Walt Disney World attractions still impacted by pandemic

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After two years of battling a pandemic, Florida theme parks have mostly returned to normal operations. But there are still pockets of entertainment that are closed or restricted due to COVID-19.

A month ago, Walt Disney World lifted the majority of its indoor mask requirements for vaccinated guests at its resorts and theme parks. But you still need to wear one on most transportation, such as the monorail and buses. Disney’s Minnie Van Service, connected by ride-sharing service Lyft, is still not available.

It’s one of dozens of exceptions Disney World is maintaining in its phased approach to reopening that has affected character interactions, transportation and nighttime shows at its theme parks.

Here’s a current look at how things work, if you’re planning a trip to the park soon.

You still can’t walk to the door of a Disney theme park and gain admission, even if you have an annual pass. You must reserve a spot on the day of your visit through the Disney Park Pass reservation system. Disney advises that you check availability for theme park reservations online before purchasing tickets.

Jumping in the parks is back, but that too has its limits. If you have a Park Hopper pass, you must wait until 2 p.m. to visit a second park. But you don’t need reservation for the second park.

Young guests enjoy seeing Winnie the Pooh and Tigger at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Park visitors are still kept at a distance when meeting and greeting characters, but the theme park has relaxed face mask requirements. [ JOE BURBANK | Orlando Sentinel ]

Before the pandemic, several dozen Disney characters were available for regular dating sessions at theme parks. You could hug them, chat, get their autographs, and pose for pictures. It didn’t come back.

There are still figures in the parks, but they appear on a balcony and greet guests. At Epcot, the Frozen princesses stand behind fence and wave. You’re free to take a selfie with the characters in the background from a distance, but you won’t be able to huddle next to them.

Several Disney World restaurants at hotels and theme parks are once again allowing character dining. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse perform in a parade past Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom theme park.  The parks slowly brought back a few parades.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse perform in a parade past Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom theme park. The parks slowly brought back a few parades. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

One of the biggest changes has been the absence of parades. Only recently, on March 9, did the Festival of Fantasy Parade return, daily at noon and 3 p.m. with the evil fire-breathing dragon at the Magic Kingdom. The park will still retain its many “cavalcades” of characters that served as ephemeral mini parades.

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Some, but not all, nighttime shows are back. The new Magic Kingdom show called Disney Enchantment airs nightly, as does Harmonious at Epcot. But Fantasmic and Star Wars: Galactic Spectacular, both at Hollywood Studios, and the Once Upon a Time at Magic Kingdom castle projection show remain unavailable.

All Star Sports Resort will reopen on March 31. It is the only Walt Disney World hotel that is still closed. Many Disney Resort hotel pools are operating with reduced capacity and mobile waitlists can be used, giving guests the option to receive an alert and return when space becomes available.

The Harmonious Nighttime Show at Epcot at Walt Disney World is one of two returning fireworks displays.  Others at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are still not available.
The Harmonious Nighttime Show at Epcot at Walt Disney World is one of two returning fireworks displays. Others at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are still not available. [ KENT PHILLIPS | Disney ]

Convenience services like spas and haircuts remain limited.

The Bibbidi Bobbidi Shop, where customers get makeovers at Cinderella’s Castle, is still closed, as are the Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom and Character Couture dressups for adults. Select individual experiences like Hula Lessons, Mermaid School, and Wonderland Tea Party at Park Fare Restaurant at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort are also still unavailable.

Veteran Disney watchers expect some of those restrictions to be lifted this spring, though a drop in available workers could play a role in Disney World returning to its full slate of offerings. Meanwhile, the Mouse House says to stay tuned.

“As we have done since reopening, we have been very intentional and progressive in our approach to our COVID-19 health and safety protocols,” a company statement read. “Based on recent trends and regulatory guidelines, Walt Disney World Resort will make adjustments to these measures, which may continue to change at any time without notice.”

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