Walt Disney World will soon be ending its indoor face mask rule for fully vaccinated guests in most locations! This post offers details on the dropping of health safety protocol, what else has changed, exceptions to the dropping of these rules, our commentary, and quick answers to frequently asked questions about implications for fireworks, FastPass+, Dining Plan, Park Pass, character meet & greets, and more.
To quickly recap, this move by Walt Disney World comes two weeks after Universal Orlando similarly dropped indoor face mask requirements for the fully vaccinated and ended enforcement of rules. It also comes one week after Mayor Jerry Demings “State of the County” press conference during which he announced that Orange County will enter the third and final phase of the reopening plan.
Orange County has essentially returned to normal in terms of health safety protocol. The state of emergency is over, and there is no face mask mandate for anyone, nor are there physical distancing rules for any businesses in the county. As has been the case previously, this paved the way for Walt Disney World to relax its health safety protocol…
Walt Disney World is now following Orange County’s guidance and making changes to its “Reopening & Update Experiences”, significantly modifying its health safety protocol.
What follows is the verbatim text on that page, which adds several paragraphs above the “Guiding Principles” section that describes current rules…
Within our communities, we’re encouraged that COVID-19 guidelines have been adjusted and eased by public health and government officials, paving the path for many businesses and industries to take positive steps forward.
As we have done since reopening, we’ve been very intentional and gradual in our approach to our COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Based on recent trends and guidance, Walt Disney World Resort will be making more adjustments to these measures, including physical distancing and face coverings.
Beginning June 15, 2021 you will start to notice the following changes at Walt Disney World:
FACE MASK RULES: Face coverings will be optional for fully vaccinated Guests in most areas. Face coverings will still be required of all Guests on Disney transportation, including Disney buses, monorails and Disney Skyliner.
While we will not require proof of vaccination, we expect Guests who are not fully vaccinated to continue wearing face coverings in all indoor locations, and upon entering and throughout all attractions and transportation. Guests must observe current policies on face coverings until June 15, 2021.
PHYSICAL DISTANCING: We will be relaxing physical distancing guidelines for Guests. This will be visible in places like queues, shops, restaurants, attraction boarding, transportation and our theaters.
It’s important to remember that some experiences and entertainment may still be operating with limited capacity or may remain temporarily unavailable. We’re not quite ready to bring back everything yet, but we are optimistic and look forward to the day when Disney pals and princesses are able to hug once again.
CLEANING: We will continue the high standards for cleanliness and sanitation we’ve always set for ourselves. Cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer stations will still be available.
We encourage people to get vaccinated.
Our Commentary, Predictions & Answers to Common Questions
Why won’t Walt Disney World be asking mask-less guests whether they’re fully vaccinated?
For one thing, that’s prohibited under Florida law and other businesses (notably in the cruise industry) have already lost high-profile legal battles over that.
For another thing, virtually no businesses anywhere–even in other states without Florida’s laws–are differentiating between vaccinated and unvaccinated guests beyond the honor system policy. It’s simply not worth the hassle and headache. It would be asking a lot of Cast Members at a time when there’s already a labor shortage and frontline employees everywhere are at about their wits’ end. This is why the new rule is, essentially, “there is no rule.” (Outside of enclosed transportation, where there remains a face mask rule for all guests. You should expect that to be actively enforced.)
If my kids are under age 12, and thus cannot possibly be vaccinated, will they be required to wear masks?
Again, this is effectively the end of enforcement of rules by Walt Disney World.
Even though it can reasonably be deduced that a small child is unvaccinated, Disney will not be policing whether they wear masks in light of the above. Instead, all unvaccinated guests will be “expected” to wear masks. Likewise, I am expected to eat vegetables when I prepare dinner for myself, but you can guess how that goes when I’m left unsupervised.
Why is Walt Disney World ending the rule on June 15, 2021 instead of immediately?
That’s a good question. For past rule relaxations, the new policy has gone into effect almost immediately at Walt Disney World. (Usually an announcement around the time the parks close, implemented the following morning.)
In this case, it’s possible that Walt Disney World is making this change because of the expectation that Disneyland will also be able to roll out identical policies on that date, which is when California reopens. However, we highly doubt that is the case and do not expect identical rules to debut at Disneyland Resort on that date.
More likely, Walt Disney World realizes some families of unvaccinated children under age 12 are going to be uncomfortable with this change, and might want to cancel their vacations as a result. Accordingly, it makes sense to give them some advance notice to plan accordingly. Either way, it could be a rough weekend ahead of this transition, so please comply with current rules and be kind to frontline Cast Members. Remember, they do not make the rules that they enforce!
Will the face mask rule be enforced on transportation?
That remains to be seen, but our expectation based upon Disney’s different uses of verbiage is that Cast Members will actively enforce the mask rules on the listed fully enclosed forms of transportation.
Will face masks be required on boats, ferries, and other watercraft?
Why isn’t ___ back? When might it return?
If you want to save yourself some time and not read the remaining questions and answers here, staffing–or a lack thereof is probably the answer to your first question and when more Cast Members have been hired and trained is probably the answer to the second question.
