Disney World Mask Update: Avatar Designs, On-Ride Photo Test & New Picks

There are updates on the face mask front at Walt Disney World, with new designs, on-ride photo testing, and more. This update takes a look at all of that, plus a suggested rule change and an update on guest compliance at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.

If you’re looking for info about Disney’s face covering polices, begin with our FAQ & Guide to Face Masks at Walt Disney World. For a seemingly simple topic, there have been a lot of questions, policy tweaks, and more. That’s a fairly comprehensive look at everything you need to know, presented in question and answer format.

Let’s start with our “new picks” for face masks at Walt Disney World. In the comments to Magic Kingdom: Our Favorite Week of the Year, some of you noticed that Sarah was sporting a different style, and you inquired as to the brand and why she made the change. It’s not because we no longer like from Suay LA. To the contrary, we’ve tried many masks and still find that to be the most breathable and comfortable masks that meets Walt Disney World’s rules…

However, the Suay LA masks are admittedly ugly. I know the meme is that all masks look like face diapers…but these really do! That was no problem in the summer when comfort is king and we’re dressed with a function over form approach. Christmas-time is the opposite. As previously noted, the vast majority of my nice clothes are geared for the 3-week window when Florida weather is cool; we try to “stock up” on photos of us this time of year when I don’t look like a sweaty barbarian.

Sarah always looks nice, but she bought the Wenfeng Washable Face Mask to have a mask to match. She finds this mask to be very comfortable and sleeker looking in photos. The downsides are that it’s warmer and, unlike the Suay LA one, does not purport to offer even minimal protection to the wearer. She finds it to be a perfect option for lower risk settings and colder weather, but would not recommend it beyond these few months of the year when it’s cool out in Florida.

In the above photo, I’m wearing a K95 face mask, which is at the other end of our “new style” spectrum. We bought these for a few reasons, the first being that my lips were getting really chapped after spending numerous days in the parks the weeks before and after Thanksgiving. This doesn’t touch my mouth, making it a nice change.

Several secondary rationales revolve around comfort. After numerous full days in the parks the last few weeks, the Suay straps were hurting my ears. We have plenty of other styles and surgical masks, but those don’t offer a dramatically different fit. I also wanted to see how something warmer worked out as it has been getting into the 40s. I’d give the KN95 masks high marks on all of those fronts, but with Sarah’s same caveat about not recommending the KN95 masks in hot weather.

The biggest reason for the K95s is that we’ll be doing a couple of unavoidable higher-risk activities and wanted better protection. For those unfamiliar with them, KN95 masks must filter 95% or more of particles to meet the KN95 standard. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has provided guidance on their use and testing results for over 120 KN95 masks.

Likewise, the Food and Drug Administration has issued Emergency Use Authorizations for some KN95 masks. However, with the improved protection these masks offer to the wearer come more rigorous standards for use and fit. If you’re considering buying or wearing KN95 masks, we’d strongly encourage you to first do your research on authoritative and credible sites.

Since a Walt Disney World blog is neither of those things on this topic–nor is its comments section–we’re going to refrain from further commentary about efficacy. You can browse KN95 masks on Amazon and cross-reference the brand/model with the testing results above.

On the topic of new masks, Walt Disney World has released some designs in Pandora – World of Avatar. There are three designs: a Na’vi face with stripes, patches from Pandora, and concept art from Na’vi River Journey. All three glow under black light. We guess these are cool if you’re an Avatar super-fan.

While perusing the Windtraders gift shop, we noticed a ton of other new merchandise. We continue to be perplexed by Walt Disney World’s approach to merchandising in Pandora. It’s as if they exponentially overestimate the number of said super-fans…or maybe James Cameron personally demanded a non-stop souvenir stream?

Don’t get us wrong, it’s nice to see a commitment to unique items for Pandora–we wish more rides and lands got this treatment–but it continues to be way disproportionate to the market for such products. Anyway, we’ll do a photo update on all of these new items in a couple of months when they’re at the outlet.

