Can you believe how much has changed in such a short period of time? I mean a relatively short period of time for me each day seems like it lasts forever. From how we go to the grocery store, and deciding how children are going to learn, to how we travel. Almost everything I have learned in the past 5 years of planning Disney vacations is changing. Fastpasses are no longer available, dining reservations are available 60 days in advance, and some of the entertainment that you would typically enjoy is no longer available.
Despite all that, it was so exciting to see the Walt Disney World theme parks open last week. I loved seeing my friends and colleagues return to their happy place. I can’t tell you when it will be safe or when it will be best for your family to go, but I can share what I learned during the park reopening and make some suggestions for your 2021 vacation based on my years of experience. Whether you have to change your planned 2020 vacation, have always looked forward to Disney in 2021, or are just so tired of being in your house and ready to get back to the magic – following these 8 tips will make your 2021 vacation more enjoyable.
Plan in Advance
I know a lot of people want to wait and see how things improve or change before making any plans for next year. The great thing is Disney has a very liberal cancellation and change policy even before the current crisis. With just a $200 deposit you can lock in pricing and availability and can cancel without penalty up to 30 days prior to your vacation. In my opinion, it would be better to lock something in and have to cancel it, as opposed to wanting to go and not having any availability or have to pay incredibly marked up prices due to demand.
Disney began its phased reopening of the theme parks a few weeks ago. In an effort to reduce the number of people in the parks to allow for social distancing they have limited the number of hotel rooms and they have instituted a park reservation system.
Disney owned hotels are also reopening in phases. They started the reopening with only Disney Vacation Club (Disney’s Timeshare arm also known as DVC) resorts available and have announced rolling opening dates for only a handful of their other resorts. Disney opened 2021 packages back in June but are only booking the resorts with currently announced opening dates. At this time Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort, Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Jambo House, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside, and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge are not available for booking. The biggest problem with mostly just the DVC resorts is that the villas do not become available for booking until 11 months in advance so if you are planning a trip after July of next year availability is extremely limited. I am being cautiously optimistic and advising my travelers to book something they would like and fits in their budget if nothing changes but that I can easily move them to their preferred resort as they open for booking.
Another benefit of booking early is that you are able to make Park Reservations as soon as you have purchased and linked a ticket. Park Reservations is Disney’s new system that requires you to select the park you will be attending on a given day in advance. Park Reservations are currently in place until September 2021. I do not think these will go away prior to that date to be fair to the guests who did book their visit in advance.
Book a Package
When you are planning a Walt Disney World vacation you can book your hotel and tickets separately or you can book a package which is your hotel and tickets together. When you book your hotel you must pay the equivalent of the first night stay which is often more than the $200 deposit that a package requires, though you can cancel your reservation up to 2 nights in advance. The big kicker here is that you must also pay for your tickets in full and your tickets are non-refundable. You must have a ticket linked to your My Disney Experience account to be able to book your Park Reservations. When you book a room + ticket package at a Disney owned or good neighbor resort you only have to put down a $200 deposit and that is refundable up to 30 days prior to check-in. This flexibility makes any added costs completely worth it in this time of uncertainty.
Ignore Crowd Calendars
No one knows what is going to happen in the next year where crowds are concerned. We could see a surge of people visiting due to pent up demand. Every canceled 2020 reservation could try to rebook for 2021. We could see a huge dip in crowds due to international travel restrictions, lost jobs, and concerns over travel. I think crowd levels will remain pretty steady as those two things balance out. Prior to the pandemic, Disney was expecting record crowds for its 50th anniversary year. It was planning on unveiling all sorts of improvements and new attractions for the celebration.
Things are changing at an incredible rate. Honestly, probably the only thing consistent since Disney first closed the park back in March is the constant change. We don’t know if things are going to consistently improve and Disney is going to start announcing resort openings and bringing back entertainment like fireworks or if they are going to have to close with Florida’s rising numbers. It is so important to remain flexible. If you get to the park you have reserved and you find that it is crowded and you don’t feel comfortable, plan to head to Disney Springs or enjoy some activities at your resort.
Be Aware of Restrictions
With things changing constantly it is difficult to keep up with everything but very important that you do. You don’t want to show up and be surprised that you are required to wear a mask or that the fireworks have been canceled until further notice. The best place to stay up to date on this information is the Walt Disney World site. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about everything you need to know about visiting Disney in 2021 and it is already out of date. Since the theme parks opened last week Disney has updated their policy that requires ear loops on your masks and that you must be stationary before lowering them to enjoy a snack. Make sure you are up to date on the latest requirements and closures before you go and of course back to the last point, be flexible if things should change while you are there.
Consider Transportation Thoroughly
I have been following the opening over the past few weeks. As Disney Bloggers, Travel Agents, and locals descended on the parks I was very curious what the feedback would be. Everyone I follow had great things to say about Disney policies, cast members, and gentle enforcement. Where the big hiccups seemed to be was where it came to transportation both getting to and around the parks. Disney is pretty much in its own bubble the size of San Francisco. They have their own electrical source, water supply, and fire department. The problem is getting to the bubble, especially as numbers are peaking in Florida. The feedback I heard about using Magical Express or renting a car at the Orlando airport was very positive. But the crowd management at other airports was lacking. You will really want to weigh your options here. Do you feel comfortable getting on a plane? If you are thinking about how often you will have to refuel, stop to eat or even overnight somewhere? When you get to Orlando do you feel comfortable renting a car? Can you walk from the parking lot to the park entrance as the trams are not running? Or would you rather wait for Disney transportation which due to the limited capacity is taking longer? There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to transportation. I can not tell you what the best decision for you will be but I certainly recommend spending more time considering your options than you normally would.
Be Prepared for Anything
Like I mentioned in the crowd calendar section Disney had big plans for 2021 with new attractions like Ratatouille, Guardians of the Galaxy Coaster, Tron, and a redesigned EPCOT. Every day the parks were closed Disney lost millions of dollars. They have said that any project that was already active in construction would continue but many more plans have been put on hold. As we move through the next year it is important to be prepared for anything. You could be in the parks when they open a new attraction or as they learn which attractions are most efficient to operate with the lower crowd levels we may see other attractions close. Basically anything can happen this year and as long as you go in expecting the unexpected you won’t be disappointed.
Don’t Do it Alone
It is my nature to try to find the positives in everything. While travel is a mess and I expect it to be for a while my hope is that people will now see the value in using a professional. There is a lot to navigate. How are you going to keep up with all of the changes? What is open and available for booking? What has changed since you booked? I live and breathe the Disney parks and it is my job to stay on top of every small detail. While I can’t tell you whether or not it is safe for your family to travel I can provide you with all the information you need to make the best decision. I am here to hold your hand through it all. The best part? All of my travel planning services are complimentary with a package booking.
If you are ready to have the family vacation you’ve been dreaming of, without spending time researching, planning and making it happen, schedule a call today. I’m here to help busy working Moms plan, organize and book the perfect family vacation. With me, all you have to worry about is enjoying your well-earned time away with your family. If you are ready to stop trying to do everything on your own and see how I can help you schedule a complimentary trip planning session now.
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