Walt Disney World Resort Update for August 31 to September 6, 2021

by Alan S. Dalinka, staff writer

Walt Disney World Resort Update for August 31 – September 6, 2021

 News, Commentary & Writer's Note

As you likely have heard by now, Walt Disney World Resort announced yesterdat that it will resume sales of new Annual Passes on September 8. It ceased selling new APs back when the Resort temporarily shut down with the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic back in March 2020, but it has continued renewals of those sold before the shutdown. For those of us who are currently Annual Passholders, the only change of note until the expiration of your current pass is that Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Platinum Plus Annual Passholders will be able to hold more Disney Park Pass reservations at a time. That's right—like the Disneyland Resort, park reservations will continue to be required for all guests. Right now, unless staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel (or some of the select partners' hotels), Passholders can only hold three park reservations at a time. Starting September 8 and up to the date of the expiration of a pass, each Passholder may hold up to the following maximum park reservations by category:

  • Platinum Plus, Platinum, Gold: 5
  • Silver: 4
  • All other categories: 3

Existing Passholders can also keep an eye on their mailbox for the new-style Annual Passholder magnet (limit 2 per household). Image courtesy Disney Parks.

Park hopping remains available after 2 p.m. daily without a hopping reservation. Disney notes that it reserves the right to implement park hopper reservation requirements in the future as well, as it is included in all of the new tiers.

For those looking to buy a new annual pass (or to renew a pass expiring on or after September 8), there are now four newly named AP categories, each with different benefits and blockouts than the existing passes. Indeed, as you might expect from Disney, there are reduced benefits at higher prices in each of the new pass categories. Unlike Disneyland Resort in California where parking is comparatively scarce and parking benefits are only included for upper-tier "Magic Keys," (the newly named APs out there), all Walt Disney World AP categories will continue to include standard parking. All AP categories will also include some discounts (described as "up to 20%") on merchandise, dining, and other things, access to exclusive AP merchandise and such, access to V.I.Passholder Support, and access to "bonus reservations" that don't count against the Disney Park Pass theme park reservation limit of your AP category (but that has not yet been further explained).

As in the past, only Florida residents have a monthly payment option for any of the AP categories. Also, as in the past, if you are not a Florida resident or Disney Vacation Club member, only the most expensive AP category is available. Disney Vacation Club members may choose from either the top AP pass or tier below, the difference being that the second tier includes blockout dates around Thanksgiving in November and the last two weeks of December. Disney produced an infographic showing the prices and benefits for new AP sales effective September 8, which is embedded immediately below this paragraph, with my discussion following that. To make picking a date to visit and making or changing reservations easier, enhancements to the Disney Park Pass reservation system are being unveiled on September 8 as well, including a new integrated calendar that lets passholders quickly see blockout dates for each pass type, view available days and make, modify or cancel a reservation all in one place.

There are four newly named tiers of Annual Passes to select from starting September 8. Only Florida residents may select from any of the four tiers and opt to pay monthly; Disney Vacation Club members may select from either the no blockout dates highest tier or the tier that blocks dates around Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Infographic courtesy Disney Parks. Along with the new Annual Passholder program comes a new logo featuring Mickey Mouse looking more like he does in the modern Disney Channel shorts than the current logo with his head in the middle of a stylized "D" inspired by a classic Walt Disney World logo.

So, if you read through the infographic, you may have noticed that none of the new AP tiers includes PhotoPass downloads any longer. Likewise, none of the AP tiers includes Water Parks and Sports (like the former Platinum Plus AP did). Both are available as add-ons. And, while there are are Florida and DVC Member tiers available, there are no Florida resident or DVC Member pass discounts published.

"Water Parks and Sports" and PhotoPass Downloads add-on options are available. Screenshot of DisneyWorld.com with prices effective September 8, 2021.

There are renewal discounts available for each category. Presumably, as in the past, the renewal discount applies whether Passholders are upgrading or downgrading between categories so long as they renew within their renewal window, which typically extends 30 days beyond the expiration of the pass (but requires that the renewal be effective with the prior expiration, as opposed to the new purchase date). I'll investigate whether this remains true and will report on it in the future. Also, there is no mention as to the status of the old "Epcot After 4" pass, and it seems pretty clear that the "Theme Park Select" pass introduced in recent years that provided access on more dates throughout the year but was not necessarily valid at all four parks on the same days has been discontinued.

