Spinning Dumbo ride at Walt Disney World
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Visiting Walt Disney World in 2021 is going to be pretty different thanks to some big changes

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Jan 5, 2021, 1:18 PM EST

Happy new year, theme park fans! Obviously, last year wasn't the year that any of us wanted or expected, but even though there's hope on the horizon, 2021 doesn't look like it's going to be a return to normal. Here's what to expect while visiting Walt Disney World this year, along with some other theme park news of the week.

MAJOR CHANGES TO YOUR FUTURE VACATIONS

If you’ve been tapped out when it comes to theme park news, there are two changes effective this year you need to know about. First off, those complimentary Magic Bands you’d get in the mail weeks before your vacation with a Disney hotel booking? No more. You can still purchase the wristbands, which are used around the resort for ease while opening a hotel room door, scanning theme park admission, or charging items to one's room, for the discounted price of $5 with a hotel reservation or $15-plus as a day guest. The move comes as Walt Disney World further rolls out expanded functionality within its My Disney Experience mobile app.

The other noteworthy change is that park hopping has officially returned to Walt Disney World — but not in the way you may be used to. Since reopening late last year, all park guests must have a Park Pass reservation and valid admission to enter a Walt Disney World theme park. Previously, guests were only allowed to stay in that singular park — say, Magic Kingdom — but as of Jan. 1, Disney-goers may freely move between all four theme parks starting at 2 pm daily. (Specific details in regards to ticketing options are available here.)

Parks can reach capacity, so it’s recommended to check the Disney World calendar to confirm park-hopping hours, as well as to call the hotline — (407) 560-5000 — to confirm a park isn’t closed for capacity. Be sure to plan ahead if you're going to Epcot, too, as its monorail is still not in use.

Credit: Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images

A HOLIDAY SEASON UPDATE

It’s tricky to discuss the past couple of weeks at Florida's theme parks without being there personally (hello from California!) but by all accounts, the parks were bustling over the holiday break. Disney Springs, the downtown district at Walt Disney World, reportedly reached capacity over the weekend, while Universal’s theme parks hit capacity on multiple occasions. (Universal Orlando does not require an advanced reservation system; Disney World, which does, similarly sold out of certain park availability for multiple days over the holiday stretch.)

Capacity, of course, is reduced from normal times to allow for COVID-19 safety protocols, but there is no official figure on what theme park capacity currently is. The last reported admission ceiling was 35 percent for Walt Disney World back in November. At the same time, news stories over the holidays showed theme parks had seemingly re-evaluated their COVID-19 era protocols for ride boarding.

Riders are now being seated directly next to each other on certain attractions and less distance is being provided between them than before on other attractions. Still, it’s unclear if these changes reflect more guests being in the parks or just updated processes to shorten wait times and cycle visitors through rides more efficiently. Some attractions, including Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run, have added plexiglass barriers between riders to increase on-ride capacity; it's a small world tested the barriers early this week as well.

Still, Disney Food Blog reported earlier this week that Epcot is indeed surveying guests about crowding and congestion in addition to general questions about their day at the theme park.

It's worth mentioning the holiday season wasn’t just busier in Orlando — a record number of pandemic-era flights went out the weekend before Christmas, broken only by the number this past Sunday following New Year’s weekend. A spokeswoman for the TSA mentioned a bump is typical for this time of year, but nonetheless jarring when so many are being urged — both by loved ones as well as state and local governments — to stay home.

As for Florida, The Orlando Sentinel reported that AdventHealth, a local health care network, had measured a “significant jump” in COVID-19 related hospitalizations over the past weekend. The paper also cites that Florida has reported over 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 every single day for the past week.

WHAT'S COMING NEXT IN 2021

With Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary celebration officially coming later this year, we're finally getting a solid look at what's on deck for the festivities in 2021.

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot and Avengers Campus at Disneyland are a lock — no surprise there, really — but rumors about delays at TRON Lightcycle Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind were somewhat confirmed when both were not included on Disney D23's post about what to look forward to in 2021. 

Neither of those projects — as well as Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, previously confirmed for 2021 yet left off the lineup — are guaranteed to be pushed to 2022 and beyond, but as the pandemic rages on, delays make more and more sense. Either way, we will be sure to keep you posted all year long.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Surprise! It's me! I know, a bit chaotic to enter 2021 with this energy, but I simply had to share something so worthy of the spotlight. Click the link to give it a look!

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

Stitch Crashes Disney will officially be the follow-up to 2020's Minnie's Main Attraction merchandise series.

- Gideon's Bakehouse began selling its famed cookies at Disney Springs, then temporarily closed, but it appears to all be in preparation for its impending grand opening.

- One of the best Disney foods is finally back!

- Among the new 2021 Disney World discounts are an exclusive Florida Resident offering and for all guests, a new ticket and room package.

- Famed Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde has officially retired.

- This new Disney World ticketing change is... confusing.

- Interesting: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster apparently hasn't been in operation for days.

Exclusive merchandise from Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is now on sale online!

- Disney's Blizzard Beach water park will reopen in March.

More Disney hotels have set official reopening dates.