Disney World Changes for 2023: Different But Still Magical

Jill Robbins Avatar
disney world changes
Mickey, Minnie and their pals in front of Disney World’s Cinderella Castle. Photo credit: Matt Stroshane

There have been lots of changes at Walt Disney World since it reopened in July 2020. Rides and shows that were paused are coming back and policies surrounding everything from parades to character meet and greets have been in constant flux. Here’s what you can expect for your 2023 visit to Walt Disney World from what’s new to what’s not coming back.

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1. Check the Rules

Walt Disney World does a great job of keeping guests informed as they plan their vacations and while they’re at the theme parks. You can make sure you don’t miss anything by checking out the main Walt Disney World website and downloading the My Disney Experience App.

We highly recommend downloading the app ahead of your Disney Parks vacation in Florida. This way you can play around with it and get comfortable with how it works so you don’t panic when you can’t figure out how to order that Mickey cream cheese pretzel in Tomorrowland.

Also, pay attention to signage throughout the theme parks, resort hotels and at Disney Springs. If you think you or someone in your group is an exception to any posted rule, ask a Disney employee (called “Cast Members” in Disney lingo) for clarification to be sure there are no misunderstandings.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Bookmark or save this guide to Disney World changes to refer to later.

Heading to Disneyland instead? Here’s what you need to know about Disneyland in 2023.

2. Park Hours and Refurbishment Closures

Park hours are pretty much back to normal, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same every day. Hours of operation change depending on the day of the week and the time of year. Even on the same day, hours often vary between each theme park.

You can check park hours ahead of time on the park hours calendar as you plan your trip, but know they could change as your trip approaches. Double check online or in the app as your trip gets closer, or grab a flyer with the park hours in any of the resort hotels or at the theme park entrances once you arrive.

There are also periodic ride and attraction closures throughout Walt Disney World. Sometimes they’re brief; other times they last for weeks, months or permanently. Splash Mountain, for example, recently closed and won’t reopen until 2024 when it debuts as a new ride called Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Information on maintenance closures is available in the park hours calendar.

If you are a free and easy, go-with-the-flow type of vacationer, this might be fine, but if you’re a planner, then it might be a little difficult. If you are going to have a successful Walt Disney World vacation, then you’re going to need to plan your time in the parks around the current posted hours and know that you might have to adjust your plans if the hours change.

Here are our guides for how to spend one day in the parks:

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3. Waiting in Line – What to Expect Right Now

Walt Disney World is still operating at reduced capacity. Without getting into the math of it or a discussion of capacity versus average attendance, the park does feel relatively normal in terms of crowds. Walking onto Main Street U.S.A. or Hollywood Boulevard early in the morning, there are lots of people and the wait times and crowd density seemed to be about average on our visit early this year.

Disney Genie Service, which launched in the fall of 2021, is both a planning tool and the FastPass+ replacement. It lets you see wait times and recommendations for the best times to ride. It’s a great resource that can save time waiting in lines, but it’s honestly a bit tricky to figure out and it’s not entirely free.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Our Disney Genie Service guide is a must-read for those new to the experience and it’s a great refresher for the Disney savvy.

The Dig Site Pool at Disney’s Coronado Springs.  Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Lines for Attractions

Check your My Disney Experience app to find out ride wait times, or walk to the ride entrance and look at the times posted. They are impressively accurate, but every now and then you might wait a bit more or less than what’s posted.

Pre-ride experiences and shows have returned, so the kiddos won’t be quite so bored waiting in longer lines.

three inner tubes at Typhoon Lagoon form a Mickey Mouse inside the Disney Water Park
Disney touches are everywhere at the two Disney Water Parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Photo credit: Jennifer Kaufman

4. Water Parks Have Reopened

If you are a superfan of Disney Water Parks, we have some good news. After being closed for much of 2022, one of the water parks will be open during your visit.

For the last few months, that has been Blizzard Beach. But that water park will close for refurbishment on March 18, 2023.

Don’t worry! Typhoon Lagoon, which has been closed, reopens on March 19, 2023, so you can still get your water park fix.

Reservations are not currently required to visit. The water parks are a great way to break up your Disney vacation and beat the Florida heat!

5. No Extra Magic Hours – Early Entry for Select Visitors

Early Theme Park Entry, formerly known as Extra Magic Hours, is available daily. There are also Extended Evening Theme Park hours, which are typically Wednesdays at the Magic Kingdom and Mondays at EPCOT. The biggest change is that these hours are only for deluxe resort guests and select others.

