When Two Weeks Turned Into Two Years: How Disney World is Still Dealing With COVID-19

Ask anyone, and they’d probably agree that the last two years have been pretty wild, especially in the theme park industry.

Walt Disney World Mask Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed (and continues to change) a lot about how the theme parks operate, and we never could’ve expected the impact that it would still have today. So now, we’re taking a look back over the past two years to see what’s different and how our future may be permanently impacted.

COVID-19 First Came to the U.S. Two Years Ago

The first documented cases of COVID-19 appeared in the U.S. in January 2020. However, the impact wasn’t quite as large until a few months later. It didn’t really become rampant until March 2020, and that’s when many places around the country closed temporarily. Businesses all across the nation shut their doors, including Disney World, which announced a two-week closure of the theme parks and resorts, set to begin on March 16th, 2020.

©Disney | Update from March 2020

But It Wasn’t Really Two Weeks

However, as you already know, it wasn’t just a two-week closure. It was extended for two more weeks as government recommendations changed and case numbers grew. After about a month of the parks being closed, Disney started furloughing Cast Members.

Disney World Cast Members

Things finally began to reopen in May 2020, starting with Disney Springs. The shopping and dining complex had a phased reopening, and not all the vendors resumed operations right away. Some of the Disney World hotels reopened in mid-June, but the parks themselves didn’t start reopening until early July. It was a gradual process, and Disney was very meticulous about following the local government guidelines for reopening, even joining the reopen Florida task force.

Grand Floridian lobby during its June 2020 reopening

The Reopenings Changed Things for Disney World

But all those reopenings came with some major changes. When the parks, resorts, and Disney Springs first reopened, masks were required at all times and there were mandatory temperature checks at all the entrances. There were also social distancing markers on the ground and in all the lines and queues around the resort.

These signs were all over the place!

To keep things a little safer, capacity was severely limited at first, and Disney parks instituted a theme park reservation system to keep track of attendance. All heavily-touched surfaces were disinfected frequently, from handrails to ride vehicles, and you could find hand sanitizer and handwashing stations all over the parks and resorts.

Cast Member cleaning a Jungle Cruise boat

Over Time, More Changes Came

It took some time, but as case numbers started to decline, things changed yet again. We saw temperature checks disappear in spring 2021 and nowadays face coverings are only required at indoor locations. Social distancing markers were removed and the number of hand sanitizer dispensers dropped significantly.

Social distancing markers are all gone now!

Entertainment options, restaurants, hotels, and attractions have reopened slowly over the last two years, and now there’s only one resort left to reopen! We’re starting to get some of the “old Disney” back with things like stage shows, parades, and buffet dining. New reopening announcements are made on a seemingly monthly basis as things return to somewhat normal.

The buffet has reopened at Crystal Palace and other restaurants.

Disney World is STILL Dealing with the Pandemic

Even though you can stay in almost any hotel now or dine at most of the in-park restaurants, Disney World is still dealing with challenges. The parks haven’t yet returned to full capacity and supply chain issues are impacting merchandise and food availability. Each wave of new cases presents its own problems in the outside world, and Disney World isn’t immune to those effects.

Animal Kingdom

Some things remain closed right now. Not all the entertainment options are back yet. Character meet and greets are modified, without hugs or autographs, for the safety of guests and Cast Members alike. Not all the special events or add-ons have returned – things like Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue haven’t come back at this time.

Mickey Mouse Character Sighting at Town Square Theater

And on top of all that, Walt Disney World is still making up for the losses from those months that things were closed. They went an entire year without posting a profit, and it takes quite a bit of money to run the parks. Even though they can bring back more entertainment and reopen hotels and restaurants to draw guests in, reopening those things costs money.

Hollywood Studios

Two Weeks Turned Into Two Years…And It’s Not Stopping Yet

When we look back on all that has happened, we see that two weeks turned into two years. Who would’ve thought that we’d still be feeling the effects today? That this pandemic (that was originally thought to be short-lived) would alter the course of history for Walt Disney World Resort.

Face masks

And going forward, we’ll continue to see the impact. Many ongoing projects were halted and opening dates pushed back, and some projects were even canceled, likely due to budgeting issues. There are still a variety of health and safety precautions in place, and it will likely be months before things are closer to what they were pre-pandemic.

Tron construction in Magic Kingdom

It’s likely that things will never truly be “back to normal” in Disney World because in general, it’s a different place now. The pandemic has changed us as a people, and it has certainly changed Walt Disney World Resort. We’re interested to see what things are like when this is all over, but for now, we’ll stay away from making predictions. There’s no telling what’s coming next!


Stay tuned to AllEars for the latest Disney World news and all the updates on changes in the parks and resorts. We’ve got you covered!

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