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I think the title of this post says it all: Should I go to Disney World in 2021? With all of the upheaval of the past year and a half, deciding whether to go to Disney World is a very valid question.
The good news is that things are returning a bit closer to “normal”, with changes happening fairly rapidly. As a result, this post is a constant work in progress.
Because things are changing so fast, make sure you check Disney’s official page about the current changes immediately prior to your trip. Things really are changing that fast (updated June 23, 2021).
Should I Go to Disney World?
Some day in the future, I hope to transition this back to looking at the question of should I go to Disney World right in the normal sense. Like only considering park construction, crowd levels, and normal Disney trip factors.
For now, I’m going to break this post up into a couple different sections. First, we’ll take a look at this question from the standpoint of pandemic changes.
I seriously can’t wait to delete that entire section of this post.
Next, we’ll look at a bit of the more traditional question of whether or not you should consider a Disney trip over the span of the next 18 months or so in terms of park happenings and so on.
Major Changes Which WILL Impact a Trip to Disney World in 2021 (and into 2022)
Ok, this is the part that is a constant work in progress. The past 12 months have seen a tremendous amount of change in Disney’s operating procedures.
All in all, the changes are good as it’s bringing things closer to a level of normal. However, all is still not completely normal, and frankly, some of these changes may (or may not) be here to stay.
For the sake of this post, here are the key takeaways:
- There is limited capacity allowed in the parks and restaurants – at this point we don’t have a clue what the number is, but park capacity is increasing at a rapid clip
- A park entry reservation is REQUIRED to enter a park, in addition to a park ticket – expect this to stick around for a while more, if not indefinitely
- No more social distancing markers
- Fireworks finally made a return to Disney World
- There are still no parades or character meet and greets
- Face masks rules are constantly fluctuating (currently Disney requires face masks indoors and on attractions for ALL guests)
- Face masks are required for all guests on Disney buses, monorail, and Skyliner gondolas
- There are no FastPasses – and honestly, there’s no way FastPasses will come back looking exactly as they did before
- Dining reservations are now booked no sooner than 60 days in advance (this is a big change from the 180 day booking window that used to exist)
- Because of limited capacity in the restaurants, dining reservations are very hard to come by
- There is currently no Disney dining plan offered – though I expect this to return at some point
While there have been a lot of positive changes recently, a Disney trip in 2021, and even 2022, will still not be “normal”. There are still quite a few experiences missing.
This may or may not be a big deal for your family. But if you are hoping to have the full Disney experience, you’ll need to wait a little longer.
Is Disney World Worth it in 2021?
And here we have it, the million dollar question. Is Disney World worth it right now? Tons of people are wondering whether 2021 is a good year to visit Disney World, or if it’s a better idea to hold off until 2022.
Now that the vaccine has gone out to a large number of people, restrictions have dropped and going to Disney has become a more comfortable experience in some respects.
This will drive more and more people to the Disney parks in 2021 and into 2022. Especially when you consider that the 50th anniversary celebration kicks off on October 1.
However, I think there’s HUGE potential for absolutely massive crowds in 2022. I think pretty much everyone has a massive case of cabin fever going on these days.
I think the circumstances behind your trip should play a significant factor into the decision making process as well. The answer might be different if you are a frequent Disney flyer as opposed to someone taking a once in a lifetime trip.
In terms of all the standard factors that go into choosing a date for your Disney trip, take a look at my post all about the best times to visit Disney.
Is it Safe to go to Disney World in 2021?
Fortunately, the answer to this question is getting a little more straightforward. However, there’s so much that goes into what makes YOU feel safe, that only you can fully answer that question for your family.
Is it safe to go to Disney World right now? That’s a question without a full answer. In fact, this answer is different for every person.
Throughout the reopening, Disney did a fantastic job of making sure guests felt as safe as humanly possible, while also enjoying their vacation.
I can tell you from my perspective, I felt safer at Disney World than I did going to the grocery store during the height of the surge (pre-vaccination availability). This is because Disney was strict about the safety precautions they had in place.
Safety precautions have loosened considerably at this point, and you may or may not feel comfortable with them. There are certainly people who still wear their masks as that’s their comfort level.
Update: At this time, the Delta variant is surging in Orange County, Florida, where Disney World is located. So far, the only change Disney has made is to require face masks for everyone while indoors, on transportation, and on attractions.
Less Physical Distancing
Everyone’s comfort level with being close to other people in various situations in the parks will vary. I’m not going to lie, I actually enjoyed the physical distancing markers.
But those markers are mostly gone now, so expect that people will once again be packed close to one another.
