When to visit Walt Disney World is a common question, and as construction has increased, readers have been asking about the best year for a Walt Disney World vacation instead of months or weeks. At this point, it’s whether to wait or go for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021?
With a slew of Opening Dates & Details for Resorts, Rides & Restaurants at Walt Disney World Announced, the massive Epcot reimagining well underway, and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance now open (click here for our spoiler-free ride review), we thought it’d be worth tackling this topic.
It’s been such a frequently asked question and point of concern that we have a separate What’s New & What’s Next at Walt Disney World in 2021 & 2022 post, and mention when to visit in terms of years in our regularly-updated Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide. Suffice to say, for those planning a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, choosing the best time with the most new things open and the least construction is important…
There are some definite upsides to waiting. Walt Disney World is in an unprecedented era of expansion, much of which follows a period of stagnation that occurred in the aughts. Frankly, this is playing catch-up, and should have happened years if not a decade ago.
This huge expansion is the obvious reason to wait, and we’re going to delve into timing these numerous projects to take advantage of the most openings and least construction. However, there are also significant downsides to waiting, as we will also cover here.
We’d hazard a guess that people reading this are going to fall squarely into two camps: those like us who visit annually or more, and those who are planning a first-time (and depending upon how that goes, only time) visit, and wanting to choose the best time.
Rather than posing a question in the post title and not answering it, we will provide two very specific times when those of you in the latter group should visit: late November or early December 2021 and mid-January 2022. Obviously, these are not the only times we’d recommend visiting (to the contrary, we ourselves will take countless trips between those times), but if we had to pick only two times to visit between now and then, those timeframes would be it.
Let’s start with right now. The biggest expansion at Walt Disney World in recent memory is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and that’s done now that the second ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, has debuted. This is the flagship attraction of Star Wars Land, and the biggest budget ride that Walt Disney World has ever built.
Additionally, the Disney Skyliner gondolas are operating, all construction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has wrapped up, and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is now open. Plus, both Grand Destino Tower and Disney’s Riviera Resort are now open.
Really, any time between now and November/December 2021 is also workable if you simply follow our normal When to Visit Walt Disney World advice to avoid higher crowds. The big thing we recommended waiting for was Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Now that it’s open, there’s less reason to delay. (It was worth the wait!)
Our basis for recommending late November or early December 2021 is because we like Christmas, not because something incredible is opening this fall. October 1, 2021 is the important date, as that’s Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. Everything new for 2021 will have debuted by then.
There’s also the downside of waiting until Christmas, and that’s the likelihood of increased construction at Epcot as that park continues the rest of its huge reimagining. Future World is currently in rough shape, and that’ll likely continue throughout this year.
In fact, this is such an issue that we have a separate Should You Skip Epcot? post that discusses the pros and cons of visiting during this state of transition. We think most people will still want to see Epcot–and World Showcase is pretty much free of construction–but it’s still worth reading that and seeing all of the photos to mentally prepare yourself for how Epcot looks right now.
Magic Kingdom is another park that will likely see more work done in the next year or so, especially as it gears up for enhancements set to debut during the nostalgia-heavy Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary celebration.
One of these placemaking projects is the Royal Makeover of Cinderella Castle, which is now finished. We anticipate more around Magic Kingdom following that in preparation for the park’s golden anniversary. Speaking of which…
Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971, meaning that its 50th Anniversary will occur on October 1, 2021. It might seem logical for its anniversary celebration to begin on that date, but this is not official. It’s just as likely that an 18 month celebration would begin slightly before then.
If the 50th Anniversary celebration is underway by September 2021, that would be an ideal time to visit. It’s the heart of off-season, and will have lower crowds than October (albeit less desirable weather).
We anticipate October 2021 to be incredibly crowded, with many longtime fans planning ‘homecoming’ style family trips to celebrate the momentous occasion. There is always a surge of guests for any 5 or 10 year anniversary, but the 50th should see a significantly greater influx of crowds–especially if Walt Disney World puts on a meaningful event.
Irrespective of crowds, we will be among that group. As with many other longtime fans, we’re eager to pay tribute to a magical place that has meant so much to us. If you’re a first-timer, infrequent visitor, or just averse to crowds, going in October 2021 may not be as appealing to you.
Accordingly, mid-January 2022 is a time during the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary celebration when many of the big additions will be open. It’s also during a season when the crowds should generally be lighter and when the weather is nice.
Going during this off-season month will help blunt the (anticipated) increase in overall crowd levels between now and 2021. However, as we discussed at length in our Peak Crowds in Winter “Off-Season” at Walt Disney World post, crowds in the doldrums of winter have been surprisingly bad for the last two years.
The good news is that Walt Disney World is anticipating huge crowds and has projects in both Epcot and Magic Kingdom to help absorb those crowds, and pull guests away from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The bad news is that the earliest of those large-scale projects will open in Summer 2021, with other projects debuting in 2022.
Another potential, significant downside to waiting is cost. As demand and attendance increase, so too will prices. While it’s impossible to prognostic exactly how high room rates will surge, it’s easy to envision a scenario with a 25% across the board increase between now and 2022. We’ve already seen more significant bumps at the Disney Skyliner resorts.
The thing is, Walt Disney World prices do not exist in a vacuum. There are also scenarios where such price increases are not sustainably in light of larger economic circumstances. In the last several years as consumer confidence and the markets have soared, so too have Disney’s prices.
It remains our belief that an economic ‘correction’ is on the horizon at some point in 2021 or 2022, and that would undermine Disney’s ability to continue such price increases unabated. Accordingly, you might actually be able to enjoy an improved guest experience and the above-mentioned amenities while actually pay less than current prices. Or perhaps that’s a pipe dream on our part. Everyone has their own perception of the economy, so don’t substitute our judgment for your own.
Of course, all of this is speculation on our part. The only thing we know for sure is that Walt Disney World has a history of price increases, would undoubtedly like to increase prices more, and will do so if the market will bear it. If the market won’t, prices will decline. Unfortunately, if a recession does occur, it could also impact your ability to travel. But we’re veering too far off-topic now.
Suffice to say, we think there’s really no time like the present to plan a trip to Walt Disney World. For the last two years, we’ve been advising a lot of vacation planners to wait, so it’s good to finally be in a position where the fruits of all this construction are (mostly) about to come to fruition. While there is some upside to waiting until Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021 or visiting in early 2022, there are also a lot of unknowns about that, and the biggest expansion in WDW history is already complete. In the immortal words of the Sherman Brothers:
“Now is the time now is the best time
Now is the best time of your life…
Yesterday’s mem’ries may sparkle and gleam
Tomorrow is still but a dream
Right here and now you’ve got it made
The world’s forward marching and you’re in the parade!”
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 agree or disagree with our recommendations for visiting Walt Disney World in the next few years? Are you looking forward to visiting once big additions, including Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, are open? Will you wait until Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary? Any thoughts or predictions of your own to add? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!