Thinking about making your very FIRST trip EVER to Disney World this year?
The theme parks and some of the hotels at Walt Disney World are open, but LOTS of things are different than they used to be. From masks to dining options, there are a LOT of things you should be thinking about. ESPECIALLY if you’ve never visited before! So, should you visit Disney World for the very first time this year? We’re breaking it all down for you.
Before We Hop In
We want to say that really the answer to “should you visit Disney World for the first time this year” is (shoutout to the lawyers out there) “it depends.” There really isn’t a right or wrong answer here. There are lots of reasons why you might want to visit for the first time this year. But, there are some things that might make you stop and say, “actually, we should just wait.”
The truth is, every person’s answer (and probably reasoning) is going to be a little different. You’ll have to take a look at your family, ALL of the factors, and see what’s best for you. We can’t tell you whether going this year for the first time is or isn’t a good idea for your family (we love you, but we don’t know the specific ins and outs of YOUR family!). But, we CAN tell you some of the things you should be thinking about to help you make that decision. Let’s go through them now!
Some reasons why you MIGHT want to wait
Let’s be honest here, visiting Disney World right now can still be fantastic, wonderful, magical, etc., but it’s not exactly the same as it was before. Things have changed (and may continue to change in the future). When you picture your FIRST time walking under the train station in Magic Kingdom, FIRST time seeing the castle, First time riding the rides, you probably have a perfect idea in your head of how that should go. There’s a good chance that picture didn’t originally include face masks, spaced-out lines, and a sea of plexiglass! There are a few big reasons why you might just want to delay your trip until things have returned a bit more back to “normal.”
Watching the sky explode with colorful fireworks is really a signature part of the Disney experience. At the moment, however, firework shows have been suspended at Disney World. So, if sitting in the grass in Magic Kingdom and watching the fireworks boom up ahead as you sip on a Dole Whip Float and munch on some popcorn is a must-do for you, then a trip this year might not be the best option.
We saw some minor fireworks and flares appear during Christmastime and we’ve seen firework testing being done in the past. But, firework shows have not yet returned to the parks. Things could change in the future, but as of right now, we have no set date when fireworks will return.
Lots of entertainment is missing
Another big part of the fun at Disney World is the live entertainment. From Finding Nemo The Musical to chatting with the Citizens of Main Street, U.S.A., there’s typically lots of live entertainment to enjoy. But, much of this live entertainment is not available. In fact, a large number of Disney’s entertainers have been laid off.
Some live entertainment has returned including the Voices of Liberty and Mariachi Cobre in EPCOT and the Frozen Sing-Along in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, although there have been some changes in terms of where they perform or seating to ensure social distancing. The Festival of the Lion King show is set to return soon and Disney has indicated that they intend to bring back some of their discontinued entertainment in the future.
But, you’re undoubtedly missing out on some great entertainment if you visit right now. That’s definitely something to consider.
While some Disney hotels have reopened, and others are set to reopen soon, some of your favorites may still be closed. A reopening date has not yet been set for some hotels including Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (but the Disney Vacation Club part of this resort is open), Disney’s BoardWalk Inn (although, again, the Disney Vacation Club portion of this hotel is open), Disney’s All-Star Sports or All-Star Music, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort — both French Quarter and Riverside.
This can limit your hotel options somewhat. And if staying at one of those hotels that are still closed is important to you, then it might be worth it to wait.
Some areas are still closed
All 4 of Disney’s theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom) as well as Disney Springs ARE open. But, other spots around Disney World are still closed, like Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park.
Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park is set to reopen in March, so it’s possible that things like Typhoon Lagoon might open later on, but no information has been shared on that yet.
Face masks are currently required for all guests ages 2 and up all throughout Disney World property, and can only be removed if you’re swimming, eating while stationary and physically distanced, or at a mask relaxation zone. We’ve shared LOTS of tips about wearing masks in Disney World. But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that you’ll still have to wear the masks.
Yes, you’ll have to keep your mask on during rides. Yes, you have to keep your mask on when you take photos. Yes, EVERYONE including little kiddos ages 2 and up have to wear a mask. Don’t follow the rules? You’ll be asked to leave. Plain and simple. Disney isn’t playing with the mask rules. If you choose to visit you MUST follow them.
You’ll also have to wear your mask in certain parts of the water parks. You can’t remove your mask and eat/drink while standing in line for a ride. There are specific rules you must follow in terms of what types of masks are allowed (for example, neck gaiters and masks with valves are NOT allowed). And there are rules about those new masks with transparent portions over the mouth area.
