Now or Normal? Disney World in 2021 v. 2022

When to visit Walt Disney World is a common question, but lately that question has shifted from top weeks to best years for a WDW vacation. Now, it’s whether to go in Summer 2021 or this fall for the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, or wait until 2022 when things are back to normal? (Updated June 8, 2021.)

Ironically, we first started covering this question ~5 years ago when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was announced and Disney’s Hollywood Studios became a veritable construction zone. That, Toy Story Land, and other expansion finished, but a similarly large-scale project began at EPCOT, thus extending the question.

Then last year happened. The closure and subsequent reopening of Walt Disney World with divisive health safety protocol. A dramatically reduced slate of shows, nighttime spectaculars, other entertainment, reduced restaurant lineup, scaled back menus, and suspensions of FastPass+ and the Disney Dining Plan–offerings many Walt Disney World fans have come to love. In so doing, the question about waiting to visit Walt Disney World shifted from a construction-centered one to a ‘temporary abnormal’ focused one…

First, I’ll share personal “philosophy.” I’m vehemently opposed to postponing anything for something theoretically better down the road. Don’t let the romanticized notion of the perfect be the enemy of the good. Never do tomorrow what you can do today. And so on. For many of you, waiting is not much of an option anyway, as kids grow up quickly, and taking them to Walt Disney World sooner rather than later is the best course of action.

I’ve shared this sentiment in previous incarnations of these should you wait or visit now? posts. However, it should ring particularly true now after our collective experiences of the last year. Walt Disney World fans who were waiting for the “perfect” time last year after Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure would still be waiting in 2021…and possibly beyond.

There’s always something new on the horizon, or a reason/excuse to postpone a vacation. That was true in prior years, and is doubly true right now as potential Walt Disney World guests debate whether to wait for a mix of new stuff to open, things to return, and health safety rules to be relaxed.

This is not to say you should settle for a compromised Walt Disney World experience, especially one that is the normal price. (In fact, it’s much more expensive to visit Walt Disney World in Summer 2021 than it was pre-closure.) Nevertheless, I personally would not wait indefinitely on the “perfect vacation” because that’s an illusion that will always be out of reach. There’s a healthy middle ground. Maybe that entails visiting Walt Disney World this summer, holding off until fall, or maybe it means taking a year break and visiting again in 2022. That’s what we’re here to help you decide.

Enough waxing poetic, let’s get down to the brass tacks of identifying the best & worst times to visit. For those who are delaying trips right now, there are broadly two categories of reasons why: additions and omissions. Things that exist right now that you do not want, and things absent that you do want.

Let’s start with the unwanted additions. Due to face masks now being optional in outdoor common areas and Walt Disney World relaxing physical distancing, the “unwanted additions” at this point are pretty much just indoor face mask rules and the need to make Disney Park Pass reservations.

Depending upon your perspective, both of these things can be a huge hassle. Both also might be positives. If you have kids, indoor masks might provide comfort and reassurance. If you’re concerned about overwhelming crowds and already have your Disney Park Pass reservations, you probably also don’t mind that system too much. It might actually be advantageous to you.

Face mask rules are the most talked-about and contentious aspect of the health protocol, but the bigger impact on the guest experience is the cuts. There’s virtually no atmospheric entertainment in the parks, with World Showcase in particular feeling uninhabited and lifeless.

Shows like Finding Nemo the Musical and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular are on hiatus. All nighttime spectaculars and parades have been suspended. Halloween and Christmas Parties, Candlelight Processional, and more were cancelled last holiday season and might be this year. And so on. Festival of the Lion King has now returned, and nighttime spectaculars are rumored to be returning in July 2021. Our expectation is that other entertainment will also return next month.

It’s actually disappointing that Walt Disney World hasn’t announced more returning for Summer 2021. “Revenge Travel” at Walt Disney World started to play out several months ago with spring break. Things haven’t slowed down since, and June 2021 has been really busy thus far.

And that’s all with attendance capped and more Park Pass reservations not being released. Things would’ve been even busier if Disney reopened more and scaled up capacity faster. Florida has seen a huge surge in flights, hotel occupancy, rental car bookings, and more. For its part, Walt Disney world has done well–but isn’t as big of a winner as other destinations.

