It's been one crazy roller coaster of a year! There have been lots of twists and turns these past 365 days, and understandably, most of us are ready for things to "just get back to normal." We were hopeful that with the new year, our biggest worries would be whether we snagged FastPasses for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Avatar: Flight of Passage precisely 60 days in advance of our upcoming Walt Disney World vacation. While things aren't toadally back to "normal," more and more continues to open up at "The Most Magical Place on Earth" ... and there's so much to look forward to in 2021 and beyond!
While there's lots of excitement on the horizon, including all-new nighttime spectaculars (yes, fireworks!), EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays, Disney Very Merriest After Hours and Walt Disney World's 50th Anniversary Celebration, it's important to note that there are still changes in place around the resort that you should be aware of before your trip. Here are the key things you need to know!
18 Key Things to Keep in Mind If You're Visiting Disney World in 2021
1. Safety measures are still in place, but changing.
Recently, Disney World amended its policies a bit — masks are back to being mandatory for all guests ages 2 and up, regardless of vaccination status, in indoor locations across the resort (including transportation and throughout all attractions). Masks remain optional for guests in outdoor common areas. Temperature checks have been phased out and distancing measures are being reduced or eliminated across the resort (say goodbye to plexiglass partitions on rides!). That said, you should read up on all of the health and safety protocols in place before you go.
2. You can "reach out and find your Happily Ever After" once again — nighttime spectaculars have returned!
Both "Happily Ever After" and "EPCOT Forever" have returned to Magic Kingdom and EPCOT as of July 1. Hip, hop, hooray! In October, two new nighttime spectaculars, "Disney Enchantment" at Magic Kingdom and "Harmonius" at EPCOT, will debut for Disney World's 50th Anniversary Celebration. (Be sure to catch the nighttime spectaculars before they retire — Sept. 28 for "EPCOT Forever" and Sept. 29 for "Happily Ever After"!) Also, beginning Aug. 1, "Wonderful World of Animation" returned to Disney's Hollywood Studios.
3. Entertainment, shows and character greetings are returning in modified form.
Parades and other shows that typically draw big crowds are not hoppening right now. While character dining experiences are continuing to reopen, including Chef Mickey's, Hollywood & Vine and Tusker House, typical character meet-and-greets are not taking place. Instead, the parks have debuted character cavalcades that run at select times throughout the day, as well as pop-up greetings. While things are different, we’ve found them to be no less magical. While we’re physically distant, Disney has mastered character interactions not being socially distant. Likewise, a modified "Celebration of Festival of the Lion King" has returned to Disney's Animal Kingdom! In August, "Beauty and the Beast — Live on Stage" will return Aug. 15 at Hollywood Studios, along with Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Aug. 8 at Magic Kingdom and Turtle Talk with Crush Aug. 21 at EPCOT.
4. More and more restaurants are reopening, but they may have modified or updated menus.
While more and more restaurants are reopening, and capacity is increasing, there still isn't quite as much availability as there was pre-COVID-19. For this reason, you should absolutely make dining plans in advance and reservations for table-service restaurants, so you're not left with tired, hungry tadpoles. Advance Dining Reservations can be made 60 days in advance. And don’t froget about Disney Springs (where we’ve spied the most dinner availability when we’ve checked). More options are slowly rolling out, so keep an eye out! Additionally, be sure to check menus in advance — some offerings have been modified.
5. Mobile Order is a must-do.
While it's not required, Mobile Order is all but a must-use for quick-service restaurants — and some restaurants exclusively use Mobile Order. With the limits mentioned on the table-service restaurants, quick-service restaurants are in more demand than ever and wait times are up since the parks have reopened. No one wants to spend more time in line for a hot dog than for a ride! Thankfully, with Mobile Ordering at Disney World, you don't have to. It's pretty easy to set up mobile ordering using the Disney World app, and we've got a full guide to walk you through it. (Psst ... on the app, you can also check table-service restaurants near you for walk-up availability!)
6. Capacity is going up in the parks.
When the resort reopened, Disney World initially capped its park attendance at 20 percent. That limit has continued to increase, as more and more guests hop back to the parks.
7. Park reservations are still required.
To manage individual park capacity, Disney World implemented a Park Pass reservation system wherein you needed to reserve the park you plan to attend on each day of your vacation. As more people have returned to the parks, it has become more and more important to book your park reservations earlier, especially if you want to visit around holidays and weekends OR you want to visit Disney's Hollywood Studios. We cannot stress this enough — Park Passes are filling up quickly, so it's essential that you purchase your tickets and reserve your Park Passes as early as you can. At this point, the Disney Park Pass reservation system is set to be in place until early 2023.
8. Events are still hoppening, with some modifications.
While Disney's two biggest events, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party were canceled for 2020, many more events did take place in 2020 and will be taking place in 2021. The first EPCOT festival in a year without modifications is hoppening this summer — EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival. Disney World is also planning "The World's Most Magical Celebration" for its 50th anniversary, which will run for 18 dazzling months beginning in October 2021. New After Hours events will take place during the Halloween and holiday seasons: Disney Boo Bash After Hours and Disney Very Merriest After Hours. And the Candlelight Processional is returning to this year's EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays!
