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!
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!
I am not seeing any availability for November 19-Thanksgiving at all. Nothing at Swan or Dolphin either.
This is a time that i have normally gone in the past?
i am wondering if some rooms will be released?
I’m with Craig! Something is up for the first week in December, which is supposed to be an off week in terms of crowds I thought. I have rooms already booked using the DVC rental store but was looking to extend one night from 12-1 to 12-2 and there’s not one hotel available except Swan and Dolphin. I even called Disney reservations to see if it was a glitch since all parks are available. It makes zero sense to me and seems specific to that week. I see a few conferences going on (one offsite at a Marriott) but feel like that surely can’t be reain enough. I Guess I’ll keep checking back. 🙁
Something doesn’t make sense here.
We were looking for rooms at POR for 12/2-/12-7, and there *literarily* are no rooms available at ANY onsite Disney hotel for that time.
Swan and Dolphin have room, Four Seasons has room.
Park reservations for ALL parks are available for ALL days in that timeframe…. if this was about revenge or 50th anniversary travel, then surely the Magic Kingdom would not have reservations available?
I’ve been searching for months but the Polynesian August 2022 must have been short lived on the Uk site as I never got a look in.
I’m having issues reserving a two bedroom villa for March 2022…are they not offering those type of rooms right now? Can you only get a hotel room?
Hi Tom & Sarah, really appreciate your blog. We’re anxious to get back to Disney (normally go every 2-3 years with our kids) & trying to decide between mid October or mid December. Which do you expect to be better crowd wise?
I’m not sure what’s up with Beach Club Villas, but there is availability in March 2022 for the first 3 weeks, and then zero availability after that – I’ve spot checked dates for mid-week in April and May 2022, and there is nothing.
I got Coronado Springs for $200/night July13-27….is this a good price, considering it is well above that now? I have been waiting on an AP deal but I’m hearing it will not happen. If that is true, once again AP holders get the shaft.
Where would be the best to find out when resorts such as Riverside or Animal Kingdom are opening up?
We’re going in December via DVC, but fully intend to have a relaxing vacation where we enjoy the resort, pools, holiday decor, etc. and spend minimal time in the parks.
People might also want to consider modes of transportation other than Magical Express–saw another website reporting that there were waits of up two hours to get on a DME bus. Yikes!
Great read, as always. It’s a staffing problem all around- not just the unopened resorts. There is nowhere to put that many guests with shortened park hours and the lack of entertainment. We were there again last week and it was feeling a bit evident to me in some of the parks (maybe not Epcot as everything there is mostly open) that they just do not have enough attractions/things to do open. Yes, it’s all because of staffing and money, but at some point here very soon the floor is going to fall out from underneath them and there will be more unhappy guests.
Disney gave out a bunch of one night resort stays to all of the cast members, that’s enough of a reason right there for a shortage of rooms.
That ends on September 25. The bulk of the shortages discussed here are for October through December.
I think Disney expected that when they were ready to fully reopen they’d have plenty of cast members eager to return and that just hasn’t been the case. I personally know a few who decided to completely change careers (healthcare seems to be a popular choice) and/or move elsewhere after being so swiftly laid off. I imagine this has been more widespread than they want to admit. Now they’re stuck in limbo until they can provide the staff necessary in a section of WDW that was already offering hiring bonuses before the pandemic began – the hotels.
People switching careers or leaving Central Florida entirely has definitely been a big issue. We know many people who have done either or both.
@John_Winham I was going to go to a conference in Tampa first week of May but they wussed out and made it all virtual instead of both virtual and real as advertised. Not Disney’s fault there but I would’ve bookended the conference with two long weekend stays. Another one that was supposed to be in Anaheim got moved to Nashville in early September. Now, I like Nashville, but I was really hoping for a nice double DL trip with free airfare courtesy of my company! I really thought people would be done with their illogical phobias by now and ready to get back to reality. And these conferences are both healthcare (ASHE) focused…so sad.
Hi Tom! We have a trip booked for end of June and are trying to find a two bedroom suite or a villa (at Wilderness Lodge, if there is a God). This article helps me understand why this is virtually impossible. Right now, we have a one bedroom suite with an adjoining room at the Gran Destino (your review was very helpful in our deciding to go ahead and book that resort, btw, so thanks!). Now I’m worried about the pool availability AND we cannot get into the parks yet… so if you have any recommendations, I will take them. We will be there a week. Is the pool thing first come, first serve? Good thing I’m totally into Disney Springs. I would not mind just two days at a park (MK, AK/EPCOT), morning pool access, some nice places to eat for lunch/dinner, all rounded out by Disney Springs, my total Happy Place (outside of Frontier Land at night at MK). Thanks for all your informative updates! Cheers, Skye in NYC
“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.”
While I agree that this is likely true, it’s also very disappointing. Between expected revenge travel, vaccine availability, and a 50th celebration coming up, it seems that everyone except for Disney expected the demand to come back quickly. Don’t get me wrong, as a die-hard Disney fan, I will figure out how to make our trips work. But, Disney has been very short-sighted in numerous areas recently, all of which will impact the guest experience at some point. This very well may be the first effect of their short-sightedness to emerge, with more coming.
I am getting nervous. We have an early November trip booked at Fort Wilderness. Without fast passes and potential large crowds, we may not get to see and do very much.
Great article! I went into a panic 2 weeks ago when I tried to book OKW through DVC rentals for December and there was nothing. Luckily was able to score a confirmed reservation at Saratoga! We need those extra hotels! Never thought I’d see OKW that hard to score
Here is a quick example of a problem Disney and the travel industry have. I decided at seven weeks out to attend a conference at the GF. Rooms blocked for the conference were available (at a very price) as was space at conference. However, no park reservations were available most days except for limited days at Epcot. So we didn’t go and take a couple of grandkids. Disney did not sell a room or park tickets or meals. The conference sponsors lost revenue, etc, etc. P
Park availability was the cap.
@Kimberly Even if you can’t modify your hotel dates online, if you call they should be able to do it for you