The Magical Return Part 3: Character Dining and Animal Kingdom

So one of yesterday’s mysteries has already been solved. I witnessed cast members refilling hand sanitizers in Animal Kingdom today and boy was I disappointed that they let me see behind the magic of that. Cmon man… keep the mystery alive! JK. At least they fill them up frequently. (It was just normal cast member with a normal jug of hand sanitizer refilling the ones in front of Kilimanjaro Safari).

But, back to the beginning of the day! AKA the best part of our little 3 day getaway! Topolinos character breakfast!!! So I’m a relative newbie to character dining, after a solid 20 year hiatus between being a kid and having a kid. We’ve taken our son to Disney on 2 trips prior to this and you can see in my trip reports that we are BIG fans of character dining because he is a toddler and basically lives for characters right now. I always say his experience eating with Mickey and Donald is basically the equivalent of me being invited to dinner with Derek Jeter and Justin Timberlake, so suffice it to say he is thrilled. I had grand plans to go to Chef Mickeys (our favorite) and Ohana (new to us, but he loves Lilo and Stitch lately) when I planned our little trip in March. Then the world crumbled of course, and when they announced WDW was reopening without character dining/meet and greets I felt like I was punched in the gut. However, they then announced they’d have one character dining experience when things reopened ! Topolinos ! I think it’s a ploy to get people to 1. Try a new restaurant they just opened and 2. Visit Riviera. Well it worked spectacularly on us because I signed on bright and early at 7am when dining opened up and made sure we got a breakfast reservation there. Boy am I glad i did. I know people are skeptical of the character dining price tag for non-traditional character dining, and I will say the interaction obviously isn’t anywhere near the quality of what it used to be, but still, you get to sit down, eat good food, and see Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy right by your table repeatedly during the course of your meal. Totally worth it for us (especially with our 2 year old eating for free still). They dance around and make sure to stop by each table (at a distance) to say hi. There is still some level of interaction (for example, Donald made it clear he was displeased we had Mickey and Pluto stuffed animals but no Donald).

Since we were staying at the Polynesian, we took the monorail to MK, then a bus to Riviera. When we got to MK at 8:30 they made an announcement on the monorail that the doors would not be opening because it was too early, but then they said they “got the go ahead” to let us off. I don’t know if this was a joke or what, because what happens if you had a breakfast reservation in MK for before the park opens ?? I thought that was super confusing. Anyway, they thankfully let us off and the Riviera bus was right there waiting so we hopped on and were at Riviera 10 minutes later. Super quick commute. Basically 20 minutes all in from Poly to Riviera, which got us to breakfast quite early for our 9:25 reservation, because we planned on it taking 45 minutes to an hour to get there with transportation delays and whatnot. You are required to check in on the My Disney Experience app when you arrive, but you aren’t allowed to check in more than 15 minutes prior to your reservation time, so we had to wait a little bit. This gave us a chance to look around Riviera and watch the Skyliner running (empty… just testing before it opens back up) for a few minutes. We waited out on the terrace (Topolinos is on the 10th floor, so there is a beautiful view up there). Once we checked in on the app it said our table was ready less than a minute later.

This is not a buffet, and our two year old still ate for free and was able to order anything he wanted. I wasn’t sure how infants eating for free worked at non-buffets. The waiter encouraged us to get him a big platter of Mickey waffles with dipping sauces with eggs and bacon on the side, to take full advantage of the free-ness. In Disney my son normally isn’t too interested in food because he is too excited to go see and ride everything, but he LOVED the Mickey waffles and dipping sauces. He even ate all the eggs. So this place was a major win. We liked the basket of pastries they brought out at the beginning too. All in, after our discount and taxes/tip, breakfast for two adults (in case I didn’t mention – my mom is on this trip with me and my son…DF is at home…he still exists…he just couldn’t get off from work) and a thrilled kiddo was $95, which seems steep, but by Disney standards it is pretty decent for all those characters, great food, great service, and a BEAUTIFUL view at a beautiful resort.

