Disney World is now open. Here's how to get a reservation and what you can expect

Masks, plexiglass, ground markings and surprise character cavalcades are some of the new things at Disney World during COVID-19.

Corinne Reichert Senior Writer
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
5 min read
Disney World reopening guests face masks

Disney World is asking guests and cast members to wear a mask.


Walt Disney World has reopened this weekend in Orlando, Florida. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom opened Saturday, and will be followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15. Unlike its West Coast counterpart Disneyland, which was forced to delay its opening from the planned July 17 date, Disney World is reopening right on cue. It comes almost four months after Disney World closed its gates March 15 due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Disney says it's drawing on the experience it gained in reopening Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, as well as Disney World's shopping and dining district Disney Springs. It's put in place policies using the guidance of health experts, government agencies, industry groups and research universities.

"Aspects of a Disney theme park day have been reexamined in light of the new global environment," Disney says.

Everything in the parks and resorts is affected, from lining up for rides to dining, retail, monorails and even scanning your ticket for entry. These are the COVID-19 requirements you can expect if you're planning to attend the parks.

Disney World reopening attraction boarding

Families will be physically distanced on rides.


Entry to the parks

Capacity is being strictly limited in Disney World, requiring you to reserve your place online using the new Disney Park Pass system. Here's all the steps you need to attend.

  1. First, you'll need a ticket or an annual pass (Disney World resumed selling 2020 tickets and hotel reservations on July 9)
  2. Log into your My Disney Experience account on Disneyworld.com 
  3. Link your family's tickets to the same account to make sure your reservations are all together
  4. The site will then give you access to a calendar showing available reservation dates for each park
  5. Repeat the process if you have a multi-day ticket -- you'll need a reservation for every day of your ticket -- or for annual passholders staying at a Disney World resort.

Health and safety in the parks

Once you're inside one of the parks, there are new health and safety protocols required during COVID-19. 

"Our deliberate and phased approach at Walt Disney World Resort emphasizes multiple layers of health and safety measures," said Dr. Pamela Hymel, Disney Parks chief medical officer.

  • Face masks: Must be worn by all guests age 2 and up, and all cast members, apart from some performers. You can take your mask off while eating or drinking and in certain rest areas where you can take a break from wearing it. Otherwise, it must be worn over the nose and mouth -- including while on rides.
  • Social distancing: Ground markings will help guests to maintain physical distancing in retail stores and attraction queues, and physical barriers like plexiglass have been placed along lines that snake around as well as on larger attraction vehicles like the boats on The Jungle Cruise. Caps will also be placed on how many guests are allowed in stores, dining locations and rest areas.
  • Temperature screenings: All guests must undergo this before entering a park. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher will be taken to another location for re-screening. If they clock the same temperature again, they won't be permitted entry -- and neither will anyone in their party.
  • Security: To avoid physical contact at security checkpoints, guests will carry their personal items and bags with them through a metal detector instead of the traditional bag search. Some locations will require things like metal objects and aerosol cans to be placed in a bin before walking through the detector.
  • Transportation to the parks: Disney World relies on a range of different transport options, including the monorail, boats, Skyliner, buses and parking lot trams. Guests will need to wear masks at all times while on Disney World transportation. Monorails and buses will have physical distancing including barriers to separate parties. The Skyliner will only load one party per gondola once it starts up again on July 15. The parking lot trams are currently not running.
  • Entering the parks: Guests will scan their ticket, phone or MagicBand for entry. Biometrics like the fingerprint sensor are disabled for now.
  • Cashless purchasing: Guests are being asked to use cashless forms of payment when dining and shopping. This includes credit cards, mobile payment and MagicBands.
  • Cleaning: High-traffic areas in the parks will be cleaned more frequently, and hand sanitizer stations will be available throughout the theme parks for guests and cast members to use. Ride vehicles will be wiped down frequently.
  • Incredi-Crew: A new category of cast members will be wearing brightly colored clothing. They're available to help with any questions about new procedures.
Disney World reopening ground markings social distancing 2

Ground markings are placed at retail stores and attraction queues.


What's missing? What's still the same?

  • Rides: Disney says "most attractions" will be open, including the new Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway roller coaster at Hollywood Studios.
  • Parades: The traditional Disney World parades are canceled for now, due to the risk of attracting a large crowd. Instead, the parks are doing cavalcades designed to "surprise and delight" guests. A few characters will pop up on a single float unannounced.
  • Characters: You'll still be able to see Mickey and the Disney Princesses, but they'll be atop a cavalcade or boat, or in other physically distanced areas like platforms above walkways. No hugs or autographs for now.
  • Fireworks: Canceled for now.
  • Entertainment: Main Street Philharmonic at Magic Kingdom; Mariachi Cobre and the JAMMitors at Epcot; and Discovery Island Drummers at Animal Kingdom are returning.
  • Epcot festivals: Epcot is blending its International Food and Wine Festival with its Flower and Garden Festival this year. 
Disney World reopening guests face masks Mickey cavalcade

Surprise cavalcades multiple times a day will replace parades.


How will dining at Disney work?

Disney World's restaurants are also getting a COVID-19 overhaul. You'll need the My Disney Experience app -- through that, you can reserve dining, check in, browse menus and mobile order food. Guests can also scan a QR code to access a digital menu or even check in to a table-service restaurant. 

When you mobile order food now, instead of walking up to the service counter to let them know your order, you can tap "I'm here" in the app and head to the pick-up area after that. 

Tables will also be physically distanced and cleaned more frequently. Self-service options -- like buffets or self-serve coffee stations -- won't be available for now.

It looks like character dining will still be available, but with reduced contact.

Disney World reopening character dining Topolinos Terrace

Character dining will still be available, but at a distance.


The American Disney theme parks are among the last to reopen: Disneyland Shanghai opened May 11, followed by Hong Kong Disneyland on June 18 and Tokyo Disney on July 1, with plans to open Disneyland Paris on July 15 in line with Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

Disneyland delayed its reopening due to California's lack of guidance on health and safety measures for theme parks as well as its inability to reach an agreement as of yet with the unions representing its cast members.

The Downtown Disney shopping and dining area reopened on July 9 in line with California's restaurant and retail opening guidelines, however.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, has rapidly spread across the globe. There are now over 12 million confirmed cases globally. In the US, there have been 3 million cases confirmed and over 132,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. A vaccine may not arrive until 2021.