Planning to Visit Disney World for the First Time Since the Pandemic Began? Here’s Everything That’s Changed

Here's what's changed at Disney World since 2020 and how those changes will impact your next vacation.
MagicBand+ will launch this summer at Disney World (Photo: Disney)
Photo: Walt Disney World Resort

If you haven’t been to Disney World since the pandemic-related closures in early 2020, a lot has changed since your last trip. With new attractions, a new reservations system, and an entirely new way to skip the line on some rides, even the most experienced Disney planners have had to learn new ways to navigate the Orlando theme parks.

In fact, planning a Disney World vacation in 2022 is entirely different from what it was like before 2020. Here’s what’s changed at Disney and how those changes will impact your next vacation.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: The Best Disney World Hotels for Families of 5+

1. You’ll Need a Reservation

Guests using phone at Magic Kingdom in Orlando (Photo: Walt Disney World)
Guests using phone at Magic Kingdom in Orlando (Photo: Walt Disney World)

One of the most consequential changes to planning a Disney World vacation following the 2020 closures is Disney’s Park Pass Reservation System because it impacts every single guest who passes through Disney’s gates. A park ticket alone is no longer sufficient to enter a Disney World theme park—now all guests are also required to book a reservation in advance (at no extra cost).

BRING THE WHOLE FAMILY: How to Plan a Multigenerational Disney World Vacation That Makes Everyone Happy

If you’re park hopping, a reservation is only required for the first park you wish to visit on that particular day. Park Pass Reservations can fill up quickly, especially during the busiest times to visit Disney World, so it’s important to make your reservation as early as possible when planning your trip. (Another change to keep in mind: Park hopping is currently only allowed after 2:00 p.m.)

2. FastPass Lanes Have Been Replaced with Lightning Lanes

Guests walk down Main Street, U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom Park, July 11, 2020, at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on the first day of the theme park’s phased reopening. What to pack for Disney World
Guests walk down Main Street, U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom Park (Photo: Kent Phillips/Disney)

Another seismic change is the introduction of the Disney Genie and Genie+ suite of trip planning services. The days of complimentary skip-the-line FastPass+ service are behind us, and Genie+ is a new paid program you must now purchase if you want access to a ride’s expedited queue (formerly known as the FastPass lane, now known as the Lightning Lane).

ULTIMATE GUIDE: Everything You Need to Know About Disney Genie and Genie+

At Disney World, Genie+ costs $15 per guest per day and includes the ability to book Lightning Lane return times for most rides in the four theme parks. Though there are some differences between Genie+ and its predecessor FastPass+, it largely functions the same once you’ve purchased it: You book a one-hour return time to enter a ride through its expedited queue. 

But the most popular Disney rides at each park (Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom and Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars land, for example) are not included with the purchase of Genie+. Those Individual Lightning Lane Selections cost a separate one-time fee (usually between $7 to $15 per guest) and you’re limited to two of these separate purchases per day.

3. Disney’s Magical Express Is No More

Disney's Magical Express is no longer running (Photo: Tarah Chieffi)
Disney’s Magical Express is no longer running (Photo: Tarah Chieffi)

If you’re accustomed to staying on resort property at one of the Walt Disney World hotels, you’re probably familiar with Disney’s Magical Express bus service. But if you haven’t been to Disney World since 2020, brace yourself for a major change: Disney’s complimentary ground transportation from the airport is no more.

DISNEY VACATIONS: The Complete Guide to Disney Vacation Club (DVC)

In its place are two new bus transportation options from third parties, Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer. Both of these options are available for a fee. You can also hail a taxi or rideshare service if you’re not renting a car.

4. Disney Hotel Perks Have Changed

Skyliner with Disney's Art of Animation Resort in the background (Photo: David Roark)
Skyliner with Disney’s Art of Animation Resort in the background (Photo: David Roark)

The changes to your on-site stay at Disney World continue once you arrive at your hotel. In the past, guests staying at Disney’s resort hotels would receive complimentary MagicBands (wearable technology used for everything from park admission to redeeming FastPass reservations to charging purchases to your hotel room). However, complimentary MagicBands are no longer available.

You can choose to reuse an old MagicBand from a previous trip or purchase a new one upon arrival (select MagicBands are also available online at a discount prior to your trip). The next generation of wearable technology, MagicBand+, will launch this summer at Disney World.

GALAXY QUEST: Is the New Star Wars Hotel Worth the Cost for Families?

Extra Magic Hours have changed as well. All on-property guests are eligible for Early Theme Park Entry, which allows you to enter any theme park 30 minutes prior to opening each day of the week—a big difference from the previous morning Extra Magic Hours, which would only apply to certain parks on certain days.

Extra evening hours, on the other hand, are now reserved for guests staying at Disney Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts. Like the Extra Magic Hours of old, these extended evening hours only take place on select nights at select parks. 

5. New Rides and Shows

Harmonious at EPCOT (Photo: Disney)
Harmonious at EPCOT (Photo: Disney)

Just one week before the parks temporarily closed down in March 2020, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway opened at Hollywood Studios. Another family-friendly ride, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, opened in the France Pavilion at EPCOT in the fall of 2021.

TRAVEL WITH LITTLE KIDS: 10 Best Vacations for Toddlers That Parents Will Love Too

For thrill-seekers, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is the newest addition to the World Discovery neighborhood at EPCOT. (The park’s Future World area was broken up into three new neighborhoods in 2021: World Discovery, World Celebration, and World Nature, though aside from your EPCOT map looking a little different, you may not necessarily notice this change).

New daytime and nighttime shows have arrived at Disney World as well since 2020. Magic Kingdom now presents Disney Enchantment on a nightly basis, and over at EPCOT Harmonious is the new nighttime spectacular around World Showcase Lagoon.

6. More Changes Are Coming Soon

Guardians of the Galaxy ride (Photo: Kent Phillips)
Guardians of the Galaxy ride (Photo: Kent Phillips)

Because it’s Disney World, there are always changes on the horizon. This year alone we’ll see the next generation of MagicBands (the previously mentioned MagicBand+) with new interactive features. Also in the world of tech comes Amazon’s Alexa software arriving at Disney World hotel rooms later in 2022. The “Hey, Disney!” program will provide guests with in-room planning features such as park hours, bus schedules, and more.

WATER WORLDS: Blizzard Beach vs. Typhoon Lagoon: The Ultimate Guide to Disney’s Water Parks

While many traditional park experiences have returned (character meet-and-greets, for example), some pre-pandemic favorites are still missing. The popular Disney Dining Plan is the biggest piece of the vacation planning puzzle that has yet to return.

More from FamilyVacationist:

Carly Terzigni
Carly Terzigni is a New England-based writer who specializes in theme parks, local attractions, food and drink, and travel. Her expertise for all things Disney has been featured in numerous industry-leading sites, and over the years she has become a trusted voice in helping first-timers and experts alike plan their Disney vacations. When Carly isn’t planning her own Disney getaway, she can be found catching the latest Broadway play. Visit her website at carlyterzigni.com for more information, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @carlyterzigni for theme park news, other daily musings, and pictures of her pets.

Family Travel Ideas Delivered to Your Inbox

Love vacations? So do we! Subscribe to our weekly newsletter for ideas, tips, and inspiration.

Thank you! You are subscribed.