The Disney Community has been looking forward to 2021 for a few years now. The parks have been undergoing renovations that were supposed to be completed prior to the resort’s 50th Anniversary in October. While we were excited about the many new things coming, we did not expect all of the changes that the global pandemic would add. With parks closed and construction halted for months many of the new restaurants and attractions were postponed or cancelled and major shifts were made in the planning process to promote social distancing, but there is still much to look forward to for Disney in 2021.
Planning a Disney Vacation for 2021 is going to look VERY DIFFERENT than we’re all used to. With the limited capacity in the parks, the Park Pass Reservation system and cancelled events and services, there is a lot you should know if you’re planning a Vacation to Walt Disney World.
Whether you are in the midst of planning or you are thinking about a trip in the next year, here are 21 things you need to know about visiting Walt Disney World in 2021.
The new Park Reservation system was instituted when the parks reopened after the coronavirus shutdown to help with crowd management. All Guests with valid admission are required to make a reservation in advance for each park entry, using this new online tool. They are currently accepting reservations through January 2022 and you must have valid theme park admission (a ticket or package) in order to reserve your park.
Because of the new system, Disney eliminated the Park Hopper ticket in 2020 and refunded those who had already purchased their ticket with the feature allowing you to visit more than one park in the same day. They are selling the Park Hopper add on for 2021 but with the Park Reservation System booking through 2022 I doubt this will be possible until at least Summer 2021.
If you are a veteran of planning Walt Disney World you are very familiar with the 180-day planning window. This is when you are able to make reservations for enchanted extras like Bibbity Bobbity Boutique and backstage tours as well as Advanced Dining Reservations for restaurants. With so much uncertainty and limited capacity Disney has changed this window to 60 days prior to your trip. This affects you MOST if you hope to walk up to a restaurant and wait for a table. At present this doesn’t seem like an option. In order to be seated you must have a reservation. We do not know when it will change back, if at all. For more of my suggestions about dining options in Walt Disney World check out my blogs on Alternative for Hard to Get Disney Dining Reservations and Disney’s Best Value Quick Service Restaurants.
Another huge change to dining is the temporary suspension of dining plans. Disney felt that if their restaurants could not operate at full capacity and those with dining plans may not be able to make advanced dining reservations it was not appropriate to offer a dining plan when people may not be able to redeem their credits. I am a such huge fan of the dining plan that I wrote a whole blog post about it that you can find here. Hopefully this is one of the first things to return next year.
For the safety of guests and cast members, changes were also made to character interactions. Instead of lines of people waiting to give their favorite a hug, Disney has found creative ways to interact with keeping in line with appropriate social distancing guidelines. You will find characters walking around or engaging in their favorite activities. You can still say hello and take fun selfies from appropriate distances. Character dining is also affected by these changes, many of the dining locations remain closed but a few are open and characters are walking by tables and taking photos but staying six feet away.
In order to help with physical distancing in queues, Disney had to suspend the current Fastpass system. At this time you can not reserve ride times in advance. But no fear, without having to alternate standard and fastpass queues lines are moving much more efficiently. Some are a little slowed by sanitizing processes but all in all without fastpass queues will drop dramatically. We have been hearing rumblings that FP may not return as we knew them. We may see a switch to a same day virtual queue like Rise of the Resistance or see the introduction of a fee.
I think this is the most devastating casualty of the pandemic. Anything that draws crowds like fireworks and parades have been suspended. If you are planning a once in a lifetime trip you may want to wait until the nighttime entertainment returns. Disney has done a great job of replacing the daily parade with smaller, unscheduled character cavalcades which are basically mini parades throughout the day.
Another great sacrifice Disney had to make was live entertainment. Not only would it not be wise to jam guests into large theatres, it would also be dangerous for the performers who have to work closely together, share small dressing rooms and project voices out into the audience. After losing Billions of dollars during the shutdown (yes that is a B) Disney was forced to make financial cuts and one of those areas was live performers. A huge reason for that was that the Actors Equity Union had not approved a return to work for their members and Disney could not afford to pay people who were not working. I am confident that we will see the return of our favorite shows as well as new ones come 2022.
