Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Disney World Changes: Our #1 Piece of Advice
- 2. Face Coverings Are Not Optional
- 3. Shorter Park Hours? Maybe
- 4. Disney Water Parks Opening - Good News for Spring Break
- 5. No Extra Magic Hours - Early Entry Instead
- 6. Farewell Magical Express
- 7. No More Free MagicBands
- 8. Phased Reopening May Impact Your Resort Hotel Choices
- Where Can I Buy Discount Disney Tickets?
- 9. Reservations to Get into the Parks
- 10. No Parades or Nighttime Spectaculars
- 11. Character Interaction Opportunities - Not Quite the Same
- 12. No Disney Dining Plans + Changes to Advance Dining Reservations
- 13. No FastPass+
- 14. No "High-Touch" Interactions
- 15. Special Experiences on Hold
- 16. Pin Trading May Be Limited
- 17. Embrace the Technology
- 18. Hand Sanitizers Everywhere
- The Big Question: Is Disney Worth It Right Now?
It’s jaw dropping when you think about how much the world has changed in the last year. If you’re ready to get back to travel and you’ve got the most Magical Place on Earth at the top of your list, here are some of the Disney World changes you’ll see this year and next year. From character interactions to pin trading, here’s what to expect.
Changes, changes, and more changes. Some Disney World changes are exciting, like new rides. But many of these post-pandemic changes involve Disney taking away something — like the free Magical Express bus service and free MagicBands for Disney hotel guests — which is making them much less popular.
Read on for everything you need to know to prepare, from how things work in the parks now to Disney World changes coming in 2022.
TravelingMom Tip: You can now book Disney vacations up to 500 days in advance! That means you can book now for visits in 2022. All it takes is a $200 down payment. The balance isn’t due until 30 days prior to travel. You can get details on this, as well as help booking, from our partners at Get Away Today. Not only does the company have the lowest prices, it offers a best price guarantee. If you ever find park tickets cheaper, Get Away Today won’t just match the price, the company will beat it.
1. Disney World Changes: Our #1 Piece of Advice
Know. The. Rules.
Things are different right now. Everywhere. Disney does a great job at keeping guests and potential guests informed. Get familiar with the main Walt Disney World website, download the My Disney Experience App and get familiar with how it is set up in advance of your visit.
Read the signs in the resort hotels, in Disney Springs and in the parks.
If you think you or someone in your group is an exception to any of the rules, research it ahead of time. Don’t assume. You can still have a very magical time at Disney World right now but planning is more important than ever.
2. Face Coverings Are Not Optional
Guests 2 and up must wear a face covering except when eating or swimming. ShopDisney sells lots of cute Disney-themed masks and you can also buy Disney masks at the gift shops throughout the resort and in Disney Springs.
It has been our experience that Disney is doing a pretty good job enforcing mask wearing. It is HOT in the Orlando area much of the year so if you’re coming from a cooler climate, wearing a mask outdoors for an extended period of time might not be the most comfortable thing in the world, so be ready for that (and check out our tips for staying cool at Disney).
Also expect temperature checks before entry into the parks. Guests with 100.4 or higher will not be admitted, nor will anyone in their party. Cast Members are doing their jobs and enforcing the rules so please make it easier on you and them and know the rules before you go in.
Need help planning your Disney trip? Get all your questions answered from our Disney Planning & Fun Facebook Group!
3. Shorter Park Hours? Maybe
When Disney World first reopened, the hours were quite a bit shorter than what we were used to.
Although Disney appears to be slowly working back to normal, the time you have in a day to enjoy the parks isn’t what it used to be.
Our advice is to become intimately familiar with the park hours calendar as you plan your vacation and plan your time in the parks. You’ll need to work within these parameters – and expect they may change – as you get closer to your family vacation.
If you are a free and easy go-with-the-flow type of planner, this might be a little difficult for you but if you are going to have a successful visit in 2021-2022, you’re going to need to plan your time in the parks around the current, posted hours and accept that you probably aren’t going to have as much time in the day to be in the parks as you’d like.
Currently, Magic Kingdom has the most robust park hours with Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios having fairly early closing times.
Here are our guides for how to spend one day in the parks:
4. Disney Water Parks Opening – Good News for Spring Break
If you are a superfan of Disney Water Parks, we have some good news. Blizzard Beach has announced a March 2021 re-opening. No word yet on when Typhoon Lagoon might reopen.
5. No Extra Magic Hours – Early Entry Instead
Extra Magic Hours – a perk available to people who stay “on property” at a Disney hotel – was discontinued shortly after the reopening after the pandemic. In January, Disney announced that EMH is permanently going away and returning, with changes, as Early Entry.
Extra Magic Hours used to give resort guests access to one of the four parks each day, either before or after regular park opening hours. There was a published schedule that dictated which park had Extra Magic Hours on which day. This was pretty easy to plan around.
