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 …

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were so ready for our Pixar day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There’s your mommy!!”

Mickey and Minnies Runaway Railway

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

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

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

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

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

November 2019 Trip Report

Super belated review of our trip from this past November (aka the non-Wedding Trip). Got side-tracked with all the drama of life and just didn’t have time to organize my thoughts on this, but for every moment since our trip, the sentiment in my mind has been that this Disney trip saved our family. I know it seems bizarre to a lot of people that we would still go as a family to Disney World after canceling our Disney wedding for that week, but as I’ve told countless therapists (ha), Disney makes things better, not worse. There’s no sad days in Disney World. Imagine how sad that non-wedding day would have been if we were at home after canceling the trip altogether, yikes.

So aside from some obvious uniqueness to this trip that I will touch on (we had some catered dinner parties because we were trying to use some of our nonrefundable wedding deposit, and we still had some friends down there with us that couldn’t cancel their travel plans), this trip was definitely noteworthy in that we stayed at three resorts for a total of 8 nights, experienced multiple new rides, and RODE THE SKYLINER, WOOHOOO (I’ve been a big Skyliner fan since it was announced in 2017).

Our trip was mid-November (November 15-23rd to be exact) and for anyone who is curious, Christmas decorations were up everywhere that we went, excluding the main Epcot Christmas tree at the entrance to the World Showcase because Food and Wine Festival was still going on (extended longer than usual). With regards to weather, it varied drastically, similar to our trip last November. The first few days were chilly enough that we couldn’t pull off shorts and had to go with long pants during the day, much to my dismay coming from NJ and insisting anything would feel warm. At night it felt pretty darn cold, which is weird because it couldn’t have dipped below 50 degrees, but when you are outside for a long time in the wind, I guess 50 degrees starts to feel cold. Sweatshirts did not quite feel like enough and there was plenty of shivering going on. During the fireworks, people were literally wrapped up in blankets. However, by the end of the week, it was BEAUTIFUL weather and we were sitting at the pool at 9:30 in the morning enjoying nearly 80 degree weather. So pack for some pretty big temperature swings.

Aside from obviously being excited for this trip for wedding reasons initially, I was very excited for this trip because not only was last year’s trip with our son amazing, but we had ordered a Shutterfly album of our Disney photos afterwards, and our son (28 months old at the time of this second trip) spent the whole year looking at the album literally daily. He was so excited and seemed to somewhat “remember” the concept of a Disney trip as a result of looking at the album so much. He also had come to love his Mickey, Pluto, Minnie, etc stuffed animals and was much more familiar with Frozen by the time of this second trip, so he was actually excited at the prospect of meeting characters when we named them at home. There was much more anticipation for this trip on his end than the trip when he was only 15 months old.

So, resort by resort, this was our stay:

1st night – Grand Floridian Standard Room (room type was categorized as “Outer Building – Garden View/Standard View”)

We stayed in this room for one night simply because we had “earned” a free night at a resort of our choice as a result of filling our wedding block of rooms (oy). I wasn’t about to pass up on any freebies offered by Disney, no matter how depressing, so we picked the generally unanimously agreed upon most luxurious/prestigious Disney resort, the Grand Floridian, and started our trip there.

We took the Magical Express from the airport with no issues, as always, with one additional item to note: our bags were transported by Disney, which I have never done before because I typically don’t check bags, and it worked flawlessly. This trip we checked one big family bag (we got a nice Mickey suitcase from our wedding registry and the gifter said we didn’t need to return it – hooray?) and one stroller. We didn’t even have the yellow Magical Express baggage tags, but we gave the Cast Member our baggage claim information and flight information when we were checking into the Magical Express, and they said they’d handle finding the bags. Our bags weren’t even on our flight, because things got messed up at Newark airport and they were put on a later flight, and still there were no issues and the bags were waiting in our room that evening.

