What’s Up with Sold Out Disney World Hotels?

If you’ve searched for Walt Disney World resorts later this year, “this room type is unavailable for the dates, party size or offer selected” has probably become a familiar sight. This post will cover what’s going on with the lack of availability, sold out hotels, and offer commentary about what you can expect this fall and holiday season.

Suffice to say, Walt Disney World resort inventory is limited this summer and even worse for many dates towards the end of the year. Some hotels only have select room categories, while others are sold out entirely for broad ranges of dates. This is occurring occasionally for Summer 2021 travel dates, but is a more pronounced issue for October 2021 and beyond.

The simplest and most straightforward explanation for this is demand. Since last summer, we’ve been warning ad nauseam of  “Revenge Travel” at Walt Disney World in 2021. That has been playing out since spring break, and now has arrived in full-force. People who postponed travel last year are now, in technical terms, making it rain. There’s a lot more to Walt Disney World’s hotel inventory situation than that, but there’s also a lot of validity to the phenomenon of pent-up demand….

The desire to travel after a year stuck at home should be self-evident. Beyond that, it’s worth discussing how Americans also have the funds to pay for it. The personal savings rate has surged by over 21% through the first quarter of 2021, and has been high throughout the last year as many Americans have been stuck at home and spending less money on travel, entertainment, dining, and shopping in the process.

There has also been trillions of dollars in economic stimulus, ranging from direct payments to generous child tax credits. Surveys suggests that the travel industry will be a primary beneficiary of this. It should go without saying that many people are still struggling after layoffs and an otherwise rough year. However, these data points are indicative of overall trends, not individual circumstances.

Anecdotally, we’ve already found higher prices for airfare, hotels, and more when pricing out a range of non-Disney travel. (The big exception to this is in major cities–it seems that beaches, National Parks, and other outdoor destinations are more popular than metro areas, which intuitively makes sense given the last year.)

Colliding with this pent-up demand is the “World’s Most Magical Celebration,” beginning on October 1, 2021.

No need to fixate or over-explain this one. Most of you are probably cognizant of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, its significance, and how many fans have been postponing trips for the last year-plus to visit during these festivities. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the anniversary will see its own type of pent-up demand, with many longtime fans and families planning years-in-the-making “homecoming” trips.

With demand out of the way, let’s turn to the supply of hotel rooms. One common assumption we’ve seen among fans since Walt Disney World reopened is that hotels are operating at limited capacity. It’s true that resorts have had reduced offerings, with fewer restaurants open and some recreation temporarily suspended. That’s not the same as intentionally leaving rooms unfilled.

To our knowledge, Walt Disney World has never stated that occupancy is (deliberately) reduced. It might’ve appeared that way last year and in early 2021, but that was a result of organic demand being low. In fact, we’ve discussed on multiple occasions how hotel occupancy was anemic and we regularly found last-minute Disney Vacation Club availability at resorts that would’ve normally been booked months in advance. Both of those things ceased to be true a few months ago.

With that said, there’s also nothing to say that Walt Disney World is not deliberately limiting capacity at its hotels. There would be a number of reasons why Disney might restrict guest levels at all or some of the resorts.

Physical distancing is a big potential explanation, at both the parks and resorts.

At the parks, physical distancing is in the process of being relaxed, but Park Pass availability still does not reflect this. In fact, every date for the rest of this month is unavailable at every single park. June 2021 currently isn’t much better, with most dates fully booked. If you’re visiting on a yellow date later in the month, hope you like EPCOT! It’s the only park available for resort guests through June 30, 2021.

A lack of Park Pass reservations could have caused Walt Disney World to limit hotel bookings for select dates or across the board going forward. After all, most guests wouldn’t be too happy to book a multi-thousand dollar vacation only to find they cannot enter any park. Except EPCOT, maybe. This could be remedied with attendance limits likely being increased in the very near future.

Resort guests who get shut out of the theme parks may find similar capacity “challenges” at the hotels.

As reported in our updated Guide to Pools at Walt Disney World, there have been problems with capacity-induced wait times at pools, particularly at the Value and Moderate Resorts that are open. It’s within the realm of possibility that guest satisfaction scores plummeted and/or managers at those resorts received extensive complaints after spring break season, and Disney made the decision to cap bookings going forward as a result.

Another possibility at those same resorts is physical distancing related dining or transportation woes. Since reopening, there have been reports of lengthy waits for Mobile Order pick-up at many food courts, with these problems peaking around spring break.

Same goes for transportation. We discuss how bad this was during spring break in Bus Wait Times at Walt Disney World. Long lines have also been a daily occurrence with Skyliner lines in the morning due to the one-part per gondola rule (thankfully, that just changed).

The obvious answer to these dining and transportation woes would be hiring more Cast Members. This is something we’ve discussed at length in a few posts, most notably in College Program Returns to Walt Disney World.

Suffice to say, there’s a labor shortage in Central Florida. Walt Disney World still has tons of unfilled positions even after recalling all eligible furloughed and laid-off Cast Members and going on a new hiring blitz. The tides are starting to turn on this, and all of the hiring and the expedited return of the College Program should start paying dividends by mid to late June.

To its credit, Walt Disney World has worked to address the bus driver shortage. If you’ve noticed a bunch of charter buses rolling around the resort, it’s not because LeBron is back. Rather, Walt Disney World has contracted with outside companies to provide additional bus coverage.

Nevertheless, the lack of housekeepers, cooks, lifeguards, and numerous other unfilled positions could mean that it’s simply not viable for Walt Disney World to operate all of the hotels at 100% guest loads, and consequently, bookings are capped.

