Disney dining frustrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 🤞🏻🤞🏻🤞🏻.

Skyliner Availability for Breakfast Reservations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick opinion of August vs July crowd levels

Quick opinion of August vs July crowd levels

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

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

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

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

Main Street USA in August

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

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

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

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

Empty Boardwalk
Quiet empty walk to HS

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

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

Busy Caribbean Beach pool in the evening

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

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.

The Magical Return Part 3: Character Dining and Animal Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bus seats labeled with dividers

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

Plastic dividers on Kilimanjaro Safari

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

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

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