What to Expect at DisneyWorld in 2022

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There have been so many changes at Disney World during and post-pandemic that it can be confusing for planning and navigating a DisneyWorld vacation in 2022. This post contains some of the basics that you need to know if you are heading to Disney in 2022 – and we will be updating this post as new developments emerge.

Like many companies, Disney has had to shift to accommodate the pressures and demands of the pandemic (and a post-pandemic era) – and has made some controversial decisions that have drawn considerable criticisms, especially as some of these changes dramatically affect the Disney parks experience.

Planning a trip to the parks in 2022 looks very different than it did just 2 years ago before all of this started. FastPass+ is gone, you need tickets AND park reservations to visit, the Dining Plan is still absent, etc…

However, none of these changes means that your trip will be any less magical – it just means that you need to learn these new systems and be prepared.

There are also some fun and completely new additions to the parks for 2022 (from rides to the much-anticipated Star Wars Hotel).

Artist Rendering of Moana Walk-Through Experience (Disney)
Epcot’s Harmonious Fireworks Show (Disney)

Below, we go into each of these changes in-depth but we encourage all guests to pack their facial coverings along with back-up portable phone chargers, as you will need your phone to be fully charged now more than ever at the parks. 

Truly, it’s been a long time since Disney has been a spontaneous “show up and have fun” experience. FastPass+ and Advanced Dining Reservations – along with increased park attendance – have slowly changed the culture of a Disney vacation. For the past several years, the average Disney vacation must be planned several months in advance in order to “experience the magic.”

While we aren’t going to pretend that all of these changes are for the better, many Disney regulars (ourselves included) hope that some of the changes happening in 2022 will allow for more spontaneity and return to a simpler time when you didn’t need to be on the phone (or app) 6 months in advance to ensure the vacation of your family’s dreams.

Disney’s Magical Express Cancelled

Magical Express Has Been Terminated with No Plan to Return

Magical Express was a perk of staying at Disney resorts that has been permanently cancelled with no plans of returning. It was a free shuttle bus between the airport and your resort, complete with luggage transfers and Disney Resort commercials playing on the TVs.

Despite being a free perk for on-property guests, it always came with long line-ups and we experienced issues with the airport staff verifying our resort reservations more than once (leading to even longer wait times) – so while this was a “free perk,” it wasn’t without its issues.

Even when we were eligible for Magical Express, our family still often opted for a taxi or Uber/Lyft to our resort so we could skip the lines and not have to deal with the issues of shared transportation after a long day of travel.

For those still seeking inexpensive shuttle bus options, Mears offers several shuttle buses to Disney resorts throughout the day, however depending on your party size you may find that taxis or ride share services better suit your needs.

Be Our Guest Restaurant at Magic Kingdom

Disney Dining Plan is Suspended

The Disney Dining Plan is great for those who like to pre-pay for an all-inclusive vacation experience and not have additional charges throughout. However, it is a hotly debated topic of whether the DDP actually saves anyone money (except if you are booking during one of the increasingly rare “free Dining Plan” periods) – it really depends on how you use your credits to determine if you actually save money.

We don’t expect the Disney Dining Plan to return before late 2022 – it may return in time for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival in October, but it may not. At the current time of writing, there is no reason to suspect that this will not return – however, we are not sure what the new dining plans will look like.

In the meantime, plan to have all of your meals charged to your room or bring an alternative payment method (many of the parks’ card readers have options for contactless pay like Apple Pay and tap chip readers, in addition to accepting major credit cards and there are ABMs throughout the parks).

You can save money by having kids share adult-sized meals, opting for some of the filling “snack options” instead of meals, and of course, packing a few snacks in your backpack or soft-sided cooler before you head to the parks.

Masks Requirements Changing (Disney)

Mask Requirements

This is a hotly debated topic, but as of now, masks are not required for vaccinated park guests except for on shared transportation.

Unvaccinated guests are “expected” to wear double-layer facial coverings (“neck gaiters, open-chin, triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not acceptable face coverings”) during indoor experiences including dining and rides – however, Disney has not disclosed how they are ensuring that unvaccinated guests are complying with these expectations.

(I would caution unvaccinated guests from attempting to circumvent the system by removing their masks after entry. If you are unvaccinated and unhappy with the requirements, you are better off waiting until the requirements are removed rather than risking visiting the parks and breaking the rules, as they can tag/track your ticket/magic band and remove you – and the rest of your party – from the park.)

Disney Genie (Disney)

FastPass+ Replaced with Genie/Genie+

Genie(+) is a completely different system from FastPass+ – it is better to just understand that FastPass+ no longer exists.

All park guests can now book one “lightning lane” pass at 7am that gets them into the, um, “faster” line for a single attraction.

Guests that opt to pay for Genie+ can continue booking “lightning lane” access to 40+ attractions across the parks throughout the day, but these reservations must be made one at a time.

There are also “Individual Attraction Selections” that guests can purchase “lightning lane” passes to. These rides are some of the most “hot ticket” rides in the parks (such as Rise of the Resistance, Seven Dwarves Mine Train, etc) and the cost per ride can reach $15, as the prices fluctuate based on the day and ride.

While a lot of people are upset about this change, personally, I’m hoping that this change makes stand-by lines move faster as less people will have fastpasses for any given ride.

Steps for Making Park Reservations

You Need Park Reservations – Not Just Tickets

Before, you could simply visit any park you wished as long as you had a valid WDW park ticket – and if you had a park hopper, you could visit as many of the parks as you wished during any day during your vacation. You could simply show up with tickets purchased months in advance and just get in.