I didn’t set my expectations too high with regards to the room and/or the view given that the complimentary rooms offered for filling your wedding block are always the lowest tier of rooms at each resort. We were automatically put in a Standard View Standard Room in an “Outer Building.” So I was thrilled that we had a lovely pool view of the main Grand Floridian pool. The room was also a little bigger than I expected. It had the normal area with 2 queen beds and a bathroom, but also had a separate sitting area with a million windows and multiple couches, as well as a second TV. We set up our son’s pack n’ play (actually housekeeping set it up when we weren’t in the room – which was unexpected and nice) over in that separate sitting area, which was convenient. Our luxurious stay was short lived though and the next morning we checked out. We loved the luxury of getting on the monorail and going straight to MK in the morning, much to our choochoo-obsessed toddler’s delight.

One funny note specific to the room we were in: I believe this was a handicapped-accessible room because there was a wheelchair button on the door inside the room to automatically open the door to leave. Our toddler had a field day opening and closing the door. So if you have a toddler and you want privacy, maybe avoid a handicapped accessible room, or do what we did and put the lock across the door because we had some close calls with the door swinging open while getting changed and our son laughing like an evil little hyena.

Nice big room with lots of windows and a big balcony
View from the room

I hadn’t done a split-stay in over a decade, and this was my first time as the adult on the reservation, so I wasn’t sure how much of a pain it would be moving around, but Disney makes it as easy as possible (although I still prefer not to do split-stays). We brought our luggage to bell services at GF, although I believe we could have left it in the room, but don’t quote me on that, and let them know we were moving to the Boardwalk. All we needed to give them was our name and the hotel name, and they took the bags and said they’d be waiting for us at the next resort. We made sure we had enough diapers and other necessities for the day just in case.

Worth noting, the Grand Floridian’s lobby was as beautiful as always. The Christmas decorations are always some of the best on the property. The gingerbread house is the same giant house every year and it never gets old. Also worth noting, we saw no fewer than 3 brides taking photos in the lobby during our 20 hour stay at the hotel, so that was just wonderful and not remotely depressing.

Protecting his anonymity ?

Nights 2-7 (6 nights) – Boardwalk Villas – 2 Bedroom Lock Off Boardwalk View split with Grandma and Grandpa in the lock-off part

This is our “home” resort under my mom’s DVC membership (since 1996), so this is where we typically stay. This is also where we were supposed to get married on November 17th, so some people thought it would be way too sad for us to stay there, but they just don’t get that this is my happy place! Home away from home. Nothing makes me happier than walking into the Boardwalk lobby at the start of a trip. Just writing about it gives me butterflies.

We had a Boardwalk view, which we never get (since it was a special occasion and all), which is such a wonderful luxury if you can ever grab ahold of one while they are available. Boardwalk views are the same # of points as garden/pool views, they are just very limited in inventory, so you have to grab them early. We were on the 4th floor and approximately right over the Big River Grill. Perfect view of ferry boats in the morning. We could even see the Skyliner in the distance from our room. Our balcony was fully enclosed, with no railing, since there was a roof area in front of it, so our son was very safe out there (not that we leave him unattended – relax). My stepdad whined a bit about our view because it was kind of obstructed by the roof in front of the balcony, but he tends to whine about every view we’ve ever had, so that really is barely worth mentioning.

Our luggage actually took FOREVER to arrive at the Boardwalk from the Grand Floridian, which is one of my only 2 complaints on this trip (both of which are minor). I had to call a few times to check on if the luggage had arrived, and they seemed to get things mixed up because I gave my name to the Grand Floridian Bell Services Cast Member, but our reservation at the Boardwalk was under my mom’s remarried last name, so that contributed to the delay. We also ordered groceries from Amazon Prime (Whole Foods) which were delivered super timely to the resort. Bell services held them until we were ready to go pick them up. I actually think Bell Services brought the groceries up to us with our luggage as a courtesy since they were already coming up and they felt bad about the luggage delay. Normally there is a small fee for holding grocery deliveries and bringing them to your room (no fee if you pick them up at bell services yourself).