Having access to those extra hours with their decidedly smaller crowds is definitely something to consider when considering which Walt Disney World resort to book.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Remember that Disney Vacation Club properties are all Deluxe level. To take advantage of perks without being a member, you can rent DVC points for your stay.

Disney's Magical Express bus outside the Orlando airport
Disney’s Magical Express took its last trip in January of 2022. Photo credit: Keri Baugh

6. Getting to Disney World from the Airport

If one Disney World change really stirred up super fans it was the demise of Disney’s Magical Express, which was free bus transportation from the Orlando Airport to the hotel for resort guests. There are other options, from Mears Connect to ride hailing services, but which is best all depends on your party size and your budget.

We’ve compiled a list of options to help you figure out the best solution for your family.

7. Getting Around in Walt Disney World

The transportation system that takes guests from Walt Disney World Resort hotels to the parks is running as normal. There are no longer capacity limitations in place, which means you won’t have to wait as long for a bus, but it could be quite full depending on the timing.

Disney occasionally uses motor coaches in place of regular Disney buses. If you use a mobility device, then your wait times may be longer since the motor coaches do not accommodate wheelchairs or scooters.

Parking lot trams returned to the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom last year, but as of February 2023, they still have still not returned to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Both monorail routes are also now fully open. The EPCOT monorail runs from the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) to EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom. The Resort Monorail stops at the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and the TTC.

The Disney Skyliner opened in fall 2019 as yet another way to get around Walt Disney World. It stops at two parks – EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. It also services four resorts – Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort and Disney’s Pop Century Resort.

Depending on where you stay, there may be additional ways to get around the parks. The Wilderness Lodge, for example, has little boats that can take you over to the Magic Kingdom while Port Orleans has a boat over to Disney Springs. Check with a Cast Member at your resort to see if your resort has lesser-known transportation options.

Magic bands are no longer free. We still recommend them, at least for the adults in your party. Photo: Jill Robbins

8. MagicBands Get an Upgrade to MagicBand+

In 2021 we saw free MagicBands disappear for resort guests. Guests staying at Walt Disney World Resorts have the option of adding MagicBands to their reservation for an additional fee.

Frequent Disney visitors may choose to reuse MagicBands from a prior trip rather than purchase new MagicBands. Just double check to make sure they’re connected to your My Disney Experience account or stop at Guest Services when you check in to your Disney resort hotel for some help.

But there is an argument for buying the new MagicBand+. Introduced in 2022, these updated, interactive MagicBands light up during nighttime spectaculars, vibrate and allow you to interact with the Fab 50 sculptures.

In all cases, MagicBands can act as your park ticket and your method of payment. If you’re staying in a Disney hotel, they also can act as your room key. They’re even waterproof so you can wear them in the pools and at Disney Water Parks.

Even though the MagicBands are no longer free, we still recommend them, especially if you’ll be using Genie+, which you can manage easily via a MagicBand.

Tech-savvy travelers will be happy to know that many smart devices, including phones and watches, can do much of what a MagicBand does. We used our Apple Watch to do everything from getting into the park to paying for food to eliminate the need for a MagicBand altogether. Since this is device-specific, you’ll want to check to see that your device is compatible.

9. All Resort Hotels are Now Open

All Walt Disney World hotels are open and, as of March 1, 2023, housekeeping services are back to normal and operating with full service.

Where Can I Buy Discount Disney Tickets?

Searching online for discount Disney tickets can feel overwhelming. It’s important to make sure you’re buying from a reputable website. Our SheBuysTravel team recommends Get Away Today for discount Disney tickets and vacation packages.

If you ever find park tickets cheaper, Get Away Today won’t just match the price, the company will beat it! Great customer service is another reason why we recommend Get Away Today. From buying your tickets to planning your Disney vacation, they help you every step of the way. Read our full review of Get Away Today here.

If you want to know what it would cost to go to Disney World for your family, ask for a free quote here.

10. Disney Theme Park Reservations

Ah, the good old days when you could wake up and decide which park you wanted to visit that day. EPCOT and the World Showcase by day and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Star Wars after dinner? While that would have been entirely doable with a park hopper ticket pre-2020, that plan doesn’t work in 2023.

The reservations system to get into the park was one of the first post-Covid Disney World changes to roll out and it’s one that guests have mostly liked since it has so far resulted in thinner crowds at the parks. We don’t expect them to drop this anytime soon so you’ll need park reservations for your Disney World 2023 vacation.

In order to get into one of the parks, you’ll need both a valid park admission ticket and a Disney park pass reservation. Although park hopping is back, you will still need to make a park reservation, so planning is a must. It will be much more of a production to move from one park to another.

