Returning to Disney World During the Pandemic? Here Are 10 Things to Know

by | Sep 9, 2021 | WDW Blog

Wondering what it’s like to visit Disney World during the pandemic? My husband and I waited 18 months before our return; here’s what we learned.

When the Walt Disney World Resort shut the castle gates in March 2020, many of us realized how serious COVID would be because Disney rarely closes its gates.

But anyone who ever worked for the Mouse knows the four keys: Safety, Efficiency, Courtesy, and Show—in that order, which means the Walt Disney World Company puts safety ahead of everything

Note: Disney has added a fifth key, Inclusion. Subscribe by Sept. 30 to learn more about the 5 Keys and get an inside look at the Keys to the Kingdom Tour in our October issue.

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When Disney World reopened, because of that hierarchy (Safety above all else), guests experienced the magic in a whole new way.

My husband and I allowed our Annual Passes to lapse during COVID-19, and after going through the AP recovery program, we returned last month for the first time in 18 months

Annual Passes are available again for everyone. Review the four-tier AP breakdown before buying yours.

If you’re planning your first trip back to Disney World since it reopened, here’s what you need to know to have a magical time.

1. Mask up. No exceptions.

wearing masks at disney world during the pandemic

Wearing masks at Disney World during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

Vaccinated or not, the Walt Disney World Company requires masks at every indoor space, including attractions and transportation. You may remove your mask while outside. When dining, you must leave your mask on when you are not actively eating or drinking.

2. But they do have free masks.

woman wearing mask in front of haunted mansion at magic kingdom

If you forget a cute mask like contributor Allyson’s, you can still find free options at WDW. Photo courtesy of Allyson Koerner

I had high hopes of finding an Orange Bird face mask, but I couldn’t find one anywhere. Of course, I had my own mask, but I noticed you could get masks for free in the park. Don’t get excited; they’re not the cute starry sky masks the Cast Members wear, but the disposable, loop-over-the-ear masks. It’s a nice option to have if your mask gets sweaty, or if a strap breaks.

Never heard of Orange Bird?! Get his full feathery history in our November issue. Subscribe by Oct. 30 to have our November issue shipped to your mailbox.

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Orange Bird. Photo by Courtney Reynolds

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3. Reservations required.

park-reservation-pick-a-park_my-disney-experience - disney world during the pandemic

Make sure you have a park reservation. Screenshot by Timothy Moore

You must make a Park Reservation; if you simply show up at the park, the park may be at capacity and you won’t be admitted. You can make reservations online or through My Disney Experience.

And with the Park Reservation allotment baked into the new Annual Passes, I don’t see this going away.

4. But this means the parks are not nearly as crowded.

A dense crowd of guests at the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland

Crowds are thinner nowadays. Photo by Cliff Wang

I love Walt Disney World but have limited tolerance for elbow-to-elbow crowds, and I won’t lie, the last time I visited the WDW Resort pre-COVID, it was too crowded for my comfort. On our first visit back, we strolled through EPCOT, and I remarked to my husband how nice it was to be able to hold out my arms and not touch another person.

The reservation system gives you a little more breathing room at each park. After going back several times, if WDW kept this policy, I wouldn’t be upset. 

5. You do not need a reservation to park hop.

park hopping to animal kingdom - disney world during the pandemic

Park hopping is possible without reservations. Photo by Judd Helms

While you must make a reservation to visit your first park, you do not need one to go to a second park.

What does this look like? If you want to go to the Magic Kingdom and then park hop to EPCOT, you only need a reservation for MK. If you want to park hop to a third or fourth park after EPCOT, you won’t need a reservation for those parks, either.

6. But you will need to wait to park hop until 2 PM.



Photo courtesy of Disney Parks

If you want to park hop, you must wait until 2 PM to do so. Even if you arrive after 2, you still must go through the RFID-reading touch point entries (today’s newfangled version of turnstiles) at the park for which you have a reservation. This goes for everyone, no matter what type of tickets or passes you have. 

7. The bag/no bag lines are gone.

New Disney World Security Procedure during covid-19

Security procedures have changed. Photo by Julie De la Fe

I’m a “guest without bags” kind of guest: If it can’t fit in my shorts pockets, I don’t need it.

Why? I didn’t like how long it took to get through the “guests with bags” line. Upon returning to WDW after its reopening, I was delighted to see it didn’t matter if I had a bag or not. 

8. But everyone goes through a security scan.


Security remains top-notch at Disney World. Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

In June 2020, WDW began using touchless security systems. No more bag searches (unless you’re selected for an additional check), and the line to get in moves so much faster now!

9. Not everything’s open quite yet.

A train pulls into the station at the Magic Kingdom

The railroad is still closed. Photo by Brett Svenson

Just because Disney World is open doesn’t mean every restaurant is open. Some restaurants remain closed, and some have limited seating. If there’s a restaurant you consider essential to your Disney vacation, make sure it’s open and that you can get reservations before you buy the tickets.

10. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get a magical meal.

le cellier - dining at disney world during the pandemic

Get a stellar meal at Le Cellier. Photo by Bill Sferrazza

On a recent trip, I had no trouble finding a place to eat. In fact, I could get day-of reservations at places where I had never previously seen that kind of availability.

Reserving a table at Canada’s Le Cellier at the last minute? Yeah, that happened, and while it wasn’t exactly the time I wanted, it wasn’t unreasonable either. Why is this possible? I’m not sure; perhaps it’s the new park reservation system, or maybe—just maybe—it’s Disney magic

When you plan your first trip back to the Walt Disney World Resort, don’t worry about the changes to how things work at the parks. All you really need to do is have tickets or Annual Passes, a theme park reservation, and a mask. The rest will work itself out.

After all, this is Disney World, the only place on the planet where it’s everyone’s job to make sure you’re safe, happy, and having a great time being their guest!

Not sure if you’re going? You can just get more information about a potential Disney vacation.

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Written by Cathy Salustri

Written by Cathy Salustri

Cathy Salustri's formative years—by which she means her teens and twenties—revolve around Walt Disney World, whether it was having an OG annual pass (four months out of the year only!), wearing acid-washed denim to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party with her hard-rock wannabe sort-of boyfriend, or working as a walking tour guide at the now-defunct Inside the Magic attraction at the then-Disney-MGM Studios. She loves all of Florida, too, not just Disney—her Florida travel narrative, "Backroads of Paradise", earned her an interview in the New York Times, and she freelances for all sorts of Florida publications. Look for her and her husband at EPCOT, usually feasting on food at Morocco, or at Animal Kingdom Lodge, sharing a post-Disney scotch at Victoria Falls. Follow her travels on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, listen to her Florida Spectacular podcast, and sign up for her monthly feel-good Florida newsletter.