Early Entry will be a 30 minute early access versus an hour. Guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel will be able to use Early Entry at any park on any day. More flexibility, less time. Fair tradeoff? You decide. BAsed on social media discussion, this is one of the least popular Disney World changes.
6. Farewell Magical Express
Disney announced in January that it would stop offering Magical Express baggage handling immediately and stop offering the Magical Express bus service altogether in 2022. Disney’s Magical Express is (was?) complimentary transportation from Orlando International Airport for guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort Hotels.
One of the best parts of this service was the magical bag handling. Disney would retrieve your luggage from the baggage carousel and deliver it to your room. This meant you could bypass baggage claim, scan your Disney MagicBand, hop on a bus and start having fun in the parks.
On the trip home (sometimes laughingly referred to as the Tragical Express), guests could check their bags at the resort and enjoy every last drop of their Disney vacation in the parks without worrying about their baggage on the shuttle back to the airport.
The Magical Express will go away entirely in January 2022. While the buses are still running for guests with reservations at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel through 2021, there is no baggage handling service. You bring, you carry.
Disney World changes typically don’t go over well with guests and this one has not been well received.
7. No More Free MagicBands
MagicBands can act as your park ticket, your method of payment and your room key. They’re even waterproof so you can wear them in the pools and Disney Water Parks. Before the pandemic, MagicBands were free for guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort Hotels and for Annual Passholders.
When you got your MagicBands in the mail – usually 2-3 weeks in advance of your vacation – you knew it was getting real. You could even select the color.
Beginning in 2021, Disney has discontinued the free MagicBands for resort guests. (Disney visitors who were not staying on property have always had to buy their MagicBands.)
Now, guests staying at Walt Disney World Resorts have the option of adding MagicBands to their reservation for an additional fee.
You can also purchase MagicBands in the park or reuse MagicBands from a prior trip. Just make sure your Magic Bands are connected to your My Disney Experience Account and make sure all your info is correct.
This is another unpopular Disney World change.
8. Phased Reopening May Impact Your Resort Hotel Choices
As of early February, it looks like all of the Disney hotels will be open by mid-summer 2021. However, your Disney vacation planning may be impacted by hotel availability.
Disney reopened its resort hotels on a phased reopening time table. Guests are permitted to make reservations based on a hotel’s projected reopening. But if we’ve learned anything about 2021 travel plans, it’s that we need to be flexible. You can read more about current availability and Disney’s phased reopening of the resort hotels here.
Where Can I Buy Discount Disney Tickets?
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If you ever find park tickets cheaper, Get Away Today won’t just match the price, the company will beat it! Great customer service is another reason why we recommend Get Away Today. From buying your tickets to planning your Disney vacation, they help you every step of the way. Read our full review of Get Away Today here.
If you want to know what it would cost to go to Disney World for your family, ask for a free quote here.
9. Reservations to Get into the Parks
Ah, the good old days when you could wake up and decide which park you wanted to visit that day. EPCOT and the World Showcase by day and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Star Wars after dinner? While that would have been entirely doable with a park hopper ticket pre-2020, that plan doesn’t work in 2021.
The reservations system to get into the park is one of the first post-Covid Disney World changes to roll out and it’s one that guests have mostly liked since it’s (so far) resulted in thinner crowds at the parks.
In order to get into one of the parks you’ll need both a valid park admission ticket and a Disney park pass reservation. As of January 2021, park hopping is back but you will still need to make a park reservation So planning is a must. It will be much more of a production to move from one park to another.
Park hopper hours begin at 2 p.m. and last until that park closes. As with all ticket and reservation related things, refer to your My Disney Experience App.
And, because it bears repeating: Guests must have both a ticket and a reservation. Foot stomp.
10. No Parades or Nighttime Spectaculars
Parades and nighttime shows draw big, enthusiastic crowds every day. That’s why Disney suspended them when the parks reopened in 2020. We may see the return of the traditional parades later in 2021 but that’s just a prediction…or maybe just wishful thinking.
For now, the Disney World parades have been replaced by character cavalcades. Think of these as mini parades that aren’t scheduled. These offer some opportunity to see characters in action and to enjoy elements of parades that make them so popular, such as music or waving at princesses.
Although you can’t plan your park day around the cavalcade the way you can around a parade, most visitors to Disney parks report seeing at least a couple of them as they go throughout their park day.
11. Character Interaction Opportunities – Not Quite the Same
In order to comply with social distancing guidelines, there are no character meet and greets or one-on-one interactions. That doesn’t mean you won’t see your favorites or get to interact with them.
Your kids might miss the hugs and the up close and personal experience, but Disney has gone out of its way to still make it special. You might see Timon and Rafiki or Pocahontas and Meeko waving to you from a boat in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Guests to the Magic Kingdom have enjoyed Princess Processionals, which is Merida on horseback riding in advance of a gazebo float and crystal castle carrying your favorites, like Cinderella, Tiana, Belle, Jasmine, Snow White, and Rapunzel.