From the outside, it’s impossible to state definitively whether staffing, physical distancing, and/or guest satisfaction are impacting hotel capacity, or the degree to which this is happening. It’s possible Walt Disney World has instituted an across-the-board occupancy level limit of 75%, some other percentage, nothing at all, or is doing so on a resort-by-resort basis. All we can do is speculate.

Even from the outside, one thing we do know is that the overall available room inventory is not even close to 100%.

As you can see in the 2021 Walt Disney World Hotel Reopening Dates, the complex’s entire resort portfolio has not returned. Notably, Port Orleans Riverside & French Quarter plus All Star Music & Sports and Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House (hotel rooms) still don’t even have reopening dates.

That’s “only” 5 hotels at a complex with over two dozen, so it might seem insignificant. However, that lineup accounts for a disproportionate amount of Walt Disney World’s overall room count.

Combined, the two Port Orleans Resorts have over 3,000 rooms, which would make it the largest resort at Walt Disney World. The two remaining All Stars are even larger, totaling over 3,500 rooms. Not to be forgotten is the hotel side of Animal Kingdom Lodge, which has nearly 1,000 rooms.

To put this into perspective, these unopened resorts represent significantly more room inventory than all of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Area Resorts combined. Speaking of the monorail resorts, those definitely are not operating at 100%, as refurbishments have taken significant numbers of rooms offline. Then there’s Club Level, which is not in use and also not available for booking at many resorts right now.

All told, approximately 10,000 rooms are out of commission and not bookable right now. That represents roughly one-third of Walt Disney World’s hotel inventory. Obviously, that’s not an insignificant number of rooms!

As for why the Port Orleans, All Stars, and Animal Kingdom Lodge still don’t have reopening dates, the reasons are not totally transparent. Our very strong suspicion is that it’s the same staffing woes detailed above. Huge resorts require huge numbers of Cast Members to reopen and run.

There are other theories as to why some of those still don’t have return dates, but we don’t buy them. The simplest and most logical explanation is that Walt Disney World got caught flatfooted when demand fairly quickly swung from one extreme to the other.

Keep in mind, it wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about record low occupancy levels at the resorts. As further ‘evidence’ that Walt Disney World didn’t expect this occupancy spike, they offered free nights to Cast Members earlier this spring, with those stays also taking rooms from the guest-facing inventory through September 25, 2021.

This is a good and bad news situation. The good is that we know at least 30% of Walt Disney World’s total room inventory is not presently bookable. Depending upon the potential unknown numbers of rooms being held back from the booking system at operational resorts, that number could be significantly higher–but not lower.

This means that as Walt Disney World hires and trains new Cast Members and the College Program scales back up, there should be a noteworthy increase in the number of available rooms.

The bad news is that there are no guarantees in terms of when or how many rooms return. It’s possible that by October, there will be 7,000 to 11,000 more rooms at Walt Disney World that are presently unavailable.

It’s also possible that number will be only a few thousand.

Another unknown is outstanding demand. In a normal year, most domestic travel is booked roughly 5 months in advance. That means many potential guests haven’t even tried to book Christmas trips yet. As the country and globe continue to reopen and more people become comfortable with certain activities–or in the case of international visitors, able to enter the United States–that window could be even shorter during this abnormal year.

Add to that likelihood the reality that a lot of resort/room/date combinations are already unavailable, indicating unsatiated current demand. It’s entirely possible that Walt Disney World could add every room on-property to the reservation system and still not satisfy demand for some popular travel dates this fall and holiday season.

In the near term, this is why Summer & Early Fall 2021 Room-Only Discounts at Walt Disney World are paltry. The percentage savings are bad, and the room options are even worse. That’s also why we cautioned to expect the same when fall and 2021 holiday season savings are released later this summer (probably in late July or early August).

Honestly, if you’re planning a trip October through December and must stay on-site, we’d recommend booking whatever is available now with the expectation that the eye-popping rack rate is what you’re actually going to pay.

Basically, any future discount for 2021 should be viewed as a pleasant surprise rather than a sure thing. We love Caribbean Beach Resort, but we’d be hard-pressed to pay over $200 per night to stay there; nearly $400 per night is a total non-starter for us.

If the rack rates you’re seeing right now are too pricey or beyond your comfort zone, consider booking a refundable rate at the Swan & Dolphin, Bonnet Creek, Disney Springs, Grand Cypress, Universal, or Flamingo Crossing hotel.

Ultimately, there are a lot of variables impacting the lack of hotel availability at Walt Disney World for the remainder of 2021. Some are patently obvious, others are unknowable. It should go without saying, but this is not a comprehensive assessment nor is it based upon any inside info of occupancy numbers, policies, or capacity caps.

We really only scratched the surface of what could be causing the room shortage and how it could play out in the months to come. Among other things, it’s possible that cancellations will be above average if more discounts aren’t released, various offerings do not return, or nothing truly special is announced for the 50th Anniversary. That coupled with more reopening and physical distancing being relaxed could result in a flood of availability…and in turn, aggressive discounts.

All of this is to say that we truly do not know how this is going to play out as October draws nearer. Our “crystal ball” has been hazy throughout this unpredictable reopening process. However, our view is that it’s always best to expect and prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and hedge bets. Plan accordingly if you’re debating a trip for the World’s Most Magical Celebration, Halloween, or Christmas and get something refundable locked-in now…or postpone your trip until 2022.

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

How do you expect the hotel inventory problem to play out? Do you think Walt Disney World will reopen all remaining resorts and return other rooms to the booking system by October? Think this supply surge will be enough to satiate demand and result in more generous discounts? Or, are you more pessimistic about supply v. demand, availability, pricing, etc. later this year? Planning any “revenge travel” of your own? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!

62 Responses to “What’s Up with Sold Out Disney World Hotels?”
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