Walt Disney World resort availability is extremely limited for this Christmas season all the way through Easter 2022, prompting reader questions and concerns. This post addresses what’s going on with the sold out hotels, lack of discounts, and commentary about what you can expect later next year. (Updated February 20, 2022.)
Note that this is essentially an update on “What’s Up With Sold Out Hotels at Walt Disney World?”That was published after we began to notice issues last year during spring break and ahead of the summer travel season. A lot has changed since then, but the underlying problem persists–and likely will through at least May 2022.
This serves as an update to that, but also as a “heads up” to those starting to think about planning 2022 Walt Disney World vacations. With some hotels already having limited available through early Summer 2022, we’d strongly recommend booking your resort and other vacation components early. Get something flexible and refundable locked-in now so you aren’t shut out or paying higher prices later. Additionally, we now have explanations as to why this is happening…
One of the biggest changes on the limited hotel availability front since this time last year is that a lot of previously-closed resorts have reopened. The only hotel that’s still closed at this point is All Star Sports. That’s a large resort, but is fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of Walt Disney World’s total room inventory–that one hotel accounts for ~5% of all rooms.
By contrast, Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter, plus All Star Music and Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House all reopened since last fall. In theory, that’s over 10% of Walt Disney World’s total room inventory that’s now available for booking but was not earlier in the year. Yet, there’s still limited availability.
Despite this inventory spike, many Walt Disney World hotels are sold out for a range of dates in the next several months. The simplest and most straightforward explanation for sold out resorts at Walt Disney World is demand. We’ve been warning ad nauseam of “Revenge Travel” at Walt Disney World. People who postponed travel the last couple years have made up for lost time–and have been making it rain.
In addition to this, there’s the World’s Most Magical Celebration. Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary add a wrinkle to pent-up demand among WDW fans, many of whom postponed and rescheduled trips specifically to to visit close to the start of the celebration. A lot of longtime fans and families are planning years-in-the-making “homecoming” trips during the 50th Anniversary.
On top of that, there’s the Resumption of International Travel’s Impact on Walt Disney World Crowds. Diehard fans in the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Brazil, and elsewhere have been anxiously awaiting trips to Walt Disney World. This is now starting to play out, with a significant spike in the number of foreign visitors to the parks as of Winter 2022.
There are also domestic guests who haven’t been able to book hotel reservations or score discounts for the first few months of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. Others might be waiting out the debut of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind or TRON Lightcycle Run, both of which were supposed to be open “in time for” Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
Plus, runDisney is back with races every month between now and April 2022. More significantly than that, conventions are returning, as are youth sporting events at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. Guests who postponed trips due to face mask rules might’ve looked towards Spring 2022.
In other words, pent-up travel demand isn’t over at Walt Disney World. There’s a fresh wave coming that could last through Easter 2022 or perhaps beyond.
However, demand does not account for the “fully booked” hotels at Walt Disney World, at least not entirely. While Walt Disney World is not capping park attendance as before, this is occurring at the resorts.
This is not as a vestige of physical distancing. Instead, it’s due to staffing shortages. These persist in key roles that disproportionately impact the resorts at this point.
As a whole, Walt Disney World has turned a corner on its staffing shortages. The College Program’s accelerated resumption and Walt Disney World’s aggressive hiring blitz are now paying off. Tons of new employees have gone through Traditions training and been assigned to locations around Walt Disney World.
Consequently, Walt Disney World’s theme parks are mostly fine. Attractions, retail, and most other areas are adequately staffed.
However, this is not true across the board. Walt Disney World continues to hold job fairs, and is offering hiring bonuses and higher pay for certain roles. In particular, Walt Disney World has had ongoing and significant shortages for housekeeping, cooks, and bus drivers.
To remedy the bus driver shortage, Walt Disney World has contracted with a third party coach bus company (hence all of the Academy buses around the complex for the last several months). Not having much success, Disney recently increased hiring bonuses–some are now up to $6,000 depending on the position and location of the applicant! The company is also offering referral bonuses to current Cast Members who recruit new hires.
In an attempt to take pressure off the housekeeper shortage, Walt Disney World unofficially “banned” 1-night stays for peak holiday season travel dates. This restriction was never publicly announced, but if you tried to book a single night reservation, no availability would’ve shown via the online booking engine. If you expanded that to 2-nights encompassing the exact same dates, viola, there was availability.
That limitation on 1-night bookings is now gone, but don’t be surprised if Walt Disney World brings it back should demand exceed supply (of housekeepers) again. Thankfully, we haven’t seen this for Spring Break or Easter 2022 travel dates, so hopefully this particular restriction is in the rearview mirror. (It’s worth noting that we are still encountering similar 3-night minimum stays for certain Hilton and Marriott hotels in the Flamingo Crossings area.)