Back when the parks reopened last summer, we questioned Is Walt Disney World Still “Magical” Right Now? Ultimately, our answer was “it depends” based on individual expectations, how badly you “need” to unwind with a vacation, and other personal circumstances.

Much of that assessment remains accurate. In particular, how badly you might need an escape from the real world after enduring a tough year. This is the case for many Americans right now, which explains why travel is booming in Summer 2021. For many people, a vacation is long overdue, and no further analysis is necessary. A summer vacation to Walt Disney World it is!

With that said, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that a lot of the upsides discussed in that “Is Walt Disney World Still ‘Magical’ Right Now?” article no longer exist. The biggest one is crowds. While last summer was a veritable ghost town after Walt Disney World reopened, the opposite is now true. It’s very busy–and there’s still no FastPass.

Another is discounts. Or rather, lack thereof. There were some attractive deals last year after the parks reopened. This year, discounts are scarce, and prices are high. (With that said, it’s worth noting that the cost of travel has spiked nationwide due to the pent-up demand.)

Additionally, dining remains difficult. The restaurant lineup and menus have scaled back since last summer, but the difference now is that reservations are incredibly difficult to score. Mobile Order for counter service restaurants can also take longer than normal, and there are fewer places to sit.

Similar smaller-scale problems exist throughout Walt Disney World. These are related to reduced capacity/efficiency and staffing shortages. You’ll notice this at hotel pools and transportation, among other things.

By most reasonable and objective measures, Summer 2021 is a bad time to visit Walt Disney World. It’s a time of transition, with many of the downsides of visiting over the course of the last year but none of the upsides, or totally normal operations.

Basically, visiting Walt Disney World in Summer 2021 entails accepting a compromised guest experience while paying higher prices. There isn’t a ton of upside beyond getting to visit right now rather than having to further delay. Again, that is more than enough for many Americans who put their lives on hold and postponed travel for over a year.

At this point, the earliest many of these cuts and compromises will be restored or eliminated is October 1, 2021. Walt Disney World already announced that Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure won’t open until that date. Other additions previously announced as “opening in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary” but now are delayed indefinitely–likely until Summer 2022 at the earliest. It’s probable that Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Harmonious are the only big new additions of 2021.

Timelines for that plus what has debuted recently are covered in What’s New & What’s Next at Walt Disney World in 2021 & 2022. Some of this is nothing new–our separate Should You Skip EPCOT? post discusses visiting that park during this state of transition, which was always going to run through the 50th Anniversary. Now it’s just likely to continue into 2023 instead of 2022. Nevertheless, construction certainly still factors into the decision of whether to wait or not.

Rather than posing a question in the post title and not answering it, here are five very specific times when you should visit: late September 2021, mid-October 2021, early December 2021, early March 2022, and/or late September 2022. Obviously, these are not the only times we’d recommend visiting (to the contrary, we ourselves will make countless visits between those times), but those windows make a lot of sense and each will likely offer more than the visit before them.

Let’s briefly discuss the pros and cons of each timeframe…

Our latest update to this post adds late September to the list of recommended times to visit. Walt Disney World has announced the World’s Most Magical Celebration, which will start on October 1, 2021 and last for 18 months. That announcement, plus increased normalcy in the United States means one thing: higher crowd levels this fall and beyond.

Late September 2021 is our hedge against this–and a recommendation for gamblers. Pent-up demand will hopefully exhaust itself over the summer, burning out to some degree by mid-August. That plus fans postponing Walt Disney World trips until the 50th Anniversary starts plus September reliably being the off-season means lower crowds relative to the spring, summer, or later in the fall are likely.

Then there’s also the likelihood that everything isn’t going to just magically appear overnight, ready to debut on October 1, 2021. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will probably have a soft opening period. Shows will need to return. So will entertainment. Same goes for dining options. That’s all gradual, not instantaneous.