It was a good experience ordering groceries for the first time (last trip we had just ordered diapers and wipes), although the milk was only 2 days away from expiring, which kind of defeated the purpose, so I let Amazon know and they gave us a credit for a replacement order, which was great. I kind of rushed my grocery order and did it on the app while in bed at the Grand Floridian, so I didn’t put as much thought into the groceries as I should have. I ordered things that I thought would allow for good in-room breakfasts and occasional lunches for Copper (chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, milk, eggs, some frozen veggies). I had packed oatmeal packets and fruit/veggie pouches in our luggage. I foolishly ordered ketchup and butter with the groceries, thinking that Copper can’t eat nuggets without ketchup and can’t eat mac and cheese without butter, but we could have easily gotten handfuls of these items down at the bakery. That was amateur hour on my part for sure. Live and learn. I’m still trying to get this whole “travel with a toddler” thing down to a science. We picked Amazon as opposed to Dizzy Dolphin or Garden Grocer solely because those two have minimum order requirements and I didn’t think we would meet them. I also am just an Amazon junkie so I figured I would stick with what I know.

One different thing that happened at the Boardwalk this trip as compared to last trip was that Housekeeping gave us a crib instead of a pack n’ play. Oddly none of the rooms we stayed in had a pack n’ play in the closet, whereas last year it was in the closet when we arrived. The crib worked out way better than the pack n’ play. It felt bigger, although it definitely was the same dimensions (the same size sheet fit on it). It also had a nice cushioned mattress, which definitely helped Copper sleep better. Sadly, I think this was his last trip where he can sleep in a crib, since he was around 37.5″ at the time and if he were any taller I think he would have been pretty uncomfortable. At his height (and massive size ….he was about 35 lbs at that point too), he slept just fine in the crib though. The sides of the crib were taller than the sides of a pack n play, and he just felt a lot safer and more comfortable in there.

We love, love, love staying in a one bedroom DVC villa as a family (technically a two bedroom, but I’m not counting the lock off part that grandma and grandpa were in), because we put the crib in the living room/kitchen area, set up the monitor on the counter looking into the crib, and then we can close the door and stay up later in the bedroom watching TV/eating/watching the fireworks on the balcony. It makes the whole need to be in the room early with a toddler much more bearable than if you are crammed in a normal hotel room and have to have the lights out at 8pm. One night of our trip, we actually were able to sneak out past him sleeping in the crib, leave the monitor with Grandma and Grandpa in the studio lock off part of the room, and go enjoy Extra Magic Hours in Epcot. There isn’t a better set up for a family traveling with a young kid and/or grandparents. Especially being walking distance to two parks.

Night 8 – Beach Club Villas One Bedroom Villa

We added one night at the end of this trip at Beach Club simply because I saw it available one day, we had just enough points, and I figured why not, we would be celebrating our wedding after all, why not make it a long trip!? There are a lot of people that swear by the Beach Club being the best DVC resort, and it is damn near impossible to get a room in a popular time like Food and Wine Festival, so I jumped at the opportunity when there was a room available. For decades, I have sworn that Boardwalk was the superior of the two Epcot Resort area DVC resorts. We stayed at Beach Club one time when the villas first opened, and we were pretty unimpressed after always staying at the Boardwalk, so we wrote it off as being a one-and-done situation for us. However, DF and I stayed in a Beach Club studio this past summer when we went down to Florida to do our wedding planning (yes we actually went down to WDW for a night to meet with the wedding planners and do a menu tasting, which was glorious), and it was better than I remembered. It is nearly identical to the Boardwalk. I am a believer that the DVC folks realized what a gem that had with the Boardwalk and desperately scrambled to add more rooms to the same resort area by plopping the Beach Club Villas down across the lake in what used to be a parking lot by the Yacht/Beach Club. The goal was just to get more DVC rooms in the highly sought after Boardwalk/Epcot area. The location is the best part, so in that regard, both resorts are pretty much equal. I will post a comparison of the two separately. The reason we were excited for our night at Beach Club was because we have been dying to use the Beach Club pool, Stormalong Bay, to which Boardwalk guests are no longer allowed to “pool hop.” It did not disappoint, but more about that below in the more detailed review of the hits and misses of this trip.

