For the near future, we know that Disney World planning is going to look a LOT different than what we have always known.
There’s new terms to learn, new procedures to understand, and new rules to follow.
If you’re planning to visit the Walt Disney World Resort in 2020 or 2021, you’ve come to the right place.
We’ve put together an easy-to-follow guide that will help you navigate all the changes in-store.
For people planning to travel to Walt Disney World between now and the end of 2021: if you read nothing else on this site, you should read this page.
Many years ago when this site was first created, the backbone of the planning advice stemmed from our 6 Step Planning Process.
And while things look very different now, we have something similar to help you navigate this transition period between how planning was and what we can expect it to look like in the future.
Following the steps below will help ensure you’re doing everything right and that you’re not missing any big details that could derail your vacation.
To be perfectly honest, we don’t have all of the answers quite yet and news is happening fast.
But while we wait for Disney to update us on a few missing details, we have enough to help all of you planners get started.
We’ve broken down this new process into 7 steps, and although that may seem like a lot, it really isn’t – and besides, we’re here to help you along the way.
Final note before we get started
Keep in mind that not all travel dates are available to book. Currently Disney is accepting reservations for travel between now and September 26, 2021. You can also purchase stand-alone tickets for these same dates.
For all the latest news on the reopening, be sure to check out our complete guide to the reopening of Walt Disney World.
1. Review Park Availability
In the olden days (like early 2020), guests wishing to visit Walt Disney World could select their vacation dates based upon a number of different things – like school schedules or inexpensive flights.
But with the implementation of the new Disney Park Pass System, you can’t do that anymore.
This is probably the biggest change in the entire planning process and it is far different from anything we’ve done in the past.
In the past, we would encourage people to travel during times of the year where the parks would be the least busy. And, while that is still true, there are a few more things to consider now.
Out of an abundance of caution and in adherence to health guidelines, Disney is limiting capacity across its entire resort. That means parks, resorts, restaurants, and shops all will see their maximum capacity greatly reduced.
The WDW that will be open is going to look different and you’ll have lots of things to consider before deciding whether or not to go.
If you’re on the fence and still trying to make up your mind, we have some thoughts that might help.
If after understanding all the details of what a trip right now will look like you’re still planning to go, your next step is to hop over to the Crowd Calendar to get an idea on when travel might make the most sense for you.
Because things are changing so rapidly and because availability for resorts, parks, and restaurants fluctuates, we recommend you have a couple different dates in mind just in case your first choice isn’t available.
How to check Disney Park Pass reservation availability
Disney makes it relatively easy to check park reservation availability.
They have a handy calendar that will show you exactly which parks are (or are not) available for every day between now and September 26, 2021.
Some important things to note about the calendar:
There are 3 different calendar view options:
- 1 for guests without resort reservations (basically people staying offsite)
- 1 for guests with resort reservations (including Annual Passholders with resort reservations)
- and 1 for Annual Passholders without resort reservations
Park availability will differ for each category, so be sure you are selecting the correct view.
2. Book your Vacation (including park tickets!)
Now that you have confirmed that the dates you want have Park Pass availability, you’ll want to book your trip – including purchasing tickets.
And, because availability can change at any time, it is important to book things promptly.
You have lots of options for booking your vacation – including both onsite and offsite resorts and hotels.
There are definite pros and cons to both onsite and off, but during this transition time we feel like it might be safest to go with a Disney Vacation Package (unless you have an Annual Pass), and here’s why:
With so much of travel changing and with how fluid things are, it just makes sense to pick a place to stay where you are more likely to get good customer service if by chance something happens.
Is Disney perfect?
Nope. But, they are known for going out of their way to make things right with guests.
Consider using a travel agent
With everything changing so rapidly it can be very helpful to have somebody you can turn to for assistance navigating through it all.
That’s why now more than ever, if planning a trip feels overwhelming we highly recommend reaching out to a reliable travel agent.
Not only will they be able to answer all of your questions, but they’ll also keep you in the loop if and when changes happen.
We love the agents at Perfect Story Travel. Not only are they highly trained, but they truly care about helping families plan their dream vacations.
Consider booking a package
Booking a vacation package makes it far easier to get all your money back if you need to cancel.
