“When will Walt Disney World bring back ____?” and other questions about the return to normalcy, what’s still closed, unavailable, and reopening are common. This offers an update on the Dining Plan, Fantasmic, Festival of Fantasy Parade, restaurants, resorts, shows, and more. (Updated January 8, 2022.)
We’re going to consolidate the answers to all of those frequently asked questions. We’ll start with the “reminder” that Madame Leota is not employed by this blog, which is to say that we don’t have a crystal ball. Circumstances are fluid and evolving at Walt Disney World.
Months ago, that was due to public health guidance continuing to change. Now, that concern still exists–and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Disney pump the brakes given Omicron–but is not the biggest issue. Its place has been taken by woes in scaling up operations to meet pent-up demand, exacerbated by a widespread staffing shortage. These two things in tandem coupled with a faster-than-anticipated rule relaxation has created something of a perfect storm, with Walt Disney World playing catch-up…
Suffice to say, if you’re looking for definitive answers, you’re embarking on a fool’s errand. Nothing is certain until it actually happens. Even an official announcement from Walt Disney World doesn’t guarantee that, as the company has cancelled and postponed many plans already.
Basically, we’re trying to manage your expectations, so you understand the nature of what you’re about to read. Nothing is 100%, and some of these predictions have a confidence level far lower than that. While some are predicated upon reliable rumors, even those can be–and frequently are–wrong. There are competing plans, circumstances change, etc. With that out of the way, let’s turn to the Q&A…
What’s taking so long bringing things back?
Staffing. If you’re wondering why Walt Disney World has been so slow to bring back something, there’s a 90% chance that’s the answer. (The other 10% is $$$.) There is more than enough demand to bring back everything at this point. The biggest impediment is that operational locations are short-staffed and ones that have yet to reopen need to hire and train new Cast Members.
This is hardly unique to Central Florida or Walt Disney World. You’ve probably seen similar stories on your local news about the hospitality industry having a tough time finding workers. We’ve also discussed it in countless articles. Nevertheless, it’s worth reiterating once again for those who are new to the site.
There was a stretch of several months post-reopening when a lack of demand was the primary problem, but that ceased being the case by spring break. Pent-up demand is off the charts right now, and all health safety restrictions have been lifted. The primary limiting factor is a lack of Cast Members. Unfortunately, the company was caught off-guard by the speed of America’s reopening and labor market realities.
Fortunately, help is on the way! Walt Disney World’s hiring blitz continues and the company is running job opening advertisements, doing job fairs, and even offering significant signing bonuses ($1,000 to $3,000 plus a relocation perk for some positions).
Disney has had some success in hiring, but thousands more employees are needed. It’s not going to be a quick fix. Moreover, there’s a lot of on-the-job learning, and it’ll take some time before all of these new Cast Members have the knowledge/skills/etc. necessary to make a big impact. We hope some of these shortages work themselves out by Spring 2022, but we’re no longer completely optimistic–there are many complicating factors and some of these issues will persist for years.
When will the Disney Dining Plan return?
See above. Restaurant capacity is a necessary prerequisite for the Disney Dining Plan being brought back.
Free Dining adds another layer to the above analysis, as the annual promotion is a huge driver of hotel bookings. However, Walt Disney World does not need to incentivize those to hit its occupancy targets right now. (See What’s Up with Sold Out Hotels at WDW? for more on that.)
Suffice to say, we are not optimistic about the return of Free Dining in 2022. It’s possible later in the year, but that would require some combination of resorts operating at a higher capacity, demand dropping, or both. Plus, the same for restaurants.
When will face mask rules end?
Walt Disney World gradually relaxed its face mask policy at the start of summer before reinstating indoor mask rules late last summer for everyone. It remains to be seen when this will end, but it’s safe to say not before Omicron subsides.
After having its original return date bumped, Disney announced that All Star Sports Resort will reopen on March 31, 2022. That’s the only Walt Disney World hotel that’s still closed at this point; we are confident it’ll actually open this time.
There have been rumors of performers being called back to Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue over the last several months, and the dinner show was supposedly in rehearsals at one point. We cannot corroborate either of those claims, but that was the indirect word according to multiple rumors. Honestly, I don’t know how credible those are or were—I never heard anything directly.
Late last fall, two different Walt Disney World performers—Randy Morris and Yehaa Bob—have indicated during their sets that Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue would be returning “soon.” That’s a pretty ambiguous term, but if accurate, it would likely mean March 2022.
We have yet to hear a single rumor about Spirit of Aloha. At this point, it would not surprise us if that’s gone for good.
When will Disney Park Pass reservations end?
Depends upon who you ask. High level leaders, including the CEO and head of the theme park division, have stated in interviews that they will continue to use certain technology that improves efficiencies when operations are back to normal. Many fans have taken this to mean that Disney Park Pass is here to stay.
