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Plan a Trip to Disney World 2021 – After visiting Disney World in 2021 I’m sharing our experience during the pandemic & tips for a great trip!
Plan a Trip to Disney World 2021
Our family of 6 was supposed to go to Disneyland in Spring of 2020… then Covid hit and everything shut down. We waited over the summer and fall, hoping Disneyland would open up, but it seemed like there was no end to the closure in site.
We started considering a trip to Florida to Disney World instead. We heard great things from several friends about how Disney World was handling the pandemic, and also heard that crowds were much smaller due to the park keeping capacity low due to Covid. As someone who is averse to the huge crowds, I thought this could be a great time to go. Not to mention we have 4 kids, so fewer crowds makes everything a whole lot easier.
We decided to travel in January to Disney World. Not only are the parks typically slower, but it’s also great weather in Florida in the winter. Our trip was January 24-29, 2021.
After some research and with a promo Disney World was running on all their resorts, we decided to stay on property at a Disney World hotel. It ended up only being a little more than a traditional hotel, plus we got all the free buses to the park each day, free airport shuttle, and a family suite with 2 bathrooms and a kitchenette.
Another tip to go when crowds are smaller is to plan your park days for weekdays only. We decided to fly to Florida on a Sunday, then be in the parks Monday-Thursday. It really paid off. We had low wait times all week, and some rides we even rode 3 times!
Below are all the details of the trip. I hope it helps you as you Plan a Trip to Disney World 2021.
- Trip Overview
- Ride Wait Times
- Disney During Covid
- Travel Plans
- Disney App
- Park Days Schedule
- Park Reservations
- Opening Times
- Character Meet + Greets
- Parades / Cavalcades
- Dining Reservations
- Tips for Mobile Ordering
- Star Wars Land / Galaxy’s Edge
- Rise of the Resistance
- Hearsay Tips for Getting onto ROTR
- Magical Extras
- Travel Supplies
- Items for Mom
Ride Wait Times
For quick reference, here were some of our wait times:
- Splash Mountain – 5 minutes
- Space Mountain – 10 minutes
- Avatar Flight of Passage (Animal Kingdom) – 10 minutes
- Everest (Animal Kingdom) – 5 minutes
- Star Wars Smugglers’ Run (Hollywood Studios) – 10 minutes
- Pirates of the Caribbean – 15 minutes
- The longest consistent line all week was the Seven Dwarfs ride in Magic Kingdom, usually about 30 minutes. We went first thing in the morning and it was only 10 minutes long, then waited again until just before closing, around 6:30pm, and it was only 15 minutes long (even though the app said 50 minute wait).
We consistently saw that the actual lines were much shorter than the app stated. We’re guessing this is due to the socially-distanced lines. They can look longer because everyone is 6 feet apart, but they’re shorter than they seem. They move really quickly. See more below about the parks.
(Below clockwise: no line for Space Mountain, Empty Park at Sunset, No line for Haunted Mansion, No line for Jungle Safari, standing near Everest after riding twice (no line), and 10 minute line for Star Wars Smugglers’ Run.
Disney During Covid
Disney did a great job handling the pandemic, in my opinion. Yes, there were still a lot of people around, but everywhere you went Disney had people distancing: in lines for rides, in lines for food (most food was mobile order also), lines to get into stores (which actually made the store experience nicer because there weren’t many people packed into stores), and even spaced out to take photos.
Also you must pass a temperature check upon entering the park each day.
It is a requirement to have your mask on in the park (and they have many employees designated to make sure you have your mask on), but you are allowed to take it off to eat (as long as you are stationery and socially distanced – so this could be at a dining table or just sitting on the side of a ledge or bench with your family). Whenever we were all tired of masks, we would pull over away from others, pull our masks down and get some water or a snack. They also have family rest areas where you can remove your mask. Overall it was a little annoying to have the mask on, but the low crowds more than made up for it.
Typically 6-8 weeks before you travel is the best time to purchase plane tickets. When you’re purchasing 6 plane tickets it really helps to scour prices. We ended up finding Alaska Airlines nonstop flights from Portland to Orlando. We flew on a Sunday to Orlando and flew back on Friday. We decided to quarantine for 2 weeks before we went (and a week after) for 2 reasons: 1) we didn’t want to pass anything around, and 2) we knew they’d be doing temperature checks and didn’t want to have our trip ruined by any of us being sick.
Prices will fluctuate throughout the week when you’re searching for flights, so be sure to check for a week or two before buying. I love how Google Flights allows you to see which days around your trip are cheaper or more expensive.