We walked our carry-on luggage and groceries over from the Boardwalk to the Beach Club, and left the big stuff for bell services to bring over, similar to how they moved our luggage from GF to BW at the start of the trip. No issues at all. The room was ready early. We got all the groceries in the fridge, then headed to the parks for the day. We made a request right away to have a crib (as opposed to a pack n play) brought to the room because we loved the crib so much at the Boardwalk. This is my 2nd complaint of the trip: major issues getting the crib at the Beach Club. Huge communication issues with Housekeeping. They kept saying, no problem it’ll be there when you get back. Then, no crib. We would call again, they’d say its on its way, then no crib. We’d call again and they’d say we actually don’t have cribs. Tons of confusion. Twice people came to our door with pack n plays. Very confusing. Finally we received a crib. They said there was an electrical outage and it caused confusion and delay (to quote Sir Toppem Hat, for my Thomas the Tank Engine Fans). Very un-Disney Like. That was our only issue though. Otherwise, we loved the room. In typical Beach Club Villas fashion, there wasn’t much view. Most rooms have a view of the woods or the quiet pool. We were looking at the woods. We did have a good view of Epcot Forever at night, much to Copper’s terror (LOL). We also could see the Skyliner in the distance! That was a major improvement to the typically bland Beach Club view.

Hits and Misses of the Trip:

I won’t go day by day of our trip and say what we did every minute, but our meal planning and fast pass planning was definitely better this time around. We booked reservations for brunches/lunches most days at character meals for the most part, since Copper is character-crazy. We also did a couple character dinners, but those are a few dollars more expensive per person, so we tried to stick with lunches. The major perk is the kids under 3 eat free at buffets and family-style meals, so we took full advantage of that.

The meals that we would definitely, 100% rush to do again were: Garden Grill (Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale – great family style food, big comfortable booths), Chef Mickey’s (again this was absolute perfection – view of the monorail while getting visits from Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald – although last year we saw all five characters within 15 minutes of being seated, and this year it took at least an hour, but that was just bad luck with when and where we were seated), and Cape May Cafe (amazing buffet breakfast, very fun interactions with Minnie, Daisy, Donald, and Goofy – plus a quick walk from the Boardwalk/Beach Club).

The restaurants that we were neutral towards, but it was potentially just bad timing due to sleepy, cranky toddler: Tusker House (this is so highly recommended! Unfortunately, Copper was very tired after a long day in Animal Kingdom and was falling asleep. It was also very, very crowded and we had awhile to wait before we saw the characters. For some reason it didn’t have a character meal feel to it, but more of a quick service restaurant feel, maybe because it used to be quick service and that is how I remember it. Everyone seemed happy with the food, except Copper who was just too grumpy, although it did upset the sensitive stomach of Grandpa later than night – We will need to try it again to give it a fair shot) and 1900 Park Fare (we went for brunch when they have Alice, Mary Poppins, Pooh, Mad Hatter, and Tigger – Copper was only familiar with Tigger and Pooh, so the other characters were wasted on him really – the food was AHHHHMAZING – I hope we can go back when he is more interested in the characters).

For our other non-table-service meals, we did a lot of quick service dining throughout the parks, taking advantage of the advance ordering on the Disney app. I highly recommend using this feature. Our food was always ready and waiting for us when we walked into the restaurants. We did this in each park with no issues anywhere. I hate standing in lines, and I certainly don’t want the lines I stand in in Disney to be for anything but an awesome ride, so I’m so glad they added this to the app.

Best rides/experiences of the week:

-Carousel – this one was still a winner. He might not have loved it quite as much as last year, but he still really loved it. We all rode it together. There wasn’t much of a line when we went – we waited maybe 10 minutes.

-Speedway – We didn’t do this one last year! Yay for new experiences every year! He rode with Daddy and I rode in another car behind them. He had a ton of fun pretending to steer while Daddy did the real driving.

