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15 things to remember if traveling to Disney World in 2021

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15 things to remember if traveling to Disney World in 2021

After everything that 2020 tossed our way, it is exciting to think about planning for 2021. 

Now more than ever, there are things – important things – to keep in mind when planning a vacation to Disney World.

Here’s a list of some items you’ll need to know if planning a 2021 Walt Disney World vacation.

Health and safety measures will continue

Let’s go ahead and get this biggie out of the way first. If you are thinking about traveling to Walt Disney World in 2021, you should plan on health and safety measures continuing.

And yes, that includes both mask requirements and things like physical distancing markers in places where people gather (like queues and cavalcade routes).

Important mask policy update:

Masks are no longer required anywhere at Walt Disney World.

This includes all Disney transportation (buses, monorail, Skyliner, & boats).

Disney’s official policy does recommend that “Guests who are not fully vaccinated continue wearing face coverings in all indoor locations, including indoor attractions and theaters and on enclosed transportation.

Cast member with mask

What this means for you

Our best advice? Plan accordingly and be prepared to modify your expectations. 

Another tip for people hesitant to book anything with so much unknown right now would be to consider planning your trip later in the year to maximize any chance of policies and procedures easing up.

Again, we don’t even know that they will ease up in 2021, but if there is a chance for it to happen, look for it later in the year.

There’s a big anniversary on the 2021 calendar

October 1, 2021, will mark the 50th Anniversary at Walt Disney World. 

This is a huge deal and something many Disney fans have been looking forward to for a long time.

While we were expecting to get some details in 2020 about what the anniversary celebration would entail, understandably, Disney has been hesitant to share much about what to expect with everything going on.

Mickey head balloons

But, that hasn’t kept fans from snagging up hotel rooms and Park Pass Reservations for the days around the official October 1 anniversary date.

What this means for you

Availability for theme park views and rooms at the resorts closest to Magic Kingdom is already quite limited.

Planning to visit Walt Disney World for the exact 50th Anniversary date? You should act now to secure both hotel and Park Pass reservations.

But, in all likelihood, the 50th Anniversary celebration won’t span just 1 day or even 1 week.

For example, Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary was celebrated for 18 months – with some of the offerings even kicking off before the official anniversary date.

Epcot will continue to host scaled back festivals

When the parks reopened, one thing that repeat visitors were pleased to see was that while not everything was available, the popular Epcot festivals did return, albeit in a scaled-back version.

Billed as a “Taste of” the full festivals, they offer guests visiting during these unprecedented times a sampling of what they’d traditionally find.

Taste of Food and Wine banner

What this means for you

So far, we have seen these scaled back festivals for the Food and Wine Festival, Festival of the Holidays, and the recently announced Taste of Epcot International Festival of the Arts. 

If you’re visiting Epcot during one of the scaled-back festivals, you can expect still to see fan favorites like the popular food booths. However, other offerings -like live entertainment – will be scaled back to include only performances by in-house acts like Voices of Liberty or Mariachi Cobre.

MagicBands will no longer be free

Heads up 2021 travelers: beginning for trips originating on January 1, 2021 or later, MagicBands will no longer be free.

As you may already know, MagicBands can be used to do a bunch of different things like open your Disney resort room door, enter a WDW theme park, or even as a means to charge things back to your room.

They have been around for several years and while they were once only available in a few colors, they now span the rainbow in addition to offering guests dozens and dozens of limited and special edition options.

But while MagicBands will still work, they will no longer be complimentary.

Magicbands

While we aren’t sure exactly why Disney is moving in this direction, there are likely several reasons.

First of all, there are simply fewer places where they are being used. In the past, MagicBands were used to gain entrance to FastPass+ lines and to redeem Disney Dining Plan credits – both of which are on hiatus right now.

And now that you can use the My Disney Experience app on your phone to enter your resort room, there’s less of a need for Disney to spend the money to hand MagicBands out for free.

In fact, we are likely to hear about even more ways you’ll be able to use your phone and the My Disney Experience app.

According to the Walt Disney World website:

“In addition to MagicBands, in 2021, we plan to unveil an innovative new offering as part of the My Disney Experience app that will bring features of a MagicBand to your smart devices.”

What this means for you

As we said above, MagicBands will still work; you just won’t get them for free anymore. They’ll still be available to purchase, and they’ll work the same way they always have once linked to your My Disney Experience account.

And, old MagicBands will also continue to function in the same way they always have, as long as their batteries work. We’ve heard various projections on the battery’s lifespan, but we’ve found that they’ll work at least for several years.

If you don’t have an old MagicBand and if you opt not to purchase one, you’ll be provided a card (the size and shape of a credit card) at your resort.

In addition to working on your door, these cards can also be scanned at any of the touchpoints where you would scan a MagicBand.

But remember: as more and more things are being done via the My Disney Experience app and phones, you’ll definitely want to make sure you add an external battery charger to your park bag packing list.

Magical Express looks different

Important note: Disney has announced that it will be ending its complimentary Magical Express service beginning January 2022.

