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2021 Disney World Refurbishment Calendar

This Walt Disney World refurbishment calendar lists the schedule of ride closures for 2021 at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Attractions need to close for routine maintenance, safety upgrades, improvements, and reimaginings. (Updated January 9, 2021.)

While no one wants attraction downtime during their trip to Walt Disney World, refurbishments are necessary to keep the parks and rides looking good (and safe!) for future visitors. Usually, there are only a handful of simultaneous closed rides, plus new attractions being built. Note that the list below includes several refurbishments that have either been scheduled last-minute, extended, or are longer than normal.

Following the reopening of Walt Disney World, we’re breaking this down into two separate lists–attractions that are currently closed due to health safety, demand, and other non-maintenance related reasons and those that are being actively refurbished or improved. There are a lot of new attractions on the former list, with fewer on the latter…

One big ongoing refurbishment is that of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, which has not operated since before the parks closed. This was simply “unscheduled downtime” at first, but that stretched for months. Finally, Walt Disney World formally added the TTA PeopleMover to the refurbishment calendar.

At present, the PeopleMover refurbishment is scheduled to extend through at least January 31, 2021. However, the TTA PeopleMover is not necessarily coming back in February 2021 at all. Walt Disney World just has not yet posted the February 2021 calendar for the attraction.

The good news is that maintenance teams have been actively working on the track in recent weeks, conducting push tests on the ride vehicles as sections of motors are replaced. Additionally, Walt Disney World has filed construction permits for the attraction, meaning more progress is in the pipeline.

Nevertheless, the scope of work and reopening date are both unclear. It’s entirely possible Walt Disney World will also refresh show scenes and spruce up the attraction ahead of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, and the PeopleMover won’t reopen until Fall 2021. Or it could open this winter or spring. It’s really anyone’s guess at this point. We’re just thankful that Florida’s PeopleMover won’t permanently close like California’s.

Speaking of permanent closures, Walt Disney World has announced that Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom will end on January 24, 2021. The interactive card game has a cult following among Walt Disney World fans, but is being retired due to changes in how guests use mobile technology and decreased demand, per Disney.

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom debuted almost 9 years ago during the heart of Walt Disney World’s NextGen initiative, which was to include a variety of interactive queues and other “gamification” to the park experience. Less than half of what was planned ended up coming to fruition, and the vast majority of what did has since been abandoned by Disney.

Thousands of words could be written about these interactive elements and why they failed. (It’s a topic touched upon repeatedly here over the years.) The biggest and most charitable reason was that they were “ahead of their time.” Disney leaned into technology, but built it into the parks rather than smart phones. More recently, Walt Disney World has rolled out the Play Disney Parks app to replace most of these interactive elements (although there’s no evidence that app is any more popular).

Honestly, we weren’t fans of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. We played it a few times but not at all in the last 5 years. Nevertheless, we like the idea of this kind of interactivity and tactile games that utilize physical spaces in the parks and don’t require having your face buried in a phone. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom didn’t do anything for us, but that’s okay–not everything does.

We’re hopeful that Walt Disney World doesn’t abandon this type of experience entirely, as it appeals to many guests. Disney has tested in-park role playing games with varying degrees of success (most recently in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge) and we hope that continues–there’s a lot of potential for the concept. Plus, things like this are better than phone-centric games, which you could play literally anywhere.

Next, Liberty Square Riverboat and Tom Sawyer Island at Magic Kingdom are now closed.

An extensive downtime is now underway and will last until at least February 2021. The Rivers of America is now fully drained, which also happened two years ago for several months.

Additionally, we finally have an official reopening date for Blizzard Beach: March 7, 2021.

Beyond that, there are a variety of other changes resulting from Massive Entertainment Layoffs at Walt Disney World. Due to the termination of 720 performers, show shows and atmospheric acts that were previously on temporary hiatus now likely will not return until Spring 2021 at the earliest. Many likely won’t even be back.

Then there’s EPCOT. The refurbishment list for this park is deceptive, as colossal changes have begun that aren’t fully reflected on the list below. There are already walls up around much of Future World, with two bypasses in place to the left and right of Spaceship Earth that lead guests past the center of the park.

