Walt Disney World Resort Update for January 12-18, 2021

by Alan S. Dalinka, staff writer

Walt Disney World Resort Update for January 12-18, 2021

 Writer's Note, News & Views (Combined)

Back in November, as we headed into Thanksgiving 2020, Walt Disney World Resort announced (and I reported here on MousePlanet) that Disney entered into an agreement with Brightline to construct a train station at Disney Springs which would connect "the first privately funded passenger rail system in over a century" with Orlando International Airport and points south including West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, Florida. The South Florida to Orlando International Airport connection is expected to be completed in 2022. Yesterday, Disney announced that starting with Disney Resort hotel arrivals on January 1, 2022, it will no longer offer the complimentary Disney's Magical Express bus service for airport transportation. Disney said on Disney Parks Blog:

Vacationers have more options to choose from than ever for transportation, including ride-share services that save time and offer more flexibility to go where they want, when they want. In light of this shift, when Disney Resort hotel bookings open for stays in 2022, we will no longer offer Disney's Magical Express service for airport transportation, starting with arrivals Jan. 1, 2022. We will continue to operate the service for new and existing reservations made at Disney Resort hotels for arrivals throughout 2021. Additionally, complimentary transportation options – such as buses, monorails and Disney Skyliner – will continue to be available within Walt Disney World Resort for Disney Resort hotel guests, including to and from all four theme parks.

Disney's Magical Express Counter at Orlando International Airport
Disney's Magical Express counters at Orlando International Airport will fade into history in 2022. Personal File Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Social media and even the comments section on Disney Parks Blog quickly lit up with lots of complaints about the elimination of the complimentary bus option. While I have not explicitly seen a tie between the train station agreement and the elimination of the complimentary bus service, that seems to be a natural factor in Disney's decision. It would be interesting to know whether it was, in fact, a requirement of the Brightline agreement itself, but, at the moment, that is a private agreement between private companies that I have not seen. It makes sense that those spending money on establishing a station and rail link between Disney property and the airport do not want to compete against a free (Disney-subsidized) transportation option between those same points. On the other hand, it is well-known that Disney initiated the "complimentary" transportation option a decade and a half ago to make it more convenient for guests visiting Walt Disney World Resort from outside the region to spend all of their time and therefore Central Florida vacation expenditures exclusively within Disney Property. How Disney is planning to "control" this aspect of the future guest experience starting on January 1, 2022 (especially if the new Brightline station has not yet opened), is not yet apparent.

The same announcement also addressed Extra Magic Hours. You may recall that extra time in the theme parks perk was suspended as part of the Walt Disney World Resort phased reopening, and Disney has now announced that the perk will not return as it continues "to manage attendance with health and safety top of mind." For the Resort's 50th anniversary celebration "coming later this year," however, Disney Resort hotel guests (and the other on/near-Property hotels with privileges) will be able to enter any of the four theme parks 30-minutes early every day so long as they have a ticket and a Disney Park Pass system reservation for that day. The Park Hopper Option which returned in modified form as 2021 began is expected to continue for those that purchase that option (including Passholders) subject to having a Disney Park Pass system reservation for the first park visited, actually visiting that park, and "hopping" during published "hopping" hours.

In the meantime, Walt Disney World Resort continues to operate under its phased reopening health and safety protocols, including guest temperature checks, limited park capacity requiring guest use of the Disney Park Pass System to reserve a park visit (plus a valid ticket), heightened cleaning especially of high-touch areas, physical distancing, and enforced mandatory face coverings (except when eating and/or drinking while stationary and physically distanced from others not in your party). Please be sure to check the My Disney Experience or DisneyWorld.com immediately before any planned visit for any last minute changes to phased reopening operations that may impact your visit.

Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Arts Underway Through February 22

The Fifth edition of the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts, the scaled-down "Taste of" version, opened on Friday, January 8, and runs daily through February 22. The little "filler" festival that started as a Disney-weekends-only affair five years ago grew to a full-fledged (and, often very popular) festival over the years. This scaled-down version eliminates the very popular Disney on Broadway Concert series, and has fewer interactive experiences, but it still offers many of the highlights of the past versions of the festival included as part of regular park admission.

