Disney World Trip During Covid - May 2021
We had planned a cruise for February for 2021 but due to Covid all cruises were cancelled so we looked at other options and landed on doing a Disney World trip. Check out our video recap on YouTube and our summary below with YouTube time codes.
Thursday - Travel Day and Arrival (0:13)
We headed out to Disney World in Orlando, FL. We took this trip in May of 2021 at the tail end of many of the Covid restrictions. We were allowed to remove masks for outdoor pictures but had to leave them on otherwise.
The day we left was the day they removed the outdoor mask restriction!
We stayed at the Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel (on the Swan side). This is a great location as it is right between Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Both are within walking distance of the hotel, but they also have the Friendship Boats that will take you to either park.
The real benefit of these hotels for us is that they are part of the Marriott family of hotels. As Kirby travels frequently for work, we were able to use Marriott Bonvoy points for the rooms. Even without the points it is nice to stay here as we earn points and get the benefits of his status level.
Kirby did have to work as this was a Friday and he didn’t take off until the next week. He was able to join us about midday in the park.
At this time, they were not doing the traditional character meet-and-greets, so they were doing the Character Cavalcades. We saw many of these and we actually liked these short little character sightings better than the traditional parades. They were unscheduled so there were not crowds lining up hours before. They were also frequent so there wasn’t a lot of pressure to run and catch every one.
We do miss the meet-and-greets but hope they keep these Cavalcades in lieu of the traditional parades.
We decided that Saturday would probably be one of the busier park days so we decided to just hang out at the hotel and relax. The Swan and Dolphin share the main pool but each have a small lap pool right outside their doors.
The main pool is great, but even during this time of “reduced capacity” the pool was slammed on Saturday. We did go back for a bit during the week and the crowds were minimal (these clips are intermixed here in the video).
There is a nice play area with slides for the kids, but in the hot sun it was only fun in the morning. (8:03)
There are several other activities such as ping-pong, an outdoor pool table, large chess set, paddle boats, and a beach! The beach was fun, but also gets very hot in the sun.
There is a small waterslide in the pool and was fun for Alex. They didn’t allow floating devices on the slide so Coleson could not do it yet. (10:38)
There is a small shop there with toys, sunscreen, etc. This is also where you pickup towels. The line here can get long so our recommendation is to pick some up by the Swan hot tub, which is a self-service area!
The kiddie pool was great for the younger children and was in the shade all afternoon. (11:15)
We loved the mobile ordering feature although it did take about an hour each time we ordered. (11:35)
We took one of the hotel buses out to Disney Springs later Saturday evening and did some shopping and dinner.
The hotel has buses to Disney Springs, Magic Kingdom, and Animal Kingdom. We never had to wait too long in line, but also never really went at peak times.
The Swan and Dolphin are connected by a large walkway and in the middle is where you catch the Friendship boat to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. (14:17)
The boats were pretty simple and easy (15:20), however we did find that the walk was actually a little quicker and kind of fun. On the way to Epcot you can go down the Boardwalk or you can go the route of the Beach and Yacht Club hotels which were fun to walk through.
Either way, this is the biggest advantage of staying in this group of hotels as you have the back entrance to Epcot (16:09), which drops you in right near the France area of the world showcase. This was HUGE as you don’t get in the long lines at the front entrance.
You can also get on the sky coaster right here. We did not take it but heard it takes quite a long time so you really only want to ride it if it sounds fun… not to save time.
I love the new integration with the Apple Watch. I loaded my tickets into my Apple Wallet and then I could just scan my watch for everything including entrance, Fast Passes, and Photopass (16:46).
One note, the order of the passes on the watch has to be set in the watch app. I set it up in my wallet on my phone but didn’t realize the watch wallet was different than the phone wallet. I scanned in as Coleson several day and when he would scan in we’d have problems. Most didn’t say anything until finally we realized what was happening and I fixed it.
Another tip, on the hot days we found the cooling towels really helped. They are not very expensive if you buy them out of the park and bring them. In the park they were $15/each. We were in dire need so we paid it but bring your own and it will save you $$$. (18:50)
On a hot day, one of the best things in Epcot is the aquarium right after the Finding Nemo ride (21:06). This is a nice cool place and has a lot of fun things for the kids to see. In non-pandemic times there are activities too.