If you purchase tickets separately, you can’t “return” them. That purchase is final even if you have to cancel your trip.
The argument against packages is that it costs less if you book things separately. And that is partially true.
You can usually save some money if you purchase your tickets separately from an Authorized Reseller. The amount you save typically isn’t a lot, though, at least not when compared to the other components of your trip.
But – right now with things the way they are, an easy way to add a layer of financial protection to your trip is to book things as a package so that you have the greatest amount of flexibility if you need to cancel or postpone.
Of course, if Disney cancels or has to close, you’ll likely see that they will work with ticket holders to extend the expiration dates.
But, if you purchased those tickets outside of a package you likely won’t get your money back.
Of course, if you have an Annual Pass you would want to book a Room-Only reservation.
But, for the maximum amount of security in case things go wrong, if you need tickets we strongly suggest – at least for this transition period – that you book a package.
And, one final reason to stick with an onsite vacation package:
We are positive that we will see more adjustments to the way things will work in the parks, and oftentimes staying onsite gets you faster access to information and even booking opportunities.
With everything operating with limited capacity, travel restrictions coming and going, and the possibility of additional changes in the future, you’ll likely find that you’ll have more flexibility in adapting if you opt to go with a package from the start.
Finalizing your resort choice
Keep in mind that not every resort may be open, and so you’ll need to be a bit flexible when it comes to where you’ll be staying.
To help you narrow down your options we have a list of all the pros and cons for all Walt Disney World Resort Hotels.
On that list we have indicated which resorts are open, so be sure to pay careful attention to that when choosing where to stay.
3. Secure your park dates
As soon as you purchase your tickets you’ll be able to secure your park dates. No valid ticket, no Disney Park Pass reservations.
This step is entirely new to Disney World planning.
Because it is so brand new we have written an entire guide to help you with the process.
If you’ve never made Disney Park Pass reservations before be sure you check it out.
This is one step you definitely don’t want to mess up. And, since it is brand new, there are lots of quirks that have made it challenging but we have some tips to help you troubleshoot if you run into problems.
Now, in the past this is the step where you’d want to utilize our Monthly Crowd Calendars to determine the best days to visit each park, and while we do think that those crowd calendars will be important as we learn more about the trends for the parks, there’s definitely a lot more nuance to choosing where you’ll be each day of your trip.
We’ll continue to track crowd trends (because we believe that there will still be daily trends), but keep in mind that the new Disney Park Pass Reservation System will, in effect, spread crowds out up to the maximum amount of people allowed in each park.
But for now, when choosing your parks for each day, here are some things to look at and keep in mind:
For a large chunk of 2020, Epcot will be hosting the new modified version of Food & Wine called a Taste of Epcot International Food & Wine, and while it isn’t as big of a production as we’re used to, we still expect the locals with Annual Passes to head to Epcot on the weekends (Friday – Sunday).
And while that doesn’t mean that the park will reach capacity, it does mean that there will still likely be the typical Food and Wine indulgences happening, at least to a lesser extent.
So, if you’re traveling between July 15 and late fall 2020, we recommend you avoid Epcot on the weekends.
Since the capacity at Hollywood Studios is probably the least (due to how many shows it won’t have open) and since it is the home to several of the hottest new attractions, we’re already seeing this park being unavailable to book.
Because of that, your options for available days for Hollywood Studios may be limited.
The same is true in a lesser sense for Animal Kingdom.
Just something to keep in mind when planning out your days.
Magic Kingdom will have the most number of attractions open. It is also a great park to start or end a vacation with, and a popular destination for locals with Annual Passes. That tends to make the weekends here busier than the weekdays.
4. Finalize how you'll get there
We wanted to make sure we gave special attention to this step because in the past, lots of people (including us!) would plan our vacations around the days we could get the cheapest flights.
Now, we aren’t saying you’ll only be able to fly on expensive days or that you won’t be able to find dates that have inexpensive flights, but what we are saying is that you should definitely not finalize how you’ll get to Walt Disney World until you have secured your park reservations.
Again, we sound like a broken record here, but flexibility is going to be key – and one area where you won’t be able to be flexible is with your park reservations.