Your comfort level with this will vary. Frankly, I think there’s a large subset of the population which will have anxiety around being physically close to strangers for a while yet.
I’m someone who has always had a desire to maintain my own little personal space bubble, so the thought of being close to strangers once again isn’t appealing to me. But I’ll get used to it.
This is another area where personal preference is going to play a role. Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to wearing masks right now.
If you don’t like the idea of being physically close to other people without a mask, plan to bring one with you to wear in lines. That way, if you end up in a situation that you’re not quite comfortable in, at least you have your mask available.
You and your family will come up with your own rhythm in determining what your own “family rules” will be for wearing (or not wearing) masks at Disney.
If you decide to go to Disney World this year, there are a few things I highly recommend you bring with you.
The first: comfortable face masks. I think at this point we’ve all tried a million different brands and styles. You know what works best for you and your family. Plan on at least one mask per day per person.
As a back-up, bring a bunch of disposable face masks in case something happens to the others. There’s no such thing as having too many face masks.
We primarily use reusable face masks, but we also bring a bunch of disposables, just in case. Amazon is full of 50 packs of disposable face masks at pretty cheap prices.
There are also tons of kid sized face masks in fun colors and patterns.
However, my biggest tip for a trip to Disney World right now, is to bring mask lanyards for everyone. I can’t even begin to describe to you how much these things help out.
These allow everyone to pop their masks off and let them dangle around their necks. No more putting them on dirty tables, having them fall on the floor, and so on. Seriously, these are such a simple game changer.
Especially now that we are in situations where we might have to have masks easily accessible, a mask lanyard is a major help.
I’ve personally used these black mask lanyards for both adults and kids. The toggle lets you adjust the lanyard to each person’s preference.
If black is too boring, there are tons to choose from on Amazon. But seriously, get some.
Who Should go to Disney World in 2021?
Let’s take a look at some different factors to consider when figuring out your answer to this question. I’m breaking this down mainly by categories based on how frequent someone tends to go to Disney, or if this is their first trip.
*Note: As time goes on, Disney is slowly bringing back more experiences and restaurants. However, things are definitely still limited.
Keep in mind, I’m answering this question purely in terms of quality of experience, not health risk.
First Timers/Once in a Lifetime Trip
As more things open up, the answer to this question actually gets foggier. More than any other group, these guests should have the full Disney experience.
However, the experience now is getting closer and closer to normal, so I’m more likely to encourage people to just go for it. But you need to be aware that you are in fact missing out on some of the “magic”.
Do you want to spend thousands of dollars to not be able to do a lot of the quintessential Disney vacation experiences?
- Modified character dining at limited restaurants
- FastPasses unavailable
- There is a chance you won’t get one of the park entry reservations for all of your desired park days
- No parades
- Character meet and greets are a no go
- No Disney Dining Plan
- Many shows have still not returned
If you can, be patient and wait another year. You can sit tight and wait for more experiences to come back. Then you’ll know that all the money you’re paying is giving you the most bang for your buck.
If you absolutely insist on going this year, wait as far into 2021 as you possibly can. I do think experiences will start returning at a faster pace now. Just keep in mind that crowds are likely to be crazy from October 1 on.
Guests Who Go Every Few Years & Disney Frequent Fliers
I’m now lumping these two categories together. I think that enough experiences have returned at this point that the answer is an easy yes.
Just be mentally prepared that you won’t be able to experience everything like normal. But since you know you’ll be back again some day, it’s not as big of a deal.
The big caveat is this: if you are someone who wants to get the best bang for your buck, wait a little longer. Even with my complete and utter Disney obsession, I can’t pretend you’ll get your money’s worth until more experiences return.
Advantages of Going to Disney in 2021
Seriously, a Disney vacation in 2021 is not all doom and gloom. Here are some definite advantages of going to Disney in 2021.
Unfortunately, I had to delete all the prior benefits from 2020. Don’t expect to go to Disney and expect to have low crowds now. That no longer exists.
Also, spontaneity is once again harder to achieve, though not impossible.
New Ways to Experience Disney Characters
It is a seriously major bummer that there are no character meet ‘n’ greets going on right now. However, Disney has done a great job trying to make up for this.
They’ve introduced what’s coined Character Cavalcades. You can find these in each of the Disney World parks in various forms. Think of these as mini-parades. The characters ride through the parks, wave, and dance.
The transportation varies by park, but you can see parade floats, pretty awesome cars, boats, and horse drawn carriages. Seriously, Merida rides down Main Street on a gorgeous horse.
