We’ve seen quite a few changes in Disney World recently! LOTS of festive decorations have gone up recently, and holiday snacks are popping up around the parks and resorts (one of which wasn’t even sure what holiday it was celebrating!), and the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance morning boarding group sign-up process has changed.
But that’s not all! Check out the 7 newest changes in Disney World that you’ll want to know about and prepare for in advance of your next Disney trip.
Let’s get right into it!
1. Extended Refurbishments
Although many of the Disney World Resort hotels and all of the Disney World theme parks have reopened, some attractions, restaurants, and other areas did not open initially or have since become unavailable as they are being refurbished. You may be expecting that, but what you may not know is how LONG some of these refurbishments are set for and how many of these refurbishment timelines have actually been extended lately.
Let’s start in Magic Kingdom, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover (a true classic) didn’t open with the park, and has been down for refurbishment ever since. At first, the refurbishment was set to last through November. Then, it was extended through December, and now it’s been extended into 2021.
So, if you’ll be visiting Magic Kingdom within the next few weeks, you likely won’t be able to get on this ride. And, even if you’re planning to visit in 2021, keep in mind the refurbishment schedule could change. We’re keeping an eye out for more updates.
The Liberty Square Riverboat and Tom Sawyer Island are also currently unavailable and undergoing some refurbishments. They were originally scheduled to be closed through January 2nd, but that has since been extended through February.
Judging by the work being done on the Rivers of America at the moment, it seems a lot is getting done in this area of the park!
The Walt Disney World Railroad is also currently closed due to the construction going on with the TRON coaster, and is showing “no times available” through the furthest date we can check in the calendar (currently January 13th). An official opening date for TRON has not yet been set and it is not clear when the Railroad will be available again, so if this is a must-do for you and your family, you should be aware that this will likely be unavailable for quite a while.
In terms of the Disney World Resort hotels, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is currently undergoing massive refurbishments and is not set to reopen until next year (although Disney’s Polynesian Villas and Bungalows are open). Many of the stores and restaurants in the hotel are still open, although their hours may be affected, the monorail station there has closed, and there are other changes happening around the hotel.
So, if you’re headed to this resort soon or you’re just looking to visit, you’ll have to be aware of these changes.
Disney’s BoardWalk Inn is also having some refurbishment done to its signature pool with that creepy (but totally iconic) clown waterslide. Some of that refurbishment was set to end in October and November, but it’s since been extended. In fact, Disney now notes that it expects to open the waterslide by the end of 2020, and that other refurbishment at the pool will also continue through the end of the year.
Basically, the moral of this story is that refurbishments are going on all around Disney World right now, and quite a few of them are being extended. Be sure to check the Walt Disney World refurbishment calendar ahead of your trip to see what attractions or other areas may be unavailable during your trip, and look out for more updates from us here at DFB.
2. Free Water
Even in the “winter” Florida is HOT. One of the most important things you need to do when you visit Disney World is stay hydrated. In the past, you’ve always been able to get a cup of ice and water for free at Counter Service locations, but things have changed recently. Although you still can get free water in Disney World, you may need to travel a bit for it.
Essentially, because many counter service locations are only serving guests through Mobile Order they are sometimes not providing free water to guests who have not placed any kind of mobile order at the restaurant (i.e. guests who are just walking up and asking for free water and that’s it) to limit the number of guests going in and out of the restaurant at any one time and help promote social distancing.
This is particularly true during very busy times. In those instances, the Cast Members have directed us to other locations in the park to get free water (like Gaston’s Tavern). We’re VERY serious about our water, so we’ve compiled a list of all the spots you can get FREE water in Magic Kingdom!
The most important thing to keep in mind here is that you might not be able to just walk in and ask for free water like you used to, but you CAN still get it in the park, you’ve just got to take a few extra steps!
3. Transportation Changes
Another big change that you may not be thinking about is transportation! There have been QUITE a few changes in this area recently. First, the monorail station at the Polynesian is closed. So, if you’re in Magic Kingdom and wanting to hop over to the Polynesian to grab a snack or eat at Kona Cafe, you can’t just get on the resort monorail and get off at the Polynesian anymore. Instead, you’ll need to get off at Disney’s Transportation & Ticket Center and take the quick walk over to the Polynesian. Or, you can use another form of transportation!
Recently, both bus and boat transportation between the Polynesian and Magic Kingdom have become available. But, the boats do stop at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa on the way back from Magic Kingdom before going to the Polynesian, so if you’re in a hurry that’s just something to keep in mind!
Also, if you haven’t been to Disney World since the reopening, you may not be aware that the EPCOT monorail is no longer available, so that may affect the transportation plan you’re typically used to using around the parks.
If you love boat transportation though, then you’ll be happy to know that the friendship boats which transport guests between EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s BoardWalk Villas, and the Beach and Yacht Club Resorts are back up and running again.
If you’re taking a Disney bus, there are also some seating arrangement changes you should be aware of. We had previously seen buses with fewer seating groups with more seats per group, but we recently saw that changed. Now, some buses offer more seating groups with a smaller number of seats per seating “zone.” This allows the bus to accommodate more groups of smaller parties.
Bus seating, in general, is something to keep in mind — you may not be able to sit next to all of your kids or your entire group (particularly if you are a large group) as certain seats are unavailable for use to maintain social distancing. And with some buses now using the smaller groupings, that may mean that potentially more guests get seated per bus, but you may also have to split your party into more groups.
