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!
We went to Epcot yesterday and Magic Kingdom today. I was really surprised by the noncompliance to the face mask rules. Most blatant was wearing masks under noses. A lot of people had noses and more showing. Very little cast member interaction to ask guests for compliance. I do have my vaccine, but don’t know about others. Photo pass photographers have a great attitude! I believe in treating cast members with great respect. They take a lot of s**t off people who believe they are entitled.
Alex, just tell the CMs that your child won’t turn two years old until about a week after you get home.
We have a two year old and really want to take her to Disney. Unfortunately, the three of us have already had covid back in January, oddly enough the weekend we were supposed to go to Disney, we stayed home….and got covid that weekend! Fortunately, we made out fine. We have 0 issue whatsoever wearing them masks, but I highly doubt my two year old can wear a mask for more than 30 seconds. Any feedback on how strict cast members are with a little one? Thanks!!!
I’m so grateful Disney opened safely by requiring masks. And I’m super happy they made this adjustment! Yea!
Tom, try a thumb in your pocket. Rest of fingers relaxed. You’ll like this pose.
It’s true the majority of folks who get Covid recover just fine (and hopefully without long term effects). But we have to be careful for those who will die, be sick for a long time, or have life long after effects. We don’t always know who it’s going to impact that way so I’m glad we can all be safe and think of others as we wash hands, wear masks, socially distance and stay home when sick.
Great to see your smiling faces again! It sounds like Disney is moving forward in a safe way. Hopefully no masks outside will be soon.
SJ, we are pretty similar to Stephanie. We all had it, my husband and one kid had symptoms similar to a flu and my other kid and I had zero symptoms. Worst part for my two symptomatic ones was the cough that lasted a couple weeks and the recurring fatigue that lasted a couple of weeks. No long term issues and if it had been any other year we’d have just called it the flu. Most people we know who have also had it have been pretty similar. Hope we help alleviate some fear or concerns! 🙂
SJ, if it makes you feel any less anxious, all three of my children had Covid (along with my husband & me) and it was nothing! We all felt poorly for a day (literally 24 hours) and then completely fine after. We just couldn’t taste or smell. That was the worst part for our kids: their favorite foods didn’t taste right. They were actually annoyed that we had to quarantine so long since we all felt great. I’m not saying you should throw all caution to the wind, I’m just hoping to allay some of your fears about your nieces. 🙂
Great pics! We missed the mask rule by one day! Tom-try putting your hand in your pocket? Works for my awkward photo taking husband!
Nice to see your whole faces again, Tom and Sarah!
This is a really good step forward, our son is disabled and can’t wear a mask, he can’t be vaccinated as he’s too young, so we can’t plan our next trip across the pond to the magic until face masks are no longer compulsory.
Are photo pass photographers still unable to take pictures from guests personal cameras?
I think for the safety of children, they should still exercise caution. I appreciate that you can unmask for pictures at appropriate distances. I feel like if I were a parent I would want people taking my children into consideration. I have nieces and am concerned for their safety. I know every case is different and not all ends in death but I’ve seen enough bad cases in my personal connections that I don’t want to see one in a child. (Also the mask wearing time has been the healthiest out whole family has been, I might continue in every flu season even after covid diminishes )
When Chapek said “some level” he may not even have been referring to guests or WDW.
He was being intentionally vague. For all we know, he may have meant “some CM’s at Disneyland will have to wear masks until 2022” which isn’t that unrealistic, because it’s California. (that would depend on how Newsom’s recall goes, though)
Some clickbait blogs (one of which has a name which is made by taking this blog’s name and replacing the word “Tourist” with “Food”) somehow read his comments as “Nothing’s changing until 2022 at the earliest”.
I don’t believe the earth is flat but here are the facts.
From 1933 through 2021, there have been 12 King Kong films produced.
The GODZILLA film franchise consists of 36 films despite getting started 21 years after Kong.
And that does NOT include the short film Godzilla vs Bambi.
Nice to see your mugs again. A step in the right direction for Disney. I do wish they would allow those with proof of vaccination to be allowed to go maskless in the near future. Maybe give a free magic band with red and white stripes to those vaccinated for proof.
A little off topic. Since your in the know of things. I will be in Disney the first week of Dec. 2021. Have you heard the opening date for Cirque du Soleil in Disney Springs??
As someone who really appreciates the thoughtful perspectives of this blog, I am *highly* disappointed to see you have bought into the LIES of the Monkey Mafia. Godzilla is the clearly superior creature and has tirelessly been protecting us from all manner of kaiju for decades. Has King Kong saved us from a three headed space dragon multiple times? He has not, and he fact you think he is superior shows how deep the conspiracy goes!
Jennifer, whatever you do at work, it sounds pretty intense, and puts the mask wearing and complaining into perspective. This is a historic time for the world and for Disney, and the people visiting and complying with WDW’s rules have not only been participants of that history, but also have helped move things back to “normal” step by step, in a positive way.
Now I’ll need to get the photo pass option, as I’ll certainly want some pics without masks with my family. But, we’ll also have a ton of pics wearing our masks, and will look back on this time as the immensely significant moment that it is.