August Trip Report – Day 4 – The Redemption of Hollywood Studios (and travel home)

August Trip Report – Day 4 – The Redemption of Hollywood Studios (and travel home)

Nothing is sadder than waking up on the last day of a Disney trip (ok, plenty of things are sadder… especially this year… but you know what I mean). I was pretty anxious about this check out day given how much Copper was relying on his long afternoon naps in the room every day. I opted for a later flight than I’ve previously ever taken with him also, because the only options on United were 11am or 6:45pm (flights are so limited right now… so cheap, but so limited). I called the front desk to ask about a late checkout, knowing it would be in vain. I’ve never heard of anyone getting a late checkout ever at a DVC resort, plus I heard they aren’t even honoring late checkouts at the regular resorts now, to allow for extra cleaning time. I figured I’d try explaining that we felt safest in the room in order to avoid Covid exposure and yada yada, but still no luck. I gave it a solid effort, lol. Worth a shot.

We woke up early, as usual, and played in the room/packed up for a bit before getting ready for another Topolinos reservation (I wasn’t lying when I said we love it). This time we had a 9:10 reservation, figuring we’d go before checking out of our hotel and heading to the park for the day. I do always like to do character dining on our last day, just like the first day, to end on a very Disney-esque note. I would have picked an earlier reservation, but I was worried about how to get to Riviera in the morning before the Skyliner would be running. The Skyliner signs said that the hours were : Epcot line 10:30am – 10pm, Hollywood Studios line 9am – 9pm. Based on this, I figured the earliest we could get to Riviera without taking an Uber would be after 9am, hence our reservation time.

So we got over to HS around 8:50, and saw all of the Skyliner lines running on our way, which puzzled me, but seemed promising. However, when we got to the end of our walkway from the Boardwalk, security guards weren’t allowing anyone any farther. We couldn’t get anywhere near the Skyliner. They said they don’t let people get closer to the entrance until 9am on days when the park opens at 10. There were a handful of people already waiting for the park to open, by the way (crazy people!). So at 9 we were allowed over to the Skyliner, and they let us on around 9:05. I had figured we would have to walk to Riviera from Caribbean Beach, which is about a ten minute walk, but if you saw my post about the Skyliner hours for breakfast reservations, you’ll know this wasn’t the case. The Epcot line actually starts running much, much earlier for people with breakfast reservations! So we were allowed on the Epcot line at Caribbean Beach after showing our Topolinos reservation information. Of course this meant we could have just walked to the back of Epcot and saved a huge amount of trouble in the morning, but … live and learn.

People waiting outside HS before 9am on a day when it opens at 10am 🤔
Line of cars waiting to enter HS as we rode the Skyliner to breakfast

I won’t repeat myself about another great Topolinos experience, since I’m a broken record at this point, but no changes there. They are 3 for 3 now.

This never gets old – look how great he’s eating !

When we left Riviera, we saw a family getting family photos on the lawn, and I was like wow I guess that really is a normal thing… and then I realized it was my would-be wedding photographer taking the photos (at some point I’ll provide a good recommendation for her on here, because she did end up doing amazing family photos for us since we had a non refundable wedding deposit lol). Small world. Just can’t escape that damn wedding, eh? If anyone needs a photographer, feel free to ask me for her info. She was so awesome with my kiddo and with handling our awkward vibes on our cancelled wedding day.

She’s good right ? Photo cred: Kimberly Mitchell (November 2019)

Not to be totally redundant with what I posted in my Skyliner breakfast reservation post… but when we left breakfast it was 10:15 and the Epcot line was still not officially open yet to take us back to the Boardwalk. We were in a bit of a rush since we needed to finish packing and leave the room by 11, so I didn’t want to go to HS and walk from there, so we stood in the line for the Epcot Skyliner. They opened it up shortly prior to 10:30. This was stupid of me though because I later found out we could have skipped the line and rode the Skyliner back to Epcot prior to the line officially opening by showing we had a Topolinos reservation and were staying at the Boardwalk. That is what the cast member at the Skyliner station told me. Hopefully someone can give that a try and report back to let me know how it goes.

We were back in our room around 10:45 and hustled to throw our remaining belongings into our various carry ons (we travelled with one carry on full of our clothes/belongings, a back pack as a personal item full of odds and ends that come in handy on the plane, a carry on suitcase for Copper that is literally just full of his toys, and then usually one toy as a personal item for him, and lastly the stroller).

Prior to dropping our bags at Bell Services, we stopped at the front desk to get a new Magical Express ticket printed, because I had called in the morning and moved back our pick up time by 30 minutes. For those who didn’t see my departure day post from our July trip… this is apparently an option that I never knew about! You can call the Magical Express when you get your departure notice and ask if you can get a later pick up time. Both times they told me they could move it back by 30 minutes. I’m not sure if this is a new development during covid times (when I called I specifically said we wanted to minimize time at the airport due to covid exposure concerns) or if this always was an option. If this always was an option, I feel pretty stupid because I historically have given fake flight information to get later Magical Express pick up times (they don’t verify that you are actually on the flight you provide information for, they just verify that it is a real flight). I typically give a flight time leaving 45 minutes to an hour after ours so that we get picked up later since I hate sitting around in the airport with a toddler when we could use that extra hour in Disney. I always get responses about how the airport or the bus could have delays … but I’ve been on some ridiculously long ME rides (90+ minutes… which is very atypical), and I’ve stood in some very long security lines, still just to sit at the gate waiting for our flight. We have TSA per check now, so that takes away one variable. If you aren’t inclined to get to the airport super early, I highly recommend the option of calling to push back your pick up by 30 minutes.

Then we dropped our bags at Bell Services and were on our way to Hollywood Studios with just a stroller full of Toy Story toys, some snacks, our popcorn bucket, and some spare shorts in case Copper’s excellent potty training skills were put to the test by all the sleep deprivation (spoiler alert: they were).

We got to HS somewhere between 11:30 and 12 and stuck around until 3:30ish. That was our longest uninterrupted stretch in a park all trip. We rode TSM right off the bat, since that was the main reason we chose HS as our park for the day. Well… actually I tried to stop and go to the Disney Junior Dance Party first, but Copper lost his mind because he thought I understood the primary objective of the day was TSM…. my bad. If you’re curious, the Dance Party has dots on the floor where families stay so as to maintain distancing…. but back to TSM: we walked right on yet again. At this point Copper was too cool to let me help him aim his shooter thingy, so he is lucky he can’t read the scores.

We then walked over and got some popcorn in the middle of the park near MMRR. While we were there, I asked some cast members about the character cavalcades, knowing they can’t give much information about a schedule since the whole point is to keep it somewhat unpredictable to avoid crowds. One very enthusiastic popcorn server told me that the pattern of cavalcades is always : Mickey and friends, Disney Junior, Mickey and friends, Disney Junior, Pixar Characters. She said the Pixar one is the biggest one, so it is the least frequent. Another cast member confirmed that Disney Junior had passed through ten minutes prior, so Pixar would probably be next. Based on this, we hung around the cavalcade route, which is from the front of the park to Star Tours (super limited, which is why we missed the characters the first day, since you won’t see any if you are in Toy Story Land, Star Wars Land, or down by the Tower of Terror). To our dismay, Mickey and his damn friends came out a couple minutes later !! Grrrr. Fine fine, we like Mickey, but he was not who we were there for!! So figuring that it appeared the cavalcades came every 10-15 minutes, and we would have to wait for 2 more, we went on a walk into Star Wars land, hung out by the muppets a little bit, and then came back after 20 minutes or so and, much to our delight, Toy Story music started playing!!! We got to see Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, Edna Mode, Sulley (no Mike, contrary to what someone had told me), Woody, Jessie, and Buzz!! They all were very interactive too. They either ran over or pointed at my son since he had the toys. Totally worth coming back for a second day and hovering around like idiots (to be fair, there isn’t a ton to do in HS with a 3 year old…. this was totally the peak). This was around 1:15ish by the way. The Mickey and friends cavalcade was just prior to 1, so if Disney Junior really came in between those two, they were running every ten minutes, which is in line with how frequently they run in Magic Kingdom. The key is just to be around that short little cavalcade route, which isn’t necessarily a place people hang out, since it isn’t near the popular rides. I’d suggest setting aside some time to eat some popcorn or a pretzel and hang out in that area in front of MMRR.

So now that the pressure to find the characters was off, we were free to do whatever silly little rides caught Copper’s eye. Therefore, we went on the Muppets (his first time). It hasn’t changed in the slightest for as long as I can remember. I know it periodically gets refurbished, but it seems identical to when I was a kid. He liked it, although he wouldn’t keep his glasses on. I warned him that there were fireworks at the end. The effects are so mediocre that he wasn’t scared at all though lol.

Next we went over to something new to both of us: Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy. As much as we love everything Pixar, the Cars franchise has been the lowest on the totem pole as far as my son’s obsessions go. He was absolutely mesmerized though and kept asking me “is that the real Lightning?” because it is one of those awesome interactive animated characters that looks super real. Now that we are back home, he is actually way more into Cars and won’t stop talking about how we saw “the real Lightning.” Totally cute little show. There was no wait when we went. Social distancing in place inside. Nice little break from the heat because it is an indoor show.