Monday - Hollywood Studios (22:21)
With the pandemic there were only three restaurants doing any kind of character dinning and when I looked they were all booked up. I did find a last minute cancellation Monday morning for the Disney Jr. breakfast at Hollywood and Vine. We did have to wake the kids up early, which might have been a mistake!
The Disney Jr. Play n’ Dine at Hollywood and Vine was a lot of fun (23:23)! Unfortunately, these were not Coleson’s favorite characters but it was still fun. They had Doc McStuffins, Fancy Nancy, Vampirina, and Goofy. It was still fun to see his reactions as he wasn’t able to interact with any characters outside of this. The prices are a little high for mediocre food but you are paying for the experience, clearly not the food!
One of the things we love to do in line is play Heads Up. They have a Disney Parks and a Disney set which makes it much more enjoyable to wait in line (27:19). If only there was an app for the heat!
We debated about the Rise of Resistance ride (28:09) as it’s a little bit of a process to reserve a boarding group. You have to basically be in your app ready to go right as the close turns from 6:59 AM to 7:00 AM. I had one phone on the time with seconds displayed and the other phone logged into the app and ready to go. I clicked reserve literally the second it turned 7:00 AM and we were already boarding group 50-something. We talked to another group that said they tried at 7:01 and it was already on the waiting list. It sounded like a hassle to me, but really wasn’t too bad.
What I will say is IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT!
I have never been on such an immersive ride before. I wish I could’ve gotten right back in line and done it again.
One thing I will note, we read some reviews that there was a small “free fall” at the end. I wish I hadn’t read that because I was stressed through the whole ride about that drop. The drop was NOTHING. The drop in Pirates of the Caribbean is worse than this and it was NOT a surprise. We thought it would suddenly drop but it DOESN’T. The ride tells you when you are going to drop and because you are shooting out an escape pod it actually feels less like a drop and more like you are just shooting out of an escape pod.
Great ride and unless you are afraid of the characters there really isn’t anything to be concerned about on this ride. I am a wimp when it comes to rides (this is Kirby btw, because Nike is not) and I loved this one. I stressed about the stupid drop for no reason.
Tuesday - Magic Kingdom Day 2 (29:23)
This was our 2nd day in the Magic Kingdom. We did a 6-day pass and decided we would want to do the Magic Kingdom again as it is the real “Disney” experience.
After our early morning in Hollywood Studios we decided it would be fun to stay late at the Magic Kingdom so we let the kids sleep in and had a relaxing morning. We went back to the pool and being a weekday it was pretty empty (see some of the clips from earlier in the video).
We also found from our first day at Magic Kingdom that the Swan and Dolphin buses (since they are not the Disney World buses) drop off at the Transportation Center rather than the front gate like the Disney World buses. You still have to take the ferry or monorail from there. The Boardwalk hotel was about a 5 minute walk from the Swan and so we walked over there, had lunch, and then got on a Disney World bus that took us right to the front entrance.
Nike, Debbie, and Alex went on some of the bigger rides (i.e. Big Thunder) so Kirby took Coleson over to the Circus area. We did the Barnstormer (30:47) and Coleson was really excited to ride it UNITL we actually rode it!
This was one ride I actually filmed us on and it was totally worth it. Coleson did NOT like this ride but his reaction is priceless (31:18)!
To compensate for my poor parenting choice I took him on Dumbo (32:18) and the Tea Cups (33:18) which he DID enjoy!
We finished up this day with the iconic night-time view of the castle (33:28) while Alex recapped his favorite rides (which are pretty much everyone’s favorites!). We had just gone on Space Mountain (Nike, Kirby, and Alex) which he loved!
We got our cliche, but timeless pictures in our matching T-shirts and headed back for some much needed rest!
As discussed earlier, we found the best option was to take the Disney World bus back to the Board Walk hotel and have the short walk back to the Swan; we were able to avoid the long lines for the monorail and ferry since we left after closing (33:56).
