How Planning a Disney Vacation for 2021 is Different

How Planning a Disney Vacation for 2021 is Different

Planning a Disney Vacation for 2021 may not include fast passes or a 180-day dining reservation window or character meet and greets, but that’s not all you need to know. Here are all the ways a Disney Vacation is different right now. 

All the Changes at Disney World for 2021

Is Disney safe for traveling? With restrictions being removed everywhere, that would seem to be the common belief! Check out everything getting back to normal at Walt Disney World. 

Face Masks No Longer Required. Anywhere.

Effective immediately, Walt Disney World is no longer requiring the use of face masks outdoors or indoors. 

Physical Distancing No Longer Required. 

Effective immediately, all physical distancing requirements have been removed. 

Capacity is Increasing

In an earnings call with Disney CEO Bob Chapek today, he stated that the parks are beginning to raise the previously set 35% capacity limit. Check out the capacity of Walt Disney World Parks. 

“In terms of the parks, and when we’re going to sort of be able to raise our capacity limits, we’ve actually already started that, given the guidance that just came today, from the CDC, and earlier guidance that we got from the governor of Florida, we’ve already started to increase our capacities, those obviously today’s guidance that we got from the CDC in terms of those that were vaccinated do not necessarily need to wear masks anymore, both outdoors and indoors.” – Bob Chapek

Temperature Checks Have Been Removed

Walt Disney World has removed temperature checks in all locations across the parks, including in restaurants. This was a blanket change as a result of the recent state order.

Parking Returns to Normal

Previously allowing cars to park only in every other space, cars parking in any of the Disney Parks parking lots are now able to park in every space, as directed. Check out how to avoid Walt Disney World Parking Fees. 

Character Dining is Returning

While Topolino Terrace’s Mickey a la Art Breakfast has been in full swing, other character locations have been without characters. The good news is, Character Dining returns May 18th at select Walt Disney WorldRestaurants; Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Cape May Café at Disney’s Beach Club Resorts, and Tusker House Restaurants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Self-Service Refillable Mug Stations Have Returned

One of the first things that got pulled as part of Walt Disney World’s reopening plans was self-service refillable mug stations. If you have been to Walt Disney World during the pandemic you know that instead a cast member would take your mug and fill it for you. OR the service would be completely unavailable, allowing you to get a paper cup for your drink instead. BUT, now this has started to return across Disney Resorts and we couldn’t be happier! If you are a Disney Vacationer, you know there is nothing better than late-night commissary visits with your refillable mug in hand. And now, thankfully, Disney guests can refill their own mugs! A surefire sign that Walt Disney World is returning to normal, though we’re not sure just how widespread this practice is quite yet. 

Park Reservations are Required

With limited capacity rules being strongly enforced through different phases of the Walt Disney World reopening, it’s important to remember that the Walt Disney World capacity rules need to be followed. As a result, the Disney Park Pass Reservation system is in place. This helps guests make park reservations for which day they will be in each park. That said, a Park Reservation AND a Valid Park Ticket are now required to enter any Disney park. This system is in place from now until September 26, 2021. The good news here is that this planning piece is in place before your vacation. So you can spend time on the fun stuff like which Disney snacks to try and which rides to tackle. Learn how to make Disney Park Pass Reservations.

No Last Minute Trips

Since a park reservation is now required to enter the park, those last-minute trips will be a little harder to manage. Especially since unless you have a valid park ticket, annual pass, or package, you won’t even get access to the park reservation system. And once you do get in the system, depending on how far out your planning, the park you want to visit may be full. So, advanced planning is key. 

Park Hopper Begins at 2 pm

If you were a fan of the Park Hopper ticket, that flexibility of the Park Hopper is on pause. Mainly so Disney can keep an eye on attendance and manage park capacity. We’ve talked before about how you don’t really need the Park Hopper ticket if you’re doing the planning ahead of time. So, this is a little loss now that you can only book one park per day on the Disney Park Reservation system. But, since you’ll have to be doing the planning anyway, just think of it as a way to save money. If you are a die-hard park hopper, however, then review the Walt Disney World Park Hopper details for 2021. You don’t need a park reservation for your second park of the day, but since you can only hop after 2 pm, you’re spending quite a bit of cold hard cash for a half-day perk. 

