What to Expect When Walt Disney World Reopens

by Dom
May 20, 2020
Cinderella Castle at the start of Happily Ever After.

There is light at the end of the tunnel!

If you can believe it, Disney World has been closed since March 15. Fortunately, we are approaching the inevitable reopening of Disney World and we’re starting to get a clearer idea of what the experience on property is going to be like post-opening. New health guidelines mean every facet of Disney World is going to be affected ever so slightly. From the rides, shows, resorts, and restaurants, we’ll cover them all in this guide.

Disney started the reopening process with Disney Springs, their retail shopping, dining, and entertainment district. This was a good decision of theirs because Disney Springs is relatively low stakes as compared to reopening any of the parks. This lets them test out their procedures, collect data from the American public, and adjust accordingly before moving onto the much larger task of opening the parks.

New Health and Safety screening area at Disney entrances.
New Health and Safety screening area at Disney entrances. Credit: Disney.

A lot of small things are going to change until the pandemic ends and even then some might stay. Who doesn’t like extra sanitation and sterilization? We’ll dive in deep below but to name a few key bullet points:

  • All guests and Cast Members will wear masks.
  • Reduced guest capacity at Parks and Resorts.
  • Temperature and health checks at park entrances.
  • Social distancing markers on the ground and in lines.
  • Cast Members will regularly wipe down and clean surfaces. (door handles, elevator buttons, and railings will be sanitized frequently)
  • Touchless hand sanitizer stations will be installed at any and all entrances.

There’s a lot more than that though. We go in-depth with the specifics below using the information we have available to us:

New Health and Safety Procedures at Walt Disney World

There are going to be a number of small changes to the typical park experience. At Park entrances there will be stations to check temperature and face coverings for anyone over the age of 3 years old. Appropriate face coverings must cover your mouth and nose at all times except when you’re eating. Once you are done eating, you will be expected to put your mask back on. Characters in costume are the only exception to the mask rule and for now, they will only be posing for photos from afar.

You will be required to provide your own face covering. If you show up without a face covering, you will be turned around. If you or anyone in your party has a temperature over 100.4 (F) you will again be turned away. Therefore is it suggested that you take your temperature before you head out. If for some reason you test over 100.4 degrees, you will be given one chance to test lower after spending 15 minutes in a cooled tent found at every entrance.

There will be signage, ground markings, and physical barriers to safely direct guest traffic. {placements on ground} To improve safety, some buildings will now have separate in and out doorways. In tighter areas, one-way travel may be instituted via arrows places on the ground.

Disney will be increasing the amount and frequency of cleaning in busy areas of The Parks, Resorts, and Disney Springs. (handrails, elevators, doors, etc.) Disney will also be placing hand sanitizing and hand washing stations everywhere you can imagine.

Along with social distancing, one of the things we’ll likely require for both the Cast Members and guests is face masks. I think the masks for the guests, will be something that culturally is different. […] The masks will be an adjustment for guests, especially during the hot, humid summers.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek

Disney will be working closely with the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force to reopen and they have put out a general set of guidelines for restaurants, hotels, and theme parks:

  • Temperature checks for all guests and Cast Members. (temperatures over 100.4 (F) will be asked to leave)
  • All guests and Cast Members must wear face masks.
  • Touchless hand sanitizer must be stationed at all park entrances.
  • Touchless hand sanitizer at every attraction entrance and exit.
  • Cast Members will sterilize all surfaces and railings after every use.
  • All Cast Members with flu-like symptoms will be asked to stay home.
  • Ground markings roughly 6 feet apart in all lines.
  • Cast Members and guests 65 years or older are encouraged to stay at home.
  • Cast Members and guests with underlying health conditions are encouraged to stay at home.

Keep in mind these are just initial guidelines and may evolve or change over time. We’ll do our best to keep list list up to date!

New Social Distancing Ground Markers

Disney has created a small number of ground markers to help social distancing in the pedestrian traffic flow. They use two types of ground markings for social distancing: “Please Stand Here” and “Don’t Stand Here”.

Disney's social distancing guideline mat. For your safety please do not stand here.
Disney’s social distancing guideline mat. For your safety please do not stand here.
Disney's social distancing guideline ground mat. "Please stand here".
Disney’s social distancing guideline ground mat. “Please stand here”.

Let’s be realistic, as Disney currently has both of these ground markings the same color, they are very easy to mix up at first glance. This can be easily solved by changing the color to green. You may be rolling your eyes at such a small detail but changing the color would make it as brain-dead simple as it should be.

Disney's social distancing guideline ground mat. "Please stand here" Modified by Mickey Central to be green as a suggestion to Disney to make the mats more readable.
We slightly modified Disney’s design be green as a suggestion to Disney to make the mats more readable. Do you think this makes sense too?