One perk of staying at a Disney World hotel is the free Disney Magical Express that takes you right from the airport to your hotel (and back). It was one less thing to worry about. Disney did a great job social distancing on their buses – spaces placed between each group on the bus. Actually made the trip more enjoyable because you never felt too crowded.
We stayed at the Disney Art of Animation resort. We booked directly with Disney online. They made it all very easy. The hotel had a great Family Suite option with a bedroom, 2 bathrooms, kitchenette, dining table (that turns into a bed), and sofa that turns into a bed. It was the perfect sleeping situation for our family of 6 and one of the better deals for a Disney hotel. We loved having a kitchenette too, to pack food in and keep leftovers in the fridge (see below for more about how we did food on the trip).
The Art of Animation resort has several pools, a family friendly restaurant, a large gift shop, splash pad, playground, running paths by a lake, and direct access to the Disney Skyliner (which is fun and fast – a great way to get directly to Hollywood Studios or Epcot!).
My youngest loved the Cars themed part of the hotel, as well as the Finding Nemo, Lion King, and Little Mermaid areas. The employees were beyond helpful and delightful. It may be a little young-themed for older kids, but my kids loved this resort.
All the hotels in Disney World have direct buses to Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney Springs each day. This makes your travel so easy – every morning we’d just go outside our hotel and line up for the Park we wanted to see that day. Loved these buses.
Disney Experience App
Disney has really made trip planning and the trip experience easy and efficient with the Disney World app. We were able to see all our plans easily, order food, get in touch with our hotel, see ride wait times, use their map, find stores or restaurants, and search anything in the whole of Walt Disney World. Make sure to use the app after you book your trip and explore all that it has to offer so you’re familiar with it before you go.
Park Days Schedule
Here was our Park schedule for the week:
- Monday: Magic Kingdom
- Tuesday: Hollywood Studios
- Wednesday: Animal Kingdom
- Thursday: Magic Kingdom
We debated if we should do Epcot, but overall felt it was a little too old for our kids (based on what we’d read). Our kids are 11, 9, 7, and 4. We are thinking in a couple years it will be a great addition to our trip. I know people love Epcot, and part of me was a little hesitant to skip it, but our 2nd day in Magic Kingdom was so magical, I definitely feel like we made the right choice. There’s so much to see in Magic Kingdom that a 2nd day was really nice.
The first thing you need to know about Park Days is making Reservations. After you purchase all your tickets through Disney World, you then need to go online and actually make reservations for which day you want to do each park. The system can be found here. It’s very easy to navigate and helps you visually see the month/week and decide which day to do which park.
As soon as you book your tickets you should secure your park reservation days. During the month of January none of the parks booked up, but around Christmastime they did – especially Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. Animal Kingdom doesn’t usually book up, or Epcot, so at the very least book your Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom days first. You can go back later and change them if there’s availability, but you’ll want to secure that once you have tickets.
There are no reserved magical mornings right now, due to the pandemic, but one thing we learned quickly is that the parks are opening much earlier than the times they post for park hours!
Magic Kingdom was posted as opening at 9am. We got there at 830am and the gates were already open!
Animal Kingdom was posted to open at 8am. We got there at 7:40am and the gates were already open!
Hollywood Studios was set to open at 9am. We got there at 830 and yep, already open!
In my opinion, it’s worth getting up early every day to get this empty magical time in the park. You can run right onto any ride or go into any land you’d like with almost no people.
This was especially nice when we went to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and my Star Wars-loving boys got the whole place to themselves.
My point is this – make sure you get there earlier than you think you need to. Our hotel lines started forming around 7am – even for Magic Kingdom. Usually the first bus will come to your hotel 45 minutes before that park opens. Parking can take even longer if you drive in. Disney World is almost 40 square miles, so getting from one spot to another takes a little time.
*The exceptions are the alternate forms of Disney Transport like the Disney Skyliner, Monorail, or Ferry. The Skyliner it moves so quickly and is continuously running once it opens. If you can book a resort on the monorail or skyliner, or ferry, these other types of transportation can save you a little time from the buses.
Character Meet + Greets
Since the pandemic began, Disney stopped allowing Character Meets. What they’ve done instead is allow characters to come out to little platform/ mini stages around the parks and perform and take some socially distanced photos (you can see our photo with Buzz Lightyear below). We aren’t Disney pros, so our kids didn’t mind that we weren’t meeting characters closer. However if this is a big draw for your kids, you’ll want to prepare them.
