buzzed with excitement. We kept an eye on the travel protocols, local guidelines, and Disney World’s COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions to make sure we all felt comfortable. We had a fabulous trip, even while wearing masks in Florida when it was 80-plus degrees.
With increased vaccinations and loosened guidelines—Disney World and Disneyland recently changed their mask and temperature check requirements—many families might be wondering whether now is a good time to plan a trip to Disney. As with everything in the pandemic, guidelines are ever-changing, so it’s important to check the latest before booking your trip. Here we’re sharing some of the most common questions and considerations for planning a trip to Disney World right now.
What’s open at Disney World?
- All four main theme parks are open with reservations.
- Blizzard Beach water park is open with reservations.
- Nighttime fireworks start back up in July!
- Disney Springs is open with required dining reservations. Stores may have capacity limits, so expect wait times for popular spots.
- Many Disney Resort hotels are open, with more set to reopen by August 2021. View the full list of Disney Resort hotels accepting reservations here.
What’s not open at Disney World right now?
- Character meet & greets: Sadly, no hugs for Mickey Mouse or the Disney princesses right now. But characters do still appear throughout the parks for socially distanced spottings, in mini-parade floats, carriage rides, and even during the occasional pool stop-by at Disney Resorts. But unlike in the past, you can’t schedule character meet and greets with FastPass+ or have your photo taken beside your favorite characters.
- Parades and night shows: Right now, full-fledged parades and nighttime shows are suspended, but Disney recently announced some new shows are coming on Oct. 1, 2021 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World. Fireworks also return in July.
- The iconic Walt Disney World Railroad at the Magic Kingdom is closed for refurbishment as is the Hall of Presidents.
- Typhoon Lagoon Water Park is also closed.
What’s changed about planning a trip to Disney?
Quite a few things have changed if you’ve traveled to Disney World pre-pandemic. Here are the most notable:
- Theme park reservations: Park admissions and reservations are required for all parks, so you can’t show up without a purchased ticket. Check park reservation availability for the time you want to travel.
- FastPass+: Disney’s FastPass+, which previously offered park guests a reserved time to visit popular attractions, is suspended until further notice. Previously, guests could book up to three FastPass+ experiences per day in advance. At the moment, guests planning an upcoming visit won’t know for sure whether FastPass+ will be available for popular attractions during their visit. The good news is that with reduced capacity, lines should be shorter than in previous years. Be sure to download the My Disney Experience app to check wait times across the parks.
- Hotel access: According to Disney’s website, guests will need a MagicBand, Key to the World Card, or the My Disney Experience app to unlock their Disney Resort hotel room.
Does my family need to wear masks at Disney World?
Guests who are not fully vaccinated are required to wear masks. Fully vaccinated guests have the option to wear masks without providing proof of vaccination. All guests ages 2 and up are required to wear them on Disney transportation.
You can read the full mask guidelines—including the type of masks required—on Disney’s website. Additionally, you’ll find stickers on the ground at hotels, in lines for attractions, and more to help with physical distancing.
What other changes should I expect at the Disney World parks?
- Disney transportation: Disney buses, monorail, and the new Disney Skyliner gondola system are all operational but require that you wear masks and follow physical distancing guidelines. This means you may have to wait for more than one bus at peak park entrance and exit times.
- Entrance procedures: Disney just ended temperature checks, so getting through the park entrance should be a bit quicker. Additionally, instead of full bag checks, guests walk through metal detectors with all their belongings, while strollers are checked separately.
- Mobile food ordering: My personal favorite change was to the counter-service food experience. You can order food and schedule a pickup time all through the My Disney Experience app. It does take a bit of planning, but I preferred it to waiting in another long and crowded line to order food for hungry kiddos.
- Ride experiences may differ slightly: Some attractions might be a little different from previous years to maintain social distancing between park-goers. For example, moving to “the dead center” of the first room in The Haunted Mansion is just a walk-through experience for now.
What new attractions are opening soon at Disney World?
Oct. 1, 2021 marks the start of Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration, an 18-month-long event. Pending any major changes to COVID guidelines, two new nighttime shows are set to debut on October 1. The first is “Disney Enchantment” at the Magic Kingdom, featuring the first immersive projection effects that extend from Cinderella Castle down Main Street, U.S.A. The second is “Harmonious,” a nighttime display of songs, fountains, fireworks, and more at Epcot center. Disney’s Animal Kingdom will also have a new daytime show called “Disney KiteTails,” which is debuting this October.
Additionally, a new family-friendly attraction based on the movie Ratatouille, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, is also set to open on October 1. So if you’re planning a fall trip, you may have some new attractions to look forward to!
Will it be less crowded at Disney World?
Disney World is slowly increasing its theme park capacity from a self-imposed 35 percent back in Spring 2021, but the company hasn’t since disclosed the theme park’s current capacity. Recently, Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Chapek confirmed he hopes a full capacity reopening will happen by the winter holiday season.
As someone who went to Disney in April 2021, I can say that 35 percent still means there are crowds and lines as long as 45-90 minutes for top attractions (think Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom, and Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom). But parks certainly feel less crowded in the early mornings and early evenings.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know when the park capacity will increase, so it’s best to expect some crowds. Try to plan your trip during an off-peak time and map out your days strategically to help maximize your enjoyment.
Is Disney World worth the money right now?
This answer will be different for every family. If this is your one and only time you plan on traveling to Disney, it may not be everything you imagined. But I’ll share one tip from experience: If you have your heart set on a photo of your kid with their favorite character, remember that you never know what will actually happen in the moment they meet. My niece adored her Minnie Mouse stuffed animal and slept with it every night, but upon meeting the real Minnie, she threw a crying fit. In short, the perfect magical expectations still may not be met, COVID or not.
I think it’s best to remember that kids love Disney World, and they’ll love it even if they are wearing masks and have to blow kisses to Mickey from a distance—it’s all about setting realistic expectations. Take it from this die-hard Disney fan: A trip to Disney World will always be memorable.