What the NEW “Normal” Looks Like in Disney World

Disney World vacations were flipped upside down when the COVID-19 pandemic began — and, we’re not just talking about the fact that the parks closures meant that many people had to cancel their trips!

Disney World

For many months (and even years) to come, guests had to adapt to wearing face masks, completing temperature checks, researching what dining locations were and were not open, and more. And, things aren’t really even back to being completely “normal” just yet. But, what about the things that won’t come back in the way that we used to know (and, in some cases, love)…ever? Well, it’s time to adapt to those as being the new “normal” — here’s what we’re talking about!

You can’t just go to any park you want

Whether you were someone who planned your Disney World vacation minute-by-minute or you preferred to just wing it, you probably enjoyed the freedom of being able to go to any Disney Park you wanted any day at any time before the COVID-19 pandemic. But, those days are likely gone for good.

EPCOt Park Entrance

At the onset of the pandemic, Disney introduced the Park Pass Reservation system to manage capacity limits. And, with park capacity not back to 100% just yet according to Disney execs, it’s no surprise that this reservation system hasn’t disappeared. But, it’s looking like they will stick around even once the parks are back to 100%.

Park Pass Reservation sign

Recently, Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock stated “People ask me if reservations are going to go away. I don’t think so. Reservations create a really important opportunity for us to be able to manage the demand more effectively than we ever could.”

And, this sentiment has been reinforced by Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek who commented on the park pass reservation system during the company’s Q1 Earnings Call saying, “Our ability to increase our guest experience through our reservation system…has been something that we really like.”

Animal Kingdom park entrance

Based on these comments, it’s reasonable to expect that the requirement to have a Park Pass Reservations for the park that you plan to visit during the day (or the first park if you’ll be park hopping) won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

It’ll cost you to skip attraction lines

If you’ve been to Disney World in the past 20 years, you’re probably used to being able to skip the line for at least a few attractions in the park. And, while that used to be a complementary part of your vacation, Disney announced last year that FastPass+ would be discontinued and replaced with two new systems for skipping the line at popular attractions. The big catch? You have to pay for it now.

Disney Genie+ is now in Disney World!

Disney Genie+ is the first new system and it allows guests to bypass the standby line at 40+ attractions in Disney World for the cost of $15 per person, per day. Individual Attraction Selections on the other hand are separate from Genie+ and assign a varying (and often pricier) cost to the most popular rides in each park (or “Fancy Rides” as we call them around here). Prices for these can range from $7 to $15 per person, per ride.

Indiana Jones Lightning Lane

So, if you’re hoping to save some time waiting in line during your park day, you’ll have to shell out anywhere between $7-$15 on top of your ticket at the very least.

You’ll need your phone

COVID-19 brought a lot of changes to Disney World and some of the biggest ones came in an effort to reduce close contact between guests and Cast Members throughout the park. Due to this, we saw things like Mobile Order at Quick Service restaurants, Mobile Check-In at resorts, and even Mobile Check Out at shops become one of (if not the only) ways to do Disney.

Mobile Ordering is all over the place at Disney World these days!

And, while many safety measures have been reduced or completely eliminated in Disney World, these have not gone away. In fact, it almost feels foreign to order your food at a counter now! And, with so much reliance on these new mobile systems, you’ll be missing out on some big time-saving Disney hacks if you choose not to bring a smartphone.

Your vacation starts AT Disney World, not at the airport

For a little over 15 years, Disney’s Magical Express shuttled guests to and from the Orlando International Airport — but, not anymore. The service was discontinued at the beginning of 2022 meaning that you’ll be left to find your own transportation to Disney World when you arrive.

Disney’s Magical Express is officially retired

And, while there are two new shuttle services offering the same transportation benefits, they’re missing one big thing — Disney!

Mears Connect Bus

Your vacation started the second you made it down to the Magical Express busses before and you were treated to Mickey Mouse cartoons and an introduction to your Disney World vacation before. But, now all that Disney-theming is gone and you’ll really only feel like you’ve made it to Disney World when you’re actually in Disney World.

You DON’T need a MagicBand

Back in 2013, Disney introduced a brand new accessory to your trip — the MagicBand. These bands have been the must-have park item since then housing your park tickets, room key, payment method, FastPasses, and more ever since. But, they’re becoming less and less necessary!

MagicBand Scanner

In 2021, Disney stopped offering free MagicBands to resort hotel guests and annual passholders and introduced a new way to get into the parks called MagicMobile. This new feature is located in the My Disney Experience app and essentially turns your phone into a MagicBand! But, even if you aren’t opting to use the new MagicMobile service or purchase a MagicBand (which have gotten more and more expensive), you can still get a Key To The World Card (which was widely used before MagicBands).

(Almost) everything costs more

We’ve already covered two things that will make your Disney World trip cost more than ever before (getting between the airport and Disney and MagicBands), but those aren’t the only things that have gotten a bit of a price bump.

The prices may be even higher due to tax

Popular souvenirs like face masks, spirit jerseys, Wishables, Disney nuiMOs, and more have increased in price over the past year, and at the beginning of 2022, we saw the cost of HUNDREDS of snacks go up. So, you’ll now have to rearrange your vacation budget to plan for these and anticipate others that may be coming soon.