For trips originating January 2022 and beyond, Mears Transportation (the company that currently runs Magical Express for Disney) has announced that they will launch their own service called “Mears Connect“.

Not many details are known at this time (including pricing), however, we do expect it to be available to reserve starting May 2021.

In the past, Magical Express was a handy way to get the vacation started early. You could literally land at Orlando International Airport and walk right up to a waiting bus without stopping to grab your bags.

But, current health and safety measures prohibit that from happening.

Magical Express is still around, but it looks a bit different.

Magical Express bus

Frequent Disney World guests that have yet to visit since the reopening may be surprised to know that now you’ll need to plan on picking up your own luggage at the airport before you head to the Magical Express desk.

Magical Express will still deliver you to your resort; it just isn’t as magical now that you have to get your own bags.

What this means for you

For most guests visiting WDW right now, this is little more than a slight inconvenience. If you’re traveling with small children, having a plan in place for schlepping everything is a good idea. 

And it is also important to note that the popular Resort Airline Check-In is also unavailable at this time, which means you’ll need to plan on checking your bags at the airport for your return flight, too. 

In-person runDisney events remain on hold

runDisney races have grown exponentially in popularity over the years. With events available every few months – and each with its own Disney theme – there was always another fun race weekend to look forward to.

But, like many other sporting events, runDisney in-person races have been transitioning to virtual events.

What this means for you

Disney is offering virtual events for runDisney fans who can’t wait for the in-person options to return.

In addition to all the canceled events in 2020, so far we know that the 2021 Walt Disney World Marathon and the 2021 Princess 1/2 Marathon have already transitioned into virtual events.

And while we don’t have word yet on races past that, we expect to see the virtual trend continue for the near future.

No word yet on the new stuff 

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Space 220. HarmonioUS. Drawn to Life.

All 4 were supposed to open in 2020 but haven’t.

Remy's Ratatouille Adventure inside the Epcot Experience

In 2021, we were supposed to see the new TRON Lightcycle Power Run in Magic Kingdom and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind in Epcot open up.

But, while construction has resumed and even though a few are very close to being ready, we no longer have a clear idea of when these new highly-anticipated attractions, restaurants, and shows might be open for guests.

What this means for you

Unless you are holding off on a trip until something big opens, this information probably won’t mean much to you. If you are waiting, our best advice is to keep an eye on the news for signs that one (or more) might finally be opening. 

But, if you’re like us and you’re just anxious to try some new stuff, it just means that we may have to wait a little bit longer.

Or, maybe Disney will surprise us? At this point, anything could happen!

Club Level accommodations are still unavailable

Whenever we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to splurge for Club Level, we’ve loved it.

Club Level access (which is oftentimes called Concierge Level at non-Disney resorts) provided guests with certain perks, including the super-popular Club Level lounges.

And man, we do love us some Club Level lounges.

Club level lounge

Not only do they give us a comfy place to work, but they have also been a great spot to grab a light meal or some snacks and drinks.

Unfortunately (but understandably), Club Level rooms aren’t currently available, and as of right now, we don’t know when they might return.

What this means for you

We are starting to sound like a broken record, but the current health environment makes some of the Club Level perks difficult (if not impossible) to safely provide. 

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it may be a while. We may have to learn a new normal for how some things (like the Club Level Lounge) work.

Some resorts will remain closed

Since Disney announced their reopening they have worked with local officials and health experts to do so as responsibly as possible. One way they have done that is by keeping the capacity reduced at both the parks and the resorts.

The reduction in the capacity (and the limited number of people overall that are traveling right now) also means that the demand for resort rooms has been decreased, resulting in some resorts remaining closed.

Port Orleans French Quarter

Disney has already reopened a few of the previously closed resorts. And, of the resorts that remain closed, we do have some reopening dates, but not for all. 

What this means for you

Reduced availability is something that you might be used to during traditionally busy times (like the holidays). But now with the reduced number of rooms available, there might be other times it pops ups, too.

Before you book a hotel room, make sure there is Park Pass availability for your travel dates. 

And, if you have your heart set on a resort, make sure that’s available before you purchase tickets and make those Park Pass reservations.

Park hours remain fluid (and what about EMHs?)

In the past, Disney would publish park hours 180 days in advance on a rolling schedule where they would come out 1 day at a time.

But, back then, those hours were important for guests planning dining reservations 6 months out.

Now things have changed.

First, dining reservations are made at 60 days out instead of 180 days, so there’s no need to publish them before that.

And, more than that, the Park Pass Reservation System has allowed Disney to fine-tune those park hours down more than they ever have been able to before.

Slinky Dog Dash in Toy Story Land

In the “before times,” Disney enticed guests into certain parks via special offerings and Extra Magic Hours (EMHs). In fact, EMH’s were such a large contributor to crowds we typically told people to avoid the parks offering them.

But with the Park Pass Reservation System, Disney no longer has to guess how many guests will be in each park on any given day. They know a nearly exact number because you can’t get in without first making a reservation.

And because of that, they can adjust the park hours in the days and weeks ahead to best accommodate the expected crowds for any given day.