Next up, it’s been a little over a month since we posted our previous Walt Disney World Face Mask Update, which discussed face mask compliance. This always seems to be a popular topic, so we’ll do another quick run-through.

Over the last 3 weeks, we’ve noticed some interesting changes. First, crowds have gotten heavier–in some cases, quite significantly. In the past, there has been a correlation between higher crowd levels and lower mask compliance. (Likely because Cast Members were spread too thin, making enforcement more difficult.) Second, the weather has been cooler, with high temperatures seldom exceeding 80 degrees.

The result of these conflicting factors has actually been slightly increased face mask compliance. Obviously, this is entirely anecdotal and just based on what we observe, but what we’ve seen the last few weeks has been great.

Compliance was great before, so there wasn’t a ton of room for improvement, but it’s exceptional. (The more notable issue now is honestly physical distancing, and that’s often unavoidable and through no fault of guests as there’s literally nowhere to go in some walkways.)

The park that has improved the most is unquestionably EPCOT. The end of Food & Wine is always like “flipping a switch” to a degree, which is curious since every single festival and even an ordinary day at EPCOT have the same potential problem points. Nevertheless, it seems that Food & Wine draws a different crowd, especially on weekends. We’ve had zero issues with EPCOT recently. It’s no different than Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom remains the best park in all of the lands and throughout all times of day, with one significant exception. It’s the worst place in all of Walt Disney World in evenings or around Cinderella Castle. To some extent, we can understand Disney’s stringent and inflexible rules–any perceived loopholes would be exploited, so giving guests discretion is probably best avoided.

However, this isn’t working when it comes to Magic Kingdom’s Central Plaza. Walt Disney World has adapted on the fly to improve compliance, but guests wanting mask-less photos with Cinderella Castle persists–and there’s no reason to believe that’ll change. Instead of fighting a losing battle, why not give guests a safer option for those photos?

It would be nice if there were a couple of dedicated spots for mask-less family photos. The Plaza Gardens (Hub Grass) would be perfect for this. One or both could be closed off for this express purpose–like a Relaxation Station, but for photos. Being outdoors and physically distanced and in a controlled setting is significantly lower risk than indoor dining, so there’s no logical justification for not doing this, at least from a health safety perspective. It would be a guest-friendly change that would also ease the burden on Incredi-Crew Cast Members working in the Hub.

Finally, for the last couple of weeks, Walt Disney World was testing a new practice of digitally adding face masks to guests not wearing them in on-ride photos at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. Prior to this, the unstated policy was simply to make such photos unavailable, similar to what would happen if guests flashed explicit hand gestures or…other things.

In a statement to USA Today, Disney spokesperson Jacquee Wahler said: “In response to guest requests, we tested modifying some ride photos. We are no longer doing this and continue to expect guests to wear face coverings except when actively eating or drinking while stationary.”

We never received one of the digitally modified on-ride photos, but we have had a lot of photos unavailable because other guests in the ride vehicle were improperly or not wearing their masks. Personally, we welcomed the digital additions and thought it was a great move. Not only so rule-abiding guests received their photos, but also so “innocent” rule-breakers got theirs. For one, Disney is not crystal-clear that masks must be worn on rides, and there are plenty of times when you might get a ride vehicle to yourself, without other parties. For another thing, some rides are jerky (like DINOSAUR!) and it’s easy for a mask to slip down. It seemed like this was a perfect solution to all of those problems…so it’s unclear why Disney stopped the test. Too much work, maybe? We’ll provide another update if/when we have one…

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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What are your thoughts on the topics covered in this face mask update? Will you be buying the Avatar designs? Thoughts on having a mask-less photo area in front of Cinderella Castle? If you’ve visited the parks since Thanksgiving, what was your experience wearing masks? Observations on compliance? Do you agree or disagree with any of our assessment? 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 policy.

55 Responses to “Disney World Mask Update: Avatar Designs, On-Ride Photo Test & New Picks”
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