There are renewal discounts for existing Passholders, though the renewal benefits will change to the new Pass type upon renewal. Screenshot of DisneyWorld.com with prices effective September 8, 2021.

Since I happen to have my 2021 renewal receipt handy, it's easy to use my AP as an example to compare current pricing to the new tiers. As a DVC member/Florida resident, I have a Platinum Pass, which for which I paid the renewal price of $764 back in April for a June effective date (plus $49.66 tax). This provides for theme park parking and admission on all regularly operating days at all four theme parks with no blockout dates (but subject to a limit of 3 simultaneous Park Pass reservations plus any additional that correspond to hotel reservations). My Platinum Pass includes unlimited PhotoPass downloads, park hopping (subject to the 2 p.m. start time following a visit to a park for which I have a Park Pass reservation), and whatever discounts and merchandise opportunities are afforded Passholders (plus a bunch of AP magnets). I never checked whether my recent renewal included a complimentary MagicBand, as I already have plenty!

Looking at the new tiers from a blockout perspective, my current pass is most akin to the new Disney Incredi-Pass. It's the only AP tier with no blockout dates. Assuming the published prices remain in effect at my renewal window (which I can hardly assume), my "renewal" price would be $1104 (plus tax) plus an additional $99 (plus tax) if I add the PhotoPass option but less the "renewal" discount which I have not spotted yet. That's an increase of about 57% for my AP to match the blockout calendar with PhotoPass benefits. It allows 5 simultaneous reservations.

If I go with the next tier down and drop the PhotoPass option, the new Disney Sorcerer Pass actually represents no price increase over 2021, but does require accepting 18 blocked dates around Thanksgiving (Wednesday through Saturday) and the last 14 days of the year. I have visited the parks on these blockout dates quite a few times over the seven years I have lived in Central Florida, and since 2002, I have visited December 30 and 31 every year except 2021 and 2012. This pass type also allows 5 simultaneous reservations.

I never considered the more blocked out options available to Florida residents. The new Disney Pirate Pass blocks out 72 dates through next September for its discounted renewal price of $594 plus tax, and allows 4 simultaneous reservations. The new Disney Pixie Dust Pass blocks out every weekend, several Mondays and Fridays, plus a number of popular vacation-period weekdays including Thanksgiving and the end of the year for its further discounted renewal price of $339 plus tax, and allows 3 simultaneous reservations. Of course, for those considering these options, Disney usually makes 3- and 4-day Florida resident ticket offers at attractive rates over the course of the year that may allow visits on days otherwise blocked out, but those offers do not include parking or the other "perks," so it gets complicated.

Personally, with more than 7 months until I have to decide, I am not sure what I'll choose. I plan to continue to be a Passholder and will pick between the Incredi-Pass and Sorcerer Pass. I likely will drop PhotoPass because, before it was added to my Annual Pass, I only rarely purchased on-ride photos, and then, only in the years before I moved to the neighborhood. What each guest chooses will need to vary with the type of experience they wish to have and the year of visits they decided their budget will allow. Be aware, as you might expect, Disney reserves the right to suspend the sales of new APs again in the future at anytime.

Immediately before the temporary closure of the parks last March (immediately after the opening of Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway), I had observed that the biggest challenge Walt Disney World was facing going forward was managing crowds. In recent years, prices have gone up, and the crowds have too. Predictably, on social media in the hours following the new AP tier announcements, the usual comments followed the usual script—lots of folks saying they are outraged and priced out. Past outcries may have changed some of the "who is in the park" (and when) but seemingly not the total numbers of guests in the parks.

Basic economics teaches that if you raise prices and sales don't decrease, you haven't raised the price enough as a business owner to maximize profits. Disney tradition is that Walt Disney wanted a place where families could go and have fun together. The balance the company draws between making parks magical places and getting the best profit it can remains its greatest challenge. Are overcrowded parks at a bargain price more magical than parks priced so that only the "rich" can afford to go? 

