6. There are still quite a few pandemic policies in place

Family at Disney restaurant with masked cast member serving
Image: Disney

Disney’s pandemic policies continue changing day by day. As of May 2021, they’ve ended temperature checks, some (but not all) social distancing measures, and ended required mask usage outside. That doesn’t mean these policies are gone, however.

Disney is rolling back pandemic procedures slowly. A few things that remain in place at the time of this writing are:

  • Masks are still required in all indoor areas (including restaurants when not actively eating)
  • The parks are still operating on limited capacity with reservations required to enter
  • Park hopping is still only allowed after 2 PM (for those who have that option on their ticket)
  • Extra cleaning measures are still in place at resorts
  • Some spaces are still social-distanced
  • Some shops may still limit capacity.
  • Nighttime entertainment hasn’t returned yet but may be back soon
  • Character meet and greets are still distanced
  • Buffets are still only serving family-style meals
  • Cultural representatives have not yet returned to World Showcase

In short, check up on Disney’s current procedures before your trip so you know what to expect when you arrive.

7. Your smartphone will play a very important role

Smartphone showing augmented reality version of Cinderella Castle
Image: Disney

A smartphone used to be just a convenience when visiting Walt Disney World—now it’s almost essential.

A large number of experiences at Walt Disney World are integrated with the park’s app, My Disney Experience. Along with providing a convenient hub to keep track of tickets and reservations, My Disney Experience also serves several important functions:

  • It’s the primary means of making dining reservations
  • It gives up to date wait times for rides and dining walk-up lists, along with detailed maps of the parks
  • It allows you to use Mobile Ordering to order food from counter-service locations (very important because some dining locations only allow mobile ordering right now)
  • It is only means to get access to the virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios . You cannot experience this ride without getting a spot in the virtual queue at either 7AM or 1PM the day of your visit (Disney’s Hollywood Studios must be your primary park).
  • It allows you to use your phone in place of a MagicBand or ticket card
  • It can act as a room key for Disney resort rooms
  • It gives easy access to Photopass photos from throughout the parks

Basically, My Disney Experience has become pretty essential for a Disney parks visit. For guests who enjoy gaming, it also has a companion app called Play Disney Parks that allows guests to access special digital experiences inside the parks (particularly in areas like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge).

We covered this in our piece on things you’ll want to do before your next Disney vacation, but setting up My Disney Experience before your trip is a must. Make sure you have all members of your party linked to your account (so you can add them to reservations and virtual queues), as well as have mobile ordering set up ahead of time so you aren’t stuck doing it in the parks.

8. Dining is part of the magic

Steamed Asian Dumplings from Le Cellier Steakhouse at Epcot
Image: Disney

American theme parks aren’t exactly places known for culinary finesse. When we think of theme park food, we might picture greasy fast food staples like burgers, corn dogs, and oversized turkey legs.

You can certainly get all of those things at Walt Disney World, but I encourage you not to limit yourself to hot dogs and churros when visiting the Most Magical Place on Earth… because the food is part of the magic.

Walt Disney World has some truly incredible dining experiences throughout its parks. There is literally something for everyone, and one of the joys of visiting Disney is getting to eat things you’d never get to enjoy anywhere else. Here’s a few highlights from each park:

  • Magic Kingdom
    • Sumptuous French fare in a dazzling setting at Be Our Guest Restaurant
    • A dazzling fairytale feast with Disney princesses inside Cinderella Castle at Cinderella’s Royal Table
    • Flavorful Asian, African, Caribbean, and South American cuisine with a side of cheeky humor at Jungle Navigation Co. Skipper Canteen
    • Famously delicious Dole Whip Floats and Citrus Swirls at Adventureland
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios
    • The Brown Derby, inspired by the Hollywood steakhouse of the same name
    • Docking Bay 7, a Star Wars-themed eatery where guests can experience exotic flavors from a galaxy far, far away
    • Oga’s Cantina – A real life Star Wars cantina!
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom
    • Tiffins, a world-class signature dining restaurant featuring international cuisine inspired by the adventures of Disney Imagineers
    • Satu’li Canteen, an immersive science fiction themed eatery in the World of Pandora (from the Avatar films)
    • Tusker House – An eat-as-much-as-you-like family dining experience (usually a buffet) where guests can enjoy a wide range of African delights while spending time with Disney’s most popular characters
  • Epcot
    • International cuisine throughout World Showcase including Japanese, Chinese, Norwegian, German, Italian, British, Moroccan, and Canadian fare, along with a new addition: American smokehouse BBQ!
    • An ever-changing menu of culinary delights you can sample throughout the park during Epcot’s seasonal festivals
    • The Coral Reef, a seafood restaurant inside the park’s incredible The Seas aquarium

