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Disney World News: 50th Anniversary Ad, More Mask Changes Coming, Added Hours

We’re back with another weekend Walt Disney World news roundup. This one covers the first commercial for the 50th Anniversary, Memorial Day travel stats, the latest–and potential future–face mask rule changes, and more park hours for August 2021.

Let’s start with an update on new and extended park hours as Walt Disney World approaches the busy summer travel season. All four theme parks, Disney Springs, and Blizzard Beach have had hours for another week added to the DisneyWorld.com park hours calendar. Added dates are the week of August 8-14, 2021. Here are that week’s hours:

  • Magic Kingdom: 9 am to 9 pm*
  • EPCOT: 11 am to 9 pm
  • Hollywood Studios: 9 am to 7 pm
  • Animal Kingdom: 8 am to 6 pm
  • Blizzard Beach: 11 am to 6 pm
  • Disney Springs: 10 am to 10 pm (11 pm on weekends)

Walt Disney World’s normal practice is to release boilerplate hours before extending those based on attendance and hotel occupancy projections. These are simply placeholder or “lorem ipsum” Walt Disney World hours–the minimum operating hours for those dates. With that said, the latest release marks the typical end of summer travel season, so perhaps these hours will be close-to-final…

We also have a couple of interesting wrinkles here. First, there has been an extension of hours; Disney’s Hollywood Studios will now close at 8 pm instead of 7 pm on June 19 and June 27 through July 31, 2021. Hopefully, this is paired with the return of a show or nighttime spectacular to help justify a full day in the park.

Second, Magic Kingdom is closing at 6 pm on August 14, which is the last day of the schedule. There are a few possibilities for this. It might be an error, perhaps part of an “alternate reality” involving a special event starting that date. It could be the start of shorter off-season hours, oddly happening on a Saturday for some reason. Another possibility is a corporate park buyout or Steve Martin birthday bash.

One thing we can eliminate is it being the start of Disney After Hours Boo Bash. As covered in our preview of that Halloween-inspired event at Magic Kingdom, it begins on August 10 and the big upside to Disney After Hours is that it occurs after normal park hours and doesn’t impact the regular calendar.

One final, very far-fetched possibility is that it could be the beginning of an actual event, with a surprise change of plans and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party making its return. To be clear, I do not think this is the case. Just wildly speculating for fun. However, part of me honestly and sincerely wonders if Disney “regrets” announcing Boo Bash, as circumstances in the United States changed pretty dramatically only a week later. Had they held off on that decision until June, would it have been a different one?

In fun news, Walt Disney World released its first commercial for the 50th Anniversary. This highlights previously-announced new character costumes, Cinderella Castle decor, and lighting effects for the upcoming “World’s Most Magical Celebration” and features 16 hidden Easter egg surprises for eagle-eyed fans.

As should be expected given Walt Disney World’s superlative track record with commercials, it’s excellent. A really good ‘teaser’ that got me even more hyped up for the 50th Anniversary.

When it comes to Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, I’m of two minds. Mainly, I’m excited for the celebration, cautiously optimistic about what it’ll entail, and understanding that real world circumstances have prevented Disney from announcing too many substantive details that might be subject to change.

Through that lens, I understand any concerns would be premature. The celebration is still several months away and will last at least a year and a half. I’m hopeful that we’re on the precipice of a barrage of entertainment and other announcements once there’s greater confidence that normalcy is here to stay and Disney’s staffing woes are in the rearview mirror. There should be clarity on both fronts by July 2021.

Then there’s the emotional side, cognizant of recent precedent with regard to entertainment cuts as well as Walt Disney World’s historic handling of all anniversaries in the last 24 years. On top of that, I see an anniversary aesthetic that revolves around the EARidescent color trend.

All of that makes me mildly worried. Nothing against color trends–while they’re not for me, I recognize that they are valuable in broadening Walt Disney World’s appeal with younger demographics–but anniversaries are inherently nostalgic, which is at odds with trendiness. It’s hard to imagine there being significant overlap between the guests who care about anniversaries and color trends. It’s possible to embrace nostalgia and fads simultaneously–Disneyland does exactly this expertly, but they don’t combine the two contrary concepts.

Ultimately, I’m still overwhelmingly excited and optimistic about Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. I still think we’re likely getting announcements about limited engagement entertainment and more of substance. I’m even hopeful that we’ll get great retro-inspired merchandise a la Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary.

There’s just a bit of apprehension creeping in, which is hardly unreasonable given the last year-plus. It also doesn’t help that I’ve been anxiously awaiting the 50th Anniversary for the last decade. I still have incredibly fond memories of the 25th Anniversary as a kid, and I want that experience again–both for myself and for newcomers to the fandom since then. The World’s Most Magical Celebration is an opportunity for a new wave of guests to become lifelong fans, and for lifelong fans to fall in love with Walt Disney World all over again. I really hope it isn’t squandered.

