Disney dining frustrations

Update 10/14: a bunch of availability has opened up at Hollywood & Vine between 12/7-12/11 if anyone else is looking ! Have at it !

This is my first time being truly frustrated booking Disney dining reservations. After years of booking our reservations 180 days out and nabbing every hard-to-get reservation we wanted, plus two Covid era trips in the books now with multiple character dining reservations, I can now say I have completely failed at getting the character dining we wanted for our December trip.

Booking dining is increasingly challenging as crowds continue to increase, but capacity remains limited inside restaurants (which I appreciate), and numerous restaurants remain closed. What frustrates me is that there are still only 3 character dining options, so they get grabbed super quickly by everyone with kids. Topolinos continues to be the only character breakfast (although Chef Mickeys is bringing back characters on December 16th, 5 days after we leave Disney, which breaks my heart because I was very optimistic more character dining options would open by our travel dates and this announcement really stomped out my optimism). Garden Grill and Hollywood & Vine are the only two character dining options for lunch and dinner (although the Beast makes small appearances at Be Our Guest, but that isn’t worth the price tag and fancy food for our simple tastes, and I’ve heard mixed reports on whether Cinderella makes consistent appearances at her Royal Table currently… so I don’t count those 2 as true Character Dining experiences, but you may).

With the limited options available, I was hoping to get two breakfasts at Topolinos, one lunch at Garden Grill, and two dinners at Hollywood & Vine during our 8 night stay in December. I was able to get a dinner at Garden Grill on our first day, and breakfast at Topolinos on our very last day, but that is it. Absolutely no Hollywood & Vine availability for the whole week (for a party of 3!). Considering these meals are the only guaranteed character interactions during the whole trip, this is oddly heart breaking for me right now (lol, this is an emotional year). My kiddo is really counting on seeing “Santa Goofy” at Hollywood & Vine, and I feel like a massive failure.

Here’s where I got semi “screwed over” by the perfect storm of coronavirus changes.

First, everyone should know by now that dining reservations can be made 60 days prior to travel now, instead of 180 days. Fine, that shouldn’t really matter. A-ok in my book.

However, we are doing a split-stay with our first three nights at Bay Lake Tower and our last five nights at Beach Club. Normally, DVC Member Services is kind enough to link these reservations in a manner so that you can book all of your dining as though this is one reservation (ie at 60 days out from the first nights in Bay Lake, we should have been able to book the full week of dining). However, there is a new policy in place for Member Services to not perform this reservation linking due to “reduced capacity” aka staffing issues and high call volume. That’s a bunch of BS. The cast member I spoke to said that she knew how to do it, but was not allowed to. That is infuriating. She wasted more time talking to me in my frustration than it would have taken to just link the reservation! This doesn’t reduce call volume, since everyone will still call in expecting the same service they’ve gotten in the past, just to be disappointed. Completely frustrating covid-related policy change by DVC.

So as a result, I was only able to book four days of dining on our first booking day, then I had to wait another four days to try to book for the rest of our stay. By then, I was booking as though we were checking in on a Sunday at Beach Club, meaning everyone checking in on Saturday was able to book dining for their whole week the day prior to us.

Given that there are only two true character lunch and dinner options, with only one being in the super busy Hollywood Studios, this explains why Hollywood & Vine was unavailable for our whole stay when I logged in at 6am. Totally crappy.

My advice for people in our situation: 1. Don’t do split stays and 2. Don’t be too discouraged at this point, we all know a ton of people will be cancelling trips in upcoming weeks, just like they have over the prior months, as covid continues to wreak havoc on everyone’s travel plans. Plus in the days immediately prior to travel, dining opens up more than ever. People change dining plans last minute as they mess around with their plans while they are in Disney, so even if you arrive in Disney without the reservations you hoped for, don’t give up checking the app!

