For my thoughts on the re-opening of Walt Disney World, see this.

By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Walt Disney World for First Time Visitors in 2021

By Dave Shute

With the elimination or reduction of many restrictions related to the pandemic, an increasingly complete set of re-opened rides and attractions, and a new portfolio of wait-avoiding tools soon to be available, a Disney World visit can be better than at any time since it re-opened in the summer of 2020. (COVID infectiousness (R(t)) peaked in Florida around July 14, and new cases peaked around August 19, per

That said, Disney World it is still diminished compared to what it like was before the changes due to the pandemic. I still don’t particularly recommend a visit now—before the wait management tools come into play—for first-timers who may never return. But other guests can have a great time, so long as they know what they are getting into. I expect things to be just fine for first-timers pretty soon.


At the Disney World theme parks, nighttime shows have returned Epcot and Magic Kingdom, and the minor evening show Wonderful World of Animation has returned  at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but there are as yet no parades, and still no in-person character meet and greets.

Stage-type shows in the parks are also limited. At Epcot, Turtle Talk with Crush is open, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Frozen Sing-Along and the Beauty and the Beast show are open, at Magic Kingdom Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor is open, and a narrowed version of Festival of the Lion King is open at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. However, half a dozen other shows remain shuttered, most significantly among them Enchanted Tales with Belle and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.

Disney World theme park capacity has expanded quickly. But it remains limited, and to enforce this, guests must have not only a ticket, but also a park reservation. The park reservation system will not be going away in the foreseeable future…

Many table and quick-service dining venues are open in the parks, but not all. Capacity in table service venues can still be somewhat limited, and reservations are available only beginning 60 days before a visit—not the 180 days of we saw before the pandemic. At quick service venues, mobile ordering (via My Disney Experience on your phone) is highly recommended. Updates on what’s open and what’s not can be found here.

FastPass+ is permanently gone, and will be replaced with multiple pretty confusing systems, all of which at minimum offer a free way to access rides and, for many of the more attractive/popular rides also offer a paid way to book a time and possibly reduce waits. The new systems have been announced, but do not yet have a start date, and are missing some key details.  I make what sense I can of them here.

Until the new ride access systems launch, Josh covers the best approaches to the parks on his site  Josh also notes that in general midweek days are better than weekend days at all parks except the Studios. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is bad every day–and Josh reminds us that because of this, it makes sense to target the Studios on a weekend—since it won’t be any worse than a weekday, which is not true at the other parks.

Park Hopping is available, but only beginning at 2p, and only after you first enter whatever park you had reserved that day. (The 2nd park does not need a reservation—nor can you even get one—but you need both a reservation for the first park and to have actually entered it.)

At the Disney World resort hotels, many have not yet re-opened. All the DVC, deluxe, and Fort Wilderness offerings are open. About half of the values and moderates are open, with the rest expected to open later in 2021. Interestingly, all of this site’s highest-recommended values and moderates opened in first waves of re-opening…

Extra Magic Hours (EMH)—which I never particularly recommended—are gone, and will be replaced for eligible guests on October 1 by two very different programs:

  • An Early Entry program for which all guests who used to be eligible for EMH will be eligible
  • An Extended Evening Hours program limited to guests in DVC resorts, deluxe resorts, and a couple of other non-Disney resorts

The Early Entry program will allow “at least” half an hour’s early access to the parks for eligible resort guests, every day at every park.

With one exception, this new program will be much better for eligible guests, and much worse for those not staying in an eligible hotel, than Extra Magic Hours. The exception will be for those otherwise eligible who particularly loved Evening Extra Magic Hours—as the Extended Evening hours are both limited (so far, just Epcot and Magic Kingdom, once a week each) and apply only to a narrow subset of folks. Because the Early Entry program will be available every day at every park, planning will be much simpler for those eligible for it. However, for those not eligible, there will be no days when they can access the parks on the same basis as everyone else—they will always be at least half an hour behind.

In the meantime, until the new program starts up on October 1, there are no particular park access perks for Disney World resort hotel guests.

Also gone is a minor perk—free MagicBands. MagicBands still work and are still honored, and you can order paid Magic Bands, but the free ones are gone.

Beyond this, some resort dining venues remain closed, and character meals have a different character. Current details are here. In particular, the dinner shows Hoop Dee Doo and the Luau remain closed. Here’s hoping the Luau is permanently closed or profoundly re-conceptualized—and the Hoop Dee Doo Revue re-opens exactly the same as it was.

The Disney Dining plans are not available, and are unlikely to come back until much more table service/traditional character meals/dinner show capacity is available.

Also at the resorts, airline check in and bag drop is not available, and neither is package delivery from the theme parks. Disney’s Magical Express service from MCO continues in 2021, but will be gone in 2022.

The upshot is that a Disney World Visit is still diminished compared to what it was before the changes due to the pandemic. I still don’t particularly recommend a visit now for first-timers who may never return, but all other guests can have a great time—if they know what they are getting into. Once the new park access programs open, first-timers should have solid trips.


Several hotels are seeing re-themings—in particular, the Polynesian Village, to a Moana theme, the Contemporary, expected to be to an Incredibles theme, and the Wilderness Lodge.

Still being worked on and likely not opening in 2021 are the Star Wars themed hotel outside of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Tron ride in Magic Kingdom, and the Guardians of the Galaxy ride in Epcot.


Various Disney World deals have been available for 2021. Currently, no general public deals go beyond September 29. With the 50th anniversary beginning October 1, I’d not expect to see a ton of deals for the general public after September 2021.

Disney World seems likely to be shifting to a place where the maximum number of guests admitted to a park is lower than it might have been in the past, and this lower number of spots is rationed by price.

Moreover, Disney is thinking more of the total value a specific guest/party brings to the company—that is, the incremental profitability across all of tickets, hotels, dining, other purchases, etc. Given that, I’m not surprised that FastPass+ has been replaced with a paid program…

Disney World’s theme parks have long been the awkward position that the days of the year most profitable to the company are the most miserable to guests—that is, days of great overcrowding. It shifted several years ago to date-based ticket pricing as a partial way of addressing this, without, frankly, a huge difference between lower and higher-cost periods. A bigger difference seems quite likely to emerge…

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1 Luis { 10.16.21 at 10:19 am }

Dave, visiting Easter Sunday and week after on 2022 (getting there Saturday). I’m aware it will be insane but.. it’s the cards dealt to us with respect to when we can go. What parks would you recommend as better ones (as far as least crazy crowds/lines) for Easter Sunday?

2 Dave { 10.18.21 at 8:55 am }

Luis, the common absence of locals (at church, with families) has historically made Easter Sunday the best of a bad stretch of days, especially in the morning. It’s a little early for me to make a definitive recommendation, but Animal Kingdom tends to be the best park on holidays.

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