The key here is to consider how you’re planning to get from one park to your hotel or anywhere else, and evaluate if any part of that transportation chain is different or has changed in some way recently so you can be prepared.
4. Mobile Order Changes
One thing that has become incredibly important in Disney World is the My Disney Experience app, but we’ve seen quite a few changes recently that you may not be thinking about in relation to your upcoming Disney trip. First, Mobile Order is starting to be offered at more restaurants all around Disney World. Before you head to the restaurant you’re thinking of eating at, be sure to check if it’s available on Mobile Order.
Second, there is now a Mobile Order Table Service To Go feature available for some restaurants in Disney World. This new feature lets you order from some of your favorite table service restaurants and take your meal to go so you can enjoy it in your hotel room, your home or apartment, or another spot. Quite a few restaurants have been added to this feature, and we’re always on the lookout for more updates!
If you are going to eat at a sit-down restaurant in person, you should be aware of the Mobile Dine Check-In feature on the app, which allows you to check-in for your reservation from your phone. But, perhaps the very best new feature that’s recently become available is the Walk-Up Waitlist.
If you’ve been trying to score reservations at Cinderella’s Royal Table and haven’t found anything, you might be able to join the Walk-Up Waitlist for this spot once you’re in the park and potentially get a last-minute opportunity to eat there!
Recently, spots like Three Bridges Bar & Grill and Nomad Lounge have become available on this feature, potentially giving you a last-minute opportunity to dine at a popular spot. It’s definitely something to look at and consider using during your next trip to the parks.
5. No Eating/Drinking in Line
Another recent change that you may not even be thinking of is that guests are now specifically instructed to NOT eat or drink while in line waiting for an attraction. That’s right, you won’t be able to pull out your snack bar as some intense park fans might have done in the past to skip lunch and ride more attractions.
This is a new direction in relation to Disney’s mask policy. Previously, the announcements only specified that you could only remove your mask when eating and drinking while stationary. And, we had seen guests eating and drinking in line as long as they were not actively moving. But it appears Disney is now, as it has done in the past, updating its rules and regulations as it finds necessary.
We’ll definitely be listening for any more updates to Disney’s mask policies, but for now you should be prepared to only remove your mask when eating or drinking while stationary (and not in any attraction line) or in a relaxation area.
6. The Return of Park Hopping
Disney has also announced that Park Hopping will be coming back to Disney World on January 1st, 2021 (with some modifications)! This is a HUGE change that could really impact your next Disney trip (if it’s taking place in 2021 that is), as guests can only currently visit 1 park per day.
There are a few KEY things you need to know about the new process. First of all, you MUST have a ticket or Annual Pass WITH a Park Hopper option. Second, you’ll still have to get a Park Pass reservation for the first park you want to visit. As of the time of writing this post, a park pass reservation is not required for the park you want to hop to, but that could change in the future so we’ll keep an eye out for more updates.
Another KEY thing to note is that you must visit the first park — the one you’ve got the Park Pass for — in order to park hop later. After you’ve already visited your first park, Park Hopping hours will then open up at 2PM. That time is also something that’s subject to change in the future, so we’ll be watching for any updates on that. But, at this time, you’ll be able to hop to another park after 2PM, depending on that park’s availability.
Park-to-park transportation is also set to resume in 2021 to help guests get around as they hop. Overall, the reintroduction of Park Hopping, even in a modified way, is a game changer. It means you could have breakfast at EPCOT, but end your day in Batuu at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Or you could start your morning with Expedition Everest and spend your night riding classic attractions in Magic Kingdom, just like you used to before the park closures.
But, the system isn’t exactly the same as it used to be, so that’s something to keep in mind. You’ll need to watch for other parks’ availability, make sure you enter your first park, and stay on top of any potential changes. We’re working on answering lots of questions about this new process here, and we’ll continue to update our information as we learn more.
7. Testing Merchandise Mobile Checkout
Another really recent change is the testing of a Merchandise Mobile Checkout system that can help you skip those long lines at select Disney merchandise locations. Right now, we’ve seen the system being tested at Mouse Gear in EPCOT, Everything POP Shopping and Dining at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, and out at Disneyland too.
With this new system, you pick up a special bag in the store, and use the My Disney Experience app (in Disney World — Disneyland uses the Disneyland app) to scan the items you want to purchase and add them to your bag. Once you’re done scanning, you can actually pay for your items on the app (so you SKIP the long line), and then you only have to go through a quick check process with a Cast Member at the very end.
We found the process to be really easy and convenient! It could potentially save you LOTS of time by helping you avoid long checkout lines in the store. Right now it is only testing in limited locations, but it’s something you may want to take advantage of the next time you’re in the parks. Be sure to check on the app and check with us here at DFB for more updates on that.
Of course, these aren’t the ONLY recent changes that could impact your trip, but just some of the most recent ones you may not be thinking of!
Other changes we’ve seen include: changes in character meet-and-greets, new holiday cavalcades, Park Pass availability, and the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance morning boarding group sign-up process, the start of the Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays, as well as lots more plexiglass in different attractions and queues, menu changes, mask price increases, changes in park hours, and the reopening of some restaurants all around Disney World!
Basically, things change a LOT at Disney World. But some things also stay the same — like some of those classic snacks and attractions, and the magic created by those fantastic Cast Members. Be sure to come back to DFB for all the latest updates so you can best plan for your next vacation!
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Are you planning on visiting Disney World soon? Tell us all about your vacation plans in the comments!