From planning your vacation to getting to your hotel to even getting in line for rides, the experience of going to Walt Disney World has fundamentally changed over the past few years. We’re not just talking about new rides and restaurants opening. These are changes that have altered some of the basics of a Disney World trip that had been in place for years, if not decades. While some of the changes at WDW have been slowly coming to fruition, these changes have gone into overdrive after Disney World reopened from its COVID-19 closure in 2020. If you haven’t been to Disney World in awhile, some of these changes might be a shock to you, but it’s absolutely crucial that you understand how going to WDW now works.

Here’s everything you need to know about how going to Disney World has changed.

Park Pass Reservations are required

Disney Park Pass Reservation System - Walt Disney World

This is arguably the biggest change to going to Disney World. Since Disney World opened in 1971, you could get into the park just by buying a ticket and showing up to the gate. Now you need a Park Pass reservation in addition to your ticket. It initially was introduced as a way to manage crowds when WDW reopened with limited capacity, but Disney executives have indicated that park reservations aren’t going anywhere — the Disney World park pass availability calendar currently shows dates through January 2024 as of this writing! The system gives Disney the ability to control crowd sizes in a way they didn’t have before. However, this puts the onus on the guest to do more planning ahead of time, which is a task that you don’t need to worry about with competing theme parks.

Disney World Park Pass Availability

If you don’t have a park hopper ticket, you will need to consider which park you want to visit on each day when planning your trip. Parks do sell out on the busiest days, and we have a few tips on what to do if you can’t get the Disney World reservation you want. If you do have a park hopper ticket, you will be picking which park you are starting the day at.

Which brings us to our next big change.

Park Hopping is different now

A park hopper ticket lets you get into multiple parks in a single day. If you bought a park hopper ticket, you used to be able to have a ton of flexibility and freedom during your Disney World vacation. You could pop into Magic Kingdom in the morning for an hour or two before hopping on the monorail to Epcot for an early lunch at the Food & Wine Festival booths. Now, park hopping is much more regimented. Park hopping doesn’t start until 2 PM each day. Like we mentioned before, your park reservation will determine the first park you enter for the day, and you must go to that park first before park hopping is activated. So even if you don’t get into the parks until the late afternoon, you still have to go to your reserved park before you can park hop.

Flex pricing

Disney World Ticket CalendarDisney World tickets used to have a fixed price. Now they have a price range, which changes depending on how busy Disney projects the parks to be. For example, a 1-Day single park ticket costs anywhere between $109-$159, changing based on what date you visit the parks. This also applies to multi-day tickets. The price of your multi-day ticket will be based on the first date you will use the ticket. For example, the image above shows the price per day for a 5-Day single park ticket for each day in December 2021, determined by the first day of your visit.

No FastPass+

FastPass+ is a thing of the past. In fact, free FastPass is much like Horizons or the SpectroMagic parade: something we fondly miss. The days of getting on the Disney World website at 7 am 60+ days ahead of time to secure a Flight of Passage FP+ are gone. For those who aren’t into planning ahead of time, they might say good riddance. However, FastPass has been replaced with something not quite so free.

Genie+ and Lightning Lane are here

Lightning Lane has replaced FastPass… for a fee. Disney World has gotten rid of their free front-of-the-line pass for something much more lucrative and complicated. We’ve written extensively on what Genie+ and Lightning Lane are, the pros and cons of Genie+, and how to maximize your Genie+ reservations. Genie+ and Lightning Lane are the topics of two of our free in-depth Disney World guides:

The Advanced Dining Reservation window is shorter

Space 220 - Interior Epcot Restaurant

You used to be able to make Advanced Dining Reservations 180 days ahead of time. Now, that window has been shortened to 60 days ahead of time at 5:45 am. You can find out more about Advanced Dining Reservations in our article: How early can you make a dining reservation at Disney World.

Not everything is open

Akershus - Epcot Character Dining

It’s almost been a year and a half since Disney World opened back up, and there are still restaurants, shows, and a resort that have not reopened. At Epcot, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Takumi-TeI, Monsieur Paul, and Restaurant Marrakesh remain closed. Several restaurants at the resorts are still closed, including Artist Point and Boatwrights (both of which will reopen later this month). Fantasmic is slated to return to Hollywood Studios in 2022. And the All Star Sports Resort remains the last Disney World resort to not reopen after the pandemic.

Masks are required

Epcot Food And Wine Festival Masks

Disney World’s mask policies have been just like the rest of the world’s: evolving and changing. Disney currently requires all guests ages 2 and up to wear masks while indoors or going on attractions. We have no clue when this rule will be changed, so we’ve just accepted the new reality and we include a mask as one of our must-pack items whenever we go to Disney World.