After that, we rode TSM again, said good bye to Slinky Dog, and I tried to convince him to ride MMRR again, to no avail. So then we grabbed a pretzel and headed for the Skyliner back to the Boardwalk. He still did not even doze off once in the stroller. Ridiculous. On our way out of the park, we saw the Pixar cavalcade again! This was around 3:15. Day 4 totally contradicted my perception of HS from Day 2: Frequent characters, as long as you were in the right area, and a handful of fun little attractions for a toddler.

Slinky saying bye to Slinky

We caught our 4:15 Magical Express out in front of the Boardwalk after taking the Skyliner back and grabbing a couple souvenirs for family members on the Boardwalk. Our original pick up time for our 6:45 flight was 3:45, but it was moved back to 4:15, as previously mentioned. They always say to be there 15 minutes early…. and our bus arrived about 5 minutes early for anyone keeping track. We stopped at one other resort before heading to the airport, meaning we were off the bus and walking through the airport by 5pm. That’s a pretty quick and painless 45 minute Magical Express ride. We weren’t assigned seats when we boarded this time, but we chose to sit a couple rows away from other groups.

Here is where this trip was definitely different from last trip. Orlando airport (MCO) actually felt pretty safe this time. It was completely empty. It seemed as though we were one of the latest domestic departures of the day, so there were no people in line at security or in the food court area at all. We have TSA pre check, but there was absolutely no line for the regular security checkpoint either. They had added markers to keep people six people apart while waiting in line. There were also hand sanitizers everywhere throughout the airport, similar to in Disney. They must have heard the feedback that everyone was saying MCO was the least safe-feeling part of their trip. It seemed like more food places were opened up as well, although they weren’t all open while we were there since it was later in the evening and things were closed for the day. We got our Wendy’s without waiting in a line this time though, and sat and ate at the gate. Everyone was wearing masks pretty well this time.

Our flight was almost completely full. There are currently only two flight options from MCO to Newark, so flights are full due to limited options, not due to more people traveling necessarily. We were able to check the seat map and grab one of the only rows with an empty middle seat at the last minute earlier in the day, so we still felt safe and comfortable. This was the only flight where a flight attendant actually reminded my son to put his mask on at one point when it fell off. They probably are cracking down on kids as more kids are traveling. When we flew in July he was the only kid on the flight, so they were very lenient. He did a great job though. He snacks so much that he had his mask off for half the flight just due to snacking though, which is allowed.

Our flight took off exactly on time (they were weirdly determined to leave on time… I’ve never felt more rushed during boarding… it was bizarre… they sped through the safety messages so quickly as we taxied out to the runway). We landed SO early…. more than 45 minutes early. So we are 4 for 4 on flights landing early while traveling since covid. We are getting a little spoiled with how quick and easy air travel is right now honestly.

Last fun anecdote: given that he had been awake for 13 hours in the Florida heat at this point, Copper’s mood was stellar when we arrived in Newark, and he had the most epic meltdown in the jetway because I wouldn’t let him pull his suitcase. He stood in front of the stroller stomping his feet refusing to move, and I was the insane mom going “DUDE IM GOING TO RUN YOU OVER…. I SWEAR !!!” …. yep so we both got a nice big tantrum out of our system upon our return to NJ 😆😆. We made up and were best friends again about two minutes later. I can’t stay mad at that hooligan. We both apologized for “too much anger in headquarters and not enough joy” …. we talk about emotions based on Inside Out 😄.

We’ve been home for 9 days now. I have had another negative covid test (after a week of being home), but we are mostly keeping to ourselves just to be safe anyway. Copper starts preschool in a week, so we will safely be out of the 14 day window.

Hopefully the next time I write a trip report things will be a little more normal, and hopefully it will be a full family trip…. fingers crossed 🤞🏻🤞🏻🤞🏻.

August Trip Report – Day 3 – Happy Birthday To Me ! (And Magic Kingdom and Sana’a)

August Trip Report – Day 3 – Happy Birthday To Me ! (And Magic Kingdom and Sana’a)

Did I fail to mention that part of the reason for this impromptu trip was to bring some magic and happiness to my 32nd birthday during an otherwise epicly miserable year ? Well, great success ! I highly recommend a birthday in Disney. If you wear a Disney Happy Birthday pin, literally every cast member wishes you a happy birthday all day. Apparently my mom tried to have a cake sent to our room (she’s over the top, but that is ok for my birthday), but “in room celebrations” have been stopped during coronavirus for the time being, so no luck there, but please don’t cry for my stomach in Disney World with the Boardwalk Bakery downstairs 😬.

Tuesday morning “rope drop” crowd levels

So Magic Kingdom ! Had to spend my birthday in THE park, right ? It was nice to have a day with no stalling waiting for the park to open in the morning. MKs hours are currently 9-7, so we hopped on a bus at 8:20 or so (no wait again… the Boardwalk buses were really on top of their game). The new buses are pretty nice, as far as buses go. I believe any of the buses with character “wraps” (aka big character faces on them) are the new ones. They have new clean, crisp feeling seats with chargers ! USB ports on a bus ! Crazy. Granted I didn’t have a phone charger on me, and I’m not sure I saw a lightning port, but still it felt fancy to have a USB port on a bus. We entered the park somewhere around 8:45 after no line at the temperature screening, security, or the actual entrance (the park hours aren’t actually when the parks physically open, just when the rides start running), waved to Mickey and co up at the train station, stopped and bought another mask for me so I had an extra clean one for the day, and grabbed some Starbucks (they don’t honor your free birthday drink at Disney Starbucks… just like you can’t redeem any other Starbucks rewards in Disney, or use mobile ordering, which is mind blowingly backwards). Starbucks is still the slowest line in Disney, but it was a little better than when we went in the Fall. I’ve pretty much kicked my Starbucks addiction (spoken like a true addict that literally just said they got Starbucks), but I figured for my birthday I could use some extra fuel with this 3 year old a-hole kicking me in the boobies all night long (what. the. heck).

In the morning the photopass photographers aren’t on Main Street until 11, to avoid crowds.

As far as rides go, not much new to report from July when we did MK. The thing I love about being a DVC member is that there is no feeling of pressure to “do everything” on any given trip. I’m a crazy person so I always feel obligated to do certain “necessary” attractions… but really nothing is absolutely necessary since you know you will always be back again semi soon. It takes some of the stress off and lets it be more relaxing. We rode the Speedway first thing because he remembered it from July. He steered the whole way! I just had to press the pedal ! He was so proud (as was I). Then we hopped over to a completely deserted Dumbo and rode that. We could have just stayed on and rode again. For both of our trips Dumbo has been 100% a walk on, with only one set of elephants running, all the time. The playground inside isn’t open FYI, and the water play area outside (the train themed play area) doesn’t have water spraying, but it isn’t roped off.

One quick note about the Speedway, that you never really think about at normal times. There was no line at all, but we still had a bit of a wait because we had to wait for the cars to come back around the track and let us on. With so few people riding, there wasn’t a constant flow of cars unloading. Sadly (and cutely), a little girl who must have just met the minimum height to ride alone was holding up a long line of cars coming back around the track. She must not have been able to hold down the pedal. The cast members had to go find her and see if her car was broken 😆.

With regards to other wait times: SDMT was 20 minutes when the park opened. Space Mountain was showing up as 10 minutes all day, which means it was a walk on. Splash Mountain had quite a line wrapped around outside, but that doesn’t mean much, since they can’t wrap lines around inside right now. At one point, Pirates had a 40 minute wait because thunder closed several of the outdoor rides, so everyone headed over to Pirates and Haunted Mansion.

At this point, after only 2 walk on rides and a Starbucks, Copper decided to say “back to our boardwalk??” which totally crushed my soul, since I had a big happy Magic Kingdom birthday day planned. I tried to talk him into riding the Jungle Cruise since that is one ride I just can’t get past having minimal to no line, but no luck. Dude had a full on tantrum. I tried bribing him with popcorn (before 10am…. parent of the year over here). I tried to just carry him onto Ariel against his will, but he did the stereotypical toddler thing (and completely not typical Copper thing) and flailed his whole body around while screaming bloody murder, so I gave up. I figured we would walk around and maybe he would fall asleep in the stroller, since he clearly was sleep deprived and had lost his mind as a result. However, we soon walked past Its A Small World, and he said “ride small world maybe??” This kid loves IASM. It’s bizarre. Absolutely loves it. He turned back into his delightful little self the second we sat down on that damn (empty) boat. No wait at all. Only one-two parties being seated per boat. When we were getting off, we saw a service dog boarding a boat, which just blew my mind. I am a massive dog lover and the things they can do just warms my heart. This dog helped his human go on rides ! He sat on the ride like such a good boy!

As soon as we were off the ride, he went back to not-so-politely requesting that we leave the park to go ride the monorail/return to “our boardwalk.” 😡 Oh well. Not worth ruining the day, since the plan was always to come back in the afternoon/evening anyway when it was a little bit less hot. Dealing with toddler tantrums when traveling solo is not the easiest. Dealing with a large, heavy toddler in a stroller in 100 degree heat traveling solo in general is not the easiest. Props to all the single parents.

Friend?

