Planning a Disney World trip has always been a lot of work…but planning a Disney World trip in 2021? Well, that’s a whole other can of worms.
Yes, your Disney vacation will likely still be filled with great memories and pixie dust (it is the most magical place on earth after all), but there are a few NEW problems that you may encounter when planning (and during!) your trip nowadays.
Park Pass Reservations Booking Up
When Disney World reopened last year, they implemented a new Park Pass Reservation system to help manage capacity limits for the parks. So, now guests not only need to purchase their theme park tickets, but they also need to make a reservation for the park that they want to visit first each day of their trip. But, with limited capacity continuing and higher demand from travelers, securing the parks that you want can be a challenge.
Since early this year, we’ve seen park pass availability booking up months in advance for busier dates and that has only continued into the fall and winter (and even 2022!). In fact, the date that the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary kicked off this year (October 1st) wasinitially booked up more than THREE MONTHS in advance for both Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.
And, the trend is only continuing with theme park availability during the holiday season already filling up…
…and even some dates in APRIL 2022 are completely booked for select parks!
Now, Disney has shared that they are gradually increasing capacity numbers in the parks, so we are starting to see some availability added to these dates — you just have to be on your A-game to secure your spot.
How to Fix It
So, how do you get lucky enough to secure the park passes you want for each day of your trip? Well, the best way is to plan early and book your park passes as soon as you purchase your tickets. Park passes seem to have the most availability about 2 months out or further, but very popular days of the year (like holidays and big events) are booking up VERY far in advance. So, when you know what day you want to visit, it’s best to just go ahead and book.
And, if you’re still unable to get the exact park passes that you want, there’s still a chance! Here at DFB, we keep a close eye on the park pass availability calendar and post updates to our website, social channels, and newsletter, so be sure to follow us and subscribe so that you get the latest updates directly to your phone. Changes and increased availability happens all the time, so what looks booked solid one minute could have tons of availability later!
We have seen Disney releasing more park pass availability recently, so keeping a close eye on that calendar and acting fast will be your best bet to get the reservation you want!
Hotel Reservations Booking Up
Similar to the theme parks, it can be pretty hard to find a reservation for the hotel you want to book during your stay nowadays. In fact, we’re seeing some hotels book up months in advance as well.
What exactly is causing this? Well, when Disney first began reopening their hotels, they shared that they would be limiting capacity initially and they haven’t shared an update since. So, capacity limits could still be in effect meaning that there are fewer beds for all the heads. Plus, some hotels still have yet to reopen in Disney World, meaning there are fewer options for guests right now.
How to Fix It
The best way to plan ahead for this new woe is to have backup hotel options, book your stay early, and check out non-Disney hotels or AirBnBs that are still close to the parks if you need more options.
We’re also finding that more availability opens up at the hotels as the date gets closer, though there’s no guarantee that your first choice hotel will have last-minute availability. But, if you’re dead set on one specific hotel, having flexible dates for your vacation will likely give you more hotel options.
And, if you’ve never done a split-stay during your trip (meaning splitting your hotel reservation across multiple hotels over the course of your trip), this could be a great time to try it! Booking for fewer nights may open up more availability, so try staying at one hotel for a couple of nights, then hopping to another for the rest of your vacation. Disney will move your luggage for you and you get to experience two different hotels — win, win!
Long Lines For Attractions
So, you’ve gotten your park pass reservations, secured your hotel, and now…there are a lot of lines to wait through in the parks. FastPass+ has been replaced with TWO new PAID services, and, if you’re not looking to shell out the extra cash for Disney Genie+ and/or Individual Attraction Selections, then you could find yourself waiting in some pretty long lines (especially as park capacity continues to increase).
Now, we have noticed that the increase in park capacity seems to be balanced out by the reduction of physical distancing, plus the removal of plexiglass on rides and the fact that Disney is loading more people into them at a time. .
But, that being said, many of the lines still extend way past the actual queue at busier times so you’ll possibly have a hard time figuring out which line is for what. And, with the re-introduction of the ability to “skip the line,” the standby line will likely move a bit slower.
How to Fix It
Now, the easiest fix for bypassing the long waits is to opt to purchase Disney Genie+ (which is $15 per person, per day) and max out your Individual Attraction Selections (of which pricing varies). So the “solution” here is really…spend more money. 😕 But, even without paying for the new Lightning Lanes (AKA the old FastPass lanes), there are still some ways to beat the lines in the parks!
Recently, Disney introduced the new Early Theme Park Entry for all Disney World Hotel guests (and even some other surrounding hotels), giving them an additional 30 minutes in every park, every morning throughout their stay. So if you’re an early riser and can get to the parks bright and early, you’ll likely be able to tackle a few popular rides before the park actually opens.
Once the park opens, however, the lines for those popular rides will be well established, so instead, try to ride some of the lesser-talked-about attractions. These rides are still a whole lot of fun and they tend to have lines that are about 30-minutes or less throughout the day.
