It may be hard to believe, but Disney World’s four theme parks have been reopened since JULY of this year. We know, we know, time has just FLOWN by this year, right? Okay, so maybe the idea of time itself is all sorts of jumbled this year, but it’s true! And in the months since Disney World reopened, a lot has changed.
Specifically, we noticed six major areas that have seen changes in the last few months. It’s pretty safe to say that when Disney World reopened in July, there were a whole ton of new rules, regulations, guest offerings, there was even a new castle color! But what has changed SINCE July?
It’s a little (and sometimes A LOT) more crowded
Perhaps the biggest difference we’ve noticed since July is the increase in crowds throughout all four parks. Shortly after Disney World reopened, CEO Bob Chapek noted that the parks had been operating at 25% capacity. Since then, park capacity has INCREASED to 35%.
So if you visited the parks in July, and again in November, you might have noticed the parks are a little fuller because, well…they are! That said, what we have observed over the last four months indicates that fewer people were visiting the parks in July and August than they are now.
Disney revealed during their Q3 earnings call that locals were making up roughly 50% of attendance, indicating that not many folks were flying in from out of state. That seems to have changed in the fall, but the parks are still not nearly as crowded as they could get pre-closure.
There are still plenty of times we see a pretty empty park, so the crowd levels definitely still fluctuate. But we’re starting to see the crowds trend in a certain upward direction, and we have a feeling that those days of consistent “ghost town” status are behind us.
Face mask policies have gotten tighter
Another thing that has changed quite a bit (and that we have covered extensively) is the evolution and tightening down of Disney World’s face mask policies. The parks have much stricter guidelines now than when the parks first reopened, that’s for sure!
Not only have the policies themselves gotten stricter, but Disney has been continuously updating their overhead announcements, signage, and information on their website. It has definitely felt like there have been times where the information changes daily!
As Disney continues to release more face masks for purchase, they’re also updating the rules and regulations surrounding those masks. Back in May when Disney Springs reopened, it was totally okay for folks to walk and drink or eat on the go! Just a couple months later, it was VERY clear that you needed to be stationary when enjoying a meal or a beverage.
Not only that, but the TYPE of face covering has become more defined. Disney has gone through the motions of specifying that you cannot wear neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas, or masks with holes or valves.
There are definitely more characters in the parks
While still socially distanced, Disney’s “meet and greets” have grown exponentially in the last four months. While we knew there would be some sort of character happenings throughout the parks, we were surprised to see characters like Anastasia and Drizella up on Cinderella Castle, as well as the Country Bears on top of the buildings in Frontierland. Needless to say, these character interactions were VERY distanced.
Since then, we’ve spotted more characters, especially face characters, and things are starting to feel a LITTLE more “normal.” We’ve even started to see interactive distanced meet and greets where guests can safely snap a picture and say hello to some of their favorite characters! There has also been more character dining pop-up throughout the parks…but we’ll get into more detail about that a little later.
Whether it’s Elsa and Anna in the Norway Pavilion or Alice and Mary in the United Kingdom Pavilion, EPCOT is one of the places where character interactions have become a highlight. And over in Magic Kingdom, you can also chat with Peter Pan and Wendy over by Crystal Palace, and say “hello” to Rapunzel in Fantasyland!
And remember when we said Anastasia and Drizella were high up on the balcony of the castle? Since then, they’ve joined us all on the ground level outside Fairytale Hall for much more intimate (while still distanced) interactions!
Disney’s approach to updating their walk-up distanced character experiences is pretty different from what has been going on (rather successfully) since day one at Universal Orlando. These character “meet and greet” updates were never announced by Disney, they just started…happening. We’re often taken by surprise when we spot another character in the parks!
Click here to check out another way guests can see their favorite characters at a reopened Disney World!
The deals and perks have gotten sweeter and sweeter
If you know where to look, you may find that Disney has offered some pretty incredible deals and special offers to certain groups of guests. For starters, Annual Passholders got a nice 10% bump on their merchandise discount for a period of time. They were able to use that 30% discount at the new limited-time Annual Passholder Pop-Up Shop, which is full of new, exclusive merchandise just for APs, not to mention added savings!
Annual Passholders weren’t the only ones benefitting in Disney’s earliest months of reopening. Florida residents had their own 30% discount on merchandise, not to mention a slew of incredible resort deals.
But what about everyone else who doesn’t fall into either of those categories? Disney is reaching out to THEM as well with crazy big discounts on resorts right now! How big? We’re talking up to 35% off your hotel room big! Disney certainly has a balancing act to perfect these days when it comes to limited park capacity and earning revenue, but if you do your research, you can still save big on a Disney vacation.
There are more dining options and features!
The world of Disney dining has changed in lots of ways, too! More dining locations have reopened, especially quick service and kiosk locations. Other locations, like Kringla Bakeri og Kafe and Sommerfest, started out with weekend hours only, but are now open daily!
Character dining has changed, too! Back when Disney World was preparing to reopen, we thought our only options for character dining would be Topolino’s Terrace, Ravello at the Four Seasons, and Garden Grill.
Cut to four months later, you can see tons of characters at Minnie’s Seasonal Dine at Hollywood & Vine, Cinderella at Cinderella’s Royal Table, the Beast at Be Our Guest Restaurant, and Mickey is set to return to Chef Mickey’s!
Mobile Dine Check In was new with the opening of the parks, so it’s not a CHANGE in the last four months per se, but it’s still noteworthy since this is an entirely new service! You no longer have to report to the host stand at a restaurant to check in; simply check in via My Disney Experience for a socially distanced start to your dining experience!
Speaking of My Disney Experience, there are multiple ways the app has become more integrated with the dining experience since Disney World reopened. There’s also a new Mobile Dine Walk-up Waitlist that was added, giving guests the ease of checking availability and making day-of walk-up reservations, all from your smart device!
There’s ALSO Table Service To Go, which hasn’t quite made it to the parks yet, but it’s another major dining change worth noting! You can get some of your favorite table service meals at Disney World Resort hotels…to go! It’s totally in the realm of possibility that we could see this feature reach the parks, so we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled!
The ride experience is a little different, too.
Last but not least, there have been several changes to Disney’s rides and attractions in the last four months. For starters, some rides have switched up the way they board ride vehicles. Certain rides, like Haunted Mansion, have modified their boarding to have guests loading into every other vehicle.
Speaking of Rise of the Resistance…where do we even start? At first, boarding groups were available three times per day (as opposed to just one pre-closure!), then just two. Then Disney made a small but super helpful update to My Disney Experience that saved a few crucial seconds when securing a Boarding Group. Then Disney made a MAJOR update to its Boarding Group process. Now, you no longer have to be INSIDE Hollywood Studios to get a Boarding Group.
Guests can acquire a Boarding Group at 7AM from virtually anywhere, as long as they have valid theme park admission and a Park Pass Reservation for Hollywood Studios that day. Now you can make those coveted reservations from the comfort of your hotel room bed!
There’s no question that more changes are coming as Disney World continues their phased reopening. Even though the parks have been open for several months, Disney is continuously updating and modifying their health and safety guidelines with the welfare of their guests and Cast Members in mind. As always, when there’s a big change to Disney World’s operations, you can count on us to share the latest information!
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Have you been to Disney World multiple times since the parks reopened? What are the biggest differences YOU’VE noticed? Let us know in the comments!