It’s time for another in-park face mask update from Magic Kingdom! As covered in our Guide to Face Masks at Walt Disney World, there was a significant rule relaxation this week: “You may temporarily remove your face covering while actively eating, drinking or taking an outdoor photo, but you must be stationary and maintain appropriate physical distancing during this time.”
This means that guests can take selfies and other photos at their resort, Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, or wherever else so long as they’re appropriately distanced from other people. At the time the rule change was announced, we were pretty confident it would also apply to PhotoPass spots, and we’re happy to confirm that in does!
What it does not apply to is walk-around YouTube videos, on-ride photos, those jumping self-timer photos the kids seem to love these days, or anything else involving the intersection of motion and photography. Wanting to see how all of this would play out in practice, and whether the various doomsday predictions would come to fruition, we headed out to Magic Kingdom and spent considerable time vainly taking photos of ourselves…for research.
As regular readers know, we get a lot of feedback about face mask rules on this blog from a variety of perspectives. In counting the comments on blog posts and social media (excluding ones that were hard to gauge because they might’ve been sarcastic), we found 96% of our readers in support of this change. Even assuming some selection bias in who speaks up and who stays silent, that’s an overwhelming majority.
Elsewhere, it was more of a mixed bag. Most of those who were opposed to the change were concerned about it being a slippery slope or another loophole that guests would exploit. This, in turn, could cause more headaches for Cast Members. Those are valid concerns.
Indirectly, we’ve even heard of some Cast Members voicing this fear. That’s understandable, as there are tens of thousands of Cast Members, so you will find a diversity of opinions on literally every conceivable topic. Statistically speaking, there are almost certainly Cast Members who will tell you the earth is flat and Godzilla is better than King Kong. Our direct experience in talking to them is that most Cast Members believe the earth is round, King Kong is superior, and that relaxing the face mask rule for outdoor physically distanced photos is a pragmatic move.
Guests who want to find an excuse to break the rules will find an excuse to break the rules. Loopholes already existed, and guests who want to push the envelope have been able to try exploiting those for months. As we’ve seen since reopening, those guests have not been particularly successful, as Cast Members quickly “remind” them of the rule.
My view is that the greater “risk” is Walt Disney World being absolutely unyielding and maintaining policies that have no impact on safety or transmission—but do lead to lower guest satisfaction, are a huge burden for Cast Members to enforce, and ultimately lead to burn-out. (High turnover in the roles dealing with this has been a problem for months.)
At this point, reasonable rules are better for ensuring compliance than heavy-handed ones. As more people are vaccinated, fewer guests are going to accept strict rules without pushback—especially as face mask mandates are going away pretty much everywhere else. Walt Disney World needs to comport with guest expectations, at least to some degree, if they want to maintain a high degree of compliance.
Since the Cinderella Castle Christmas projections debuted last November, we’ve been saying that Cast Members around the Central Plaza were fighting a losing battle. Even with roughly a dozen Incredi-Crew Cast Members on “patrol” around the castle, they can’t be everywhere at once.
The scenario that played out time and time again was guests dropping their masks for a quick photo and Cast Members rushing over to tell them about the rule–which the guests obviously already knew about since they were calculated about getting the photo–after it was too late.
Regardless of what you think of the face mask rules, there has been an unpleasant tension in the air resulting from this. We spend a lot of time around Cinderella Castle, and that has been our consistent observation. If you talk to anyone who has actually been in the parks for a considerable amount of time in the last several months, they’d likely corroborate that.
Our experience yesterday was totally different. Like night and day.
We spent over two hours on Main Street, around the Central Plaza, on Liberty Square Bridge, and directly behind Cinderella Castle. The vast majority of that time was spent in the Hub or Central Plaza.
Totally anecdotal, but we did not spot a single guest trying to exploit the rules. There were actually a lot of guests leaving their masks on for photos, until PhotoPass Cast Members politely indicated that they could remove them for photos (word is still getting out). Everyone we saw removed their mask after being distanced from the Cast Member, and put it back on before moving again.
In practice, literally the only downside to this rule change is that lines for photos move slower because it takes the Cast Member time to explain that guests can remove masks for photos, and then it takes time for guests to take them off and put them back on. That’s it.
There are a few upsides. There’s the obvious one of having photos that look normal.
Back when this all started, we made a point of getting several mask photos of us thinking that down the road, they will be some of our few fond memories of an otherwise miserable year. That’s still an option if you feel the same. After doing this for almost a year, we are very pleased to have regular photos again.
Another upside is that a lot of the signage that previously graced every single trash can has been removed. There are still a lot of these signs, but all of the ‘photo and face mask’ signs (which was about half of them) are gone. Also roughly cut in half are the constant overhead announcements about mask rules.
The other really big upside is that the vibe is so much better on Main Street, in the Hub, and around Cinderella Castle. Gone is the tension that you could cut with a knife. No stand offs between Cast Members and guests. Literally the only interactions we heard were the good kind: why Hercules is an underrated movie (agreed), that the Orioles are great (are they, though?), and “I like your shirt/dress” (circumstantial).
During that time, we stopped at about a dozen different PhotoPass photographers.
Quick advice on that front for those purchasing Memory Maker…
First, stop at a lot of photographers. Maybe it’s just because I have high standards as a photographer, but I find that about half the images are unusable.
That’s not a knock on the PhotoPass Cast Members–there are countless reasons for this, from us blinking to poor lighting conditions to image artifacts and more. PhotoPass photographers are firing off a quick series of photos without reviewing them.
Second, refresh the PhotoPass image library in My Disney Experience as you go. Not all photos will appear immediately, but many/most will.
From that, you can see what you like or dislike about the photos, and also make adjustments to how you’re posing, what angles are most flattering, and which direction in the park the lighting is currently good or bad. (Despite taking thousands of us over the years, I still have no clue what to do with my hands when posing and no amount of ‘adjustments’ have helped with that.)
Finally, you’ll be able to see which Magic Shots you’ve acquired and what you still “need.”
We are frequent PhotoPass users, and a couple of the Magic Shots or image frames we received yesterday were new-to-me. (Mercifully, no Olaf snow shots yesterday. Our existing library of 348 of those will have to suffice for now.)
It’ll be interesting to see how the face mask rule evolves from here. A few months ago, Disney CEO Bob Chapek stated that Walt Disney World could have some level of physical distancing and mask-wearing for the remainder of 2021, but called vaccine availability a game-changer. Most other sites emphasized the “remainder of 2021” part of that, saying it meant face mask rules in full force until 2022. We disagreed, emphasizing the some level and game-changer parts. Even before that, I was bullish in my predictions for Walt Disney World relaxing physical distancing and face mask rules–pointing out that it’s a business decision as much as a health safety one.
That remains my perspective, and I think a further relaxation of the rules outdoors is the next logical step. Rules erring on the side of caution were understandable when Walt Disney World first reopened, but a lot has changed since. Among many other things, we now know so much more about the nature of transmission, and how incrediblyunlikely it is outside. Study after study has confirmed this, with none contradicting it–the science is settled. If Walt Disney World is following the science while also trying to enforce realistic rules that comport with guest expectations, we can probably expect further relaxation of the outdoor mask rules in the coming months.
What are your thoughts on the relaxed face mask rule for photos at Walt Disney World? Concerned this is a slippery slope that creates a loophole, or think it’s a step in the right direction? Are you hoping Disney further relaxes rules this summer and fall, or do you want the current health safety protocol to remain in place until 2022 when the pediatric vaccine is widely available? Does this make you more likely to purchase Memory Maker or take a trip to Walt Disney World in the coming months? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!