After a year of enforcing strict COVID-19 safety protocols, Walt Disney World has recently begun relaxing its social distancing restrictions, and we’ve visited the theme parks to see what you need to know about Disney’s return to more “normal” operations.
With vaccination rates in the Central Florida area rising, and local governments loosening their lockdowns, Orlando’s resorts are following suit by rescinding many of the social distancing rules they imposed last year. Although Universal Orlando has led the charge to increase guest capacity, Walt Disney World is following close behind with changes of its own. If you’re planning on visiting Disney’s parks in the coming months, here’s what you need to know about the newly relaxed social distancing restrictions at the Most Magical Place on Earth.
First and foremost, face masks are now OPTIONAL for Walt Disney World guests in all outdoor locations, except when in or on an attraction. That means you will no longer need to worry about wearing a face mask when entering the parks, walking around, taking selfies, or eating and drinking outdoors.
However, face masks are still MANDATORY while visiting attractions, including outdoor rides. Guests will be asked to put their face masks back on before entering attraction queues, and masks must still be worn over the mouth and nose throughout the entire experience. (On-ride photos showing guests with exposed faces are still not available for download.)
The only exception to this rule so far is for select outdoor shows, such as Feathered Friends in Flight, or outdoor walk-through experiences, like the Maharaja Jungle Trek, where face masks are now optional.
Keep in mind that while guests may remove their masks in these locations, front-line Cast Members will continue to wear face masks at all times, except for certain outdoor-only employees (such as lifeguards).
Along with the adjusted face mask rules comes a reduction of physical distancing enforcement, especially in attraction and dining queues. If you’ve gotten used to having 6 feet of breathing room between you and the next guest in line, say “goodbye” to personal space and “welcome back” to having people stepping on your heels again.
In many queues, especially extended and outdoor ones, social distancing markers on the ground have been removed entirely. Where the markers still exist, they are largely being ignored by guests, and while Cast Members aren’t encouraging you to “keep up with the party ahead of you” again quite yet, they no longer verbally reinforce the suggested spacing.
While the attractions’ queues are beginning to approach their pre-pandemic densities, their corresponding carrying capacities haven’t quite returned to normal yet. Although many rides have eliminated the extreme social distancing measures seen earlier, they haven’t all entirely returned to filling every possible seat yet either. Likewise, certain queuing and preshow areas have returned to operation, while others currently remain off-limits. As a result, while posted wait times were previously overestimated, we’ve now seen that actual wait times have often become longer than advertised.
For example, at Pirates of the Caribbean in the Magic Kingdom, one party is being seated per row, and an empty row is being left between parties, but both boarding docks are in use.
The Haunted Mansion’s stretching room preshow is still being bypassed, but guests can once again walk through the outdoor graveyard, whose interactive elements are currently disabled.
At Dinosaur in Animal Kingdom, Plexiglass dividers have been removed from the ride vehicles, and every row is being filled.
But Plexiglass partitions can still be found around retail cashier stations in the parks, as well as in the monorail cars that ferry guests from the Transportation and Ticket Center.
One return to normal that we’re a bit sad to see is the ending of socially distanced car parking. We really enjoyed not getting our car dinged by our neighbor’s door during the rope-drop rush, and we liked the opportunity to get an up-close spot when arriving later in the day. Now that the lots are being filled again in the previous manner, Disney now seems to have little excuse (aside from cost savings) for not restarting their parking tram services.
Amid the relaxed social distancing rules, some restrictions remain unchanged. Single rider lines at attractions like Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run and Expedition Everest are still unavailable.
Finally, most kids’ playgrounds continue to be closed. The Dumbo playground in Storybook Circus was the first to reopen; keep an eye on others (like Animal Kingdom’s Boneyard) to return in the coming weeks.
Social distancing—or the lack thereof—is definitely in flux at the Orlando theme parks, and we expect the adjustments to accelerate as the summer season continues. Keep an eye on our social media channels for more updates on Disney’s policies and procedures.
For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, or to plan your family’s trip to Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.