I don’t mean to sound glib. However, a shortage of Cast Members is the single biggest explanation for everything Disney is (not) doing right now.
When will Disney Park Pass reservations end?
Depends upon who you ask.
High level leaders, including the CEO and head of the theme park division, have stated in interviews that they will continue to use certain technology that improves efficiencies when operations are back to normal. Many fans have taken this to mean that Disney Park Pass is here to stay.
For reasons we discuss in When Will Disney Park Pass Reservations End? we doubt that will be the case. With that said, we expect reservations to stick around until Walt Disney World is comfortable increasing park capacity to 100%. At this point, that’s a staffing issue.
When will Park Hopping be allowed before 2 pm?
Park Hopping is likewise dictated by capacity, so those rules could be relaxed as soon as attendance caps further increase or are lifted entirely. However, that doesn’t mean it’ll be restored as soon as that occurs. Loosening Park Hopping rules may not be viewed as a high priority by Disney.
What does this mean for FastPass+ return?
With physical distancing relaxed and attendance limits increased, we’re seeing this question more and more. The short answer is that we haven’t heard anything recently, but don’t expect it to return in the near term. FastPass+ lines are already in use for select guests, but fully restoring the service would require more staffing–that’s an issue until late June or early July.
There are other complicating factors unique to this, which are covered at length in When Will FastPass+ Return to Walt Disney World? Personally, I wouldn’t worry too much about the lack of FastPass in the immediate future–Disney is also increasing attraction efficiency, which will help with wait times.
What about fireworks?
We’d say there’s a 90% chance of one fireworks show being back by the second week of July 2021. There’s about a 75% chance of two fireworks shows being back by that time, and a third potentially returning shortly thereafter.
It’s likely that Epcot Forever will be the first to return, for a limited engagement before Harmonious debuts. Following or simultaneous to that, Happily Ever After will return to Magic Kingdom.
When will Walt Disney World increase restaurant capacity?
One week ago, Walt Disney World adjusted its physical distancing verbiage to enable the relaxation of that rule. So today’s change isn’t actually a new development on that front.
Again, staffing is a huge problem right now for restaurants. We’ve done several meals recently where numerous tables were unfilled (beyond those deliberately left open) and many third party restaurants are offering huge signing bonuses in a desperate attempt to attract employees.
The good news there is that Walt Disney World has gone on a recent hiring spree and the College Program is returning very soon. These participants will begin in mid-June and should be trained by the end of that month. New Cast Members will help ease the burden on those restaurants, allowing Walt Disney World to increase capacity at restaurants–and open more locations. We already saw that earlier this week with the announcement that ‘Ohana and Sebastian’s Bistro will reopen, both within the next month!
Does this mean the Disney Dining Plan will be back soon?
See above. Restaurant capacity is a necessary prerequisite for the Disney Dining Plan being brought back.
For much more extensive commentary, see When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return?
What about character meet & greets?
We would not expect non-physically distanced character meet & greets to return anytime soon. To the contrary, this will likely be one of the last things to go back to normal. Possibly not until 2022.
It’s entirely about perception and practicality. Disney cannot and will not mandate that performers are vaccinated, and it’d be a bad look to allow a potentially unvaccinated performer to hug a child who cannot yet be vaccinated. Disney also cannot reasonably dictate that kids don’t touch the characters; that’s also not a realistic rule.
The actual risk of such a scenario might be virtually nonexistent based on the brief exposure time and the “layers” separating the fur characters from the child, but so much of what Disney is doing and has done is about optics rather than safety.
What about buffets?
At this point, there is no compelling scientific reason to not bring buffets back at this point. Buffet lines could have the same physical distancing markers as queues for those fleeting encounters. Given that fomite or surface transmission is exceedingly rare and unlikely, handling the serving utensils or being near communal food does not present any meaningfully degree of actual risk, although there’s undoubtedly still the perception it does.
Again, perception is everything. As such, we don’t see buffets coming back this summer. To the contrary, Walt Disney World has doubled down on family-style with recently-announced restaurant reopenings for July 2021. Buffets could potentially return later in the year if all hygiene theater ends, but companies might want to retain the appearance of some safety measures even after the most meaningful ones have been dropped. Conversely, the absence of things like buffets and playgrounds might be frustrating and almost nonsensical, but they’re far less impactful on the overall guest experience than face masks. That’s a trade-off we’ll happily accept!
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!
Thoughts on Walt Disney World essentially ending its face mask rule indoors, with only a few limited exceptions? Do you agree or disagree with the swift relaxation of rules? Surprised by Disney’s rule change? Think Walt Disney World has more plans to return to normal? Expectations with the Dining Plan, FastPass+, fireworks, meet & greets, or anything else? Please keep the comments civil. This is not the place for arguing about efficacy, politics, and so forth–all such comments will be deleted, irrespective of perspective. You are not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, nor are you going to change Disney’s rules or public policy. If you wish to contest this, rather than yelling into the internet abyss, have your voice heard in a meaningful way by contacting Disney or your local elected officials.