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The world as we know it has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has radically altered so many things in our lives, including travel. Visiting a place like Disney World during this time will not be business as usual. Here’s what to expect when visiting Disney World during COVID-19 in 2021.

Magical extra photo at Epcot in 2020

Visiting Disney World During COVID-19

As expected, traveling anywhere during a global pandemic will look different that travel during “normal” times. Walt Disney World has done a great job of setting those expectations before arrival.

Fall wreath in front of Cinderella Castle at WDW

If guests do not want or cannot adhere to their guidelines, it might be best to postpone travels to a later date. Understanding that a current Disney World vacation will not be business as usual is the first step in setting realistic expectations.

What to Expect Before Entering Disney Property

Before guests even arrive at Disney World, they will be thoroughly communicated with via email about their reservation. Whether you have a hotel or a ticket only reservation makes no difference in terms of the reminders sent out about your upcoming visit. Here’s what you will learn:

  • Face coverings are mandatory everywhere on property. This guideline is for guests 2 years old and up, and it includes resort hotels, theme parks, and Disney Springs. Face coverings such as neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not acceptable.
  • Touchless payment and digital resort check-in is preferred. Disney World has been working toward this for several years now, but it is even more prevalent in 2020. Electronic/touchless interactions are the future of Disney vacations.
  • Expect social distancing measures and capacity limits at restaurants, hotels, and stores. Check the My Disney Experience app for the most up-to-date information on closures or hours of operation for experiences, stores, and restaurants.
Information about entering Disney Springs with COVID-19 protocols

Ticket Options at Disney World in 2021

As of this article’s publishing, the biggest change in ticketing at Walt Disney World involves park hoppers. Currently, park hopping is only available after 2pm each day. This is to help Disney maintain capacity limits at each park.

Through 2021, guests now need a park ticket AND a park pass in order to enter the parks. What is a park pass? It is simply a reservation made at a single park during your visit.

Mask wearing family at Disney World

How do you make a park pass reservation? First, purchase tickets or have a valid annual pass. Next, create your party and select a date and park you wish to visit. Finally, confirm your plans and make your reservation.

It is possible to change your plans and update your park pass accordingly. Unlike missed dining reservations, park pass changes will not affect your ticket status or charge you for not visiting the park. However, it is a courtesy to other guests to cancel your park pass if plans change so others will have a chance to visit during this time of reduced capacity.

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Attraction Changes at Disney World in 2021

Another change to your Disney vacation will be managing expectation for what attractions you can do (and how long it will take to do them).

Enhanced cleaning procedures, social distancing in the queue, and no FastPass+ availability has made the limited attractions quite busy. However, in my personal experience, the wait times weren’t always accurately reflective of how long we were going to wait.

Newly painted Cinderella Castle at WDW

Many attractions that would previously spread out guests around the parks are not open due to COVID-19. For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, one of the many shows at Hollywood Studios, just recently re-opened in October 2020. Several other shows at all the theme parks have yet to re-open.

How Can I See Characters at Disney World this Year?

In addition to the limited attractions, character meetings opportunities have changed. Most character experiences in 2021 will come in the form of “character cavalcades.”

These small processions throughout Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot have characters socially distanced on floats or riding on different forms of transportation as they pass you by.

Socially distant character meeting with Pooh at Epcot

In Animal Kingdom, guests can see characters wave and dance on boats as they drive around the lake where Rivers of Light usually takes place.

Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto on a boat ride around Animal Kingdom

Finally, we were able to see The Beast at the Be Our Guest restaurant for dinner. He walked around the dining rooms waving and stopping briefly for photos. Guests were not allowed to walk up to him for photos, but were able to take socially distanced photos or selfies as he stopped.

Dining at Disney World in 2021

Lastly, what is is like to eat at Disney World these days? Lots of restaurants opened their doors when Walt Disney World re-opened in July, but several are still closed. Make sure you check the dining section of the Disney World website or in the My Disney Experience app to see the most current availability.

Character dining, as previously mentioned, is very limited and slowly returning each month. Dining plans are also not available at the time of this article’s publishing.

Hand washing station in Epcot

One of the biggest changes to dining overall is seating, and not just the fact that tables are socially distant. All quick service restaurants now strongly prefer a mobile order to be ready for pick up before allowing guests to be seated inside.

There is usually one register available for those who choose not to use mobile ordering, but it was a rare sight to see someone paying with cash or not wanting to use the app to order their food when we visited in September.

Is it Worth Visiting Disney World Right Now?

The question on everyone’s mind this year is, “Is it worth it to plan a visit to Disney World right now?” As someone who already visits with her family multiple times a year, my answer is always yes. I found the magic and the excitement of a Disney vacation to be just as wonderful now as it has been.

What is it like to visit Disney World during a pandemic? Here's what has changed and what you can expect when you decide to visit on your next vacation. #disneytravel #disneyworld #familytravel

Are things the same? No, not even close. Can you still have fun? Absolutely, especially if you plan appropriately and manage expectations.