In addition to scheduled attraction refurbs, unscheduled downtime can also occur during a visit. This usually only occurs for a few hours at a time, so if you find an attraction is closed during your vacation and it’s not listed below, it’s likely a temporary closure that will last (at most) for a few hours. Check with nearby Cast Members to confirm.

Below is a schedule of Walt Disney World refurbishments, when the closure starts, and when the refurbishment will conclude. The following day will be when the attraction is scheduled to reopen.

  • Animal Kingdom
    • Kali River Rapids – Reopens April 1, 2021
    • Primeval Whirl – Permanently Closed
    • Rivers of Light – Permanently Ended
  • Magic Kingdom
    • Liberty Square Riverboat – Closed until at least February 2021
    • Stitch’s Great Escape – Permanently Closed
    • Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom – Permanently Ending on January 24, 2021
    • Tom Sawyer Island – Until at least February 2021
    • Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover – Until at least January 31, 2021
    • Walt Disney World Railroad – Reopening TBD (Likely 2022)
  •  EPCOT
    • Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure – Permanently Ended
    • IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth – Permanently Ended
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios
    • Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away (stage show) – Permanently Ended
  • Water Parks
    • Blizzard Beach – Reopening March 7, 2021
    • Typhoon Lagoon – Reopening TBD (Likely Summer 2021)

The attraction closures above are pretty straight-forward. To the extent that specific dates are not yet listed, those will be updated once Walt Disney World provides precise start and/or end dates.

However, there’s also a fairly long list of shows that are temporarily closed during Walt Disney World’s phased reopening:

  • Magic Kingdom – Happily Ever After, Festival of Fantasy Parade, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Enchanted Tales with Belle
  • Animal Kingdom – Finding Nemo: The Musical, Festival of the Lion King
  • Epcot – Epcot Forever, Turtle Talk with Crush
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Jedi Training Academy: Trials of the Temple, Star Wars Launch Bay, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Fantasmic, Star Wars: Galactic Spectacular

This list is likely a bit deceptive, as there’s also a lot of entertainment not being performed, plus restaurants and shops that are not open. It might be more useful to look at our Full List of Reopening Attractions & Entertainment at Walt Disney World

For resort work, please see our 2021-2022 Walt Disney World Hotel Construction & Refurbishments. If you are worried that any of resort hotel renovations will impact your stay, here’s a general rule to keep in mind: room refurbishments rarely impact hotel stays. These occur in specific clusters, and you’ll rarely notice the work being done.

Now, here’s a bit of my philosophy concerning refurbishments…

General Thoughts on Refurbishments

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When news comes out about any refurbishment, my immediate reaction is always, “this is great–it means they’re actually doing something to the attraction!” My mind races with the possibilities of how attractions could be improved or plussed by Walt Disney Imagineering. Even though we might miss it on our next Walt Disney World visit, I’m always excited.

In reading feedback from others, I’ve discovered this perspective puts me in the minority. Others online fume about this, and how it would alter or impact their vacation plans. The saying “vacation ruined” has attained near-meme status among some fans, and that felt apt for some of the complaints. I can understand the perspective. Assessing the scope of the refurbishment in advance, scheduling liberal refurbishment dates, and opening early (under-promising and over-delivering) is always preferable to the alternative.

I can also understand that there’s other pent-up frustration at play here, ranging from radio-silence on Rivers of Light to Walt Disney World’s tardiness in releasing park hours while expecting guests to plan 6 months in advance. Neither of these moves by Disney, among others, are defensible. At best, this communication is poor guest service. At worst, it’s demonstrative of a contemptible attitude towards guests.

However, I remain of the mindset that this refurbishment extension–and other current refurbishments–is potentially a good thing. Among the most vocal fans upset about the extension are those who are like me: guests who visit Walt Disney World at least every-other year. We are playing the ‘long’ fandom game. We can look back on the days of the infamous wand over Spaceship Earth and are also looking forward to Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.

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From my perspective, investing in the long-term quality of an attraction is far more important than the temporary satisfaction I’ll get out of riding it on my next visit. I get excited when thinking about ways rides could be plussed, improving the experience for years to come. This is why it always perplexes me when regulars contend that their vacation will be ruined because their favorite attraction will be closed.

