U.S. Reopening International Travel & Impact on Disney World Crowds?
The United States announced that it will lift bans for fully vaccinated foreign travelers arriving to the U.S. by air or crossing land borders, effective November 8, 2021. This will begin ending historic restrictions that barred much of the world from entering the United States. This post will discuss details and the potential impact on Walt Disney World crowds.
Starting November 8, the United States will admit fully vaccinated foreign air travelers from the 26 countries of the Schengen Area in Europe, including France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and Greece, as well as the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran, and Brazil. Previously, the unprecedented U.S. restrictions barred non-U.S. citizens who were in those countries within the past 14 days.
Under the new policy, foreign nationals will be able to travel to the United States if they show proof of vaccination and a negative test taken within three days of air travel. Vague details of the policy change were announced in September, but the government had not previously announced a date when it would take effect, or the other specifics.
Earlier this week, the United States announced it would lift restrictions on fully vaccinated foreign nationals for non-essential travel at United States land borders and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico beginning in early November 2021. Land and ferry travelers will be required to present proof of vaccination. However, foreign visitors crossing a land border will not need to show proof of a recent negative test.
The new rules do not require foreign visitors or Americans entering the country to go into quarantine. Additionally, Americans traveling overseas must still show proof of a recent negative test, and unvaccinated Americans will face stricter screening requirements. They will also be subject to restrictions in the countries they visit, which include quarantines and outright bans on the unvaccinated in some places.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated that the United States will accept the use by international visitors of vaccines authorized by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization. The CDC plans to soon issue new rules on contact tracing for international air travelers in the coming weeks.
The United States had lagged many other countries in lifting such restrictions, and U.S. allies have welcomed–and pushed for–the move. The United States restrictions have prevented travelers from most of Europe and Asia, including tens of thousands of foreign nationals with relatives or business interests in the United States.
The travel industry has also been advocating for this change for months, arguing that it was no longer necessary in light of the highly efficacious vaccines. Additionally, the United States has continued to allow foreign air travelers from more than 150 countries throughout the last year-plus.
This uneven policy dating back to last March has been widely criticized as making little sense. Some countries with higher case rates were not added to the restricted list, while some remained on the list long after their situations became controlled–and they stopped barring entry to Americans.
This is great news for our friends across the pond! Even if you’re not an international visitor, you might be wondering how this will impact Christmas crowds at Walt Disney World.
Frankly, we do not know. There are a lot of factors to consider, and rather than making our own bold proclamations, we’re going to share some of the potential considerations, and let you draw your own conclusions. (Okay, we’ll also make our own predictions at the end.)
We’ll start by prefacing this with our own anecdotal “experience.” International Walt Disney World fans are passionate. A good chunk of our audience is based in Canada and the United Kingdom, with the latter being wonderfully fierce fans. (No offense to the Canucks, but your enthusiasm is less surprising given proximity.)
Throughout the last year-plus, we have not seen any drop-off whatsoever in proportional readership from the United Kingdom. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider the ongoing travel ban and paltry “deals” released for UK residents. That suggests to me that you all are anxiously awaiting this news–and are ready to get back to Walt Disney World.
Continuing with the anecdotal info, we’ve heard from tons of international readers over the course of the last several months who have placeholder vacation package bookings. From what I’ve surmised, this is common practice right now in UK fan circles–many have kept these until the very last minute in the hopes of visiting between October and December 2021.
On top of that, the websites of Virgin Atlantic and other UK-based carriers temporarily crashed at the end of last month when it was first announced that the United States would drop its restrictions for foreign nationals. And that was just the preliminary news–no date was known at that time.
With that said, we’re hesitant to draw sweeping conclusions from any of this.
This change is only a few weeks away, and the vast majority of travelers do not plan trips inside of a month. While the lag time between booking and traveling has decreased dramatically in the last year, we’re skeptical that people are going to be doing international trips in large numbers–especially during the holiday season–with little notice.
There are also some headwinds that might preclude significant spikes in international tourists booking new trips to Walt Disney World. As has been discussed here at length, there’s very limited hotel availability at Walt Disney World through December 2021.
On top of that, room discounts are pretty much nonexistent. That is, unless you’re traveling during the absolute peak of Christmas crowds–dates that we already know will be a 9/10 or 10/10 on the crowd calendar. On average, international guests take longer trips and spend more time at Walt Disney World, and current pricing and availability may make that a non-starter.
Then there’s other uncertainty and wildcards.
While case numbers in Florida and the United States are now subsiding, there may be lingering travel trepidations around the holiday season. (While we have zero safety-related fears in traveling at this point, I’d be slightly hesitant to book an international trip for December simply given last year’s holiday-time spike and tightening of restrictions.)
There’s also the reality that some families would face quarantines upon returning home, school schedules, and the fact that children still remain unvaccinated. All pertinent and multifaceted considerations that may keep a segment of travelers sidelined.
There’s also the reality that the passionate and very “online” international fans are not representative of Walt Disney World’s international visitor profile as a whole. This is something we frequently reiterate when it comes to all guests–what you see on social media or even the comments section here does not reflect the sentiment of casual guests.