We rode the monorail for a little bit and got off at the Contemporary for an early quick service lunch around 11ish. We hadn’t had a “real” breakfast, so part of the tantrum was probably that he was hangry, along with being super tired. We mobile ordered two kids meals (lol… one of the perks of mobile ordering) at Contempo Cafe and settled in to watch the monorails. This is honestly one of our favorite things to do right now. I can’t overstate how much my son loves monorails (and trains, trucks, etc), so he could sit there all day shouting “orange monorail!!!!” It probably is better than character dining right now for about 20% of the cost. After that we hopped a bus back to HS and rode the Skyliner back to the Boardwalk. Basically we took the absolute longest, least direct way from Magic Kingdom to the Boardwalk, but we were able to incorporate monorails, buses, and gondolas, aka the best things in the world to a 3 year old boy. He basically thought that that “commute” back to the resort was the most fun part of the day. I can’t help but roll my eyes, because I really wanted this to be the trip where he miraculously loved some of the big kid rides and we just rode rides all day and had a blast. Wishful thinking.

So back at the room for a nap. One thing to note here. I thought this was just a weird fluke on day 1… but then it happened every day… when housekeeping came in to take the trash and do their room check each day, they opened our patio door and left it open. Every afternoon when we got back to the room, the patio door was completely ajar. My only guess is that this is a coronavirus thing, where they are “airing out” the rooms, similar to how they air out the buses for 4 minutes periodically. They must have some sort of research indicating that airing things out is the way to go. Disney always seems to know what they are doing, so if they want to waste the air conditioning, they can be my guest, I have full faith that they are ahead of the game with their research (they were totally ahead with the neck gaiter thing, because now studies have come out saying neck gaiters are the least effective masks… who knew?).

When Copper was done with another marathon nap (his sleep schedule was royally effed up at this point), it was raining out! The forecast had shown 60% chance of rain every day, but we seemed to mostly nap through the afternoon showers every day. This was no exception. By the time we took a bus back to MK, the rain was done. While we were waiting for the bus, we saw the bus come through for the Skyliner resorts, and encountered a mom who said she was told at the back of Epcot to walk to the Boardwalk to get a bus to Pop Century (I thought she was crazy). When the Skyliner closes for thunder, they redirect all the Skyliner resort guests from the back of Epcot to the Boardwalk for a bus to their resorts. I have no idea why they chose Boardwalk instead of Beach Club…. 🤷🏼‍♀️.

These signs aren’t providing bus wait times currently. Fairly useless.

So we ended up back at MK for about an hour and a half before closing. Plenty of time for a handful of toddler-friendly rides, now that he was in a great mood. I would have had to plan much better if we were there with the reduced park hours (MK closing an hour earlier), and I would have had to really nip these crazy naps in the bud, to get back to the parks sufficiently before closing.

I should mention a very important piece of information! When we woke up on day 3, Copper said “pew pew woody ride ??” Which was a huge positive change over “no more rides!!!” but unfortunately it meant he wanted to ride Toy Story Mania again, which went against my plan to go to Epcot on our 4th and final park day. So basically I decided to stick with our HS park reservation for day 4 and try to let the park redeem itself after such a failure of a day 2 (cmon characters !). The reason I bring this up now is because AGAIN on the bus to MK in the evening he said “pew pew woody ride?” and I had to explain that we weren’t going to that park, but then I realized …. buzz lightyears space ranger spin!!! That ride is basically an old school Toy Story Mania!! Copper had never ridden it yet either, so we got to do a new ride! I love introducing him to new rides, which MK never disappoints with thankfully. So we headed straight over to Buzz when we got in the park, and walked right on. He loved it, even though there is a slightly darker noisier part at one point, it was no problem.

Buzz photos are always my favorite

We wrapped up the park day by riding the Speedway again, Winnie the Pooh, the Carousel, and It’s a Small World again. We were headed over to Aladdin, but he can’t go past IASM without riding it, and it takes forever to physically ride, so that was the end of our park day. We were pretty giddy at that point. He loves the Carousel. I just love getting him to cooperate and go on rides and have some fun.

With the park closing, we headed to the buses for our dinner reservation at Sana’a. For anyone who is unfamiliar, Sana’a is a constantly raved about restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge -Kidani. I knew beforehand that food-wise, it probably wasn’t a great fit for me, as the worlds oldest 7 year old eater. I call myself the worlds unhealthiest vegetarian. I don’t eat meat, but I don’t particularly eat vegetables either. I’m all about pizza and fries basically. People who rave about Sana’a definitely have more refined and worldly tastes than I do. It is a menu of African food. I’m sure the meat is delicious. I bet my non-fiancé would love it. The vegetarian rice option that I got was just a bit too… weird…. for me…. no offense intended (I eat white rice or microwaveable “garden vegetable” rice…. I fully acknowledge this is a me issue, not a Sana’a issue). Copper was able to order pizza off the kids menu, and I was so jealous. His meal was free again for anyone keeping track. Honestly it netted out to be pretty fair since I barely touched my meal. I did get a wonderful little birthday cake though! Hooray! Excellent service too! The real amazing thing though, and the reason we chose to eat there, was the view of the animals. Our table was by the window (without asking), and a giraffe walked right up to the window ! It was amazing. My logic with this restaurant choice was two fold: 1. We didn’t do Animal Kingdom this trip, so I wanted to sneak in a tiny bit faux Animal Kingdom time without using a park reservation on it, and 2. There are only 2 character dining options right now… we can’t eat at Topolinos every day… so I need another gimmick to make it a fun Disney meal, so why not try animals. We booked our reservation really late in booking window, so only 8pm was available, but it was thankfully still light out for the first 20ish minutes of our meal. Once it got dark, there is absolutely nothing to see, so don’t go into it expecting there to be lights on the savannah to show you the animals. Be aware of when sunset is at your time of travel.

This happened right as we walked up to our table!

So here is the tricky part that worried me a bit…. getting back to the Boardwalk from AKL at 8:45pm. Hollywood Studios closes at 8pm, otherwise we would take a bus there and walk or ride the Skyliner back, easy peasy. Buses do run for an hour after the parks close, but they typically only take guests FROM the parks, and will not take guests TO the parks. My back up option (that I really didn’t want to use) was going to be to take a bus to Disney Springs, then take another bus back to the Boardwalk. As a bus hater, and a waiting hater, I was praying to avoid this option. Thankfully a Hollywood Studios bus pulled up, and I asked if we could get on. The driver initially said no, he couldn’t take people to the park. Then I said, really we can’t just get off and walk to the Boardwalk? He hesitated and said ok! I was so happy! Then, plot twist, he actually drove us straight to the Boardwalk!! In retrospect, maybe he seriously is not allowed to bring guests to the park after a certain time, so he had to take us to the Boardwalk, but I like to think he was just super nice. I thanked him profusely and made sure Cooper knew that we got some pixie dust.

So that was that, last full Disney day in the books. Sadly we had to start packing up our room and head to bed.

August trip report ! – Day 1 – Boardwalk arrival, Skyliner, Garden Grill (Epcot Day)

August trip report ! – Day 1 – Boardwalk arrival, Skyliner, Garden Grill (Epcot Day)

Finally! Sorry for the delay! I already covered the travel day, so I’ll skip to when we arrived at the Boardwalk on our lovely Magical Express chariot (we = me and my newly 3 year old son traveling alone for the first time, whew exhausting).

We used all remaining available points to book 3 nights at the Boardwalk in a Boardwalk view (initially a Garden view, but with the Boardwalk you should check availability frequently and you’ll see that the other views open up randomly as your trip approaches, and you can switch your booking online). We actually over borrowed from next year and they were nice about letting us exceed the 50% borrowing limitation in place right now because we had initially borrowed the points before the limit was in place and it was unclear if this reservation would get cancelled since the points were sent back to next year when we cancelled an earlier reservation, then reborrowed, so they put a note on the reservation not to cancel it. So we got our three nights to celebrate together for my birthday and as a last hoorah before the kiddo heads off to preschool (😢😢) for the first time in two weeks.

We got a text on the Magical Express that our room was ready, so we bypassed the lobby and headed straight up. This was just before noon on our Sunday arrival day. This was consistent with our arrival at Polynesian in July when the room was also ready early. When doing online check-in I always select that they prioritize having the room ready early over other requests, and that always seems to help. This room had the same sign noting “enhanced cleaning” and also had the remote in plastic wrap, otherwise seemed the same as usual. Awesome Boardwalk view, right over the (closed) basketball hoops game). The lake is SO quiet and still with no boats running. We dropped our bags and headed right over to Epcot where we had a late lunch reservation at Garden Grill. I always try to have a character dining reservation right away when we arrive to set the tone for the trip and reward my son for a good travel day.

Before making it into Epcot, my super excited son spotted the Skyliner running, so we had to ride it to Caribbean Beach and back. It is hands down our favorite mode of transportation in Disney. We had only ridden it in November previously though, so I was very curious to test it out in the 100 degree summer weather. Everyone has been so quick to write it off as a mistake to not have air conditioning on the gondolas…. but let me just say …. they were COOL!! So breezy and refreshing ! One of the coolest places we got to sit and cool off all trip without being inside in the AC! Honestly probably one of the safest places to cool off during a pandemic since you are alone with your party and the ventilation is purely from the wind. It’s amazing. No sweating at all. There were a couple times during our trip that it briefly stopped (less than 30 seconds), and the breeze slowed down significantly, making it apparent that they would get warmer if you were ever stopped for 10+ minutes, but otherwise we were easy, breezy the whole time. This is one of the only places, including buses and the monorail, with no recording reminding you to keep on your face covering. They don’t explicitly say you can take it off, but they saw us take ours off and did not comment. Since you are alone with your party, it is a perfect opportunity for a little mask break. We also saw the individual gondolas being cleaned during our stay and they always seemed completely spotless. So so so in love with the Skyliner, I can’t say it enough.