If it’s your favorite attraction and you’re active in the Disney fan community, that means you’ve been to Walt Disney World before and probably will visit again. It would thus stand to reason that you would want something you love to get the TLC it deserves, and continue to improve.

DINOSAUR works as a good example here. This attraction used to be called Countdown to Extinction (“CTX”) before an ill-advised movie tie-in was added. During that era, DINOSAUR had a litany of additional effects, many of its AAs had greater functionality, and the attraction was, as a whole, more impressive.

If you are a long-term fan, would you rather experience DINOSAUR every single year with 66% of the effects working, or every single year minus one with 95% of the effects working? For me, the answer to that is easy. I’ll take a superior long term experience every time. (That this is even a legitimate question for long-time fans speaks to the ‘instant gratification’ nature of things today, but that’s well beyond the scope of this post.)

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Beyond that, there’s the much more compelling justification for regular refurbishments: they are essential for the safety of attractions. While we may think of these attractions as all fun and games that offer a safe sense of exhilaration, that’s when they are properly maintained.

It’s unpleasant to think about, but there have been several preventable deaths in the history of Disney’s parks. During a dark era of Disneyland history, improper maintenance was the cause of death on Big Thunder Mountain (thankfully, Paul Pressler’s reign of terror is over). Years of neglect at Disneyland Paris have led to incidents of injury that could be attributed to a lack of maintenance (again, this has been addressed).

This is not meant to scare anyone or provoke an emotional reaction; the fact is that Disney’s worldwide safety record is sterling as compared to other park operators. It’s still important to remember that these fun, ‘magical’ places also exist in the real world and use a lot of potentially dangerous elements if safety is not viewed as key. (Or, in Disney’s case, one of the Four Keys.)

When it comes to maintenance that is not essential to the safe operation of an attraction, we are left to contemplate what amount of show quality should be accepted. If following a strict Nunisian practitioner of the Four Keys, show is another paramount consideration, and it should always be 100%. This is nice corporate propaganda, but I think the practical reality is that 100% is an unworkably high threshold in many circumstances.

I think we have seen this play out with Expedition Everest. Fans joke about the “Disco Yeti” and lament the fact that this jaw-dropping Audio Animatronics figure has not worked in nearly a decade. There are numerous theories as to why the Yeti hasn’t been fixed; what each of these share is that there are large-scale problems and no quick fixes. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is true, it would require a lengthy refurbishment to fix the Yeti.

Publicly, Joe Rohde has already vowed to get the Yeti working. (And I do believe he means that he will single-handedly heal the Yeti by rappelling in and performing surgery on it with ancient Tibetan instruments #JoeRohdeFacts.) This says to me that Walt Disney World has not just forgotten about the Yeti.

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My bet would be that Expedition Everest will close for an extensive, 6+ month refurbishment at some point in the next 5 years. This would be Expedition Everest’s first major refurbishment since opening. I suspect Imagineering is aware of what’s necessary to fix the Yeti, but Disney has been reluctant to pull the trigger on an extensive refurbishment in a park with so few ride-based attractions.

In my estimation, this is a good example of balancing guest interests with show quality. The working Yeti is truly a magnificent sight to behold (and one most of you probably haven’t seen in A-mode unless you rode over a decade ago), but the attraction is still impressive with the Disco Yeti. Plus, Animal Kingdom does not have a strong enough supporting cast of attractions to carry the weight, so to speak, of an extended Expedition Everest closure.

As a staunch proponent of show quality, I have a difficult time accepting the same argument for any attraction in Magic Kingdom, a park with a veritable “mountain range” and diverse slate of other attractions. In fact, the same goes for every castle park. These parks have enough attractions to pick up the slack if 1-2 attractions have to be taken offline simultaneously without ruining any vacations.

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To give another example, I recall visiting Tokyo Disneyland last summer, and during the course of that visit, a key effect–bouncing–was not working on Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. I tweeted out my frustration about this, contending that the attraction should not be operating in that state.

A group of other U.S. theme park fans was visiting at the same time, and they responded that several people in their party had never been to Tokyo Disneyland before, were still blown away by Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, and they’d rather experience it in this state than not at all. A valid perspective, I will concede. Conversely, in a park like Tokyo Disneyland, you still have an incredibly satisfying full-day (plus) experience without Pooh’s Hunny Hunt.