Just a disclaimer, I have no vested interest in Riviera. I am actual a bit cynical about the resort and am not a supporter of people rushing to buy DVC points there without researching all available options first. I also am super disappointed in the appearance of the exterior of the resort (gray…why?!?). So this is a very honestly enthusiastic review of the breakfast, from an unbiased party.

Assuming the character interaction in the future will be in line with character interactions at places like Cape May Cafe and Chef Mickey’s during normal times, Topolinos will be a must-do every trip for us. It is a no brainer also because we stay at the Boardwalk or Beach Club typically and we are Skyliner obsessed, so it will be a quick 10 minute ride over to Riviera in the morning from the back entrance of Epcot. Can’t get any easier, or more fun, than that. I’m so excited to add another favorite Mickey breakfast to our repertoire.

After breakfast, we took a bus from Riviera to Animal Kingdom. Again the bus was conveniently right there waiting for us, so we had a lucky morning with regards to transportation. FYI, the bus seats are labeled with numbers so that the drivers can easily assign parties to sit in certain seats. There are also dividers between certain seats and certain seats labelled as meant to be left empty. A bus driver also told us that they are required to “air out” the bus for 4 minutes each time they arrive at the park to pick people up. So they let everyone off at the park, open the doors, and sit there for 4 minutes before they let anyone get on.

Bus seats labeled with dividers

No issues getting into Animal Kingdom. No wait at the temperature screening or security check. Everything was super smooth and fast moving. We arrived around 10:15 for frame of reference. At that point, the app said 5-10 minute wait times for just about everything (including FOP, Everest, Dinosaur, etc), except Navi River was unexpectedly closed temporarily and the Safari said 25 minutes. We went to the Safari anyway because I didn’t want to get stuck on there right at mid day in the 100 degree weather. Thankfully, the “25 minute wait” was really under 5 minutes, so I think they are still fine tuning their process of estimating wait times with the new lines and the spacing and their inability to hand guests those line timer cards and everything. Everyone properly kept 6 feet apart in the line, because there are markers on the ground showing you where to stand for the whole length of the queue. They also installed plastic dividers between the rows on the Safari vehicle to keep parties separated. It was a really good Safari ride. No delays. The last time we went in November it felt like we were in a traffic jam of Safari vehicles the whole ride, but not this time. The vehicles were very spaced out and we were constantly moving.

Plastic dividers on Kilimanjaro Safari

Next we took the train to Conservation Station. They assigned each party a place to sit on the train for distancing purposes. When we arrived at Conservation Station we were informed that the petting zoo was closed, so we just turned around and went back. No big loss there, because our son just loves riding the train, but they probably should inform people before they get on the train just in case.

Otherwise it was a pretty uneventful day…. ungodly hot. I swear Animal Kingdom is like a different planet when it comes to heat. It was so cool seeing no lines for FOP and Everest. I wish I was a Childless Millennial in the park that day because I would have absolutely cleaned up on those rides. They did ultimately open Navi River by the way, so it must have just had technical difficulties in the morning. I couldn’t talk my kiddo into going on Kali Rapids with me even though he is tall enough now. I knew that would be a hard sell, but I was optimistic. Oh well, we rode the “Dumbo Dinosaurs” as he calls them. Dinoland USA was absolutely deserted. We saw Mickey and friends dancing around on a boat going by under the bridge by Everest when we were walking by. We also saw Rafiki and Timon in the same area later.

My humble opinion based on my very limited experience was that the masks were being (very) slightly less enforced at AK because everyone was sweating to death and constantly drinking and therefore temporarily removing their masks. My son took his mask off and refused to put it back on for most of the time after the Safari and no one commented the entire time, including the cast members in yellow shirts that I believe are specifically designated as the “Incredicrew” or whatever. Granted my son was in a stroller and periodically sipping from his cup, I really think it was more related to the extreme heat and their understanding that he was just going to literally suffocate in a mask at that point. We (adults) managed to keep ours on the entire time though. Sweaty, but we managed!

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