Disney World News: Added Hours, AP Freebie, 50th Ambassador, Hotel Opening & More

We’re back with another Walt Disney World news and rumor round-up! After skipping a couple of weeks–not due to a lack of big updates, but because we dedicated entire posts to several–we have several stories: added park hours, a modified bounceback discount, Annual Passholder freebie, and more on vaccine requirements/health passports for travel.

Per tradition, we’ll start with the least interesting update: new and extended park hours. All four theme parks, Disney Springs, and Blizzard Beach have had hours for another week added to the DisneyWorld.com park hours calendar. These now extend to May 8, 2021. Hours are the same for all dates:

  • Magic Kingdom: 9 am to 6 pm
  • EPCOT: 11 am to 7 pm
  • Hollywood Studios: 10 am to 7 pm
  • Animal Kingdom: 9 am to 5 pm
  • Blizzard Beach: 11 am to 6 pm
  • Disney Springs: 10 am to 10 pm (11 pm on weekends)

Park Hopping times for those and all dates remain from 2 pm until park close; that’s quite the range given Animal Kingdom closes at 5 pm and Magic Kingdom closes at 10 pm on certain dates. As usual, there are also extensions to hours for select dates at specific parks…

Hours have been lengthened for most dates in early to mid-March 2021. If you’re traveling then, the easiest way to see what’s been added is to look at the official calendar (link above) and compare those boilerplate hours with the actual hours. That’s easier and more digestible than me listing out everything here.

We now have 10 pm Magic Kingdom and EPCOT closures on March 13, 2021. Those longer hours might sound like good news, but we view it as another red flag. As covered in our March 2021 Crowd Calendar for Walt Disney World, that’s the start of spring break for the Osceola and Orange County, Florida school districts. Avoid that weekend and the week that follows if at all possible.

Next, we have another special offer for Annual Passholders beginning today (February 22) and running on weekdays through March 19, 2021. On Mondays through Fridays, Annual Passholders can head to DinoLand U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for a variety of AP-exclusive offerings:

  • At Chester & Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures, you can try your luck at Fossil Fun Games with a special promotional offer: buy 3 game tickets and receive a complimentary retired, non-Disney plush consolation prize
  • Try 4 exclusive beverages available for purchase at Restaurantosaurus Lounge—Tyrannosaurus Wreck, Fossil Fuel, Pterodactyl Punch and Triceraberry Pop
  • Enjoy an exclusive cookie featuring Donald Duck, available for purchase at Dino-Bite Snacks
  • Receive a free Donald Duck magnet, which makes its return for pick-up in DinoLand U.S.A. (limit one magnet per Annual Passholder; same rules as all the past EPCOT magnets)

The free magnet is great, even if it’s a tad cruel that Walt Disney World is coercing APs to visit Dinorama to receive it. The rest of the offers don’t really appeal to us, but they’re nevertheless nice gestures–the kind of thing that helps foster goodwill among Annual Passholders.

It’s ultimately mutually-beneficial. The move makes APs feel good that Disney is doing something exclusive for them, and incentivizes off-season visits during the week to Walt Disney World’s park with the lowest attendance among locals.

However, we’re guessing this won’t really move the needle much. The real problem is that Animal Kingdom closes at 5 pm on offseason weekdays, and most locals work during the week until then. Unlike the other parks, there’s really no option for post-work visits to Animal Kingdom Monday through Friday. Hard to imagine many APs playing hooky from work for a free magnet–except maybe during the week of spring break for Central Florida school districts.

While we reported the major announcements for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary: The Most Magical Celebration last week, we have another tidbit. Former Walt Disney World President George A. Kalogridis will be serving as the Global Ambassador for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary per his updated Disney.com bio. Announcing this was current Walt Disney World Resort President, Jeff Vahle, who shared an Instagram post saying the following:

“So happy for my hometown friend and longtime colleague, George A. Kalogridis as he’s going to celebrate a major milestone this year. He started his 50-year Disney career as an opening day Cast Member here at WDW in 1971. In addition to currently serving as president of Disney Park’s Segment Development and Enrichment team, he is also Global Ambassador for our upcoming Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebration that kicks off Oct. 1st. He is about to become an even busier man!”

