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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Category — p. News and Changes

Walt Disney World for First Time Visitors in 2021

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 covidestim.org.)

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.

WHAT’S STILL MISSING (OR LIMITED) AT DISNEY WORLD

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 easyWDW.com.  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.

WHAT MAY BE NEXT AT DISNEY WORLD: WHAT’S STILL COMING TO DISNEY WORLD IN 2021

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.

WHAT MAY BE NEXT AT DISNEY WORLD: PRICES AND DEALS AT DISNEY WORLD IN 2021

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…

To book your visit with the help of my friends at Destinations in Florida, fill out and submit the form below!

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September 16, 2021   No Comments

Next Week (July 3 through July 11, 2021) at Walt Disney World

DISNEY WORLD NEXT WEEK: JULY 3 TO JULY 11, 2021

The material below details next week’s Disney World operating hours, parades, and fireworks.

OPERATING HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 7/3-7/11/21

The Magic Kingdom will be open from 9a-11p 7/3 through 7/10, and 9a-10p 7/11

Epcot will be open from 11a-10p every day

Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be open from 9a-8p every day

Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be open from 8a-7p every day

EXTRA MAGIC HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 7/3-7/11/21

There will be no Extra Magic Hours anymore.  They will be replaced October 1 by a new program.

PARADES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 7/3-7/11/21

There will be no parades until further notice.

FIREWORKS AND EVENING SHOWS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 7/3-7/11/21

At Magic Kingdom, Happily Ever After is scheduled at 9.15p every night

At Epcot, Epcot Forever is scheduled at 10p every night

SHOW SCHEDULES FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD 7/3-7/11/21

See Steve Soares’ site here. Click the park names at its top for show schedules.

 

 

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July 1, 2021   No Comments

More COVID Relaxations Coming to Disney World on June 15

Walt Disney World will be relaxing its mask requirements effective June 15.

As of that date, fully vaccinated guests need not wear masks in any Disney World setting other than transportation–buses, monorails, the Skyliner, etc.

Meanwhile, already in process is continued reduction in Disney World’s physical distancing standards, “in places like queues, shops, restaurants, attraction boarding, transportation and our theaters.”

The effect of this will be enhanced ability to both serve more guests per unit of time and to have more compact waiting lines.  It remains to be seen whether or not this will enhance guest experiences in terms of reducing waits, as that is also shaped by how many more folks Disney lets into a park, which is not yet clear.

Disney’s algorithm for changing physical distancing is not clear.  The rules of thumb on such matters is that the unvaccinated, especially if in the higher risk groups of people older than 50,  should avoid poorly ventilated spaces when you might be in them for 10 to 15 minutes and many others either unvaccinated or of uncertain vaccination status are present and either closer than one meter, or if talking loudly/singing/breathing heavily, are at a greater distance but sharing for that duration air.  The key invisible variable to this is ventilation/air exchange/air circulation rates.

Disney’s material on these matters is copied below.

 

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June 12, 2021   No Comments

Walt Disney World in 2021

“We took the opportunity to revisit … our [theme park] operations to improve the [pricing] yield because [the parks are] the ultimate in a capacity-constrained environment, but also to improve our guest experience… That really gave us the opportunity to say… how do we want to emerge, and how does that fit our yielding strategy and our guest experience strategy?”

–Bob Chapek, CEO, Walt Disney Company, at the JP Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference, May 24, 2021

With the elimination or reduction of many restrictions related to the pandemic, a Disney World visit can be better now than at any time since it re-opened in the summer of 2020.

That said, Disney World it is still quite diminished compared to what it like was before the changes due to the pandemic, and summer crowding and long waits are likely to soon be an issue. 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—so long as they know what they are getting into.

WHAT’S STILL MISSING (OR VERY LIMITED) AT DISNEY WORLD

At the Disney World theme parks, nighttime shows will return at Epcot and Magic Kingdom on July 1, there are as yet no parades, and no in-person character meet and greets.

Stage-type shows in the parks are also very limited. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Frozen Sing-Along is open, and a narrowed version of Festival of the Lion King is open at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but a half dozen other shows remain shuttered.

Disney World theme park capacity is expanding quickly, as six feet distancing is no longer in place either in lines, or on most rides, or at most shows. But it remains limited, and to enforce this, guests must have not only a ticket, but also a park reservation.

Many table and quick-service dining venues are open in the parks, but not all. Capacity in table service venues is still somewhat limited, and reservations are available only beginning 60 days before a visit—not the 180 days of pre-pandemic planning. 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+ continues to be on pause. As a result, even with reduced numbers of guests allowed in the parks, waits during park visits can be longer—particularly at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The “olden days” touring approach of showing up at a park well before opening, and picking key rides to see as soon as you are allowed in, is the best way to avoid unnecessary waits. The parks right now typically open to guests 30-45 minutes before their advertised opening times, with several of the popular rides open then.