It should be noted that at restaurants, you have to wear a mask except for when you are actively eating and drinking. If you don’t prefer to eat indoors because of this for whatever reason, we’ve compiled an Outdoor Dining Guide 2 Walt Disney World.

Less free perks

Magic Bands - Walt Disney World

Free Magic Bands. Free Magical Express transportation to your resort. Free FastPass. Disney World has significantly reduced the number of freebies that can be found in their parks — although there are still a lot of fun free items and experiences you can get at Walt Disney World. And free Coke samples from around the world has returned to Epcot with the reopening of Club Cool!

Everything is more expensive

At a recent investor call, Disney revealed that per guest spending is up over 30% at Disney World compared to the 2019 levels. This isn’t because people are suddenly buying a lot more Mickey Ice Cream Bars. Everything is more expensive: tickets, food, merchandise, special events, and resorts. Disney World has long been a pricey proposition, but with incredibly expensive experiences like Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser on the horizon, it’s clear that Disney wants to position WDW as more of a high-end luxury.

Mobile Order is a must

Disney World Restaurant Mobile Ordering - WDW Tip

The tricks for navigating the lunch crowd used to be simple: just eat a little earlier or a little later. Now Mobile Order has become an absolute necessity for getting a quick service meal at the restaurants that offer it.

Your phone is more important than ever

Your phone is your ultimate tool for your Disney World vacation. With the Disney World app, you will be making mobile orders, managing dining reservations, trying to secure Lightning Lane reservations, checking wait times, and more. With MagicMobile, you can use your phone as your park ticket. Depending on your hotel, your phone is your hotel key as well.

It really pays to have at least one tech-savvy person in your party as your designated My Disney Experience guru to tackle all of that. It also is a must to have a good power bank that you can use to charge your phone, like the ones listed below. The Disney World app absolutely eats battery, and you’ll need as much battery charge as possible to get through the day.

 

Anker Power Bank - Recommended Item

Anker PowerCore 10000 PD Redux

$49.99

This power bank is the ideal blend of portability and charging capability. This can charge two devices simultaneously, offers fast charging, and the large 10,000 mAh capacity will offer multiple charges for a phone. The form factor is smaller than the size of a phone, which is pretty impressive for a power bank with such large capacity.

Buy from Amazon

iWalk Power Bank - Disney World Emergency Kit

iWALK Portable Charger (9000mAh)

$29.99

If you have an iPhone and you want as small of a battery as possible, this charger is hard to beat. The 9000 mAh capacity is great for a battery this size, and the built in lightning cable keeps things super compact.

Buy from Amazon

MagSafe Battery - iPhone Disney World Essential

Apple MagSafe Charger

$99.99

If you have an iPhone 12 or newer, this is the ultimate compact choice for an extra battery. The MagSafe Charger uses magnets to attach to the back of your phone and wirelessly charges your phone - no cables required. If you have a MagSafe compatible case, this battery will stick on the back and charge through your case as well. This convenience comes at a premium, as it's the priciest external battery we would recommend.

Buy from Amazon

USB-C-Charger

USB-C .8 Foot Cable – 3 Pack

$8.99

If your phone has a USB-C charger, this pack of cables is great for using with an external power bank. No need to manage 3-foot cables getting tangled up in your bag or not fitting in your pocket.

Buy from Amazon

Lightning Cable - Short

Lightning Cable – 6 Inch – 5 Pack

$8.99

If you have an iPhone and your external battery doesn't have a cable built in, this Lightning Cable pack is a must have. The 6 inch size is perfect for plugging into a power bank and charging your iPhone in your bag.

Buy from Amazon

Micro USB Cables

Micro USB – 7 Inch 5 Pack

$7.98

If your phone uses Micro USB for charging, this 5 pack of cables is a great option for charging via an external battery.

Buy from Amazon

Virtual Queues

Remys Ratatouille AdventureSome attractions implement virtual queues, which require you to secure a reservation for the attraction using your phone. That’s the only way to get on the attraction without paying for Individual Lightning Lane. Currently, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot implements a virtual queue – you can read all about how that works here. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance used a virtual queue from December 2019 until September of this year, but Disney has stated that the virtual queue could return to that attraction at any time.

In the future, we anticipate new rides like Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Tron Lightcycle Run to utilize virtual queues.

Annual Passes Can Temporarily “Sell Out”

This was a new one! Disney World recently halted the sales of most Annual Passes until sometime in 2022, as a way to deal with the anticipated crush of holiday crowds. If you are interested in getting an Annual Pass in the future, you probably should jump on the opportunity whenever it becomes available. Disney World Annual Passes expire a year after you enter the park, not a year after you purchase it. In fact, you have several years to activate an Annual Pass after you purchase it.

That’s a few of the big ways that going to Disney World is different now than it was even two years ago. Is there anything we missed? Let us know in the comments below!