It’s time for another big Walt Disney World news & rumor roundup. This one covers the possibility that face masks will be required through Halloween, relaxation of another Cast Member health safety rule, stage show returning to Animal Kingdom, more park hours for summer, hospital partnership, Muppets Haunted Mansion, and much more.
Let’s start with an update on new park hours as Walt Disney World approaches what’s likely to be a busy summer travel season. All four theme parks, Disney Springs, and Blizzard Beach have had hours for another week added to the DisneyWorld.com park hours calendar. Added dates are the week of July 18 to July 24, 2021. Here are that week’s hours:
Magic Kingdom: 9 am to 9 pm
EPCOT: 11 am to 9 pm
Hollywood Studios: 9 am to 7 pm
Animal Kingdom: 8 am to 6 pm
Blizzard Beach: 11 am to 6 pm
Disney Springs: 10 am to 10 pm (11 pm on weekends)
Park Hopping times for those and all dates remain from 2 pm until park close. We have yet to encounter any issues with or restrictions on Park Hopping–even on peak season days with all parks fully booked…
The only thing here worthy of discussion is EPCOT, which had its closure moved forward to 9 pm from 10 pm. This comes just weeks after EPCOT hours for late May through mid-July 2021 were extended until 10 pm. So, what’s the logical conclusion to draw here–that EPCOT hours are being cut?
Perhaps, but probably not. Our expectation is that this is a return to the normal practice of boilerplate hours for later in the summer. The final closing time could end up being 9 pm if Park Pass demand ends up being low, but we suspect that will not be the case.
Regular readers know that we’ve teased rumors of a limited run of Epcot Forever for Summer 2021 before Harmonious debuts. We were pretty bullish on that happening about month or so ago, before that fizzled a bit.
Well, we’re once again optimistic. There are two components to this Epcot Forever rumor, one of which I find highly credible and the other…much less so. However, if both aspects are accurate, the result could be long nights at EPCOT by mid-July. (There’s another rumor about summer fireworks in Magic Kingdom floating around–I haven’t heard anything directly about that. I personally find it less plausible, but I don’t really know.)
Good news on the entertainment front, as Festival of the Lion King officially returns today (May 9, 2021) after a soft opening yesterday. Its current showtimes are 12:30 pm, 1:30 pm, and 2:30 pm.
Technically, the show is being called A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King, which is a result of modifications to the full show. This essentially means physical distancing, most notably the removal of the Tumble Monkeys and aerial performers. We’re hopeful the full show makes its triumphant return, but we’ll happily take this for now. Festival of the Lion King is an exceptional show, and Animal Kingdom really needed a relaxing, indoor way to break up the day.
Next, Walt Disney World and AdventHealth have announced an expanded partnership to provide a range of health care services and vacation-planning tools, making it easier for those who have pre-existing health conditions or unexpected health care needs plan their vacations and receive care when they arrive in Central Florida.
New online planning tools and a dedicated AdventHealth care concierge experience center will help meet guests’ needs, including help with doctor’s appointments, virtual care, medical equipment access, and prescription delivery to Walt Disney World Resort hotels.
AdventHealth will also add a new emergency room location at Flamingo Crossings Town Center, staffed by AdventHealth physicians and nurses. (The announcement video above is worth watching for the song alone.) All of this is inconsequential and unimportant to Walt Disney World vacation planners…until it is.
Anyone who has gone to an urgent care center in or around Orlando can tell you it’s not the most pleasant experience. This location should be much more convenient–it’s just “around the corner” from Coronado Springs. Definitely a positive development even if it’s not exciting and hopefully something you’ll never need.
Next, some great news. As part of the Disney Parks Halfway to Halloween thing, Gonzo and Pepe the King Prawn announced the Muppets first-ever Halloween special, “Muppets Haunted Mansion,” debuting this fall exclusively on Disney+. The brand-new special will feature a star-studded Muppets cast, celebrity cameos, all-new music, and spooky fun.
“Muppets Haunted Mansion” takes place on Halloween night, when Gonzo is challenged to spend one very daring night in the most grim grinning place on Earth: the Haunted Mansion. Here’s hoping Eddie Murphy is one of the aforementioned celebrity cameos.
To say I’m excited about this would be an understatement. Something that combines Halloween, Haunted Mansion, and the Muppets?! It’s like a dream come true. (On a tangentially related note, we haven’t covered it lately, but Disney+ has really found its groove!)
Honestly, part of me doesn’t want to think/discuss/hear/see anything about it until Muppets Haunted Mansion drops. Muppet Family Christmas and Muppet Christmas Carol are two of my all-time favorite holiday movies, and I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations for this based upon those. I’m ecstatic about this news…but hope I forgot about it for the next few months. Yeah, right.
On a slightly amusing note, many Disney fans have been speculating about what Imagineering being responsible for the Muppets means. As it turns out, the answer was right under our noses–but no one realized it! At the D23 Expo a couple years ago, we had the chance to attend the Haunted Mansion 50th Anniversary Celebration.
Below is a video of the full panel, which is illuminating and interesting:
This Haunted Mansion panel featured current Imagineers, the granddaughter of Disney Legend X Atencio, the tightrope-walking resident of Haunted Mansion…and Uncle Deadly, the Muppet.