-Watching Splash Mountain – Yes, we sat on the bridge and watched Splash Mountain several times on several different days. This blew Copper’s mind. Then I actually rode it and he watched me go around and then come down the hill and holy moly was he terrified/thrilled.

The train to Conservation Station and the petting zoo when you get there – I don’t think I have ever done this. I honestly didn’t even know there was a train until someone told me about it when I was complaining about the MK train being closed for two years. I believe this was under refurbishment on our last trip, but thankfully it was open this time, because we rode it one of the early days of the trip and then Copper kept talking about it and we rode it twice more later in the week. One time we just rode it back and forth without even getting off. He loved that it was an open train with the benches facing sideways. The petting zoo is very fun too since you can brush the animals and it feels special to be inside the enclosure with them. This is a must if you have a train lover and are missing the MK train during its closure.

-Triceratops Spin – He loves this one more than Dumbo/Aladdin for some reason. I think it is just because kids love dinosaurs.

-Dinoland playground – definitely the best playground for Copper in WDW. Sandbox areas are always a win.

-Frozen Ever After – Before coming on this trip, we watched a lot of short Frozen videos (he hasn’t sat through a movie yet) on Youtube, so he knew all the songs and was fairly obsessed with Anna and Elsa, so he was mindblown to see them on the ride and to hear Elsa singing Let it go. The backwards part and the drop made him wimper a bit, but no tears.

-Slinky Dog Dash (without our son)- This was our first time riding SDD! I frantically grabbed fastpasses for a day late in our trip the second the fastpass window opened and I was successful. I actually only got one fastpass for DF and used rider swap for me with no issues. I posted specifically about rider swap experiences in another post, but the jist is, we went to the ride during the fastpass window, spoke to the lady in charge of rider swap, she scanned our bands and gave me a return time 10 minutes later, DF rode the ride using his fastpass, then I rode 10 minutes later as though I had a fastpass, but without needing one. Copper loved watching the ride go by thankfully so he didn’t mind waiting for us both to ride. He called it the Dog Choochoo, and we sat and watched it several times throughout the week. My verdict is that it is worth the hype. So smooth like Aerosmith, but fun and happy with its kid-like theme. Slightly less nauseating since there are no inversions (I’m very susceptible to motion sickness). I also believe its a little longer than Aerosmith maybe? I could be making that up. We will definitely prioritize riding it on every trip. I think Copper could potentially handle it next year. I saw some 3 year olds going on it. Copper is already almost 38 inches, so we will see how courageous he is in a year. It seems pretty terrifying to imagine him on it right now, but I’m a big pansy, so hopefully I can get a little braver in the next year as well.

-Popcorn buckets – Get a refillable popcorn bucket. Just do it. Maybe not one of the super cool souvenir ones themed after a character or whatever because they fit less popcorn, but get one of the legit buckets. We never went to Hollywood Studios without refilling our bucket. Perfect afternoon snack to cheer up a cranky kiddo.

-Mickey’s Clubhouse on TV in the morning – Before the trip, Copper liked his Mickey stuffed toy. He had no idea who he was though. Every morning on the trip, we turned on the TV and watched Mickey’s Clubhouse in bed together and he was IN LOVE. When we got home we had to keep watching Mickey’s Clubhouse every day for months. This made him even more excited to meet the characters throughout the week after watching them on the TV.

-THE MONORAIL – Our son is a huge, huge lover of all moving vehicles, so he was mesmerized with every form of transportation in WDW, but the monorail still takes first place in his heart. Given that we stayed at an MK resort and then Epcot resorts, we were able to utilize the monorail a lot throughout the week. To get to MK from the Boardwalk/Beach Club area, we always walk through Epcot and take the monorail to the TTC and then transfer over to the MK monorail, so we get two monorails everytime, as opposed to one frustrating bus (my son might love the buses, but I sure don’t). If you have a park hopper pass, I highly recommend taking this route. It might be longer but you are constantly moving and never waiting for more than a few minutes for your transportation to arrive.