Now that I got all of the unpleasant things out of the way, let’s move onto the fun stuff! The Disney community has been looking forward to 2021 for a while now, as The Walt Disney Company has been announcing new rides, restaurants, shows, resorts, services and more for years in preparation to celebrate the park’s birthday in October 2021. With so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic we do not know what the scope of the celebration may be, and are waiting a little impatiently for an announcement from the Big Cheese. We do know that because of the pandemic closure a lot of those things had to be postponed or cancelled, BUT, know that many of the major projects were close to completion and are still moving forward. To see a full updated list of construction updates check out this one from my friend Rochelle at Polka Dot Pixie Dust.
This new 4-D trackless dark ride shrinks guests down to rat size. Set to open summer 2021, we expect to see Remy’s Ratatouille open early 2021.
This new authentic Creperie is part of the new Ratatouille courtyard and will offer crepes with a variety of sweet and savory options. This restaurant will feature celebrity chef Jérôme Bocuse’s menu. And since Bocuse is the resident genius (and son of French Legend Paul Bocuse) behind Chefs de France and Monsieur Paul we can’t wait to see what this one has in store. This is a quick service and table service restaurant set to open as part of the new courtyard opening in 2021.
HarmonioUS is the new Epcot fireworks spectacle that was set to replace Illuminations in summer 2020. They have been testing the laser lights, neon, music, and lighted flying drones known as “Flixels,” over the past few months so we think this show will be ready to go when it is safe to reintroduce nighttime entertainment, hopefully sometime next year.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is a Marvel-themed roller coaster under construction at Epcot. This attraction will be the first of its kind at Walt Disney World, and was slated to be one of biggest additions for the 50th Anniversary. It was originally slated to open in Spring 2021 so we could see it open as early as fall or as late as fall 2022.
With stellar views and gourmet menu offerings, Space 220 is slated to be ‘The Height of Dining.’” To begin the voyage at Space 220 Restaurant, guests will board a special space elevator that will ascend to the stars. Along the way, viewports will give you an aerial view of Epcot as you travel high above the planet. Upon your arrival, guests will enjoy a celestial panorama from the space station, with the ability to peer out and enjoy amazing daytime and nighttime views of Earth from 220 miles up. This Patina Group run restaurant was supposed to open in late 2019 but was fraught with issues that delayed the opening and then the closures happened. The rumor is that the new internal opening goal is March 2021.
Having opened with the Magic Kingdom, the Polynesian Village Resort is celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary in 2021 as well, and getting a major update. The Poly is getting a Moana inspired facelift with a new Monorail station area, room refurbishments and a fresher color scheme. Most of this project is set to complete by Summer 2021.
The broken walkway from Magic Kingdom that leads to the Grand Floridian is set to be connected providing another option for walking guests to avoid the monorail or buses. This is still slated for completion in 2020.
The TRON Lightcycle Power Run Rollercoaster is coming to Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom. The new coaster is going to occupy a completely new area in Tomorrowland next to Space Mountain and from everything we are hearing it is still on track to debut by the anniversary in October.
The newest restaurant to ring in the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World is Woody’s Roundup Rodeo BBQ. Being built by Andy himself, this barbecue restaurant featuring all of your favorite toys is still being constructed out of cardboard, tape and playsets, This project was set to complete by the end of 2020 so I would estimate we will see this in early 2021.
This was announced long before the coronavirus closure so this is not just a cost cutting measure, Disney is trying to replace the bands with something you already have, your phone. While I think it will take a few years to completely phase out the bands, you will not receive them as a part of your package if you check in after December 31, 2020. You can still purchase bands at shopDisney or in the parks.
Disney has always had one of the more flexible cancellation policies, with a $200 deposit fully refundable up to final payment which isn’t due until 30 days prior to check in. Even if you canceled after the final payment you still only lost your deposit or you could change (as long as your reservation stayed the same cost) without a penalty. With coronavirus they have made it even more flexible with final payment due 7 days before check in and all cancellation and change fees waived through April 2021.
All of 2021 is now available for booking. All of the resorts are operating at reduced capacity with many still unopened. It would be wise to lock in your resort and park reservations now, as we expect a major influx when a vaccine or other solution is announced.
I understand how you’re feeling, I know all too well how easy it can be at the beginning to start researching online, just to find yourself 3 hours down the line more confused than when you started. But don’t panic! I can help you plan your dream Disney vacation without any of the stress of hassle – starting with the ‘A Disney Trip without Overwhelm, 5 Easy Steps’ Guide. These 5 steps will help keep you focused on organizing the best trip ever, while giving you peace of mind that everything will be done, and nothing will be left out.
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