Countless considerations await those planning a Walt Disney World Vacation: weather, pricing, and crowds to name a few. But, if you’re thinking of planning a Disney Trip for 2021, you are left with even more to consider, from health and safety concerns to how the re-opened Disney might stack up against your expectations.
As Walt Disney World parks dropped their ropes after four months of closure, health and safety guidelines have been the driving force behind many of the changes we will see in 2021. Some regulations include mandatory mask wearing for all guests older than 2 years, and no eating or drinking while strolling through the parks. Disney takes these precautions very seriously, and it’s been frequently reported that the rules are being strictly enforced. You can get the most current information straight from Disney, here. Once you have the facts, only you can evaluate them and decide if you feel safe and comfortable with a Disney Vacation. If not: full stop. You have made your decision.
If, however, you can accept the protocols in place, you’ll want to know what Walt Disney World is going to be like in 2021. While only Madame Leota has a crystal ball, we can tell you what we know about Disney’s plans for 2021 thus far, and what we Disney enthusiasts are speculating.
First, when will you go? Disney is currently accepting reservations at most resort hotels through September 27, 2021. This date is not insignificant as it falls just before Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on Oct 1, 2021. While many expansion projects set to debut by the anniversary celebration have been delayed by the pandemic, we do expect to see Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, TRON, and Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind open in time for the big anniversary. No official dates have been released, but it’s probably safe to say that this is a goal timeline for the release of these and possibly other new experiences as well.
If the 50th Anniversary Celebration is important to you despite not knowing what it will look like just yet, we suggest waiting until Fall 2021. But, keep in mind that even in a Covid-19 Disney, crowds will likely be higher during this once-in-a-lifetime event. If avoiding large crowds is more important, book earlier in the year.
Next, where will you stay? Not all resort hotels have been released for booking. All three All-Star Resorts, Animal Kingdom Lodge, both Port Orleans Resorts, and Wilderness Lodge (except DVC villas) are NOT available. With so many resort hotels at Walt Disney World, you should still have no problem finding a great option in your budget.
Once you have decided when to go and where to stay, you can start looking at the details of your trip. Park reservations are still required, so as soon as you book your package, use your My Disney Experience account to reserve your park days. Currently, even though Park Hopper tickets ARE being offered in 2021, you can only reserve one park per day. We will be watching closely to see how this changes.
We will also be closely watching changes to park hours. Initially hours had been significantly reduced, but we are seeing slow expansion to these times recently. This may be tightly correlated with the increase in crowds we have been seeing lately as well. To be clear, we are not seeing crowded Disney parks, but we are seeing some parks reach their limited capacity maximum, and therefore not accept new park reservations. We are seeing this most at Hollywood Studios, where higher attendance and suspension of FastPass+ opportunities have led to wait times of over an hour at headliner attractions on some days.
Dining reservation windows now open up 60 days in advance, vs 180 days prior to reopening. Dining Plans are not being offered, but can always be added to a package if available later. Right now, a dining plan may be hard to justify, anyway. Several restaurant locations are not open yet across all 4 parks and Disney Springs, and character dining is extremely limited with modified experiences. Character meetings in the parks are now socially distanced as well, so don’t expect that big old hug from Mickey on your camera roll.
Similarly, there will be no special event parties, shows, parades, or fireworks either. But Disney announced special Holiday décor and there have been spontaneous character cavalcades down Main Street, which are pretty enjoyable.
For trips starting January 1, 2021 and later, MagicBands will no longer be included with resort reservations packages. If you have MagicBands from previous trips, you can still use them. They will also still be available for purchase with a package at a discounted rate compared to purchasing separately at a WDW gift shop or online at shopdisney.com. A silver lining here is that Disney is working to expand the functions of the My Disney Experience app on your smartphone to offer the same features as your MagicBand and more.
While all of these changes can be disappointing, let’s focus on those silver linings. Planning a Disney trip had gotten to be pretty complicated: Early openings for Dining Reservations, FastPasses, Daily Itineraries, etc. The modifications to this process might force us to stop planning the details and start just enjoying them instead….smell the Queen of Hearts’ red roses, if you will. Spontaneous, but distanced, character appearances are actually really fun and can add a much-needed whimsical spontaneity to your vacation. Shorter park hours may give those of us who visit the parks from rope drop to close the time to enjoy all that the WDW resorts have to offer outside of the parks. Let’s just say that with SO much regularly offered at WDW, it was impossible to do it all, and FOMO was real. Maybe now, we can all learn to relax a little bit more.
That said, there is still a lot to keep track of when planning your WDW vacation. With so much changing so frequently, a Disney Vacation Planner will keep you abreast of any new policy changes and can be your one point of contact for any plans or modifications you need to make. We highly recommend booking early with one. As long as capacity restrictions are in place, there is a chance that park reservations will fill up, or that WDW will halt new resort package bookings altogether. Booking early is the best way to ensure you will get the resort hotel room of your choice and the park reservation days you want. You can always make changes. Remember, Disney’s modification and cancellation policy for 2021 is still very lenient, so there is little risk.
If previous marketing trends are any indication, and if crowds continue to stay away from theme parks, we do anticipate a potential for steep discounts for 2021 resorts stays. Your Disney Vacation Planner can always get available promotions applied to your existing trip, and you won’t have to wait on hold for hours to do it yourself.
The best reason of all to book your 2021 Walt Disney World Vacation is that studies show that the act of simply planning a vacation can boost happiness. I think we can all agree that we could all use a little more happiness and magic these days.