You can’t see it, but he’s holding a toy gondola

Anywho, then we made it into Epcot for our reservation at Garden Grill and we checked in on our phones, as is required now. It was ungodly hot walking from the back of Epcot to The Land FYI, and it kills me that stroller aren’t allowed inside. They need some indoor stroller parking in there. I hate parking the stroller and then carrying my 36 lb sweaty toddler from the stroller up the ramp into the building. I know I sound like the biggest whiner, but that is a serious workout on the tail end of a sweaty walk through the park.

Neutral review of Garden Grill this time. We ate there in November and loved it. I still loved the food and the characters… but the service was shockingly slow. I’ve never experienced bad dining service in Disney so this was a first. The modified character experience was really quite great still. Mickey and Pluto walk around on the top level of the restaurant while you dine on the lower level. They stop by each table for photos. The kids love it. They let you take plenty of photos. Then Chip and Dale come around as well. For some reason we saw Mickey and Pluto three times and Chip and Dale only once. I think they missed us the first time, which was a bummer because my son was impatiently waiting for them. They usually are pretty flawless at making sure they hit every table. Combine that with the oddly slow service from our waiter, and we ended up sitting in there for over an hour, which is insane since we can easily be in and out of a restaurant in 30 minutes with just the two of us. We like to be quick these days since indoor dining makes us a little uncomfortable, safety wise. Speaking of which, there are additional plexiglass dividers between the tables now which are subtle, but definitely an extra safety precaution. Last comment on Garden Grill, for anyone unfamiliar, it is family style, so you don’t really order from a menu, they just bring everything out to the table and you all share. The food is DELICIOUS, so no complaints there.

We were seriously running out of steam at this point. It was about 2:30 or 3 and we had been up since 6am for our 8am flight in Newark. After a car, a plane, a bus, a Skyliner, a sweaty walk, and a Mickey meal, we didn’t have much left in the tank, so we headed back over to the Boardwalk for a nap. I decided to be a massive idiot and suggest we take the long way around the World Showcase in case there were any character cavalcades. We had been so spoiled in MK in July with the non stop cavalcades, that I really was optimistic that we would see Princess Anna and Elsa on our walk back to the Boardwalk. No such luck. All I did was add a mile to our walk and absolutely wear both of us out from the heat (he was in the stroller, but the heat still takes it’s toll). The one positive of taking the long route was that we saw cool little trains that we had never seen before in one of the countries on the far side of the World Showcase. Maybe Germany? Super cool little train tracks if you have a train obsessed kiddo like mine. He was asking about them the next day and I had to explain we can’t go to a park just for the tiny trains…. (Have I emphasized how much I miss park hoppers?)

What country is this ?? Anyone ??

Nap nap nap, snooze snooze snooze … ready for round 2 of Epcot !!! Lol we took a good snooze all the way until 6pm, which was fine because Epcot fortunately is still open until 9pm right now (which changes in a couple weeks unfortunately). I told Copper (fake blog name for those who haven’t read the about me section) that he was going to get to have a big boy night and stay out late in the park, and we headed back ! For anyone who is curious, by the way, he has outgrown the pack and plays/cribs in the rooms at this point (in my November trip report he was still comfortably sleeping in them), so on these past two trips he has been sleeping in the big bed with me, which I must say is just awful. He is a kicker and a sweater. I don’t sleep at all. He is just so dang cute and cuddly though, so that makes up for it. For size reference, he turned 3 in July and is 39.5” long and 36 pounds. When we come for our real family trip in December he will have to sleep alone on the pull out couch for sure. I can’t survive a whole week of this sleeping arrangement.

Whenever we left the room I made sure to have my Magic Band and phone (this is where my list used to end), our face coverings, our popcorn bucket and refillable mug, and an extra pair of shorts for Copper in the stroller, just in case (he’s been potty trained for months, but the sleep deprivation/excitement combo of Disney is a whole different ballgame). I also carry my annual pass in case there’s an opportunity for discounts. Pretty short list. I have always liked to travel light in the parks to make security quick and easy. The stroller really helps because you can bring some necessities but bypass the “bag” line at security. I should note though that the bag lines are probably a thing of the past with the new security scanners they introduced at HS this week … but more on that later.

Back to Epcot. At this point my son started saying “no rides…. just Boardwalk.” Which was pretty concerning considering we just arrived in Disney for a 4 park day trip and I was so excited he could ride the 40” height restriction rides now. I think I spooked him before the trip by showing him a YouTube video of Test Track. I had read somewhere that moms got their kids comfortable with rides by showing them YouTube videos. Big mistake here. Totally spooked him. He headed into this trip completely nervous and wanting nothing to do with any rides. I talked him into trying Imagination (0 minute wait) and he said it was “a bit fun.” Sadly no characters outside. I was hoping to see Joy 😞. I think they probably stop at a certain time in the evening. We fully struck out on Epcot characters. Then I talked him into trying Nemo, although he was getting increasingly hangry at this point and was pretty adamant about the “no more rides” party line. His review of Nemo was “not a lot of a fun” lol. He did enjoy looking at the dolphins in the Seas though (and riding the escalators… so escalators > Nemo).

At this point he was being so difficult and cranky (refused to ride Spaceship Earth, which he historically loves) that we needed a food break, so we mobile ordered dinner at Seasons and sat and ate for a little bit. I used this time to continue talking about how Soarin was a totally awesome, not scary ride and how it was Daddy’s favorite and yada yada. He was not at all convinced until a cast member walking by commented that she thought his Donald Duck stuffed animal would really like Soarin, but he probably wasn’t tall enough to ride it without Copper, and that seemed to get him interested.

Review of Soarin for a Toddler :

So once he was full of food and a bit happier, we went to Soarin which had a 15 minute wait time posted. My poor little kiddo was actually excited as we walked through the queue of the “pretend airplane” after he happily got measured (40” woohoo!!!) for the first time ever. I say poor little kiddo because of how this ends. We saw another kid his size who apparently had been on Soarin before and loved it, so that made me feel optimistic. I figured he loves all forms of transportation, including real airplanes, and the Skyliner, so this would be great! The line was much shorter than 15 minutes. We were sent over to our boarding area within maybe 2 minutes. We stood there for another 5 and then we were sent in to our seats. We were in the 3rd row in the middle. Ideal for his first ride since the 3rd row is the lowest (normally 1st row middle is the best seat for Soarin). I wish I got a picture of him buckled in his seat holding on tight to Donald Duck. He was so freaking cute and excited. He made sure Donald wasn’t scared, and then he hugged him tight. The Donald Duck gimmick was totally great for getting him willing to do the ride by the way. He was totally refusing, but as soon as we made it about Donald he changed his tune. Since Donald wasn’t tall enough, he needed Copper to ride with him. Total success in getting him excited for the ride.

Then…. liftoff. I watched him very carefully. For the first few moments his eyes were just big. The motion and the screen didn’t cause any issues. The issue arose when the damn whale jumped up and “splashed” us. I never noticed that pretty much all of the transitions between scenes are quite startling. He was startled to the point of the saddest, most scared face ever by that damn whale. I had to hug him and tell him it was pretend, and then he calmed down a bit, just in time for the next startling transition, then the next, then the next. His body was so tense and shaking with fear, I felt terrible. He wasn’t crying, but he was terrified. Then… the clincher… as I was saying it’s over it’s over…we flew up above the Epcot ball, into the sky… into fireworks. My son is scared of fireworks!! The only saving grace is that they are always far away, up high in the sky… but in this case we flew up right into them! His worst fear ! Oh boy. I’m a terrible mom. He held in all of his crying and screaming until we landed safely back on the floor, and then he was hysterical. I took his mask off as soon as we got outside, and he calmed down in a minute or two.

He was screaming “NO MORE RIDES!” at that point, so that is where our park day ended. I had every intention to return to Epcot on our 4th day at this point since we had skipped Spaceship Earth and Frozen. Plus we hadn’t seen Anna and Elsa. You will see that that is not how things pan out though …

August Trip Report – Day 2 – Hollywood Studios, Topolinos, Monorail, Caribbean Beach

August Trip Report – Day 2 – Hollywood Studios, Topolinos, Monorail, Caribbean Beach

What a weird list of things to do in one day right ? Just to clarify, we stayed at the Boardwalk for our whole stay. I’m not a big fan of switching resorts. We sure visit a lot of them for meals and just to stroll through though! As a family that typically hops from park to park, we are improvising and still hopping from place to place, while only visiting one park per day now.

