Following the big announcement that Walt Disney World will begin the phased reopening of its theme parks in July 2020 and Disney Vacation Club Resorts would open in June 2020, it’s been a roller coaster couple of days for a variety of WDW reservations that have been cancelled or temporarily disappeared.
First, the online booking system closed to new resort, dining, FastPass+, and experience reservations. Then, existing bookings disappeared from My Disney Experience…before reappearing. Next, Walt Disney World removed verbiage from its website that its non-DVC hotels would reopen on June 15, 2020. It was believed that many of these were glitches occurring as Walt Disney World did IT infrastructure updates to prepare for the roll-out of the online advance reservation system.
During the first phase of Walt Disney World’s reopening, this reservation system will require guests to pre-book theme park visits online (if you’re sitting on pins and needles waiting for this, sign up for our free email newsletter as we will send out a notification immediately when the online reservation system for visiting the parks goes live). The new system is going to cause big changes, and now we have official confirmation that Walt Disney World will be cancelling a range of reservations, from FastPass+ to Free Dining…
Beginning May 28, 2020, all dining reservations, experience bookings, Disney Dining Plan, and FastPass+ selections will be automatically cancelled. Guests with existing resort hotel reservations will have priority access to the new park reservation system when it becomes available.
The FastPass+ service will be temporary suspended, and Walt Disney World will use additional queue space to manage capacity at our attractions and maintain physical distancing. Also upon reopening, Extra Magic Hours will be temporarily suspended.
Walt Disney World will reopen dining and experience bookings with more limited capacity closer to when the theme parks reopen. Disney will also shift from a 180-day booking window to a 60-day booking window for dining and experience bookings going forward to allow guests to make their plans closer to their visits.
Additionally, when restaurant and other experience reservations resume, guests who had existing bookings will receive priority access to rebook.
Guests who purchased a Disney Dining Plan and tickets for travel dates between May 28, 2020 and September 26, 2021 will receive an automatic cancellation and refund of their Disney Dining Plan. (That’s not a typo–cancellations of the Disney Dining Plan are being made through next September.)
Guests who booked resort hotel reservations with a Free Dining package for dates between May 28, 2020 and September 26, 2021 will receive an automatic cancellation of their Disney Pining Plan. These guests will be able to rebook their vacation for a later date with a 35% room discount instead.
(UPDATE: Disney has since removed all mentions of the 35% room discount, as well as an end date for cancellations. It’s unclear why the verbiage has changed, and whether the 35% discount will still be offered.)
When Walt Disney World’s theme parks reopen, park attendance will be managed through a new park reservation system. To enter a park, both a park reservation and valid admission for the same park on the same date is required. More details about this new reservation system will be available soon.
At this time, Walt Disney World is temporarily pausing new ticket sales to focus on guests with existing tickets. Existing ticket holders and Annual Passholders will be able to make reservation requests in phases before new tickets are sold; Walt Disney World will be reaching out to these guests soon to provide additional details. New ticket sales will resume after that period of time.
Florida Resident Discover Disney Tickets may be used through September 30, 2020. Guests who have purchased tickets for Disney After Hours, Disney Villains After Hours, Disney Early Morning Magic and Disney H2O Glow Nights through the end of the actual closure period will be automatically refunded.
Unexpired multi-day theme park tickets with unused days, or date-specific theme park tickets with a valid use period beginning March 12, 2020 through the end of the actual closure period will automatically be extended to use any date through December 15, 2020. If you are unable to visit by December 15, 2020, you may apply the value of a wholly unused ticket toward the purchase of a ticket for a future date.
In terms of commentary, the cancellation of the Free Dining bookings for over the next year is the big surprise here, and what’s likely to cause the most outrage. This is far and away Walt Disney World’s most popular promo of the year, and it was recently being offered as a recovery deal to those who rebooked trips during dates that were cancelled.
A lot of Walt Disney World fans put tons of effort, research, and telephone time into securing the Free Disney Dining Plan deal, and we can’t imagine they’ll be completely understanding. Nor do we blame them–this is a big blow that really stinks.
The silver lining here is that 35% off room-only discount being offered as an alternative. As we’ve long stressed, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, which is to say that you always need to do the math on Free Dining.
For most parties, a room-only discount on a Deluxe Resort was superior to Free Dining. That usually was not the case on the lower tiers, as the room-only discounts were lower for Value and Moderate Resorts. Getting 35% off those less expensive rooms could bridge that gap–many parties may even come out ahead with the hotel deal. Still, not everyone will be so lucky.