Live entertainment at this version of the festival includes:

America Gardens Theatre
  • Voices of Liberty with a brand-new showcase—the Disney Songbook
  • Mariachi Cobre
  • The Animation Academy
World Showplace
  • Art Defying Gravity with their "thrilling strength acts defying gravity and imagination"
  • Visual Art in Performance (Thursdays through Sundays only)
  • EPCOT Pianist (including our friend Carol Stein usually five days each week)
Additional Entertainment and Offerings (Oh yeah, Food & Beverages too)

The JAMMitors perform daily at Canada pavilion's Mill Stage, and live artists create Chalk Art in Future World.

The Festival of the Arts introduced the highly-popular walk-in photo opportunities when it debuted five years ago. Many of those opportunities are back this year too, although during my visit yesterday, none were staffed with Disney PhotoPass Photographers (there are other Disney PhotoPass photo locations available, of course). Festival Markets are located throughout the park, featuring more than 100 artists that will rotate during the festival (including artists that will personalize art on-site). Festival merchandise is available at several locations, and, of course, 15 Food Studios featuring "Culinary Art" —full menus available at ArtfulEpcot.com and Disney Parks Blog has published a Foodie Guide.

Views of Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Arts 2021

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

America Gardens Theatre

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

Character Art Accents Around World Showcase (Selections)

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

World Showplace Includes Festival Food, Merchandise and Live Entertainment

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

Views of the EPCOT Transformation

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

An interesting part of the new EPCOT entrance experience design is that the trees in the center planter largely block views of the new pylons and fountain from the park gates, and even some of Spaceship Earth. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Reminder: 2021 Florida Resident Discover Disney Tickets Now Available

As we covered last week, Disney launched its 2021 Florida Resident Discover Disney Ticket. The $199 plus tax ticket provides four days of park visits. The ticket can be used on consecutive or non-consecutive days through June 18, 2021 (but not at all on January 16-18, February 13-15, March 26-April 11, or May 28-31). The Park Hopper option can be added for $42.50/ticket plus tax.

There is also a 3-Day version (with same blockout dates) available for $179 plus tax (add $42.50/ticket plus tax for Park Hopper).

A 2-Day version is available to purchase and use only through March 11 (but not January 16-18 or February 13-15) for $149/tax (add $37.50/ticket plus tax for Park Hopper).

Like other ticket types, guests must also separately make Disney Park Pass reservations for a specific park each date they wish to use a Discover Disney Ticket (and, for Park Hopper, must visit that reserved park and may only Hop when that day's window opens subject to capacity).

This & That…

…Did you participate in the runDisney 2021 Virtual Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend? Want to share your experiences with us? We'd love to hear from you and share your accomplishments.

…Just down the road from Disney Springs, the Lake Buena Vista location of Portillo's plans to open on March 2, 2021, at 10:30 a.m. at the intersection of Palm Parkway and Daryl Carter Blvd. The Chicago-based restaurant's third Florida location (and first in the Orlando area) is well-known (especially by folks like your weekly Update writer who spent most of his life in Chicagoland) for its Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, char-grilled burgers, and chocolate cake. Indeed, my personal experience has been that the two existing Florida locations have created spot-on recreations of the Chicagoland restaurant experience (and getting those flavors right with Florida water is a challenge). Portillo's is offering an opportunity to register for a chance to attend a sneak peek on its website.

Portillo's Lake Buena Vista Artist Concept
The new Portillo's will open on March 2, 2021, at 10:30 a.m. in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Artist Concept Courtesy Portillo's.

…Speaking of Disney Springs itself, the Everglazed Donuts and Cold Brew (coffee) location held its grand opening last weekend. It is located on The West Side near the Orange Garage pedestrian entrance closest to Splitsville.

…REMINDER: Disney Vacation Club Members that book 4-night or more room reservations for arrivals through September 25, 2021, that also buy a non-discounted 4-day Walt Disney World theme park ticket will receive 2 extra days added to your ticket. The offer is valid for number of guests on Member’s eligible room reservation and the park tickets must be purchased in advance through Member Services. Like many DVC offers, this one requires that the Member be eligible for Membership Extras (own at least a specified number of points purchased directly from DVC as of a certain date). The park tickets will be valid for admission beginning on date selected as start date and must be used within a limited number of days, depending on ticket length and type. And, of course, until further notice, Disney Park Pass reservations are still required for the dates Members and their guests plan to use their tickets, and those reservations remain limited and subject to availability.