So our park reservation for day 2 (Monday) was for Hollywood Studios, which is open 10am-8pm currently. Kiddo wakes up at the crack of dawn in Disney, asking for the monorail or to “go on a walk,” despite tossing and turning with excitement all night after a late bedtime, so his sleep deprivation is totally going to build up and turn him into the stereotypical cranky theme park toddler. We had some cereal/pouches/juice in the room to get us to nearly 8am just hanging out snacking and watching Mickey on TV (we did a small Amazon grocery order on day 1… no issues, timely delivery, held by bell services until we were ready to go pick it up). Then we went for a stroll in our PJs down to the Boardwalk Bakery for some muffins. He wanted to go for a walk afterwards so we went over to the beach at the Beach Club. I thought we could walk a lap around the lake, but you’ll see in my “Partitions” post, that there were walls up blocking the walkway because the NBA was staying at the Yacht Club. As of today, the Yacht Club is open, so this should no longer be an issue. Let me go back to the bakery though…. am I the only one who thinks it has gone downhill over the years ? Back in the day there were GIANT fresh made cookies and these amazing black and white pretzels. Everything was huge and freshly baked. Now things almost seem prepackaged. It’s weird. The cookies aren’t really particularly soft. Sadly, this trip they did not have my breakfast staple … the doodle muffin. They said it is probably temporary and hopefully it will be brought back. Dear god I hope so. What the hell sort of abomination is that ?! (This is about as heated as I get about a Disney World change …. don’t mess with my snacks man!) Anyway, we enjoyed our chocolate chip muffin on the beach and went back to the room to get ready for the park.

We left the Boardwalk to walk to HS around 9:30, figuring we were in no rush. Lots of people were heading over at that time on the walkway. HS is really the place to be right now. Everything you see online is true. It gives off a vibe of people frantically rushing to beat crowds still. So many people were there before the park opened. Everyone made sure to be well situated to be on their phones in the park at 10am to try to get a Boarding Group for Rise of the Resistance. Since we weren’t doing that ride (so bummed, I was so excited to ride that with the non-fiancé if he came) because it would be too frightening for Copper after the Soarin debacle, we just took advantage and walked onto Toy Story Mania while everyone was on their phones. The plan was to go on Mickey and Minnies Runaway Railway first thing, but the posted wait time was an hour when we got there before 10am and the line looked so, so long. In retrospect, I’m sure it wasn’t really an hour, but I wasn’t going to stand out in the sun in line with a toddler for an unknown length of time when we could just try again in the evening when the line would hopefully be much shorter.

I still can’t believe that Toy Story Mania was a true walk-on. Absolutely 0 people on line. The cast member was doing exercises because she was bored. We rode it a total of 4 times during our trip. 3 times were purely walk-one. One time we waited a minute or two. There were times during the day when the line appeared long outside, but that is because it cannot wrap around inside currently for social distancing reasons. This ride totally changed my sons “no more rides” tune. When we got off he hesitated and then shouted “THAT WAS REEEEEAAALLLY FUN!!!” Whew. That absolutely made my day. I’m so glad he found a ride he loves, and we are in a weird freak scenario where we could just keep going on it without ever standing in a line. There was one time we were getting off that they actually asked if we wanted to just stay on it and ride again, but we were rushing off somewhere so we couldn’t take advantage.

After Toy Story Mania we walked around in the middle of the park hoping to catch some characters. Again no luck, just like in Epcot, which was pretty discouraging. I tried to stall by going shopping in a gift shop near the front of the park, which just resulted in our buying a slinky dog toy…. which I would complain about …. but it was his favorite thing of the trip. He carried slinky around everywhere. He even had to bring slinky over to “meet his mommy” aka Slinky Dog Dash, the roller coaster lol. I love my little weirdo.

We were so ready for our Pixar day.

At this point he just wanted to ride on the Skyliner, so I figured we’d head over to Topolinos for our 11am reservation a little early. We left HS feeling like it was totally disappointing compared to MK in July where we saw non stop characters and rode a dozen rides in a couple hours. It wasn’t really the crowds that were the problem, it is just the lack of rides for little kids. Don’t worry, my attitude towards HS does a full 180 on day 4 of our trip, so bear with me. The plan at this point was to go to lunch and then go back to HS in the evening for a couple hours to see all the characters and ride MMRR at a minimum.

Another fabulous easy breezy Skyliner ride. It did not stop at all. It was running full speed (sometimes it seems to be running at half speed, has anyone else noticed that?). We transferred to the Epcot line at Caribbean Beach, and then got off at Riviera. For anyone who is unfamiliar, there are basically never any lines for the Skyliner, and it takes about five minutes to go from one place to the next, so five minutes from HS to Caribbean Beach, then another five to Riviera. I had a chance to ask some questions of some cast members at the stations and they explained that they get a 10 mile warning before thunder and they start “cycling people off” at that point before shutting down, and then a bus service between all the Skyliner resorts and Boardwalk pops up. So if you are at the back of Epcot trying to ride the Skyliner and it shuts down, you walk to Boardwalk and there is a bus there to take you back to your Skyliner resort. We saw this bus several times in the rain during our stay, even when the Skyliner was not shut down. I think they have it as an option any time it rains.

I checked in to our Topolinos reservation while we were getting off the Skyliner at Riviera, which resulted in our table being ready a minute later, and my speeding through the grounds of Riviera with the stroller rushing to the elevator, lol. When you check in to reservations on the app, in my experience, your table is ready within a couple minutes. It never takes long at all. Granted we were a party of 2, and it was extremely not busy, but this held true at Topolinos, Garden Grill, and Sana’a during our stay.

In case you didn’t see my July review of Topolinos, we consider this a must-do at this point, regardless of the lack of options during the pandemic. When things go back to normal, this will be at the top of our list of character dining locations. For reference, we typically love Chef Mickeys and Cape May Cafe. We have had neutral experiences at Tusker House and Crystal Palace. Bon Voyage was pretty awesome but my son is pretty princess-shy, so we skip that one for now. So Topolinos has catapulted up into the top 3. It is also super convenient from the Boardwalk area since you can take the Skyliner from the back of Epcot and be at Riviera in 5 minutes. Even with the Epcot Skyliner technically opening at 10:30am these days, don’t be phased, you can show your Topolinos reservation and get on the Skyliner much earlier, at least as early at 8 or 8:30am. No need to panic and try to find alternate transportation because of the reduced park hours.

My son lives for the Mickey waffle dippers at Topolinos. He is a good eater at home, but in Disney he take a few bites usually and is ready to move on to the next adventure. Not the case with the waffle dippers. At Topolinos he feasts. He eats waffles, eggs, fruit, everything. I should add that he eats for free because he is “2” …. 😬. Don’t judge me. I fully planned on him turning 3 when he turned 3… but then a cast member mentioned it would be ok that he didn’t have an annual pass (they aren’t for sale right now!) because no one would ever check his age as a newly 3 year old, and a bunch of moms confirmed on social media that they said their kids were 2 for as long as they could. My son is pretty big so I think we will only stretch this out through our December trip when he is just under 3.5, then he will be an honest 3+ year old on all subsequent trips.

The characters come out frequently at Topolinos. No waiting around for characters. They all come out before you are done with your meal, easily, definitely no worry about that. They do a lap around the room, stopping and waving to the tables, and then the next one comes out. The characters are Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy, in their Riviera artist attire.

After lunch I asked Copper if he wanted to go back to the park, but he said “back to our Boardwalk,” so we took the Epcot Skyliner to the back of Epcot, and walked back to the resort. It was only a little after noon, but he was pretty sleep deprived, so we played in the room for a bit and then he took an absolute marathon nap.

After napping, as anticipated, we opted for a monorail evening. If you saw my pre trip planning post, I planned to take a bus to MK, ride the monorail, and eat quick service at one of the monorail resorts. He wasn’t quite hungry for dinner yet though, so we just rode the bus to MK (no wait for the bus at all at the Boardwalk, woohoo, and it was totally empty), and rode the express monorail around the loop. Then we took the resort monorail to the Contemporary, and took a bus from there back to HS to finish our day there. We waited about 15 minutes at the Contemporary for the HS bus, but my son loves sitting at that bus stop watching the monorails go by, so it was perfectly fine. The bus wasn’t particularly crowded, but there were a couple groups on it.

So back to HS for the last couple hours of the day ! The hope was that the line for MMRR would be gone by the end of the day. This was not the case when we arrived, so we snacked on popcorn and a pretzel (stalling for characters unsuccessfully again), and rode Toy Story Mania again. While we were riding, we apparently JUST missed the last character cavalcade which must have been around 7pm FYI. So still no characters. Grrr. Two days. 0 characters. This kid literally brought Woody, Jessie, Buzz, and Slinky Dog all in his stroller, just to see no one.

“There’s your mommy!!”

Mickey and Minnies Runaway Railway

At this point Copper was saying he was nervous we would “miss the Mickey choochoo,” so we got in line for MMRR. The sign said the wait was 40 minutes at this point, and it was wrapped around quite a bit outside, but it moved SO fast because of all of the distancing in the line. Within 15 minutes we were inside. Another 5 minutes and we could see the train boarding. There is no pre show right now… I assume there usually is… but it probably doesn’t work with distancing and keeping things moving. So we waited maybe 20-25 minutes all in. Copper had a grand old time hopping from distancing line to distancing line like a crazy little frog. He was in such a good mood because he loves trains, and everyone in the line seemed to have been on the ride before and LOVED it.