My personal disappointment is that Disney's current approach to pricing is to be an industry follower rather than an industry leader. No, I don't mean that in terms of the dollars charged, as we all know there's a "Disney premium" at least in the eyes of the public. What I mean is that pricing according to the unbundling of the components of a trip have become the norm, from airlines (charging for food, seat assignments, luggage, boarding position), to hotels (charging for cancellation, perks, parking, mandatory resort fees for amenities, early check-in, late check-out), and so on. Not long before the global pandemic, at Walt Disney World we saw the beginning of the current wave of Disney's pricing unbundling when the hotels started charging for daily self-parking. It began even before that out at Disneyland with the introduction of MaxPass (which, as it turned out, was fairly popular, and, so much so that it's now part of the template for the Disney Genie+ and Individual Attraction Selection options coming soon, which we wrote about last week).

As we approach the 50th anniversary, there are no more "free" Fastpass+ ride reservations, no more complimentary MagicBands, no nighttime extra magic hours for all resort guests (with some limited hours coming soon for Deluxe resort hotel guests), an extra magic half an hour in the mornings in the parks for resort guests, and, after the end of 2021, no more complimentary Disney Magical Express transportation to and from Orlando International Airport. Disney Genie+ will offer paid attraction reservations; MagicBands remain available for sale; Disney After Hours events at Magic Kingdom provide some additional park hours at a premium price; Mears (the operator of Disney Magical Express) will continue to offer paid transfer service between the airport and the resort, and so on.

As a Disney shareholder, Disney Vacation Club member, and fan that chooses to be a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder, my wish is that Disney would find some unique ways to package its theme park offerings, rather than just finding some unique Disney labels to apply to doing what the rest of the industry is doing. I am sure we will address this more in the coming weeks and months.

The Usual Writer's Note

As always, be sure to check the "experience updates" page of Walt Disney World for the latest information you need to know before you visit. We are still in a global pandemic, and Disney's policies remain in flux. With Annual Passes about to go on sale, I even more strongly believe it is unlikely the Resort will shutdown again in the near-term, but Disney may very well impose guest restrictions that are stricter than those imposed by the State of Florida. If emergency and hospital services become too scarce, I would expect Disney to curtail some activities, as Safety is its paramount operational Key.

Disney Parks continue to follow the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. At Walt Disney World Resort, everyone ages 2 and up are required to wear face coverings in all indoor locations. Outdoors, face coverings are optional in most locations for vaccinated guests (now, including outdoor queues and theaters); face coverings are required outdoors for unvaccinated guests. All guests continue to be required to wear face coverings on buses, monorails, and on Disney Skyliner. Walt Disney World Resort encourages guests to get vaccinated, and has mandated vaccination for new hires and existing cast members in most roles. With its most recent agreement with its unions, on-site employees must be fully vaccinated and provide proof by October 22.

Know before you go. Screenshot from My Disney Experience.

In case you missed the news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for full licensure. The vaccine, which is one of three approved for use in the U.S., is the first to receive full approval and will now be marketed as Comirnaty (koe-mir'-na-tee), for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.

I got vaccinated and the best available information is that it's the best protection against serious illness and death from COVID-19. If you haven't been vaccinated and are eligible to be, I recommended you discuss with a physician the risks to both yourself and those you come into contact with as the global pandemic continues to spread in your community and those places you visit.

As always, if you're heading this way (or live in the regions impacted by storms), please stay informed of the latest weather and tropical forecast too. Be prepared. Fortunately, no tropical systems headed toward Central Florida at the moment. My thoughts are with those impacted by Hurricane Ida and those in the path of its remnants, and hope you see a speedy recovery.

Next Monday is Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah, marking the Jewish New Year, starts at sundown. Have a good holiday and, for those that celebrate, Holy Days. Our publication schedule may be different than usual next week. 

