It’s time for another Walt Disney World news and rumor round-up! This time, we have a range of stories including a new discount, an extension of park hours, and the end of a popular event at WDW–which is actually good news. The most interesting tidbit is tweaks to face mask and physical distancing rules, plus the potential for more on the horizon.
Once again, we’ll start with the least interesting update: new and extended park hours. All four theme parks, Disney Springs, and Blizzard Beach have seen changes on the DisneyWorld.com park hours calendar. Previously, hours were posted through April 10, and now extend to April 17, 2021. Added 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 dates have also been added to the calendar. At this point, the start time for changing parks is still 2 pm across the board. The more interesting change this week is the park hours extensions, which impact the week of Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, and Mardi Gras…
Part of that weekend was already extended, but now we’re getting extensions for more dates, including weekdays and the following weekend. Some of the changes are pretty significant–we’re talking 3-5 added hours on the weekends at Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Mid-week extensions are typically only an hour or two, but that still suggests that Walt Disney World’s internal forecasts are for a busy week.
As we’ve stressed repeatedly, that week are the only “red flag” on our 2021 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars in the next few months. It could end up being one of the busiest weeks of the year at Walt Disney World. Mardi Gras, in particular, is a huge wildcard since the cancellation of those events could drive more visitors to Florida. If you have flexibility in travel dates, we’d highly recommend avoiding that week.
It’s been relatively quiet of late–see last week’s Crowds Down Over 40% at Walt Disney World update–but that week will likely be a significant spike from current crowds, or even those later in February or early March 2021.
Next, Walt Disney World is once again offering a 30% off discount on merchandise purchases for Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club members with only limited exclusions. Normally, APs and DVC members receive a 20% off merchandise discount as part of their perks, so this amounts to an extra 10% off. This 30% off will run from February 2 to March 2, 2021.
You might recall that the same discount was offered shortly after Walt Disney World reopened, and ended up being extended a couple of times before ending just in time for the Christmas shopping season. With attendance still down significantly and a backlog of merchandise remaining, it seems likely the deal will be extended again. (We previously banked on this discount returning, and now feel vindicated in holding off on buying the Wilderness Lodge mug, among other things.)
A valid Annual Pass or Disney Vacation Club Member ID must be presented at time of purchase to receive the discount (meaning DVC members who bought via resale and are not grandfathered in are not eligible). As is typical, there are a ton of exclusions and rules.
As always, there are a number of locations and products that are excluded from the offer, almost all of which are run by third parties or offer some sort of “premium” product or experience (major exclusions are always Savi’s Workshop for Handbuilt Lightsabers and Droid Depot in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge). In the name of very important research, we will once again be testing to confirm that this discount is valid at Karamell Küche in EPCOT’s Germany pavilion–the best sweet spot at Walt Disney World!
Some good news for those who visit Walt Disney World annually at the beginning of December: Pop Warner will no longer be at Walt Disney World. Florida Citrus Sports reached an agreement to host the Pop Warner Super Bowl and Cheer & Dance National Championships. The events will be played at Camping World Stadium with Universal Orlando Resort hotels hosting families.
Pop Warner week was cancelled last year, which resulted in a reversion to the norm of early December being uncrowded at Walt Disney World. In past years, we’ve warned of the event–and particularly recommended avoiding the Value Resorts that host participants. The championships draw roughly 10,000 Pop Warner athletes and their families from around the country to Florida each December, and had a significant impact on Walt Disney World crowds.
Honestly, we hope this becomes a trend. While it’s obviously bad for Walt Disney World from a business perspective, the frequency of youth events at ESPN Wide World of Sports had become excessive. These are a big driver of off-season attendance, and also contributed to inflated resort prices.
Losing some of those events along with conventions will force Walt Disney World to get more competitive and cater more towards its (historic) primary demographic of families. This doesn’t mean we’ll immediately see a surge of discounts, but they’ll come over time–and it should further moderate price increases in the more immediate future. Conversely, expect Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure to see spikes in pricing and crowds in early December.
Next, we have a few updates that Walt Disney World has posted to the health safety policies page on its official website. First, physical distancing: “Guests traveling in parties of more than 10 are asked to split into smaller groups in queues, dining locations and other areas around our parks and resorts to better allow for physical distancing.”
