Walt Disney World’s theme parks will reopen in July 2020 with new health safety protocol, modified operations, limited capacity, reservations for park entry, and more. A lot of these changes were announced without detail, and have raised more questions than they’ve answered. In this FAQ, we’ll attempt to clarify, share everything you need to know, and speculate on some of the unknowns. (Updated June 15, 2020.)
Let’s start by bringing you up to speed on everything that has happened in the last week. First, Walt Disney World announced that Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom will reopen on July 11, 2020, with Epcot and Hollywood Studios reopening on July 15, 2020. Prior to all of the parks reopening, Disney Vacation Club properties will reopen on June 22, 2020.
Following those bombshells, Walt Disney World Announced All Reservations Will Be Cancelled–Free Dining, Restaurants, FastPass+ & Dining Plan. We’ve also seen Park Hours Cut Significantly for Reopening. Additionally, WDW released “Know Before You Go” Resort & Restaurant Info. These are just a handful of changes–with many more likely to come. Against that backdrop, let’s dig into the Walt Disney World reopening FAQ with answers to some of the most common reader questions. (Fair warning, there’s a lot of “we don’t know” here.)
When will advance reservations for visiting the parks open?
Walt Disney World has not yet announced an official date for this, or any details about how it’ll work. Our expectation is that Disney IT is scrambling to build a system for it, and the website will quietly debut early one morning (like release day for deals) with no official announcement until it’s been live for hours, and some days are potentially already fully booked. (In Disney’s defense, this practice is done to prevent its servers from crashing…and they’re still often overwhelmed.)
We are closely watching this, monitoring the official app and website for the slightest changes and will immediately send our subscribers a heads up when the new theme park reservation system launches. (Sign-up for our free email newsletter here!)
Who will receive priority for booking reservations for park entry?
Initially, guests with existing tickets (including Annual Passholders) who purchased before the reopening date was announced.
Going forward, we suspect on-site resort guests will have an earlier booking window–similar to FastPass+ or Advance Dining Reservations in the past.
What does this mean for Park Hopper tickets?
We don’t know.
Intuitively, an advance reservation system would seem to be incompatible with Park Hopping unless organic demand is regularly capacity for all four parks. The problem with that is Walt Disney World won’t know it’s the case until the parks actually reopen. Our expectation is that Park Hopping will temporarily be halted during the first phase of reopening, and guests who have already purchased Park Hopper tickets will be refunded the difference. However, this is just a guess.
Will the parks have capacity limits?
Walt Disney World has not released official numbers, but in an interview, CEO Bob Chapek indicated the first phase of reopening would limit attendance to 20-30% of normal capacity. Queues, restaurants, and attractions will also operate at 50% or less of their normal numbers.
Will being a resort guest guarantee access to the parks?
Per Walt Disney World, no.
As a practical reality, we believe it will. Resort guests have never been guaranteed access to the parks, but it’s always been the case that phased closures applied to everyone else before applying to resort guests. Our expectation is that the park reservation system will work similarly, and that Disney’s answer here is a CYA response.
What will that do to crowds?
In theory, they should be lower even with reduced capacity on rides, restaurants, etc. After a brief period of pent-up demand, there’s also the possibility that fewer guests than the capacity limit will want or be able to attend Walt Disney World.
This is something we discuss in part 1 of our Dawn of a Temporary Disney Era.
Will there be soft openings of the parks?
Walt Disney World has announced a soft opening period for affinity groups (Annual Passholders, Disney Vacation Club Members, Florida Residents, Club 33, Golden Oak, etc.
How will those work & when will they begin?
We don’t know.
We assume these dates will likewise require advance online registration. Our “wishful thinking” start date would be June 22, as that would give DVC members with resort reservations a chance to use the parks during their stay. However, that’s a very long soft opening period, and might be a bit far-fetched.
When will the clock start ticking again on Annual Pass expiration dates?
We don’t know.
