Our 2021 Disney Experience
My sister and I always knew we'd take the kids on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disney World, but we wanted to wait until they were EXACTLY the right age. We had imagined that 6, 7, and 10 would be old enough to remember the trip but young enough to still enjoy it. We were all set for June 2020 until a pandemic put a kink in our plans. We questioned when or if we should reschedule since after Disney's re-opening there were many attractions and activities that were not going to be available. However, after weighing the pros and cons, we decided to go ahead and go before the boys got any older. This was our experience...
First, let me start off by saying that neither my sister nor I have been to Disney since we were kids ourselves. So, besides the few slight memories we each had, we really didn't know exactly what to expect. All we knew is that we had six days at Disney and we wanted to see and do it ALL!
Once our plane landed in Orlando, we boarded the Magical Express that took us to our resort. We did have to wait about 45 minutes
We stayed at a Cars themed suite in Disney's Art of Animation resort. I would definitely recommend this resort. Disney has done a fabulous job with the themes. There are four themed sections at Art of Animation; Cars, Lion King, Nemo, and The Little Mermaid. The suites are pretty small but they do have 2 bathrooms, which is nice. Since the suites have a microwave and refrigerator, we placed a grocery order online from Walmart which we were able to have delivered for a fee of $20. Our groceries were already at our resort when we arrived. The resort will hold them for you and you can pick them up when you get there. We ordered lots of water bottles, snacks to take with us each day, and a few quick meals we could heat up for the kids in the microwave. This saved us a lot of money on food since Disney is not offering the dining plan at this time. The Art of Animation also has access to the Skyliner which you can use to go to Hollywood Studios or Epcot. They have buses that you can ride to all of the parks. We found the food court to be pretty good at our resort too.
While we're on the topic of Disney transportation, I would have to say that it exceeded my expectations. Each time we took a bus from our resort to a park or vice versa, the bus went directly to and from each location. I assumed that we would be stopping at other resorts to let people on and off, but that was not the case. The buses come frequently so we spent very little time waiting on buses during our stay. Of course, we were up early so that might have had something to do with it! We chose to ride the Skyliner to and from Hollywood Studios and Epcot. The lines get long at times but they move very quickly and it was fun to fly over some of the other Disney resorts.
Currently, Disney requires that you make a reservation for a park for each day. Then, at 2:00, you can park hop if you wish. We opted for the park hopper tickets and were pleasantly surprised when we were upgraded to the park hopper plus which includes waterpark tickets as well!
We had decided to start off with Magic Kingdom on our first day which was a Sunday. The parks open earlier than the time posted for guests staying in a Disney Resort. Opening time was 8:00 but we arrived about 7:20 and they were letting people in. This was great because we were able to ride 4 to 5 rides without waiting in any lines! They park didn't seem to get crowded until around lunch time that day. After lunch, a little storm blew through. It continued to rain for about 4 hours. We stopped to eat but after seeing the rain wasn't going to let up, we pulled out our ponchos and kept going. Rain ponchos are a must at Disney! Fortunately, most ride lines are inside or at least covered so you only get wet walking from place to place. Because of the storm the park cleared out and wasn't really crowded at all. Wait times were short the rest of the day and we were able to ride and see every attraction that was open by closing time! Our favorites at Magic Kingdom were Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder.
On day two, we Skylined over to Hollywood Studios. Right away, we noticed it was more crowded and the lines were longer. We hit Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway first, then headed to Toy Story land. If you are a Toy Story fan, you will love this area of the park! We saw a few characters the day we were at Hollywood Studios. They were either behind some type of barrier or riding in a parade so the kids weren't able to touch them or get their autograph. When we stopped for lunch, we were able to get a spot in the virtual cue for Rise of the Resistance! This is one of the newer rides at Disney and you can only get in line if you secure a spot in the virtual cue through the Disney app. Once you secure a spot, it will tell you what time to get in line. We aren't Star Wars fans but this ride is a MUST do! Calling it a "ride" doesn't even do it justice - it was an experience! Ride of the Resistance was one of our favorites at Hollywood along with Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, Smuggler's Run and Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.
After the second day of being in the parks from opening until closing, our feet and legs were feeling pretty tired so we decided to go to Blizzard Beach the next day. Blizzard Beach is one of two Disney Water parks. This may have been the kids favorite day and we were able to sit down and let them play some while we watched from our lounge chairs! It was a much needed break for our feet and patience! If you don't want to do one of the water parks or it's too cool, I would consider scheduling a resort day in the middle of your trip. The kids can swim in the pool while you give your feet a break. Also, we used this day to get back to the resort early and do some laundry.
The next day we were up and at 'em early to get to Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom is quite a bit larger than the other parks and we ended up walking about 12 miles while we were there! We did a Kilimanjaro Safari in the morning and evening. I would definitely recommend morning as the animals were much more active. But on our evening safari, we got a little more pixie dust sprinkled on us when our guide's radio went out halfway through the tour. Because of that, they offered for us to ride again with no wait. No one else in our vehicle wanted to so we ended up getting a private tour. Our guide was able to give us a little inside information that you don't hear on the regular tour so that was fun. There are a lot of things to do in Animal Kingdom besides just look at the animals. There are plenty of rides and a few shows to see. "It's Tough to Be a Bug" was an awesome 4D movie - probably my favorite in all of Disney. Expedition Everest is a really cool roller coaster at Animal Kingdom. We went to it first thing and were able to ride it twice in a row with no wait. My favorite area of the park was Pandora. We rode Flight of Passage at the end of the day and it ended up being my very favorite ride in all of Disney! If you go, definitely do not skip out on it!
