Disney World Post Covid-The Big Changes, And What You Need To Know Before You Go!

I’m a Disney fanatic, DVC (Disney Vacation Club) member since 2007, and love everything Disney! There’s usually one person in every couple that’s the big “Disney fan”, as is the case with me. My husband could easily have gone to a Caribbean island for our Spring Break this year, but Disney is special for our family, as it is for many, and we’ve been going since before we had kids. A Disney vacation holds a lot of memories and magic for us all, but there have been some substantive changes to the “happiest place on earth” since its reopening, so read on if you want to be sure your smile doesn’t turn to shock when you return.

Our last trip to Disney before last week was February 2020, right before Covid smacked the world on its ear. I had heard talk of “Coronavirus” before that visit, but I was so busy I hadn’t even thought of it as we ran around the parks, touching everything. Needless to say, luck was with us all.

I remember being stunned when I saw Disney was “CLOSED” on the news that year, it prompted me to cancel the Second Annual Spring Lake Chili Cookoff that was scheduled that same week, (which is now taking place in Fall 2022, stay tuned for news on that!) Disney closing its doors was huge, and like many, we skipped our next visit. But it turns out Disney’s reopening would bring a whole new set of challenges. I was told by an employee at this last stay that Disney analytics finally had the time during closure to gather all the data on its guests, attractions, and spending, and then created new concepts for the parks to maximize profits, and push the limits of what they felt guests would choose to endure. I half believed him until I lived it, and it started to make sense.

My return to Disney started when they lifted their mask mandate in 2022, I quickly picked up the phone and started planning our Spring Break trip like many of us here at the Shore. I wanted to visit the park the way I remembered it and couldn’t wait. Using my DVC points, I booked our trusty one-bedroom villa and extra rooms for our larger party.  I couldn’t believe how packed it was. Reservations were tough to get for the same room the whole stay, but after a month of phone call tenacity, I was able to pull it off. 

I was a big fan of Disney dining Pre Covid, so I was also committed to getting those delicious restaurant reservations for our magical meals. As a foodie, people were often shocked when I said I loved Disney restaurants, but if you know where to go, they had some of the most fabulous places to dine, and the quality was delicious. At first I couldn’t get any dining reservations for this trip, but then I was able to snag impossible to get reservations using “Mousewatcher” at Mousewatcher.com.

That website is a magic wand, it got me in everywhere! Mousewatcher texts and emails you when a dining reservation pops up for lunch or dinner for your chosen restaurant, party size, and date, all for a reasonable fee. I was able to get every single restaurant I wanted, when I wanted it, including Epcot’s new hit, Space 220. Mousewatcher also provides a link in the alert text that connects you directly to the “My Disney Experience” app for you to lock in your reservation and book it. Customer service is also helpful and responsive. It’s easy, convenient, and the best internet site I’ve ever used to get reservations! It’s a great secret I’ll only share with our readers, family, and close friends, so shhhh!

Space 220

Having said that, while I was able to get the hot reservations, I’m not sure I would repeat that feat for a majority of the places we ate at. Post-Covid Disney now has very limited price fixe menus at many beloved restaurants, like California Grill, a culinary destination at the top of the Contemporary that overlooks the Magic Kingdom. I always loved this place because when the fireworks start at Magic Kingdom, California Grill pipes in the music and dims the lights as well to create a beautiful dining experience, and it still does that, however, the magic of that experience is not quite the same anymore.

Now, Post Covid, there’s a price fixe menu that eliminates most of our favorite dishes we ordered for years, like the tuna trio appetizer, and replaces them with lackluster food that is duplicatively placed at every table like you’ve received your order from a limited cafeteria menu. Also, now guests can pay extra to go to the rooftop of the restaurant, sans dinner, to just watch the fireworks, but the only access to the roof is walking through the restaurant.

Somehow dressed up and sitting for dinner next to a parade of people tired from the park takes a little magic from the experience as well, and it also feels a bit like a money grab. As does the deletion of the once-great lounge area at the restaurant, which is now replaced by more dining tables.

