The global COVID-19 pandemic was a pivotal event that sent most of us home from work for months or longer. So many professional fields were impacted by health and safety restrictions and guidelines — particularly the travel industry. Walt Disney World shut down on March 15, 2020, and did not reopen until July 11, 2020. Disneyland Resort in California was closed for more than one year!
For Guests vacationing at Walt Disney World in 2020, pandemic-related guidelines and changes were a part of the vacation experience, like it or not. No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the Disney Parks’ rhythm and has changed little things about how many of us will travel from now on. That said, even without a global pandemic, a lot has changed at Walt Disney World in the span of several years.
Maybe health and safety concerns kept you away from Walt Disney World Resort for a few years longer than you planned. Or maybe your family vacation is right on time, but you have not visited the Parks since 2019 or before. A lot has changed in that time, and we think you’ll be excited to see new attractions and updates while still enjoying some of your favorite classic rides, shows, and experiences. If you haven’t visited Disney World in a few years, here is what you need to know.
Park Reservation System
When Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom reopened on July 11, 2020, and EPCOT and Hollywood Studios reopened on July 15, 2020, following the COVID-19-related closure, new precautions were put in place. To ensure Park numbers were at a lower and safer capacity threshold, a Park reservation system was put in place. This system ensured Guest numbers were capped, and social distancing could be achieved in the Parks.
Today, Guests still need to reserve entrance to each Park, each day of their vacation. There has been discussion among Disney fans about the possibility of the Park reservation system going away in the future, but for now, at least, it’s here to stay.
In addition to purchasing a Park ticket to your Disney Park of choice, you will need to secure a Park reservation for each person in your party, for each day of your vacation. This is easily done on the Disney website.
The retirement of the FastPass+ system and the addition of Disney Genie+ is a big change that came about in October 2021. Genie+ is a great way to secure shorter wait times by selecting rides in the Disney app. Disney Genie+ is an additional fee per day and allows Guests the opportunity to shave wait times to specific theme park attractions and to use the Lightning Lane to see more attractions, faster.
A New Resort
Depending on when you visited before the closure, you may be in to see a whole new Disney Resort! Disney’s Riviera Resort opened on December 19, 2019, and has been wowing Guests ever since. Modeled after the beautiful French and Italian Riviera, you’ll see classic European touches at this deluxe EPCOT and Hollywood Studios area Resort.
In fact, it’s just across the water from Caribbean Beach Resort. It is home to the popular table service dining experience Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera. Even if you are not staying at this Disney’s Riviera Resort, taking a trip over to explore and grab a drink at Bar Riva is worth the time.
Your Disney experience is going to be even more fun thanks to the new ride and attraction updates since your last visit. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios you can look forward to experiencing Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which opened in March 2020 a few days before the pandemic theme park closures.
Over at EPCOT, get ready to spin out of the galaxy with Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. In World Showcase you can enjoy an expansion to the France Pavilion where you’ll find the new eatery La Crêperie de Paris and, of course, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure!
Speaking of EPCOT, you’ll notice some pretty big ongoing changes as soon as you enter the Park. What was previously known as Future World is being transformed into three sections known as World Discovery, World Nature, and World Celebration. New attractions, rides, and experiences are coming in the future, and we could not be more excited!
New Eateries and Stores at Disney Springs
If a focus on shopping and dining is part of your vacation plan, you will be excited to hear about some additions to Disney Springs. In January 2021 Disney Springs West Side welcomed the M&M’s Store to meet all your sweet tooth needs. Now you can buy M&M’s merch or personalized M&M’s by the bag.
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Oregon-based ice cream shop Salt & Straw is new as of April 20, 2022, and nearby is Everglazed Donuts and Cold Brew, which opened in 2021. There is even a new show to enjoy at Cirque du Soleil. Drawn to Life opened in November 2021 and brings Guests into the story of Disney animation in an incredible show.
50th Anniversary Celebration
Just in case you have not heard, Walt Disney World Resort is still celebrating its 50th anniversary! You’ll notice special limited-edition merch in stores, and menus at restaurants around the Parks have items specifically for the anniversary celebration.
From cocktails and hot dogs to dessert and sandwiches, there are fun limited-time menu options to choose from. You can also enjoy Disney Enchantment fireworks show in the Magic Kingdom and Harmonious at EPCOT to celebrate this anniversary milestone. Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration will run through March 30, 2023.
Mobile Order is More Prominent
True, Mobile Order has been around since 2017, but you’ll notice Mobile Order being used more often and being more accessible these days. This is due in part to the necessity of Mobile Order when the Parks reopened in the summer of 2020.
To avoid Guests gathering in line to order food, Disney pushed quick-service dining ordering on the app. The great news is that this streamlines the ordering process and allows you to explore the menu more leisurely than traditional quick-service ordering.
My advice: explore Mobile Order in the app before your Disney vacation, so you understand the process and are ready to roll when you get to your Disney Resort.
Post COVID-19 Shift
Since your last visit, you may see some changes in the Disney Parks, which I call a Post COVID-19 shift. Disney staffing issues may manifest in interesting ways, making queues a bit slower or transportation wait times a bit longer.
Even though the days of mandatory social distancing are long over, you may still see a Guests behave differently than they would have before 2020. Less cramming onto Disney buses and packing theme park ride queues shoulder to shoulder. Some Guests may still choose to wear face masks in crowded areas. In short, you may or may not notice a change in Guest pace from what you saw on your last Disney trip in 2019.
We are so excited you are heading home to the magic of Walt Disney World. This long-awaited return is sure to be magical and an unforgettable Disney World vacation for your family. Let us help you plan with tips on Park planning, dining must-do’s, packing, budget hacks, and more!