SIGNIFICANT UPDATE: After calling into Disney Dining this morning to have them check the whole week for any availability at Hollywood & Vine, the very helpful cast member informed me that for some reason Garden Grill and Hollywood & Vine are actually completely “blocked out” for most dates of our stay, so they are expecting new availability to be released imminently, but they have no idea when. She confirmed that the reservations are not all booked (actually barely any are booked she said), but for some reason Disney has blocked the reservations at those restaurants while they figure something out (who knows what they are up to at any given moment with all the moving pieces they are dealing with). She said to keep checking, because she expects when the availability is released, the reservations will go quickly (for the reasons explained above). So there is hope!

Potential big change for DVC online booking capabilities regarding Transferred in Points !

I just happened to call Member Services today to check in on whether we have any transferred in points available on one of our memberships, since you can’t see transferred in points online on your dashboard and typically need to call Member Services to get information about them. You normally can view reservations already booked with transferred in points on your dashboard, and you can cancel them, but for any other modifications or bookings with transferred in points, you always need to call and manage the points over the phone.

Well in BIG NEWS, member services apparently was notified TODAY, that members should be able to make bookings with transferred in points ONLINE effective TODAY. I have yet to confirm this, but will test it out later this afternoon. When I logged in today, my dashboard was showing a funky use year that was not accurate for my contract, but instead reflected the use year of some of my transferred in points, so they definitely are making some changes online to the dashboard visibility of transferred in points.

This is huge news for people with transferred in points because previously, if you were dealing with transferred in points, and a hard-to-get room became available briefly, you were at a huge disadvantage because you needed to call in to Member Services to try to book it, and during that time, it often could get snatched up by someone using the online booking tool. Major game changer if this change is really in place like Member Services was told today !

Christmas Festivities

Ugh, it’s like a knife to the heart whenever there is a Disney announcement about additional cancellations further out in the year. The announcement of the modification to Christmas celebrations hit me hard since I keep hanging on to hope that our weeklong trip in early December will be as magical as our November trips in prior years. We love love love the Christmas season in Disney. It’s always a somewhat low crowd season in mid November and early December, and the holiday decorations are so beautiful. Plus the weather is the most perfect of any time of year, in my opinion (especially after our sweat fest on our summer trips this year).

So I’m just trying to process my thoughts and remind myself of what we do and don’t care about ….

Mickeys Very Merry Christmas Party has been canceled…. this seemed inevitable. We aren’t at the stage where we pay for extra ticketed events because our toddler can’t last that long in the park’s to begin with, so this isn’t a loss for us. Honestly it probably means people will cancel trips which means park’s will be less crowded for our trip in early December, so I should view this as a positive I guess.

No Gingerbread Houses. What the heck man!!! Why?!? They said they can’t maintain physical distancing around the gingerbread houses, but that seems like bull. I’ve never seen massive crowds around the gingerbread displays, nor do I see why they wouldn’t be able to put distance markers around them. This has to just be an attempt at cost savings. They are cutting costs left and right to make up for reduced revenues during a normally peak revenue time at the holidays.

Projections on the castle instead of the lights. Hm. I guess this is another cost cutting thing? The lights were always pretty cool…. but projections will be cool too…. I just hope the park is open well after dark so we can get a good look at them.

No Candlelight Processional…. again we never attended this, so no loss there for us. Sorry not sorry…. I’m sure it’s nice, lol. We are more of the…. use big events as opportunities to jump on rides with lower wait times type as opposed to actually partaking in the big events.

Christmas cavalcades in the parks. Ok, I’ll take it. We like the cavalcades. We will be happy to see something new. Some surprise appearances from Santa will be fun too. My kiddo will be quite pleased with this new development.

Christmas trees in the lobbies…. the wording of this makes me wonder if they are cutting back on Christmas decorations throughout the resort grounds. I hope they still have the Christmas tree up outside at the Boardwalk in the grassy area!! We love that one. I’m pretty nervous that it sounds like Christmas decorations will be cut generously as a cost cutting measure, but call my cynical.