It concluded with Uncle Deadly reading through X Atencio’s never-before-released draft of the Haunted Mansion script (this starts at around the 47:30 mark). It was really good, but something I figured was a one-off treat in a jam-packed weekend.
Now, that has me wondering if it was a test run for this Disney+ special. Maybe Muppets Haunted Mansion will feature deep cuts from the attraction’s history, or ideas Imagineering wasn’t able to include in the attraction. Given that Imagineering is responsible for the best use of the Muppets in the last decade, I’m optimistic about this.
Again, I feel like I’m starting to get ahead of myself and further building up hype, so I’ll just cut off the commentary and excitement for Muppets Haunted Mansion. (Also, still waiting on the “When Love is Gone” restored cut of the original Muppet Christmas Carol on Disney+.)
In another incremental step towards normalcy, the rule requiring some Cast Members who directly interact with guests to wear face shields–in addition to masks–has been relaxed. Now, Cast Members in outdoor positions are no longer required to wear face shields (as with guests, masks are still required outdoors).
This comes as more global health organizations, including the CDC, are finally conceding that transmission is primarily airborne and indoors, which many epidemiologists have been stressing for over a year. (This is a great read.) There are also an increasingnumber of studies showing that barriers and partitions actually increase risk rather than decreasing it, as they trap pockets of air and impede air flow. This is also not a new development; many experts have long derided the ‘plexiglass proliferation’ as counterproductive hygiene theater.
“As an important reminder, costume masks are not permitted for adults; they can only be worn by children younger than 14. In addition, all guests are required to wear approved face coverings during the event. Before you arrive, check our Know Before You Go page and Costume Guidelines.”
There are two ways to interpret this. One, that Walt Disney World’s PR team is transposing current, highly relevant rules into this announcement for August through October to err on the side of caution–that it’s meaningless and simply reflects the status quo.
Alternatively, that Walt Disney World leadership has already established its face mask rules for the remainder of the year, and that info has been disseminated internally.
Either one of these scenarios is plausible. While the vaccine is widely available to adults and will likely be authorized for adolescents next week, the earliest possible schedule for pediatric vaccine availability for ages 2-11 is late fall. Families with small children are an important demographic to Walt Disney World, and the company is very protective of its reputation for safety and being family-friendly.
Disney has already demonstrated that its parks will be slower to relax or modify health safety protocol in light of shifting guidance from public health experts and agencies. It’s thus entirely possible that Walt Disney World has already established its own internal timelines and benchmarks, and will rigidly follow those without regard to evolving science.
Conversely, it’s also highly plausible that this is a CYA thing to set expectations and minimize complaints if the face mask rule is still in place come Halloween season. Anyone who has been a Walt Disney World fan for at least a month knows that sometimes one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.
It should go without saying that the PR team is not the one that sets health safety protocol. The fact that the author mentioned face masks but also recommended consulting the Walt Disney World’s “Know Before You Go” page is a hedge that suggests the policy is not set in stone.
At present, it’s unlikely that U.S. Centers for Disease Control leadership knows with a high degree of certainty what its face mask guidance will be a month from now–let alone during the Halloween or Christmas seasons. This is all highly fluid, dependent upon vaccination and case rates.
While there’s ample reason for optimism, where those numbers will stand in summer and fall is presently unknowable. Moreover, Walt Disney World’s rules are just as much a business decision as a safety one. It’s really difficult to envision the company going against the grain of CDC recommendations and rapidly-changing post-pandemic public sentiment, if it comes to that.
Ultimately, we do not know. Nor do you. Neither does the CDC nor other public health experts. Maybe Walt Disney World does, though. If they do, that means it would simply be a rigid rule for the sake of predictability and the perception of cautiousness, rather than anything else. It would not be the first instance of that.
Unlike physical distancing, masks aren’t a direct impediment to profitability (indirectly is a different story–and will be more of an issue with each passing month), so those sticking around longer to justify the relaxation of other rules makes some degree of sense.
If you’re planning a Walt Disney World vacation for Fall 2021 or beyond, our recommendation at this point would be to take whatever you’re hoping to happen…and expect the opposite. Prepare for whatever your “worst case” scenario is, determine whether that’s a non-starter or something you can work with and still have a fun trip, and plan accordingly. We hear from too many readers on a daily basis expressing disappointment that they’ve cancelled X trips or are on the fence, hoping for a best-case outcome that is unlikely.
Avoid setting yourself up to be letdown. Figure out what the worst is for you, determine what, if anything, you can do to make lemonade out of that, and plan for that. Make contingency plans. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised than perpetually disappointed. As for our predictions about Walt Disney World rule relaxation, they are unchanged as a result of the latest announcement from the company. The Walt Disney Company’s next earnings call is this coming week, and we expect a forward-looking comment on health safety protocol. It might be something vague like another “some degree of masking” remark, but perhaps it’ll be more definitive. We’ll keep you posted!
What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Excited for Muppets Haunted Mansion? Expect masks to stick around at Walt Disney World until November on the basis of the Boo Bash announcement, or think it’s a CYA thing? Optimistic about the potential for fireworks this summer at EPCOT? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!