At Shanghai Disneyland, some guest have been doing the exact opposite of what is expected due to confusion.
At Shanghai Disneyland, some guest have been doing the exact opposite of what is expected due to confusion. Credit: Hu Chengwei/Getty

A “Health and Safety Reminders” public service announcement posters can be spotted hanging up in various easy-to-spot places. The poster covers five bullet points that says for your safety and the safety of other Guests and Cast Members:

  • Wear a face covering.
  • Maintain physical distancing from other guests at a minimum range of 6′ or 2m.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • When coughing or sneezing cover your mouth and nose.
  • Avoid touching your eyes nose or mouth.

In addition to these posters, there will be signs at every entrance alerting all guests about the ongoing pandemic and that by visiting, you are assuming all risks related to the exposure to COVID-19. It’s basically telling everyone to leave their lawyers at home. here’s what the sign says in full:


We have taken enhanced health and safety measures–for you, our other guest, and Cast Members. You must follow all posted instructions while visiting Walt Disney World.

An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior citizens and guests with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable.

By visiting Walt Disney World, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.

Help keep each other healthy and safe.

Changes to Disney Parks

CEO Bob Chapek says they’re looking into a number of options to cautiously and eventually reopen the Disney Parks. These options will include crowd density/attendance measures, advance reservation systems, and health checks. It’s safe to say there will be a handful of changes coming to the parks. On the path to normalcy we can expect the parks to go through several phases, each loosening up restrictions.

We can learn a lot about how Walt Disney World may reopen from the way Shanghai Disneyland reopened on May 11, 2020 because they share the same parent company, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. Here are the terms that newly reopened Shanghai Disneyland is operating under:

  • Limited Park capacity.
  • Face masks are required for all guests and Cast Members over 2 years old.
  • Every guest is subject to temperature checks upon arrival.
  • Social distancing markers on the ground.
  • Character meet-and-greets taken from afar.
  • No parades or fireworks.

In Shanghai, the Parades have been suspended to prevent creating the crowds of people that line up to watch them. All theater shows are closed and for the time being, Shanghai Disneyland is offering a night time castle show but no fireworks again, to limit the formation of dense crowds. The world is better with Disney World open versus closed but I’ll admit that having no shows or parades lowers the level of magic to me. Even if I didn’t pre-plan watching the parades, I always love seeing them! They add a wonderful kinetic energy to the entire mood. Are you still as interested in visiting Disney World if there are no parades or fireworks? Let us know in the comments below.

The guidelines for the recently reopened Disney Springs is predictably very similar to Shanghai’s. Listed below are the guidelines for Disney Springs’ reopening. Once you read both lists you start to get a sense for what is coming for the Parks at Disney World.

  • Temperature and face covering checks at all entrances.
  • Your temperature must be below 100.4 (F)
  • Face coverings must be worn at all times unless you are eating.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently.
  • Follow social distancing guidelines.

If Disney World operates at a limited capacity, they may have to implement a ticket reservation system such as the one running at Shanghai Disneyland: a limited number of tickets are made available for purchase per day and if you don’t get a ticket ahead of time, you won’t be getting in that day. In such a scenario there would be absolutely no tickets sold at the gate. We’ve also observed a lower than usual FastPass+ selection pool which may suggest Disney is anticipating spread out lines, reduced capacity, or both. If demand outstrips the limited supply, booking a vacation at Disney World could end up being like winning the lottery. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!

New Health and Safety Reminder Posters at Disney Springs.
New Health and Safety Reminder Posters at Disney Springs. Credit: Disney.

It’s also safe to say Disney may stagger reopening of the parks as part of a gradual soft-reopening of the parks. This way Disney can spot any flaws in their guidelines, policies, floor markings, etc. and adjust accordingly. For instance, Disney may choose to delay the opening of Animal Kingdom if there is any risk to the animals of becoming infected. There were reports of tigers in the Bronx Zoo contracting Coronavirus (COVID-19). Alternatively, Disney could possibly shelter at-risk animals way from guests to minimize risk while also allowing the park to be open and operating.

Epcot may be a whole ‘nother story. As you may or may not know, Epcot is in the middle it’s most ambitious overhaul yet. There are construction walls going up everywhere and older buildings coming down everywhere to make room for the overhauled design. Did you know Epcot takes up an area the size of 300 acres compared to Magic Kingdom’s 100 acres? Epcot poses a unique challenge to reopen due to its size and staffing requirements. Think of all the of the cultural performers and international work program employees it takes to run Epcot; it’s a lot. And with international flights currently closed in the U.S., that might take a while to even become feasible.

Not only that, but the scale and scope of the overhaul are now at risk due to the lost revenue during the shutdown. On a personal note, I hope they don’t have to scale back any aspects of the overhaul project besides pushing the completion deadline out.