…REMINDER: Like the DVC ticket offer, as Disney Parks Blog announced, guests can receive two additional days park admission when they buy a non-discounted four-night/three-day room and ticket package at select Disney Resort hotels for arrivals most nights January 8 through September 25, 2021. Details are published on this page of DisneyWorld.com. (See more from our friends at Get Away Today below. Remember, that offer applies to non-discounted hotel stays; separately, Annual Passholders can save up to 40% on rooms at select Disney Resort hotels for stays most nights January 3 through April 17, 2021; and there are also some remaining 35% discount opportunities for the general public for the same time period.

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Resorts Availability, Ticket Advice & Special Offers

Note: MousePlanet does not edit past Updates to reflect price increases; for up-to-date prices, check the most recent Walt Disney World Resort Update.

Disney Resort Hotel reservations are available throughout 2021, and our travel partner Get Away Today is available to help you book rooms and packages. Get Away Today can also assist you with the new Walt Disney World Resort offer we mentioned several times over the last few weeks that became available January 5: two free theme park days when you purchase at least a 4-night Disney Hotel stay and 3-Day Walt Disney World Resort tickets (the new offer is valid for vacation packages for travel through September 25, 2021, and does not apply to ticket-only orders). For all theme park ticket holders (day guests, resort guests, and Annual Passholders), though, for the foreseeable future, all guests are required to use the Disney Parks Pass System to reserve dates for guest park visits in addition to having a valid admission.

Get Away Today can help you book Disney's latest promotional offers

Get Away Today can also help you book other discounted Disney hotel stays for travel in 2021, including the continuing 35% discount on Disney Hotels for travel through April 17, 2021, which may be the better option for some guests traveling this spring. With Get Away Today's complimentary Price Monitoring, any time a special comes out, it will automatically price check it for each of its guests. If the new special is better, it will automatically apply the new savings and let the guest know. If it's not a better deal, we will leave everything as is, and keep our eyes peeled for future promotions that could save guests more.

You can get a vacation quote from Get Away Today here. You can also call 855-GET-AWAY during regular business hours (Monday - Friday 9am-5pm MT) and tell them MousePlanet sent you!

Get Away Today Logo

Only purchase Disney theme park tickets directly from Disney, an authorized seller, or a travel agency like MousePlanet travel partner Get Away Today!.As always, we remind our readers that Walt Disney World Resort theme park tickets are rarely offered at deep discounts unless you are a resident of Florida or eligible for U.S. Military Personnel benefits. Historically, non-Florida residents tend to benefit the most by purchasing tickets in advance (and, of course, being mindful of the rules relevant to those tickets). Don't get scammed! Never buy tickets from an unofficial or secondary outlet, such as through eBay or Craigslist. Never rent or purchase tickets from people approaching you outside Disney property stating they have remaining days or leftover tickets. This practice is against the terms of use for Walt Disney World Theme Park admissions, and may result in denial of entry. There is no way to determine if these tickets are valid until you try to use them to enter the parks.

Be sure to check out Get Away Today's Universal Orlando Resort ticket offers too.



  1. By asdhollywood

    Addenda in the afternoon: one of my Facebook friends posted a photo of Mushu on a wall at China pavilion from this year's Festival. That means a cast member at China pavilion outright lied to me when I asked. Lovely. Magical.

    On the kudos side, however, a friendly shoutout of thanks to cast member Alexandria at Citrus Blossom who posed with the Orange Bird sipper. Because of face masks, I wasn't 100% sure, but I have checked my photos from last March just before everything got closed down, and she is the same cast member who posed with the Spike the Bee sipper for me at the start of last year's Flower & Garden Festival and was super-friendly to chat with back then.


  2. By Dave1313

    Nice update as always. (though not of course some of the content, specifically meaning the DME announcement)

    I have to say I'm surprised today's update was the first note I saw regarding the DME here on MousePad (I expected a thread to pop up yesterday). As you mention, quite a lot of comments everywhere else. Reading them all on DPB, there was maybe only one or 2 of the 279 or so there when I last looked that were not highly upset with the elimination.

    I'll admit for me doing solo trips, it's not an issue, as I've always preferred driving around anyway. I've never been on the DME personally.

    But like many others, it will have impact for larger (not huge, but 6 people) family trips. Even though renting a mini-van was a fine option for getting us all around during our vacation, I could not have fit the luggage for all 6 people in the mini-van simultaneously for the trip from airport to WDW. So everyone else on the trip took the DME to the resort and I got the car and drove. Worked perfectly. We will now need to come up with a new plan for any such trips. (we had been starting to consider one in late 2019, luckily we had not arranged for summer 2020).

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