Plus, you’ll want to be sure that you’ve got the My Disney Experience app installed on your phone! You’ll have all the wait times at your fingertips AND Disney’s new forecasted wait times, so you can monitor which lines are too long to wait in without having to walk across the park to check and see which lines you should head to right away because the line is so short.
And, if you’re willing to pay a little extra to stay at Disney World Deluxe Resorts or Deluxe Villas, you can also take advantage of Extended Evening Hours at select Disney Parks. Just keep in mind that only select attractions remain open for the additional 2-hours.
Long Mobile Order Waits
And, rides aren’t the only things that have long waits for in Disney World anymore — you could end up waiting a long time for your food too! Disney has been using Mobile Order at most Quick Service restaurants throughout the parks and hotels, and if you’re hoping to eat at a popular restaurant for lunch or dinner, then you’ll want to make your order WAY in advance.
There can be lots of people ordering their meal all at once, so the “pick up now” option may not be available when you’re stomach is growling at 12PM. In fact, we’ve even seen some smaller restaurants, like Woody’s Lunch Box, have their pick-up window times booked up for the rest of the day about an hour after the park opens. What can we say — people really love them some Totchos! (Honestly, same.)
How to Fix It
So, as much as it may be difficult to decide exactly what you want to eat for lunch or dinner at 9AM or sooner, making your orders early in the day can save you a lot of trouble later in the day. There’s really nothing like having a hangry family member with ya when the next pick-up window isn’t for another hour or so — IYKYK. When you’re hungry you want food STAT.
But, if you happen to forget to order early or you can’t decide what you want to eat so far in advance, you can opt to visit the smaller kiosks and snack carts that don’t offer mobile order around the parks. There are a lot of places that still offer some substantial options, but are considered “snack” locations instead. We’re always talking about the Disney snacks that are large enough to be a meal, and this is the time to leverage those!
And, you can also consider one of the lounges around the parks that offer casual drinks and dining options. You’ll often find more appetizer bites here, but if you order enough, that will also fill up your family! Plus, these locations operate on a walk-up basis, and you can join the waiting list from the My Disney Experience app when you get into the park, so they can be a bit easier to get into.
Limited Dining Options at Night
Another dining problem we’re seeing in Disney World is limited options for those who like to have a late-night bite. Though the parks are staying open later, we’ve found that many of the dining locations are actually closing MUCH earlier than that. So, you might find yourself hunting for a snack with no options to be found.
Plus, room service is also suspended in most hotels right now, so that isn’t even an option anymore. So, what are you to do when it’s late and you’re itching for some food?
How to Fix It
Well, Disney recently began allowing Door Dash and Uber Eats to deliver food to the hotels, so you can order from a variety of local restaurants (including some Disney Springs ones) and have it delivered to you! Just keep in mind that you will need to meet the delivery service in the lobby instead of having it delivered directly to your room.
And, if you want to avoid the delivery charge, you can pick up a cheese plate and some snacks to stash in your room or fridge in case you get back to the hotel and you’re starving. Or, you can even pack some snacks to bring with you from home to save even more money on food. If you want to venture out, more spots are beginning to stay open a bit later into the wee hours, but it can be hard to pin down where! We made a list of every spot open past 10PM in Disney World in the hopes that no one goes to bed hangry in Disney World.
With more people in the parks, there are more people trying to get to and from them so you’re wait to get on transportation may be a bit longer than normal.
We’ve seen the longest lines for Disney’s newest transportation option (the Disney Skyliner) when going to or from the parks at open or close. But, what’s the cause of the hold-up? Well, Disney is generally loading one party per gondola most of the time, though during busy times you might be asked to sit with others.
And, while Disney buses are no longer operating with limited capacity, it still might be a few buses before you get one if you’re traveling during a busy time of day. It can take around 20 minutes for a new bus to roll through the stop, so depending on how many people are waiting to get on, you might be waiting a little while.
And, Disney’s Minnie Vans aren’t even an option (as they are currently suspended), and finding a Lyft or Uber can be harder right now because of a driver shortage over the past year due to COVID-19. So, though you have a lot of different transportation options at your fingertips in Disney World, right now it seems like you can’t win when it comes to transportation actually saving you time.
How to Fix It
So, if you’re committed to using Disney transportation, give yourself some extra time to get from here to there. Currently, Disney is recommending that guests plan at least an extra 1.5 hours into their travel schedule to make it around from A to B.
As for the Disney Skyliner, we’ve found that the best way to skip the early morning and late-night rush is to get to the Skyliner before it opens (about 30 minutes before parks open) or try to travel during times most people aren’t headed to and from the parks.
And, if you’d rather skip the Disney transportation altogether, you can bring your own car or rent one on Disney property, at the airport, or any other car rental location. Just keep in mind that Disney does charge an extra cost per night to park your car at the Disney World hotels and charges daily theme park parking, if you’re staying off property.
Virtual Queue Woes
Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge may not have a virtual queue anymore, but one of the newest attractions that guests hope to ride during their vacation is Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in EPCOT. And, hey, we get it — the ride is awesome! But, because it uses a virtual queue, it can be pretty hard to get a spot in the line (AKA a boarding group). You still need to be on your A-game and come prepared with all the tips and tricks to get yourself the chance to ride this immersive attraction during your day in EPCOT.
