Earlier today, Walt Disney World’s announced that Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and other entertainment will return to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom between now and December 2021.
This comes as Walt Disney World continues to bring back Cast Members and atmospheric entertainers, and now seems ready to move beyond the spontaneous, and physically distanced the theme parks have embraced (probably not the best word choice) since reopening last summer.
With this announcement, Walt Disney World revealed that indoor meet & greets will return in limited capacity beginning in November 2021. In this post, we’ll cover the locations, details, and what else you might expect from meet & greets for the rest of this year and in 2022.
Let’s start with the official announcement from Walt Disney World:
“Over the past year, beloved Disney Characters have been popping up in cavalcades, motorcades, flotillas, and surprise sightings, much to the delight of our guests, and I’m pleased to tell you many of those experiences will be continuing. Although the environment is not right just yet for hugs and autographs, you’ll soon be able to have individualized time with some of your favorite characters, getting to visit with them in a themed location and snap a photo or two.”
Look for the Disney Princesses to return to Princess Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom. When you stop in to see Mickey Mouse backstage at Town Square Theater on Main Street, U.S.A., he’ll be sporting his all-new EARidescent look designed just for the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebration!
Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’ll soon find Minnie Mouse at Red Carpet Dreams and the stars of Disney Junior in the Animation Courtyard. For now, these 4 locations are all that has been revealed, but there’s still plenty of time between now and November 2021. We’d expect more locations to follow.
Under Walt Disney World’s agreement with its unions, those employees must show proof of vaccination by October 22, 2021.
Similarly significant is availability of the vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11. Pfizer filed its data with the Food and Drug Administration last week. The FDA has said it’s going to be a matter of weeks, not months, in terms of their evaluation of that clinical data to make a determination whether they’re going to authorize vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11.
A best-case scenario is having a vaccine available to children 5 to 11 years old by Halloween if everything goes well. More realistically, that could drift into early November.
While these are still going to be physically distanced meet & greets, they’re still indoors and individualized. That’s a huge leap forward for Walt Disney World, and this step towards normalcy is motivated by something. Our belief is that the aforementioned vaccine mandate and it being available for kids 5-11 years old are those somethings.
As we’ve reiterated probably 100 times at this point, Walt Disney World is concerned with optics. In fact, in the post about the Cast Member vaccine requirement, we indicated that meet & greets were most likely to be impacted: “The biggest potential thing here pertains to traditional character meet & greets.”
“Our perspective on [meet & greets] was that they’d be one of the last things to return due to the optics and risk of having potentially unvaccinated performers and children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated in close proximity to one another. Requiring performers be vaccinated would change half of the equation on that. Perhaps that would be sufficient to cause a policy change or perhaps not. It might take the pediatric vaccine approval or cases to bottom out for a sustained amount of time before that change occurs.
“We’d caution against premature excitement over the possibility of this change. There are other barriers to bringing back meet & greets and character meals in full force, with staffing being one significant problem. At the absolute best, normal character encounters could return to a limited degree by October 2021. As we’ve stated countless times before, we would not expect “normalcy” on the character front until sometime in 2022. Even with optimistic assumptions, it’s simply going to take time for those changes to fully roll out at Walt Disney World. (Disneyland will have it a little easier, but it’s still probably a 2022 thing.)”
Ultimately, our perspective is unchanged on that since it was written in July–it’s going to take Walt Disney World time to fully restore normal meet & greets. Many of you have been asking about this for months, and modified encounters are probably not what you had in mind. However, this is simply the first step in a gradual process that will occur over the course of several months. This was never going to happen all at once–progress is progress.
We truly have no clue what will happen next, but our expectation is that Walt Disney World will bring back this type of individual, modified meet & greet where space allows for it. This will be followed by regular meet & greets and character dining returning, with princess meals still likely the last thing to come back.
With that said, I’m shocked Walt Disney World is bringing back an indoor princess meet & greet. That means those characters will wear masks or Disney intends to drop the indoor mask rule by November or those characters will be a noteworthy exception to the rule. Of those options, #2 seems most plausible to me, especially with the Cast Member vaccine rule and Florida’s falling numbers.
What do you think about these predictions for Walt Disney World restoring character meet & greets? Do you expect non-distanced interactions to return by early 2022? Thoughts on how Disney will handle the princess situation? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this year, or are you waiting until 2022? Do you agree or disagree with our predictions? 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!