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Walt Disney World reopening: What to know before you go

The traditional theme park experience that guests have grown to know will look different as Disney has implemented new health, safety and operating procedures.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Walt Disney World is reopening its gates for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic closed the theme parks down in March. 

But, guests and Disney lovers alike will find the theme park experience to be different than what they are used to as new health and safety measures take effect.

Drawing from phased reopening experiences of other international Disney parks and Disney Springs, Disney World has created a list of changes due to the coronavirus pandemic saying: 

"Aspects of a Disney theme park day have been reexamined in light of the new global environment, with new policies following guidance from health experts and government agencies. In addition to limits on attendance and controlled guest density, new procedures will be in place for park entry, attractions, dining, retail, transportation, and more, with the well-being of guests and Disney cast members at the forefront of planning."

To help you navigate changes and maximize your experience while in the parks, we have broken down what you need to know before you go. 

Park Reopening Dates

July 11: Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom will be the first of the four theme parks to reopen to guests with reservations.

July 15: Four days later, Disney's Hollywood Studios and EPCOT will join the others reopening to guests with reservations.

Disney Park Pass Reservation System

In June, Disney released details about its new reservation system created to help manage park capacity and implement new health and safety procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.

Meaning, everyone looking to visit Disney World parks must make a reservation in advance to gain entry. The goal behind the system is to promote physical distancing by limiting capacity.

The new online tool is called Disney Park Pass:

  • A My Disney Experience account is needed, as this is where your park and resort plans are stored and managed.
  • A ticket or annual pass is also needed and linked to your My Disney Experience account.
  • Those with a hotel reservation need to link it to a My Disney Experience account as well.

Once linked to your account, guests will have access to a calendar of available reservation dates for each park. Anyone with a multi-day ticket is required to make a reservation for each day of their ticket.

Fear not, you can still link your reservation tickets with family and friends to arrange theme park entries at the same time.

Important note: Disney has temporarily paused new ticket sales for 2020. Tickets are available to purchase for dates in 2021.

RELATED: Everything to know about Disney World's new theme park reservation system

Health and Safety Procedures 

Six main health and safety procedures will outline guests' visits to the parks, spanning from face coverings to cashless transactions. 

Now, the following guidelines might be a lot to retain, so that's why the parks will have cast members in the "Incredi-Crew" who are wearing brightly colored, easily identifiable clothing to help answer any questions.

Appropriate face coverings: All guests older than 2, along with cast members, are required to wear an appropriate face covering over their nose and mouth at all times while visiting the theme parks. The only exemptions include swimming and dining, but if you remove your face covering to actively eat or drink you need to stay stationary and maintain appropriate physical distancing. 

 Transportation: Capacity, social distancing and mask-wearing will be implemented across all complimentary guest transportation operating at this time, including buses, monorails, watercraft and Disney Skyliner. Those arriving by car can pay with a cashless option. No parking lot trams will be running at this time.

Temperature screenings: All guests will be required to have their temperature taken prior to entering the theme parks. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will be moved to an additional area for a second screening. If the temperature is once again too high you and your entire party will be denied entry.

• Distancing and capacity: A certain number of guests will be allowed inside each theme park daily. This also applies to other aspects of the parks like ride lines, dining facilities and retail stores. Each location that will use physical barriers, ground markers and attraction queues to abide by social distancing. Disney has not released a capacity number.

• Cleanliness: High traffic areas will see increased cleaning. Guests are also encouraged to use hand washing and hand sanitizing stations available across the parks frequently.

• Cashless transactions: Guests are encouraged to use cashless options whenever possible, including MagicBands, debit cards, credit cards, Disney gift cards and mobile payment methods.  

Dining Procedures 

To help create a safe dining experience, each facility is seeing changes when it comes to reduced-contact menus, self-serve changes and mobile ordering. 

Tables will be cleaned between each guest seating, and to limit menu contact guests are asked to use the mobile menus, read menu signage or scan a QR code to access a digital menu.