All of this is to say, plenty of people visit Disney World all the time (including our reporters) and wear their masks all day every day during their trip as required without any big issues. And there are a LOT of tips and tricks you can use to make wearing the mask way better! You might think you’ve got this mask wearing thing down after trips to your grocery store, but it’s an entirely different thing having one on allll day long from sunrise to sunset in the heat, rain, and more. wearing masks is a VERY different experience that you might not want for your very first trip.
As of right now, it’s expected that guests will have to wear masks in Disney World through 2021. So, if wearing masks during your first trip to Disney World, including in all of those first trip family photos, is not what you want to experience, then planning a trip for this year might not be best.
Ride experiences have changed
Because of the pandemic, Disney has made several changes to some of its rides in terms of their lines, their pre-shows, how guests are seated on the ride, and other things. A lot of Disney’s rides also now have plexiglass installed in them to divide guests a bit more while also increasing the number of guests they can seat. In some cases, the changes are pretty minor and don’t really change the ride experience at all — like just adding social distancing markers to help separate guests waiting in line.
But, in some cases, the changes are pretty significant — like how the entire pre-shows for The Haunted Mansion and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror are now being skipped.
You might wonder why these pre-shows are important and, to be fair, if you’ve never seen them before you might not realize that you’re missing anything. But, these pre-shows do help set the tone for the rides and are considered fan-favorites.
In the rides with plexiglass, these barriers can sometimes make it more difficult to see. This is especially true on rides like Frozen Ever After in EPCOT where the plexiglass can get wet.
Again, some of the changes are minor and won’t really change your ride experience. But, others might. You’ll have to decide whether riding these rides with those changes this year for the very first time is better than waiting another year (potentially longer or shorter, depending on your situation) to ride them.
Click here to see everything you need to know about distancing on ALL of the rides in Disney World right now.
Some restaurants are closed
Aside from some hotels or other areas being closed, some restaurants are also still closed in Disney World, including some BIG fan-favorites. Some really big hitters like Casey’s Corner in Magic Kingdom, ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and Boma at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge are still closed.
Some of the dishes from these spots (like Casey’s Corn Dog Nuggets or ‘Ohana’s Bread Pudding) have become available at other locations, but you still won’t get the chance to experience their full menus. If you’ve been planning this trip for a long time and were REALLY hoping to try those restaurants, then you might want to wait a bit longer.
Right now, there are no formal parades in Disney World. You won’t get that experience of grabbing that perfect seat on the sidewalk and watching all of the amazing parade floats go by. But, in place of the parades, there are short “character cavalcade” in each park. In these “cavalcades,” you’ll still get the chance to see some of your favorite Disney characters and wave at them.
But, the times of these cavalcades are not announced. So, you’ll just have to walk around and see which ones you’re able to catch. And they are much smaller in size than a full parade would be. These cavalcades generally consist of just a few characters each and usually one float.
We have really enjoyed the cavalcades (especially in spots like Animal Kingdom where there really had not been any kind of parade-like experience for a while), but they are different than seeing a full parade. There’s no doubt about that. You ARE seeing lots of characters — possibly more than you would have easily spotted prior — but you’re seeing them briefly without any interaction. Plus, seeing Mickey wave on down Main Street is great, but we are still missing Festival of Fantasy and its larger than life floats! So, you have to decide whether this different experience is a pro or a con for you.
No character meet-and-greets
Speaking of those characters you don’t get to actually meet, character meet-and-greets are also suspended right now. That means your kiddos (and you) won’t be able to hug Mickey at the moment. Some characters are hosting meet-and-greets from a distance so you might still have the chance to have a quick conversation with these characters and even get a distanced selfie. But, you won’t be able to hug them, snag an autograph, or get too close.
If meeting characters isn’t important to you then this might not be an issue though.
Right now, FastPass+ is NOT available in Disney World. That means you’ll basically just have to rely on standing in the regular lines for now.
For some, that might be a good thing. Not having the stress of getting up at the exact number of days out from your trip to book FastPasses is great for some. Some relied heavily on them to plan their days. But, if you wanted to skip to the front of the lines on some of those popular rides, you won’t be able to do that right now.
That said, wait times have been good and bad — it really depends on the day! You might be able to ride everything in the park on a slower day, or you might be waiting an hour or more for each ride on heavy days.
Other reasons to wait a year?
There are also a few other things that might make you hesitate about going to Disney World this year including all of the construction going on and the requirement to get a Park Pass reservation for the parks you want to visit each day during your trip. There are also more limited transportation options and reduced park hours to contend with.
Some people might recommend that you just wait a year, and in some cases that might be what’s best for you. There’s a lot that’s set to open in the near future in Disney World like the Star Wars hotel, Space 220 (maybe? hopefully?), the TRON rollercoaster, and more. So, if you wait a year or possibly more, you might be dealing with a very different Disney World experience. You’ll have to decide if that’s what best for you.