Guests are understandably concerned when it appears an inordinate number of attractions are closing during their vacation. Walt Disney World vacations are not cheap and are often once in a lifetime experiences. First-timers certainly do not want to miss out on experiences about which they’ve read extensive hype.

However, the problem with a “not during my vacation” attitude like this is that it’s always going to be someone’s (or tens of thousands of someones) vacation. If attractions with show quality issues don’t close for refurbishments for fear of some guests during a time-limited window missing out, all guests in perpetuity are going to have a lesser experience.

Running an attraction with broken effects is only going to compound problems, and eventually a single broken effect will turn into myriad broken effects. Imagine this scenario park-wide, played out to its natural consequences. That’s not exactly what I’d call the “Disney Difference.” Which is sort of the situation we’ve now encountered with DINOSAUR…

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Again, DINOSAUR is a good example here. If it’s your first visit and you experience DINOSAUR with 66% of the effects working, you won’t know what you’re missing. Riding it will, no doubt, be superior to not riding it. However, I’m guessing your satisfaction rating of the attraction wouldn’t be nearly as high, and you might question why so many people love the attraction, and why Disney was lazy with so much empty, dark space. (Or, maybe you won’t: if you only ever eat dog food, you won’t know what you’re missing in a nice steak.)

The thing is, if Disney would not close DINOSAUR during your vacation so you don’t miss out on it, chances are that they would extend the same “courtesy” for other guests, and it would be standard operating procedure to never close anything during anyone’s vacation.

The end result of this would be a park full of “66% attractions” and first-timers would be left wondering why there was so much hype about Walt Disney World, in the first place. If you’re reading this as a lifelong fan, well…maybe you wouldn’t have become a lifelong fan if this were actually Disney’s modus operandi. (In fact, I’d argue that Walt Disney World is trending in this direction, dragging its feet on several necessary refurbishments, with the inaction being predicated upon short term guest satisfaction or cost-savings.)

This might sound like we’re applying ‘heavy’ Rawlsian theory to the lighthearted topic of theme parks, but philosophy isn’t worth a damn if it can’t be applied to theme parks. 😉

minnie-roy-sharing-magic-bench-low-angle

A lot of this might seem like an effort to absolve Disney of blame when it comes to refurbishments, but this is not the case. Disney has brought a lot of the guest unrest concerning refurbishments upon itself. The first issue is that Disney has numerous parks that have opened in the last two decades with incomplete slates of attractions, making it difficult to justify taking attractions offline for refurbishment. So step one, a wholly impractical step at this point, would be to open theme parks that are complete on day one.

Failing that, Disney could avoid a lot of the guest backlash concerning refurbishments if they would schedule more 3-4 day refurbishments of attractions to proactively address problems with preventative maintenance.

Although this would not totally negate the need for extended refurbishments, it would improve show quality across the board and help avoid a lot of situations where attractions have to abruptly close because they are in dire need of maintenance. Moreover, a 3-4 day refurbishment is shorter than the duration of most vacations, allowing tourists to effectively plan around the refurbishment.

In this case, both parties planning ahead would prevent those “vacation ruined!” complaints. Don’t worry, Disney, we fans are resilient: we’ll still find something else to complain about. 😉

Joking aside, I realize that’s a tough line to draw between an excusable refurbishment and a frustratingly irritating one. Even if you subscribe to the some degree of the ‘philosophy’ I’m advancing, there is no bright-line rule. It’s still going to amount to a value judgment about what should ‘trigger’ a need for refurbishment, how many attractions should be down simultaneously across Walt Disney World, and what times of year are ideal for which refurbishments. Need Disney trip planning tips and comprehensive advice? Make sure to read Disney Parks Vacation Planning Guides, where you can find comprehensive guides to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and beyond!

Your Thoughts…

Any questions about the current refurbishments at Walt Disney World? What do you think about refurbishments at the Disney Parks? Are you more concerned about an improved long-term experience, or do you think “not during my vacation!”? Where do you draw the line? Any other factors you think are worth considering? As mentioned, we think this is a conversation, so please share your ‘refurbishment philosophy’, or any other thoughts or questions you have, in the comments!

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