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By Brad Tuttle
Updated: July 20, 2020 12:02 PM ET | Originally published: June 8, 2020
Getty Images

This story has been updated to reflect Disneyland’s June 24 decision to delay its reopening. We will keep updating it as new information becomes available.

Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is back in business this summer. Just don’t book your trip expecting that the rides, restaurants, hotels, and general atmosphere will be the same as the “Most Magical Place on Earth” was before shutting down in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Among other things, kids (and adults) shouldn’t anticipate getting hugs from Mickey or any of the princesses. Everyone who is out of diapers will have to wear a face mask, too. Here’s more of what you need to know if you’re considering a trip to Disney World anytime soon.

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When Is Disney Reopening?

Disney is planning a phased reopening for Walt Disney World, with the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom parks opening to the public on Saturday, July 11, followed by EPCOT and Disney Hollywood Studios on Wednesday, July 15. (Access to the parks may be earlier, starting on Thursday, July 9, for select annual passholders and VIP guests. The Orlando Sentinel wrote up what it was like to be back at the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, including details on changes to the entrance procedures and shockingly short lines for rides and attractions.)

Many of the restaurants and shops at Disney Springs reopened on May 20, complete with temperature checks before customers are allowed in. As for the Universal Studios Orlando resort, some shops and restaurants at its CityWalk area began reopening as early as mid-May, and the Universal Studios Florida (and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay parks reopened on June 5. No reservations are required, though the number of guests will be limited and people may be turned away once capacity is reached. SeaWorld Orlando and Legoland Florida have also already reopened, on June 11 and June 1, respectively.

Disney previously announced dates for the phased reopening of the Disneyland resort in southern California, but on June 24 it reversed course, saying it had postponed Disneyland’s reopening indefinitely.

“Given the time required for us to bring thousands of cast members back to work and restart our business, we have no choice but to delay the reopening of our theme parks and resort hotels until we receive approval from government officials,” the company wrote in a statement. “Once we have a clearer understanding of when guidelines will be released, we expect to be able to communicate a reopening date.”

That means Disneyland Resort hotels, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park are still closed for now. The one exception is the Downtown Disney District at Disneyland, which is going ahead with its July 9 reopening.

Will You Have to Wear a Mask at Disney World?

Yes. Disney says that employees “as well as guests 2 years of age and older will be required to wear appropriate face coverings in theme parks and common areas of resort hotels.” (Face coverings are also required at Universal Studios, and SeaWorld. Legoland says, “We recommend and encourage guests to bring and wear masks for everyone’s safety,” but there is no specific mask requirement.) Guests will have to pass through temperature checks upon entry at Disney World parks and and properties, and will be turned away if they have a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher.

Never one to miss an opportunity to sell merchandise, Disney will of course be selling face masks featuring Baby Yoda, Mickey Mouse, assorted Disney princesses, R2-D2, Winnie the Pooh, the Hulk, Mike Wazowski from “Monsters Inc..” and other characters from the Disney universe. (Note: Everyone needs a mask to be granted entry to Disney World or any of its shops, so plan and pack accordingly.)

Based on the comments Disney has received on its blog, many people have a problem with the face mask requirement, either because wearing a mask will be too hot or uncomfortable, or they simply believe it’s unnecessary. Many commenters say they will cancel their trips to Disney World or refuse to go until they’re allowed to visit without a mask.

Of course, people have to eat, and you can’t eat while wearing a mask. Originally, Disney allowed people eat (unmasked) while walking throughout the parks. But apparently, some guests were using this policy as a loophole to avoid wearing masks. So Disney updated its mask policy, or rather its eating policy, and is now banning people from eating or drinking while walking in any park. Guests must now take a break and sit before removing their masks to eat or drink.

How to Buy Disney Tickets and Make Reservations

When Disney World reopens, all guests will have to book tickets in advance for entry. In other words, you won’t be allowed to buy admission at the gate.

For now, ticket and reservation sales are paused for people looking to buy new tickets. Disney says annual passholders and people with unused tickets have first dibs to make reservations to visit its theme parks, and as of early July the reservation system is open right now for these groups only. Same goes for hotel reservations; people with existing bookings will be given opportunity to rebook first.