So we got on board, in the front row. No one was in the row behind us, as is the norm these days. They lowered the lap bar nice and tight, making me realize that this ride has a bit of oomph to it and would be a bit more exciting than most of our toddler-friendly rides probably. So then we were off. Spoiler: there’s not much of a train feeling to the ride. You board the train, but then Goofy “loses” the train cars, and your car goes off on its own adventure. The adventure includes a semi intense (for a toddler) thunderstorm. Fan-effing-tastic, after our Soarin debacle the day before. There’s a brief spell that has a motion simulator feel to it, that, if longer, would have given me motion sickness, because I get the worst motion sickness on rides. I was absolutely totally fine on this though, so you shouldn’t have motion sickness concerns. Ultimately Mickey saves the day and everything is happy, and of course they celebrate with fireworks (ugh). When we got off, Copper wasn’t even crying… he was MAD. He said “NO MORE THAT RIDE!!” He was honestly just mad that after the Soarin experience, he got talked into another ride that scared him. I think if he rode it again, knowing there would be thunder and fireworks, he would enjoy it, but he was expecting a normal train ride, so he was pretty disappointed. If you have a train lover, maybe don’t play it up as a train ride, like I did. As a side note: I thought it was a totally cute, fun ride. I hope he warms up to it and will ride it again every trip. I don’t feel like we have to avoid it like Soarin at all. I hope it will be something we ride every trip.

That concluded our day at HS. Kind of a disappointment. The whole point of HS was supposed to be a super fun Mickey train ride and tons of Pixar characters. He didn’t enjoy the train ride and we didn’t see any characters. Such a bummer. I texted home saying it was a huge failure of a day, despite the Skyliner, monorail, and Topolinos being so fun.

I didn’t want to have another night of pizza window pizza (we had pizza in bed after Epcot on our first night, which I think I omitted from my prior post… the pizza is always fine, the wait time was a bit annoying, but I get that it’s basically the only option for quick service food on the Boardwalk right now, so they are busy). So we got creative and stopped at Caribbean Beach on our way back on the Skyliner. We mobile ordered quick service dinner at a place called … the Marketplace (I think??)… it was a bit of a walk from the Skyliner station. Caribbean Beach is freaking huge man. That was a lot of walking after a long day ! We got to see a nice (and quite crowded) pool on our way. We had a nice quick bite to eat… chicken fingers and fries and whatnot. Nothing fancy, but nice and kid friendly. Felt safe and socially distanced. We refilled our (July) mug while we were there with no issues. From there we opted to walk to the Riviera Skyliner station, which was actually a quicker walk. Then we had a five minute ride “home” and were off to bed.

If anyone was curious (which no one is, I’m sure) we took showers/baths every night just to feel safe and clean after a day of “exposure” to germs and whatnot. We felt pretty dang safe and clean all the time in Disney, but it was just the icing on the cake to end the day feeling totally clean, to have a little extra peace of mind.

And we’re back !! (Newark to Orlando travel day) – July vs August Comparison

And we’re back !! (Newark to Orlando travel day) – July vs August Comparison

So since we had two little mini getaways cancelled in March and June respectively, we are back again super quickly after our July trip, which I don’t hate at all based on how the parks were last time. Can’t wait to walk onto more rides!

We are yet again sitting on the back row of the Magical Express waiting for everyone to board as I write this. We have had two unlucky Magical Express experiences in a row now, where we are the only ones in our line inside and we wait awhile and then they board us first onto a bus (which means we are assigned the back row) and then they board a ton of other random unrelated resorts which will presumably get dropped off before us.

But back to the beginning…. yet another seamless travel day. We took the exact same flight as last time: Sunday morning at 8:05am on United (direct from Newark to Orlando). The airport was more crowded, but mostly at the baggage check in area, which we walked past since we aren’t checking bags. The security line (TSA pre check) wasn’t completely deserted like last time, but it still took less than 5 minutes (with a toddler, a stroller, two carryons, and two personal items … and one me). We raced over to our gate since we were running late, and were able to walk right on the plane. Boarding ended about five minutes later. Boarding was about 20 minutes again. This flight was about 75% full. I think it is the only direct flight to Orlando from Newark today (or maybe one of only 2 flight options), so that may be why it was more crowded, as opposed to more people traveling now vs a month ago. I had selected seats in advance in a particularly empty looking section and I had picked a window and an aisle seat for me and my son, figuring no one would pick the middle (this is what we did when traveling as a couple during normal times by the way, the logic is that if someone does pick the middle, they will gladly trade so you can sit together, otherwise you end up with a full row to yourselves). Surprisingly the whole area around us, including the middle seat was full when we arrived, so definitely don’t go off of the seat maps when checking how full the flight is. I had checked last night at midnight and the flight looked less than half full. So there must have been a lot of Basic Economy people with unassigned seats that got seat assignments at the gate, that is my best guess for the discrepancy between the seat map and how crowded the plane actually was. Anyway, the flight attendant saw me trying to squeeze my toddler in past a stranger and whispered “follow me” and brought me up to a nice big empty row in what must have been the Economy Plus section that people avoid since it costs a tiny bit extra. So that was amazingly nice and made our trip 100% better. We were able to spread out and play with lots of toys, watch the iPad comfortably, etc without being right on top of a stranger. I think they are happy to spread people out whenever possible now FYI. They seem more than happy to move you to a more empty section if available. The goal is to spread people out, so definitely ask if you can move once you’re on board your flight if you feel like you are in a crowded section.

So much room for activities ! 😆

Fun fact: they gave out little prepackaged snack baggies in Economy that were totally better than the snack boxes in First Class on our July flight. Literally nothing was edible in the First Class snack box (I have cheap taste). These little baggies today had bottles of water, sanitizing wipes, pretzels, stroopwaffles, and Oreos! I’d take all of those any day. Major upgrade lol. So if anyone is debating first class on United, maybe consider Economy Plus for the legroom and since it’s emptier, but still has the good snacks haha.

Our flight landed 15 minutes early in Orlando and we were quickly allowed to de-board (is that the term?). They let us off in groups by row again, which still seems ineffective to me with regards to social distancing, but I guess there isn’t much of a solution that is better. They ask everyone to remain seated until their row was called, and people listened somewhat this time, as opposed to last time when everyone stood up simultaneously when the plane reached the gate. Again our stroller was already waiting for us when we got off the plane, which is amazing. They are so speedy in Orlando. This time there were 2 other strollers, which shows that more families with kids were on board. In July we were the only family with a child on the plane, which is SO WEIRD for a flight to Orlando.

Do you think he likes Toy Story?

The entrance to the Magical Express was completely empty again (we didn’t have to go to wait for any checked bags, so maybe we just beat people there). We waited in a completely empty line for about 10 minutes before they boarded us onto a bus. We were assigned to the back row again. Every single group that came on after us made the same exact comment about not knowing which row to sit in because they were told a row number and there are no numbers on the seats, you have to actually count the rows. I imagine the seats will be numbered in the upcoming weeks. Groups are assigned to sit in every other row. I thought in July we were more spaced out than that. I thought it was every third row, but I may be crazy. I believe they try to cap the buses at 21 guests. Also worth noting: the video was different on the Magical Express this time. They had clips about the “Incredicrew” and safety procedures like wearing masks, hand washing, etc. We did not see this video in July. Our bus stopped at Pop Century, Riviera, Boardwalk (our stop woohoo!), and then somewhere else I couldn’t quite decipher. The ride didn’t feel exceptionally long. It was pretty average. It still feels weird stopping at Pop Century, but being the 3rd stop is better than being the 4th, so this trip is already winning 🙂

I got a text that our room was ready while we were on the Magical Express. I had requested a higher floor, but I selected the option to prioritize having the room ready early over any other room requests. It was ready early and is on the 4th floor (of 5), so double win. It’s a Boardwalk view studio. I was hoping for some of the pixie dust I’ve been hearing about endlessly where everyone is saying they’ve gotten upgrades left and right lately from studios to one bedrooms and whatnot, but that’s never happened in my life, so why start now lol. So just to rain on that parade for anyone reading: we booked studios in July and August and neither were upgraded. Both were awesome views and were ready upon arrival though! That’s all you can really ask for !

So that’s the end of our travel. We are off to melt on our way to lunch at Garden Grill with Mickey. I’m sure we will take a detour to ride the “gondola gondola!!” and I’ll let you know if it’s boiling hot in the summer, because that has been my big question since it opened.

Biggest Changes in WDW right now … and whether they really decrease the magic

Biggest Changes in WDW right now … and whether they really decrease the magic

I’d say 95% of people I talk to these days make comments about how Disney is “totally not worth it without XYZ.” 9 times out of 10 people say it isn’t “worth it” without parades and fireworks. I assume when they say “worth it” they are referring to the cost of traveling to and staying at Disney. Just to play devils advocate, airfare has never been cheaper … I just booked a round trip flight for later this month for $27!! Holy moly!! $54 total for me and my son to go back again in a couple weeks! That is our entire cost because we are staying with our DVC points and have already purchased and activated annual passes (for me at least…. he still doesn’t have one because he juuuuust turned 3 and a lady at member services said “they won’t ask for a birth certificate” when I tried to order his annual pass last month 😳… so we are still figuring that situation out). Damn near anything is worth $54 at this point, especially given that we’ve spent the last several months doing absolutely nothing remotely fun or entertaining, so they could have 2 rides open in each park and it would be a 1000% improvement over our lives at home right now. I digress though…

Here are the notable changes Disney has made since reopening the parks in July subsequent to the Covid closure:

1. No parades or fireworks: this seems to be everyone’s big concern when they talk about changes at the parks. Disney has indefinitely done away with parades and fireworks since they inevitably result in massive crowds. It makes a lot of sense given the typical parade crowds that you’d be dealing with. Social distancing would be completely impossible. If Disney wants to keep everyone safe, which it appears they seriously do, there is no way to have scheduled parades or fireworks right now.