The most likely explanation for the cancellation of Free Dining is significantly reduced dining capacity. We covered this in our last post about a potential second wave of Free Dining (which now seems highly unlikely…at best).
Walt Disney World will reopen with less than half of its normal dining capacity, and that’s assuming that all resort restaurants, Disney Springs locations, buffets, and character meals reopen. It’s likely many of those locations will not reopen or will do so in a modified form, leaving Walt Disney World with 35-40% of its normal dining capacity.
In such a scenario, Free Dining would be difficult to navigate. This announcement goes a step further than that, suggesting Walt Disney World will temporarily suspend even paid forms of the Disney Dining Plan for the next year-plus.
The other big development here is the cancellation of FastPass+ reservations. This isn’t nearly as much of a huge surprise. About a month ago, Walt Disney World started seriously limiting the daily allotment of FastPasses, which didn’t make a ton of sense given that heavy use of virtual queues was already rumored at that point.
Even then, it was safe to assume the options were leaning even more heavily on FastPass+ or moving to a Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance-style virtual queue and boarding pass style system. From a social distancing perspective, the latter offers advantages in being able to dynamically make adjustments and pulse guests through queues at a better-managed rate. Based on tonight’s announcement, it would seem that this approach won out.
One downside to this is it all but eliminates the benefits of staying at on-site Walt Disney World hotels, aside from transportation and proximity to the parks. As we covered in “Is Walt Disney World’s On-Site Advantage Disappearing?” this has been a gradual erosion.
Now, without Extra Magic Hours, the Disney Dining Plan, or priority booking windows, there’s even less of a point to paying a significant premium to stay in a Disney resort. Unless you really value the transportation, theme, or location. (Or, unless Walt Disney World starts releasing some really good discounts to lure guests back!)
If you’re looking for an upside to all of this, it’s probably easier to see one if you didn’t take advantage of the Free Dining deal or aren’t a fan of the Disney Dining Plan.
In our view, the main advantage is the return of spontaneity in the Walt Disney World park-going experience. We’ve long decried the degree to which planning is necessary, noting repeatedly that we aren’t spreadsheet or binder people. (See our Being Spontaneous at Walt Disney World post.)
We far prefer the Disneyland approach, and all of these changes are basically making Walt Disney World more closely align with that. What we love about this is that it doesn’t require knowing where you want to eat 6 months in advance or planning your day down to the minute. It allows making day-of decisions without being shut-out of marquee or popular experiences.
With that said, it still offers plenty of room for planning strategy and using various tips & tricks to see and do more than the average guest. Essentially, it’s a new approach to master–and one that requires far less homework and months-in-advance planning. We suspect that once the initial shock of the change wears off, many Walt Disney World fans will likewise come to prefer the temporary, Disneyland-style strategy.
These are just some of our initial takeaways from these announcements. As we said when the park reopening plans and dates were announced, it’s likely that there’s a lot more to come, and that policies will continue to be tweaked. While we’ve stressed patience and flexibility throughout this, we also understand that this is frustrating for many of you who have poured considerable time, energy, and emotion into the planning process. We wish there were some reassuring words we could offer here, but the reality is that ‘certainty’ in vacation planning is going to be in short supply for the coming weeks or months.
One thing we will stress is being kind to Cast Members if you call to voice your frustrations, rebook, or cancel your vacation. The phone reps with whom you interact have literally zero say over Walt Disney World’s policies, and you’re not going to change anything or magically get Free Dining back by being rude to them. It’s one thing to calmly voice your displeasure, it’s another entirely to verbally berate or take your frustrations out on someone who did not cause the problem. If that doesn’t convince you to be nice, remember: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar…
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Do you have a reservation that has been cancelled as a result of the policy changes? What do you think about Walt Disney World cancelling Free Dining for 2020 and instead offering a 35% off room discount? Upset that your plans continue to change? Optimistic that things will be “back to normal” at Walt Disney World sooner rather than later? A variety of viewpoints are welcomed here, but we will not tolerate insults, arguing, or politically-charged comments. Additionally, please do not debate the efficacy of health safety policies–all such comments (for, against, otherwise) will be deleted. Those arguments are played out and isn’t the appropriate forum for that. (Saying you will or will not visit in light of certain measures is fine.)