Christmas meal at Hollywood and Vine! This will be a character meal we will have to book. We haven’t been able to dine with Goofy at all since the reopening, which my perceptive toddler has commented on, so I’m glad to see Goofy will be at this one !

Honestly my reaction upon hearing this Disney news was negative just because I was sad to hear anyone already talking about modifying the Christmas experience. I’m worried about Christmas in general. Kids won’t get to visit Santa this year? Sigh. This year is so depressing. But back to the Disney news… upon further review there is really nothing in this announcement that is particularly detrimental to our December trip. I’m going to remain optimistic at this point (and continue praying for them to allow us to book reservations at more than one park eventually….).

Disney Trip Planning with Upcoming Reduced Park Hours (and no Park Hopping)

Disney Trip Planning with Upcoming Reduced Park Hours (and no Park Hopping)

A lot of people have taken a sigh of relief now that there are no fastpasses to book in advance, interpreting this as a break from Disney trips that they believe typically require a ton of stressful upfront planning. Ignoring the fact that this is silly because Fastpass booking day is totally the most exciting day leading up to any Disney trip (lol), and Fastpasses shouldn’t cause any stress since there is no obligation to use them if your plans change… Disney trips actually do require a fair amount of advance planning and creativity right now.

Additionally, in my opinion, Park Hoppers preciously removed a lot of the stress of Disney vacations with kids, because you could just suggest a change of venue if your little one got cranky or restless. There was no pressure to think of which park could entertain your whole family best for a full day, and instead you could plan a morning in one park, realizing that you could easily head over to another park after a couple hours. The fact that little kids could only ride a couple rides in each park was never a huge concern of mine until now. Now you have to plan full days in each park just so that your little ones can do 1-2 rides that they might love, and then you have to creatively fill the rest of the day without the option to visit another park.

The current park reservation system means that you need to plan in advance exactly which park you will be in every day of your trip. Disney is using this to control capacity in the parks every day while social distancing and crowd reduction is the goal. Reservations are already open through September 2021, so in theory, you should already have planned out which day you will be in each park for your trip a year from now (crazy!). The good news is that for those with resort reservations, there is a ton of availability for park reservations, so for the most part, you could change your mind and switch park reservations the day prior, or even the day of. The bad news is, there is no park hopping, so you need to stick with one park per day, despite some parks feeling like “half day parks” with small kids in particular. More bad news: park hours are about to become even more limited in September, potentially through mid November. Starting September 8th, the hours will be as follows:

Magic Kingdom – 9am – 6pm

EPCOT – 11am – 7pm

Hollywood Studios – 10am – 7pm

Animal Kingdom – 9am – 5pm

While it used to be common for AK to close at 5pm, it always used to be open at 8am, so it is a bummer for no park to be open until 9am now for parents traveling with early risers. Those early morning Extra Magic Hours are sorely missed by those with little kiddos for sure.

Without park hopping, on the days when you select EPCOT or HS for your park reservations, you are stuck without anything to do until the parks open at 10 or 11am. While this is totally fine for childless millennials or teenagers who like to sleep in (ah I truly, truly miss when that was my Disney trip style….), it really sucks for families that usually get an early start. If you saw my recent trip reports, my 3 year old wakes up at 6am in Disney saying “monorail time??” So this is where the creative advance planning becomes key. It is important that families plan their dining around the reduced park hours to maximize both their park time and non-park time.

Based on my trips to Disney in July and August after the parks reopened (but before the hours got reduced even further), I have a few suggestions for trip planning in these circumstances. Please note these suggestions are specifically geared towards those traveling with kids (sorry childless millennials, you can just relax and enjoy a pretty laid back trip of riding Flight of Passage 50 times with no line and then sleeping in the next morning…. planning complete) and families specifically planning to stay within the Disney “bubble” (in theory you could fill non-park time with ventures to other attractions nearby in Florida, but I can’t speak to that, so my suggestions are specific to staying within Disney). So here are my suggestions based on my recent visits with my toddler since the reopening:

1. Book your biggest, most exciting resort breakfasts on days when you are doing EPCOT or HS (the parks that open late in the morning). To go even further, I’d highly recommend booking Topolinos on one of your HS or EPCOT days, since it is the only character breakfast available at a resort right now, and is a quick Skyliner ride to both of those parks. If you time your reservation to be about an hour before you want to get to whichever park you are going to, you should be golden. You’ll eat, soak up a ton of time with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy, enjoy breathtaking views of the Riviera property, and then hop on the Skyliner to whichever park you are headed to. Easy peasy. Of course there are tons of other resort breakfast options, just check the Disney dining website. There unfortunately are no other character dining breakfasts that I’m aware of right now. Hopefully this changes. If it does, load up on character breakfasts for those mornings where you have the late opening parks reserved. That way your kiddos have a fun start to the day before the park even opens. *Just a reminder that you can access transportation to breakfast reservations before normal park transportation usually becomes available. For a specific discussion of Skyliner timing, look for my post about Skyliner hours for breakfast reservations*

Topolinos adds so much Disney to the day

2. Book in-park dinners for as late as allowable. As far as I’m aware, you can book dinners right up until closing time at restaurants in the parks. Then you can relax and eat in the park past when it technically closes. This way you also avoid the crowds of people at the buses/monorails/boats right at park closing time, since you will be leaving about 45 minutes to an hour later than everyone else. I’ve seen people posting on Facebook that certain places allow reservations even later than park closing time, but I haven’t personally confirmed this. Specifically, I’ve seen multiple posts that you can get reservations at Oga’s Cantina (basically just a bar and some snacks… so don’t plan on a full meal) in HS for well after the park closes. If anyone else can confirm this, feel free to comment. Similarly if there are other locations where this is true, also please mention them in the comments, because I’m very curious!

**Note they just announced that another character dining option will be opening in mid September in HS at Hollywood and Vine. This is a perfect option to book right before the park closes. That way you could take a break mid day to rest at your resort, head back to HS in the late afternoon/evening to ride a few rides with minimal wait time, and wrap up the day with Minnie and friends.**

3. Have late dinners at resorts (not necessarily your own!) on evenings when the park you are visiting closes early (MK and AK in particular). For example, we booked dinner at Sana’a at Animal Kingdom Lodge for one evening after MK closed during our August trip. We got the fun new experience of dining while watching animals on the savannah (without using a park day on AK) and got to lengthen our day since the park closed at 7. We took a bus to AKL straight from MK. We then took a bus from AKL back to the Boardwalk (the intent was to take a bus back to HS and walk, but since it was empty, the driver drove us straight back to our resort). With all of the parks closing early, you might have to plan on taking a bus to Disney Springs after dinner and getting another bus back to your resort, if you are looking to avoid Ubers, like we typically do. Keep in mind when booking Sana’a, that it’s not really worth it after sunset if your intent is to see the animals. So either book this one after an Animal Kingdom day when it closes at 5 (kind of a redundant amount of animals for one day), or this might be one to skip on these Fall trips if you are booking late meals for after park hours, since sunset is early. Definitely try out new restaurants at new resorts though! Use it as a chance to explore new resorts ! We love Whispering Canyon at Wilderness Lodge (you can hop a quick boat ride directly from Magic Kingdom).

Dinner at Sana’a at Animal Kingdom Lodge

If you love the Skyliner or the monorail, maybe try to book a dining reservation at one of the resorts on either of those modes of transportation after you visit a park nearby! We rode the monorail loop several times and stopped at multiple resorts for quick service meals during both of our summer trips. My son considers this to be mind blowingly fun (better than any park), and the monorail runs well after MK closes. Now is a perfect time to branch out and explore new resorts. There was a rumor floating around that you couldn’t “resort hop” at all right now without dining reservations, but I can put that 100% to rest since we visited the Contemporary, the Grand Floridian, and Caribbean Beach extensively without dining reservations during our stays recently. We also were never asked about our dining reservations when we arrived at Riviera or Animal Kingdom Lodge.