THE SKYLINER (aka gondola-gondola!) – I have been eagerly awaiting the opening of the Skyliner since it was announced in July 2017, and it did not disappoint. I have a tendency to get motion sickness on almost everything, but did not have significant issues on this. There were a couple moments where I started to feel it kicking in, but it seemed to be exclusively when we were riding on a gondola with one of the character screenprint image wrap-things on it, so I think it was related to looking through the obscured windows. My motion sickness is always vision related (maybe everyone’s is? I’m not a doctor….) so I was 100% perfect on any gondolas without an image printed on it. Even in the ones with the images, I still only felt a slight twinge of nausea here and there, nothing significant enough to deter me from riding more. We rode all of the tracks 3 times each during our stay. Copper always would say “gondola gondola!” when we walked past the back of Epcot, so we would take a 20 minute detour and take a ride. There was never any line whatsoever at the Skyliner at the back entrance of Epcot. We also experience 0 lines at the Caribbean Beach transfer station. We saw one seemingly lengthy line at Hollywood Studios, but it moved so fast that we waited probably 2 minutes total. Of all of our rides, we experienced one slow down that lasted under a minute. It never stopped at any point while we were on it. I’ll eventually write a full review of the Skyliner, but suffice it to say, we loved it and consider it the best transportation option in WDW. It goes SO fast out of the station (my son would always say “ZOOOOOM!!!” at that part) and moves so smoothly. Granted November isn’t the hottest time of year, but we were always very comfortable up there, if not a bit chilly from the breeze. It did get a little rocky in the wind, so I imagine my motion sickness could act up a lot more on a very windy day.

-Stormalong Bay (the pool at the Yacht/Beach Club) – There should never be any debate about what the best resort pool in WDW is. Stormalong Bay is the best resort pool I’ve been to anywhere, forget just WDW. When we bought our family DVC points in 1996 at Boardwalk, part of the draw was the we could walk over to Stormalong Bay and use that pool. Then crowding became an issue when the Beach Club Villas were built and other resort guests were no longer allowed to use this pool (pool hopping to other resort pools is a DVC perk except for certain excluded pools). I didn’t have much trouble accessing the pool until the past 5 or so years when they started enforcing the no pool hopping really strictly. They have lifeguards at every entrance that scan your Magic Bands to confirm you are a guest at the Yacht/Beach Club and then give you a special pool wrist band to access the pool for the day. The wrist bands change every day. I’ve seen them enforcing this even at off times, and when its raining. So we figured we needed to stay at night at the Beach Club to give Copper a change to enjoy my favorite childhood pool. I should first note that Copper is pretty unimpressed with pools in general. He spent maybe 10 minutes in the Boardwalk pool then said “all done!” Since he can’t swim or reach the bottom, I guess he just gets a little bored being carried around. Stormalong Bay has a wonderful beachy kiddie area that is shallow and full of sand (the whole pool has a sand-bottom). We went out in the morning, he found a bucket and a shovel, he sat in the shallow water on the sand and we couldn’t get him to leave. He had so much fun and we had to drag him back to the room 90 minutes later to get ready for our lunch reservation. This pool experience basically cemented the fact that our trip next year will be at the Beach Club instead of the Boardwalk (I feel like such a traitor).

-Meeting Mickey x12 (and every other character) – For anyone unfamiliar with travelling to WDW with a child under 3….they are free for a reason: they aren’t tall enough for 90% of the rides. These are not trips where you have a million rides to squeeze in. Sure we rode a ton of kiddy rides and had a great time, but the main objective of every day was meeting characters. We planned numerous character dining experiences, as mentioned above, and also tried to meet as many characters in the park as possible without waiting on any foolish lines. The only line we really stood on for a character was 20 minutes for Anna and Elsa, but our son is in love with them, so we had to do it. We used fastpasses for meeting Mickey in MK and AK. Otherwise we just went to whatever characters we came across that had no wait. Since DF was heading to Star Wars Land early one morning to ride Smugglers Run, we were in the park when Olaf started meeting people, as well as Mickey and Minnie, so we met all of them in the first 15 minutes after park opening. We also met Mickey and friends a couple times at the Visa character meet and greet spot with no wait (if you have a Disney Visa card, you can go into this spot in Epcot by Imagination and it is different characters every time). We got to hug Mickey at least once per day, every day of the trip, and each time it was basically the equivalent for my son of me getting to meet Derek Jeter. Kids are so star struck by the characters. Honestly everyone is. I felt like such a dope being so excited to meet people dressed in character costumes, but hey I guess Disney does that to you. Our little boy started off so shy and tentative at the start of the week, and by the end he was waltzing up to giant Goofy and giving him hugs and high fives like it was no big deal. I can’t overstate what this trip did for his confidence, and I really think the character meet and greets played a huge role.