That is probably true here, too. There might be a number of UK and Canadian Walt Disney World fans who already have hotels booked and have been awaiting this news, posting online about it often. While large in number, the operative question is what percentage of overall international visitors does this describe? And when are they planning on traveling?
Even Virgin Atlantic’s website crashing is not necessarily indicative of overall demand, just a sudden surge of it.
Travel industry analysts have repeatedly indicated that international travel will take years to fully recover, and the process will be slower than the “revenge travel” experienced in the United States this spring and summer. (Then again, those same analysts originally forecast a much slower recovery than what has been experienced.)
Ultimately, this leaves us wondering what the potential impact to crowds at Walt Disney World could be this Christmas.
Beyond simply weighing considerations, the best way of assessing that is probably by looking at Florida’s travel numbers as a whole. The state saw 3.6 million visitors from Canada and 10.9 million overseas visitors in 2019 (throwing out 2020 data for obvious reasons). This is compared to a total of 116.8 million domestic tourists to the state.
Assuming Walt Disney World sees similar numbers as Florida, that would mean less than 10% of visitors are from outside the United States. Our guess is that overseas visitors disproportionately visit theme parks and the state’s tourist attractions, so it’s probably above 10%. However, the state’s visitor numbers don’t account for Floridians–so let’s just call it an even 10%.
While a relatively small slice of the overall pie, 10% is not an insignificant number. It’s enough to turn a crowd level 7 day into an 8 or 9 at Walt Disney World. But there’s still the unanswered question of how many of those international visitors are going to pounce at the reopening and arrive in November and December? Will they account for a 10% spike, more, or less?
On balance, my expectation would be that the number is lower than 10%, probably by a fairly significant amount. I’d be surprised if international travelers account for a 5% increase in attendance during the 2021 holiday season–that would be less than half the normal number of international visitors. While I do not question the dedication and passion of Walt Disney World’s fans from across the pond in the least, it’s still too last minute for most people to plan lengthy trips and international travel. It’s not the hardcore fans who won’t show up–it’s the casual visitors.
In addition to that, there are some things and factors that will keep away the more ardent international Walt Disney World fanbase: the lack of discounts, Disney Dining Plan, bookable hotel rooms, and other barriers to traveling in the immediate future. While many fans from the United Kingdom, Canada, and elsewhere seem to have already booked packages, these are likely to be the vocal minority of truly hardcore fans–and not representative of the international audience as a whole.
We still expect the reopening of international borders to have an impact on Walt Disney World crowds, but it not might be until January and February when we feel the real impact. Those months that otherwise would’ve been pretty slow, might now be disproportionately impacted by a surge of international travelers. Who knows, though. This is incredibly difficult to assess–the return of international travel might have a more pronounced and immediate impact on crowds at Walt Disney World than we anticipate.
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!
Okay, now time for a United Kingdom, Canada, and beyond “roll call.” If you’re an international visitor, what’s your plan? Visit for Christmas or wait until 2022? Do you already have accommodations booked, or will you scramble to make plans on short notice? Any other considerations we failed to take into account when it comes to the end of bans, border closures, and the resumption of international travel? 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!
We are in the UK have a trip booked Feb 22 – we booked this 6 months ago in the hope that we’d be able to travel by then and had a companion airline voucher to use which was expiring
We booked the Yacht club with the 50th offer for those in the UK.
We will be travelling from the UK in May 2022 .We have had 2 Disney trips cancelled now and can’t wait to get back ! Albeit at a phenomenal price to stay on site .
I don’t understand why it is o.k to travel by road with out testing but you have to be tested if you fly.
This impacts all people from Europe.
Thank you for your continuous and thorough information. My family has a surprise trip planned for our two boys on Christmas morning through New Years. We are stoked! (We’ve only been one other time, three years ago). I wonder if there’s a way to “bother” Disney world to help push up the reopen date of Jedi Training, showing there is a high demand for it so the boys will have a chance to do it when we visit? It was one of our favorites last time!
I too will be coming from Canada looking forward to our January trip!
Both hubby and are fully vaccinated, the thing we have to keep in mind after alot of research is PCR test required upon re-entry to Canada must be negative in order to board flight back and even re-enter Canada by car! Need to have quarantine plan I’m told in case we get stuck? That’s the only thing weighing on our minds. No matter how careful you think you’ve been and you may have no symptoms there could be unforeseen issues.
“Throughout the last year-plus, we have not seen any drop-off whatsoever in proportional readership from the United Kingdom. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider the ongoing travel ban and paltry “deals” released for UK residents.”
You do yourself and your blog a disservice thinking this. Your information and the way you deliver it became more important than before the pandemic and the subsequent shut down which still exists for those outside the US.
Then and now you deliver HOPE!
Consider this a well deserved pat on the back.