Josh covers the best approaches to the parks on his site easyWDW.com.  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.

Note that the payoff from early arrival will likely shift in important ways after Disney World moves to its new “Early Theme Park Entry” program—see below.

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.)

Annual passes may be renewed, but no entirely new Annual Passes are available right now.

At the Disney World resort hotels, many have not yet re-opened. All the DVC and Fort Wilderness offerings are open, and among the deluxes, all either are open or will be open by mid-summer. About half of the values and moderates are open, with no word on future re-openings. Interestingly, all of this site’s highest-recommended values and moderates are open…

That said, the perks for staying in a Disney World resort are quite diminished. For example, since FastPass+ is still on hold, there’s no extra booking window available to resort guests.

Extra Magic Hours—which I never particularly recommended—are gone, and will be replaced by a very different program, the Early Theme Park Entry Program. This program—when it kicks off, date uncertain—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 no evening replacement has been announced (and likely one will not be, with evenings that might have home to the program being reserved for separately-ticketed thingies). Because Early Theme Park 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, 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 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.

WHAT MAY BE NEXT AT DISNEY WORLD: CROWDS IN 2021

Willingness to travel has returned more quickly than I’d forecast, so the summer through August will likely be more crowded than I’d forecast a couple of months ago. Longer waits will still be somewhat narrowed by how many folks Disney is willing to let into each park each day. That in turn is affected by several factors:

  • The pace at which attractions, shows, and other buckets of capacity re-open or expand their capacity
  • The ability of Disney World to staff up for this additional capacity
  • The willingness of Disney to live with its guests facing long waits

Somewhat relevant to this is Disney’s fiscal calendar, with fiscal quarters ending around June 30 and September 30. Perhaps even more relevant is the fact that Disney World’s 50th anniversary begins on October 1.

So I’d expect in particular Disney World to try to ramp everything up during Q4 (~July 1 through ~September 30) so that the 50th anniversary begins on October 1 as close to “normal” as Disney can—and as it defines normal… Given the usual lull related to back-to-school in September, September thus becomes a particularly good time to target for a visit, holding the promise of lower crowds but a better experience than early summer. There is of course still that hurricane thing

There’s no word yet on a return of FastPass+, nor of when Disney’s new Early Theme Park Entry Program might begin. Either of these will yield lower-wait visits for those who can take wise advantage of them. There is, as always, much controversy about FastPass+, with many, as always, expecting it to be replaced with a paid program. FastPass+ in its prior form in particular advantaged those staying in a Disney (or other eligible) hotel who can plan their trips more than 60 days ahead. This group of people is particularly profitable for Disney…which is a pretty good hint…

WHAT MAY BE NEXT AT DISNEY WORLD: WHAT’S STILL COMING TO DISNEY WORLD IN 2021

Several hotels are seeing announced or widely rumored 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.

WHAT MAY BE NEXT AT DISNEY WORLD: PRICES AND DEALS AT DISNEY WORLD IN 2021

Various Disney World deals have been available for 2021. Currently, none except for those reserved for members of the US military go beyond September 29. With the 50th anniversary beginning October 1, I’d not expect to see a ton of deals for after September.

I’d expect to see some shifting in regular ticket prices—and by shifting, I mean increases—perhaps even later this year, and especially for new annual passes if/when they return.

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 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’d expect substantial increases in Annual Pass prices since on average many pass holders (especially those who live nearby) would have the lowest value as defined above.

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, perhaps starting in some form with Annual Passes, seems quite likely to me.

Now that I’ve warned you…to book your visit with the help of my friends at Destinations in Florida, fill out and submit the form below!

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May 31, 2021   4 Comments

Disney World in the Summer of 2020

Co-author Josh of easyWDW.com has put together previews of how he expects things will go at the four theme parks once they re-open next week.

As he puts it, his previews include “everything that’s expected to be open, closed, and what I’m expecting from crowds, wait times, and potential touring strategies along with some nonsense.”

It’s best to start with Josh’s Animal Kingdom material, as that also covers some general concepts applicable to all four parts. (And before looking at Epcot, you may wish to ask children to leave the room.)

PREVIEWS OF DISNEY WORLD IN THE SUMMER OF 2020

Josh’s previews can be found at the links:

I have noted elsewhere that first-timers on a once in a lifetime visit to Walt Disney World ought to avoid going until the parks become more like they used to be.

But returning visitors might find a trip well worthwhile. Your best way of making that choice is to review Josh’s previews, and then return to easyWDW.com for updates after the parks open next weekend.

Note that you can’t enter the parks without both a ticket AND a reservation. 2020 Reservations can be made on the My Disney Experience website, but only if you already have a ticket or an annual pass. As of now, Disney is not selling new tickets for 2020.