Park hopper hours begin at 2 p.m. and last until that park closes. It’s important to note that you must visit the park where you made your reservation before you can hop to another park – otherwise, you’ll have to make a stop at Guest Services when you try to enter another park.

If you’re a Disney World annual pass holder, the reservations process will be changing to allow you to hop without visiting your reserved park first, but no date has yet been set for that change. As with all ticket and reservation-related things, refer to your My Disney Experience App.

And, because it bears repeating: All guests ages 3 and older must have both a ticket and a reservation. As soon as you buy your tickets, book your park reservations immediately. Do not wait.

Disney World changes -- not more parades.
Parades and shows are back at the Disney World Resort. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

11. Parades and Nighttime Spectaculars are Back!

After being on hiatus for around two years, parades are back at Walt Disney World. Parades and nighttime shows draw big, enthusiastic crowds every day. That’s why Disney suspended them when the parks reopened in 2020.

The Disney World parades were replaced by character cavalcades. These pop-up parades were well received and are here to stay – at least for now.

Scheduled to begin in April 2023, the Happily Ever After nighttime spectacular will return to Magic Kingdom park, featuring all-new projections down Main Street, U.S.A. In addition, an all-new nighttime spectacular is planned to debut at EPCOT later this year. Before the new show launches, Disney plans to bring back “EPCOT Forever” as an interim show over the skies of World Showcase Lagoon starting April 3.

12. Character Cavalcade 101

After spending four days at Disney, I’m going to say this: I’m in favor of keeping the character cavalcades. They’re so cute and fun and I love the element of surprise when they pop up.

Character cavalcades have the same energy as a parade – they’re just shorter and more frequent so the crowds in the gathering spots don’t tend to accumulate as they would for a longer parade. You also never know when they might just surprise you and appear (although about once an hour is a safe bet.)

And as much as I loved the afternoon parade in Magic Kingdom, I didn’t love having to be there an hour beforehand to stake out a good spot and still being crowded. Having a pop-up parade in short bursts is a lot more fun.

Kids can spot favorite characters in the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade. Photo credit: Disney Parks

Where to Find Magic Kingdom Character Cavalcades

The elevated stage by the park entrance almost always has characters. When you’re coming into the park, turn around and look up. There will often be music and dancing so it’s pretty hard to miss. This is a fun “see ya real soon” when you’re leaving the park. You never know who you might see up there, but we’ve spotted the Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto) as well as the Dapper Dans.

The regular afternoon parade route is still in use and you’ll see character cavalcades using that route very regularly. We saw Tinkerbell, all of the princesses, Mickey and Minnie and marching bands. We also saw Chip and Dale on the bridge in Adventureland, which is right by the parade route.

Where to Find Disney’s Animal Kingdom Character Cavalcades

All of the character cavalcades are via boat. You can see them from a number of different places in the park, but they all end up going into the arena where the Rivers of Light show normally is.

We saw Chip and Dale, Pocahontas, Rafiki and Timon, and a very lively Calypso-style band.

Where to Find Disney’s Hollywood Studios Character Cavalcades

The parade route we’ve observed is from the Frozen Singalong entrance down through the gate between Star Tours and the Indiana Jones show. We’ve seen Chip and Dale walking with Minnie and Mickey as well as a Pixar spectacular with The Incredibles, Edna Mode, Woody, Jessie and the Green Army Men.

Character interactions have been reported in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you want to get a selfie with Kylo Ren or some Stormtroopers, you might get lucky.

Where to Find EPCOT Character Cavalcades

Character cavalcades in EPCOT start right between the Mexico and Norway pavilions. We spotted Mickey and Minnie in a vintage roadster. Many princesses also now appear in their home countries.

Character dining is back at Disney World theme parks and select hotels. Photo: Matt Stroshane, Disney Photographer

Character Meet and Greets are Back

Good news: Character meet and greets were phased in over the last year and are going strong. You can once again hug and pose for photos with your favorite characters.

Not only that, character dining is back throughout the Disney World Resort. So you’ll have even more opportunities to meet Mickey and friends face-to-face. Character Dining is very popular and advance reservations are strongly recommended.

Changes to Disney Dining
There are definitely some differences in Disney Dining right now, but reservation are strongly recommended. Photo credit: Matt Stroshane, Disney Photographer

13. No Disney Dining Plans & Changes to Advance Dining Reservations

Disney Dining Plans are still on hold for Disney World 2023 visitors. However, we are hoping to see dining plans return in 2023. We’ve noticed that even newer signage includes dining plan verbiage, so we’re hopeful.

