It’s almost 2022, and at the end of year many of us take the time to reflect on the past year.
2021 was a huge year in Disney news, from announcements about the loss of free perks, to the Disney Genie, to the new Annual Passholder system, and even more. We’re breaking down 2021 for you with the biggest news from each month, so take a look!
In January, Disney released the first big news of 2021 — the Magical Express would be discontinued as of January 2022. The Magical Express was a complimentary airport shuttle for guests saying in Disney World Resort hotels. It would transport guests and their luggage from Orlando International Airport to their hotel, even bringing their luggage to their rooms.
This service will be replaced by a paid service called Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer. But now, you have to pay for the transport services, so you have to take into account this additional cost for your future Disney World visits.
In February Disney announced that EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth would be getting a permanent change, with new exterior lighting that could be programmed for different lighting sequences. So what would that look like? We had to wait till September to find out!
In March, we discovered that Main Street Confectionery in Magic Kingdom would close for a lengthy refurbishment. This Main Street, U.S.A. staple closed on March 29th, 2021, and remained closed until September 28th, 2021. It was closed for SIX months!
The new look for Main Street Confectionery is sponsored by Mars Candy, and the space features all your favorite and new treats, as well as a new customizable popcorn station, a wall of candies, fresh cotton candy, and more!
When the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover did not reopen along with Disney World in July 2020, everyone was left wondering what was going on with the fan-favorite ride. Over the next year, people worried that the PeopleMover might be doomed to the same fate as Disneyland’s version, which is permanently closed. There were a million and a half delays until…
…it finally reopened after being closed for THIRTEEN months in April 2021! This leisurely ride takes guests through buildings in Tomorrowland, with gorgeous views of Magic Kingdom. If you need a rest or want a unique look at Tomorrowland, take a slow ride on the PeopleMover!
In May 2021, Disney announced that face coverings would no longer be required outdoors in Disney World. As of May 15th, regardless of vaccination status, guests did not have to wear masks in Disney World unless they were indoors or on transportation.
In June, Disney World made face coverings optional for fully vaccinated guests everywhere except on transportation, and then in July face coverings were once again required in all indoor spaces and on transportation. This policy has remained mostly the same since July, and we’ll continue to update you on any changes Disney might make in the future.
After the Skyliner Gondola System opened in September 2019, there were two gondola accidents that occurred, with one incident in October 2019 and another in April 2021. In June 2021, the Skyliner Gondolas crashed AGAIN, stranding guests on their gondolas for some time.
Guests were eventually safely evacuated and received items like cold water and a $25 Disney gift card. Since then, there have been no more Skyliner crashes. The Skyliner is closing for a refurbishment from January 23rd, 2022 through January 28th, 2022
Happily Ever After Closing
In July, Disney announced that the Happily Ever After fireworks show in Magic Kingdom would be closing as of September 2021. This show debuted in Disney World in May 2017 and it was considered a fan-favorite show. It was replaced by the new show Disney Enchantment in October 2021 for Disney World’s 50th anniversary.
Happily Ever After was permanently retired, so it will not likely return to Magic Kingdom. It featured projection mapping onto Cinderella Castle along with songs and stories featuring favorite Disney characters.
Cast Members Vaccines
In July Disney also announced that Cast Members would be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This applied to all salaried and non-union hourly employees. Later in 2021, Disney reached an agreement with Union leaders to require proof of vaccinations by October 2021.
In November 2021, Disney paused vaccine requirements for Cast Members due to a new Florida law preventing companies from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. We’ll continue to watch for news regarding this policy.
In August we got the BIG news that Disney World’s FastPass+ system would be officially retiring, and it would be replaced by two paid systems. FastPass+ was a free system that allowed guests to reserve the much quicker FastPass Lanes, which have since been replaced with Lightning Lanes.
FastPass+ was replaced with Disney Genie+ and Individual Attraction Selection, which now cost money and operate differently from FastPasses.
Disney also announced the future launch of the Disney Genie as well as Disney Genie+ and Individual Attraction Selection (pay-per-ride). While Disney Genie is a free planning service in the My Disney Experience app, Genie+ allows guests to reserve Lightning Lanes for select rides in Disney World and Disneyland, and pay-per-ride system is limited to each park’s most popular and in-demand rides.
Genie+ launched in Disney World on October 19th. Over half of our readers said they would NOT pay for Genie+, and later Disney revealed that about a third of guests have been purchasing Genie+.
Annual Passholder Program
After the sales of Annual Passes were paused since March 2020, a NEW Disney World Annual Passholder program were announced at the end of August. These changes went into effect in September 2021, and Annual Passes were once again for sale. The new program features four new pass tiers, including the Disney Incredi-Pass, the Disney Sorcerer Pass, the Disney Pirate Pass, and the Disney Pixie Dust Pass. Each pass offers different benefits and levels of theme park access.
The new system limits the amount of park pass reservations a guest can reserve, depending on their tier of pass, and some previous free perks like PhotoPass are no longer included with the new passholder system.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Standby Line
Although Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in Disney’s Hollywood Studios historically used a virtual queue reservation system, everything changed in September when Disney added a standby line. With the virtual queue, guests had the opportunity to secure a boarding group at either 7AM or 1PM (in the park), but that is no longer an option now.
Rise of the Resistance is now available for $15 as an Individual Lightning Lane, or you can expect to wait in a (typically long) standby line.
Disney announced the return of modified character meet-and-greets, now called character “sightings,” in October 2021. Sightings allow guests to visit one-on-one with characters again, from a distance. Guests can also take photos with characters and have a conversation, but autographs and hugs are not yet allowed.
Disney released a full list of the modified character meet-and-greets returning to Disney World, and it includes Mickey, Minnie, select Disney Princesses, and more.
After Disney World Annual Passes went on sale in September 2021, Disney announced in November that they were pausing the sales of three out of the four Annual Pass tiers. The Pirate, Sorcerer, and IncrediPass are not for sale at this time, although current Annual Passholders can still renew into any tier.
The Pixie Pass is still available for purchase, and it’s only available to Florida residents. Disney has not yet announced how long this pause may last.
At Destination D23, Disney announced the return of Fantasmic! and Festival of Fantasy parade returning in 2022! Fantasmic! is the fan-favorite nighttime show featuring Mickey Mouse and many other Disney characters in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In 2022, it will be back after being closed since March 2020.
Parades have remained suspended since March 2020, and the Festival of Fantasy Parade will return to Magic Kingdom in 2022. This parade features favorite Disney characters, including a Maleficent dragon!
We can’t wait to see Fantasmic! and parades return to Disney World.
Check out our TikTok reflection on 2021 Disney news here!
That’s all the BIG Disney news from this year! Keep reading DFB for more news and updates from Disney World and beyond!
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What do you think was the most surprising Disney news this year? Tell us in the comments!