Planning a Disney Vacation 2021

No Free MagicBand with Resort Stay

So we gotta say, the fact that Disney is no longer offering the Free MagicBands ( or character luggage tags) is super sad for us. We LOVE the MagicBand wearables and this move is the first of many to allow parks, resorts, and dining access completely from your phone. For the present, MagicBands will still be available and are not being discontinued yet. Discounted MagicBands will still be available to Resort Guests for 5 dollars each in the My Disney Experience app and you can still get MagicBands on 

Disney does have plans to instead bring much of the MagicBand functionality to the My Disney Experience App, and the MagicMobile Wallet. That said, guests who choose not to purchase MagicBands will be able to use the My Disney Experience app or a Key to the World Card to access their room and enter the parks. 

60 Day Dining Reservations

Dining reservations have a tighter window. Again, this is so Disney can have some control of the crowds in restaurants. And manage this closely. As a result, Dining Reservations once able to be made 180 days prior are now changed to 60 days prior. 

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. But, never fear, it doesn’t mean you miss out on your favorite restaurants, just that you have to plan for them now. Grab our Disney Dining Planner to get started and make this a fun part of your planning. We have the dining lists for each park included and planner pages for each day of your trip, so you can plan out your restaurants ahead of time, and make the Advanced Dining Reservation at the 60-day mark. 

Disney Vacation Planning 2021

No Disney Dining Plans

The removal of the Disney Dining Plan has us a little baffled, but we imagine it has something to do with capacity, staffing levels, and the need to regain months of lost revenue from the parks being closed. That said all Free Dining Promotions that were included in packages have been removed. The Disney Dining Plan is currently not available through 2021. But, we do expect that once Disney gets a handle on the new normal, that this may change. The opportunity to pay for all your dining costs upfront is sometimes a hidden godsend in the way of Disney Budget planning and sometimes can prevent you from spending too much later. 

Buffet Restaurants now Serving Meals Family-Style

A welcome change to buffet dining is that now all meals at buffet restaurants are now served family-style. We LOVE this change for a variety of reasons. The food across the board at these locations now is simply better! Blame it on the fact that food is no longer sitting under a warm light or that now the menu has to be a little more creative. This new way of eating an all-you-care-to-enjoy meal is so much better.

Mind you, this change has also taken away the uncomfortable communal sitting that sometimes happened. Biergarten is no longer requiring you to sit with another family (awkward) and you can really focus on your favorite foods. Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom, Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Biergarten at EPCOT Germany, Cape May at the Beach Club, and Tusker House at Animal Kingdom are all serving family-style. With physically distanced tables in each restaurant.

No Fastpasses Yet

Ahhhh. Another casualty in the 2020 Walt Disney World Closing Saga! Disney Fastpasses. Truthfully we don’t know if these babies will ever come back. But as of right now they are definitely off the table as part of your Disney World Vacation Planning tasks. As part of the, No Fastpass rule guests can expect physical distancing to be in place. We’ll see this in ride queue lines, with markers on the ground for family groups to stand at least 6 feet apart. And on the ride itself with empty seats between family groups. In the Asian Disney Parks, we saw alternating seats simply blocked off with tape, so can expect something similar here. 

At one point we anticipate a replacement will be in place, similar to the Boarding Pass system for Rise of the Resistance. Because Fastpass+ was a way of life for many, and not all guests, even at limited capacity, will be ok with having to wait in long Ines for every ride on their trip. Thankfully FastPasses WERE slated to return to Walt Disney World early this year, but we’re not seeing the official FastPass update on the webpage yet! 

toy story land quick guide for all the things to do eat and see at toy story land walt disney world #toystoryland #disneyworld #toystory

Attraction Wait Times Are Increasing

A sure sign that Walt Disney World is Returning to Normal is the crowds. Yes, even with lower capacity, the crowds are Walt Disney World are pouring in and heading to rides and attractions. What’s more is that since each attraction line has a 3-foot distance requirement between travel parties, the lines for these attractions wrap pall over the park. With crowds increasing our best recommendation is to Get to the Parks Early! We’ve shared that tip before in many (many) posts on this blog and it’s true now more than ever. If you’re staying at a Disney Resort and have the option to get in the parks 30 minutes before opening, do so. This will help you make sure you get on your favorite rides without battling the crowds later in the day.

