When I first returned to the Walt Disney World theme parks when they reopened in July, I didn’t really miss Park-Hopping, which had been suspended to facilitate guest safety. I trusted the precautions Disney was making during a very confusing time, and I was just so happy to be back in the places I love. Still, I was over-the-moon when it was announced that the feature would be returning on New Years Day, 2021.
The first week of the year, I made a park reservation for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, with the intention of trying the new system. In a nutshell, this is how Park-Hopping is working right now at Walt Disney World. First, you must have a valid ticket with a Park-Hopping option (either a Park-Hopper ticket, or an annual pass with that option available). After that, you must make a park pass reservation to one of the four Walt Disney World theme parks. At the present time, and I don’t see this changing in the near future, you must first visit the park where you hold a park pass reservation. You are not able to change parks until 2 p.m. I must stress that it is best to make sure that you have an updated version of the My Disney Experience mobile app on your phone.
On this day, I arrived to Animal Kingdom around noon. After riding Kilimanjaro Safari, and heading back to Rafiki’s Planet Watch for the Animation Experience (I drew Dumbo), I was ready to start thinking about heading to another park. This is a new system, and I am obsessed with details. I checked with a cast member at a guest services tent. She told me, “No news is good news.”
Essentially, when it is time to hop to another park, open up the My Disney Experience mobile app on your phone. You will get push notifications at this time to alert you of any parks that are at capacity and not accepting hoppers. Since I wasn’t showing any push notifications, according to the cast member that lack of news was the best news possible. I went out to my car and drove to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where I was in the park less than 15 minutes after leaving Animal Kingdom.
There are some important things to take into consideration. If you are going to take a Disney bus to the next theme park, the cast members at the bus will inform you if the park is at capacity or if they are accepting Park-Hopper guests. This may make Disney transportation a more secure way of getting to the next location. This is a new system, and Disney has been known to change these procedures at a moment’s notice to try to make them more efficient. It is always a good idea to check with a cast member earlier in the day to guarantee that you know how to work the system. Of course, if you book with an Ear to There Travel agent, we will walk you through to the process until you feel like an expert. We are always keeping up-to-date on the workings of these new policies.
Also, please be aware that the only way to ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is if you have a park pass reservation for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Boarding groups for the most in-demand ride on property are distributed remotely at 7 a.m. (but only those with a previously-scheduled park pass reservation for Hollywood Studios are able to try for a boarding group at that time). At 1 p.m. there is a second chance to secure a boarding group. To acquire a boarding group at the 1 p.m. distribution time, a guest must be in the park.
I was surprised how much I missed jumping from park-to-park at Walt Disney World. As I walked into Hollywood Studios, it felt like one small piece of normalcy had returned to my life. I immediately put in a mobile order at Docking Bay 7 (a mobile order will not guarantee you access to your second park of the day, so hold off on ordering food until you are in the park). I checked out the holiday decorations around Echo Lake one last time; got the special PhotoPass Magic Shot with Grogu in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge; and rode Alien Swirling Saucers in Toy Story Land. After briefly flirting with the idea of heading over to Epcot on the Disney Skyliner, I decided that my day was complete. Later this month, however, I plan to hit all four parks in the same day.
Every family is different. Every travel party is different. It will be up to you whether the Park-Hopper option is worth the extra money on your next trip. If you want to try for a Rise of the Resistance boarding group early in the day, but want to head to Epcot to check out World Showcase at night, you may want to splurge for Park-Hopper. If your family doesn’t fell like rushing around property, and worrying about parks potentially hitting capacity, it may not be the best thing for you at this time. Of course, we all hope that as the year continues, things like this will keep getting easier and easier. This is a learning process for all of us, and Disney has been doing a great job of adjusting when presented with new data.