What this means for you

As your trip dates get closer, you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on park hours.

You can typically expect the hours to be generic at 60 days out, but then, as your dates inch closer, if expected crowds change, those hours could change, too.

And yes, that means both the possibility of park hours being extended or shortened.

As for Extra Magic Hours, we don’t anticipate them returning anytime soon.

Restaurant reservations can be tricky

For lots of people, dining in fun, well-themed restaurants is part of the complete Walt Disney World experience.

But, just like the park capacity is limited, the restaurant capacity is limited, too – and that means that it can still be tricky to snag a spot at some restaurants.

It isn’t just the restaurant’s reduced capacity that makes finding available reservations tricky; limited operating hours make it hard, too.

Garden Grill

Some restaurants might only be open for a few hours a day, and many restaurants aren’t even open at all.

What this means for you

If you’re planning a trip in 2021, don’t sleep on making those dining reservations.

We recommend you plan to be ready to make them at 7 a.m. CST at exactly 60 days out from when you check-in.

And, if you aren’t able to get what you want, don’t give up. Our tips on how to snag difficult hard-to-get dining reservations can help you out.

Mobile Order for Table Service restaurants is now a thing

Snagging all the Advanced Dining Reservations you want can be kind of tricky, especially right now. But in response to that, some resort table service restaurants are now offering the option to Mobile Order.

Mobile Order has been a part of Quick Service restaurants for a while now, but adding this option to resort Table Service restaurants is new, and we love it for a couple of different reasons.

First of all, we know that masks help keep us safe, and since you have to take off your mask to eat, it just makes sense to limit the amount of time you’re without a mask to mitigate your risks.

And while we 100% agree that the restaurant can be part of the experience, these are unprecedented times. One way you can make travel safer is to avoid being maskless around people outside of your traveling party. Mobile Ordering a nice meal to enjoy on your balcony or in your room is a safer option than sitting in a restaurant right now.

The other reason we love this is because of something we spoke about above: restaurant reservation availability.

As we mentioned, the reduced capacity and operating hours at restaurants have made it difficult to snag reservations, including the reservations for restaurants at the resorts.

Mobile Order at Three Bridges Bar & Grill

Quick Service is always an option, but Mobile Ordering from a Table Service restaurant is a welcomed choice for guests wanting something a little nicer.

What this means for you

It is important to know that currently only some resort Table Service restaurants offer the option to Mobile Order. 

We recommend taking a look at what dining options are available at the resorts right now so that you can get a complete picture of your resorts.

We could possibly see a water park open in early March

Although the theme parks reopened in July, the water parks did not.

But, Disney has announced that we might see 1 of the water parks (either Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach) reopen on March 7, 2021.

A decision on which water park and specific reopening plans aren’t available yet, and of course, that March 7 date is subject to change.

What this means for you

Although the water parks aren’t open right now, the resort pools are.

However, if you plan to visit your resort pool, keep in mind that they too operate with capacity limits, and the hours after the parks begin to close are the busiest. 

Entertainment offerings are still limited

Sadly, when the parks reopened, most of the live entertainment offerings did not return.

This included both attractions that utilized live actors – like Enchanted Tales with Belle – and live shows like The Festival of the Lion King.

Character meet and greets also have been suspended, and the streetmosphere the parks were famous for has been put on hiatus.

The live shows and entertainment have always been one of our favorite things about the Walt Disney World parks, and for people that don’t or can’t ride the larger attractions, shows were a great alternative.

Festival of the Lion King closed

We have seen at least 1 show return, however. The Frozen Sing-Along at Hollywood Studios has opened back up, but as of right now, there’s no word yet on any of the others.

What this means for you

While Disney hasn’t released any specific dates of if or when these important pieces to the park will return, due to health and safety guidelines, we don’t expect them to come back online for awhile.

It is hopeful, however, to see the Frozen Sing-Along return. However, many of the Cast Members that were integral to the other shows and experiences have been laid off, making an imminent reopening for any other show less likely.

Park Hopper tickets are being sold

When Disney World reopened, it did so without Park Hopping.

That means you are currently only able to go to 1 park per day. This may work for many visitors, but for many others (especially guests staying within walking distance of a park), the 1 park per day thing isn’t ideal.

But, that will change for 2021.

Starting on January 1st, guests will be allowed to Park Hop.

Park ticket options

What this means for you

If you are a Park Hopping fan, listen up.

Starting on January 1, 2021 Park Hopping will once again be available, it will just look a bit different.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Starting Jan. 1, 2021, guests who purchased a ticket or annual pass with Park Hopper benefits will be able to visit more than one park per day.
  • Guests have to make a Disney Park Pass reservation for the first park they plan to visit AND enter that first park prior to visiting another.
  • At this time, a park reservation is not required after the first park, however, reservation requirements are subject to change.
  • There will be specific Park Hopper hours during which this option will be available. Park Hopper hours will start at 2 p.m. each day and end at the park’s scheduled close time.
Park Hopper is returning to Walt Disney World

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Shannon Albert