Shanghai Disneyland is not restarting the clock during its Advanced Reservation Period, which means any dates an AP visits during that period are essentially a bonus. This approach makes sense given that registration is required and access is not guaranteed, nor is it unlimited or available per the original terms of the purchase.
The new policies are arguably a unilateral contract modification that goes beyond what’s contemplated by any reasonable change of terms provision or disclaimer. Accordingly, our expectation is that Walt Disney World will not restart the clock until after the reservation period has ended. That’d be the legally prudent and guest-friendly course of action, but we truly do not know what Disney will do.
Are ticket refunds being offered?
No, and that’s a pretty firm (and controversial!) no.
Partially used multi-day theme park tickets with usage window impacted by park closure, or date-specific theme park tickets purchased through June 6, 2020 with a valid use period beginning March 12, 2020 or later, will automatically be extended to use any date through September 26, 2021. If you are unable to visit by September 26, 2021, you may apply the value of a wholly unused ticket toward the purchase of a ticket for a future date. Florida Resident Discover Disney Tickets may be used through September 30, 2020.
When will DisneyWorld.com accept new bookings?
We don’t know a specific date, but it’ll be after the new theme park reservation system launches.
Our guess is sooner rather than later. Vacation packages and resort bookings are Walt Disney World’s primary revenue generator, so there’s every incentive to reopen reservations for packages ASAP.
Will guests be required to wear masks?
Yes. Per local public health expert guidance and CDC recommendations, guests are required to wear masks for the safety of other guests and Cast Members. Same goes for Cast Members.
This applies to all guests ages 2 and older. Walt Disney World plans to offer “relaxation zones” where guests will be able to remove their face masks for relief from the summer heat, away from crowds and foot traffic.
What if you have a disability that prevents you from wearing a face covering?
Walt Disney World has not yet addressed this specifically. Disney is likely to allow modified face masks to the extent feasible (think face shields).
However, the ADA requires no “reasonable accommodation” for face masks, as doing so would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others. This comes directly from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
When will the mask requirement end?
We don’t know. The ‘safe’ answer is when the CDC and local health agencies lift the requirement or revise it.
The earlier possibility is that the mask requirement is loosened for outdoor and open air spaces at some point, while masks required in queues and all indoor spaces. Either way, our guess is that the mask requirement will remain in place, in some form, through the end of 2020.
Why isn’t Disney letting guests choose whether to wear masks?
Probably due to the latest CDC guidance, which strongly encourages cloth face coverings or masks in public, at events or gatherings. Per the CDC, cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms.
Cloth face coverings are for the benefit of others, and are mutually beneficial when worn by both parties to an interaction–which means that guests wearing masks help protect Cast Members. Moreover, recent research by the University of Cambridge shows that even homemade masks can prove 90% effective at preventing transmission, and a policy of total face mask adoption can still prevent a second wave.
When will fireworks, parades, and other entertainment return?
We don’t know.
As with the mask requirement, this largely hinges upon CDC and health expert guidance. With that said, these are quintessential components of the Walt Disney World experience for many guests, so even though eliminating entertainment saves money, our suspicion is that Disney will be eager to reinstate this offerings as soon as it’s safe to do so.
What’s the status of meet & greets and character dining?
As we’ve previously reported, character dining has been canceled, as have meet & greets. Modified character experiences, likely in the form of smile & wave shows, will supplant direct character interactions for the time being.
Additionally, Topolino’s Terrace will offer a modified character dining experience–the only one at Walt Disney World.
Will big discounts be offered for the reduced experience and shorter hours?
That remains to be seen.
For more, read our recent Dawn of a Temporary Disney Era – Crowds & Discounts. In short, we strongly believe aggressive deals are on the horizon…but it might take some time.
Which reservations are being cancelled?
All restaurant, FastPass+, Disney Dining Plan, and other experience reservations are in the process of being cancelled.
Existing resort hotel reservations are not being cancelled.
For as far out as bookings have been accepted. Since these all have different timeframes (60 days out for FastPass+, 180 days for ADRs, etc.), the end dates vary.