Walt Disney World will need ways to absorb the crowds driven by the celebration, and that means things will come online and return in the weeks leading up to the official start. The “what” and “when” of it will be a gamble, but it’s one we’ll happily take with mid to late September 2021 given the potential upside. My view is that September 19-25, 2021 is the sweet spot–anytime after that you’re going to start getting more of the 50th Anniversary crowds, which are going to be very high through at least the end of 2021.

Next comes mid-October 2021, or more specifically the third full week of the month. Three weeks after the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and one week after the Columbus Day holiday. This is basically the second hedge option for people who aren’t nearly as big of gamblers and don’t mind crowds as much. (Again, crowds will be bad from October through December 2021. There’s no way around that.)

The upsides of this are missing the initial surge of guests for the celebration plus a reasonable degree of normalcy and offerings restored to the pre-closure Walt Disney World experience. The downsides are that there’s still uncertainty around the degree to which normalcy will return by then, and several high-profile attractions previously slated to debut by the start of the 50th Anniversary won’t yet be open.

Early December 2021 is the next recommendation. This is the first full week (or two) of the month, which is always a good time to visit (especially this year as Pop Warner moves to Universal Orlando).

Essentially, pros & cons are the same as mid-October 2021. It’s simply plus Christmas. We have a hard time imagining that much else will change between October and December. Walt Disney World will likely push for as much normalcy as possible ahead of October 1, leaving most remaining changes until 2022.

Epcot Flower & Garden Monorail Race

Next, early March 2022.

Now we’re starting to get into territory where the “optimum normalcy demanded” guests should be more comfortable. It’s possible much more will be restored–think the Disney Dining Plan, FastPass, etc–before 2022, and we think that’s likely the case. However, some things probably won’t be back until early 2022. Those include meet & greets, buffets, full character dining, and more. Early March 2022 should offer a decent buffer for all of that, plus it offers nicer weather and lower crowds ahead of spring break and Easter.

Finally, mid-September 2022.

Same idea here with operational normalcy–but also new attractions and entertainment. Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary will last at least 18 months, meaning the celebration will occur into 2023. As such, next summer or fall are around the halfway point when Disney might roll out new offerings to give the celebration a second wind. Expect TRON Lightcycle Power Run and/or Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind to open by then.

One thing to note is that it’s literally impossible to predict how 2021 crowds will compare to 2022 crowds. There are too many unknowns, from attendance caps and physical distancing to pent-up demand or a delayed recession. No one can tell you with any degree of certainty how May 2021 will compare to September 2022 in terms of wait times and congestion. It’s an apples to orangutans comparison.

However, what’s more realistic is picking best weeks within specific months–even more remote ones. This is because we know some variables that impact crowds–like holidays, school schedules, and seasonality–are likely to remain true even as larger trends change. All of that is already built into the recommendations above. Beyond generalizations like those, don’t bother with trying to “time crowds” in the next 2 years at Walt Disney World. It’s a fool’s errand.

Ultimately, which one of those timeframes is right for you is largely circumstantial. If you’re a first-timer, we’re hard pressed to recommend 2021 at all. If you’re a Walt Disney World regular who needs an escape for the sake of your own sanity, visiting before even mid-October 2021 might make a lot of sense. It all comes down to what you value and expect from your Walt Disney World vacation. Obviously, that won’t be the same for everyone.

While there are a lot of near-term unknowns, there’s also upside to visiting near the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. Once we cut through all of the “temporary abnormal” and unknowns, there is cause for optimism: even with the EPCOT project ongoing, we’re towards the end of Walt Disney World’s largest-ever expansion cycle (that didn’t involve a brand-new theme park). For the last several years, many Walt Disney World vacation planners have been waiting, so it’s good to finally be in a position where most of the fruits of all this construction have already debuted or will soon.

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!

Your Thoughts

Do you agree or disagree with our recommendations for visiting Walt Disney World in late 2021 or 2022 years? Do you have a trip planned for mid-October 2021, early December 2021, early March 2022, and/or late September 2022? Are you looking forward to visiting once big additions, like TRON Lightcycle Run or Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind, are open? Will you go for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary or wait until after that’s over in 2023? 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!

188 Responses to “Now or Normal? Disney World in 2021 v. 2022”
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