For those booking stays during Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, good news! You can now make reservations for the newest addition to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resorts, the Walt Disney World Swan Reserve, for travel dates starting September 1, 2021.

The Walt Disney World Swan Reserve is a 14-story tower hotel adjacent to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, and Fantasia Gardens mini-golf course. The hotel will feature 349 guest rooms, 149 spacious suites and two presidential suites, all featuring floor-to-ceiling windows.

The Swan Reserve will be within walking distance of EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and accessible via complimentary Disney water taxi. However, we should note that it’s a longer walk than the normal Swan and Dolphin.

This hotel is also not actually on Crescent Lake, so you’ll presumably need to walk across the street to catch the boat. That is, unless Disney is converting to a fleet of amphibious vehicles or adding some sort of water bridge I’m unaware of. (They aren’t.)

Continuing with hotel news, many of you have asked about this over the last few months, and Walt Disney World Bounceback Discounts remain suspended. However, Disney does appear to be testing a new type of bounceback deal in lieu of the in-room fliers.

Please note that we’re sharing this simply as a ‘heads up’ so you can check your spam folder. This discount is not available to the general public. If you don’t have the email, you will not be able to book the discount, so don’t bother calling and trying. It’ll just lead to confusion and wasted time.

With that caveat out of the way, emails have been sent out by Walt Disney World Resort General Managers to past guests who have stayed at certain resorts in the last few years for exclusive ‘friends of the family’ rates.

These special offers are valid for travel dates now through June 10, 2021 if booked by May 26, 2021. No blockout dates are listed, nor are exact discount rates, but I’ve found dates at over 50% off when calling to inquire.

This is not the first time we’ve seen Walt Disney World trying new things with targeted offers since reopening. Last fall and holiday season, we saw an array of Unique Offer Code and Disney Visa Cardholder offers. This comes as occupancy rates remain low for the spring and summer, even as many hotels are still closed.

This potentially casts a wider net than normal bounceback deals, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the approach more widely deployed. Walt Disney World likely wants to lure back guests who are not visiting right now, which cannot be achieved via in-room advertisements. In any case, it’s worth checking your spam or promotions folder–or simply searching “Walt Disney World General Manager” in your email to see if you’ve received anything in the last week.

Finally, a few months ago we covered digital health passports being developed by IATA, CLEAR, and IBM. This digital travel pass will allow users to share test and vaccination results in a safe, verifiable, and privacy-protecting manner. IATA and other operators view these as a potential option for safely restarting travel.

At the time, we speculated that Walt Disney World could be a potential candidate for using such a system. In the months since, there’s been a lot of public pushback against digital passports and they haven’t gained much mainstream traction. Between all of that and forecasts of an accelerated vaccine rollout this spring and summer, we’d now bet against Walt Disney World using digital health passports. Once again, this is entirely speculative and not based on any inside info–just our expectation in following this topic closely out of personal interest (it’s relevant to us for our non-Disney travels).

What we have been seeing is cruise companies starting to announce that they will require verified documentation of vaccination and a negative test at the time of boarding, with no exceptions. Saga Cruises, American Queen Steamboat Company, Victory Cruise Lines, and Crystal Cruises have all stated that this will be their policy when sailings resume. (Here’s the full text of Crystal Cruises policy–it’s worth a read.)

Cruising is fundamentally different than visiting theme parks, so this has zero implications for Walt Disney World. In other words, don’t read anything into this. We’re just sharing the news because it’s interesting–we doubt anything like this is on the horizon for theme parks. However, we do think it’s probably on the horizon for Disney Cruise Line as well as international travel, so it’s probably indirectly relevant to many of you.

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

What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Thoughts on what another extension to park hours means for spring break? Will you attempt to visit Animal Kingdom during the week for the free Annual Passholder magnet? Planning on booking a stay at the Swan Reserve? Any expectations with regard to vaccination requirements or health passports for international travel, cruises, or even theme parks? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!


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