Disney 2021: What You Need To Know Before Visiting Walt Disney World This Year

If you are thinking of visiting Disney in 2021, you'll want to read this! We just returned from a weeklong trip to Walt Disney World, and boy did we learn some things I wish I knew before.

First, let's get the elephant out of the room (and no, I'm not talking about Dumbo.) The big question on everyone's mind is, “Disney 2021 – is it still magical?”

YES. Even in 2021, Walt Disney World is still quite magical.

However, they do have many rules and regulations in place that you need to know to maximize your magic. And, some things aren't fully open.

So, while Walt Disney World 2021 will have some differences, it is still very magical. But, there are some tips we learned from experience that we weren't expecting.

Here's what you need to know before visiting Walt Disney World this year.

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Disney 2021: 11 Tips For Visiting Walt Disney World This Year

disney-2021-three kids in front of the castle with masks at magic kingdom

If you are planning to visit Walt Disney World in 2021, there are several key things you need to know.

First, for now, throw out all you knew before about navigating the parks. Disney 2021 is an entirely different beast (and I don't mean the one Belle married.)

Second, if this will be your first-ever trip to Walt Disney World, know that Disney 2021 is not typical. You may want to check out my Disney World For Beginners guide to give you an overview.

Lastly, the tips in this post are current as of the time of publishing.

It is important to note that Disney may modify or change their rules, availability, and add new features over the course of the year. But for now, these tips will help you if you have a trip planned in the coming months.

Disney 2021 Tips At A Glance
  • Theme Park Reservations Required
  • Masks Required
  • Expect Temperature Checks
  • My Disney Experience App Needed
  • No Fast Passes
  • Make Dining Reservations
  • Early Mobile Ordering Required For Quick Service
  • Expect Lines and Plan Accordingly
  • Lines Are Not What They Seem
  • Characters, Parades, Pin Trading, Attractions Different
  • Transportation Is Modified

1. Theme Park Reservations Required

From now until January 2023 (yes, 2023), you will have to make a theme park reservation. You want to check the Walt Disney World reservation system first before buying your tickets to make sure you can get into your selected theme park.

If you buy the tickets first, you may have just bought tickets you can't use. So check reservation availability first.

Then, once you buy your tickets, reserve your theme park dates. Valid tickets are required to make a reservation, and the tickets and reservation MUST be on the same day.

Note that reservations fill up weeks to months in advance. So get your tickets and reservations as soon as you can.

Here's How To Make A Disney World Park Reservation

Step 1

  • First, check which parks are available. Note that that availability differs if you are buying general tickets, are an annual pass holder, or are staying at select resort hotels. Be sure and select the right button to get accurate information.
disney 2021 theme park availability screen shot

Step 2

  • Then, purchase your tickets for your park or select the Park Hopper option.

Step 3

  • Make sure your tickets are connected to your account and your My Disney Experience app. And be sure to create your “party” of family members traveling with you. This will make everything below much easier!
plan-a-disney-vacation-walt-disney-world-resort-my-disney-experience-app
Download the My Disney Experience app to your phone for easy booking and monitoring of your vacation.

Step 4

  • Make your theme park reservations for you and your party. You can make Theme Park Reservations as soon as you buy your theme park tickets, and it is recommended to do it right away. As Walt Disney World is only operating at 35% capacity, the reservations fill up. Meaning – if you don't make reservations, you may not get into a theme park!

Important Note

  • If you choose to purchase the Park Hopper, you need a reservation for the first park and then can go to the second park after 2 p.m. until the second park's closing.
  • Currently, you don't need a reservation for the second park (but this can change) and is subject to availability and park capacity. And, you have to actually enter the first park for the Park Hopper to the second park to be valid.
  • A dining reservation in a park does not grant you entry. You have to have a reservation to enter or have the Park Hopper (though a reservation in the second park doesn't guarantee access.)
  • At present, the only water park open is Blizzard Beach and it does NOT currently require a reservation. However, it is limited to availability and capacity.

2. Masks Are Required

Everywhere on Walt Disney World property, you are required to wear a mask (that goes over your ears) and covers your nose and mouth. This is strictly enforced, and Cast Members will ask you to pull up your mask if it is down.

Guests who don't comply will be denied entry to the parks or asked to leave.

disney 2021 disney cast member wearing mask and face shield

It is important to note that gators and bandanas don't count. There are plenty of Disney masks to buy in the gift shops, and some locations have mask vending machines out front.