These cavalcades are not scheduled but do happen frequently so you’ll have plenty of time to experience them.
In addition to the cavalcades, you can now find characters all over the place. They’re on balconies, lawns, and anywhere else Disney could fit them.
Honestly, I think there’s the opportunity for more character experiences now than there was before. You just don’t get to hug them.
Some Great Disney Discounts
What does Disney do when they want to drive people to the parks and resorts? They offer discounts! If Disney views guest bookings as lower than they would like, they will offer discounts as an added incentive. Learn all about the different types of discounts Disney typically offers.
Discounts have been the highest I’ve ever seen at Disney resorts. You can save up to 35% on a Disney resort stay, and even more if you’re an Annual Passholder.
It remains to be seen whether or not Disney expands these discounts at all. Right now we know that Disney isn’t getting even close to the capacity they want. They just might try to sweeten the pot by offering deep discounts.
One caveat to discounts is from September 30, 2021 through at least mid-October. This is when the 50th anniversary kicks off, and the most sought after date for all of 2021 for Disney fans. There will likely be no discounts during that time.
Mobile Ordering is King
While I think Disney was always moving in the direction of emphasizing mobile ordering, I think the reopening expedited it.
Disney’s mobile ordering service has been expanded and streamlined in positive ways in the past year. It’s now easier to use than ever.
Because everyone is using it, it’s not as big of a time saver as it used to be in terms of getting your food faster than those who choose to stand in line, but it’s still a time saver.
It’s super easy to spend some time while waiting in line to order lunch and dinner for later in the day. Simply choose the restaurants and the times you want and you’re off and running.
Easier Security Screening
Getting through security was always a choke point during rope drop and busy times of the day. However, in a bid for efficiency and avoiding clusters of people, Disney upgraded the security screening process in 2020.
Before, everyone with a bag needed to have it looked through by a security guard, while you also walked through a detector. Now, you simply walk right through the detectors, bags and all.
There are a few items they tell you to take out of your bag (umbrellas, cameras, etc.) mainly because their shape needs further clarification.
But overall, the entire process is so much better now than it used to be.
Disadvantages of Going to Disney in 2021
Now that we’ve looked at all the great things about going to Disney in 2021, we need to look at the disadvantages. The unspoken disadvantage is of course a health and safety issue.
I’m not going to get into that part of it. This will purely look at the current Disney vacation experience.
This is the biggest single disadvantage of going to Disney World in 2021. At this time, some of the restaurants are still closed, with no plans to open any time soon.
If you have your heart set on a specific restaurant, double check to see if it’s even open.
Restaurants which are open are operating with limited menus. I was crushed when I looked at how small the menu for The Plaza Restaurant currently is.
As I mentioned above, there are no character meet and greets. Along those lines, character dining is limited and modified. The characters don’t stop at your table or take pictures.
They are present, they parade around, and you can take selfies with them (physically distanced, of course) but that’s about it.
Oh, and it still costs the same…
There are no parades or special experiences to book. This definitely plays a role in reducing some of the magic of the trip.
However, as of July 1, 2021, at least two of the parks (Magic Kingdom and Epcot) see a return of fireworks, so we’re heading in the right direction.
Reduced Park Hours
This really isn’t as big of a downer any more. Park hours are returning to closer to normal operating times. There are still some exceptions, like Epcot not opening until 11:00a, but the hours are now long enough that it’s not a huge deal.
Less Experiences, Same Price Tag
Even though your park day is now shorter and you can’t do all the experiences, those park tickets are the same price.
That’s right, you are paying the same exorbitantly high price tag for less benefits. You are getting less bang for your buck, instead of more.
If you are someone who tries to get your money’s worth out of each park day (raising my hand over here) it’s simply not possible right now.
For Florida residents and Annual Passholders that might not be a big deal since they can go with more frequency. But for anyone coming from out of state who had to buy standard park tickets, this is not good.
If you want to know how much your Disney vacation will cost, I put together a Disney vacation cost calculator post. And you can even get yourself a Disney budget calculator which does the math for you!
Should I Wait and go to Disney in 2022?
I think we all need to accept that Disney won’t look “normal” for a bit longer. What it looks like in 2022 is anyone’s guess. If all goes well with the vaccine and operating procedure we may see this happen sooner rather than later.
Hopefully 2022 will look more normal than 2021. Can you tell I originally wrote that sentence before the Delta variant started surging? Sigh…
The 50th Anniversary of Disney World is in fall 2021. Disney had previously announced a lot of new and amazing things that would open in time for the celebration.