This is not currently the case. If you want to attend ANY park, you need a specific park day reservation. Park hoppers are now available again – however, you cannot “hop” until after 2pm and you need reservations for both parks in place.

For many of us, we have our vacations planned out already so this is just an extra step of letting Disney know what our plans are.. for some of us, this is a huge hassle and a let-down if you had park hoppers – especially if you like to make your plans as you go.

Physically Distanced Character Dining at Disney’s Rivera Resort (credit: Matt Stroshane, Disney)

Modified Character Meetings and Character Dinings

Currently, children can no longer embrace and interact with characters in the same way that they have in the past.

Ropes and clear, plastic barriers are set up to allow characters to interact with guests, while character cavalcades and “pop up” character meet-and-greets have replaced traditional experiences.

For younger guests, this change isn’t a huge shift from the world that they are growing up in – however, older guests may find this shift upsetting. Socially distanced selfies and no autographs are the current norm, however this should shift later this year.

Most character dining experiences are currently halted, however a few resort character meals are still happening.

#waltexpress #disneyworld #disneymobilefoodordering Disney 101 Mobile Phone Ordering
Disney Mobile Ordering (Disney)

Mobile Ordering for Quick Service

Pre-pandemic, a lot of Disney’s quick service restaurants had the option for mobile ordering – now, it’s basically a requirement.

While a few quick service restaurants still allow for walk-up ordering, many only accept mobile ordering.

While in line for your last ride before a meal, pull up the menu for your quick service restaurant and make your selections. Once you’re off the ride, you can simply walk up and collect your meal – with no lines or wait times.

Rope Drop at Magic Kingdom

Extra Magic Hours Replaced by Early Morning Entry/Extended Evening Hours

Previously, Extra Magic Hours would allow guests of on-property and select off-property (typically Good Neighbor) resorts access to select parks for a couple extra hours each day.

Now, all on-property and select off-property guests can access ALL theme parks 30 minutes in advance to park openings.

Extended Evening Hours are currently only available to Deluxe/Villa guests at a couple of parks throughout the week.

This now means that off-property guests that do not have access to Early Morning Hours can no longer “rope drop” – and it further differentiates the perks between staying at Moderate Disney Hotels vs Deluxe Disney Hotels.

New Magicband+ Options (Disney)

Magicband Changes

Magic bands are no longer a free perk of staying on-property, however, all of the functionality of the magic bands have been replaced with your smart phones or other smart devices (like Apple Watches, etc).

Personally, as a mom to a pre-teen, I will still bring a magic band from a previous trip to the parks with us so that my daughter can charge snacks or access our room using her magic band when she wants to be independent, but for parents of younger kids, this is one less thing for our kids to lose or complain about. It was such a pain to have my sensory-sensitive 4 year old wear a magic band – it will be so much easier to just scan my whole family in using my phone.

You can still buy magic bands for your family, if desired, but honestly, the only time I found magic bands beneficial were on pool days or when we were at the water parks – unless you have teens or preteens.

New Magic Bands (that haven’t been launched yet as of this writing) will come with new in-park perks, however they will be at-cost so you will have to determine if the cost of the new bands is worth the potential perks.

Hey Disney! Room Assistant (Disney)

Hey Disney! Room Assistants

Rather than calling down to the front desk, guests at on-property resorts will be able to request in-room amenities, check on the weather, set timers and alarms, and even interact with characters using an Alexa-like device installed in their rooms.

Remy’s Ratouille Adventure (credit: Matt Stroshane, Disney)

New 2022 Disney Rides

While Remy’s Ratatouille Aventure debuted in 2021, many guests weren’t yet travelling to the park so they didn’t get to experience this Toy Story Mania-esque ride, so it can be considered a new addition to many.

However, completely new rides for the year include Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and TRON: LightCycle Run, as well as several Moana-themed attractions including a walk-through experience at Epcot and possibly a restaurant (stay tuned).

Disney’s Enchantment Fireworks Show (Disney)

Firework Show Changes

I still tear up when I watch our family’s recording of Happily Ever After, the Magic Kingdom fireworks show that preceded the current Disney Enchantment

Happily Ever After was such a beautiful and well-orchestrated show and while Disney’s Enchantment has some unique qualities of its own (especially how the fireworks show lights up the buildings down Main Street) this change does make me sad for families that didn’t get to experience Happily Ever After because it was such a beautiful display.

However, every Disney World lover must learn to accept change and never more so than now. Happily Ever After is gone and those of us who were able to experience it in person need to just treasure those memories and make way for new ones.

One fireworks show change we are excited about is Harmonious. Epcot Forever has been a placeholder for the past two years as Epcot transitioned from Illuminations to Harmonious, and it’s definitely well worth the wait.

Artist Rendering – Galactic Starcruiser (Disney)

Star Wars Hotel Opening

The maiden voyage of the Galatic Starcruiser Halycon took place on March 1st.

This 2 day immersive experience is not your typical hotel stay and comes with a hefty price tag – but for Star Wars fans who have eagerly anticipated the opening for the past few years, it is up for debate if the cost is justified.

I hope this post helps explain and give you a decent head’s up on all of the changes – both exciting and disappointing – that have come to the parks in the last couple years and will be coming this year.

As always, the most important thing to bring with you on a Walt Disney World vacation is a positive attitude. If you decide to head to the parks, you may not love all of the changes, but at least you can be prepared and choose to have a positive attitude while you encounter them. Slow down, experience the magic (there’s still plenty remaining) and enjoy your vacation and the time with those you are travelling with.

If you’re wanting more tips and the latest news, head over to our Facebook page! In addition to that positive attitude, here are some other things you may want to consider bringing with you on your next Disney World vacation.


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