Our 2021 Disney World Bucket List
For the last couple of years, we’ve made Walt Disney World New Year’s Resolutions. Given the way last year played out and current trajectory, we had no intention of undertaking that nonsense in 2021. That is, unless “more ice cream, cheese, and barbecue” counts as a valid resolution.
Then the two of us started talking about some of our goals for 2021 at Walt Disney World. From that came this list, which is more like a cross between daydreaming and a low-ambition bucket list (last year taught us not to get our hopes up too much!) than it is New Year’s Resolutions.
One recurring theme of our bucket list goals for this year, which isn’t expressly enumerated below but imbues several entries, is a willingness–even a desire–to be part of crowds for communal experiences. It’s ironic since we’ve gone to great lengths over the years to avoid high attendance and congestion, but now we’re looking forward to a day when we can once again safely be part of carefree crowds at Walt Disney World. Anyway, on with our 2021 Walt Disney World bucket list…
10. Columbia Harbour House Upstairs – Sometimes, places become sentimental favorites without you knowing it. While we’ve long extolled the virtues of Columbia Harbour House’s upstairs seating area, it wasn’t until recently that we realized just how much it means to us.
We’ve made a lot of great memories up there, from a group dinner on the date of Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary to post-marathon running crew feasts to being almost the only ones up there during a veritable monsoon two Decembers ago. For us and so many, Walt Disney World is about the memories and nostalgia…and it turns out we have a lot of both for the upstairs of Columbia Harbour House!
9. Off-Site Hotel Stays — This one was a resolution previously, but last year had other ideas for us and we didn’t end up doing a single off-site hotel stay near Walt Disney World. The good news is that we’re entirely “caught up” with on-site hotel review updates and new rooms, and we also burned through a lot of DVC points last year.
With Walt Disney World’s on-site advantage disappearing, this is long overdue. Many readers have indicated that Walt Disney World rack rates have priced them out, which means we’ll focus more attention on off-site deals. Plus, we want the type of comprehensive coverage for Orlando hotels on the blog that we do for Anaheim.
8. More Masks – No, not that kind.
We’re talking about Halloween masks and costumes here, and everything else that Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party entails. It’s been a while since we got serious about our own Halloween costumes, but we’re eager to change that.
7. Fireworks – Whether it be the debut of Harmonious, triumphant return of Happily Ever After, or even the less-triumphant reappearance of EPCOT Forever, we’re anxiously awaiting fireworks at Walt Disney World. Not just “nighttime spectaculars,” but fireworks.
For us, a big part of that is what fireworks represent beyond Disney. They are communal celebrations of special occasions; the gathering of large crowds for a shared, visceral experience. More than anything else, a return of fireworks will signify a return to normalcy. For that reason alone, we cannot wait to gather around the fire, as people of all lands have gathered for thousands and thousands of years before us, to share the light, and to share a story…
6. Cinderella Castle Dream Lights – There is a version of this list that’s entirely Christmas. Even though the holiday just happened and we really enjoyed the entire season, it’s our favorite time of the year at Walt Disney World and is always on our minds. Plus, there’s a lot we missed that we really love: Candlelight Processional, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and doing holiday meals at some of our favorite restaurants.
None of that compares with the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, though. As cheesy as it sounds, there’s something truly optimism-inducing and awe-inspiring about Magic Kingdom’s icon being illuminated in thousands of brilliant lights. We cannot wait for those chilly late nights on Main Street as the crowd clears out, the glow of Cinderella Castle is reflected in the pavement, and the cheery background music sets a festive mood.
5. Old Faithful Club at Christmas – Let’s start this one by “answering” an increasingly common reader question: we have zero insight as to when Club Level will return. However, it’s incredibly lucrative for Walt Disney World and attracts a type of clientele to whom the company is increasingly catering. So our best educated guess is as soon as possible in modified form–probably before summer.
After deriding Club Level as “not worth it” for the longest time, occasional one-night Club Level stays became one of our favorite splurges a couple of years ago. It’s still not objectively worth the money, but such is the nature of treating yo self. Of the concierge lounges, Old Faithful Club Level at Wilderness Lodge is our favorite, and I cannot wait to knock myself into a food coma after devouring too much brisket and cobbler, unable to leave an overstuffed chair by the fireplace for hours while gazing down at the lobby Christmas tree. Pure bliss.
4. Steakhouse World Tour – In terms of how much I think about each of these, this should be #1 on the list. There’s a direct relationship between how much cabbage, quinoa, and cauliflower I eat at home and how much I daydream about steak. This is pretty much what it sounds like–dining at Walt Disney World’s best steakhouses in the months after we’re comfortable dining indoors and those locations reopen.
Yachtsman Steakhouse is my most-anticipated, in part because it’s awesome and in part because we cancelled reservations there last March for the day after the closure was announced. I’m also really looking forward to Toledo in Gran Destino Tower–we’re already salivating at splitting the ChuletÃ³n again.
