8 Major Differences From When Disney World First Reopened

Disney World is constantly changing, especially as it tries to navigate being open during a global pandemic.

Cinderella Castle

Since the initial reopening of Disney World things have changed a LOT, and today we’re gonna look at the major differences between then and now! So let’s get to it!

Park Hopping is Back

One of the absolute biggest changes at Disney World since reopening (and since the New Year), is that park hopping is back! Now guests with a valid park hopping ticket have the option to go to 2, 3, or 4 parks in one day.


Even though it has returned, there have been quite a few changes. For starters, guests cannot hop to another park until “Park Hopping Hours.” These hours start at 2PM and go until each park closes. Also, buses between parks do not start running until around this time.

Molly in Magic Kingdom

Another change is that you are not guaranteed to be able to park hop. There must be open availability at the park you wish to hop to in order to enter. Guests can either ask a Cast Member or call  407-560-5000 to check park availability.

Park Hopping Sign

Guests must also enter the park that their Park Pass Reservation is for before they can park hop to another theme park. On January 1st when park hopping began, it was unclear how many parks we would be able to hop to. Luckily, we were actually able to get into all four parks!

We’re Answering Your Biggest Questions About Park Hopping in Disney World

Additional Plexiglass

Only a few attractions had plexiglass when Disney World opened, and nowadays there is plexiglass almost everywhere you look.

Plexiglass Barriers

It has been added to all sorts of attractions like Rise of the Resistance, Living With the Land, Frozen Ever After, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and more. Plexiglass isn’t a huge deal-breaker for some rides, but for others it almost ruins the experience.

New Plexiglass Barriers on Tower of Terror

This addition causes wait times to go down, but on water rides like Frozen Ever After, the plexiglass can become hard to see through. For rides like that, it almost makes the shorter waits not worth it.

Rise of the Resistance Plexiglass

While there are good and bad things about plexiglass, it will likely remain in place for some time.

Did This Addition Ruin Disney’s Most Popular Ride?

Rise of the Resistance Boarding Groups

In order to ride Rise of the Resistance, guests must score a boarding group. Since reopening, the times and process for getting a group are very different!

Rise of the Resistance

Right now there are two distribution times to try and grab a boarding group: 7AM and 1PM. For the 7AM group, guests can try from anywhere as long as they have a Park Pass Reservation. For the 1PM group, however, guests must be in the park.

Rise of the Resistance

Previously, guests had to be inside of Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the first time to get a pass. This new process helps with crowds in the park in the morning.

Everything You Need to Know to Get a Boarding Group for Rise of the Resistance in Disney World

Face Mask Rules

Face masks are part of health and safety regulations at many places, including Disney World. However, Disney has gotten stricter over time about their face mask guidelines.

Festival of the Arts Mask

There have been several announcements, signs, and rules added to the parks since the original opening.

Face Masks

Some rules that are now in place include no eating/drinking while in line and no eating and drinking while walking. There are also strict guidelines about what counts as a face covering.

The Best Face Mask Tips For Your Walt Disney World Trip


When Disney World first opened, crowds were nonexistent. That has changed a lot since then!

Magic Kingdom on its reopening day

During the holidays, we saw a lot more people, and wait times were pretty high overall. Plus, Disney announced that they had increased capacity from 25% to 35%.

Disney Springs Christmas Weekend Crowds

Now that the holidays have passed, the crowds are fairly low again, but not nearly as low as the first month of Disney World’s reopening.

Here’s What the Crowds Were Like on New Year’s Day in Disney World

More (Distanced) Character Interactions

Character interactions have changed since reopening! The parks opened with a few characters out and about, but there have been lots of new and creative additions.

Buzz Lightyear

The new normal is a distanced meet-and-greet which allows guests to interact and talk to some of their favorite characters. We’ve seen Alice, Mary Poppins, Anna and Elsa, Joy, Winnie the Pooh, the Country Bears, Buzz Lightyear, Stitch,  and SO many more around the parks!

Mickey and Pluto at the Stalled Dining Area

Also, some characters have returned to character dining locations! Chef Mickey’s originally opened without Mickey and Friends, but in December they came back! The experience is modified, however, because the characters do not go to each table individually. Instead, they do a parade through the restaurant for everyone to enjoy.

Chef Mickey’s

It may not be the same experience that we’re used to, but each character we’ve seen has added more magic to each visit. Even though they are distanced, they will still interact and pose for pictures with you!

Here’s Every Single Character You Can See in Disney World Right Now

Some Entertainment Has Returned

Disney World reopened with almost no entertainment and several entertainment Cast Members were laid off. The biggest option was the character cavalcades in each park, but that was about it.

Character Cavalcades!

There have been a couple of changes since then. The one stage show that is back in action is the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration. EPCOT has also brought back some live performances from the Voices of Liberty, Mariachi Cobre, and JAMMitors.

Frozen Sing Along Celebration

Disney recently announced that the beloved Festival of the Lion King show will be returning to Disney’s Animal Kingdom sometime this summer!

Check out the entertainment for EPCOT’s Festival of the Arts

Free Water Only at Select Locations

One of our biggest pro tips is to never pay for water in Disney World. In the past, just about every quick service restaurant in Disney World offered cups of ice water. Well, this has also changed since reopening.

Free Water at Magic Kingdom

We tried to grab a cup of water from a Mobile Order location in Magic Kingdom back in October, and were sent to a less-busy location. This is when we found out that several of the busier counter-service locations in the park were not offering free water anymore.

Free Cup of Water

There are still quite a few places to grab free water including:

There’s Been an Update to the Free Water Policy at Magic Kingdom

Whew! A lot of things are way different than they were when Disney World reopened last summer. It’s clear that Disney World is always changing, and we’ll be here to keep you updated on each update, so stay tuned!

All of the Ways You Can Save on Your 2021 Disney World Trip

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Which change in Disney World were you most surprised by? Let us know in the comments!

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