After these groups have had time to make their reservations, Disney will open up reservations for tickets and hotels to the general public. The timelines for these procedures have not been announced. Disney says, “Later this summer, we will resume sales of 2020 tickets and Disney Resort hotel arrivals, based on availability of park reservations, while we continue to provide Guests with existing tickets and Annual Passholders the opportunity to make park reservations for 2020 dates.”

What Else Will Be Different at Disney World?

All facilities and attractions will have reduced capacity to try to avoid large congregations of people, and enhanced cleaning procedures will be in effect. It’s unclear how many guests will be allowed into the Magic Kingdom or other parks as they open. As a point of reference, when Shanghai Disneyland reopened in early May, it allowed only 20% of the park’s usual capacity.

Everything is subject to closure with limited or no notice at Walt Disney World in Florida. As one of Disney’s blanket statements explains, “Upon reopening, theme parks, Disney Resort Hotels, restaurants and other offerings may be modified, limited in capacity and subject to availability or closure.”

Dining reservations are not available — in fact, if you already have dining reservations, they’ve automatically been cancelled — and restaurants and special tours will accommodate fewer guests or possibly be closed altogether. Mobile ordering at quick-serve restaurants should be available in abundance when the parks reopen, so that guests can order ahead and pick up food on-the-go. Character meet-and-greets are not available, and attractions that draw big crowds, such as parades and fireworks shows, are suspended.

Multiple strategies will be in effect throughout the parks and resort to minimize the likelihood that crowds will congregate in close proximity. Some rides will have plastic dividers in place between seats as well.

Visiting multiple Disney parks on the same day will not be allowed — you’re limited to one park per day. Disney’s FastPass+ service, which helps you reserve ride times, and “Extra Magic Hours,” which offer extended hours in the parks for guests of select Disney hotels, are also suspended for the time being.

Cashless (and contactless) payments are being strongly encouraged throughout Disney World. In addition to paying via debit card, credit card, or gift card, Disney guests can use mobile wallet payments or “MagicBands,” which allow you to charge food and souvenirs to your Disney Resort hotel room.

In addition to the reopening of parks, hotels, and other facilities, the NBA is tentatively planning to restart its season with 22 teams on July 31, and all games played at Disney properties near Orlando, Florida.

Quarantine Rules for Florida Tourists

Before navigating the complications of booking a trip to Disney, you should ask yourself: Is it smart to be heading far from home right now? The CDC is still officially urging caution for anyone considering nonessential travel within the U.S. “Because travel increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick,” the CDC says.

Also, quarantine rules may still be in effect for certain states, and for people from certain states. An executive order from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis states that visitors to the state from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are supposed to isolate or quarantine themselves for 14 days before venturing out in public. So, technically, if you’re from one of these states you’d have to arrive in Florida and stay put for two weeks before you’d be allowed to start visiting theme parks or go out to eat at a restaurant.

Flights to Orlando

Even if you’re allowed to visit Florida and can safely hit Orlando’s theme parks, getting there in the near future may be complicated. Airlines began slashing flights as soon as the coronavirus caused travel restrictions and widespread closures of stores and tourism attractions. While international flights were most likely to be cancelled, domestic routes have been dramatically scaled back as well, especially for popular (and nonessential) tourist destinations.

Pre-coronavirus, Orlando International Airport offered nearly 1,000 flights within the U.S. per day, but now they’re down a few hundred. “Currently, passenger traffic is down approximately 97 percent and we only have several thousand departing passengers daily,” the airport’s website states.

If you are flying to Orlando — or basically anywhere else — this summer, take note that airports and airlines are different nowadays. Many airlines, including Southwest and JetBlue, launched new policies in May requiring passengers to wear face masks or other face coverings during the entire travel experience.

TSA checkpoints may be limited at airports, due to reduced passenger travel, yet at the same time the agency is trying to encourage social distancing in security lines. If you’re wondering, yes, you can now wear a face mask while going through airport security, though TSA agents can ask you to adjust or remove it if necessary. Also, while travelers are normally allowed to bring liquids in bottles 3.4 ounces or smaller, there’s an exemption at the moment for hand sanitizer — larger bottles, up to 12 ounces, are allowed in your carry-on bag.

Finally, you can expect many concessions and restaurants to be closed at Orlando’s airport and other gateways this summer. So it’s best to bring your own snacks and entertainment for the flight.

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