Some reasons why you MIGHT want to GO this year
While there are reasons why you might NOT want to have your first trip to Disney World this year, there are quite a few reasons why you might actually WANT to go now.
Disney World will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary in October of this year. We haven’t heard too much in terms of what special activities or events will be offered, but Disney has indicated that it is going to be “very remarkable.”
Cinderella Castle has also already gotten a makeover ahead of the 50th, as has the park’s entrance sign, and the Walt Disney World entrance signs.
Seeing all of these new things and whatever 50th Anniversary celebrations are eventually announced may be reason enough to come this year. But, keep in mind that you might want to schedule your visit for later in the year. We still haven’t heard what special events will be offered or when they’ll be offered, AND Disney World’s 50th Anniversary doesn’t actually take place until October 1st, 2021.
But, if you are planning to visit close to October 1st, be sure to book your Park Passes well in advance. They’ve actually already filled up entirely for Magic Kingdom for that date.
Early entry coming soon
As part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations, one thing that has been announced as coming soon is early theme park entry! With this new system, guests staying at Disney-owned resorts and other select resorts will be allowed to enter ANY park they want 30-minutes early entry every day!
This could be a MASSIVE benefit and really get you some critical early time in the parks before other crowds arrive. Disney hasn’t shared when this early entry will begin, but if it does begin this year (as we would expect, since it was announced as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations) it would be a great reason for you to visit.
New things opening
We don’t have official opening dates for many of them yet, but visiting during a year when multiple attractions open can be very exciting. If it’s important to you to be in Disney World on the very day that one of these attractions opens, then visiting this year (once their opening dates are announced) might be good for you.
Click here to see the 11 biggest Disney attractions that are still (probably) scheduled to open in 2021.
While we have seen some wait times increase recently, they’re still generally quite low compared to what we may have seen in the past. Keep in mind, so far in 2021 it’s been Disney World’s “slow season” though. Crowds will really pick up once Spring Break and Summer hit. In the meantime, like we said, it can be a good or bad day. It just depends on the crowds. So what are lines like now? Recently, we saw Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had the longest wait times in Disney World, but even so, its average was under an hour. Before the closures, that was pretty unheard of for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
A few weeks ago, Test Track only had an average wait of 44 minutes and Slinky Dog Dash had an average wait time of 46 minutes.
We have seen some extremely low wait times, especially immediately after the parks reopened, but for the most part, these are no longer the norm. But, compared to what you might see during a “normal” period with FastPasses and normal crowds at play, these are pretty low. With limited capacity, no FastPass+, and some people rescheduling their trips, there have been some pretty low wait times and that’s an awesome thing you could take advantage of if you visit this year.
Disney World’s capacity is currently limited to 35%. Limited capacity can result in some lower wait times, and significantly less crowds at times.
Now, don’t get us wrong — during peak holiday times we did see some pretty large crowds at times. And we’ve also seen some larger crowds on the weekends. But, other times the crowds can be pretty low. Once Disney feels like it is appropriate to increase capacity and more guests become comfortable with the idea of visiting the parks again, this could all change. Visiting this year means you’d at least potentially get the chance to experience these uniquely low crowds. We love a bustling Disney World but having the extra elbow room is nice too!
After the reopening, some restaurants changed from buffet to family style or entree-style dining and/or just totally revamped their menus. Many of these spots did this out of necessity. For some of these locations, we’ve seen some BIG improvements in terms of the food quality. We were seriously impressed by the new menu items at Hollywood & Vine. We also had some surprisingly tasty food from the new menu at ABC Commissary and Chef Mickey’s (although the price has significantly increased there recently).
These improvements might push you to come this year and taste these spots with their new menu options.
Things ARE unique
Things are unique right now, and there’s something to be said about that. “Good” or “bad” — things are different in a way they haven’t been before and might not be in the future. If you visit now, you’ll be able to say “I was there when… .” You’ll be able to say that you visited Disney World when masks were required, when Blizzard Beach first reopened after the closures, when these resorts were still closed, etc.
One day, you could be rocking in a rocking chair telling your great-grandkids about that time you first visited and everyone had masks and there were no fireworks, and there were hand sanitizer stations as far as the eye could see. Then your great-grandkids will go “no way!” and fly off on their rocket shoes to eat space food pellets. Cause that will totally be a thing by then, right? 😂
There’s no denying that this will be a unique experience for you. You’ll always be able to say you experienced the parks in a way that others might not have. And no one will ever be able to take that away from you. Is that something you want for your FIRST trip to Disney World? That’s something you have to decide. But, it is certainly something unique you’ll be able to talk about for years to come.