-Flight of Passage – This was another ride that we did for the first time ever on this trip. We grabbed fastpasses for late in our trip as soon as the fastpass window opened (I actually grabbed these 2 before Slinky Dog because I knew we wanted to ride this one together, whereas with Slinky Dog, we were okay doing rider swap). Prior to this, DF’s favorite ride in WDW was Soarin. He just loves flying and simulators and so I knew this would be a big hit with him. I also knew that I would probably die of motion sickness, so I was pretty terrified and refused to ride alone using rider swap. My mom hung out with Copper in the Dinoland Boneyard while we used our fastpasses on FOP. We loved all of the theming in the queue. Disney did what Disney does best, fully immersing guests in the queue and the pre ride movie and everything. I thought there would be a little more relevance to the pre-ride show where you create your own avatar by moving around. I thought maybe they’d show that avatar in the actual ride, but my expectations are clearly pretty high. Anyway, suffice it to say, this is DF’s new favorite ride by a landslide. He went on it again later in the week using one of my mom’s fastpasses/rider swaps. I on the other hand, made it halfway through before breaking out in a cold sweat and fearing that I was not going to make it. I had to sit down for awhile outside the ride afterwards until I felt better. I felt worse than I feel after Everest, but not quite as bad as I feel on/after Star Tours. I’ve never tried Mission Space, so I can’t compare. Sadly, I don’t think I can do this one again unless Copper talks me into it many years down the road.

-Christmas decorations! The Christmas trees were up at all of the resorts we visited. The tree in the grassy green area by the boardwalk was a favorite place for kids to play it seemed. Grand Floridian had their typical beautiful Victorian tree. We also visited wilderness lodge and saw their beautiful tree. The grand Floridian gingerbread house was also up, but the boardwalk one was not yet. The trees in the parks were up, excluding Epcot which still had food and wine festival decorations up while we were there. The Christmas parties were going on at night at MK after the park closed so everyone was fully in the Christmas spirit by mid November.

Flops (not terrible – just didn’t cause the amazement/joy that I was going for):

-Finding Nemo show – This year Copper unfortunately did not do well with shows. He did not have the patience to sit in a theater and watch a show when he was so excited to go, go, go! Nemo was a perfect example, we lasted 5 minutes and had to leave. It was no fault of the show, just not right for our very excited 2 year old who wanted to be out and about in the park.

-Fantasmic – Make no mistake about it, Fantasmic is my favorite show in Disney World. It is in my top 3 favorite attractions overall. I have never once gone to Fantasmic and not shed a happy tear or two. I even say that if I’m ever in a coma, just play the Fantasmic sound track and I will wake up happy. That being said, this was our first attempt at bringing our 2 year old to a firework show. Big mistake. After such a long exhausting day with no nap, why did we even consider taking him out for an 8pm show. This was just not smart thinking. He even fell asleep in his stroller on the walk over to HS from Boardwalk. So we had to wake an exhausted toddler up at the start of the show, confuse him by the massive crowd in the dark, and force him to sit through some frightening villain sequences and loud noises. Thankfully, Fantasmic doesn’t have too many actual fireworks, which we learned terrify our son that night (fun development), but the rest of it was enough to cause a lot of crying and screaming. He wasn’t even able to enjoy the happy sequences with all the characters on the boats because he was too busy crying from the scary parts. It was just a bad idea all around. I don’t have any intention of keeping him up for any more fireworks on any upcoming trips. At home he still says “no like fireworks” as a result of this one experience.