Keep in mind that Park Passes may fill up early for special events. For example, Park Passes for Oct. 1, 2021, are already full for annual passholders, who have a separate "well" of Park Pass availability. Hotels are also filling around this date, so we'd highly recommend booking if you plan to attend.
9. Park hopping has returned — with some modifications.
Park hopping has returned as of Jan. 1, 2021 — with some stipulations. You need to make a reservation for the park you plan to start the day in, but you're free to hop to another park at 2 p.m. (provided there's availability, but this hasn't been an issue yet, even during the current busy summer season).
10. Some resort hotels remain closed.
Not all of the resort hotels have reopened yet, but most of the remaining closed hotels will reopen by the end of 2021. Disney's Polynesian Village Resort is the latest to reopen with its new Moana-inspired rooms. The last of the hotels to reopen include:
- Aug. 26, 2021: Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas — Jambo House
- Sept. 16, 2021: Disney's All-Star Music Resort
- Oct. 14, 2021: Disney's Port Orleans Resort - Riverside
- Oct. 28, 2021: Disney's Port Orleans Resort - French Quarter
Additionally, some resort hotel services have been suspended. Club-level service is temporarily unavailable. While Disney is offering its Magical Express transportation to and from the airport for resort hotel guests through the end of 2021, guests must now transport their own luggage.
Again, we highly recommend booking as soon as you have your dates set, especially if it's during a traditionally busy time such as holidays, summer and spring break.
11. Water parks are slowly reopening.
Disney's Blizzard Beach reopened March 7, 2021, with health and safety measures in place (read all about the experience in our Blizzard Beach guide). Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park remains closed until further notice.
12. Extra Magic Hours are going away and a new Early Theme Park Entry benefit is coming.
Early Magic Hours haven't been hoppening since the parks reopened, and now Disney has announced that a new Early Theme Park Entry benefit will debut in time for the 50th Anniversary Celebration. The new Disney Early Theme Park Entry benefit will allow on-site hotel guests and guests at select off-site hotels to enjoy 30-minutes of early entry to ANY theme park, EVERY day, beginning Oct. 1, 2021.
13. FastPass+ is not currently happening, but a paid alternative is coming.
With expanded queues and physical distancing on rides, Disney has disabled FastPass+, its skip-the-regular lines service. The FastPass+ queues are still being used for guests with disabilities and Rider Swap, but for now, there is no way to make advance reservations for rides. Debuting this fall, Genie+ will offer guests a way to pay to skip the lines for in-demand attractions. Similar to Disneyland's MaxPass, the add-on will cover several rides and can be purchased same-day. (No more getting up early 60 days in advance to snag your spot!)
14. MagicBands are no longer free, but you will have less need for them in 2021.
As of January 2021, MagicBands are still available for purchase to all, but they are no longer provided free for resort hotel guests. Disney has brought some of the functionality of MagicBands to an all-new service called Disney MagicMobile. Disney MagicMobile provides a contactless way to access MagicBand features such as theme park entry through your iPhone, Apple Watch or other smart device. Guests can create a Disney MagicMobile pass through the My Disney Experience app and add it to their smart device’s digital wallet. Just like a MagicBand, MagicMobile works by holding or tapping your smart device near an access point. Digital room keys will continue to be available through My Disney Experience.
15. Now, more than ever, you need to plan your time in the parks.
In this interim time without FastPass+ and the full return of entertainment, it is perhaps more important than ever to have a plan when visiting the parks. At least have all of your family members decide at the outset which rides are most important so that no one is left disappointed. If you want more direction than that, we frogs have added new Disney World park plans that take into account these changes to help you plan your best day. And of course, we'll have even more tips once Genie+ is released to help you make the most of your day.
16. You need to know the latest ways to make reservations for in-demand rides.
A virtual queue was the only way to ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, but Boarding Groups are temporarily closed for this particular attraction (though they may return in the future). But virtual queues are here to stay! The newest ride to use it will be Remy's Ratatouille Adventure at EPCOT, making its debut Oct. 1, 2021.
17. As soon as you know you're going, you should book the trip!
This goes for hotel reservations, park reservations and tickets. It's doubly true if you will be visiting during a holiday, peak times or major events, such as Disney World's 50th anniversary. With limited capacity and demand increasing, you need to book as soon as you feel comfortable doing so.
18. Consider travel insurance.
While Undercover Tourist has a generous refund and modification policies, in these times, you may want even more peace of mind. Our travel insurance offers reimbursement up to 100 percent for pre-paid, non-refundable tickets if you cancel or interrupt your vacation for a covered illness, injury and more. You'll find it as an easy add-on in your cart before you purchase!
Here's to better times in 2021! While this is a lot to consider, we think the benefits of a fabulous Disney World family vacation are toadally worth it. Have a tip you think other vacationers would benefit from knowing? Share it in the comments below!
Related: Best Time to Visit Disney World