When we originally planned our trip to Disney, we considered taking a day to go to Universal but ultimately decided against it. However, while we we there, we started to rethink that decision and, on a whim, decided to take a day and go over to Universal while we were there. I am a huge Harry Potter fan so I was excited about that particular area of the parks. We got a park hopper pass to Universal and Island of Adventure for the day. We were able to cover about half of the attractions that day. We knew there were 5 Harry Potter rides and wanted to try to ride them all so when we entered, we headed straight for that area. Universal was super crowded - a lot more crowded than Disney - even though they both say they are only at 35% capacity. Which, by the way, I can't imagine what it must be like at 100% capacity because 35% was still what I consider crowded. Anyway, as we were headed over to Hogsmeade Village, we saw the line for Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure was already huge - over two hours according to park workers. So we bypassed that line and went to other HP rides and figured we'd try Hagrid's again later. Well, after talking to other people, we figured out that the morning is the only time you can just get in line and after that, you must get a spot in the virtual queue using the Universal app. So we tried to get in throughout the day but were unsuccessful. It was getting close to closing and we were starting to realize that we weren't going to get a spot. With Hagrid's being the most expensive roller coaster ever built in the world - 300 million to be exact - we knew we didn't want to leave without experiencing it. I made my way to guest services while the kids were enjoying Dr. Suess-ville and pleaded my case to the park employee. I gave her a sob story and I guess she felt bad for us so she was able to help us outing get us a spot in line! We were so excited! Hagrid's was definitely unlike any roller coaster I have ever ridden. It ended up being everybody's favorite ride of the day and possible the whole trip!
Our last day at Disney we returned to Magic Kingdom in the morning and re-rode a few things, then headed to Chef Mickey's for breakfast. This was the one and only character dining we did. The kids got to get closer to the characters but they still couldn't touch them. It was fun, but without the dining plan, our bill was pretty hefty in my opinion. I was glad that we did it but I would not have wanted to do another character dining at those prices!
The last afternoon, we visited Epcot. This park was our least favorite. For one thing, there is lots of construction going on. they are building several new attractions and I'm sure it will be awesome once they are finished but the barriers around the construction really took away from the beauty of the park. There are less rides at Epcot than any other park. The kids really enjoyed Test Track and my sister and I enjoyed the Frozen ride. There are lots of restaurants at Epcot and the park seems more for adults than kids. If you are taking the kids, you can probably finish this park in half a day.
All in all we had a great vacation - Disney did not disappoint! I thought I would put together a list of tips and just general information in case you are thinking of going to Disney in the near future.
Covid: Everyone wants to know how Disney is different since the reopening after the pandemic. As I stated above, there are certain shows that are not open yet which was a bummer. There are no fireworks, no lighted parades, no autographs, and no touching or having pictures made with the characters. Although we did see some characters, we never once saw a Disney Princess. I'm assuming you would have to pay to dine with them to see one. Of course, since we have all boys, that was not a big deal. Masks must be worn at all times over your nose and mouth and they do not mind telling you to pull it up. Social distancing is encouraged in lines by markings on the ground indicating where to stand to remain six feet apart. Hand sanitizer stations are placed at every attraction. Rides are not filled to capacity which makes for longer wait times. But, then again, the park is only at 35% capacity so the lines are not extremely long. Like I said, the longest we waited in a line was an hour during the whole trip. While in line, you may not eat or drink since you would need to remove your mask for that. and, when you eat and drink, you must be stationary. So you can't walk around while drinking something.
Food: Without the dining plan, food could easily get expensive. I know many people go to Disney to enjoy the food but that was not something we were interested in. We ordered groceries and ate in the room for breakfast and when we returned from the parks. We took snacks and water with us and waited until midday to order lunch from a quick service restaurant. That way, we only paid for one meal a day in the park. Quick service meals for 5 cost about $50-60 depending on what you ordered.
Things to bring: Ponchos (the reusable kind), umbrella, neck fans of some sort, flavor packets for water bottles, at least two pairs of tennis shoes, flip flops or crocs, plastic straws (they only supply paper straws), multiple masks
Planning: Book early and use a travel agent. The travel agent we used was wonderful! Her name is Kristi Homes. You can contact her at [email protected]
Things I would do next time:
1. Purchase the Memory Maker. There are photographers stationed around the parks taking pictures. They just scan your band or your card and the pictures show up in your app minutes later!
2. Get Mickey bands for all. They are $5 online and you can buy before your trip. This way, you don't have to worry about looking for tickets. You just scan your band at the entrance. You can even use it to pay.
3. Purchase the park hopper plus tickets. Our kids really enjoyed the water park so the plus tickets would be worth the extra for me.
4. Get matching shirts. Before we went I kind of thought it was stupid to get matching shirts for every day. However, it really looks better in pictures if everyone is wearing the same color. Plus, it's easier to keep up with the kids.
5. Bring a sunglasses case. Sometimes you need them and sometimes you don't. It's really handy to have a case so you can toss them in your backpack without worrying that they will get squished.
6. Bring a travel hamper or bag for dirty clothes. This comes in handy when you get ready to go to the laundry room.
7. Bring hard containers for snacks like crackers or ships so they don't get squished in your bag.
I hope this helps some of you that are thinking about going to Disney in the near future. If you have been to Disney and have additional tips to share, please leave them in the comments!
Keywords: Disney, Disney 2021, Disney family vacation, Disney tips, Disney World trip, What to know before you go to Disney
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