Thank you for the incredibly kind words! 🙂
UK Disney die hard here and absolutely over the moon that my trip booked for Thanksgiving is going ahead, it’s been in the planning for 18 months to celebrate my 50th birthday alongside WDW. Where else could I possibly go but the most magical 50th celebration in the universe. . I am also going to be happy and excited to wear a mask, blow kisses to the fab five from a distance, hug a Disney Christmas tree, bring it on, I’m ready.
Canada here, cancelled twice so far, rebooked for 8 nights, Beach Club, late Dec into the New Year, 3rd time’s the charm we hope. However hoping the indoor masking is lifted by then as we have a disabled 8yo who is not able to wear a mask and Disney has no exemptions.
Tom, do you have any predictions on masking by Christmas?
To correct my last comment: it is 7:00 AM EST not 7:00 PM EST
To answer your question about “my dining reservations for Feb” but to clarify, I booked our trip in February for December and waited until 60 days before our first day to start Dining booking. You can book upwards of 10 days after your first day (the system knows what your first day is and lets you book up to 10 days later). A TIP when booking Dining, on the first day you are eligible to book dining reservations (eg 60 days before your first night at WDW), although the booking system opens officially at 7:00 PM EST, start trying for reservations earlier as sometimes the booking system will open early eg (half hour). Book all that you can as some restaurants book up fast. I was able to get in at 6:30 AM EST and grab many of the places I wanted. Good luck.
If only vaccinated people will be allowed to travel to the US – does that mean that no children will be Allowed to travel? If not, the rule is completely arbitrary.
As a pediatric ICU Rn – I know that children can definitely get and transmit COVID.
And as far as discounts go – I keep wondering when “ free dining” will be offered for visiting the UK????
@Ford-how can you have dining reservations for Feb set? That is way more than 60 days…did I miss a policy change?
Canadian here with Disney World trip booked in December. Then again, I’ve gone a couple of times already in the last year.
Our holiday to Florida was scheduled for 8th November, our airline cancelled our holiday on the 7th stating that they did not intend to commence flights until 20th November, so we rescheduled until July next year, we’re a family (Grandparents, Mum/Dad and two grand babies aged 4 and 2). Truth is, we’d already decided to reschedule due to the increasing infection rates and slow vaccination uptake in Florida ( I know it’s the same here in the U.K.). However our main reason for cancelling was the current restrictions and mask requirements at the Theme Parks.I appreciate they have been eased to indoors etc. But, our two year old has never worn one and it’d be a challenge for him to keep one on, without a drama. Our 5 year old was looking forward to the Princess character meet and greets, and with these being socially distanced it wouldn’t be the same. We’ve been to WDW and other parks about five times over last 30 years, but as this was going to be the first visit for our grand babies , we felt that it wouldn’t be the same “wow” factor as when we took our own children there. As much as we’d like to have been there over the festiive period we’ve rescheduled to next summer when (we hope) there will be a greater degree of normality than there is now. Keep safe all and those that are lucky enough to get there, have a great and magical time.
My family of four Canadians are booked for two weeks in early December
I am a EU citizens and a Disney addict. We have had 3 trips cancelled but we have a trip booked for November-December 2021. As you mention, there are a number of us with existing reservations, but you are right, we are the minority. All those that had holidays booked for the first 10 months of 2021 have all rescheduled for 2022 or 2023. Also many of those that had reservations for the last two months, but could not manage the uncertainty, have also rescheduled. So I think the number of international fans arriving within 2021 will be limited. However one should expect 2022 will see many international vistors in the Orlando theme parks.
Allowing more travelers to come to the US from more countries will result in larger crowds. This holiday season at WDW will more resemble 2019 than 2020.
Hey Tom, and fellow Fanatics!
Greg here from the Great White North. As with most Canadians, we lost a 2020 WDW trip to celebrate my 50th, as well as a 2021 WDW trip for my kid’s grade 8 graduation. This along with others has made us very anxious to get away. So, we have booked a 3-week stay at Fort Wilderness in August of 2022, with my DVC sister’s family and our parents staying with her at Animal Kingdom. We even bought a new travel trailer to make the experience as comfortable as possible.
We NEED this trip. And I guess for us, it’s the cancelled trips that are justifying the increase in expenditure next time out.
I just HOPE that everything is back to normal by then – no masks, lifted restrictions, everything open. We desperately need to recharge our soul in the only other place we call “home”.
Positive Vibes, everyone! Be safe and have fun!
– G –
As a UK Disney fan this is great news. I’m also feeling quite lucky given our flights were already booked for November 8. They had been cancelled 3 times since 2020, the last one being in September, and we took a bit of a gamble that ‘early November’ re-opening would mean sometime around the second week. Can’t wait to get back, not only for all things Disney, but also some better weather, shopping and all the other things Florida has to offer as well as the theme parks.
It’s on!!! From Canada and have a Christmas week trip booked since May. Up until last night I was prepping the kids that we wouldn’t be going and have to move it AGAIN (moved 3 times already). Now US agrees to recognize mixed vaccines which both hubby and I have. Lack of discounts is making the price hard to swallow but we all need a Disney vacation. Can’t wait, will be first time at Christmas!