This means eating and drinking while walking or standing in line for rides is not permitted. Because you can't pull down your mask while walking or standing in line.

3. Temperature Checks Out Front

Before entering the theme park, Walt Disney World is taking temperatures of every guest. It takes a quick couple of seconds and will not impede your entry time. They have also added metal detectors at the entrances.

disney 2021 temperature checks out front of entrance

4. Download My Disney Experience App

I always recommend downloading the My Disney Experience app to your phone. But this year, it is a necessity.

Not only will it help you monitor wait times and keep track of all of your reservations. But, it is also how you can make new reservations and mobile order for Quick Service.

It is also where you can purchase Photo Pass photos.

5. No Fast Pass+ Reservations

For those of us who have strategized Fast Pass+ reservations, having no Fast Pass+ Reservations takes getting used to.

So, you just have to stand in line. I know, my inner Donald Duck was mumbling too. Disney 2021 is hard for us Fast Pass+ fanatics.

plan-a-disney-vacation-walt-disney-world-my-disney-experience

The only semi-exception is that guests of Disney's Hollywood Studios can join a virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at specific daily distribution times, while enjoying Star War's Galaxy's Edge. This is done through the My Disney Experience app, and Theme Park entrance to Disney Hollywood's Studios is required.

But, there are a few things to note. Disney Resort Hotel guests can enter the theme parks 30 minutes early to get in line. And, rider switch is still available, which is great news for families who need this service.

And, while there are no Extra Magic Hours at this time, later this year, Walt Disney World will be allowing Disney Resort Hotel guests early theme park entry but as of publication, they haven't implemented this yet. Cast Members do not know yet when it will be implemented (I asked. Several times.)

6. Make Dining Reservations Early

As soon as you are 60 days out from your arrival, you can begin to make Disney Dining Reservations. Be sure to do them as soon as you can, as they fill up.

And, many places only accept dining reservations (no walk-ins.) To put this in perspective, very few dining reservations were available when we were there.

If you keep checking, sometimes new times get released. But if you have your heart set on a dining experience, or want to guarantee a sit-down meal, book it early!

In addition, Quick Service lines are long and you can only order via the My Disney Experience app (see #7). So, it is good to have Disney dining reservations in your pocket.

7. Mobile Ordering For Quick Service Required

Nearly every Quick Service dining location requires you to mobile order via the My Disney Experience app.

Even in our hotel, we couldn't just walk in and order a coffee. You have to:

  • Pre-order on the My Disney Experience app
  • Select a pickup time
  • Alert the Quick Service restaurant via the app when you have arrived
  • Wait until they let you know it is ready

Mobile Ordering Quick Service In The Parks

If you plan to have quick service lunch or dinner in the theme parks, ORDER YOUR MEAL IN ADVANCE. We found that at 10:00 a.m., the Quick Service restaurants were already booking pick up times around 12 p.m.

disney 2021 mobile order screen shot

That means, if you wait until 12 p.m. to order lunch, you may not be able to pick it up until 2 p.m.

So sometime in the morning, decide which Quick Service location you want, place the order and select the pick up window for when you want to eat lunch. Otherwise, you may miss out on the time you hoped for.

8. Expect Lines For Everything

For an experienced Disney guest who is used to finding ways to navigate the system efficiently, it was hard to accept there were lines for everything. And, I mean EVERYTHING.

From long lines for a snack vendor to lines for attractions to lines to enter stores, be prepared to stand in lines. And plan accordingly.

In fact, this is a good time to download the Play Disney Parks app and have some fun while you wait.

Get to the parks as early as possible, get in line for your must-do attractions first, and don't save your souvenir shopping until the end.

disney-2021-world-of-disney-store

Visit the shops in the middle of the day. Note they are not sending purchases back to your room, so you will need to carry it through the park.

But, trust me waiting until the end will get you standing in a long line with everyone else who had the same idea. And, because some of the merchandise locations aren't open, there are fewer options for shopping.

Even the World of Disney store in Disney Springs had a 60-minute wait! Avoid shopping at Disney Springs on the weekends, and try to visit the shops and snack carts at off times.

