Well, hello! Didn’t expect me here did you? It seems like writing a blog is so hard when I can just film a vlog or record a podcast (those take work too, but there’s something about actually putting thoughts into written word that overwhelms me at times.) But I realized how much I love this blog, even if blogs aren’t super-trendy right now. I get it, reading is hard guys! Anyway, it’s good to be back. Let’s dive into some Disney.
It’s an understatement to say a lot has changed since my last blog post. I was extolling the virtues of Fastpass+ and dining plans, which don’t even exist right now! This past year has been literally one for the history books and it’s brought changes that will stay with us for a long time. Even Disney wasn’t immune to having to change its operating protocol. We took a trip down (adults only) in July of 2020 when the parks opened back up after their extended closure and it was surreal to say the least. On the first 2 days of our trip, only two parks were open! We obviously had to wear masks everywhere but our hotel room. There were no parades, fireworks, character meals, etc. Things were weird. The place was also pretty deserted. It was welcome in a way, but also hammered home the reality in which we were living, a global pandemic was out there, and we had to manage to enjoy our vacation and stay healthy and safe at the same time. We social distanced, washed hands and sanitized after rides. we had our temperature checked and occasionally waited longer in queues while cast members sanitized each ride vehicle. Disney’s cast members carried out safety protocols like champs and I will be forever grateful to them for allowing me to visit my favorite place on the planet and not get sick.
Fast forward to almost a year later and things are already so different. The vaccine has made it possible to drop the masks, one of the most welcome changes for sure. Gone are temperature checks at parks and restaurants, cast members can again take photos with your personal devices, and the best news of them all: fireworks will be returning in July! Some hotels still remain shuttered, as Disney makes staffing adjustments to meet the reduced capacity of the parks, but from photos I’ve seen recently, it looks like business (read lines) as usual. This is a little scary (I’m looking at you, Delta variant) but also a bright spot on a horizon that’s been pretty gloomy for the past 15 months. Let’s take a look at some changes that are still hanging around that may affect how you plan an upcoming trip.
Advanced Dining Reservation: Gone (for now) are the days of makings ADRs 180 days away from your travel dates, and I have to say, it’s amazing! The pressure of planning meals 6 months in advance of your vacation was a little ridiculous. Dining reservations are now open 60 days before travel dates. A caveat to this is if you have a split stay (2 or more separate hotel reservations planned.) For split stays you’ll only be able to book one “leg” of your trip at a time. So, for example, for our next trip we are doing 3 nights at the Polynesian Villas and Bungalows followed by 4 nights at Pop Century. So I can book my 3 days of ADRs for the Poly trip and then when 60 days from the Pop stay rolls around, we can continue booking for the rest of the stay.
Park Reservations: I cannot stress this enough. The first thing to do after you book your package or tickets is to immediately book your park reservations. Yes, you still have to have a reservation for each day you are planning to visit a theme park. Capacity at the parks is still somewhat limited and reservations are filling up for certain parks on certain days. Magic Kingdom reservations for October 1st have been booked for months! Yes, it’s due to it being the 50th anniversary of the park, but it just illustrates that things can and do book up fast. It’s a good idea to plan your itinerary before booking your dates and making sure reservations are open for the parks you want.
Park Hopping: After a bit of an absence, park hopping is back, with a slight change. The current rules for hopping is that guests who have park hopper tickets may change parks at 2pm, provided the park you want to hop to has capacity. You still have to have a park reservation for the initial park you visit. You can check availability by calling the Park Hopping hotline: (407) 560-5000. Transportation is available for you to transfer to another park, or use your car. We usually drive to all parks except Magic Kingdom, where we feel it’s more convenient to take the bus (or monorail if you’re staying on the monorail loop.)
Character Interactions (including Meals): No, we’re still not able to hug characters. I know, it’s the worst, but Mickey and Pluto have to stay safe and healthy, right? Several character meals are currently available, but characters don’t come to your table as in years past. They will wave and interact from a safe distance and allow you to take some creative selfies with your dining party. The buffets have not returned (and that’s really okay with me) but family-style meals have taken their place. This is really for the better, as you don’t have to get up from your seat and walk around a crowded restaurant with a plate of food. The server brings a heaping helping of assorted goodies and will gladly refill whatever you ask for. Character interactions in the parks are still socially distanced, and the spontaneous Cavalcades are running in place of the 3 o’clock parade.
Mobile Ordering: Mobile ordering is the main (sometimes the only) way to get food from counter service restaurants in the theme parks and your hotel right now. This makes it really tricky to get food promptly sometimes. It’s a good practice to put in a food order early in the day for a time later in your day when you normally eat lunch or dinner, as if you wait, that time frame could be full and you will be forced to eat much later than you would like. Don’t forget to hit “I’m here” when you arrive at the location you ordered from. This is a good time to send your party to a table while one person picks up the food. I guess it still beats waiting in long lines to order food, but it can be tricky to figure out.
Fastpasses: This should really be titled Lack of Fastpasses. The demise of Fastpass+ (it maybe temporary, but who knows?) has been a mixed blessing. Fastpasses are great when you have one, but to the other hundreds of people waiting in the standby queue, they suck! It seems like most lines go faster without having to let all the folks with Fastpasses through. You will need a solid park touring plan though, getting ready to get to the parks early and hit those popular rides first thing. This seems to be hardest at Hollywood Studios, which has all the newest rides. Wait times for Slinky Dog Dash and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway can start off exceedingly high first thing in the morning.
This covers most of the big changes you will encounter when traveling to Disney in 2021 and beyond. Things are literally changing on a daily basis, so be ready for it by visiting the Walt Disney World website often to see what rules will be in place during your trip. Research is the number one way to avoid disappointment-you can quote me on that! So, have fun and most importantly, stay safe!