Effective January 2023, the Disney Dining Promo Card is available for bookings. Guests will be able to use the card during select dates in summer 2023. What does that mean?  You’ll be able to get up to a $750 Disney Dining Promo Card that can be used to purchase food and beverage items at participating locations at Disney World.

You can (and should) book dining reservations if you plan to eat at any table service restaurants. The current booking window is 60 days out, down from the 180 days it has been in the past. Disney’s goal is to allow people to make reservations closer to their actual travel dates.

Note that a confirmed dining reservation is required for day guests (those not staying overnight) and is highly recommended for guests staying overnight at a Disney Resort hotel.

14. Genie+ Instead of FastPass+

While free Fastpass+ is gone for good, there’s a worthy replacement: The Disney Genie Service. Disney Genie has both free features, but Genie+ and Lightning Lanes cost extra and not included as a part of your park admission ticket.

15. Face Coverings are Optional

Walt Disney World mask policy has changed over the last few years and could change again at any time. We strongly advise rechecking for new guidelines close to your travel dates.

As of February 2023, face coverings are optional in both outdoor and indoor locations, as well as on enclosed Disney transportation. However, face coverings are not permitted on water slides or in the water.

While you’re at the Disney parks, you’ll have access to hand washing facilities and hand sanitizer dispensers, but it’s a good idea to bring a travel size hand sanitzier with you just in case.

16. “High-Touch” Interactions are Open

Welcome back Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Harmony Barber Shop and Character Couture makeovers. Make sure kids arrive with clean, brushed hair. At the Harmony Barber Shop, only water is used for styling (no shampooing).

Resort salons/spas have also reopened.

17. Behind-the-Scenes Tours are Back

In addition to the “high touch” experiences, special tours and behind-the-scenes experiences are back as well.

One of the best behind-the-scenes experiences at Walt Disney World is the Senses of Africa Breakfast at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. If it’s available during your Disney World vacation, we highly recommend it.

18. Pin Trading Looks a Little Different

Pin trading is alive and well.

Although you might not find as many pin trading boards as in past years, you might see other guests who are obviously pin traders. Pin traders have visible lanyards or other containers – a popular one is a wearable pin wallet that looks like a little purse.

19. Apps Are Even More Important

Touchless check-in at the resort and touchless payment are the way to go. Get familiar with asking yourself “Can I use my device to do that?”

Familiarize yourself with the My Disney Experience app. You will use it a lot. You can check character cavalcade times, book Genie+ times, look at maps, order food from quick service restaurants, and more. Many table service restaurants have QR code signs to check in for your reservation from your phone and to put yourself on a standby list.

20. Hand Sanitizers Everywhere

This is a good change that we want to see stick around! There are ample hand sanitizing stations throughout the parks. Those in high-traffic areas are sometimes empty for short periods, so we still recommend carrying your own.

21. New Rides/Attractions Coming to Disney World 2023

You can look forward to great new experiences at Disney World in 2023. These are a few highlights and when they are set to open, but be aware that opening dates may change at any time.

Tron Lightcycle / Run: Inspired by a similar attraction at Shanghai Disneyland, this super-fast coaster-style attraction is scheduled to open at the Magic Kingdom on April 4, 2023. It’s located near Space Mountain in Tomorrowland.

World Celebration: This is a new area of EPCOT set to open sometime in 2023. It’s located near the park entrance by the old Future World. The World Celebration neighborhood includes a new space for festival entertainment called CommuniCore Hall along with CommuniCore Plaza. The neighborhood will also include Dreamers Point, home to a new Walt Disney statue called “Walt the Dreamer.”

Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana: This one is set to open with World Nature in late 2023. Take a stroll on this outdoor trail where you can interact with water and learn about its importance in maintaining the balance of the natural world.

22. Book Your Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is an immersive two-night, three-day experience for the ultimate Star Wars fan. Guests enjoy special dining and roaming character experiences and are transported directly into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a day.

The Big Question: Is Disney Worth It Right Now?

There have been lots of changes at Walt Disney World since its reopening. Those changes were dramatic at the start with no parades, no character greetings, and mask requirements.

Today, things are a lot more normal. Social distancing isn’t required and masks are completely optional. Parades are back and you can once again hug your favorite character. There are some changes that are sticking around, like making park reservations, but the Disney experience is once again what it was before the pandemic.

Jill Robbins is a freelance writer covering lifestyle, travel, health, and commerce. Her writing has appeared in SheKnows, HuffPost, Tripsavvy, Insider, AARP, and other publications. Jill lives in San Antonio with her husband and two youngest kids, although she’s usually somewhere else. You can find out what Jill is up to by reading her blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals.
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