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Parades, haircuts, characters: Walt Disney World attractions still affected by pandemic

Though much of the entertainment is back to normal, there are still limits at Disney brought on by the pandemic.
Even though most mask restrictions have been lifted, young guests still only get socially distant interactions with characters at Walt Disney World.
Even though most mask restrictions have been lifted, young guests still only get socially distant interactions with characters at Walt Disney World. [ JOE BURBANK | AP ]
Published Mar. 25|Updated Mar. 29

After two years of dealing with a pandemic, Florida’s theme parks are mostly back to normal in their operations. But there still are some pockets of entertainment that are closed or restricted because of COVID-19.

A month ago, Walt Disney World lifted the majority of its indoor mask requirements for vaccinated guests at its resorts and theme parks. But you are still required to wear one on most transportation, such as the monorail and buses. Disney’s Minnie Van Service, connected by the ride-sharing service Lyft, is still unavailable, though the parks announced it is returning this summer. An exact return date wasn’t given.

It is one of dozens of exceptions that Disney World maintains in its gradual approach to reopening that has affected character interactions, transportation and nighttime shows at its theme parks.

Here’s a current look at how things are operating, if you’re planning a trip to the park soon.

You still can’t just walk up to the gate of a Disney theme park and get admission, even if you have an annual pass. You have to reserve a spot on the day you plan to visit via the Disney Park Pass reservation system. Disney advises that prior to purchasing tickets you view theme park reservation availability online.

Park hopping has returned, but that has limits, too. If you have a Park Hopper pass, you have to wait until 2 p.m. to visit a second park. But you do not need a reservation for the second park.

Young guests enjoy seeing Winnie the Pooh and Tigger at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Parkgoers are still kept at a distance during character meet and greets, but the theme park has eased face mask requirements.
Young guests enjoy seeing Winnie the Pooh and Tigger at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Parkgoers are still kept at a distance during character meet and greets, but the theme park has eased face mask requirements. [ JOE BURBANK | Orlando Sentinel ]

Pre-pandemic, there were several dozen Disney characters that were available for regular meet-and-greet sessions in the theme parks. You could hug them, chat, get their autographs and pose for photos. This has not returned.

There are still characters in the parks, but they appear on a balcony and wave to guests. At Epcot, the Frozen princesses stand behind a fence and wave. You are free to take a distant selfie with the characters in the background, but you won’t get to snuggle up next to them.

Several Disney World restaurants in hotels and theme parks are allowing character dining again. Reservations are highly recommended.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse perform during a parade as they pass by Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World. The parks have slowly brought back some parades.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse perform during a parade as they pass by Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World. The parks have slowly brought back some parades. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
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One of the biggest changes was the lack of parades. Only recently, on March 9, did the Festival of Fantasy Parade return, running noon and 3 p.m. daily with the fire-breathing Maleficent Dragon at the Magic Kingdom. The park will still keep its many “cavalcades” of characters that served as mini popup parades.

Some, but not all, nighttime shows have returned. The Magic Kingdom’s new show called Disney Enchantment is operating nightly, as is Harmonious at Epcot. But Fantasmic and Star Wars: Galactic Spectacular, both at Hollywood Studios, and the castle projection show Once Upon a Time at Magic Kingdom remain unavailable.

All Star Sports Resort will reopen March 31. That’s the only Walt Disney World hotel that’s still closed. Many Disney hotel pools are operating with reduced capacity, and mobile waitlists may be used, giving guests the option to receive an alert and return when space is available.

The Harmonious nighttime show at Epcot at Walt Disney World is one of the two fireworks shows to return. Others at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are still unavailable.
The Harmonious nighttime show at Epcot at Walt Disney World is one of the two fireworks shows to return. Others at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are still unavailable. [ KENT PHILLIPS | Disney ]

Close-contact services like spas and haircuts remain limited.

The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where guests get elaborate makeovers in Cinderella Castle, is still closed, as is the Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom and the Character Couture makeovers for adults. Some individual experiences like hula lessons, mermaid school and the Wonderland Tea Party at Park Fare restaurant in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort are also still unavailable.

Veteran Disney watchers expect some of these restrictions to lift this spring, though a drop in available workers could play a part in Disney World getting back up to its full range of offerings. Meanwhile, the Mouse House says stay tuned.

“As we have done since reopening, we’ve been very intentional and gradual in our approach to our COVID-19 health and safety protocols,” a company statement said. ”Based on recent trends and regulatory guidance, Walt Disney World Resort will be making adjustments to these measures, which may continue to change at any time without notice.”

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