After closures amid the coronavirus pandemic, Walt Disney World, like other Orlando theme parks, is reopening to the public this summer. Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom will reopen July 11. EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will reopen July 15.
But the Most Magical Place on Earth will look a little different as the parks follow local government and CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. And many of these changes will affect dining at the mouse house, both inside and outside the parks at resort hotels. If you’re planning a trip this summer, here’s everything you need to know about the most important activity at Disney World: eating all the things.
New Park Policies
In addition to security checks, guests visiting the parks will have a temperature screening at main entrances via a contactless thermometer. Masks will be required for anyone older than two years old and must be worn in all public areas including entering and exiting a restaurant. Disney also plans to limit attendance and control guest density by temporarily suspending entertainment where crowds gather. Translation: No parades, no fireworks, no dinner shows, and no character meet and greets.
However, Disney promises that “characters will still be in our parks to entertain and delight our guests.” Most character dining experiences, from breakfast buffets to the Alice in Wonderland-themed tea party, have been temporarily suspended with the exception of Disney’s Riviera Resort where one modified character dining experience will be offered at Topolino's Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera. But don’t expect Mickey to come up to the table and give you a hug right now.
Currently, character dining is resuming at both Hong Kong and Shanghai Disneyland, but the characters make more of an appearance (at a distance) rather than personal, table-by-table interactions.
Reservations + Dining Plans
To ensure limited capacity, last week Disney World voided all existing dining reservations through September 2021, but also stated that select third-party owned and operated restaurant reservations may not be cancelled. This could be for reservations at restaurants that are on property, but not actually owned by Disney such as the steakhouse at the Four Seasons Orlando or restaurants at Disney Springs, Disney World’s outdoor shopping center.
Dining reservations inside the parks will only be available after first booking a “park pass” in Disney’s new reservation system. This is in addition to valid park admission. And the previous reservation window of 180 days has been reduced to 60 days out from your trip. On June 30, Disney reopened dining reservations, but only to guests who had an active reservation between May 28 and September 2, 2020 that was canceled due to the park closures. According to Disney’s new dining web page, “New reservations will be available to all guests at a later date.” Another massive cancellation and temporary suspension is the Disney Dining Plan. The plan has been wiped from all existing resort reservations and ticket packages through the end of September 2021.
As for eats that don’t require a reservation, Disney could be expanding the number of quick-service restaurants with mobile order and pick-up functionality as they plan to “further enable mobile orders at food and beverage locations.” And just like store and attraction lines, kiosks and snack carts will have markers to ensure social distancing as well as a squad of cast members roaming the parks to ensure social distancing.
Food Tours + Extra Experiences
The EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival is officially happening and it’s happening sooner than you think. As in, on re-opening day. Disney is rolling out a “modified festival experience” for its marquee fall event called “A Taste of EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival.” Still running through fall, it will be Disney World’s longest festival ever and will feature more than 20 global marketplaces “spaced out around the park.”
But that's not the norm. Other park experiences have been canceled such as dessert parties for fireworks shows. Behind-the-scenes experiences such as food tours could be cancelled or feature reduced capacity, too. After-hours perks for resort hotel guests such as Extra Magic Hours in the parks have also been suspended. And bad news for Halloween fans: Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is canceled. If you already purchased a ticket for the trick-or-treating event, you will receive a refund. No word yet on the holidays and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays.
Disney Springs has already begun a phased reopening with both Disney-owned and non-Disney restaurants. The experiences here, such as distanced tables inside restaurants and additional hand sanitizer stations, might indicate larger plans for park restaurants.
Wondering what happens when it’s time to eat or drink with a mask on? Molly McCormack, a full-time Disney foodie for All Ears said some restaurants are providing mask storage at the table. “At Terralina and Paddlefish, they provided small paper mask bags when you sat down, as a clean place to store your mask,” she said.
Disney Food Blog’s AJ Wolfe said that her team is seeing some QR codes for digital menus in an effort to reduce high-touch items in restaurants. And while cash will still be accepted, Disney is encouraging cashless transactions such as credit cards, Disney gift cards, app-based wallets or Disney’s MagicBands that can store credit card information.