Disney World Drops Face Mask Rule for Outdoor Lines, Rides & Theaters

Walt Disney World is once again modifying its face mask rule, this time relaxing the policy for outdoor attractions, queues, and theaters. In this post, we’ll share details about the change and what you need to know. (Updated August 19, 2021.)

As a quick reminder, Walt Disney World reinstated its indoor face mask rule for all guests at the end of last month. This followed new CDC guidelines recommending the same, and a plea from Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings for private businesses to bring back mask rules for all amid skyrocketing cases in Florida.

Following that, the parks have seen a sharp drop in attendance and growing number of cancellations for now through the end of the year. We discuss the reasons for this in Autumn Off-Season Arrives Early at Walt Disney World. You’ll find fans attributing this drop-off to either the reinstated mask rule or rising case numbers depending upon their personal biases. The reality is that it’s due to both. Different people are cancelling for different reasons.

Against that backdrop, it would seem that Walt Disney World is trying to strike a delicate balance–following health safety protocol so as to not encourage one type of guests from cancelling, while also wanting to narrowly-tailor the mask rules so others don’t cancel.

Even those who are generally okay or in favor of face masks may not like the idea of wearing them in certain outdoor scenarios in Florida. (We know because we’ve heard from several of you who that describes.) Which brings us to today’s change. Here’s the official announcement from Walt Disney World…

“Since May, face coverings have been optional for Guests in outdoor common areas, and beginning Thursday, August 19, face coverings will also be optional for Guests in outdoor attractions, outdoor queues and outdoor theaters at Walt Disney World Resort. 

As a reminder, face coverings remain required for all Guests (ages 2 and up) while indoors and in Disney buses, monorail and Disney Skyliner, regardless of vaccination status.”

In practice, this means face masks will not be required on rides like Dumbo the Flying Elephant, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Mad Tea Party, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and more.

Additionally, masks won’t be required in outdoor lines. Overflow queues are still in use for many popular attractions–like Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and more–so guests won’t have to wear masks until actually entering the indoor portion of those lines. In some cases, like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, 75% or more of the queue is outdoors and in direct sunlight.

Obviously, we can’t speak for everyone visiting Walt Disney World right now, but we view this as a good compromise that balances safety and comfort. Not to beat a dead horse, but transmission is significantly less likely outdoors than indoors.

Some of the outdoor overflow queues are incredibly hot and unpleasant in August and September, so this will make things more comfortable while the indoor mask rule is in place.

Moreover, enforcement of mask rules in the outdoor portions of queues has been–in our extensive experience this month–been incredibly spotty. Typically, around half of guests wear their masks in the outdoor queues.

The greeter Cast Member at the attraction marquee is usually the one who mentions masks (that’s also where the signage reminder is found), making everything before that hit or miss. This results in confusion and the occasional tensions as guests make innocent mistakes about where masks are (and are not) required.

This newly relaxed outdoor mask policy is more clear, offers greater physical comfort while the weather is hot, and is more or less the same in terms of health safety. In our view, it’s a “win” for just about everyone.

UPDATE: Walt Disney World has finally modified its “Know Before You Go” page with rule change. Above is a screenshot of the mask rule now that the rule relaxation has been implemented.

This has been simplified, with fewer categories than before. Basically, it’s now just indoors v. outdoors, plus transportation for some reason (even though it follows the same policies as indoor v. outdoor).

As before, Walt Disney World does not offer an end date for this new policy. If Disney’s face mask rules are predicated upon the CDC guidance (and given the timing of when the indoor mask rule was reinstated, that’s a safe assumption), it would drop off when Orange County ceases to be an area with substantial or high levels of community transmission.

When Walt Disney World previously dropped its indoor mask rule, there was a bit of lag between the CDC’s recommendation and the rule change from Disney. So don’t expect an instantaneous change the day Orange County hits the CDC’s moderate transmission tier.

If a county has reported 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period or has a positivity rate of 8% to 10%, it falls into the substantial transmission tier. Those counties reporting 100 cases or more cases per 100,000 residents, or that have a positivity rate of at least 10% fall into the high transmission tier. The CDC recommends indoor masking for the fully vaccinated only in those two tiers.

Per the CDC’s website, the criteria for moving down to the moderate level is under 50 total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days and under 8% test positivity during the past 7 days. Low is 0-10 cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate under 5%. Only a couple of months ago when Orange County dropped physical distancing and ended its mask mandate, the county would’ve been in the low tier. So it’s not unattainable.

Currently, Orange County has over 500 new cases per 100,000 persons and a test positivity of ~20% during the past 7 days. While those numbers are well above where they need to be for a rule relaxation, new cases and positivity numbers have plateaued in recent days.

This suggests a drop is on the horizon, and it’s possible it could be just as sharp as the spike given community prevalence and how quickly the Delta variant has burned through Central Florida. As we’ve said before, we expect the mask rules to change again before the start of the World’s Most Magical Celebration on October 1, 2021. That assumes a significant drop in cases, but it would be unprecedented for Orange County’s numbers to remain elevated for that long. That would defy the trends of every past wave, and seems highly unlikely.

Nevertheless, your guess is as good as mine as to when this will happen and whether Walt Disney World will further relax its face mask rules when it does. We will be closely monitoring DisneyWorld.com’s “Know Before You Go” page for rule changes throughout the coming weeks and/or months, and will keep you posted with every development along the way.

We’ll wrap this up with a friendly reminder to be kind to Cast Members if you’re choosing to visit Walt Disney World. This should go without saying and is always the case, but it’s especially true now. It has been a tough year for them, and having to enforce this rule once again with fatigued and sometimes belligerent guests will not be easy or pleasant. Frontline Cast Members with whom you interact have literally zero say over Walt Disney World’s policies they are tasked with enforcing. You are not going to change anything by being rude to them, only reveal the true content of your character.