9. Some Lines Aren't What They Seem

While the lines for attractions look daunting and may have a nasty number like a 60-minute wait, note that these aren't always accurate. On several occasions, we stood in what we thought was a 45 or 60-minute line for an attraction only to get to the front in 20 minutes.

Now, that's my kind of Disney magic!

Part of this is due to social distancing. Cast Members can't always accurately gauge the line timing because guests are standing six feet apart. There are markers all over to keep proper distance.

disney 2021 line on the ground

We had two times when the lines took longer than the estimated wait time. But more often, the opposite was true and we rode quite a lot for not having Fast Pass+ reservations.

You also may have to zig-zag around the parks more due to the varying wait times and to maximize your magic . But have flexibility and patience and you can enjoy quite a lot of the theme park offerings.

10. Characters, Shows, Attractions, and Pin Trading Are Different

Character Meet and Greets

You can leave your autograph books at home, as you won't be up close and personal with the characters. The characters do make appearances, but they are from afar.

disney-2021-princess-in-a-parade

Character dining is available, but modified, in select locations. You can book reservations at Garden Grill Restaurant, Hollywood & Vine, Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera and Chef Mickey's for character dining.

Parades

Parades are not happening, although at Magic Kingdom, they have a miniature parade of sorts of princesses that drives through several times throughout the day. Each park has some way for the characters to make an appearance, be it a boat, a character wave, or drive by from afar. But they do keep their distance for safety.

disney-2021--parade-at-magic-kingdom

Stage Shows

Nearly all of the stage shows aren't performing throughout the theme parks. You can enjoy an animation experience and a bird show in Animal Kingdom. But these are done with safety and social distancing in mind.

Pin Trading

Pin trading is happening but only at select locations and not in the traditional way. Traders can go to designated pin trading stations at each of the theme parks, at Disney Springs, and the resorts. The trading happens in a non-contact, socially distanced way.

Kidcot

Kidcot, the fantastic experience where kids travel “around the world” in Epcot and pick up a country card at each of the countries, IS taking place. However, kids won't interact with international Cast Members. Cards are placed on a table in each country, or you can ask a Cast Member for one.

Attractions

Disney 2021 brings a new experience on attractions. Many of the lines had tall plastic dividers in them and were fairly narrow. It didn't detract from the ride, but something to note.

disney=2021-attraction-line

Many of the rides – particularly for boat rides like It's A Small World – had dividers in between the seats.

All of the attractions were well thought out and mindful of social distancing. But one thing to note is that they may not be able to sanitize in between guests, due to the nature of the attractions.

There are hand sanitizing stations at the entrances and exits of each attraction.

Walt Disney World is continuing to do rider switch.

disney-2021-kilamanjaro-safari-ride

11. Not All Transportation Is Running

While Walt Disney World's epic transportation system is all part of the magic, it is important to note that not all of it is running in Disney 2021. Some of the Monorail lines are running, but currently, not to Epcot.

Many of the boat transportation is running, as is the Disney Skyliner.

The Minnie Van service is not running. And, beginning next year, Magical Express will no longer be available.

You can expect lines for busses, so plan accordingly or drive (if you have a rental car) to the theme parks. Parking is free for Disney Resort Hotel guests.

plan-a-disney-vacation-walt-disney-world-resort-monorail-epcot

Final Thought On Disney 2021: What You Need To Know Before Visiting Walt Disney World This Year

Disney 2021 has thrown out the rule book many of us Disney-files have come to know. But, you can still have a very magical experience.

In fact, I would argue despite these changes, and some challenges, Walt Disney World has done a wonderful job continuing to provide as magical a vacation as possible in these times.

And while Walt Disney World has always required planning, this year requires some additional advanced planning to ensure you enjoy your visit. These tips we learned from experience will hopefully help you prepare for your Disney visit in 2021.

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3 thoughts on “Disney 2021: What You Need To Know Before Visiting Walt Disney World This Year”

  1. Great mention of all of the Disney changes to be aware of! I feel that needing reservations and the lack of FastPasses are huge, and definitely something to be aware of. I like how you mention that the lines appear longer than they really are too, for yes, we just got back from Universal Studios, and with social distancing in lines, they went by way faster than we anticipated upon first glance of them.

    Reply
  2. This post is a gem! Thanks for taking the time to share all these updates. I had no idea. To be honest, I think they are doing a great job at keeping everyone safe which I do appreciate.

    Reply

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