Once they are gone, as far as we know they are gone.
If you typically drive, you’ll have things a little bit easier.
But, if you usually fly, hold off purchasing any non-refundable flights until you have secured those park reservations and you are positive the trip is a “go”.
One final note about getting to Walt Disney World:
Depending on where you are coming from and where you are going to, you may find that your state of residence has restrictions in place.
Before you travel you’ll definitely want to review those and then plan accordingly.
5. Select Dining Options
Dining is one of the areas where things aren’t as clear. First, let’s cover a few details and then we’ll get into the nitty gritty.
Here’s what we know so far:
- All dining reservations for the immediate future will only be up to 60 days in advance (instead of the old 180 days).
- Character meals (aside from modified experiences at Topolino’s Terrace, Garden Grill, Be Our Guest and Ravello) have been temporarily suspended, too.
- In order to dine inside of a park, you must have a park reservation.
- For the immediate future, the Disney Dining Plan will not be available.
To Disney vets that list above probably looks a lot different from what they are used to.
But, despite all the changes, our philosophy for how to choose where to dine remains the same: you should plan to dine near where you will be.
The entire Walt Disney World Resort area is huge (roughly the size of San Francisco), and unless you want to spend hours each day on a bus crisscrossing the property going from meal to meal, you’ll want to be strategic about planning where you’ll be eating.
6. Plan Park Touring
Even though we won’t have FastPass+ available and the crowds will be reduced, you’ll still want to have a plan to tackle the parks.
We have some thoughts on exactly what a touring plan will look like and we are testing our theories as the parks have re-opened. Stay tuned for recommended touring strategies in the near future.
One thing we do know about park touring is that the very popular Rise of the Resistance will use the virtual queue system that it originally opened with, just with some minor updates.
Stay tuned for more info on park touring soon!
7. Add Extra Magic
The final thing to do when planning your vacation is to figure out ways to add some extra magic to your trip.
This step doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to spend more money (although that is definitely an option); it just means you are intentional about ways to add a little extra **pixie dust** to your trip.
For lots of people, this is the step that really ties their entire vacation together (and gets them hooked on planning lots more Disney World trips!).
In the past, there were a lot more options for ways to add extra magic to trips, but with the precautions in place right now most of the things we used to recommend are no longer available.
Even though some of the biggies (like dessert parties and tours) are temporarily suspended, there’s still some things you can do.
But to be honest – if you are a frequent Disney World visitor (which you probably are if you are planning a trip before September 2021), one of the things we are realizing is that these changes we’ll be seeing in the parks are forcing us to re-evaluate what we view as “special”.
We love fireworks. And parades. And long park hours and maximizing our touring so that we can see and do as much as possible.
But one thing we aren’t very good at is slowing down and smelling the roses.
Now, for guests planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip, slowing down doesn’t always make sense because you want to get “the full Disney World experience.”
But for those people lucky enough to go multiple times, being able to slow down and dive deeper into the little things that makes the parks magical is a fairly large dash of pixie dust, at least in our humble opinion.
Main Street not packed shoulder to shoulder? Empty park benches to sit on and soak in the atmosphere? Park hours reduced making it easier to spend more time in amazingly themed resorts?
The reasons why we might have these things aren’t good, but having the option to make lemonade puts the power in our hands to make a less-than-normal situation in the parks something a little bit special.
Is it ideal? Most definitely not. But if the past few months have taught us nothing else, we have at least walked away with a greater appreciation of those little pieces of life that help to set the stage for everything else.
So, with that in mind (and understanding that you may need to think outside the box a little bit more), here’s some of our favorite Pixie Dust ideas to get you started:
- Plan a special meal at a special restaurant
- Try something new while you visit, like DisneyBounding
- Play Tinkerbell
- Do something nice for somebody else – like leaving these tip envelopes for Mousekeeping
- Do something extra to countdown to your trip
- Have a friend or loved one that can’t make it to the parks? Take the time to collect special photos (like pics of their favorite rides) or snag them a little something from the parks to bring the magic home to them.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that the purpose of any vacation should be to make memories, not to see and do it all.
Questions about traveling to Walt Disney World right now? We have additional posts to help you plan.