Cast Members <3
Lots of things may have changed about Disney World, but one thing that has remained the same is the Cast Members are still incredible. The Cast Members are still extra magical, helpful, kind, and fantastic as ever. We’ve spotted the Cast Members dancing around with their safety signs, creating all kinds of spontaneous art, and working their darnedest to make guests smile. And, well, we have to say it has worked on us.
The pandemic has been an extremely difficult time for many, especially for so many Cast Members who were on furlough for quite a long time and for those Cast Members who have been laid off. It makes it extra special to see these Cast Members back at work and to be able to thank THEM for being there. They are the secret to what makes Disney World so special.
More personal space
While some days or areas can get more crowded (especially during the holidays) the encouragement of social distancing means you can generally have a bit more personal space around you (remember those capacity limits we mentioned?). If you’re a person who doesn’t love being SMUSHED with others, then this might be a good reason to visit this year.
One of the places where you really notice this difference is when it comes to transportation. In the buses, for example, Disney used to fill them up a lot — guests would fill every seat, and then fill every standing space available.
But, with the new seating arrangements, that’s no longer done. Instead, guests are guaranteed a seat and they are distanced from others. Of course, all of these things are subject to change, but these are the policies in place right now. You might wait a bit longer for transportation, but once you’re on, you’re not crammed into the corner of a bus smooshed by three strollers with someone else’s backpack in your face anymore!
Right now, there are also a number of unique features on the My Disney Experience app that you can take advantage of. For example, you can join a walk-up waitlist virtually for a number of restaurants instead of pre-booking where you want to eat. Or, you can get your order items to-go from select table service restaurants.
Want bread service from Sanaa, but don’t want to eat it at the restaurant? No problem! You can take it to-go and snack on it back in your room or anywhere else you want. That’s a pretty great thing. We’re not saying these features will necessarily go away after this year (Disney hasn’t indicated that). But, since things change constantly at Disney these are nice features that you know are in place right now and you can take advantage of.
Less planning stress
Planning your very first trip to Disney World can be incredibly exciting. But, we also understand that there’s a LOT of moving pieces and, for some, that can be a bit stressful. OK, OK…a LOT stressful! Some of the changes in place right now actually take away a bit of that stress.
With FastPass+ suspended for the moment, that gives you one less thing to worry about planning months in advance.
There’s also a smaller booking window for advance dining reservations. You can now only make reservations 60 days in advance of your trip generally, as opposed to the 180-day rule that previously existed. So, you don’t have to think about where you want to eat nearly 6 months in advance. Now, your time frame is limited to just 2 months. These can help take away a bit of the stress in planning.
Disney typically runs a number of discounts at various points throughout the year, but this year we’ve seen quite a few good ones announced. There are some hotel discounts available, deals on Memory Maker, and some military-specific deals.
Or, you can opt for the special deal that lets you get 2 days of park tickets FREE with a 4-night/3-day room and ticket package at select resorts on certain dates. For some of these offers, you need to book your package/hotel or buy your tickets/Memory Maker before a certain date. Some of them also only apply to select hotels or during select dates this year. But, if they’ll work for you they could save you some serious cash and make that dream vacation much more affordable!
It’s still Disney World
At the end of the day, Disney World is still Disney World. If you’ve been planning this trip for years or months and you just absolutely MUST go to Disney World ASAP, then going this year might be right for you.
Especially if this is your first trip to Disney World and you really don’t have a prior experience there to compare it to. That can make some of the changes around the park not phase you at all. If you don’t know what the Haunted Mansion’s Stretching Room really is or you’ve never seen it before, you might not really realize what you’re missing out on. And, that could be a good thing! It means you might enjoy your trip without really even being aware of or worrying about what’s different or what you’re “missing.” And hey, that sounds like a good excuse to plan another trip down the road, right?!
So, should you go to Disney World for the very first time this year? It depends. And, at the end of the day, the decision is entirely yours. You’ve got to take all of these things into consideration, think about your family scenario, crunch the numbers, and see whether a trip this year is worth it for you.
If you MUST ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure when it opens this year or you MUST be present for the 50th Anniversary, then visiting in 2021 might be for you. OR maybe that Disney vacation is just a little out of your budget, but the discounts this year make it work for you. On the other hand, if you’re going with your family and you want to have that full or classic Disney World experience with Mickey hugs, fireworks, and parades, then this probably isn’t the year for you.
Only you know what’s best for you and your family. But, we hope this article helps you think about some of those factors that you should consider if you’re planning for your first trip this year!