Disney themed shirts-check, ears or hats- check, magic bands- check, water bottles- check, masks-check, readiness for fun and adventure- check check! Lessons learned and tips to avoid our mistakes? At the end of this post!
Side note- I have trouble being inconvenienced and inefficient, so I like to arrive early. I don’t necessarily have to the be the first one in the park, but I definitely want to be among the first. My last trip to Disney, I was the first one to stir in the Disney campground. We were at the front of the rope drop. I had to make it to the one ride I couldn’t get a fast pass for first thing in morning, Seven Dwarves Mine Train. For this trip though, I was very gracious with the non early birds in my family. We leisurely got ready, had a light breakfast of muffins, yogurt and fruit (also packed) and set off for the buses, sadly the only way to get to the Magic Kingdom from this resort.
The youngest sibling, henceforth know as J was just as excited as I was. We were the awake ones, the excited to go ones, the giggling ones, the in awe ones as soon as we saw Cinderella’s Castle. She was too little to remember her first to Disney, so she would be wearing a “1st visit pin”, now gathered at any shopping location and no longer at the town hall. The birthday girl, known as K, would be wearing a birthday pin. Everyone knowingly sees your pin and celebrates you, weather they are a cast member or just another visitor to the parks. I highly encouraged it. J loved it, K would have rather avoided the attention, but she humored me.
I am always impressed with Disney efficiency. “How many in your group?” “That bus.” “Who has two in their party? This bus please.”. Despite the amount of people all leaving the resort at the same time we decided to, we loaded quickly and didn’t have to wait at all (keep in mind this was technically a non-peak time, the weekend before Halloween, the very next weekend it would be reported that waits were 45 minutes for those same buses, either that or we timed things perfectly). We were dropped off by the gates of the park no problem. We made it through our temperature checks, everyone’s magic band gained them entrance (something I am always nervous about for some reason, maybe it goes back to the whole no inconveniences and obsessed with efficiency thing).
Strolling down Mainstreet USA was a big indicator that things would be very different than our last visit. Normally Mainstreet USA would be filled with cast members who, in my opinion, were costumed like they were straight out of the Mary Poppins chalk drawing. Shops would be open to the street full of wonderful smells and souvenirs that enticed you to come inside and spend your money on them. The line to Starbucks would be super long and photographers want to take magical pictures of you with all the best angles of Cinderella’s Castle. This time there were almost no cast members. No photographers were out yet, I felt a little bummed about my purchase of a photo pass. The cast that were there monitored entrances to shops counting the people coming and going.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. We were in Disney, after all! We were beginning to feel all of the stress of the outside world melting away, even if we still had to wear a mask. We knew we were going to have fun and practically skipped all the way to Cinderella’s Castle before heading to our first ride.
My goal this time was not Seven Dwarves Mine Train, it was to ride Splash Mountain before it gets rethemed. My research told me that Splash Mountain had been breaking down often. We had watched the video of the sinking logs and seen the “Temporarily not available” on the app. So we headed there first. No rope drop, no grand opening of the park, just straight to our socially distanced line.
Once the park opened, the line moved quickly, even though we entered the line all the way back by Pecos Bill’s. We sang along and started our day off the Zip-a-dee-doo-dah way!
After hitting Splash Mountain we made our way around other Frontierland Rides. Half of the fun of Big Thunder Mountain railroad is the story that you are immersed in while you wait in line. Mining birds, dynamite, moving pictures, etc. Waiting in line was actually fun, before COVID changed it all. Mining sacks covered the dynamite charges and the birds were no longer chirping to indicate air quality in shafts. We moved so quickly through the line though, that we wouldn’t have really had time to be immersed in the story.
Even if we were disappointed by all of the lines missing their magic, we were pleasantly surprised all day by the ride waits. Our longest wait was later on in the afternoon, for Space Mountain the second time and Seven Dwarves Mine Train, each topping out at around 45 minutes. All of the lines moved quickly, despite only loading by party like Splash Mountain or very spread out as was the case in large group rides like It’s a Small World or Pirates of the Caribbean.
We wound our way land by land, which is a much more pleasant way to enjoy the park than chasing fast passes! Compared to our first visit 17 hour visit (open until extra magic hours were over at 2 am), we actually did more and rode more, even though our visit was only 9am until 8pm. People Mover, The Railroad, The Liberty Belle and Tom Sawyer’s Island were closed and we opted out of Carousel of Progress, Winnie the Pooh and Ariel’s Grotto, but we actually did everything else! Something else that sadly made our trip more efficient- no character meet and greets, no hugs from Mickey Mouse, no push up contests with Gaston. We did get to see a Character Cavalcade of Villains, which was fun and better for shorter attention spans than the full on parades of the past.
Mask wearing wasn’t a big deal to us. We had been wearing masks for 8-10 hours a day for the last 6 months due to our jobs. Disney only allows you to remove your mask if you are actively eating or drinking and stationary. They do uphold this rule and will ask you to put your mask back on if they see you wearing incorrectly or taking it off for a selfie.
We opted for a late lunch as we made our way around Fantasyland. Pinocchio Village Haus won the popular vote because we could see in while in line for It’s a Small World. We mobile ordered in a shaded bench near the door. The greeter checking everyone in was fabulous. K was wearing a Lion King T-shirt and he sang with her in between greeting others, the entire Hakuna Matata. There are indeed magical moments to be found after all!
We explored the rest of the park riding rides in Fantasyland and Tomorrow land. Space Mountain is of course a favorite and deserves to be ridden at least twice. An hour before closing people started making their way to see Cinderella Castle light up (no fireworks) and make final purchases. This left everywhere but Main Street USA practically empty! We fit in The Hall of Presidents, Splash Mountain, Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, some magic shots on our photo pass and a little nostalgia in front of the Castle.
When it’s finally time to say goodnight, Mickey and Minnie and all their pals will wave from a safe distance above the Main Street USA Train Station. We had one last look over our shoulders and made our way back to the resort buses.
As soon as you leave the magic, you’ll realize you are the one missing the magic and already planning your next trip back.