9. It might be worth staying at one of Disney’s resorts

Beach Club resort at night
Image: Disney

Walt Disney World includes over 30 resort hotels, all of which are open for guests to visit and explore even if you’re not staying there. Disney’s resorts are all massive and beautifully themed. Many include world class restaurants (like Jiko at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge or AAA Five Diamond Winner Victoria & Alberts at Disney’s Grand Floridian), stunning pool areas (we recommend the Yacht and Beach Club’s Stormalong Bay), and onsite recreation.

Staying at Disney’s resorts comes with some very nice benefits. For one thing, close proximity to the parks is a huge help—instead of slogging through a 14 hour day without a break or losing time driving to and from a resort outside of Walt Disney World, if you’re staying on property, you can easily take a break around lunchtime when lines are longest then come back to the parks after a nap (especially at the Epcot resorts which are within walking distance of two parks).

You also gain easy access to Disney transportation including busses, monorails, friendship boats, and the Disney Skyliner. While all guests can use Disney transportation, staying at a Disney resort hotel offers you easy access throughout the day. Disney resort busses are also the only means to be dropped off right in front of the Magic Kingdom (instead of having to make a lengthy stop at the Transportation and Ticket Center, the park’s off-site parking and transportation hub).

Want the benefits of a Disney resort with a lower price tag? Your first option is to stay at the Walt Disney World Swan or Dolphin, owned by Marriott. These two luxurious hotels aren’t technically Disney resorts but are positioned smack in between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Staying there is one of the best ways to enjoy a deluxe resort experience at moderate prices. Both hotels are gorgeous and offer some of the same benefits as Disney resorts (the only difference is Disney busses don’t do pick ups at these resorts anymore, so guests going to Magic Kingdom still have to pass through the Transportation and Ticket Center).

Alternatively, you could rent a Disney Vacation Club room through sites like The DVC Rental Store, David’s DVC Rentals, or DVC-Rental.com . Disney Vacation Club members get access to beautiful “Villa” style rooms throughout Walt Disney World that come complete with extra sleeping spaces, luxuriant bathrooms, and kitchens of varying size (a great way to save money on your trip!). Some guests have reported saving almost 50% on rates by renting from DVC members.

10. You may not need a rental car

Disney Skyliner above water
Image: Disney

A car is a convenient tool to have at Walt Disney World, but you may not need it as much as you think—in fact, if you’re staying at a Disney resort, you may save money by skipping the rental car entirely.

The reason why is Walt Disney World offers a wide range of transportation options to guests including busses, monorails, boats, walking paths, and the Disney Skyliner. While Disney transportation options are still limited (like no Epcot monorail right now), it’s looking likely Disney may start amping up transpo access soon, keeping Disney’s transportation network as a convenient option.

Most guests are charged for parking at Disney parks (and sometimes resorts too, particularly the Swan and Dolphin), and while parking is fairly convenient at Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, parking at Disney’s Magic Kingdom can be a bit of a pain since the parking lot is at the Transportation and Ticket Center (which can often burn half-an-hour before you get to the park).

If you want the convenience of a rental car during your trip, consider using Uber, Lift, or Disney’s Minnie Van service (which might be making a comeback soon). Rideshare services are a convenient way to get around the Most Magical Place on Earth easily if Disney’s transportation is running slow, as well as a great way to travel off-site if you want to pick up some groceries or other items.

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