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 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.