Parades / Cavalcades
Another thing to go since Covid has been the parades. What they’re doing instead is sporadic cavalcades – these are like mini-parades that come through all parts of the park at random times of the day. This keeps people from gathering to wait for parades. Once they come through, they clear out the walkways for the parade.
Though they’re not as long as a traditional parade, it’s nice because you don’t have to wait for them and take a big chunk out of your day. On our first day by mid afternoon we’d already seen 5! We loved the cavalcades.
Food at Disney World in 2021
We had a lot of questions about food at the park.
Here’s how we did it. We packed a small suitcase full of snacks and breakfast foods (we had free carry-on bags). Granola bars, beef jerky, cookies, fruit snacks, pop tarts, fruit, and some other dry goods. We wanted to have all this food for breakfast in the hotel and to pack in. We had planned on just doing a grocery order for delivery when we got to the hotel, but the week before leaving realized we’d need an extra bag for souvenirs anyways, so decided to pack one full of food.
We ate breakfast in the room each morning, and packed snacks in our bag for the park. We did also buy some snacks in the park but mostly shared and split those. Having some extra snacks in our bag kept us from buying too much park food.
We ate lunches and dinners out. Our younger 2 kids can usually split a meal which helps cut down on cost. Also Mitch and I split too when we’d filled up on snacks. In my opinion the snacks and treats at Disney are better than most of the meals.
If you’re interested in having a couple set times to eat, you should know about Dining Reservations. If you want reservations for dining, make them as soon as you book your trip (you can always cancel later). All reservations are made online here.
We only did 2 reservations for the trip and the rest of the meals we ordered at the restaurants on the mobile app. Look through their dining options by park and see if you want to make a reservation. Certain restaurants are reservation only, others are walk-up/mobile ordering only.
Our favorite reservation was at Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom. Really good Asian Food (kids menu has basics for picky eaters like mac & cheese. We loved the potstickers, lo mein, and the chopped chicken salad. And the dipping sauce was unreal.
The other meals were okay, nothing amazing but fine. We did also love the Spicy Chicken and Waffle Sandwich from Sleepy Hollow (not a reservation restaurant, just a walk-up and order – but so good!).
And we actually really liked the food at Docking Bay 7!
Tips for Mobile Food Ordering at Disney World in 2021
Once it gets to be a busy mealtime (i.e. 12pm for lunch), it can take a long time to get your food. Try to plan ahead and order lunch an hour before you even want to pick it up. In the Disney Experience app you can specify a pickup time. If you wait too late to order, your pickup time will be likely much later than you’d like it to be.
For example, in Star Wars Land we wanted to eat at Docking Bay 7. Not only did they have a pretty cool menu, but our boys wanted to eat inside a restaurant at Star Wars Land. We placed our mobile order at 1030am for 1130am pickup. At 1130 we were able to walk right in and get our food, and there were many open tables. We found that once noon hit, all the lunch places were really packed. We opted for early lunches and afternoon snacks.
Star Wars Land / Galaxy’s Edge
Because so many people had questions about this, I thought I’d dedicate a section to Star Wars Land.
The Basics: Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge is located in Hollywood Studios. You must have a Hollywood Studios reservation for the day to enter the park, then get back to Star Wars Land. You can go anywhere in Star Wars Land with your Hollywood Studios day pass, except for the Rise of the Resistance Ride.
Rise of The Resistance
To get on this Rise of the Resistance (seen online often as ROTR) you need to join what’s called a Virtual Queue at 7am the day of your Hollywood Studios reservation. It’s shown on the app in your plans, once you book your trip. This is kind of like a ride lottery, which was created because the ride has been so popular (and it’s 18 minutes long). To join the Virtual Queue you open the app just before 7am the day you’re heading to Hollywood Studios, and try to get onto the Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group List, before it runs out of space (it usually fills up in 15 seconds).
If you don’t get into the 7am group, you can try again at 1pm but you must be in the Hollywood Studios park. This 1pm Virtual Queue takes about 10 minutes to fill up, so you’re much more likely to get in here, if you don’t make it in the morning Queue. On the day we were at Hollywood Studios, they made an announcement at 1:15pm that the 2nd ROTR Virtual Queue was full.
Hearsay Tips for Getting onto Rise of the Resistance
We were able to get a boarding slot for Rise of the Resistance on our first try, so I’ll share the tips I’ve heard and what worked for us (but all of these are subjective to what has worked for individuals, and not based on any statements from Disney).