This is all in question now. Projects are massively delayed from the lockdown and Disney’s been bleeding money.
I do have a post designed to showcase all the details of Disney’s 50th anniversary as we learn about them. So check that out periodically to stay up to date.
They’ve already announced that some of the refurbishment plans are indefinitely delayed (Spaceship Earth) and some new plans might just disappear altogether (think Mary Poppins dark ride).
I do think Disney will try as hard as it can to keep the anniversary celebration amazing, but there’s only so much they can do to finish attractions currently under construction.
The lockdown will delay openings, and of course, financial issues from lost revenue comes into play.
Even with all of this, 2021 will likely bring a better Disney vacation experience overall than 2020. The more time that passes, the more things will be phased back in.
Again, book a trip so you know you have the dates you want, and then wait and see. In fact, I already have a couple trips for 2021 booked!
I think there is potential for large crowds in 2021. Just the 50th Anniversary celebration itself will draw in huge crowds, but when you add in all the people who’ve postponed their 2020 trip, it just gets even more crowded.
As for 2022, I think we’re talking DefCon 5 level crowds…
What’s Happening in Disney World in 2021
Now, let’s switch gears and focus on what is going on at Disney World in 2021, without considering the pandemic changes. The last half of the year has some pretty exciting things happening.
The Return of Holiday Parties – Kind Of
After no extra events or parties for over a year, 2021 sees the return of both a Halloween party and a Christmas party. However, don’t expect to see either Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Instead, you can look forward to 2 holiday events copied more from the Disney After Hours events which became so popular.
Disney After Hours Boo Bash is the Halloween party for 2021. It’s not as over the top as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is, but should still fill the needs of a lot of people.
For Christmas in 2021, you have the opportunity to attend Disney Very Merriest After Hours. Again, it doesn’t have the full complement of Christmas party activities, but it will tick a lot of boxes.
The main different with both of these events from the normal parties is the lack of character meet and greets and more of an emphasis on limited capacity and short ride lines.
Let’s face it, at this point it’s more rare to have a Disney trip during a time when there isn’t an Epcot Festival going on.
The Epcot Festivals continue to happen during 2021, but they are scaled down a bit. They are no longer calling them Taste of (fill in festival name here), so they are getting closer to being normal.
At the festivals, you can expect a lot of food booths, some musical performances on the stage at American Garden Theater, scavenger hunts, etc.
What you will not have are the concerts, extra tours, and so on. We still don’t have a ton of information on Festival of the Holidays so we don’t yet know if Holiday Storytellers make a return.
Also, Disney has made no mention of Candlelight Processional returning either. I’ll be very surprised if Candlelight Processional returns.
There is a tremendous amount of construction going on in Epcot. This is a total reimagining of what is known as the central spine of Epcot.
The plans themselves are pretty cool, and certain areas have already been constructed. The main entrance of Epcot has been enhanced with a cool retro fountain, lights, and so on.
However, we have absolutely no estimates on when this project is slated for completion. Clearly, the pandemic slowed down the whole process.
Hopefully, this will get finished up at some point in 2022. However, what that means for 2021 is that Future World in Epcot is a maze of construction walls and detours.
Everything important is still open, but it’s a bit of an eyesore. Disney does as well as possible to make the walls less obnoxious, but there’s only so much you can do to camouflage huge black walls.
You have a better chance of avoiding this in 2022.
Disney’s 50th Anniversary Celebration
Disney’s 50th Anniversary Celebration is the single largest bit of news regarding going to Disney World in 2021. The festivities kick off on October 1, 2021 and last for 18 months. So you can experience this event in both 2021 and 2022.
The 50th means the start of several new and exciting things at the parks. To get the full summary, check out my guide to Disney’s 50th anniversary. But here are the Cliff’s Notes version:
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure opens at Epcot
- Harmonious fireworks show opens at Epcot
- New fireworks at Magic Kingdom
- Special character costumes
But remember, all of these things will be in place for the entirety of 2022 as well.
As you can see, there really isn’t a one size fits all answer to this question. You really have to look at your own situation and make the best decision for your family.
Fortunately, the health and safety aspect of questioning a Disney trip is no longer a huge factor. Now, it really comes down to whether or not the experiences on offer are up to the standards you expect.
Disney definitely still looks pretty different than it used to. And I don’t think “normal” will ever look exactly the same. In fact, I think Disney will take this opportunity to make changes in operating procedures that they’ve wanted to make for a while (I’m looking at you, FastPass system…).
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What do you think? Do you plan to go to Disney in 2021 or will you wait for 2022? Let me know what you think in the comments below.