This & That & Reminders…

…Disney-owned ABC News is teaming up with Disney Parks to present "The Most Magical Story on Earth: 50 Years of Walt Disney World," hosted by Disney Legend Whoopi Goldberg, airing on Friday, October 1, from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern on ABC-TV, and (thankfully, for those of us without an active DVR or Cable-TV subscription), the next-day on-demand and on Hulu, and later in the month on Disney+. The show will musical performances from Christina Aguilera and Halle Bailey in front of the legendary Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom accompanied by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, interviews with iconic actors, actresses, and athletes, Walt Disney World cast members, Disney Imagineers and executives past and present who have all been part of the Resort. Celebrities including Anthony Anderson, John Stamos, Marsai Martin, Gary Sinise, Melissa Joan Hart, and Candace Cameron Bure; NFL athletes Tom Brady, Phil Simms, and Doug Williams, and creative forces Kevin Feige, Pete Docter, and James Cameron; Walt Disney World Imagineers including Bob Weis, Mark Kohl, and Ann Morrow Johnson; and Disney executives past and present including Bob Chapek, Bob Iger, and Michael Eisner, are all scheduled to appear.

…With the installation of a new mural of Alberta Falls at the Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom, Disney announced last week that the enhancements to the attraction are now complete, with the new characters, scenes, and expanded story. Unfortunately, the handful of times I've been in the park lately, I have not ridden (largely because of 45 or greater standby times posted). If you have had a chance to experience the enhancements, share your thoughts!

…When the expanded France pavilion opens to guests on October 1, the new La Crêperie de Paris will open as well with both table- and quick service restaurant options. (All dining will be first come, first served, with no reservations accepted for now.) This week, Disney Parks Blog shared the menu inspired by the Brittany region of France, featuring savory galettes and sweet dessert crêpes, as well as Brittany's hard ciders. A few cast member friends have told me that they enjoyed what they have sampled during previews so far, and I expect to be able to report on a preview soon too.

…Also debuting on October 1, "Disney KiteTales" will take to the skies at the Discovery River Theater at Disney's Animal Kingdom several times daily. "Original, world beat arrangements of favorite Disney tunes fill the air," ahead of the launch of kites over the lagoon via watercraft according to Disney Parks Blog and the new behind-the-scenes video it released showing the team testing some of the up to 30 foot-long kites. The three-dimensional kites in the show depict characters from Disney and Pixar animated films including The Little Mermaid, a bug's life, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, and The Jungle Book.

…Speaking of food, Disney Parks Blog also shared its "Best Bites" for Halloween around Walt Disney World Resort.

…And, using food as an enrichment activity, the animal care team made the reveal of the name of the newest lowland gorilla born at Disney's Animal Kingdom a problem-solving treat for the gorilla family group. The baby girl gorilla was born last month and guests have been able to spot her in the habitat along Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, especially right next to the glass viewing area.

…Steven Miller continued his series on Walt Disney World Memories on Disney Parks Blog by sharing the story of The Preview Center which operated from January 1970 until September 30, 1971, the day before the Resort officially opened.

…Beyond Walt Disney World Resort, Travel + Leisure reports that Disney Cruise Line now requires all guests ages 12 and over to be fully vaccinated, including from ports in Florida. The requirement follows an emergency COVID-19 declaration by the Bahamas that cruise ships may not entering any Bahamas port, including the cruise lines' private islands (like Disney's Castaway Cay), unless eligible passengers are fully vaccinated. This Bahamian declaration does not apply to passengers 11 and under who don't have a vaccine option or to passengers with proof of a medical reason they cannot get a vaccine (but who are required to provide multiple negative COVID tests).

…Disney Cruise Line also revealed that Disney's first "attraction at sea," the AquaMouse will debut with different adventures guests can experience aboard Disney Wish when the ship starts sailing next summer.

…REMINDER: The Replugged Great Irish Hooley 2021 Music Festival Runs September 3–6 at Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant in Disney Springs. The long Labor Day weekend marks the return of the intimate music experience featuring top Irish bands after the pandemic caused its cancellation last year. "Hooley" is a Gaelic term for a lively party with music, entertainment and fun for the whole family. The Re-plugged Great Irish Hooley will include Hooley-crafted cocktails plus creative new bites by the pub's inventive culinary team. The pub also will feature a new local craft beer and will serve the delicious Rollicking Raglan Brunch Saturday through Monday, September 4-6 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; the regular menu will be available for the Hooley from 3-10:30 p.m. There's no cover charge to join the Hooley fun, which begins at 4 p.m. Friday, September 3 and continues into the wee hours of Labor Day, September 6. Reservations are recommended. Visit RaglanRoad.com or call (407) 938-0300.

