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What to Expect on Your 2021 Disney World Vacation

If you’re traveling to Disney World in 2021, there are several changes to be aware of following the Covid-19 shutdown and reopening last year, especially if you’ve visited in the past. Here is a roundup of some of the biggest changes as well as more insight to navigating your next Disney World vacation.

Masks are required for all guests ages 2 and up upon entering and throughout all attractions, at all theaters, on transportation and all indoor locations including restaurants, except while actively eating or drinking while stationary. Disney has some specific guidelines for those masks here. As of May 15th, masks are now optional in outdoor common areas and pool decks. Masks can also be removed for socially distanced photos in the parks and resorts, which is a welcome change for those who purchase Memory Maker to capture all of their vacation photos.

Disney has also placed sanitizing stations throughout the parks and resorts to encourage usage before and after attractions, dining, and other activities.
Disney’s Magical Express service between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and your Disney resort is currently available, but it is important to note you will need to retrieve your checked luggage at Baggage Claim before checking in for this service. Your driver will assist in storing the luggage beneath the motorcoach, and you will need to retrieve it again upon arrival to your resort.

At your resort, Bell Services is available to store and deliver luggage as needed. 
Theme Parks
Perhaps the biggest, most important change is that you’ll now need a Disney Park Pass each day of your ticket to access a theme park due to capacity restrictions – this is in addition to the ticket you purchase or the ticket that's included in your vacation package. Once your travel agent books your vacation package or tickets, you will receive a confirmation number to link in your My Disney Experience account. Once this confirmation number is linked, you can then select your Park Passes for each day of your tickets.

If you booked a Park Hopper ticket, you only need to select a Park Pass for the first park you plan to visit each day. You will be allowed to hop to another park after 2 p.m. based on the second park’s availability. To date, all parks have been available for park hopping after 2 p.m. 
Also related to your tickets, FastPasses are not currently available as the FastPass queues are being used to facilitate social distancing. While this might not sound like a positive change, it seems the standby lines move even more quickly than the posted wait times; however, the attractions do stop intermittently for cleaning, so your experience may vary.

The only attraction where you will book any type of pass is for Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios. On the day you have a Park Pass booked for Hollywood Studios, you can try at 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. to secure a Boarding Group, which is a virtual queue for this popular attraction. This is the only way to experience this attraction and only guests that have a Park Pass for Hollywood Studios can try to secure a Boarding Group. Those who Park Hop to Disney's Hollywood Studios will not be eligible to get a Boarding Group. 
Table-service dining reservations are now available to book at 60 days in advance instead of the previous 180 days. This is a welcome change for those unsure where they want to dine six months in advance of their trip, or for those who book a relatively last-minute Disney World vacation.

Dining plans have not yet returned for booking, so be prepared to pay for all dining out of pocket. Disney did state it hopes to bring dining plans back this year, but no further information is available yet.

For quick-service dining, you will want to use your My Disney Experience app to “mobile order” your meals in the parks and at resorts. This feature actually saves you quite a bit of time standing in line to order, and its use is encouraged by Disney. One tip is to review the menus (also in the app) and place your order well in advance of popular dining times to ensure you can receive your order at your desired time.
While some resorts remain closed (like All-Stars Music and Sports, Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside), more are reopening this summer – including favorites like the BoardWalk Inn, Beach Club and Wilderness Lodge!

Important to note, Mousekeeping is thoroughly cleaning rooms between each guest and is only visiting guest rooms during a stay every other day for light cleaning such as removal of trash and towels, replenishment of towels and amenities, wiping counters, and vacuuming if needed. 
Buses are currently limiting the number of guests they transport at a time to promote social distancing. It’s important to arrive to the bus stop early if you are traveling to a dining reservation, for example. Boats and the monorail also are promoting social distancing, while the Skyliner is limiting one group/family per gondola.
Characters, Parades & Fireworks
Character greetings in the parks are currently suspended, but you can still catch some of your favorites greeting from socially distanced locations throughout the parks, such as Chip and Dale in Frontierland, Anna and Elsa in Epcot – Norway, Winnie the Pooh near Crystal Palace, and more.

Character meals also are socially distanced, meaning the characters will come by and wave from a distance – and even pause for a distanced photo – but will not approach each table for personalized greetings or autographs. 
Fireworks and scheduled parades are also temporarily paused, but impromptu cavalcades are taking place throughout the parks. These brief, unscheduled parades feature favorites like the Disney princesses, villains, Pixar characters and more!

Resort swimming pools are currently open, and masks are not required while swimming. However, you may find a brief wait as capacity at the pools is being limited to ensure social distancing.

Other resort activities like fun runs, campfires, and mermaid school are temporarily paused, while some socially distanced activities like guided fishing, cabana rentals, horseback riding and more ARE available, for a fee. 

Pin trading, a favorite Disney vacation activity, is available from pin boards throughout the parks and resorts, though you won’t be able to trade with Cast Members wearing lanyards just yet.

Guidelines and policies are rapidly changing, so be sure to read the most recent official updates at Disney’s official Know Before You Go webpage before booking or traveling to your next Disney World vacation.

Katie Turner

Katie lives in Louisiana with her husband and two children who she's raising to love Disney as much as she does. You can email Katie at


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