An alternative is just ordering through the app to begin with through My Disney Experience. Guests can log in, order food and then tap "I'm here" upon arrival to receive their food at a designated pick-up area.

For anyone looking to experience one of Disney Worlds' more formal dining experiences, the park is now offering mobile check-in at select table-service restaurants. This allows you to check-in while socially distant as opposed to checking in at the location's podium. 

While the new dining check-in mobile option is encouraged, Disney World said guests still do have the option for the in-person podium experience.

Returning Attractions

While Disney World was not as descriptive in terms of a list of attractions that will be available to guests, it did say "Most attractions will be available at each park when they reopen."

Rides specifically named include: 

  • Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (Hollywood Studios)
  • Soarin’ (EPCOT)
  • The Haunted Mansion (Magic Kingdom)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (Magic Kingdom)
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Magic Kingdom)
  • Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom)

Returning Entertainment and Character Experiences 

With traditional character meet-and-greet experiences and parades temporarily on hold for the theme parks' phased reopening, Disney has re-imagined its character experiences. 

Magic Kingdom: Characters will process along traditional parade routes throughout the day, while others will "pop-up" in new locations.

EPCOT: Guests can see characters like Queen Anna and Elsa out in the World Showcase while Mickey and his friends will head out for their own "world tour."

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Characters will be out roaming on Hollywood Boulevard and in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

Animal Kingdom: Guests may see characters chartering special boats and setting sail down the Discovery River.

Walt Disney World Resorts and Hotels 

As for staying at a hotel or resort, here is what Disney considers the "top" things to know and review before your visit to ensure a successful stay: 

  • Check travel restriction ahead of time: Anyone staying under quarantine or isolation orders are not permitted to enter the Walt Disney World Resort
  • A confirmed room reservation: Guests will need to link their reservation to their Disney account to receive important information prior to arrival
  • A confirmed dining reservation: This only applies to guests visiting for the day, not those with reservations
  • Face coverings for each Guest age 2 and up: Masks must be worn in all public areas, except while swimming or seated for dining
  • Have the latest version of the My Disney Experience app: Be sure to have notifications enabled
  • Bring cashless or contactless forms of payment: This includes MagicBands, which Disney Resort hotel guests can use to charge purchases 

As with the theme parks, staying at a hotel or resort acknowledges that guests "voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19," Walt Disney World wrote online. Disney says by stepping foot into its resorts you are confirming everyone in your party is not experiencing any COVID-19 related symptoms.

Cleaning procedures, transportation options, resort services and guest benefits have all been temporarily modified. To learn about changes, click here.

Check-in and check-out will all be handled electronically through the My Disney Experience app. Guests will use their MagicBand as a room key.

Resorts will open in a phased approach. To see which are currently operating click here.

RELATED: Walt Disney World releases reopening dates for hotels, resorts

The reopening of Walt Disney World, while near, has been a point of contention between the state, cast members and an actors union as its California counterpart chose to delay its dates.

“If Disneyland has postponed, it is unclear how Walt Disney World can responsibly move toward reopening when coronavirus cases are much worse in Florida,” said Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity Association.

One cast member started a Moveon.org petition that as of July 8 is just shy of 19,000 signatures, suggesting reopening could put guests and workers at risk.

But, despite the calls and the pressure, DeSanti has yet to back down, with his office telling 10 Tampa Bay in June "we are monitoring all aspects related to COVID-19 in Florida and do not have plans to roll back any approved reopening business plans at this time."

On July 8, Florida reported the latest COVID-19 data with 9,989 new positive test results, making it the sixth time the state has reported a single-day new case number higher than 9,000.

RELATED: Florida confirms another 9,989 COVID-19 cases in one day, reports 48 more deaths

RELATED: Passholders sue Disney World for mistakenly charging them for months the parks were closed

RELATED: Disney College Program suspended indefinitely


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