Walt Disney World resort availability is extremely limited for this Christmas season all the way through Easter 2022, prompting reader questions and concerns. This post addresses what’s going on with the sold out hotels, lack of discounts, and commentary about what you can expect later next year. (Updated December 11, 2021.)
Note that this is essentially an update on “What’s Up With Sold Out Hotels at Walt Disney World?” We published that back on May 27, when limited resort inventory was already an issue. A lot has changed since then, but the underlying problem persists–and likely will through May 2022. This post started as an update to that, but the reasons for sold out resorts have changed, so it became a new post.
On top of that, we now have an update to the update, as Walt Disney World has since provided confirmation of our theory in this post. If you’ve already previously read this, scroll down to the “December 11, 2022 Update” heading for the latest on what’s up with resort availability for the remainder of the year…
The biggest change since our last report on limited hotel availability is that a lot of previously-closed resorts have reopened. The only hotel that’s still closed at this point is All Star Sports. Notably, Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter, plus All Star Music and Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House all reopened since we addressed this topic in May.
Combined, the two Port Orleans Resorts have over 3,000 rooms, which would make it the largest resort at Walt Disney World. All Stars Music is a similar size, with over 1,600 rooms. Not to be forgotten is the hotel side of Animal Kingdom Lodge, which has nearly 1,000 rooms.
By virtue of those reopenings alone–not to mention other room categories and more returning–there are over 5,600 rooms back in commission. In theory, that’s over 10% of Walt Disney World’s total room inventory that’s now available for booking but was not in May.
Despite this inventory spike over the summer, many Walt Disney World hotels are sold out for a range of dates in the next 6 months. The simplest and most straightforward explanation for sold out resorts at Walt Disney World is demand. Since last summer, we’ve been warning ad nauseam of “Revenge Travel” at Walt Disney World. People postponed travel last year have made up for lost time–and have been making it rain.
In addition to this, there’s the World’s Most Magical Celebration. Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and the holiday season add a wrinkle to pent-up demand among WDW fans, many of whom postponed and rescheduled trips specifically to to visit close to the start of the celebration. A lot of longtime fans and families are planning years-in-the-making “homecoming” trips during the 50th Anniversary.
On top of that, there’s the Reopening of International Travel’s Impact on Walt Disney World Crowds. Diehard fans in the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Brazil, and elsewhere have been anxiously awaiting trips to Walt Disney World. Expect that to start in January and February 2022, with a significant spike in the number of foreign visitors to the parks.
There are also domestic guests who haven’t been able to book hotel reservations or score discounts for the first three months of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. Others might remember how attractive January and February were this year, and expect a repeat of that without considering why early 2022 will probably be different.
Plus, runDisney is back with races every month between now and April 2022. More significantly than that, conventions are returning, as are youth sporting events at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. Guests who postponed trips during Florida’s delta wave or due to face mask rules might’ve looked towards early 2022 when things would “calm down.”
In other words, pent-up travel demand isn’t over at Walt Disney World. There’s a fresh wave coming that could last through Easter 2022 or perhaps beyond.
One thing we’ve looked at in the past year to project demand and attendance has been Disney Park Pass reservation bookings. If we continued to go by that for early 2022, the expectation would be low crowds since every single day is green in 2022 except for January 1.
However, these Park Pass reservation calendars are now virtually worthless for gleaning anything about crowds. Park capacity is not limited to the same degree it was earlier this year and last, so the only days when reservations won’t be available going forward are 10/10 days. Outside of the holiday season, those are pretty rare. So this sea of green in January through April 2022 tells us absolutely nothing about crowds, attendance, or resort occupancy.
While Walt Disney World is not capping park attendance as before, it’s possible this is occurring at the resorts. If this is happening, it’s not a vestige of physical distancing. (That might have caused Disney to underbook some hotels this spring and early summer due to excessive wait times for pools, transportation, food courts, and other amenities. All of those are non-issues at this point.)
One issue that does persist–at least for some key resort roles–is staffing.
As we’ve mentioned recently, Walt Disney World has turned a corner on its staffing shortages. The College Program’s accelerated resumption and Walt Disney World’s aggressive hiring blitz are now paying off. Tons of new employees have gone through Traditions training and been assigned to locations around Walt Disney World in the last few months.
These new Cast Members have been working for a few months, and now have the knowledge, skills, and comfort level necessary to make an impact. As these fresh faces have learned on the job, Walt Disney World no longer feels short-staffed in the parks or most restaurants. In short, things have improved.
However, this is not true across the board. Walt Disney World continues to hold job fairs, and is offering hiring bonuses and higher pay for certain roles. In particular, Walt Disney World has had ongoing and significant shortages for housekeeping and bus drivers.
To remedy the bus driver shortage, Walt Disney World has contracted with a third party coach bus company (hence all of the Academy buses around the complex for the last several months). In an attempt to attract more housekeepers, Walt Disney World is offering $1,500 hiring bonuses for those openings and $1,000 referral bonuses for current Cast Members.
Both of these staffing woes would directly impact operations, occupancy, and the guest loads that resorts can accommodate. In particular, Disney can’t fill every resort room every night if there aren’t enough housekeepers to turn them all over by check-in time.
That’s not to say this is happening–or that it’s occurring across the board–but it’s a possibility. It’s possible that we’re wrong and some or all hotels at Walt Disney World are booking to full capacity. Demand could be so strong that hotels are simply selling out all of their rooms, with no deeper explanation. We haven’t heard any credible rumors of occupancy rates–only rumblings of room inventory being held back.