-Jungle Cruise – It took me 3 trips with him, but I finally got DF on Jungle Cruise. I had no luck getting fastpasses for it for the last 2 trips we went on, but finally got them this time (that super long wait is just way too much for me, even though it is a classic). I love this classic ride, although the awesomeness definitely faded when Animal Kingdom opened and there were real safari rides. Oddly our son was a bit scared of this one. He was due for a nap, so his crankiness may have come into play, but he was not feeling the (very funny) skipper and her jokes. He really, really didn’t care for the cave/tunnel area. I think it was a fluke though and we will try again next time and he will probably love it.

-Kilimanjaro Safari – OKAY, let me just say, that I consider this to be maybe the best ride in Disney World. It is definitely one of the top two on my favorites list, always. That being said, Copper fell asleep on it two out of two times this trip. We rode it right before dinner one time and the bumping and rocking just lulled him off to sleep right away. It was an exceptionally long ride also because rhinos were blocking the path (awesome – I love it), so he got some quality snoozing in. So yea, he was not impressed. I show him photos of the giraffes right next to his sleeping face and he is amazed, but at the time, not so much.

-Navi River Ride – I don’t have any excuses for this one. He was a happy, non cranky boy, we went on this first thing in the morning, and he hated it and wanted to get off. I think he was bored. He liked “the big blue lady,” but other than that, he just kept saying “no boat!”

-Our Magic Bands not working with all the rides’ photos – I was under the impression that Magic Bands work for 2ish years. That is what I’ve always been told. We used our Magic Bands from our November 2018 trip (so just over a year old) and they seemed to work fine as far as we were aware on our trip. There were no issues with our room doors, entering parks, making payments, etc. However, in the Disney app, some of our ride photos were not showing up. I figured there was some sort of glitch or delay, and we’d just wait a couple days. However, after our trip, I called the Photopass customer service number and was informed that some of the rides don’t work well with older Magic Bands because the sensors aren’t as close to the rides, or something to that affect. We had issues on Splash Mountain, Pirates, Frozen, Slinky Dog, Buzz Lightyear, Seven Dwarfs, Test Track, and Haunted Mansion. Honestly the only ride photos we successful got were from Space Mountain, and one of our Frozen Ever After pictures (we rode twice). We got all pictures from character meet and greets where you actually scan your band. It was only situations where the ride has to detect your presence without you actually touching anything, where we had issues. This experience led me to learn a wonderful piece of Disney customer service trivia though….they have a whole team of people who look through the ride photos and retriever your lost photos if you send in a request. You can send in requests online via email or you can call in and they will try to find them with you on the phone. They can narrow down the time window to sift through by seeing when you entered the park, when you used fastpasses on other rides, etc. They also ask you questions like what you were wearing. What a job. I think I’d lose my mind. They found all of our photos though! Hooray! Moral of the story: we are going to use new Magic Bands for every trip.

Once in a lifetime things unique to this trip: (because we had to put our nonrefundable wedding deposit towards catered events or we would lose it all)

OK, at this point, I’m just going to list these awesome meal/events we got to have using our nonrefundable wedding money and leave it at that. Not going to get into the menus or anything. If you have any interest in that info, let me know. The menus were the same as the actual wedding menus actually. We went all out because we had a super huge deposit to use up and only like 10 people at each of these meals, so we ordered literally every item on them menu at each event (LOL). All of the food was awesome. The waiters kept bringing me out fake meat and whispering to me that it was Impossible Meat but they hadn’t announced their partnership with Impossible Meat yet so they couldn’t call it that (I’m a vegetarian, and yes it was delicious):

-Catered Fantasmic Dinner and Dessert Party

-Catered Dinner in the Attic at the Boardwalk

-Epcot Forever Dessert Party

-Catered breakfast buffet in Morroco in Epcot (this was probably the coolest one because the park wasn’t open yet and the World Showcase was beautiful and empty)