For reasons we discuss in When Will Disney Park Pass Reservations End?we doubt that will be the case. With that said, we expect reservations to stick around until Walt Disney World is able to increase park capacity to 100% (again, an issue of staffing not safety) and pent-up demand is exhausted.
When will Park Hopping be allowed before 2 pm?
Park Hopping is dictated by capacity, so those rules could be relaxed literally any time now.
However, loosening Park Hopping rules may not be viewed as a high priority by Disney. Additionally, it might be advantageous for the company to maintain the existing policy to help control crowds and attendance. It also might result in longer visits or length of stay.
Will Minnie Vans return?
No insight into this one whatsoever. New signage has been installed in parking lots that offers a “hint” that Minnie Vans will be back, but there are no credible rumors as to when they’ll return.
While lucrative for Disney, this is probably not high priority in the grand scheme of things. We don’t expect it back until Summer 2022, if ever.
What about parking lot trams?
Thankfully, the overdue return of parking lot trams has already occurred at the Transportation & Ticket Center, which is essentially the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot. It’s still unknown when trams will return for the other 3 parks.
If you asked me then when I thought they’d return at the start of last summer (when they first began testing), I would’ve said “within two weeks.” If you asked me today, I’d say “within two months.” The return of parking lot trams should be days away, not weeks or months–but the same could’ve been said before.
Only Festival of Fantasy Parade was given a timeframe: “Early 2022.” Our expectation is that Finding Nemo: the Musical and Fantasmic won’t be back until spring or summer. The new stage show in Magic Kingdom is more of a wildcard.
When will other parades, shows, and entertainment return?
Shows like Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Enchanted Tales with Belle, and Jedi Training Academy are all unknowns. There have been credible rumors about these three in particular never returning. That doesn’t mean the venues will sit empty indefinitely–they might be replaced with new concepts later in 2022.
What about the return of Fantasmic?
There was a point when a heavily-modified Fantasmic was rumored to be the first nighttime spectacular to return to Walt Disney World. That was several months ago, and I have not heard anything credible since. It seems as if Disney opted to undertake a fairly significant refurbishment project to the amphitheater and its infrastructure instead.
Given the performer-heavy nature of Fantasmic, it’s likely we’ll have pretty decent advance notice of when it’s going to return. We do not expect Fantasmic to return until 2022.
Any chance that Rivers of Light will make a comeback?
Rivers of Light has been permanently retired and there are no rumored or confirmed plans for a new nighttime spectacular at Animal Kingdom. It wouldn’t surprise me if the concept is reborn under a different name, but perhaps not. None of its incarnations were hits with guests.
Our concern is that it flies so far under the radar, it might never be brought back. Or, Disney might wait until after the 50th Anniversary ends in Spring 2023 because the Kiss Goodnight somehow conflicts with the Beacons of Magic.
Will the Tables in Wonderland card return?
No clue. The last we heard anything about Tables in Wonderland, it did not sound promising (that the team previously handling Tables in Wonderland is essentially gone).
However, that was late last year. Our expectation is that a discount card program will be brought back eventually, but not until table service restaurants are operating normally. Even then, it’s unlikely to be high priority so long as dining demand remains high.
Will character meet & greets be back soon?
This is a big wildcard.
Disney has introduced indoor physically distanced one-on-one character greetings, but there are no hugs, autographs, etc. That could pave the way for meet & greets, but again, it has been slow going. We haven’t heard anything credible about this, and wouldn’t expect anything until after Omicron subsides, potentially in Spring 2022.
When will princess meals return?
The first modified “face character” meal has already debuted, with the return of Story Book Dining at Artist Point the week before Christmas.
We have not heard any rumors about the return of additional (fur or face) character dining. It stands to reason that Walt Disney World would attempt to bring back more by Spring Break or Easter 2022, but we have absolutely no credible insight into what or when.
What about Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique?
Another one about which we’ve heard no credible rumors whatsoever.
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is a close-contact experience between Cast Members and a guest demographic that cannot yet be vaccinated. Even though it’s another thing that’s lucrative for Walt Disney World, we would expect its return to not occur until Spring 2022, at the earliest.
Ultimately, I think that about covers the big things about which readers regularly ask questions. If there’s anything we missed, please feel free to mention it in the comments and I’ll update accordingly. As a final reminder, the above is all subject to change, and based upon a mix of credible rumors and rampant speculation. Some of this will end up being pretty close to accurate, other predictions will be wildly wrong. Do not book a trip to Walt Disney World in reliance upon the timelines above. While we think the totality of these predictions paints an accurate picture of the trajectory of Walt Disney World’s phased reopening, individual elements could return much earlier or much later than we expect.
What do you think about these predictions for Walt Disney World’s phased reopening? Any surprises on this list for you? When do you expect more restaurants, resorts, entertainment, or anything else to return? Hopeful that Walt Disney World is largely back to normal by Spring 2022? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this year, or are you waiting until 2023 when things have normalized even more and (hopefully) pent-up demand fizzles out and staffing levels recover? 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!