4. In that same train of thought: there are a TON of restaurants in Disney Springs, which is open much later than the parks. Check the website for specific restaurant hours, but you would have a ton of options for dining late in Disney Springs, and a bus would take you directly to and from your resort. We avoided Disney Springs on our most recent trips because rumor has it that it doesn’t feel quite as safe as the rest of the Disney bubble (we also just didn’t have time… and toddlers have other priorities, like riding the monorail on an endless loop), but I’m sure it is still up to Disney’s standards. While in Disney Springs you can shop at numerous Disney and non-Disney stores as well. It could occupy lots of hours in the evening for sure.

5. Don’t plan on going to the pool mid day. With park hours so limited during the day, you should prioritize the parks during those hours and worry about the pool either in the morning (on an EPCOT DAY) or in the evening (although by all means, still prioritize a mid day nap! We were able to visit the parks in the mornings and late afternoons and still squeeze in a good nap… you don’t want an overtired toddler on your hands). A lot of families seem to be going to the pools in the evenings, and they have been moderately crowded (but still fine social distancing-wise). The evening pool time at Polynesian in July was honestly what made me feel the happiest and most “at home” on our trip. It felt like we weren’t living in a weird depressing pandemic, and life was happy and magical again. There is just something about kids’ laughter in the pool in the evening that makes a vacation feel like a real vacation. Below is a sign with the pool hours at the Boardwalk when we travelled in mid August. This is consistent with the pool hours at the Polynesian when we travelled in July. There has been no news of any changes to pool hours. Weather wise, the evening is usually awesome for the pool after the afternoon thunderstorms clear. It’ll still be plenty hot, don’t worry :). All the pools are heated above 80 degrees if you are worried though.

6. As shown in that sign above, the resorts have other offerings such as movies on the lawn. I observed this at the Boardwalk and Caribbean Beach. I believe it is happening at all the resorts. It is cute, and several families were taking advantage while we were there. People sat out on the grass and kept their distance (with masks on, but presumably taking mask breaks to snack).

There are also community halls at many of the resorts (at least at the DVC resorts) that offer games, crafts, movie rentals that you can take to your room, etc. In the past you have been able to rent bikes from the community halls too. As far as I’m aware, the community halls are fully operational right now. I didn’t see anyone riding bikes at the Boardwalk while we were there though, so it might be worth a phone call to inquire about that aspect. If anyone is curious, the Surrey Bike Rentals were closed when we visited in mid August. Demand is probably too low to justify the additional cleaning and everything.

So those are my recommendations. You get the jist. Get creative. Have fun riding the transportation with your little ones (the Skyliner is honestly a ride in itself … it is easily more fun than Its A Small World lol). Visit new resorts and new restaurants. You can fit in a lot of rides during those limited park hours with limited-to-no lines these days. You’ll get plenty done in the parks. It’s just a matter of keeping your kids entertained during the non-park hours. That’s where the dining and the pool will probably come in most handy. Regardless, don’t stress. It’s all fun. If one plan doesn’t sound good in the moment, change it and do what does sound good. In my experience, restaurants don’t actually charge a cancellation fee, although they are entitled to charge $10 per person for no-shows (we missed a reservation in July thanks to an epic toddler tantrum and we weren’t charged anything). The beauty of these trips right now is that they don’t need to be too fast paced. You can do A LOT in a little time, without really rushing like crazy. Also honestly when you are traveling with kids in Disney World, going to bed a little earlier (I’m talking maybe 10 or 11 instead of being out at the parks all night watching fireworks) isn’t the worst thing. Disney days are damn tiring. Walking 10+ miles per day in the Florida heat, with a mask on, pushing a stroller is no joke. It is not the end of the world if you are back in your room hanging out by 9pm 🤷🏼‍♀️.