During Disney’s most recent earnings call in February 2022, CEO Bob Chapek addressed how staffing is impacting Walt Disney World operations. He said that the company has “self-imposed capacity constraints” as a form of “mitigation” due to problems with staffing shortages for several positions that are integral to the guest experience.
Even before Chapek spoke about this issue, we addressed Walt Disney World’s housekeeper shortage. The causes of the current labor shortages are multifaceted, and the analysis in the above post applies to both housekeepers and cooks. By and large, it’s something that won’t be remedied by hiring bonuses–but should start resolving itself throughout 2022.
These staffing woes directly impact operations, occupancy, and the guest loads that resorts can accommodate. In particular, Disney can’t fill every resort room every night if there aren’t enough housekeepers to turn them all over by check-in time. Insufficient dining capacity at restaurants and food courts likewise means Disney can’t fully book all rooms at a resort without causing issues at peak meal times.
Prior to Chapek confirming this, we had heard rumblings about these issues for months and of room inventory being held back as a result. Rumors of Port Orleans Riverside operating with only a handful of its buildings filled with guests, Contemporary Resort having minimal issues relocating guests when undertaking a last-minute refurbishment of half its rooms, and many more anecdotes. The totality of these stories strongly suggested that the hotels were leaving a large percentage of their rooms unfilled to reduce other pressures around Walt Disney World related to the staffing shortages.
Notably, this encompasses Speak Break through Independence Day, meaning it includes several holidays and peak season dates for Walt Disney World. If there are already deals for summer, this bodes well for the fall off-season and later in 2022.
In addition to that, availability is also starting to improve. In the near-term, there are still a lot of sold out resorts for the next few months. Winter has been rough, and there’s not much relief for Spring Break or Easter.
However, in searching for room options in May 2022 and beyond, things start to improve. For many dates, including Memorial Day weekend, there’s ample availability at most resorts and specific room categories. (The main exceptions being Deluxe Villa Resorts, which are always limited, and Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which is still undergoing significant room renovations.)
Of course, this could always “dry up” as these travel dates draw nearer, so it’s a little too early to get excited. However, it is worth noting that previously, these issues with limited availability were visible months in advance. We first notice problems with last October through December in the spring. It really does look like things are starting to get better.
In the near-term, many dates through April 2022 have few options at Walt Disney World. When trying to assess “real” demand levels, it’s also worth point out that the lack of availability often does not extend to third party resorts to nearly the same degree. Sure, there are the dates when the price of the Swan & Dolphin or Four Seasons randomly skyrockets to absurd territory, but that’s not all that abnormal.
Many other times, there’s no availability at Disney-owned hotels but there’s no shortage of reasonably priced third party alternatives. Suffice to say, if Walt Disney World doesn’t have hotel availability or the rack rates you’re seeing are too pricey or beyond your comfort zone, consider booking a refundable rate at third party properties.
We’re seeing availability at the Swan & Dolphin, Bonnet Creek, Disney Springs, Grand Cypress, Universal, and Flamingo Crossing hotels. If you haven’t had Flamingo Crossings on your radar before, it might be worth considering. Several hotels have opened in the last year, including Target, Walgreens, and multiple other retail, dining, and grocery locations.
Ultimately, that should help explain what’s going on with unavailable rooms at Walt Disney World. Pent-up demand and revenge travel are playing a huge part, and will likely continue to do so due to international visitors even as domestic demand fizzles out. That’s not the full story, though.
There’s also the reality that “fully booked” hotels at Walt Disney World are not even close to 100% occupancy and are not actually sold out of all rooms. They’re capped at lower levels due to staffing shortages, in particular housekeepers, bus drivers, and kitchen staff. As Walt Disney World continues to undertake hiring initiatives and as demand normalizes, this problem should start working itself out.
Hopefully, the availability we’re currently seeing for May 2022 and beyond coupled with discounts for Spring & Summer 2022 are early signs of this–and not just lulls before another scorching summer of pent-up demand and “sold out” hotels. It remains to be seen how this will play out in practice–we’d recommend hedging your bets by booking early and hoping discounts are released that can be applied retroactively. We’ll keep you posted as this situation continues to change.
What do you think is driving the availability issue at Walt Disney World? Do you suspect Walt Disney World holding back rooms is the primary driver? Or, is pent-up demand the big issue, with people making up for lost time traveling and not caring how much they’re paying? Think the housekeeping, dining, bus driver, or other staffing shortages help explain the problem? How do you expect the hotel inventory problem to play out? 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!