After Disney World reopened following its lengthy closure in 2020, it was a LOT different than it used to be! But even after being reopened for 6 months, we’ve seen a lot of changes at the parks!
Some of the health and safety guidelines have changed, park capacity has increased, and there are now a LOT of long confusing lines. But that’s why we’re here: to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes we’ve made when visiting the parks in 2021!
Even for those of us who are Disney World regulars, we realized we don’t know as much about Disney World now as we thought we did — at least not this new form of Disney World! So learn from us: here are the things we wish we’d known before going to Disney World in 2021!
Bring a mask chain
If you’re coming to Disney World in 2021, you’re still going to need to wear a mask anytime you’re outside of your hotel room while on property. Not only do you need to know what kind of masks are acceptable, but you’ll also need to know about certain updated procedures. For example, if you’re eating or drinking, you must be stationary — no more walking around the parks munching on a corndog as you go.
You also aren’t allowed to eat while standing in line for an attraction, and there are plenty of signs throughout the parks reminding you of that. But when you DO want to take a break to sip on some water or take a bite of something yummy, it’s a bit of a pain taking your mask off, placing it somewhere safe, and then putting it back on again. So that’s why we recommend a mask chain.
These are basically like those chains you can get for eyeglasses that let you hang them around your neck when you’re not using them, but mask chains do this for masks! And believe us, these babies come in handy! Shortly after reopening, some Disney World restaurants offered a plate or bag to keep masks safe while you eat, but they haven’t been doing that for a while.
Mask chains also come in particularly handy if you just need to step aside to take a sip of water (remember, you still have to be stationary and socially distant from others). They’re also GREAT for kids who are prone to losing their masks (or forgetful adults too!). However, for longer periods of having the mask off, you may still want to bring a little pouch or bag (and you can find some cute ones over at our DFB Store!)
Buffet Restaurants are better now
Let’s face it — most Disney World buffet restaurants are places you go to meet characters and not historically places where you’ll find gourmet food. But buffets are not happening right now due to health and safety restrictions, so buffet restaurants that have reopened are now serving meals family style — and the food is often better! For example, we found breakfast at Chef Mickey’s to be much better quality than the standard buffet fare we’ve had here in the past. AND we still get to see Mickey from a distance. WIN!
And we can’t sing the praises of Biergarten at EPCOT’s Germany Pavilion enough. Although it’s now a set menu, we found the food to be delicious and the entertainment to be fun, but the best part is that you no longer have to share a table with other groups thanks to new social distancing guidelines! The restaurant has long tables that you used to, in a very Oktoberfest style, have to share with strangers, but now, that’s no longer the case — you get your own table. Keep in mind the food here isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (or link of bratwurst, in this case!) but if you’re open to trying German fare, you’ll likely enjoy yourself.
Don’t even get us started on Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom or Hollywood and Vine in Disney’s Hollywood Studios! Both spots were great for character interactions but not so hot in the food department. Since reopening, the food at both has REALLY impressed us! You may only be able to see characters at Hollywood and Vine right now, but both meals offer a much more upscale menu of foods we enjoyed.
Remember when Disney World reopened? At the time, we recommended that you wait until after a park’s opening time to arrive because wait times were low, as were crowds. Well, that has definitely changed, and now we’re going to backtrack and say it’s best to go to the park early again now. Now that Disney has increased the capacity limit, the parks are more crowded with longer lines for attractions.
So get there first thing and hit your priority rides as soon as you can — trust us, you’ll thank us later. Old pre-closure rules apply here again. Wait times for popular attractions like Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and Slinky Dog Dash will only get longer as the day goes on. If there’s a must-do ride for your group, make plans to get their early and check it off your list.
Wearing a mask all day is tough
One thing we’ve noticed after a long day at Disney World is that wearing a mask all day can be challenging. You’re talking at a louder than normal volume so that others can hear you and at times breathing breath out the sides of your mask, possibly into your eyes (if you wear glasses, you know what we mean!). It can make your throat feel scratchy and your eyes itchy, almost like you have allergies. Don’t freak out, though — this is perfectly normal!
Be sure to stay hydrated! That can help with the dry throat feeling. And bring Chapstick because your lips will often feel very dry under that mask. You can also visit relaxation stations at the parks — this is where you can go to take your mask off for a period of time and take a bit of a breather.
The type of mask you’re wearing can also affect how you feel, so be sure to bring a few different types of masks so that you can swap them out throughout the day for comfort. You can also now buy little plastic mask-shapers that you place under masks to keep them from rubbing against your face so much. If you do feel under the weather though, regardless of the suspected cause, we also recommend checking your temperature just in case.