Have fun ! I’m jealous of everyone with Fall trips coming up. My kiddo just started pre school so our ability to quarantine for 14 days on our return to NJ just got a lot harder. 😢

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 …

Refillable Mugs/Popcorn Buckets

Update: apparently popcorn buckets have never expired and you could always bring old ones. This is a great piece of information that helps me a LOT. I’m a newbie to some of these mom things in the parks so I’m glad other moms know these things 🙂

For those who haven’t visited the parks since they reopened… the procedures with refillable mugs and popcorn buckets have changed. People are no longer allowed to refill their mugs at refill stations. Instead you bring your mug and ask a cast member for a “refill.” They then give you a normal paper drink cup with your drink in it. This is for cleanliness/safety reasons. They don’t want everyone touching the drink machines. Similarly, at popcorn carts, you show your bucket and ask for a refill, and they give you a paper container of popcorn.

So…. not to always be someone who works the system, but…. basically you can bring older mugs/buckets now that would normally be “expired” and not work in the drink machines, and get them refilled now with no problem. As long as they are a current design, you are good to go. I honestly rarely even had to show my mug when asking for a refill. I always had it in the stroller and they just got me my refill. I purchased a mug on our July trip, and the styles haven’t changed. I’d be surprised if they introduce new styles any time soon given that there are no dining plans currently and therefore way fewer people using the mugs, so they have a lot of inventory left in the current styles. This is the style we used on our July and August trips without issue for anyone who was curious :

Similarly, we bought a popcorn bucket in July and brought it back for our August trip. No issues getting refills. I finally feel like I got my money’s worth for these dang mugs and buckets for once ! There have to be some perks to this miserable pandemic right ? (As a side note, it’s a pain not being able to fill your own mug… at places like the Boardwalk Bakery you have to wait in the whole line of people ordering just to get a mug refill).

Edited to add: I’m not a proponent of screwing over Disney. I also don’t really think that that’s possible for individual consumers to do. I am a big proponent of saving a few bucks everywhere you can on the worlds most expensive vacations. If there’s a way to find discounts, use them. If there’s a way to find freebies, take them. This post was meant to suggest that it might be worth splurging on a refillable mug right now because you might get multiple trips use out of it. As a finance/accounting professional, it’s my opinion that Disney has factored in de minimus losses like this into their health/safety policy decision making right now. They know what they are doing and the potential tiny losses that might be incurred. They have totally factored this into their decision making. If there is one thing we all know, it is that there is nothing Disney doesn’t think of.

To clarify: we used an older mug at Boardwalk, Contemporary, and Caribbean Beach without an issue. Someone has reported that at Fort Wilderness they were asked to place their mug on a disc to confirm it was active back in July. We didn’t see any sign of that at the listed hotels in August. 🤷🏼‍♀️

Skyliner Availability for Breakfast Reservations

I wanted to separate this from my general trip report because this would have been super helpful to me in my trip planning this time around, so maybe it will help others. (This is based on our experience this week at Disney while staying at Boardwalk and frequenting the parks/other resorts via the Skyliner).

With such limited park hours lately, and even more so in upcoming months, I realized that the modes of transportations between hotels for dining reservations would be impacted as well. We stayed at the Boardwalk this week, which typically offers super easy access to a lot of transportation since you can walk to the Skyliner at the back of Epcot, walk through Epcot to the monorail, walk to HS for buses to any resort you need to go to, etc. Unfortunately, as I sat there all happy with my 9am Topolinos reservation, thinking I was filling time before HS opened at 10am (and Epcot opens at 11am), I realized “mother effer, I was planning to take the Skyliner from Epcot to Riviera for breakfast, but it won’t be running at 9!” Typically they say transportation runs to and from parks starting an hour before park opening, however the Skyliner hours as officially posted right now show the HS line opening at 9am and the Epcot line opening at 10:30am. Based on my experience today, these times are extremely accurate. We woke up and walked over to HS, figuring maybe we could get on that Skyliner a little before 9 and then walk from Caribbean Beach to Riviera, but they did not let anyone board the Skyliner at HS until after 9am. They wouldn’t even let anyone in the area near the Skyliner prior to 9am, regardless of breakfast reservations.