From my personal perspective, I’m really curious how myself and everyone else will be able to handle wearing a mask all the time in the Central Florida heat and humidity. I’ve heard firsthand from multiple people that said it was both no problem at all and very very difficult. If you have any feedback about your experience wearing face masks in the heat and humidity we’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below!

Requiring masks will be “a little trying” at the domestic parks both culturally and in terms of the heat & humidity.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek on the feasibility of masks.

We haven’t heard any rumblings as to which way Disney will lean in regards to opening up the water parks but contrary to what you may think, many experts say swimming is just as safe as it always was. It seems to make sense when you consider how much chlorine they use in the water.

Whatever path Disney chooses, CEO Bob Chapek said they will be “very conservative, very prudent” when it comes to the reopening process. So expect a calm and methodical reopening. And remember, any inconveniences caused by these changes are not Cast Members’ fault. Treat them the way you want them to treat you!

Changes to Disney Resorts

From coffee machines to the pool, below is a growing list of the procedures coming to the Disney Resorts. Keep in mind, these are currently guidelines and subject to change. We’ll do our best to keep this list accurate as new information becomes available.

  • Phase 1: If available, promote mobile check-in.
  • Phase 1: To limit contact, housekeepers only clean upon request, or when a guest departs.
  • Phase 1: If available, allow cast members to work from home if they are not playing a critical role in serving guests.
  • Phase 1: To limit contact, only deliver room service to the guests’ door.
  • Phase 1: No valet parking.
  • Cast Members and guests 65 years or older are encouraged to stay at home.
  • Cast Members and guests with underlying health conditions are encouraged to stay at home.
  • Promote social distancing for guests and staff.
  • Recommended touchless hand sanitizer at entry.
  • Increased cleaning services/additional sanitation services using cleaning companies.
  • All cast members will be required to wear face masks
  • Hand sanitizer at entry to be available in plain sight.
  • All cast members with flu-like symptoms will be advised to stay home.
  • Front desk to sanitize themselves on a regular basis.
  • Increased cleaning of all guest areas.
  • Front desk to utilize plastic sneeze guards.
  • Remove all service items in guests hotel rooms including glassware, coffee cups, etc.
  • Mini bars will not be stocked.
  • No self food services.
  • Pool furniture will be spaced out in accordance to distancing guidelines.
  • Pool gates and pool chairs will be sanitized regularly.
  • Door handles, elevator buttons, and railings to be sanitized regularly.
  • Remove all coffee makers from guest rooms.
  • Remove all guest collateral items, except those that are single use.
  • Sanitize guest keys before and after each use.
  • Sanitize bell carts after each use.
  • Phase 1 and 2: No conferences.
  • Promote social distancing for all guests and staff.
One way social distancing ground markers.
One way social distancing ground markers. Credit: Disney.

Changes to Disney Restaurants

As you may have expected by now, there are also changes coming to the way restaurants operate for the time being. You must wear your face coverings at all times except when you are physically eating. As soon as you are done eating, you must put your face covering back on. The following list is a group of suggestions put together by the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force to facilitate a healthy and safe dining environment for all:

  • Disposable menus.
  • Whenever possible, encourage takeout mobile orders.
  • Touchless sanitizer at entrances.
  • Cast Members and guests 65 years or older are encouraged to stay at home.
  • Cast Members and guests with underlying health conditions are encouraged to stay at home.
  • Hand sanitizer at every table.
  • Hand sanitizer at entry in plain sight.
  • All Cast Members are required to wear face coverings.
  • Temperature checks for staff prior to shift. (Those with temperatures over 100.4 will not be allowed to enter premises.)
  • All Cast Members with flu-like symptoms will be advised to stay home.
  • Door handles and railings will be cleaned frequently.
  • All staff behind counters must wear gloves, with the exception of bartenders.
  • Bartenders must sanitize their hands after making each drink.
  • Seated tables must be six feet apart.
  • Phase 1: Limit restaurant to 50% capacity
  • Phase 2: Limit restaurant to 75% capacity
Disney Springs Reopening Health Guidelines: What to Know.
Disney Springs Reopening Health Guidelines: What to Know. Credit: Disney.

Closing Thoughts

As you can imagine, a lot of small changes are coming to Walt Disney World until the ongoing pandemic is over. From the rides, the shows, the resorts, and restaurants, now you know exactly what to expect at Disney World as the world continues to fight the COVID-19 virus.

What do you think it will be like to wear a mask in the Florida climate? With all of this information in mind, we have a poll question for you: Would you be willing to wear a mask on vacation while at the Parks and Resorts at Walt Disney World?

What about parades and night time fireworks? Would you visit to Disney World if they weren’t shown? However and whenever the opening occurs, it will be both celebrated and symbolic as a return to normalcy and magical escape.

Written by Dom

Dom is fascinated with the magic and scale of Walt Disney World and visits the parks as often as he can.

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