Josh covers the reservation system here.

 

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July 6, 2020   No Comments

yourfirstvisit.net to those on a once in a lifetime trip to Walt Disney World: Delay, for now

FIRST TIMERS WHO MAY NEVER RETURN SHOULD AVOID WALT DISNEY WORLD, FOR NOW

I built this site with a particular audience in mind: first time visitors to Walt Disney World, and in particular first time visitors to Walt Disney World who might never be able to return.

Disney World has announced a limited, staggered, partial and complicated re-opening to guests beginning in July. Given both the limitations and complexities that I see, I can’t recommend that first timers go to Walt Disney World for a once in a lifetime trip until the experience promises to be much better.

I don’t know when that will be.

Returning visitors who know what they are getting into, know what they will be missing, know how to navigate Disney World, are willing to comply with its requirements, and are willing to waive liability and otherwise accept the consequences of their choice to be in Disney World can, I think, still have fun.

DISNEY WORLD RE-OPENING PLANS

The Disney World theme parks will begin re-opening in July, the Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom on July 11 and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot on July 15. Right now, there is no opening date for the water parks.

The Disney Vacation Club Resorts and Fort Wilderness Resort will re-open on June 22. Right now, there is no re-opening date for the rest of the resort hotels. I suspect that Disney has plans regarding the other resort hotels, but does not yet know if it can staff to its plans.

Many have speculated that given capacity limits in the parks, some resorts will remain closed to lower total resort operating costs. I suspect that instead we will see many resorts partially open, as social distancing—especially in the pools, dining venues, lobby, bus stops etc.—will be easier in many partially-opened resorts than in fewer fully-opened resorts.

OPERATING HOURS

The parks as of now are scheduled with staggered openings and closes—presumably to lessen the demands on the transportation system

  • Animal Kingdom: 8a-6p
  • Magic Kingdom: 9a-7p
  • Hollywood Studios: 10a-8p
  • Epcot: 11a-9p

This of course also has the effect of greatly shortening operating hours—compared to mid-July last summer, each park is open 2-3 hours less per day—in effect removing an entire park out of capacity.

All Extra Magic Hours have been cancelled.

ATTRACTIONS THAT WILL BE AVAILABLE

The parks will re-open with no parades, no evening spectaculars, and no character meet and greets. Some of these possibly will return fairly soon, based on what we’ve seen in Shanghai.

It is unclear how many individual other attractions will be re-opening when the parks re-open. The balance among whether an attraction is open or not likely will be a factor of

  • How many cast members are willing to return to work (pre-existing conditions and/or age factors may make a return to a high-people-exposure environment unwise for some full and part time staff, and staffing from Disney’s College program is currently absent). This affects Disney’s overall ability to staff its property
  • The operating costs of an individual attraction, and
  • The extent to which an attraction draws people away from congregating elsewhere.

I am most concerned about the indoor theater-style shows, which a little math will tell you that with every other row closed, and six feet between parties in open rows, will be lucky to serve around 25% of capacity.

DINING

All restaurant reservations and FastPass+ reservations have been cancelled. FastPass+ is not expected to come back soon, as the capacity of its queues is likely to be used for social distancing.

Restaurant reservations will likely re-open once Disney has a better sense of when resort dining will re-open, how many people it will allow on property, and what each venue’s practical capacity after social distancing is. The window for reservations will then shift to 60 days from the current 180 days.

All dining plans have been cancelled, and will not be available for some time.

OTHER COMPLEXITIES TO THE REOPENING

All folks intending to enter a park must sign up separately for a reservation for that park. (This is in addition to whatever one’s tickets might say about dates; no further details are yet available.) It is unclear right now how many people will be allowed into the parks each day, either initially or as experience builds.

All entering a park two years old or older will be required to wear masks, and masks will be required in the resort hotels except when one is in one’s room (the normal exceptions for eating and drinking will be present—it is unclear if there will be exceptions for being in a pool).

Given Disney’s agreements with its unions re requiring masks of guests, its obligation to its staff to provide a safe environment for them, and the liability issues it can face on these matters, I expect it to be much firmer in enforcing the mask requirements on its guests than many other do. I don’t see the mask requirement going away until either the science on the efficacy of cloth face coverings in protecting others (in particular, protecting cast members) changes its balance of findings, or the infectious environment changes.

Disney World is currently accepting no new ticket or hotel bookings other than for DVC point holders in its DVC resorts. Once it has a firm view (e.g. from knowing how many cast members can return) of its starting capacity, and has seen a full wave of cancellations related to for example the mask requirements, shorter and staggered park hours, the known experiences that will not be available when the parks first re-open, it will know—at least in the short term—whether it needs to cancel existing reservations, or can instead re-open to new reservations.

 

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May 31, 2020   8 Comments