When we got to Caribbean Beach, we learned that we could show our Topolinos reservation and get on the Epcot Skyliner line immediately, even though it was not technically open until 10:30. So we rode that line at about 9:10 this morning with no issues. All we did was show our reservation information on my phone. I asked at the Riviera station if we could have ridden it from Epcot directly and they said yes, we would just show our reservation information. So basically it would appear that starting at least as early as 8 or 8:30am, if not earlier, even during these times with the super late park openings, you can access the Epcot Skyliner line with a breakfast reservation. This does NOT apply to the HS line, because there would be no reason anyone would need to use it for a breakfast reservation right now as far as I’m aware (at least they would not allow anyone to board AT HS, maybe you could board at Caribbean Beach and go to HS if you had a reservation in the park, if there are breakfast locations there …. are there?).

Additionally, when we were leaving Topolinos at about 10:15, there was a long line waiting for the Skyliner to Epcot from Riviera, which wasn’t open yet (still not 10:30). We foolishly waited in this line, although I asked at the station later and they said I again could have shown that we were staying at Boardwalk and had breakfast at Topolinos and were just taking the Skyliner back to our hotel, and we would have been allowed on before it opened at 10:30. So basically we should have gone around the line and up to the front. This feels like cheating, but we aren’t even going to Epcot, so why should we be waiting in a line for Epcot?!

Moral of the story: book those early Topolinos reservations freely if you are staying at Boardwalk, Yacht/Beach, Swan/Dolphin, Pop Century, or Art of Animation, because the Skyliner will take you there and back even though it is outside of the official operating hours. This is similar to my understanding of the monorail. I’m not totally sure about how the buses work for breakfast reservations, but I know they run at least an hour before park opening. This makes life SO much easier. We could have just walked quickly over to the back entrance of Epcot and taken the Skyliner directly to Riviera this morning at 9 instead of walking to HS, waiting for that Skyliner line to officially open, and then transferring at Caribbean Beach.

Update: I’ve heard from more people that the Epcot line has been open for breakfast reservations early over the past few weeks (September), specifically saying it opens for guests with breakfast reservations around 8:50 or 9am lately. Before that it may be running empty, so don’t quote me on the 8am opening time ! 8:50 opening is great for the Epcot line instead of the normal 10:30 opening time for guests going to Epcot. If the line opens at 8:50, you could be at Riviera easily before 9:05 for breakfast.

Quick opinion of August vs July crowd levels

Quick opinion of August vs July crowd levels

I’m a lucky duck that has gotten to go to Disney World now twice since they have reopened, and I can compare how to the crowd levels have changed since the initial opening a month ago (in my apparently not so humble opinion according to my non fiancé).

I should clarify that our July visit started literally the second day that MK and AK were open to the public, and the other two parks weren’t even open yet, so the crowd levels were at their absolute lowest. I’m sure anyone who visited even a week later experienced a significant increase in crowds (which still probably felt extremely empty) because people waited for all 4 parks to be open before planning their trips. That being said, I would say crowds on this trip were easily triple the crowds in July, which isn’t saying much, because the parks were absolutely empty when we went in July. We felt like we honestly had a private park experience those 3 days. We walked onto nearly every ride, with no wait greater than 15 minutes for Jungle Cruise. We also saw a ton of character cavalcades, which again felt like they were private showings for us. When we walked down Main Street USA, we felt like we were alone in the park. It was eery, but amazing.

Main Street USA on our visit in July
Empty Animal Kingdom in July

Fast forward to this week, and I’d say the crowds have really picked up. That being said, if I hadn’t gone in July, and this was my first trip back, I’d say the parks were the emptiest I’d ever experienced and it was amazing. It is all relative. They only felt crowded this time because I had experienced the emptiness in July. Honestly, MK still felt super roomy and empty everywhere we went. We were never right on top of anyone. We went right at park opening and were there off and on until the park closed (on a weekday), and it never felt crowded at any point. We walked onto all of the little rides. We don’t do big rides (I have a 3 year old), but I saw that the Mine Train said 25 minute wait in the morning, and I’m sure that was generous. Space Mountain said 10 minutes in the afternoon. I think Splash Mountain is the mountain with the longest waits lately, probably because it is so hot, and because no one knows when it’s going to close.