The only thing that stays the same is change

Well, we’ve covered a lot of permanent changes in Disney World that are creating the “new normal,” but there’s still A LOT more change to come it seems.

The Festival of Fantasy Parade JUST came back!

Between restaurants and hotels reopening, entertainment updates, menu changes, modified character meet and greets (both in the parks and at restaurants), changes to advance dining reservation windows, and more, it can seem like there is something new happening in Disney World almost every day. And, that’s true! Even 2 years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic Disney is still adapting and it will only continue!

Mickey Mouse Character Sighting at Town Square Theater

So, it seems that the saying “the only thing that stays the same is change” rings true in Disney World and you never know exactly what will (and won’t) be available during your trip until you arrive.

Well, that’s it for what the “new normal” looks like in Disney World nowadays — and it could all change again tomorrow! But, we’re keeping track of ALL the changes to bring you the latest updates that you need to know, so be sure to stay tuned to AllEars for the latest!

Learn more about how your Disney World vacation will STILL be different HERE!

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What are you still hoping returns to “normal” in Disney World? Let us know in the comments!

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7 Replies to “What the NEW “Normal” Looks Like in Disney World”

  1. Not feeling it. We are going in June. Staying in a Marriott resort off property for the first time. We saw no benefit of staying on property any longer. We hope the kid can hug Mickey and the real character dining comes back.

  2. Problem is Iger and Chapek never really go to a park to enjoy the park. Only if there’s a celebrity to get a photo with. The only experience they care about is that of the board of directors and voting shareholders.
    I’ve said it before: Disney used to be the standard by which all other parks would strive to reach. Now, sadly, they’re just another place on the map selling widgets to people. It doesn’t matter to them what the widgets are, just so long as they pull in money.

  3. I read All Ears every day. So I see what is happening at Disney and how people feel about it. But there is nothing like hearing directly from people who have been to WDW recently. Particularly people you know and trust. I have friends who are there as I write this. And not one, not a single person, has had anything good to say about their experience. And to a one they have all gone to customer service for some sort of redress to their concern. One friend actually demanded her money back for the park tickets and was given a refund. The other got some lightning lane passes. The friends that are there now…..for them it was the first visit. And the children are having more fun at the resort pool than going to the parks. I just wish Disney responded to the problems. Apologized, at a minimum. They took a lot more of people’s money and gave them a worse experience. An absolutely terrible business model. Pay more for less. I know these people will not be going back. Scratch two more off the guest list, Disney.

  4. A big change that is a shame for a lot of kids I think is the “Modified” character Meet And Greets. I remember the biggest smile on my 5 year-old getting to hug Mickey, Daisey, Tinkerbell, and Ariel pre-COVID. Now guests have to settle with waving at the characters from a distance and the characters standing in the background of pictures? Sanitize the guests hands and lightly spray the characters every 10 minutes and everything should be fine.

  5. Gosh, that really was a depressing article. Once upon a time, when you read about new things at WDW, it was exciting and made you want to start planning your next trip. It’s sad that there were no new things there that mentioned a better guest experience. It was all about benefitting the corporate level and how THEY like these new ways of doing things. It seems so weird to me that the days of Disney constantly coming up with things to make your trip better and better with each visit are long in the past. Remember when they came out with Fastpass? We thought we were the bomb! Above and beyond other theme parks! Paying for what we had before, and having to go around your butt to get to your elbow to even make it happen? Yep, that’s where we are now. I wish we could go back in time. I sure miss those days.

  6. Disney needs to go back to the old fast passes and quit charging you up to 3 fees for 1 Ride . Also the extra 2hrs at night are a slap in the face for people who can’t come if they must stay at a deluxe to get to stay after close.It is like a cast system telling their customers they only matter if they can pay top dollar for everything at disney.Just might as well send them to Universal!

  7. I actually feel sorry for Disney guests who visit now. All the changes, having to rely on technology, the experience in general. I for one am not planning to return to Disney any time soon. If the higher ups think I want to spend my entire vacation on my phone, they are nuts. Technology is something to escape from. If you’re glued to a device all day, you’ve spent thousands of dollars for nothing. You will miss so much. It’s supposed to be magical, but it seems the magic is dwindling. We as a family made the decision when they reopened, all the changes put in place, it was not a place we wanted to visit any longer. Seems like we’ve made the right decision for us, and we look forward to spending our hard earned money on vacations that will not make us stay glued to a phone for a week. Also, regarding the reservation system. This is not for the guests benefit. This is purely to help management decide which employees they will not need for a given day based on the amount of reservations. They are not trying to make the guest experience any better, but are using it as a way to cut more costs which is actually hurting the cast members, and jilting the Disney guest of more interaction with the cast members. Truthfully, they should be ashamed of their decisions. Unfortunately, they are not. Oh well, 20 years of vacationing at Disney are now done, but at least we have the memories which were fun filled, and not because we had our nose and eyes glued to some stupid phone all day.