December 11, 2021 Update
In a positive development, Walt Disney World has lifted its “ban” on 1-night stays, which was in place for most of October through early December. This unofficial restriction applied to online reservations and those booked over the phone for room-only hotel reservations.
It does not apply to Disney Vacation Club bookings, nor does it apply to vacation packages such as those including theme park tickets may still be reserved for a single night. We’ve confirmed this with Cast Members via phone at reservation centers, and ourselves online. Take a look at the difference in availability.
Here was our attempt to book a single night earlier in December:
As you can see, there’s absolutely nothing available for a one-night stay.
By contrast, we had no issues when expanding our search parameters to two nights:
Magically, a ton of resorts now have openings, albeit at some pretty exorbitant price points. It should go without saying, but there’s no logical reason why more options would be available when expanding the search to additional nights–it must be a restriction.
Note that this policy is not reflected anywhere on DisneyWorld.com. Normally, when there’s a minimum length-of-stay required (usually to take advantage of a certain discount), it’s expressly stated in terms and conditions. This is more an impediment to booking than it is a hard and fast rule.
In any case, the restriction has now been lifted. Hopefully that’s a sign that Walt Disney World has been able to hire more housekeepers and other staff, making it easier to turn over rooms after only 1-night stays. Here’s our attempt to book a 1-night stay this week:
Another thing that lends credence to the issues Walt Disney World is having hiring housekeepers and other key Cast Members is the indefinite delay of All Star Sports’ reopening. Officially, Walt Disney World is postponing this hotel’s return to “take the opportunity to refresh the Sports theme area.”
It’s true that All Star Sports is getting the same new rooms that have debuted at All Star Movies and Music before it. However, that has been the plan for years. And by various accounts, this has occurred during the closure.
We cannot independently confirm that the All Star Sports room update has or has not happened. Only that it stands to reason that Walt Disney World would’ve either finished the project or paused it if all hotels truly were sold out and no other problems existed. Disney would not leave money that on the table, knowing it could easily fill up All Star Sports if this were simply a matter of supply and demand.
Strong bookings are nothing new, and it’s hardly unprecedented for Disney to pause hotel projects in order to fill more hotel rooms (they did exactly that with the All Star renovations project back in 2019). What has potentially changed that would explain the closure’s extension is demand trending downward and/or persistent staffing shortages precluding the hotel’s return.
Discounts also reflect a lack of availability. The company has released Early 2022 Resort Discounts for Walt Disney World and there’s absolutely nothing for the general public through March 2022–only Floridians and Annual Passholders, and those are with a lot of restrictions, blockouts, and many dates are just flat-out unavailable. Keep in mind that Disney doesn’t offer discounts out of generosity–they do so to fill unsold rooms. A lack of deals means a lack of unsold rooms.
Similarly, the company has used Hotwire Hot Rates and Priceline Express Deals for Last Minute Walt Disney World Hotel Stays. This has allowed Disney to quietly fill resorts with semi-opaque discounts that are only accessible to savvy deal hunters rather than the general public. This is usually done when there are some unsold rooms, but not enough for a wider promotion release. Right now, there are virtually no semi-opaque deals for early 2022.
When trying to assess “real” demand levels, it’s also worth point out that the lack of availability often does not extend to third party resorts to nearly the same degree. Sure, there are the dates when the price of the Swan & Dolphin or Four Seasons randomly skyrockets to absurd territory, but that’s not all that abnormal.
There are plenty of dates when there’s no availability at Disney-owned hotels but there’s no shortage of reasonably priced third party alternatives.
Suffice to say, if Walt Disney World doesn’t have hotel availability or the rack rates you’re seeing are too pricey or beyond your comfort zone, consider booking a refundable rate at third party properties.
We’re seeing availability at the Swan & Dolphin, Bonnet Creek, Disney Springs, Grand Cypress, Universal, and Flamingo Crossing hotels. If you haven’t had Flamingo Crossings on your radar before, it might be worth considering. Several hotels have opened in the last year, including Target, Walgreens, and multiple other retail, dining, and grocery locations.
Ultimately, this post raises a lot of questions but doesn’t offer many answers. Are the “fully booked” hotels 100% sold out of rooms or are they capped at some lower level? We don’t know. Will Walt Disney World release more room inventory if staffing improves? We don’t know. Are the sold out hotels a harbinger of crazy-crowded parks for early 2022 or are raw numbers lower? We don’t know. What’s up with Disney Park Pass reservations and off-site hotels? We don’t know.
Basically, we have a bunch of speculation and suspicions with varying degrees of credibility. Some of this will end up being partially accurate, some will not. It’s probably safe to say that some amount of room inventory is being and will be held back for some reason. Moreover, that in-park crowds and wait times will be high–but not fully reflective of what you’d experience with all on-site hotels actually being sold out. However, we’ve noticed a recent tendency among readers to (sometimes significantly) overestimate crowd levels, so perhaps it’s better if you go into January through March 2022 expecting worst-ever crowds and end up being pleasantly surprised if your perception is anything lower than that.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think is driving the availability issue at Walt Disney World? Do you suspect Walt Disney World is holding back rooms, or booking every resort to 100% and that’s just how high demand is right now? Think the housekeeping or other staffing shortages help explain the problem? How do you expect the hotel inventory problem to play out? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!