Wednesday - Epcot Day 2 (34:18)
Epcot is one of Kirby’s favorite parks ESPECIALLY during the food and wine festival. The food and drink options are fun normally but especially great during these festivals. Also, being within walking distance from the Swan made this the perfect park to do a second day at.
This time we walked through the Beach and Yacht Club hotels which was fun (34:37). They have some fun restaurants and gift shops to walk through. The pool there is pretty cool, but of course that is only for guests of that hotel.
One note, if you take the Friendship Boats, they stop at this resort and the Boardwalk, which adds to the time when you go to Epcot. Hollywood Studios, the Swan/Dolphin is the first stop/last pickup so it isn’t as big of a deal. Good to know though if you are staying at any of these hotels and plan to take the boats.
One of our favorite stops is in the France World Showcase (34:46). This is here all the time regardless of the festivals that are/aren’t going on. They have a great selection of pastries and sandwiches as well as some French beverages! The food here is all authentic and is pretty much the same as what we have had when we are in France.
Another great stop for a drink is in the Japan World Showcase (34:58) for some Sake. Nike and Debbie aren’t huge fans so I got them some other sugary drink that they had. In non-covid times this is a great place to watch some very cool shows.
One thing we have found pretty much EVERY time we have been to Disney World is that is rains. And by “rains”, I mean a large bucket of water is dumped out suddenly from the skies. We got hit with a sudden storm (35:38). It completely drenched us! Luckily, being prepared, Nike had extra clothes for the boys which was very helpful. We also had a poncho to cover the stroller. We did, however forget umbrellas. Typically an Orlando storm only lasts a few minutes and that is what happened (the first time).
Another favorite spot of mine is the Germany World Showcase (37:14). I speak some German and have spent a little bit of time there so I love coming here. Normally we get the beer (obviously) but I have been on a low carb diet now for a couple years and cannot do the beer… so this time we got some German wine.
We have done the German buffet in the past and it is pretty authentic and good! Not quite as good as in Germany but for a buffet in the U.S., not bad!
In true Orlando fashion, it was not content raining only once. It decided to downpour on us a second time (37:41). This time I went and bought some umbrellas from the Japan World Showcase store. They were one of the places that still had them.
Unfortunately, in the video it is too dark to really make out, however from Epcot (around about the Norway World Showcase) you can actually see the top of the Swan and Dolphin hotels. I tried to get video but it was a little too dark to make out
Thursday - Animal Kingdom (38:56)
This was our last day in the parks and we purposefully chose Animal Kingdom as our last park. It is a little more low-key and typically less crowded. It was a nice choice as we were all pretty tired by this point. It was a great way to round out the experience.
While Nike, Alex, and Debbie went on Dinosaur, I took Coleson to go see It’s Tough to Be a Bug (40:48). I will say this was the longest I have ever waited for this show. It was about 30-40 minutes. I have usually found this to not be all that popular and around a 5-10 minute wait. They had every other row blocked off and a lot of seats in each of the open rows blocked off. Normally, none of these seats are blocked so I believe that was the cause of the wait.
The line was at least fun as you are at the base of the giant tree with lots of animals carved into it (or at least made to look like that). We saw some tortoises in line (41:02), which was fun.
This show can be a little scary for kids but knowing that I had Coleson sit on my lap so I could cover his ears during some of the loud, scary parts. I wouldn’t let him look up when the spiders were coming from the ceiling and because he was on my lap couldn’t feel the “wasp stings”. I will say, this show can be scary for young children so don’t go in thinking it is just a fun Bugs Life show. With my precautions Coleson said it wasn’t scary (41:36), however he did say it would be scary for his older brother, Alex!
One of my favorite rides is the Kilimanjaro Safari (41:59). This is not a thrill ride at all. You are in a bus going through the safari and get to see a lot of animals. The way they have designed this ride it appears you are just driving through their natural environments.
Obviously, durning non-Covid times there are not dividers between the rows which makes it much easier to see the animals.
Alex was super brave and went on Everest again with Nike this trip and this time he LOVED it. They rode it THREE times!
At Animal Kingdom, the Cavalcades were done on the river (47:03) which was kind of a fun twist!