- Get onto the Disney app well before 7am
- Make sure you have a strong internet connection
- We’ve heard people say not to use the hotel Wi-Fi if your cell data service is strong (we used our hotel’s Wi-Fi because our Verizon signal wasn’t strong in Florida)
- Have everyone in your group that can access the app get it open and try to join right at 7am
- Watch your phone clock and the second the clock turns from 6:59am to 7:00am, click “Join Virtual Queue” (make sure not to do it early)
My husband and I did this, my phone got into the queue (boarding group 29) and his didn’t. I’m glad we both tried because I’m sure it comes down to randomness and how quickly a phone connects at the exact second it turns 7am. We met some people at our hotel who didn’t make it in, and they had only tried from 1 phone.
Once you get a boarding group, it will estimate how long you have until you need to get in line. Once it’s time to get in line, the app will notify you (and I think you have 40 minutes to get there). We ended up going on at 10am.
I will say the Rise of the Resistance ride was one of my all-time favorite rides. It was immersive, fun, suspenseful, and exciting all at once. It was also meticulously designed to feel like you’re on a real Star Destroyer in space. And it’s 18 minutes long! We only wish we could have gone again!
If you are going to Hollywood Studios make sure you try to get on this ride, even if you’re not a huge Star Wars fan. We all loved it.
Magical Extras for Disney World
Plan a Trip to Disney World 2021
One thing Disney does really well are magical extra experiences (you pay for these, and they’re usually not cheap), but they do such a great job with every detail, it can be worth it for Extras that line up with your interests (or your kids’ interests). Our boys love Star Wars and decided to use their spending money on Star Wars Magical Extras. Our older son (age 11) built a Lightsaber in Savi’s Workshop (a special workshop almost an hour long, with a “Jedi” actor helping them design and create their own high quality light saber. This is a very popular Magical Extra and will book up, so be sure to book online early.
Our middle son (age 7) decided to build a droid at the Droid Depot. This is a little more flexible and doesn’t book up like the Lightsaber Workshop does. We decided not to book early online because we didn’t know when our Rise of the Resistance tickets would be. When we walked into Star Wars Land early Tuesday morning, they had tons of openings for the Droid Depot and my son got right in.
Each child doing a Magical Extra is allowed one adult to come in and help them. It was such a fun experience and Disney did a great job with it. For us and our boys it was worth it and the highlight of their trip.
You definitely don’t need all these things, but I thought I’d list out some of the items we bought to bring. Maybe this will help you as you Plan a Trip to Disney World 2021. Part of having anxiety means I always overpack! But I will say I feel like the reason it didn’t rain on our trip was because I brought all the plastic ponchos! And we didn’t get any blisters but in my mind we would have if we didn’t bring moleskin, lol.
Linking all these items below.
- $9 Bulk Pack of Mickey & Minnie Ears (don’t pay $30 each at the park!)
- Moleskine (in case you get blisters)
- Travel First Aid Kit (I like to buy the Johnson & Johnson one because the bandaids are the best)
Items for Mom
Here are some items I bought for myself before the trip – not necessary but made things nice.
I grabbed this camel colored mom backpack off amazon. It had great reviews and was a lifesaver in the park. It has tons of compartments and was big enough to take snacks and supplies for the day, but not so big that it hurt my back. I love all the storage compartments, and am still using it as a purse. It’s an awesome bag!
A friend recommended these awesome joggers on amazon to me – they are the CRZ Yoga Brand. So soft and so comfortable! They feel like yoga pants in jogger form.
I also grabbed a pair of the CRZ Yoga Hiking Joggers – they have a little more structure but also amazingly comfy.
I got one of each kind. I love both of them. It was so nice to not be in jeans most days at the park.
Athleta Face Masks – I’d heard amazing things about these masks and honestly they lived up to the hype for me – they are super breathable, large enough to keep from sliding around when you talk, adjustable, and just a really comfy fabric.
We were hesitant to book a big trip during the pandemic, but overall it ended up being better than we could have imagined. I’m so glad we decided to Plan a Trip to Disney World 2021. We don’t love huge crowds and this was a great way to see and experience Disney in such a crowd-less magical way (if you can handle the masks, the rest is great).
If you Plan a Trip to Disney World 2021, feel free to reach out with any other questions you may have! I’d be happy to answer any questions I can for you. I also saved a highlight reel on my Instagram Stories here with some more videos and photos of our trip, if that’s helpful for you.
Happy Disney vacation planning!