Mask Rule Relaxed for Photos at Disney World
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 incredibly unlikely 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.
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!
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!
I was there in early March when the masks were required at all times. I have to wear N95 Masks+ a surgical masks, face shield, plus all other PPE 8 hrs a day at work, so at least wearing only a surgical/ cloth mask was a break for me. While I am vaccinated and follow good infection control, I don’t trust the other 1000’s of people there to be as stringent as I am. People forget, that taking precautions at this time, is not about just yourself, it’s about protecting others. As far as pictures are concerned, I guess I’ll look back at them as a sign of the times, and another excuse to go back again to take more pictures without the masks on. It was still a fun time at Disney especially having the lower crowds, saw characters everyday at the parks with the pop up cavalcades and even without the fireworks. It was a pleasure to always have a seat on the transportations systems in the park and not feel like cattle having as many people squeezed into a bus /boat/ monorails as possible. Not waiting in lines for food by using the mobile app was also something that I hope they keep. I just wanted to say that Disney can still be fun even with the current restrictions.
I love your blog! Planning a trip for November and checking every tip carefully. Hoping all masking rules are gone.
I love your blog!
A “slippery slope”? possibly, but guests were not 100% compliant on our 2 post covid visits anyway.. more so at the resort as the sun sets.. perhaps they believe no one can see them after dark?? less CM’s around to constantly remind them??
But, since we are vaxxed, I’m glad to see this rule moderated somewhat. We are returning in September 2021.. and we are willing to wear our “cute, homemade Disney” masks whenever asked without complaint.
My big concern was a shortage of Photopass photogs as we always get the Memory Maker even with mask mandated. Also, love the Cinderella magic shot! The reason for this whole post of mine is to ask where you got it… which park, which area… Thanks in advance.
I live in the UK and all my family of 11 are (used to be pre-covid) regular visitors to WDW. Until the mask policy becomes optional we will not be visiting. The cost for two weeks stay at a Disney hotel is in excess of 50000 dollars. Without FP, fireworks, parades etc and the current mask policy…. what’s the point? My family cannot be the only one’s who are not considering traveling as things stand. The high revenue we ‘ foreign’ guests generate must be hurting Disney. Please relax the mask wearing policy and even without everything else we might still book. I miss WDW so much. And all the adults have had their vacation.
Our next trip is coming up fast in two weeks. We’ve been going back and forth on whether to pre-purchase PhotoPass. I’ve heard since reopening there are far less photographers in the parks. Any truth to this?
Not the point of this post, but maybe try thumb hooked into pocket instead of hand on hip?
Good call. I did that on accident once and Sarah said it looked nice. Perhaps a tad fancy, so I’ll have to wear my “dress polo” for that one. 😉
Hi. We were at Disney from Easter Sunday until today. We were able to experience the mask rule change beginning last Thursday. Before we arrived, we discussed how sad it would be to have photos in masks since we wouldn’t be able to see the children’s smiles (it was the first time to Disney for the youngest three). However, we quickly realized we could see the excitement and smiles in their eyes, and we are overjoyed and never felt cheated with photos in masks. Disney might not be for everyone right now, but our personal experience is that this trip was the “best trip ever” (words from the youngest three, ages 7, 6 and 3). The 3 year old is already asking when we can go back. It was magical for us, with and without masks.
Thanks for sharing your experience, glad to hear you enjoyed yourselves–sounds like a wonderful trip!
I also agree that masks should be optional with the amount of people receiving vaccines. I haven’t seen a lot of “social distancing” at the parks, which is hard to do since there is increased crowds. I am waiting for masks to come off on attractions because it still looks ridiculous having them on, and waiting for your food and drinks at restaurants while sitting is also ridiculous as well.
CMs are all going to be eligible to receive the vaccine right at WDW starting very soon if they haven’t started already. If a CM or guest doesn’t want to get a vaccine, they may need to wear a mask (even though the mask really doesn’t do much to protect you). As for children, any child under the age of 10, or even 16 shouldn’t be required to wear a mask. And medical excuses to not wear a mask should be accepted. Including on the airlines.
Tom: As well as the Reply button not working, my name, email and website info doesn’t remain for the next response.
All Cast Members are now eligible to be vaccinated at Disney Health Services. Additionally, the super sites in Central Florida have ample walk-up availability for all ages right now. Basically, all Floridians could be fully vaccinated (assuming the longest scenario–the 2 dose Moderna + 2 weeks) by May 17, 2021. I’d expect a little bit of a buffer beyond that (probably at least a month) before Disney relaxes the policy any further, though.
Thanks for the feedback on those fields not being retained, I didn’t realize that was the case. Hoping to have a solution to the reply problem by next week. Obviously, it’s not ideal for the flow of conversations.
Every day more are vaccinated and every day the masks mandates are ending. I am glad that Disney as starting to follow suit. Looking forward to seeing some fireworks!
I have been planning to take my family to Disneyworld for 2 years now and we all REFUSE to go until the Mask Mandate is totally lifted. Sorry, but I think they are loosing the same 50% of guests with the Mandate as if they would lift it. Meanwhile, I am saving money. BUT I REALLY WANT TO GO but I do not like breathing my own carbon dioxide through the mask.
Yes I wear them when shopping, etc. But for a long day walking at Disney, I will not and sadly may not get to go again. I have been only 16 times in the past. Obviously, last trip was before COVID 19.
I am with you 100%. Mask wearing should be optional just as visiting the parks is optional.
I, and not any of my family will visit any Disney resorts until the face mask rule is gone. If you have been vaccinated, it has about a 90% effective rate! Are you just going to walk around with a mask for the rest of your life worried you “might” get sick? I have news for you, you will get sick from something! Just STOP people!! Your really starting to look like gullible, ridiculous people!
I’m definitely one of the people who doesn’t like this because of CM concerns and loophole exploiters. I’m glad you had a positive experience. But I will still be wearing my mask outside for photos, despite being vaccinated. I’ll be down for a week starting on Memorial Day weekend and I just don’t trust people.
I would just love the ability to walk and eat/drink outdoors. I realize that would be prone to loophole exploiters, I just personally love strolling World Showcase with a cocktail in my hand.
I LOVE these photos!!! I’m so tired of masks and not seeing smiles and this step towards getting back to normal is really encouraging! Hoping summer sees even more promising changes!!!
Hercules is totally underrated. Go the Distance is a Tier 1 Disney song, proven by its’ prime placement in Happily Ever After despite the film (unfairly) having 0 representation at the parks otherwise. I Won’t Say I’m in Love is another great one.
I sometimes find it odd the movies they do and don’t represent in the parks. Moana is fantastic and hugely popular, yet had (pre-covid) no meet and greet outside of the parties, which is insane to me. As a late 20s millenial, I bet I’m not the only guest who would love to see more Hercules, even if they just brought back the meet and greet when things go back to normal.
Thank you for this article! We are planning our last trip before our annual passes expire. I’d love to take this last chance to hit up as many photopass and Magic Shot opportunities as we can fit in, especially those we may have missed. Can you tell me where I might find a list of all the places in the parks to look for photographers and magic shots – or maybe just some highlights? Thanks!