So as an alternative, they have introduced “character cavalcades” in each of the parks. These basically consist of 1-2 floats with characters and music, similar to a parade but with much less fanfare. They are unscheduled, so no crowds form (literally no crowds, see the photo above). When we were in Magic Kingdom we saw one probably every 15 minutes. There was one with Piglet, Eeyore, and Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh (no Pooh or Tigger). There was another with Tinkerbell. There was another with a bunch of princesses…. Merida, Jasmine, Tiana, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Ariel, the Fairy Godmother, and some Princess I didn’t recognize from a TV show I think (I feel so old). Lastly, we saw Mickey and friends in a cavalcade multiple times. We also saw Mickey and co up in the train station waving at the start of the day and the end of the day (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Pluto… no Goofy). In Animal Kingdom we saw boats going by the bridges with characters. We saw a boat with Mickey and friends and then another with Rafiki and Timon I believe. I’m very excited for our August trip when we head over to Hollywood Studios to see all the Pixar characters in the cavalcades. I’ve heard the Incredibles, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc characters are all there, which will be enough to blow my son’s mind. Lastly, in Epcot I believe you can see Anna and Elsa, along with other princesses.

By no means are these cavalcades up to the standards of a Disney parade or a Disney fireworks show. I live for Fantasmic. Disney fireworks are the best in the world. Unfortunately, my kiddo is terrified of them, so no real loss for us there. I also tend to avoid parades because I hate the crowds and I see them as a prime time to get on rides with less wait time, so again, I don’t view either of these temporary losses as a huge tragedy. They are quite unfortunate but they are temporary losses. I will listen to the soundtracks on my phone and that will suffice for the time being.

2. No fastpasses: as an OCD planner, I cried when they announced no more fastpasses. I was legitimately heartbroken (well… not Disney wedding cancelled heartbroken….💔) and kept telling myself that hopefully they will be back on time for our December trip. However, for the time being, I’m just happy to go to the parks at all. So we went for our little July mini trip, not knowing what to expect, but feeling completely unprepared with no fastpasses to help us plan our day… and GASP…. it was BETTER!!! I’m not saying in general life would be better without fastpasses. Hell no. But right now, with crowds at these insanely low levels, we literally walked onto every ride. The longest line we stood on was a 10 minute line for Jungle Cruise. We also waited 3 minutes for Kilimanjaro Safari (posted wait time was 25 minutes). Other than that, we walked onto every single ride and could have stayed seated to ride again, that is how empty it is. There is absolutely no need for fastpasses right now. The loss of fastpasses will be a huge loss once crowds increase, but right now, the standby lines are all SIGNIFICANTLY shorter than any fastpass line I’ve ever experienced.

This was the posted wait time for Peter Pan when we were able to walk right on with absolutely no wait.

3. No character meet and greets: Again, this one hit me hard. With a two year old, our park experience has shifted from riding all the big ticket rides to hunting down characters for meet and greets anywhere and everywhere. We spend our days meeting dozens of characters and riding only a handful of rides typically (oh to be a childless millennial…). Fortunately, we can improvise for the time being and piece together enough character time to satisfy our kiddo completely. There are actually a ton of characters out that you don’t necessarily always get to see. I already listed all of the cavalcades up above in the parade section, but I will report back in a couple weeks for a concrete list of which Pixar characters are able to be seen in Hollywood Studios currently. We are really excited for that. I don’t think my son will necessarily notice that he doesn’t get to shake their hand or hug them, because he will be so thrilled to see them in person. Plus, there are absolutely no crowds for these cavalcades, so you get good photos with the characters and it feels like you are up close and personal with them. On top of the cavalcades, we saw Mickey and friends waving at the train station multiple times and made sure to get breakfast at Topolinos, which was AWESOME. It definitely was enough to carry us over until things get back to normal. We miss the hugs and the high fives, but my son still came home and was ranting and raving that “Mickey waved at me!” and “Mickey made me waffles!!”

4. Limited character dining options: Limited is an understatement right now. Typically there are DOZENS of character dining options available for any given meal. You can normally eat with any character your heart desires. Our favorites are Chef Mickeys and Cape May Cafe, but we were eager to try Ohana this trip since we have a new Lilo and Stitch fan in the house. There are also typically many options where you can dine with princesses at the resorts and in the parks, which I imagine is a must for all the princess fanatics out there (our son loves Anna and Elsa, but is quite nervous around them, HA). All of these are not operating as character dining currently. As far as I am aware, the only two character dining options currently are Topolinos (at Riviera Resort with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy) and the Garden Grill in Epcot (Chip and Dale, Pluto, and Mickey typically). We went to Topolinos in July and absolutely loved it. You can see my whole review in Part 3 of the Magical Return spiel a couple posts ago. It is a must do for us from now on. Right now it is not normal character dining where each character visits each table for photos and autographs, but instead they each do a lap around the room and pose at various spots near each table. They do interact with you to some degree. Donald acted offended that we had a Mickey stuffed animal for example. We plan to go to the Garden Grill in a couple weeks and will report back. We went last fall and loved it, so we will be able to compare the new and old experiences. Key takeaway here: if character dining is important to you, jump on reservations at one of these two locations. I believe the Beast has also been spotted walking through Be Our Guest on occasion as well FYI.

5. No park hopping : of the items listed here, this is the one that I think people should consider a potential deal breaker if this is their one big trip of the year. I personally could never comprehend paying for a park pass without the park hopper feature, and I cannot remember the last day I spent in Disney without visiting 2+ parks. Part of the main appeal of staying in the Boardwalk area is the quick access to Epcot for a bite to eat or a quick ride in between other plans. We also typically walk through Epcot to ride the monorail to MK. My strategy with a little kid is also to go to one park first thing in the morning, take an afternoon nap, and then head to another park for an evening of less hot fun and dinner in another park. Obviously none of these things can happen currently. You can only pick one park per day, and you need to pick them in advance. This is a huge downer. For me, it isn’t necessarily making me not go on my trips, but it is changing where I plan to stay and how I plan our trips entirely. We stayed at the Polynesian in July instead of the Boardwalk because the close proximity to multiple parks wasn’t a major priority (granted HS and Epcot also weren’t even open yet on the dates we visited, so that made the decision easy). Using a park hopper typically is the best way to truly get your money’s worth and maximize your time in Disney. You can go absolutely anywhere you heart desires at any time, with no limitations. If you have a free hour, you can head to the closest park and do whatever you can. The lack of ability to do this really takes away your ability to fully maximize your time on your trip, so if you like flexibility and maximizing your park time, now is not the time to travel to Disney unfortunately (this goes hand in hand with park hours being reduced and extra magic hours being removed as well).

6. Park reservation system: At this point, everyone has presumably heard that in order to manage park capacity, Disney has implemented a park reservation system. So on top of having a park pass (annual pass, regular park ticket, whatever), you need to go onto mydisneyexperience and make a park reservation for your designated days. The good news is, this has been a complete non issue as far as parks reaching capacity. There are a small handful of days that reached capacity for annual Passholders at Hollywood Studios, but otherwise all days are showing availability for all parks. There is separate “inventory” for annual Passholders, resort guests, and neither of the above (people with park tickets but no resort stay), and only annual Passholders have been having issues with capacity apparently, and that is only at Hollywood Studios in the month of August so far. So availability is not a concern. I was quite distraught at the thought of anticipating what parks I planned to be in every day of our December trip already, but at this point, it looks like we will have the flexibility to revise our park days during our trip if needed. Also to answer a common question: you are allowed to enter, leave, and return to the park during the day if you have a reservation. We left MK, took a nap, and came back later. No issues. The huge downside right now, as noted above, is that you can only have a reservation in one park each day. I pray this is adjusted by our trip in December, in effect allowing the return of park hopping, but for now, one park per day.

7. No dining plans: When Disney announced their reopening, they added a lot of disclaimers. Not all of the restaurants are open. There is practically no character dining. The restaurants that are open have limited menus (some are very limited). As a result, Disney is not offering dining plans right now. My best guess is that this is to avoid people paying full price for the dining plan and then complaining that they didn’t get their money’s worth due to such limited offerings. This isn’t an issue for us because we never get the dining plan. It just doesn’t suit our eating style. I’m an all day snacker. One day I’ll make a post analyzing the pros and cons of the dining plan, but i think there have been countless analyses that have shown tables in wonderland works out to save you more money if you qualify to get that discount. Regardless, you still have the ease of using your magic band to pay for food, there just aren’t prepaid food credits loaded onto your account unfortunately. Obviously this is a bummer for people who love the free dining promotions Disney runs sometimes (although I’ve always thought they were somewhat foolish because it was always free dining with a full priced room, whereas for the rest of the year you can get a discounted room…. so it basically nets out to be the same ….). This also means no free refillable mugs included with dining plans. You can still buy the refillable mugs at the resorts, but they won’t actually let you refill them anywhere. You show them to a cast member and they give you a free drink in a paper cup. This is for sanitary reasons. No one is allowed to touch the drink machines except cast members for the time being.

