18 Ways Dining at Disney World is Different in the Pandemic

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Frequent Walt Disney World visitors usually have the dining system down. They know how to make reservations, when to make reservations, where to eat, what to eat, and what the the procedures are when they arrive at the restaurant. Enter Coronavirus and all that hard-won learning is no longer applicable.

Here are the new things you need to know regarding dining at Disney World.

Many WDW places to dine and drink, such as Singing Spirits, are now closed.

1. No Dining Plan

While the Disney Dining Plan was not right for everyone, a significant number of Disney World guests are devotees, swearing that it helps them plan, budget, and save money on vacation dining.

During the pandemic, Disney has discontinued the Dining Plan. There is no word on when, or if, it will return. Nor do we know if there will be changes to the plan if it returns.

2. Restaurant Hours Have Changed

Many Walt Disney World restaurant hours have been altered during the pandemic. Before getting your heart set on having a particular meal at a particular location, be sure to check the DisneyWorld.com website for current hours.

For example, if your favorite in-park dinner was Animal Kingdom’s Tiffins, then you’ll need to rethink your plans. Now that Animal Kingdom will be routinely closing as early as 5:00 p.m., dinner is no longer at option at that location.

You can grab a snack, but you have to stay in one place to eat it.

3. Mobile Order May Be Required

Several years ago, Disney began rolling out a mobile order option at some, but not all, quick-service restaurants on property. Mobile order is now all but required at all quick-service locations. Access this via the MyDisneyExperience app on your mobile device.

4. No Character Meals

Well, that’s not entirely true. There is a bit of kinda, sorta character dining at some of the restaurants. For example, at Topolino’s at the new Riviera Resort, there is a “socially distant character breakfast.” Costumed “fur” characters stroll through the dining room, wave, and dance, but they will not stop at individual tables to sign autographs or pose for photos.

5. No Dinner Shows

Aerosol-spewing song and dance do not mix well with dining. The Spirit of Aloha and my family’s must-do The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue are currently shuttered.

6. No Buffets

A few of Disney World’s many typically buffet-style restaurants are open, but their menus have changed. For example, Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort has stopped serving its giant buffet and now offers platters of food brought to individual tables, to be served family style. You can get more of any item, but you have to ask for it.

Other buffet restaurants, such as the Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace, are currently closed.

Self-service food stations may be temporarily discontinued.

7. Your Favorite Restaurant May Not Be Open

As I just mentioned, many of Disney dining’s stalwart institutions such as Crystal Palace are temporarily non-operational. Others on the wounded list include Casey’s Corner, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Columbia Harbour House, the Friar’s Nook, and similarly lengthy lists in the other theme parks; all the dessert parties; and of course all the restaurants located in the hotels that are currently closed.

8. Your Favorite Item May Not Be On the Menu

Most Disney restaurants have streamlined their menus, serving a smaller selection of items. For example, I dined at Tiffins for lunch in November 2019. At that time, the menu listed 10 appetizer choices and 9 entree choices. The menu has now been whittled down to 6 appetizers and 6 entrees.

Expect similar parings across the board.

9. You Can’t Walk and Snack

This is a big one — the days of munching on popcorn as you stroll from ride to ride are now paused. Disney has mandated that all food must be consumed while you are in a stationary position, not while you are walking or otherwise moving about. You can still get your Mickey bar or Dole Whip, but you have to stay in one place while you consume it.

Heavy leather menus have been discontinued, as have many menu items.

10. You May Need a Health Check to Dine

All guests are subject to a temperature check when entering the theme parks, a de facto pre-dining health check. Additionally, there are now temperature screenings before you can dine at many of the restaurants in the Disney resort hotels.

11. Condiment Stations are Different

A key draw of some Disney World quick service restaurants, such as Cosmic Ray’s or Pecos Bill’s, was their bountiful “topping bars” where you could serve yourself a variety of sides and condiments to personalized and embellish your burger or nachos. The serve-yourself aspect of these places is now diminished, with things like the endless ketchup pump replaced by single serve packets.

Additionally, other self-serve food items, such as soda dispensers, may be full-service only.

12. The Reservation Process is Different

In pre-COVID days, guests could make dining reservations up 180 days in advance. The current time frame is up to 60 days in advance.

13. You Need a Park Reservation AND a Restaurant Reservation for Many In-Park Dining Experiences

All visitors currently need a reservation to enter the theme parks. You likely also need a reservation if you want to dine at a popular in-park restaurant such as, say, Be Our Guest. Neither reservation alone will get you in the restaurant.

14. You Can’t Park Hop to Dine

Park Hopping, the practice of visiting two theme parks in one day, is currently discontinued. For years, my family’s preferred touring style was to visit Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom in the morning and then hop to Epcot in the evening, specifically to take advantage of the bounty of restaurants there. This may be the time to branch out and revisit some of the forgotten gems in the other parks.

