In May, Walt Disney World was among the first businesses to let visitors take off their masks while outdoors. Additionally, social distancing was reduced to 3 feet in some places, and the attendance cap increased.
The new rule reflects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines issued in May that masks aren’t required in most places for fully vaccinated Americans, although crowded venues are an exception. Disney isn’t asking visitors who opt not to wear masks outdoors to show proof of vaccinations.
In April, Disney World updated its face mask policy to allow guests to remove their masks for a few seconds while taking a photo, as long as it is outdoors, they were stationary and maintained a safe social distance from others. As the world continues to move forward amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Walt Disney World has quickly adapted.
The resort billed as “The Most Magical Place on Earth” has had the extra challenge of living up to high expectations to deliver a magical experience while keeping people safe during a pandemic.
In addition to face coverings and social distancing, there is mandatory temperature screening to make sure no guest’s body temperature is above 100.4 degrees at the entrance of all parks. That rule also applies at Disney Springs, a themed retail dining and entertainment center that is free to visit. Vending machines were placed nearby, selling temporary masks for $2. Disney also had an abundance of character-themed face masks for $6.
“We appreciate the support from our Guests and Cast Members while we make adjustments and adapt to the changing environment as guidance from public health authorities and government agencies evolves,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Experiencing Disney hospitality
Bus & Motorcoach News had an opportunity to visit the parks while in Orlando for the 2021 UMA Motorcoach EXPO to experience how Disney kept up its trademark hospitality while still following CDC rules. Like the United Motorcoach Association, Disney World is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
When Disney World first opened to guests in July 2020 after closing for the pandemic, the parks operated at a 25% limited capacity. They increased to 35% in November, Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek told the media. Capacity has increased again in recent weeks due to the CDC relaxing mask guidelines as more people were vaccinated.
Walking through the parks in late April, guests were constantly reminded of the COVID-19 safety rules with signs about masks and socially distancing. Cast Members politely reminded visitors when their masks slipped below their noses or lower.
The mask rules also applied to Walt Disney World Resorts, where guests were required to abide by the face mask policy, which stated that guests age 2 and older had to wear a proper face covering unless actively eating or drinking while stationary, or in the swimming pool area.
Guests praise innovations
Disney has been praised for innovations during the pandemic that many guests would like to see stick around.
Relaxation stations. Understanding that the face-covering rule might lead to discomfort in Orlando’s hot, humid weather, Disney introduced some new areas within the parks where guests could temporarily remove their face coverings. These spots, called Relaxation Stations, available in all four parks, provided a place where visitors could safely remove their masks, cool off, and drink some water.
A new reservation system. Disney Park Pass requires those who wish to visit a Walt Disney World theme park — The Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, EPCOT or Disney’s Animal Kingdom — to have both a valid ticket and a reservation for the park they wish to visit on that day. While this has resulted in many people being turned away from the park, those with reservations have a guaranteed spot so they don’t have to rush to get to the park by a certain time. Also, visitors have appreciated the limited capacity. The lines are shorter, and they don’t have to push through a crowd as they move through a park.
New character meet-and-greets. Disney began hosting small cavalcades and socially distanced character appearances after halting parades and character meet-and-greets in 2020 to help control crowds. The surprise processions, especially because they’re quicker than parades, have been praised for saving time so guests can squeeze in more activities. They have appreciated random character sightings, like spotting Winnie the Pooh catching butterflies in Epcot.
Mobile ordering. While mobile-ordering services were introduced prior to COVID-19, they became pretty standard during the pandemic. Guests — who can place orders for lunch in the morning by phone in lieu of standing in a physical line with others and as they make a decision — praise online ordering for the convenience. Mobile food ordering also sparked digital shopping options. Disney World has recently started offering mobile shopping in select stores. Parkgoers can download the My Disney Experience app, and then pay for their park merchandise via their phones. It’s still in the testing phase, so offerings are limited.
Enhanced cleaning efforts. While Disney World has always been known for being tidy, sightings of cleaning carts are frequent and so are Cast Members regularly wiping tables and other surfaces, such as rides. The extra attention to cleaning is seen everywhere, and many guests say they appreciate this extra effort.
No FastPass+. Usually, FastPass+ allows guests to reserve access to attractions, entertainment and Character Greetings in advance. Disney World halted its FastPass+ system when the theme parks reopened in 2020 because wait times for rides “have been cut dramatically.” While the lines seem longer due to social distancing, it actually has made getting onto rides more efficient.
Socially distanced lines. While the extra space between guests waiting for rides and shows has stretched out the lines, visitors have appreciated the additional personal space, especially on warm days.
Hand-sanitizer stations. Disney World installed hand-sanitizer stations in the early days of the pandemic next to high-touch points, such as restrooms, rides and restaurants. They are getting a lot of use, with many fans asking that they stay.
There are takeaways for others in the hospitality industry. A big one is that Disney World continued to be innovative during the pandemic, and some of those new ideas have been embraced by their guests, and will likely continue.