3. Traveling Outside WDW – Last year was a real lifestyle change for pretty much everyone. For us, the biggest component of that was going from living out of suitcases to not using them at all for ~11 months. Our cat, Yossarian, now gets more mileage out of our luggage than we do.
Don’t get me wrong–we like Florida and are very happy to have a home base near Walt Disney World right now. Taking nightly walks around our neighborhood is even fun again with the more pleasant weather. But we are also very much ready for a temporary change of scenery. We dearly miss Southern California and Disneyland, and cannot wait to travel there again (hopefully) this summer.
2. 50th Anniversary – I’m beginning to come to terms with the possibility that Walt Disney World will not have a gala 50th anniversary celebration kicking off this year. There still could be one this year or even next, but is no longer a sure thing. It’s a disappointing but understandable reality.
Nevertheless, we will be in Magic Kingdom on October 1, 2021 and we will have a blast. I know this because there was no celebration a decade ago, and October 1, 2011 still ended up being one of our most memorable days in Magic Kingdom. At the very least, the collective energy and enthusiasm of fellow fans will be something special, especially after the year we’ve all had. Maybe we’ll even be able to ride the PeopleMover that day!
1. Be More Thankful — The vast majority of people will never visit a Disney theme park in their lives. We’re cognizant of that, and realize how immensely fortunate we are to able to visit one weekly, and have others within reach on a fairly regular basis. This is nothing new–we’ve always been aware of this and tried to do things like thanking Cast Members, while also ranting against pervasive attitudes of entitlement.
This is a topic we discussed first when the resorts reopened, and again when the parks returned. We’ve made a concerted effort to be more thankful in that time, enjoying and savoring our time in the parks and hotels. We’ve thought less of our trivial concerns or disappointments and more on how fortunate we are to have regular access to a safe entertainment option.
This is not to say we suddenly view Walt Disney World as above reproach, or view the company with cult-like reverence. To the contrary, we still analyze the parks and company’s decisions with “healthy skepticism,” but that’s not to the fore when actually visiting. Moreover, we’re less fixated on the temporary cuts of things we might’ve grown accustomed to having or seeing; we understand that the world is not normal right now and we’re just thankful to be able to visit theme parks. Enjoyment of any experience is largely dictated by individual attitudes, so our biggest “bucket list” item of 2021 is to be happy with what we have.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Do you have any Walt Disney World-related 2021 bucket list goals or dreams? Do you like our ideas? Think any of these are overly ambitious? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Love your blog so far! I have a question regarding dining at Cinderella’s castle. During Covid is this worth the money? I’m hearing that the character experience is very limited and no pictures.
Thoughts anyone? Is the food worth the expense?
I think it depends. If this is going to be your only trip in a long time, than I would say it is worth it. If you know you will be going again in the next few years, I would wait until the princesses return. I have dined for both breakfast and lunch and I personally don’t think the food justifies the price without the character interaction. Pre-Covid, it was a great deal because you get 5 character interactions compared to many other character dining experiences which only offer 4, along with the best dining environment on WDW grounds by far. Without the princesses and awesome castle picture with Cinderella, I don’t know how they can charge the same prices. Although the food is tasty, there are far better restaurant options for up-scale food and you are mostly paying for the environment. It is still a magical experience and one you and yours will always remember, even without the character experiences.
The two of us ate there in Nov and we enjoyed it. Cinderella did make an appearance in the dining room, but stayed along the wall with the railing separating it from the table spaces. She was there about five to ten minutes waving and blowing kisses. The food was very good. Tables were separated throughout the room, so social distancing was very good. We were seated next to a window, so we were further from Cinderella, but could see her very well and even took a picture. But no picture with her and us.
I’m disappointed too that so many great steak restaurants are closed, but it’s forced me to try new places. I wouldn’t have gone to Shula’s previously, and as long as the Yachtsman isn’t listening, I can definitively say it’s a better quality meal. Though I still miss the Yachtsman, eating at WDW is at least 75% atmosphere, I can get great meals in any major city.
It’s interesting to read about being in Florida; I am spending longer here in one go than I ever have before (2 months) and it’s a taste of what it would be like to move (which isn’t a realistic option for me anyway, but who hasn’t been curious). I think it’s notable that as incredible as WDW is, it still doesn’t begin to compare to the density of attractions (if you exclude “rides”) offered by a major city. So my thankfulness came from an enforced period at home and I’ve resolved to travel less (than 2019; hopefully much more than 2020!) and enjoy my home city more.
Another reason I love top floor of Columbia harbor house is listening to the old 20k leagues under the sea background music. It’s tough to hear on the first floor.
Your Number 1 is wonderful and just what I’d expect from you two. Thank you, keep up the good work, and enjoy your New Year!
