Five years is a long time, even if a global pandemic never happened, and there have been a number of big changes in Disney World. If you haven’t visited Disney World in five years, you might be REALLY confused when you arrive, so we’re here to go over all the changes!
Past and Current Changes
When Disney World first reopened following the closure in 2020, social distancing was evident throughout the parks. Line markers were placed to distance guests in lines, and any attractions that placed guests in close proximity were either adjusted or temporarily suspended.
Since then, social distancing markers have been removed and it’s mostly no longer a thing in Disney World. However, you may still see some plexiglass barriers in ride queues, in shops, and at some food locations, though we’ve been seeing those removed lately!
Social distancing has just been removed from character meet and greets, After the 2020 closure, character meet and greets were suspended, and when they were re-introduced in 2021, they were modified so that guests must maintain distance from the characters.
Now you can hug Mickey and all of the other characters just like you could pre closure.
Masks have undergone several policy changes, and currently, masks are no longer required to be worn by vaccinated guests in most areas of Disney World. Masks must still be worn by everyone on enclosed Disney transportation methods, including buses and the Monorail.
Recently, Disney adjusted their mask policy so that it’s no longer required for vaccinated guests on board the Skyliner or the Star Wars hotel transportation shuttle, so we’re watching closely for any more changes.
New Security Procedures
One of the big changes introduced since 2020 were touchless security check-ins. In the past, security would involve Cast Members checking all guest bags before letting anyone enter the parks. Now, most guests can simply walk through a metal detector, though strollers and larger bags are still inspected.
This is one of those changes that generally makes getting to a Disney Park a little faster and easier, but if you’re bringing a stroller or an especially large bag, you will have to stop to have a Cast Member inspect your belongings. There are also a few items (like umbrellas) that will need to be held in your hands when walking through the new security systems.
Park Reservation System
Something you definitely need to be aware of is the Park Reservation System, which was introduced following the 2020 closure. Before your visit, you need to reserve a park for you (and your group) for each day of your visit. If you don’t, you won’t be able to enter the park. Park passes can sell out too, so if you wait till the day of your visit, it might be too late.
Park hopping is still a thing, but you can’t park hop until 2PM after you first visit the park you reserved. Although many people wondered if this was a temporary change, it seems that it’s here to stay for the time being.
Farewell Magical Express
We bid farewell to Magical Express, the complimentary transportation service provided to Disney World hotel guests from Orlando Airport, in January 2022. This is one of the reasons why your Disney World trip might be more expensive, because you now have to reserve your own transportation method from the airport.
You can choose from two services that aren’t that different from Magical Express (other than costing money), such as Mears Connect and The Sunshine Flyer, as well as a variety of other transportation methods. It’s really up to you, but keep in mind that you might have to make your reservation in advance!
Goodbye FastPass, Hello Genie+
If FastPass was still a thing the last time you visited Disney World, we’re sorry to tell you that…it’s been replaced. The new way to skip the standby lines in Disney World costs money, and it’s called Genie+. It’ll set you back $15 per person, per day, and it includes over 40 rides, but the newest and most popular rides will cost you extra through Individual Lightning Lanes.
You won’t be able to make your first Genie+ selection until 7AM on the day you are going to use them.
Of course, you can always opt to wait in standby lines for free, but if Genie+ sounds like something you want to do, we recommend reading our guide before your visit! You’ll need a smartphone, the My Disney Experience app, and a plan.
Individual Attraction Selection (IAS) has also been introduced. This is separate from Genie+ and you don’t have to purchase Genie+ to use IAS. In this case, you will be x number of dollars per person for highly popular rides that tend to draw long lines, like Rise of the Resistance for example.
Prices can vary based on the day of the week and the time of the year. Disney World hotel guests and those staying at locations like Swan & Dolphin and Shades of Green can make their IAS selections day of at 7AM. Off-property guests can’t make these selections until they arrive at the parks.
Annual Passholder Program
The Annual Passholder program has changed in Disney World, with four brand new tiers of passes. There were some major changes to the program, and out of the four passes, only one (and the most expensive) is available to non-Florida residents. Also, Disney PhotoPass is no longer included with Annual Passes, but it can be added on for $99.
After the release of this new pass system, Disney quickly put most Annual Pass sales on PAUSE once again. Only the Pixie Pass is for sale right now, which is only available to Florida residents. Current Annual Passholders can still renew into the new program, so make sure you renew if you want to keep your pass!
Hotel Renovations and New DVC Rooms
Several hotels have undergone some big construction projects, such as Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Both resorts received some new and updated room designs, with select Polynesian rooms now featuring a Moana theme, and the Contemporary featuring The Incredibles room designs. The Contemporary Resort also debuted a new restaurant, Steakhouse 71.
A few hotels are also in the midst of (or about to start) construction on additional Disney Vacation Club (DVC) villas, like Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort Hotel & Spa and Polynesian Resort. Before you make your Disney World hotel reservation, it’s not a bad idea to check Disney’s website for up-to-date information about construction. The construction can be loud at times, so that is something to keep in mind if you are looking to stay at one of these hotels.
Extra Magic Hour Changes
Extra Magic Hours were once a perk for people staying in Disney World hotels, which would let guests enter Disney Parks early or stay late on select days. This has been replaced by two separate programs called Early Theme Park Entry and Extended Evening Hours. Early Theme Park Entry is available for all Disney World hotel guests, and it allows early entry into any Disney Park, 30 minutes before opening time.
Extended Evening Hours is a perk available only to deluxe Disney World hotels, and they’re offered at select parks on scheduled dates after closing time. Not all rides or restaurants are open during that time, but you do get to stay a few hours after the park is closed.
BIG Park Changes
Pandora — the World of Avatar
The land of Pandora opened in 2017 in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and its theme is based on the planet in the film Avatar. According to the lore of this land, the fictional Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) has established the Valley of Mo’ara as a peaceful site of exploration.
Pandora is home to two attractions, Avatar Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey, a quick service restaurant called Satu’li Canteen, and a snack stand called Pongu Pongu. Flight of Passage is one of Disney World’s most popular rides, and trust us, you want to try a Cheeseburger Pod from Satu’li!
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2019, and it’s set in the Black Spire Outpost village on the planet Batuu, with the time period based between the films of The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.
You’ll find attractions such as Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and the very popular Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, as well as five different dining experiences, including quick service, a lounge, and three snack and beverage stands.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
The Great Movie Ride closed in Hollywood Studios in 2017, and it was replaced by Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway in 2020. This is a trackless dark ride, with both screen and physical effects.
On Runaway Railway, Goofy’s trail derails, and riders find themselves in a variety of scenes as Mickey and Minnie try to save the train.
Construction in EPCOT
EPCOT has been undergoing a multi-year transformation for several years now, and you might feel REALLY surprised to step foot in the park! From a new fountain in front of Spaceship Earth, to the park icon’s incredible nighttime makeover, a lot has changed.
The construction is still in progress, but we’ve been watching closely for any changes. If you visit, make sure you prepare to see construction walls and understand that not everything has opened.
And those are the BIGGEST changes you might have missed in the last 5 years. Understand that Disney World is very different now, and make sure you plan accordingly! Stay tuned to DFB for more Disney news!
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Are you planning a Disney World trip for the first time in 5 years? Tell us in the comments!