But, right now, it can be a lot of work to even have a chance at putting your name into the virtual queue as you need to plan your Park Pass Reservations to be at EPCOT on the day you’re hoping to try to ride. AND you need lightning-fast fingers to click in My Disney Experience juuuust at the right time to get it. And, even though park hopping is back, it doesn’t start until 2PM, after the second boarding group distribution time at 1PM, so you’re out of luck if you don’t have a park pass reservation.
Plus, while most Disney-goers have become used to the idea of having to compete for a spot in the virtual queue for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, there are more virtual lines popping up around Disney that you may not expect.
In fact, there’s often a long virtual queue for a COOKIE in Disney Springs at Gideon’s Bakehouse. So, if you want to try any of the half-pound cookies, cakes, or coffees, then you either need to head to Disney Springs early in the morning or be OK with staying at Disney Springs for hours.
So, you really never know where you might find a virtual queue in Disney World anymore.
How to Fix It
Though it is hard to avoid a virtual queue for merchandise or food, Remy’s actually has a pretty simple solution: Genie+. When Genie+ is live, Remy’s will shift to being a paid attraction guests can opt to wait in mine to experience or pay to ensure a spot in line. Pricing for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will be between $9-11 per person. So once again the solution involves shelling out some cash. 😕 But if you want to avoid long lines on this new attraction, this is your new best bet.
And, when it comes to securing the coveted cookies in Disney Springs (which is important, we know!), we’ve found it easiest to get a spot in line quick when heading to the shop right when it opens in the morning. Or, you can book a dining reservation for a restaurant in Disney Springs and join the virtual queue right before you go to sit down for your meal. By the time that you’re done eating, you might be pretty close to your reservation time!
Between monitoring wait times, mobile ordering, virtual queues, and now a new MobileMagic alternative ticket option that makes your phone your MagicBand, it’s never been more important to have your phone with you when at Disney World.
But, these things can quickly drain your battery, there can be a glitch in the app, or you can even have issues with the wifi in the parks that cause some troubles when it comes to navigating the parks.
How to Fix It
So, you’re definitely going to want to be sure that you’ve got a backup charger for your phone with you and have a few other phones in the family linked to your Disney account.
And, as an extra battery saver, take screenshots of your plans on the My Disney Experience app so that you’re not having to continually activate the wifi and pull them up!
Changes to Health and Safety Measures
We’ve already touched on a few health and safety measures that are currently implemented in Disney World (like that limited theme park capacity or Park Passes), but if there’s one thing that’s for sure right now, it’s that things can go from being the same for months to changing overnight without much warning.
For example, Disney had been operating with a mask mandate that required all guests to wear face masks when in the parks except when actively eating or drinking. And, over the summer, Disney quickly changed the policy in response to new CDC guidelines, announcing that the updates would go into place the next day. So, guests who were visiting went from masking up one day to not having to wear a mask outdoors the next.
And, on top of that, the mask mandates changed AGAIN just one month later, requiring that all guests (regardless of vaccination status) wear masks when indoors. This is the policy that remains in effect as of this writing, but Disney has still continued to fine-tune the policy, making it difficult for some guests to keep up with exactly where and when they need to wear their masks.
Disney has also reduced (and almost completely eliminated) physical distancing measures and gone back to loading ride vehicles without distance between parties. So, you really don’t know which health and safety measures might be different when you’re visiting from day to day.
How to Prepare For It
The changes can be a lot to keep up with, but we provide ya with the latest Disney news here at DFB, so subscribing to our newsletter and following us on social media will mean that you know the updates right away — even if you’re in the middle of vacation.
Plus, Disney also does a pretty good job at posting big changes like mask updates to the My Disney Experience app to remind folks when they’re visiting — especially if the change occurred overnight.
There’s no doubt that Disney World is still a little far off from being “normal” again, so you still won’t find a lot of the traditional attractions and entertainment options like physical character meet and greets, parades, holiday parties, and live daytime shows. Yes, some of these have come back (or are coming back) in a modified form, but there’s just no way to know when the attractions and shows will return in the way we’re “used to” until Disney shares an update.
And, with all of these things up in the air, it can be even harder to plan for your Disney trip, which you need to do months in advance if you’re hoping to book your top choice hotel and park passes.
How to Fix It
Since you may not get much lead time when it comes to learning about new or returning ticketed events, you’ll want to set aside some of the budget (both money and time budget, that is!) for those “just in case” things and be ready to act fast. When these events are announced by Disney it can be VERY hard to get tickets (when required), so you’ll need to hurry if you want to add it on.
Overall though, the name of the game is flexibility when it comes to planning your Disney World vacation right now, so coming in with that in mind will make your experience much less stressful.
So, now you’re equipped to hand anything in Disney World…well, almost anything! You can prepare even more for your trip and the new pitfalls that you might encounter by watching our video below!