Some Disney Dining Plans have been sold via international sites and group bookings for next year–those are being cancelled through September 2021.
What I haven’t received a cancellation email?
Check your spam folder–you might’ve already received it.
If not, you probably will. Walt Disney World has a huge backlog of cancellations to process, and it takes time to process. It’s also possible your reservations were cancelled and you didn’t receive notification, so check My Disney Experience.
What if my reservations are still in My Disney Experience?
Then they haven’t been cancelled…yet. Again, Walt Disney World has a ton of cancellations to process. Throughout the closure, Disney was cancelling reservations for a week or two at a time, and even that was hit or miss timing-wise. Now, months of cancellations are occurring simultaneously.
There’s also the chance your third party restaurant reservations will not be cancelled.
When will regular hotels reopen?
Previously, Walt Disney World issued a statement that resorts would begin to reopen on July 11, 2020.
That has since been removed from the official site with no word on when hotels will actually reopen. We would expect hotels to begin reopening around or shortly after when DVC resorts open.
Will all hotels operate?
Per CEO Bob Chapek, no. This has not yet been confirmed by Walt Disney World officially, but he’s the boss, so…
Our expectation is that several resorts will not reopen immediately. Likely candidates for extended closures include Coronado Springs & Gran Destino, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Port Orleans, and the All Stars. This is not an official list, nor is it exhaustive. Demand will dictate a lot.
What happens to my reservation if I’m booked at a resort that remains closed?
Walt Disney World’s longstanding policy when moving guests due to overbooking, refurbishments, etc. is to offer a lateral or better option.
This means that you’ll receive a resort of equal or greater value when being relocated. This is what happened when resorts were closed post-9/11, and we’d expect it to again be the case.
Will hotel pools be open?
For the most part.
Not all resort pools will reopen right away. Most notably, Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club will not reopen on June 22.
When will Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach?
We don’t know.
Walt Disney World hasn’t released any info about the water parks. Universal reopened Volcano Bay with fewer restrictions than its theme parks, so this could be more a matter of demand and/or staffing than safety. We wouldn’t be surprised to not see Disney’s water parks return until the 2021 season.
Has Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party been cancelled?
Given that the main draws of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party are a parade, fireworks, and stage shows–entertainment Walt Disney World is cancelling during normal hours–we suspect that, at minimum, August and early September party dates will be cancelled. It’s also possible that the event will be heavily modified.
What about other special events?
Other events have been cancelled.
Guests who have purchased tickets for Disney After Hours, Disney Villains After Hours, Disney Early Morning Magic and Disney H2O Glow Nights will be automatically refunded.
When will the Disney Dining Plan return?
We don’t know.
We suspect it’ll be back long before September 2021 (the date through which it’s currently cancelled), and we fully detail why towards the beginning of this Disney Dining Plan Info post.
Lots of “we don’t know” answers here…when will we know?
We don’t know.
Just kidding. Answers should come in three phases. First, when Walt Disney World makes additional announcements about the online reservation system for park entry, etc. Second, when Disney starts accepting new vacation package bookings. Third, when soft opening previews begin and we can see how things work in practice. Finally, a couple of weeks after official reopening happens and we can see how things ‘settle’ into place and actually operate after pent-up demand is exhausted and the system has allowed for test and adjust.
In other words, we should know more between mid-June and late July 2020. If you’re traveling in August 2020 or later, have some patience and let the answers come to you. That’s difficult right now as everyone is craving more certainty and details, but these are unprecedented times, and if you’re wanting to visit a popular theme park in the midst of a pandemic, some degree of flexibility and understanding is going to be necessary.
This should answer most of the questions that readers have been asking about the reopening of Walt Disney World. In some cases, those “answers” are simply our best guesses and speculation, but in a lot of cases that’s the best we can offer. There have been a lot of questions in the last week, so if we didn’t address yours, we apologize. Please post in the comments below and we’ll answer more as they’re asked!
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!
Have any questions we didn’t answer with the above FAQ? Do you agree or disagree with our speculation? Other thoughts or concerns? 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!