Walt Disney World has slowly been updating its loading protocol for numerous rides, eliminating empty seats that were used to socially distance guests amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic
In recent weeks, Rock 'n' Rollercoaster, Expedition Everest and Slinky Dog Dash have begun to load guests in every row in a change from the parks' original health and safety protocol instituted upon reopening in July, a Disney representative confirms to PEOPLE.
Those rides were selected because they feature higher backs that create more of a physical barrier between guests, the representative said, noting that the choice had been made with the support of local Florida health officials.
Park-goers took to Twitter when they began to notice the change, posting photos of the fully packed rides.
"Expedition Everest is loading every row," wrote user @disneyxc alongside their photo of the Animal Kingdom attraction's boarding area on Dec. 10. The unofficial Disney news account @WDWnewstoday shared a photo of a similar scene on Rock 'n' Rollercoaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios on Dec. 15, and another user @magicbandmaniac replied, "They were doing this on Slinky Dog Dash to[sic] yesterday," referring to the Magic Kingdom coaster.
The Disney representative that spoke to PEOPLE said this is not an official new phase of reopening, but rather an ongoing evolution of park practices.
The change follows similar moves at other area theme parks, including Universal Orlando, which has been filling its Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and The Hulk coasters to capacity since September.
Universal confirmed the change on September 11 in a response to a Twitter user who said they wanted to cancel their reservation due to the "irresponsible" new policy:
"We have been planning toward this for months as part of the next step of our reopening procedures, and we are applying everything we have learned so far. We've briefed local health officials about our plans, and they have let us know they are comfortable with us moving forward," the @UniversalOrl account tweeted, noting in a separate message that they had consulted with local health officials and referenced CDC guidelines.
At Disney World, other attractions with individual ride vehicles, including the Haunted Mansion and Under the Sea: The Journey of the Little Mermaid at the Magic Kingdom, and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot, have been loading every vehicle for some time, after initially only putting guests in every other vehicle.
Visitors at both resorts are still required to wear masks on rides and throughout their time in the parks, except when eating and in designated relaxation zones.
Walt Disney World Resort began a phased reopening in July after being closed since March. The parks are still operating with limited capacity, social distancing and mask requirements, and enhanced cleaning and sanitation.
In California, Disneyland remains closed, except for the shopping and dining destination Downtown Disney. Disney briefly reopened shops and restaurants on Buena Vista Street, the main drag of California Adventure, but had to shut portions down just a few weeks later due to new restrictions on dining based on spiking COVID-19 cases in the state.
Disneyland officials called state government reopening guidelines released in October "unworkable."
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