Additionally, we recommend prioritizing all your MUST-DO rides early in the day. The lines for popular rides like Flight of Passage, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run will only get longer throughout the day. mine train at disney

Character Cavalcades are Your Best Chance to see Characters 

While there are “no parades” and “no character meet and greets”  at Walt Disney World, there are still Character Cavalcades and impromptu appearances across the parks. These cavalcades are kind of like parades. Offering you glimpses of characters at a distance with their arrival is sometimes set to catchy music. You can watch princesses ride through Epcot in a cavalcade. Or Mickey in his car at Hollywood Studios in his motorcade. And even Pocahontas in her flotilla boat on discovery River in Animal Kingdom. This may not feel as intimate as a Meet and Greet but these little bits of magic are well worth catching. They usually run every hour or so. Check out all the places you can find Walt Disney World characters now.

pocahontas character cavalcade at disney animal kingdom

Disney Annual Pass Program Changes

Walt Disney World’s Annual Passes are not currently for sale, and the Disneyland/ Walt Disney world combined Premiere Pass program has just been retired. So what does this mean? If you currently have an annual pass you may be able to renew. If you don’t, you may not be able to get one quite yet. Read all about the Disney Passholder changes on Disney’s official Passholder announcement page.

Planning a Disney Vacation in 2021

Planning a Disney Vacation in 2021 is going to be all about flexibility. Try to have as much planning in place as you can ahead of time. Make this fun. Grab a printable vacation planner to chart your ideas. And really get into the process. Your 2021 Disney Vacation can still be Magical! Stay tuned on the blog for all the details.

How planning a Disney Vacation in 2021 is going to be a Whole Lot Different than we're used to. From new rules, to no dining plans to park reservations. Here's eveything to know about planning a Disney Vacation for 2021. #disneyvacation #disney2021 #disneyplanning #polkadotpixies

Co-Founder and Director at Polka Dot Pixie Co LLC | Website | + posts

Rochelle Mariah is a writer, designer and photographer with an MLIS in Information Science and a B.S. in Arch and Design. Determined to make Planning a DIY Disney Vacation easier she makes lots of lists and drinks lots of coffee. When not designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's watching old movies and planning the holidays. She has been traveling to Disney destinations since 2010.

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3 thoughts on “How Planning a Disney Vacation for 2021 is Different”

  • Looks like I will be cancelling our trip for January 2021. A shame really because we were very much looking forward to finally staying at Jambo House. I do not believe Disney will recover completely from COVID so it looks like our annual Disney vacations have come to a close. Disney vacations are too expensive under normal circumstances – it would hardly make sense to pay more for less than we are accustomed to enjoying. So sad.

    • Ughh!So sorry about your annual vacations! We know just how you feel. So many great plans in place and really, its just so pricey to only go for the rides and limited restaurant availability! We actually have a “should you or shouldn’t you go” post coming. We are of course hoping maybe by the end of next year they will have adjusted to a better new normal, but so much is in flux right now and they’re still getting a handle on how things can work and still be fun. So, yes- vacations on hold in the meantime sound like a good plan. At least you can save some money in the meantime. Thanks for reading:) Stay safe and healthy!

  • We just returned from Disney May 10-13, 2021. We were actually some of the last guests to walk out of Epcot last March 2020 covid shut down which was supposed to be the beginning of our 4 day park pass. Hence we went to finish out our tickets post Re opening.I have been to Disney 5 times and always found it to be wonderful but this time it was definitely lacking—characters, entertainment, fireworks and just the overall magic especially for those children wanting to interact with their fav Disney characters— one of our girls highlights growing up. If this was my one and only trip to Disney, I would definitely be disappointed. It seemed to all of us the rides were going too fast and we could hear the other sounds effects because of it. Did anyone else experience this? Or was it our imagination. The one bright spot was Blizzard Beach. We had a blast there. If you can delay to a full reopening. If not, enjoy . You will love the short wait times and decreased crowd , but not the shortened hours.