15. Reservations May Be Required to Dine at a Hotel Other than Your Own

Pre-pandemic, you could pop into any Disney resort hotel, walk up to the restaurant podium and, pending availability, be seated to dine. Currently reservations are required to dine at hotels other than your own.

16. Your Menu May Look Different

With the aim of reducing the number of high-touch surfaces you encounter, Disney has put away the multi-page, leather-bound menus previously offered at many locations, in favor of QR code electronic menus or disposable paper menus. If you’re not familiar with QR readers, now may be the time to learn.

17. You Must Have a Mask on Hand

While guest are obviously not required to wear a mask when physically eating (ewwww), you will need to wear a mask when you enter and exit Disney dining venues. If you’re at a full-service restaurant, it’s also polite to wear it when you’re placing your order or otherwise interacting with your server when you’re not actively eating.

18. Cashless Payment is Preferred

Disney is encouraging guests, whenever possible, to refrain from using cash as a payment method in the restaurants, or anywhere else at Walt Disney World. Bring a credit card, debit card, Disney gift card, MagicBand linked to a Disney hotel account, or a form of electronic payment such as Apple Pay.

How do you feel about these temporary changes? Do they impact your decision to visit Disney World right now?

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

7 thoughts on “18 Ways Dining at Disney World is Different in the Pandemic

  • August 19, 2020 at 8:28 pm
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    Thank you for suggesting that people wear their masks when interacting with their server. I saw very few if any do this on our trip. In fact, our server at Skipper Canteen even thanked us for wearing them.

    Reply
  • August 20, 2020 at 1:31 pm
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    Will any table service restaurants in the parks do a “to go” order? (If someone is not comfortable with indoor dining)? I do know The Wave at Contemporary will (you can order at the bar) but what about parks?

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  • August 20, 2020 at 2:22 pm
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    Hi Beth,
    My experience pre-pandemic was that park table service restaurants were very reluctant to offer entire meals “to go.” Curious whether this was still true, I asked our intrepid parks reporter Chrissy (who happened to be at the Magic Kingdom when I saw your question) to check again. She stopped by Be Our Guest and Jungle Skipper Canteen and was rebuffed at both places. Both suggested that she try getting something via mobile order at a quick service place if she wanted to take her food elsewhere.

    That said, in my experience, if you start with at least one or two people seated at a table service restaurant, they’re often OK with boxing up food for others. For example, on a few occasions, my husband was detained on a work call so I took my daughters to a park table service restaurant on my own. When I explained the situation, they were fine with boxing up an entree to take back to the hotel for him. (I know this happened at Chefs de France and Spice Road Table, possibly others as well.) They’ll also often box a dessert for you, or offer to box up a partially eaten entree that you sat to order.

    Part of me understands the policy. During normal times, given scarce kitchen space, they couldn’t possibly feed everyone who wanted a to go meal at the most popular restaurants. But keeping to this during the pandemic is frustrating indeed.

    Reply
  • August 20, 2020 at 2:47 pm
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    Thank you so much for your investigation and your response! It’s too bad they can’t accommodate, because I can only eat so many meals at Cosmic Rays! 🙂

    Reply
  • September 19, 2020 at 9:44 pm
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    Hello!
    My husband and I recently went to Disney. Our trip date was from the 11-18th of September. I have to say this was the first time we experienced other restaurants. Normally, (pre-pandemic) we would have chosen the dining plan, however, we found that several of the restaurants were participating in something called the magical dining. We had never heard of this. After researching I made reservations for II mulino at the swan hotel and also Terralina Crafted Italian in Disney springs. We were amazed at not only the stellar service but the food was amazing!!! We normally would have never dined here because both restaurants are signature dining and take two credits per person. Their prix fix menu was $35 per person. See where I am getting at. Not having the dining plan made available to us actually enabled us to look outside our bubble we have been so accustomed to. All of the dining aspects post-pandemic to us have really not been that bad. It was more of the wait times (since no fast pass) for the rides on the weekend days that was our problem.

    Reply
  • January 24, 2021 at 11:15 am
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    We are going to Florida in June,how far in advance should we make our park reservations and is there a limit on how many people aloud in a park per day,thank you.

    Reply
  • January 24, 2021 at 11:25 am
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    I’d make your park reservations as soon as you can – for a trip this summer, it’s not too early to do it now (assuming you have the park tickets and/or hotel reservations that allow you to do this). There is always a possibility that your preferred park will fill up. If there is availability later, it’s easy to change your park reservations, but once they’re gone, they’re gone.

    Disney is capping the number of guests allowed into each park each day. They don’t release exact numbers, but there are reports that currently park attendance is capped at around 30-35% of full capacity.

    Reply

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