8. Temperature screenings: this is an absolute non issue. It’s debatable what value it adds, given that people can be asymptomatic carriers, but it is a common screening practice that offers comfort to people, so I respect that Disney is doing it. Fortunately it causes no delay whatsoever at this point. During our recent trip we never experienced a line at any screening. They have tents set up at park entrances and the TTC, as well as at the monorail resorts, similar to security screenings. There were no bottlenecks whatsoever. I personally didn’t see anyone get a temperature that caused them to not be allowed to enter, but I’ve heard that if that happens, they ask you to step aside and they recheck you a few minutes later. Again, we experienced no issues and no delays whatsoever.

9. Mask wearing: this is a big one. This is a pervasive part of your every day experience. If you hate wearing masks, this should be a deciding factor for you, because you have to wear a “face covering” at all times on Disney property, indoors and outdoors. You are only allowed to not wear a mask in your hotel room, at the pool, while dining (stationary, not walking around the parks eating or drinking), or in designated mask free relaxation zones in each park). That being said, we are from NJ where masks have been mandatory indoors for many months now, but we are in the habit of taking them off outdoors, and we survived ok during the July heat on our Disney trip. I wore mine at all times as required, except in empty monorail cars, completely deserted walkways at the resort, etc, but my almost 3 year old probably wore his about 50% of the time. I thought that was a huge success. Cast members seemed to agree because he didn’t get any comments, outside of one cast member at the TTC temperature screening reminding him to put it on when he was done with his sippy cup. For the most part, when he was in his stroller and we were outdoors, he wasn’t wearing his mask, and no cast members had any issues. I think they aren’t going to focus on toddlers in strollers if you are maintaining appropriate distancing. That was my experience. Again, he did his best. He always wore it indoors and when we were on line near people. Just for more background, he was one week away from turning 3 and he is 39” tall. He’s a big guy.

I tested the no neck gaiter policy and was told almost immediately that I needed to wear a normal mask FYI, so that is definitely being enforced. I went with disposable masks 95% of the time because they were the most breathable in the heat and I could just throw them away after sweating through them. I did make a post about the Disney masks though, and we officially have about 20 of them, so feel free to look at that other post if you have questions about sizing or anything.

10. Not all resorts open: Disney is reopening the WDW resorts on a staggered basis after closing them all for an extended time period for the first time ever. Since there are such severe capacity restriction in the parks, and even less demand than expected right now, there is no need for every resort to be open fully unfortunately. The first resorts to reopen in June were all of the DVC resorts (except Jambo House) so as to quickly get some DVC points back to use and try to mitigate a huge inventory problem in the future with a flood of points in the system due to expiration extensions and whatnot. They’ve subsequently opened a few non DVC resorts so that the list below reflects all resorts currently open.

Additionally, they’ve released the following timeline for opening additional resorts. There are still a few resorts with no reopening dates sadly. They must be waiting to reassess whether attendance picks up over the next couple months. The virus has been so unpredictable that they unfortunately have to keep taking a wait and see approach with some of these things.

This is a huge disappointment for people with reservations at resorts that aren’t open for the dates they had reserved. I had a trip planned in March when everything closed, so I get it, it’s sucks. At least there are a ton of other options though. Hopefully you’ll be offered a comparable resort to switch to if your resort isn’t open, or you’ll be allowed to cancel entirely and rebook by renting cheap DVC points (seriously they have never been so cheap). Thankfully all of the most amazing resorts are open in some capacity (I’m a big fan of the deluxe resorts, plus they made sure to throw in a value and a moderate as options), so everyone should have an option that suits their needs and has availability. Availability should not be a problem for the near future ….

11. No water parks open: at this point, I’m just taking what I can get. A month ago, all of Disney World was closed. I’m elated that all 4 parks are open, along with all the DVC resorts and a handful of regular resorts. The water parks are an after thought at this point. I don’t really understand why they are closed, given that the pools are open, as well as Universal’s water park, but maybe since mask wearing isn’t possible in pools, it is too much of a risk to open a water park right now. It might also just be a cost cutting measure. They are barely making a profit from the parks as-is, so maybe they don’t think opening the water parks would be worth the expense right now. Typhoon Lagoon is my favorite WDW park by the way, so this is a huge bummer…. but all of 2020 is a huge bummer. This isn’t a deal breaker for me… just a disappointment. We rarely get to go to the water parks during our November trips anyway due to the weather being chillier so I’m used to missing out on these.

12. Mobile ordering required for quick service meals: at this point in society you basically have to embrace technology and get on board with mobile ordering. If you were holding out for some reason, I think coronavirus is kind of laughing in your face right now. I’ve commented at home that mobile ordering is no longer the best kept secret at places like Starbucks and Panera. Everyone has come to embrace these things and they will be more prevalent in the future as people have realized how awesome mobile ordering really is. I swore by mobile ordering for quick service meals at Disney before this, so no complaints here. The only real change for me is that they don’t let you into the restaurant to find a table or sit down until you can show that your order is ready on your phone. This keeps people from clogging up the tables and making it more crowded than necessary, which is great. I love process improvements and I think mobile ordering is super efficient when you have a hangry toddler. I highly recommend it to anyone who has been resisting it, whether you travel now or when it goes back to being optional.

13. Miscellaneous safety measures on property: None of these should really impact anyone’s decision to visit Disney, but I thought I should at least mention these other changes Disney has made which help make the parks feel so safe. I’ll include photos of things I remembered to take pictures of while I was there. Items not photographed include: hand sanitizers EVERYWHERE and dividers on the monorails.

These social distancing lines are EVERYWHERE
When it is not practical to load groups with spacing between parties, rides have dividers installed, like here on Kilimanjaro Safari
Ride vehicles are sprayed down/sanitized regularly
The buses have dividers between parties. They are also “aired out” for four minutes every time they arrive at a park to pick people up.

Disney Face Coverings

So we now possess an excessive amount of Disney face masks (or “face coverings” as they call them in the parks). We had ordered a couple on Etsy back in April because the shopDisney ones were pre orders, and now we went overboard and bought a whole bunch in the parks.

This is a medium on a large headed 2 year old.

Fun fact: in the parks you can mix and match any 4 for $20, while online there are pre determined sets of 4 that you have to order together for $20 all in the same size. When I was in Magic Kingdom I bought a large Forky mask, large Toy Story characters, medium Mickey face, and medium Goofy face. Then later I ended up also getting a medium Toy Story characters one and a large Minnie Mouse one, as well as a large Yoda one, putting me at the extremely foolish number of 7 masks, don’t ask me why, I blame the heat for melting my brain.

With regards to sizing: the medium masks fit my 2 year old (now 3 actually, happy birthday to him) pretty well. He has a massive head for a toddler though. They fit him well straight out of the package and are actually a little small/snug after being machine washed on delicate and dried on low. I probably will air dry his from now on. The large mask fits me very comfortably. However, my boyfriend/baby daddy/wedding canceller tried on the large Yoda mask and it was much too tight. I ended up pre ordering him a Star Wars set of 4 masks on the website in extra large last week when they were released. So we will have approximately one million Disney masks by the end of July, which seems about right.

He was so cozy in his mask that he fell asleep in it on the plane (in retrospect, is that even safe? Yeesh now im second guessing that…)

They have a ton of options in the parks, design-wise. Of course the register I went to didn’t have Forky in a medium for my son and didn’t have the red Minnie style I wanted for me, but there were a ton of other options, as listed above, so we are quite adequately stocked up.

I agree with what I’ve read others say, that the sizing seems a bit inconsistent. One of the medium masks fits my son perfectly, while another is a bit loose. Similarly some of the larges fit me perfectly, while others are loose. It isn’t a huge difference, and for only a few bucks per mask, I think the quality and sizing is pretty good. They are pretty soft and cozy. With regards to breath-ability, I’m fine in the Disney masks in NJ, but in Disney I pretty much stuck with disposable paper masks because they were the most breathable. I didn’t get my Disney parks masks until the last day of our trip though so I probably would have worn these a lot more if I had gotten them sooner, if not just for pictures. They are soft and stretchy enough that you don’t really mind sweating in them a bit. Plus, if you have a set of 4, you always have a spare clean one to replace your sweaty one with (or in my case, we have 57 spares in the center console of my car now and don’t sweat at all in the grocery store, so we just use one…).

Verdict: get them in WDW if you can. They sell them at all the resort gift shops and in every park. You can mix and match sizes and styles and use them towards your 4 for $20 instead of being stuck with the predetermined sets of 4 for $20 online.

Update: we just got a set of medium Pixar masks in the mail for the kiddo. The size discrepancies between the four mediums is pretty noticeable. Photos included for reference. Also including a photo of my son wearing one so you can see that one of them is huge on him, while all the other mediums tend to fit perfectly.