Replugged Hooley 2021
Image courtesy Raglan Road.

…REMINDER: The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic returns Friday, October 29 and Saturday, October 30, offering an outdoor festival featuring unlimited food tastings from the resorts' culinary team, and wine, beer and other sips from around the world. Overnight packages and event-only tickets are now available at FoodAndWineClassic.com. Overnight packages start at $580; event-only ticket options are $165 per person (including tax and service fees). Reservations are also available in the resort's new tower, Walt Disney World Swan Reserve.

…REMINDER: Give Kids The World Village announced a return of its highly popular "Night of a Million Lights Holiday Lights Spectacular" for its second annual showing, November 12, 2021 through January 2, 2022. Tickets are already available at www.gktw.org/lights for timed entry for the 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. nightly opportunity to visit the 89-acre nonprofit resort with a sparkling tree trail, larger-than-life holiday displays, one-of-a-kind step-in frames and backdrops, as well as a guided storytelling tour of 100 lit villas from the comfort of a tram. Enhancements this year will also include a 360-degree dancing lights show encompassing 21 buildings set to music with six three-minute holiday vignettes playing each hour, a holiday marketplace with upgraded food and beverage experiences, holiday merchandise, and an opportunity for children to meet Santa in an elaborately designed Florida home. VIP packages are available, as are discounts for groups of 25 or more. Proceeds support Give Kids the World Village (located at 210 South Bass Road in Kissimmee, Florida), which provides critically ill children and their families with weeklong wish vacations at no cost.

…REMINDER: Give Kids The World Village is also the beneficiary of 2021 DIS Family Reunion, a one-of-a-kind expo celebrating all facets of the wonderful world of Disney—from Disney, Marvel and Pixar animation to film, television, theme parks, music and memorabilia. Tickets are still available for the September 9-10, 2021 event at Disney's Contemporary Resort on this page of GKTW.org, as well as the special AFTER HOURS exclusive time in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios on September 11. Some of the panelists scheduled include: Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Vahle, Give Kids The World President & CEO Pamela Landwirth, Celebrity chef Art Smith, Attractions Actor Panel (with Ron Schneider, David Danipour, Kat Cressida and more), Tom Nabbe, Bill Hoelscher and Bill Sullivan, Actress Linda Larkin, John Morris, Lee Cockerell and Dan Cockerell, Pat Sajak, and more!

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Resort Reservations, 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.

The Summer offers all wind down during September, with the Florida Residents hotel rates ending this week, on September 4.

Keep an eye out for Fall/Winter offers which could be announced any day (but, no, we have no insider information as to when or what offers may be coming).

Summer Florida Resident ticket options available through September 17 allow Florida residents to visit the parks for $54/day (plus tax) with the $215 (plus tax) 4-day Florida Resident Summer Fun Ticket. The ticket is one park per day and Florida proof of residency is required. Specially priced two and three-day Florida Resident Summer Fun Tickets are also available. All tickets can be used either on consecutive or non-consecutive days. Add-ons, like Park Hopper are also available. Park reservations are also required to visit a park in addition to a valid ticket.

Florida Residents hotel rates for bookings through September 4, 2021, are available on this page of DisneyWorld.com.

For everyone, Walt Disney World Resort Summer Room Offer for Select Disney Resort hotels provides savings up to 25% on rooms for stays most nights through September 29, 2021.

Our travel partner Get Away Today is available to help you book rooms and packages, and include its complimentary Concierge Services. More details are here. 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, they will leave everything as is, and keep their eyes peeled for future promotions that could save guests more.

You can get a vacation quote from Get Away Today here. (Responses provided in 1 to 3 business days.) You can also call 855-GET-AWAY during regular business hours (Monday to Friday 9 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. MT) and tell them MousePlanet sent you!

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

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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.