Main Street USA in August

Epcot actually felt pretty crowded when we went on Sunday afternoon/evening, but I think the construction walls and the nature of Food and Wine Festival contribute to that. People tend to hang around in the World Showcase eating and drinking, so it feels like there are people everywhere. The World Showcase was definitely crowded. Wait times for all of the big rides (Frozen, Soarin, Test Track) were 40 minutes and up (at least that’s what they said… I’ve learned that those times are quite inflated lately). Garden Grill and Seasons were both really busy in The Land. It just felt busy overall, compared to life nowadays, not compared to normal Disney World of course.

On Monday, Hollywood Studios felt similarly crowded. We went at park opening and the Main Street (Sunset Boulevard?) was full of people. We were able to immediately walk straight onto Toy Story Mania though. Everyone was very busy with their phones because it was Boarding Group time. The line for Mickey and Minnies Runaway Railway was over an hour when we arrived (again, it probably was more like 30 minutes I have subsequently learned, but they were saying it was an hour and the line looked overwhelming wrapped around outside – spoiler : it moves really fast and there isn’t much of a line inside). Slinky Dog also had a 40+ minute wait right off the bat. So my point is just that there are definitely a lot of people out at the parks. Obviously this is nothing compared to a normal time. When you think of all the attractions that are closed that normally fill up with tons of bodies at a time, all of which are sitting empty right now (in HS for example : Frozen, Indiana Jones, Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid, the character meet and greets), it is clear that the parks are at extremely low capacity, probably still under 20%… who knows, but everything just feels more full than it did in July. It honestly made me happy because it felt a little closer to normal. The crowds and lines can be deceptive though because of the six feet of spacing between everyone, and the lack of weaving lines around inside ride areas. So while the parks might FEEL a little more crowded right now, they definitely are still super empty in the grand scheme of things.

Walking into Hollywood Studios on August 17th (Monday)
Posted wait times in HS at mid day on Monday (actual wait times were usually much lower)

Outside of the parks it felt the same in July and August. The resorts feel empty because you don’t really have to spend much time in places like the lobby because you can go straight to your room. The Boardwalk pool in August wasn’t as busy as the Polynesians pool was in July. The Boardwalk itself was empty all day every day. At night it got a little busy with everyone getting pizza at the pizza window and then sitting at the tables on the Boardwalk to eat. Otherwise it was a ghost town. The Beach Club beaches were super empty. All of the walkways in the area were empty enough that you almost felt ok removing your mask briefly. It felt safe removing your mask walking from Boardwalk to HS because that’s a longer walk and the walkway was completely empty the whole way. The lake is so quiet and empty with no Friendship boats running right now too.

Empty Boardwalk
Quiet empty walk to HS

We ate at Topolinos for character dining for breakfast both in July and August and it felt the same crowd-wise both times. They kept tables empty, had plastic dividers between booths, used mobile check in, took temperatures, etc. It felt safe both times. You can see my rave review in an earlier post. That review still stands. We love love love Topolinos.

We had quick service for dinner at Caribbean Beach one night and noticed that that pool was Super busy in the evening just past 8pm. The quick service place was busy too, but not crowded at all.

Busy Caribbean Beach pool in the evening

Verdict: if you go now, it’ll feel like the emptiest WDW has ever been, I can promise you that. You’ll walk onto rides for sure. You will wait less time than the app says for the big rides. You’ll encounter areas with lots of people, but you will be able to keep plenty of distance to feel safe all the time definitely. As more attractions open, the slightly increasing crowds will have more places to spread out (hopefully some shows will open soon since the actors union reached their deal with Disney).