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Credit: Becky Burkett/DisneyDining

One of Disney World’s most popular dining options makes a long-awaited comeback!

One of Disney World‘s most beloved and popular dining options is finally making its long-awaited comeback following its disappearance when the parks closed in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

The decision by Disney executives to close every Disney Park across the globe was an unprecedented one and one that left fans with an uneasiness as they realized that most of them were, for the first time, living in a world in which not a single Disney Park was in operation. It was eerie.

empty magic kingdom august 2020

Magic Kingdom looked like a ghost town/Credit: @bioreconstruct

When The Walt Disney Company first announced the closures of its theme parks, the general understanding and hope was that operations would resume approximately two weeks later.

Disneyland Resort ended normal operations after the park’s closure on March 13, 2020, and Disney World and Disneyland Paris followed suit on March 15, 2020, though Walt Disney World hotels like Disney’s Contemporary Resort at Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge near the entrance of Animal Kingdom, for example, remained open until March 16.

Contemporary Resort at Disney

Credit: Becky Burkett/DisneyDining

No one could have imagined that the closure of Disney World would last for almost four consecutive months. And shock set in when fans realized that Disneyland Resort in California wouldn’t welcome Guests back for more than 13 months.

When news of Disney World‘s reopening was released, fans were overjoyed. But what would a pandemic Disney World experience be like? The Walt Disney Company was quick to let us know: it would be very different indeed.

The reopening of the parks took place in phases. In the beginning days, the parks were, in a word, empty.

Credit: Becky Burkett/DisneyDining

Credit: Becky Burkett/DisneyDining

When Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom reopened on July 11, 2020, it was to very small crowds of Guests who were first temperature checked before entering.

temperature check signs

Credit: Becky Burkett/Disney Dining

Masks had to be worn at all times, whether Guests were inside or outside in the parks. EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studio opened to Guests on July 15, and the crowds remained small–and in some instances, almost non-existent. Social distancing was strictly enforced, and hand-washing stations dotted the thoroughfares throughout the parks.

hand washing station

Credit: Becky Burkett/Disney Dining

Complete compliance was mandatory.

But many of Disney World‘s most cherished and beloved experiences did not open when the gates to the four theme parks opened. When it came to dining, Disney World was like a completely different place.

Dining at the Walt Disney World Resort took on a whole new look and feel, and the changes were incredibly noticeable. Guests who chose to sit down to a meal at one of the open table-service Disney World restaurants were reminded of the ensuing pandemic everywhere they looked. On the tables, there were no menus–only a QR code for Guests to scan with their smartphones that would take them to an online version of the establishment’s menu.

qr code and wallet

(Not sure why they had my name as “Eppie”) Credit: Becky Burkett/DisneyDining

But not all Disney World restaurants were reopened. Multiple dining venues simply remained closed and unstaffed in the first phases of the reopening. There was no Disney character dining whatsoever, although it was possible to catch a glimpse of a favorite Disney character as he or she passed by the table.

Guests could take photos, but masks had to be worn, and there were simply no hugs allowed between Guests and Disney character friends. At EPCOT’s Garden Grill, Chip ‘n’ Dale stopped briefly for photos at Guests’ tables, but behind the half-walls in the restaurant. Just outside Garden Grill and down the escalator, the dining area for Sunshine Seasons was so empty, Guests had their pick of almost any table.

Credit: Becky Burkett/DisneyDining

Disney’s Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway pavilion at EPCOT was used as a “relaxation station” temporarily at the beginning of the park’s reopening, meaning there were no Disney princesses awaiting their turns to greet Guests and lead the parade around the restaurant.

And perhaps one of the most-missed experiences of all at the newly-reopening Disney World restaurants was the buffet-style way of serving breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Though Guests could still enjoy a Mickey waffle for breakfast, it wasn’t from the buffet.

Credit: Disney

The buffet and “Supercalifragilistic Breakfast” hosted by Mary Poppins, the Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland, and Winnie-the-Pooh at 1900 Park Fare inside the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa was unavailable as the restaurant remain closed.

But even inside operating Disney World restaurants like Biergarten Restaurant inside the Germany pavilion at EPCOT–known for its plentiful buffet of delicious German food–resorted to a different way of doing things, like serving family-style dinner. Instead of walking up to an overflowing buffet of too many choices in German options, copious dishes of heaping helpings of schnitzel, sauerkraut, cold salads, and Black Forest cake were delivered to Guests’ tables in no short supply.

Credit: Becky Burkett/DisneyDining

Yes, the beloved Disney World buffets had become a thing of the past. Until now!

While family-style serving had become a way of life at Disney World, there is now more of a shift back to buffet-style dining. Currently, Cape May Cafe at Disney’s Beach Club Resort, Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and the Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom have returned to a buffet. And soon, Hollywood and Vine at Disneys Hollywood Studios will follow suit.

There are, however, some locations that offered buffet options before the pandemic closures continue to serve family style meals. These include Chef Mickey’s at Disneys Contemporary Resort, Tusker House at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and Trail’s End at the Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort.

Dining Room

Credit: Disney

Guests planning a visit to the Walt Disney World Resort who want to experience unique dining options can visit Disney World‘s official website for the most up-to-date information about dining locations and options.

About Becky Burkett

I'm an enthusiastic writer who finds joy in random things like cold weather, snow, "I Love Lucy," "The Andy Griffith Show," journals full of blank paper, countdowns to Christmas, the month of December, "Toy Story," "Sleeping Beauty," my 4 kids, my 4 shih tsus, Disney Parks history, Imagineering and visiting the parks. I think Walt Disney is the standard against which genius should be measured. I love to write about Disney Parks, Disney history, all things Imagineering and PIXAR. I adore the colors, story and art direction of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" (Team Make it Blue!), and "Toy Story" is life (minus "Toy Story 4"). I believe Walt Disney was so much more than an entertainment and theme park tycoon; I believe he was a savant with a vision for life and how it could be if happiness and kindness are strived for. I love Biergarten at EPCOT and 1900 Park Fare at Disney's Grand Floridian. You can find me croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room, chillin' on the PeopleMover or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. I'm always looking for Imagineers in the parks, and I'd rather meet Joe Rohde and Tony Baxter than anyone in Hollywood! Hey, if you dream it, you really can do it!