Definitely like the #1 Be More Thankful idea on your Disney bucket list.
Looking forward to reading reviews for #9 Off site Hotel stays.
Whenever we make it out that way, I try to use my points for the hotel stay to save some change so staying on site isn’t an option for us.
Forgot to give props for steak ranking! That would be awesome.
Although my wife swore off doing another Disney trip, she does enjoy the park atmosphere. We both would have loved to just enter the parks to walk around and not have ride access. We have had more enjoyable times walking and watching through WDW than doing the vacation.
If finishing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is on your bucket list, you better hurry. I have heard that Disney is ending it before the end of January.
We are Florida residents with the Weekday AP. So that means most of the time we don’t get to see the parks at night during our recent trips. We’ve spent most of our evenings at our DVC resort. Our last trip before the shutdown was in late January 2020 with a three night stay at BLT. We had snagged a lake view room with a view of the MK fireworks and it was so much fun looking out towards the MK at night. Since the parks have opened, we’ve had three four-night trips with a fourth coming in about two and a half weeks. We’ve been able to book DVC resorts on points that we haven’t gotten in recent years since so many reservations have been cancelled by other owners.
Agree with you about the upstairs at Columbia Harbour House, especially, as others have noted, in the small “bridge” where you can watch the people walking by under you. Unfortunately there’s just a handful of tables where you can do this and it’s been “discovered” which makes getting one difficult.
Haven’t had the experience of gazing down at the lobby at Wilderness Lodge for hours, but my wife and I enjoyed many evenings gazing down at the lobby at Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park which partially inspired Disney’s property.
Columbia Harbour House. With special places for people with wheelchairs or ECV, it is a great place to eat, relax, and rejuvenate especially on a hot summer day.
Beautiful sentiments, thank you!
I can definitely agree with the Columbia Harbour House upstairs dining room- so many great memories up there of my kids! They are now teenagers but I remember them when they were asleep in their strollers and me just relaxing at the happiest place on earth! With a lobster roll of course!! I am more grateful now than ever for many things and I have learned that I should appreciate crowds as well! I miss people! Stay well! See ya real soon!!
How about an update on the Star Wars hotel!
I have been going to WDW since the first year they opened (7/4/72). Since then I have been making videos and photos of the live entertainment. Not just the stage shows but the various groups performing at The Magic Kingdom , Epcot , Disney Studios , Animal Kingdom , and Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs). With 3 tb of photos and 12 tb of videos I know most of the performers (not just cast members) who contract with Disney to perform.
I MISS THE LIVE ENTERTAINMENT!!!
My bucket list is to see a return of those entertainments. Although I have a few youtube videos (see A Busy Day At Epcot or WDW 4-8-12) I will be starting a web site with thousands of performances throughout the history or WDW. Some were only one day and others ran for years.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year at Walt Disney World.
I second the Columbia Harbour House Upstairs sentiment. There’s something strangely relaxing and cathartic to going upstairs, particularly the seating area that bridges the path below, and decompressing while eating and watching the crowds pass by underneath. I think part of it must be because the windows are so well sound insulated; you see the hustle and bustle of the crowd below, but you don’t hear the noise from outside. I think that creates a subconscious divide between the commotion below and the tranquility of the space you are occupying.
My hopes and dreams are mostly dependent upon covid. Everything I would want would be if it was eradicated. Well ok it would be awesome to be able to afford staying somewhere on the boardwalk. That would be two less busses to get on and off with the scooter. I go to Epcot almost every night. There would be fast pass, fireworks, and the lion king. Hoping for September!
Great list especially to be thankful for what we have! My heart sank when I read that you may be leaving Florida. Your WDW posts and top 10’s get me thru some emotionally tough days over the years. We are lucky to have made 6 trips to WDW but can only do a trip every other year so your great pics and questionable humor ( LOL) really puts a smile on my face. Wishing you, Sarah and all your followers a safe and healthy 2021 and lets hope we can all ( including cast members) get back to normal in 2021.
I’m excited to hear about off-site places you will stay and deals you find! Thank you for putting this on your list.
“9. Off-Site Hotel Stays”
As someone who falls into that bucket of being priced out (CBR next December is currently more than we paid for a week during our “only” trip to Disney at AKL four years ago!!!) I’d selfishly be interested if there are any places that come close to creating a bubble like experience.
The convenience of staying onsite, even without the perks, is huge to us…maybe we aren’t the only ones?
Happy New Year and great list.
I agree with this. Would love to hear about off site hotels that sort of keep you in a bubble, are solid but affordable. Really glad to hear you will be doing this as you did with Disneyland. Regarding club level: we did this once but it was a free upgrade on a split stay. The day of club level was a resort day. We loved it. Chowing down, drinking and going to storm along bay all day. Was a lot of fun. Don’t know how much sense it would be for us on park days. Happy New Year!