This is the first we’ve seen this officially spelled out by Walt Disney World, but we’ve heard Cast Members in the parks instructing larger groups to do this when entering queues. Even in the absence of that, most groups do this on their own–or the party behind them allows an extra marker as buffer. So no major change here.
On the face mask front, we do have a couple of changes. The official website now states: “Face coverings may have an integrated transparent plastic panel to aid in viewing the wearer’s mouth.” These masks must also be a fabric covering featuring a solid plastic panel containing no openings that is attached to the fabric on all sides using tight knit stitching, and meet all other face covering requirements. (See our FAQ & Guide to Face Masks at Disney World for more info, recommendations, etc.)
This is definitely a positive change. This type of mask is helpful to guests who rely on lip reading, or anyone who is hard of hearing. I often find myself struggling to understand what people are saying when wearing masks; while I’m personally fine walking around oblivious to what people are saying to me, it’s a good option for others.
We’re anticipating further updates to Walt Disney World’s mask policies soon. There have been persistent rumors in the last week that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will release new guidance any day now. If the CDC issues changes, it’s likely Walt Disney World will quickly follow suit.
Those are expected to break face masks down into two tiers: lower filtration and higher performance. It’s unclear whether there will be further guidance about what activities will necessitate the second tier, but already health experts are recommending better face masks. I’ve switched to using the FDA-authorized Powecom KN95 face mask in the parks; Sarah couldn’t achieve a proper fit with that, so she’s now double-masking.
Additionally, you may have received a “reminder” email or notification indicating that masks are required at Walt Disney World. This itself is nothing new–we’ve been receiving these every time we enter a park for the better part of the last 4 months. However, there is new verbiage indicating that these rules apply to even those who have been vaccinated.
Obviously, Walt Disney World is having issues with this, hence the notification. With only a very small segment of the population having been fully vaccinated, this is probably resulting from guests trying to find a loophole for not wearing masks. Right now, it’s premature for a policy change (in light of vaccine rollout), but our view is that will change in the not-too-distant future. It’s possible but unlikely that Walt Disney World will utilize Digital Health Passports to expedite things, or simply relax physical distancing and mask rules at a point after vaccines are widely available to the general public.
For some reason, there is a persistent belief among some that “this will never end” because companies want rules or control. That makes no sense whatsoever. At the end of the day, Walt Disney World is a business, and the current health safety protocol are bad for business. This is not simply because the rules keep some guests away (although that’s part of it), but because physical distancing lowers the limit on attendance levels.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a belief that Disney won’t relax rules until risk drops to zero. That also makes no sense. There is no such thing as a zero risk life. Once vaccines are widely available and have almost entirely eliminated the worst outcomes–hospitalizations and deaths–that’s going to be good enough for a broad swath of the general public, governments, and businesses. It’s impossible to put a specific end date on all of this, but as previously discussed in When Will Walt Disney World Stop Requiring Face Masks?, I think it’s probably sooner than many people expect.
Finally, some good news! As Walt Disney World gears up to honor its 50th anniversary through a celebration kicking off in Fall 2021, Disney Editions Deluxe is releasing Walt Disney World: A Portrait of the First Half Century. The book is authored by Kevin M. Kern, Tim O’Day, and Steven Vagnini and will be released on September 28, 2021.
We are personally ecstatic about this, and had feared that the anniversary wouldn’t be commemorated with a new book since nothing had been announced previously. Since the World Began: Walt Disney World’s First 25 Years is still one of our favorite Disney theme park books, and we’re hoping this lives up to that legacy. We have every reason to believe it will–Disney Editions Deluxe has really upped its book game in the last ~5 years. Plus, Tim O’Day and Steven Vagnini have done exceptional work with D23, and both are clearly passionate about Disney history. The Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary coffee table book is now available for pre-order via Amazon (with price-match guarantee).
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!
What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Any merchandise you plan on picking up with the new AP or DVC discount? Thoughts on the changes to physical distancing and face mask rules? Do you expect rule changes once vaccines are widely available to the general public? Thoughts on the changes to park hours? Excited for the Walt Disney World: A Portrait of the First Half Century book? 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!