Disney in the Time of Covid
We have been so good during the past year. We’re good about keeping our distance, wearing our masks, staying home and away from others. I watch the news and it feels like I am still that nerdy honor student and I am the only one following the teacher’s instructions. All that to say – we needed a break. So we decided to go to Florida for Spring Break. We stayed at my in-laws house (they’ve had their shots), brought the dogs along (they needed a change of scene too) and did two of the Disney Parks. We let the boys choose – they picked Hollywood Studios and EPCOT.
We learned a few things and I thought I’d share them in case anyone else is ready for a break as well.
You need to buy your tickets really far in advance. They are still only letting in a third of the capacity of each park. For Hollywood Studios, the capacity is 60,000, and for EPCOT it is 110,000. At 30% capacity for each park during COVID – it was actually kind of nice. I didn’t feel like I was walking around with throngs of people, and while the lines can seem long without the Fast Pass, they actually all moved rather quickly.
There are fewer shows and attractions to entertain guests. And some favorites, like the Test Track, have been completely altered to remove the high-touch pre and post ride environments. But overall, it was a better experience in many ways.
So back to the tickets – you need to make a reservation and then buy your tickets. The Disney website does a good job of showing which parks are available on which days. If you are planning on going to Hollywood Studios for Star Wars Galaxy Edge, then you will want to make your Cantina reservations immediately after you make your ticket purchase.
1. Virtual Queue for Rise of the Resistance
The other issue is the limited amount of guests that get to experience the Rise of the Resistance. If you have a valid ticket and Disney Park Pass reservation, then you’ll be able to access the virtual queue through the “My Disney Experience” app.
Luckily we had friends who told us the tricks to make this successful:
1. You need all of the tickets linked to one person’s Disney app / phone.
2.The morning that you’ll be going to Hollywood Studios, you’ll need to wake up early. Have the app open by 6:45 AM, and keep refreshing.
3.At 6:59 refresh again and it will load for you to select all your riders.
The boarding Groups go really fast. We did this and at 7:01 we were in Group 51 (!). 51! Which is approximately sometime after lunch or in the afternoon.
4.IF you do not get into a Boarding group in the morning, you can try again once you are inside the park at 1pm. Same thing – have the app open early and keep refreshing.
The app will send you a push notification when it is time for your Boarding Group to ride. At that point you’ll have 1 hour to make your way over to the ride.
And yes – it was as awesome as we expected. Totally worth getting up early for the tickets.
I was really worried about food, especially since my guys are always hungry and I had read that all of the grab n go snack carts at the park were not operating.
My advice? Don’t feel like you need to make a reservation for meals, other than the Cantina. Many of the food options like the Backlot Express and Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo offer mobile service. You place the order through the app, and then go get it. Other places like PizzaRizzo also have mobile ordering and plentiful outdoor dining space as well. This option worked great for us. And there were still beverage stations to get sodas and waters along the way.
3. The Lines
When we arrived, we went right to the Rock 'n Roller Coaster, and the line was only 20 minutes. Which was awesome. Then we went next door to the Tower of Terror and the line seemed to snake through the park forever. It ended up being a 45 minute wait, but it kept moving. They have marks on the ground that are 6ft apart for every queue, so as the line moves, it really does feel like it’s moving quickly. The longest line we had all day was for the Millennium Falcon at 60 minutes. But I know if the park was at full capacity the wait would have been much longer.
My husband and I haven’t been to Hollywood Studios in over 20 years, when it was still MGM Studios. So going back with our boys and experience the entire park with them was a lot of fun. They loved the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster as much as we knew they would, and while they’ve never seen the Twilight Zone, they enjoyed the Tower of Terror and the views from the top, before the drop. Plus, Star Wars was amazing. I love that we got to experience it together. And yes, we made our own lightsaber at Savi’s workshop. I was grateful to get the opportunity to drop a small fortune on a faux weapon since my little one is only 10. For him, it was a great experience. If this is something you want to do as well, or build your own droid, then you’ll also want to book that experience as soon as you buy your ticket. Even with limited attendance they fill up quickly.
1. Rides at EPCOT
We arrived on the first day of the EPCOT Flower and Garden Show. So while The world of Energy is being renovated into Guardians of the Galaxy and won’t open until 2023, and the Ratatouille ride isn’t open yet, it still felt like there was a lot of “new” things to see and explore. And we were lucky – when we got to Norway, the line for the Frozen ride “only” started at the edge of China. It also moved quickly and we were on the ride in just 25 minutes. Later in the afternoon the line was switchbacking through China, so you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on the wait times on the app and plan accordingly.
2. Food in EPCOT
In EPCOT you’ll DEFINITELY want to make food reservations, and make them early. The food is one of the highlights of pretending to travel the world while at EPCOT, and with seating at just every other table they fill up quickly. We ended up having a terrific lunch in Mexico (we love the Diablo Margaritas with the jalapenos) and dinner at the Biergarten in Germany. Both meals were great, and my picky eaters found lots of things they liked. The bonus was that one of the few shows we saw all day was the band at the Biergarten. They were great, and even played the cowbells and the Alphorn. We loved it, even though we were informed that the dance floor was closed. Like I’d get any of my guys on the dance floor with me even if it wasn’t.
One disappointment at EPCOT were the shops. The selection in the shops wasn’t what it usually is, and our favorite shops like the Sportsman Shop in England and the bazaar in Morocco were closed. We were all disappointed, though of course we understand. Somehow I still managed to buy a large amount of tea in England, but if you know me then you know that’s not really a surprise.
4. Steps per day
I remember the last time the awe went to the Magic Kingdom that my steps at the end of the day was around 10,500 and I thought that was a lot. At Hollywood Studios I hit 18,647 steps, and at EPCOT I hit 17,433 steps. Did we get around more and see more because of less crowds? Absolutely. It was definitely a more pleasant navigation experience.
A couple of recommendations:
1. Skip the pier and go to the Beach. We like to park at the Alan Shepard Park and Beach Access, behind the “Famous” Ron Jon Surf Shop. They have a big parking lot and lots of access points.
2. Dinner on the water
There are a lot of restaurants at Port Canaveral, and most of them get really crowded. Which wasn’t what we wanted during Covid, especially since masks seemed optional to a lot of the locals. Instead, we had a great dinner and sat outside at Gator’s Dockside. They had a large outdoor area, the tables were spaced far apart, and the musician they had that evening was good too. As an aside, I always tip the musicians at beach bars like this – especially if they’re pretty good. It’s good karma and I ask you all to do the same.
3. Another Dinner Option
On this trip we tried a new place, Florida's Seafood. And it was so fun. The food was solid, but the kitchy décor was fantastic. If you are going to go kitch, go all they way, And they did. From the faux stuffed alligators peering at us through the foliage to the sharks hanging from the ceiling, it did not disappoint. Plus the boys got frozen mango slushies in souvenir glasses that came with toy sharks in them for the win.
4. Lunch Option
This trip we also made a stop at Coconuts on the Beach in downtown Cocoa. This was our last lunch of the trip before heading home. And I have to say it was a great sendoff. I had the grilled mahi tacos with key lime slaw and they were great. I might make this a tradition every time we depart for home.
The best part of a vacation is that it’s nice come back home. And I am SO glad that we were able to take a family Spring Break. Let me know if you have any questions about the trip – I’m happy to help as you plan your own!
Kris Delaney is a marketing executive, foodie, travel enthusiast, and book nerd based in Atlanta, GA.