All of the changes made to the park experience are in service of creating the safest possible experience. I was extremely impressed by the precautions taken by Disney and the respect for the protocols by other guests. Everyone appreciated getting to be together and was clearly focused on visiting the parks safely.
Back in July, I shared my tips for planning a last-minute Walt Disney World trip during COVID. Now, I am back with an improved list from my recent trip with everything you need to know about visiting Walt Disney World right now.
1. Make a Park Pass Reservation
Disney’s Park Pass reservation appears to be here to stay with Walt Disney World requiring reservations through 2022. Time will tell if Walt Disney World removes this system once they can operate without limited capacity, but your best bet is to plan on this system being in place for your Walt Disney World vacation. Because of this, your first step to planning a Walt Disney World trip right now is to get your Park Pass reservation for your trip dates once you buy your park tickets.
How to Make a Reservation
- Link your park tickets/admission to your Disney account. You will need valid park admission to make a reservation.
- Create your party. Before you make a reservation, you’ll be prompted to create a party from your Family & Friends list on your account. This ensures your group has the same reservations for your trip.
- Select a date and park. Choose the date and time you’d like to visit from the available reservations.
- Review and confirm your plans. You will also be prompted to agree to a COVID-19 liability waiver.
I recommend making your reservations as soon as you know your trip dates and have your tickets since availability can change at any moment. You can read my full overview of the Park Pass system in my Walt Disney World tickets guide.
You can expect popular dates, like Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary on October 1st 2021, to fill up faster so the sooner you reserve your days the better.
2. Know How to Park Hop
Walt Disney World brought back the ability to park hop in January 2021 which was a welcome step towards normalcy for many guests. Park hopping looks different now at Walt Disney World so it’s good to be prepared before you arrive.
Guests will still make a Park Pass reservation for the first park they plan to visit AND must enter that first park prior to visiting another. At this time, a park reservation is not required after the first park, however, reservation requirements are subject to change. The specific Park Hopper hours begin at 2PM each day and end at the park’s scheduled closing time.
During my recent trip we started the day in Animal Kingdom before enjoying Hollywood Studios in the afternoon. We experienced low crowds throughout both parks. Just before Hollywood Studios closed at 7 p.m. we rode Slinky Dog Dash with only a 15 minute wait! There are still great opportunities to enjoy the parks with low crowds. We cover Park Hopping as well as the evolving health procedures in our constantly updated Walt Disney World Right Now guide.
So far there haven’t been any reports of guests not being able to get into a park during park hopper hours which is great news for folks looking for more flexibility in their visit.
3. Arrive Early to the Theme Parks
The last thing Disney wants right now is to have all their guests gathered together in large groups in front of the entrance of the theme parks. One way they’ve been alleviating issues of morning crowding is by letting guests enter the parks much earlier than the official park opening. During my recent trip we got into the parks roughly 35 minutes to 50 minutes before the official park opening every day of our trip.
The author in a selfie at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park. Photo by Gavin Doyle.
When we got into the parks early in the morning the lines were nonexistent and in a couple cases we rode our favorite attractions multiple times. At Hollywood Studios my sister and I were the first ones to ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster for the day (see selfie capturing the moment we were the first ones on Sunset Boulevard). After getting off from our first ride we immediately went again! We had similar experiences at the other parks. I wrote more about our experience and shared tips in our updated COVID Walt Disney World touring strategies guide.
If you plan to arrive at least an hour before the park’s official opening time, then it’s extremely likely you will be allowed to enter the park early and get in line for popular attractions. Depending on the popularity of the attraction, Cast Members will start running these rides early so you’re essentially getting early access to the park! I recommend being ready to board the transportation from your hotel to the parks roughly 1.25 hours before official park opening.
Walt Disney World has announced that early theme park entry will return for guests later this year in honor of the 50th anniversary celebration at Walt Disney World. Guests staying on-site at a Disney Resort hotel will receive a 30-minute early entry to any theme park, any day of the week. While this perk isn’t in place yet, when it does return if you’re staying on-site, you’ll get this same early access but with more limited capacity greatly maximizing the beginning of your day
4. Book Your Dining Reservations
Walt Disney World’s restaurants are still operating with limited capacity making popular dining reservations harder to get than ever before. If you don’t want to miss out on your restaurant of choice, it’s important to make your dining reservations as soon as possible.
You can now make dining reservations 60 days in advance for your Walt Disney World trip. You can make dining reservations online or by calling (407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463. Guests under 18 years of age must have parent or guardian permission to call.
If you don’t get your first choice of dining reservations, keep trying! We wrote up more specific tips on getting last minute Walt Disney World dining reservations. One important tip to remember: many guests cancel 24 hours before their reservation because that’s when Disney starts charging a cancellation fee of $10 per person for no shows.
5.Watch for the Return of Popular Experiences and Find Characters
Walt Disney World is just as anxious to return to normalcy as the rest of us and as things begin to improve we’ll begin to see popular experiences return to Walt Disney World. For instance, Blizzard Beach, one of the popular Disney water parks, reopened on March 7 after being closed for nearly a year.
Walt Disney World has also announced the return of the popular show The Festival of the Lion King (with modifications) at Animal Kingdom! No specific return date has been announced yet but Disney has said we can expect this popular show to return this summer.
Sully waves to fans during a procession through Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo by Gavin Doyle.
Walt Disney World has also been fantastic about introducing characters into the parks in unique ways so that guests can continue to interact with their favorites from popular Disney films. For example, in Epcot you can see Winnie the Pooh catching butterflies in the lawn next to the Living with the Land attraction. Or over in Magic Kingdom, look up as you pass the Country Bear Jamboree and you might see Chip n Dale waving at guests from above.
Aside from these subtle ways of integrating characters into the background of the theme parks, there have also been spontaneous character cavalcades throughout the day for guests to enjoy. These character cavalcades are like “mini parades” as they often utilize parade floats from popular Walt Disney World parades featuring your favorite characters. The best part is there is no need to plan to see these cavalcades since there are no announced times. As you spend your day at the park, you’ll randomly experience them which is a great way to get that Disney magic without necessarily having to spend the time reserving a spot to do it.
Donald Duck greets patrons at the Topolino character breakfast. Photo by Gavin Doyle.
Another great way to enjoy characters right now is through character dining. During my most recent trip I got to experience the Topolino character breakfast at Disney’s Riviera Resort and had a marvelous time. Instead of the traditional hugs and autograph routine the characters now rotate through the restaurant with ample room posing and waving from six feet away. The Topolino breakfast features Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Daisy Duck. After all the characters rotate through the restaurant they all return for a dance routine (see video in my review linked above). At the end of the meal they gave us a photo sheet with all of the character’s autographs. The characters provided a great atmosphere and the meal was delicious.
As Walt Disney World remains successful in its health and safety practices, I expect to see smaller steps towards bringing back popular experiences for guests especially as we move closer to Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in October!
6. Book Your Trip With a Disney Certified Travel Expert
With all of the current changes to the Walt Disney World experience it has never been more important to have someone working on your behalf. I always book my Walt Disney World and Disneyland vacations with Get Away Today. They will ensure you have the best possible price and provide free concierge services as you plan your trip.
Gavin Doyle is the founder of MickeyVisit.com and DisneyDose.com. His tips help people save money and experience more at Walt Disney World and Disneyland and have been featured at Forbes, Travel+Leisure, OC Register, ABC News, LA Times, Yahoo! News, and more.