Most concerning though were the underwhelming meals we were served on that price fixe menu and the lower quality of the food. All around the parks the filets and steaks were mostly tough and chewy, (except Space 220 where the Steak Frites for lunch, and their hefty priced burger were delicious), and the seafood all around didn’t taste fresh like it once did (except at Flying Fish, which held its ground with its original potato wrapped snapper). However, overall we ran into very limited menu choices and food that often left us with a Disney “food hangover.”  I cook a lot and use fresh, whole ingredients and if we are not eating those, my family and I know it. And if Disney is going to charge those high prices, fresh should be a given. 

The prices at Disney have taken a different turn, they’re on the rise. A regular burger and appetizer on the lunch menu at Space 220 is $55.00! While it was admittedly good, if I didn’t have a hankering for a burger, (we all know that feeling) and hadn’t already “traveled to space,” (it is a cool experience to get to the table) I doubt I would’ve plunked that down on sheer principle. And you can’t see the prices online until you’re actually at the restaurant. That’s not a good kind of magic. I have to add Space 220 itself was amazingly cool, truly Disney level, and you feel like you’re in space with incredible views, but the prices have skyrocketed.

Gone also are paper menus, phones are used for that now, which again leaves a table staring at their phones, something I try to avoid at all costs. Some restaurants also just serve you a limited “family style” menu. Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom does this and offers little to no choices for lunch, and plops the entire Turkey dinner entree with all its sides on one cramped platter that was not appetizing at all to look at. Unlike the Pre Covid menu that was filled with delicious food options, like its famous Rueben sandwich and big single salads. Thankfully, they still let us have adult drinks there, which was a plus at the mostly dry Magic Kingdom.

Now for the “Genie” pass system. This system, which replaced “Fast Pass” seems to also want you tethered to your phone. No longer can you pre-plan your rides by choosing fast passes well in advance of your visit, now you have to wake up at 7 am if you’re staying on property, (park opening time if you’re not), and open the app on your phone and try and get a good time slot for your first ride, and even then you can only book one ride, and can’t book a second ride until you check-in for that first ride, or until two hours after the park opens, so you’d better book your first ride early or set that time clock.

The “Genie” is also an extra-priced option on your ticket at an extra $15.00 per person. Got all that? Well, keep reading on because if you want to ride the most popular rides, it can cost even more. For example, it costs an additional $75 dollars for 5 people to ride “Rise of the Resistance”, on top of the $15pp “Genie” fee and your ticket price. Somehow it feels wrong to walk past others standing in line knowing that’s how you were able to get in the fast lane. Not so magical. You also have to make a park “reservation” well in advance before you go to the park or you’ll have a ticket with no park to go to.

And don’t think this means fewer guests, somehow that seemed to create more guests at each park. And even with a park hopper, no “hopping” until after 2 pm, and you must visit your reserved park first. It felt like a job. It is likely fun for the organized, pre-planner types, but not for those who wake up at Disney and say “ah today I feel like it’s an Epcot day.” Needless to say where I fall in all that. 

The service seemed a bit stressed out too. One of our guests had to move rooms during their stay on property and a person was in the room when they went to open the door after a long day at the parks and dinner with kids. That’s something that would’ve been remedied swiftly Pre Covid, but post-Covid that comes with three more hours at the front desk, arguing and questioning if someone was actually in the room and what credits would be given. Not quite sure why anyone would want to have another person in their room, but again, the service seemed a bit on edge.

Disney will always be a place for memories and fun, nothing can change that nostalgic feeling when you arrive and see your personal favorites, and the rides maintain their iconic charm, as do the parks themselves. Nothing quite matches the beautiful countries of Epcot or that first walk down Main Street USA. And some new additions, like the fireworks display at Epcot, are beyond incredible and feel otherworldly, it’s the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen. But there’s a high bar when we visit Disney, it’s what keeps the magic “Disney level”, and when it slips in important elements, Disney fans take notice. 

Personally, overall, I remain a fan of the original formula for dining, service, and fast passes, and hope to welcome back full menus, quality food, hospitality, and the OG fast passes before my next trip. Otherwise, I may wait longer than usual before I return again to Disney, and likely supplement a Caribbean trip or two in between.


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