If you are visiting the parks with young children they have a great system called Rider Swap (47:36). This is where one adult stays behind with the child(ren) that cannot go and once the other adult(s) is done they swap. You are given a fast pass basically and the 2nd rider can take two additional people with them (badges of those people also have to be scanned) so some in the party can ride twice, if desired.
To do the rider swap you simply go up to the ride entrance (this is where the ETA signs are so the line might actually go beyond that… you have to ALL wait in line until you get to that point and then you tell the cast member you want to do a rider swap.
Last time we went to Disney World it was right after the Pandora area opened and the lines for Ride of Passage were so long we decided to skip it. This was our first time on it and SOME of us thought it was awesome. These are the kinds of rides that Kirby loves (i.e. Soarin’, Star Tours, Mission Space, etc.) so he and Alex loved it (48:03). Nike and Debbie are not into the 3D motion rides so they were only so-so (48:18).
I did the ride after the three of them with Alex. He went again with me. Some of the reviews I read said that if you are afraid of heights you may not like this ride. I am TERRIFIED of heights but loved this ride. I love the 3D simulation kind of rides. I cannot do roller coasters because of my fear of heights (i.e. Everest is out, however Space Mountain is fine because I cannot tell if I am up high or not). This ride didn’t bother me at all. If you can do Soarin’ you can do this ride.
Per Nike’s point, if you get motion sick in the 3D rides that is more of a concern than the heights. Soarin’ is more of a slow paced ride. This really is like taking the idea of Soarin’ but faster-paced like Star Tours (48:37).
As they say, all good things must come to an end… or if you have travelled with kids… you know that after a week you are ready to go home!
One note I will say about any travel… if you travel more than once a year you should get PreCheck. Actually, I don’t want the PreCheck lines to be any longer than they are so please don’t get it!
In all seriousness though, the lines are almost always shorter AND even if they aren’t you keep your shoes, belts, watches, etc. on and you keep laptops and tablets in your bag. It is just so much easier. You can see we are all through security and waiting for Debbie (49:19) who hasn’t enrolled.
We did decide to go to the Delta Skyclub since we had a decent amount of time in the airport (49:46). I get in with my Delta Reserve American Express card, which is a great benefit for how much I travel. This does let me bring in guest for $39/each. I had a couple of vouchers to use and they were very nice letting Coleson in without a fee/voucher. I will say, they are NEVER this empty so this was a rare occurrence due to the Covid-level crowds.
One other note/pet peeve, if you do visit a Skyclub, please remember to tip the servers and bartenders. The house drinks are complimentary, however the servers and bartenders should still receive a tip. A drink out in the airport is probably $15-20 so leaving a dollar or two per drink is still a bargain!
The drinks are only one benefit of the Skyclub. I utilize the Skyclub for three main reasons (besides the food and drinks). One, they are MUCH quieter than the general concourse. If you need to work or take a call they are very nice. Two, the WiFi is included and again, much better than any free airport WiFi (if they offer it). Three, there are much better places to either work or relax; they have tables you can actually work at or nice comfy chairs to sit in. The benefits well outweigh the costs if you are traveling for work or do so frequently!
We’ve been to a couple SkyClubs and they all have different protocols right now. Some have more of a grab-and-go selection (MCO) while others (LAX) had a buffet but had employees that picked everything for you. It’s been kind of a random mix and I hope everything normalizes soon!
One of the great benefits of status on an airline is the potential for upgrades (there are a lot of other great benefits more valuable than upgrades, however). With Delta only two passengers are eligible for upgrades so I always book two of us on one ticket and then the others on another. With so few people traveling during Covid-times we did get an upgrade every time we flew. Nike and Debbie took the upgrade on this flight (50:23). Not that we could complain though, we booked the three others in Comfort+.
Great trip overall, but months later we are still recovering from the physical pain of walking several miles per day in heat/humidity and also the financial pain of paying the inflated prices of eating and drinking only onsite!!!
I will say that staying at the Swan/Dolphin was awesome. We will FOR SURE stay there again. Probably the best location you can be in and being able to claim/redeem Marriott points makes it even better!