Lines are confusing
As we previously mentioned, lines are a lot longer now, and that means they’re a lot more confusing! Sometimes there’s a line and you’ll have no idea what it’s for! Because of social distancing, lines for attractions can snake around the park and into lands outside of where that attraction is located.
We now find ourselves having to ask Cast Members what line is for what, and that’s totally okay. And you’ll probably have to do a lot of backtracking for some attractions to find the end of the line. For example, when Frozen Ever After gets busy, it will run out of the Norway Pavilion at EPCOT (where the attraction is located) and into the China Pavilion!
It’s not just attractions, though, that have long and confusing lines. You might have to do this for stores, dining locations, and other locations, too. So don’t just be prepared to stand in line — also be prepared to figure out what line you’re supposed to be in first! It never hurts to politely ask a Cast Member for help if you feel lost — they’ll be happy to help.
Long wait times are back for attractions
Thanks to that increased capacity we keep mentioning, long wait times are back! At the moment, there are no FastPasses available for rides, so everyone has to ride standby. Popular rides have long wait times, so we recommend bringing something to do: a fun app or game on your phone (the Play Disney Parks app is a great start!), a book, knitting, or whatever it is you like to do to pass the time.
Although Disney has taken some steps to decrease wait times (such as the installation of Plexiglass on some attractions), we still see wait times for attractions like Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run at an hour or more. Just know if you visit the parks, you likely will have to wait in a lengthy line at some point, depending on what you’re looking to ride. Having something to do will make that wait go by a lot faster.
Getting in and out of places is also confusing
One of the biggest changes when entering any building at Disney World is that each location has a separate one-way entrance point and separate one-way exit point. You can’t just pop into a shop or restaurant from wherever right now! This can get SUPER confusing!
There ARE markers on the ground to let you know where you need to go, but sometimes they’re hard to see, especially if people are inadvertently blocking them. And you may find yourself having to backtrack some to find the entrances and exits. Even if you’ve been to that location before the park’s closure, you might find yourself a little lost.
Give yourself extra time for EVERYTHING
This kind of goes with everything we’re saying, but give yourself time for doing pretty much anything in the parks now. Transportation will take longer because vehicles are running with limited capacities. If a store is at capacity, you will have to wait to get inside either in a line or a virtual queue. We recommend buying what you want in gift shops when you spot it rather than mulling it over and thinking you can easily come back later to grab it. It’s not as easy as strolling into gift shops whenever you please anymore.
Even our old go-to tip, Mobile Order, now takes longer because EVERYONE is using it — Disney is encouraging guests to place Mobile Orders at counter service locations now to reduce touchpoints and spread out guests. Consider ordering 30 to 40 minutes or MORE before you’re ready to eat, or at the least try to eat at off times. Once you have your order, finding a table will also likely take longer because they’re all spread out for social distancing.
So give yourself plenty of time to do pretty much anything at Disney World, and know that you’ll need a lot of patience because you’ll be doing a lot of waiting. Disney is trying to put measures in place to speed up things, like testing out its Mobile Checkout service, but still be prepared to hurry up and wait before you get to Disney World.
Don’t go to Disney Springs on the weekend
We’ve been pretty shocked with the crowd levels at Disney Springs on weekends, so take this as a cautionary tale and don’t go to Disney Springs on the weekend if you can avoid it! For starters, parking lots are closed when Disney Springs reaches capacity. So if you drive there on a weekend, you might find yourself frustrated because you can’t get in.
And even if you have a reservation at Disney Springs for a weekend, you can still get in, but you might find yourself waiting an hour or longer just to park! And when you DO get in, you’ll find that social distancing is very difficult when Disney Springs is crowded and at capacity. We’ve had plenty of enjoyable visits to Disney Springs since reopening but more recently, weekends have been a time we like to avoid.
The new security system can be annoying
The new security system at Disney World means you can just walk past a detector and not have to do a lengthy bag check like you had to in the past. Sounds like a dream, right? No more queueing up with your opened bag in hand ready to show a security guard? Well, those sensors often pick up things in our bags that almost ALWAYS set them off, and then we end up having to do a bag and wand search anyway!
Here’s what tends to set these things off: glasses cases, external chargers, umbrellas, and pretty much anything cylindrical. We’ve gotten into the habit of just taking all these things out in advance and walking through security with an armload of our stuff to prevent having to undergo additional searches.
So there you have it — all the things we wished we’d known before we went to Disney World in 2021. We hope this is helpful for you in planning your next trip to the parks, and as always, stay tuned for any updates that might affect anything we’ve told you so far!
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Are you visiting Disney World in 2021? Let us know in the comments!