In yet another positive sign that travel to Florida is rebounding, Orlando International Airport is forecasting that during the six days surrounding the Memorial Day weekend, from Thursday through Tuesday, more than 350,000 travelers will pass through MCO. That’s roughly 90% of the 2019 volume for the same period.

One year ago, MCO officials predicted that it would take five years before its passenger count fully recovered. That should really underscore the resilience of travel and pent-up demand, while also helping to explain the how and why of Walt Disney World and other businesses being caught flatfooted by the rebound.

Earlier this week in What’s Up with Sold Out Disney World Hotels?, we encouraged readers to lock-in refundable hotel reservations as soon as possible. We’ll extend that same advice to airfare, rental cars, and anything else. To the extent possible, we’re booking earlier than usual this year, wanting to secure everything at current prices rather than waiting for last-minute deals.

Finally, you might’ve seen the news yesterday that Universal Orlando is effectively dropping its face mask rule. As we head into Memorial Day weekend, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure join SeaWorld Orlando in allowing fully vaccinated visitors to take off their masks indoors and outdoors, and doing so without checking for proof on an honor system basis.

Following that, a trio of the largest movie theater chains in the United States–AMC, Regal and Cinemark–also announced yesterday that they will no longer require fully vaccinated guests to wear face masks. All three will “strongly encourage,” “request,” or “ask” that unvaccinated guests wear masks. However, there will be no enforcement and masks will not be required unless mandated by state and local guidelines. These are just the latest of dozens of major businesses that have shifted the onus for health safety and mask wearing to individuals.

At some point in the not too distant future, Walt Disney World will follow suit. We’ve been trying to prepare readers for this inevitability for (literally) months. As has been reiterated repeatedly, Walt Disney World’s health rules from the outset were as much about guest and Cast Member safety as they were a calculated business decision.

Disney needed enhanced protocol to help assuage fears and attract guests at a time when public sentiment overwhelmingly viewed theme parks as unsafe and polling demonstrated the vast majority of people were not comfortable visiting.

Now, Americans are increasingly willing to visit theme parks and travel (see above MCO stats), with surveys hitting one-year highs after bottoming out around 15%. With comfort levels continuing to increase and other businesses dropping their rules en masse, it would be untenable for Walt Disney World to maintain its rules.

It would be even more unrealistic to expect already over-burdened frontline workers to enforce rules that do not comport with guest expectations (among other things). It would amount to swimming upstream against the flow of health guidance, plus corporate and public behavior.

As for when Walt Disney World will follow Universal Orlando’s lead, it’s difficult to say. Up until yesterday, my best guess would’ve been “shortly after Independence Day.” However, the return to normalcy in the United States has accelerated to a greater degree than I anticipated.

Even with Disney’s reputation for cautiousness and being a family-friendly brand, an imminent change–or at least one before July 2021–now feels likely. Not only would enforcing rules in place nowhere else cause more friction between guests and Cast Members, but lifting the rule would free up workers at already short-staffed parks to be relocated to other positions. Accordingly, our expectation is that Walt Disney World follows Universal’s lead sometime after Memorial Day weekend–probably within the next two weeks.

Paving the way for this is Orange County, Florida qualifying for the third phase of its reopening plan, which would end all physical distancing and mask mandates. The county’s rolling, 14-day rate of positive tests fell under 5% (it presently stands at 4.7%), which is one metric to hitting the third and final phase.

This actually happened last Saturday, but Orange County cancelled its weekly health briefing this week–a first over the last 64 weeks–so the change has not yet been announced. (Hence the embedded Tweet rather than something more “official.”)

If I were cynical, I’d speculate that the briefing cancellation and lack of a phase 3 announcement were a deliberate dodge. Motivations might’ve been bumping up that vaccination rate just a tad higher and/or getting through the Memorial Day weekend, which spiked Florida’s first wave of cases last year. To that point, Mayor Demings issued a statement Friday praising the region’s health numbers and urging residents to get vaccinated.

Nevertheless, the next briefing will be held on June 2, 2021 and an announcement can be expected then. This is significant because after the last briefing, during which Orange County lifted its outdoor mask mandate, both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World made masks optional outdoors. If Disney is predicating its policy changes on Orange County, on that date Walt Disney World’s face mask rule could turn into a recommendation, for all intents and purposes.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Optimistic or pessimistic about Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary? Are you traveling this Memorial Day weekend? Planning on visiting Florida later this summer? Thoughts on Universal Orlando effectively dropping its mask rule? When do you think Walt Disney World will do the same? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!


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