When Disney World reopened in July 2020 after a brief closure during the pandemic, the Central Florida resort did so with a lengthy list of procedures intended to control and monitor crowds for health and safety purposes. Most were done away with long ago, like temperature checks at the front gate and six-foot distance markers in ride queues. But a few have stuck around since the park reopened … until now.
Beginning Jan.9, 2024, Disney World kicked off some major changes. Most guests will no longer need to make a theme park reservation to get into the parks and guests with Park Hopper tickets no longer need to wait until 2 p.m. to visit a second park.
Now, Disney is returning to the old way of doing things and, in doing so, giving guests much more freedom and flexibility — two things we all want more of when we are on vacation.
I visited the parks on the first day these changes went into effect to see if it really did feel like “the good old days” at Disney World. Here’s what I experienced and what you need to know before your next visit.
The major changes at Disney World
The end of theme park reservations
Theme park reservations are officially a thing of the past for most Disney World guests. If you have a date-based ticket, you no longer need to choose which park you want to visit ahead of time. You’ll still need to purchase tickets, but you won’t need to take the extra step of making a reservation for one of Disney’s four theme parks each day of your visit.
The major exception to this rule is Disney World annual pass holders. Annual pass holders will still need to make a theme park reservation on most days, though Disney is introducing “Good-to-Go” days on select days beginning Jan. 11, 2024. On these days, annual pass holders can visit any of Disney’s four theme parks without reservation. Even on days requiring a reservation, annual pass holders can visit a park without making a reservation after 2 p.m. (except Magic Kingdom on Saturdays or Sundays).
Theme park reservations will also still be available for certain promotional ticket types.
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The removal of park-hopping restrictions
If you have a ticket with the Park Hopper option or are an annual passholder, you no longer need to wait until 2 p.m. to visit a second (or third, or fourth) park. Before this change, you had to wait until 2 p.m. to visit a park other than the one you had made a theme park reservation for that day. Now, you can visit additional parks any time you like throughout the day.
Related: New Disney World discounts
This makes Park Hopper tickets more valuable because you can spend much more time visiting additional parks instead of being stuck at one park until 2 p.m. If you are only at Disney for a short period of time and want to visit all four parks in one day, it just got much easier.
The return of the Disney Dining Plan
Jan. 9 also marked the reintroduction of the Disney Dining Plan, this pre-pandemic perk lets you prepay for a set number of meals and snacks during your visit, giving your trip the feeling of an all-inclusive vacation.TPG has an entire guide that can help you determine if the Disney Dining Plan is worth it for your trip, so I won’t spend too much time on it here.
How these changes improved my visit
Less pressure and more flexibility
Before I left for the airport the morning of Jan. 9, I thought I would want to start my day at Magic Kingdom. I had an 11 a.m. lunch reservation at Hollywood Studios, though, and by the time I landed in Orlando and dropped my luggage at the hotel, I knew I would be cutting it close. Instead, I went straight to Hollywood Studios, knowing I wouldn’t be stuck there until 2 p.m. if I didn’t want to be.
After lunch, I decided to meet a friend at Animal Kingdom and was able to hop right over there. After already visiting two parks by noon, I thought I might be able to visit all four parks in one day, but a late afternoon storm foiled my plans. Once the rain moved out, I did make it to Epcot just in time for the new nighttime spectacular, Luminous.
Simply put, my day felt more relaxed. I didn’t have to plan out my entire day ahead of time and was able to go wherever my little heart desired.
Less waiting around
When park hopping restrictions were in place, there were many times that I felt “stuck” at my first park, waiting for 2 p.m. to hit so I could visit another park. Especially if you like to rope drop, you can get a lot done in the first couple hours after a park opens and be ready to move on to something new. Now, you can do just that.
I loved knowing I could visit another park as soon as I was ready instead of watching the clock (something Cinderella should have done more closely).
Wednesday, I plan to wake up and try for a virtual queue reservation for Tron Lightcycle Run at Magic Kingdom, but I plan to spend the rest of my day at Epcot and Hollywood Studios. If I snag that early morning queue spot, I can ride one of my favorite coasters and then go straight to another park.
With the aforementioned flexibility and less waiting, I felt like I saw and did so much in one day. Prior to this change, I usually chose one park for the morning and one for the evening or only visited one park per day. With my newfound freedom, my day felt more fulfilling.
It wasn’t even about the number of rides I went on, it was more that I felt like I could do exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it instead of having to play by a certain set of rules. I rode two rides at Hollywood Studios and two at Anmal Kingdom, took a break from the storm, had a long dinner at Disney Springs and ended the night at Epcot. It was fulfilling and, most of all, fun.
Tips for visiting Disney World in 2024
Changes to how you use Genie+
The changes to theme park reservations and park hopping will also change how you use Genie+. Now, if you have a ticket with the Park Hopper option, you can use Genie+ to make Lightning Lane reservations for attractions at any park for any time of day. Make sure you give yourself enough time to get from one park to another if you make Lightning Lane reservations at multiple parks.
This may play out a bit differently as Disney works out the kinks, but if you have any issues or questions about Genie+, you can speak with a cast member for assistance. Look for the blue “guest experience” umbrellas, and you’ll find a cast member who can help.
All other rules regarding how often you can make reservations using Genie+ still apply.
You still want to have a plan
I always recommend people go in with a loose plan rather than a minute-by-minute itinerary, which is still true. Even though you now have more flexibility, if you don’t make any kind of plan, you could find yourself wandering around aimlessly without getting much done.
I’d recommend you still have an idea of which park (or parks) you’d like to visit each day and a list of must-dos, but keep in mind that you can change that plan at any time if you aren’t feeling it.
Take advantage of early entry or extended evening hours
Though you do have more freedom in your day, Disney is still big and often busy. If you are staying in one of Disney World’s on-site hotels, you still want to take advantage of early theme park entry if you can. This will give you a one-hour headstart on other guests, allowing you to knock out one or two headliner attractions before the crowds roll in. This is especially helpful if you start your day at a park with the earliest opening time (usually Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom) and then hop to another park once it opens.
Even if you aren’t an early bird, guests of Disney Deluxe resorts, like Disney’s Beach Club Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, can enjoy exclusive extended evening hours in a specific park on select nights. You can see a full schedule on Disney’s daily calendar.
Don’t try and do too much
This is a piece of advice I’ve given anyone who asks, regardless of Disney’s rules at the time. It can be easy to try and do it all when you are at Disney World, but it’s also literally impossible. Disney World is massive. There are more attractions to ride, characters to meet, shows to see and restaurants to dine at than you can accomplish in one visit.
Even with the ability to visit more parks in less time, you still can’t do it all. Instead, make a list of the things that are most important to you at each park before you visit. After you accomplish those, you can use your free time however you want.
Visiting Disney World has always brought me joy, and I felt that joy more than I had in a long time during this trip because there were fewer things to plan for. And Disney may not be done yet. In May 2023, Disney shared that they were working on ways for guests to “plan with Disney Genie+ service and individual Lightning Lane selections before the day of their park visit.”
In addition to the other recent changes, this makes it clear that Disney wants the same thing we all want…for vacation to feel more like a vacation.