Socially distanced character interactions have been reported in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you want to get a selfie with Kylo Ren or some Storm Troopers in the background, you might get lucky.
We think Disney is doing a great job with this change.
12. No Disney Dining Plans + Changes to Advance Dining Reservations
Disney Dining Plans are still on hold for now. Character Dining is making a socially distanced comeback. While the days of your favorite characters visiting your table for hugs, photos and autograph signings are gone for now, a select number of restaurants are offering character dining. The characters will parade through the dining area and guests are reminded to stay at their tables while this happens. You’ll get an opportunity to get pictures with your favorite Disney friends from a safe distance.
Available character dining at time of publication:
- Toppolino’s Terrace, Disney’s Riviera Resort
- Garden Grill, EPCOT
We’re crossing our fingers that more character dining experiences will be phased back in soon.
You can (and should) book dining reservations if you plan to eat at any table service restaurants. The current booking window is 60 days out, down from the 180 days it has been in the past.
Disney’s current goal is to allow people to make reservations closer to their actual travel dates. It is kind of hard to plan most things long term right now. We think that 60 days is more than adequate to make dining reservations, especially since you won’t be competing for those coveted character meal reservations.
13. No FastPass+
FastPass+ has been a way for families to maximize their time at Disney by “skipping” the line at popular attractions.
Disney has cancelled FastPass+ bookings and is not taking new bookings at this time. Currently, the extra FastPass queue space is being used to help guests maintain physical distancing while waiting in line for attractions.
Guests early in the re-opening reported shorter rides because of the smaller crowds. As more people return to travel, we’ll see if that continues to hold true.
14. No “High-Touch” Interactions
Bye-bye to the non-socially-distanced Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Harmony Barber Shop and Character Couture makeovers, at least for now. At the time of publication, resort salons/spas are closed with no info on projected opening dates.
Other items defined by Disney as high-touch interactions may include playgrounds and play areas, both in the resorts and the parks. If/when these activities are open, capacity limits may be enforced.
15. Special Experiences on Hold
In addition to the “high touch” experiences, special tours and behind-the-scenes experiences have also been put on hold for right now.
One of the best behind-the-scenes experiences at Walt Disney World is the Senses of Africa Breakfast at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. If they bring it back, I highly recommend.
16. Pin Trading May Be Limited
If you love pin trading and you’ve been worried about the availability and safety of it, we might have some good news for you! While we don’t have an official list of pin trading locations in the parks, we’ve heard reports of pin trading being alive and well.
“We found it a Covid-safe experience,” TravelingMom and writer Sarah Gilliland says of her recent visit to Walt Disney World. “You describe the pin you want, the cast member grabs it off the board and wipes it with a Clorox wipe and places it in a box or on the table. Guests never physically touch a cast member. They then pick up your pin, wipe it clean, and place it back on the board for others to trade.”
Although you might not find as many pin trading boards – super high touch areas – you might see other guests who are obviously pin traders. Pin traders will have visible lanyards or other containers – a popular one is a wearable pin wallet that looks like a little purse. It’s up to you whether you approach them as individuals and ask to pin trade.
17. Embrace the Technology
Touchless check-in and the resort and touchless payment are the way to go. Disney was moving in this direction (along with the rest of the world) even before our everyday conversations were peppered with terms like “global pandemic” and “high touch.” If you are not regularly asking yourself “Can I do that on the app?” or “Can I use my device to do that?” then get in the habit of doing that.
Your trip to Disney will be easier. Technology really does make our lives and travels easier and right now, it keeps us safer.
18. Hand Sanitizers Everywhere
This is a good change that we want to see stick around! We’re seeing ample hand sanitizing stations throughout the parks.
TravelingMom Tip: It’s still a good idea to carry your own. Even in non-pandemic times, kids’ hands are pretty gross and any theme park is going to contain lots of high touch surfaces.
The Big Question: Is Disney Worth It Right Now?
When words and phrases like “pandemic” and “social distance” began to be a part of our everyday vocabulary, most of us didn’t expect things to go on for this long.
But, they have.
Should you postpone your Disney vacation until after Covid-19 is no longer a threat? Or should you arm yourself with info and go with precautions? That’s a highly personal choice. Disney right now isn’t going to be exactly the same as Disney 18 months ago. Or 18 months in the future.
On the plus side, capacity limits mean smaller crowds, which means less time spent waiting in long lines and more time riding the ride. However, so much is different or absent. If you’ve grown up on commercials of starry-eyed children watching fireworks at Cinderella’s Castle or hugging Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse for the first time, maybe what’s being offered right now is going to fall short of that expectation.
I get that logic.
But Main Street U.S.A. is still Main Street U.S.A. The magic of Pandora and Splash Mountain and all of (well…most of) our favorites are still going strong.
TravelingMom and Disney expert Sarah Gilliland had this to say: “Are things the same? No, not even close. Can you still have fun? Absolutely, especially if you plan appropriately and manage expectations.”