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!
The London List from the Delaneys
We love traveling to London. In many ways it feels like home, and a lot like New York. We are often asked by our friends for a list of some of our favorite places to check out, and some cool ideas for the kids. This list is certainly not complete, but is a good start.
The Delaney’s Favorite Spots in London (Beyond the regular stops of the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge Museum, the Victoria & Albert, and Hyde Park)
1. Hoxton Street Monster Supply Company
This was one of our favorite finds on a trip with the kids. Super clever, and the store front is a as cool as the website. The kids got great souvenirs for the friends, and all proceeds fund an after school creative writing program for local kids.
2. The Churchill War Rooms
We have been here a number of times and still enjoy it. You will definitely need 1 ½ hours here, if not 2 hours. If you time it right, you can go when they open (9:30am) and finish up in time to cross the park to see the changing of the guards over at Buckingham Palace at 11am.
3. Leaden Hall Market
Leaden Hall Market served as the exterior shot and inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron in Sorcerer’s Stone. It is located at Gracechurch street and Lime Street.
4. Covent Garden, Transportation Museum, and Masala Zone
We love Covent Garden. The market has lots of vendors with unique items, the food selections are great, and the setting is very Instagram worthy. It is often decorated for the season as well. It is also the location of the Transportation Museum (which the kids love). In our estimation, it’s the best transportation museum outside of the one in York. If you are not going to head up to York, then don’t miss this one.
Not far from here is our favorite outpost of an awesome Indian restaurant called Masala Zone. There are a few locations in London, and each is decorated differently. This one is filled with countless puppets depicting an Indian wedding. It's really remarkable.
5. Old Greenwich
The Royal Observatory in Old Greenwich is definitely worth the trip. In order to get to Old Greenwich you will take an extra-long train ride which gives you a tour of some non-touristy parts of London like the Dockyards, which is the hipster place to live. When you arrive you can stand on both sides of the Prime Meridian. And the town has some of the best little fish and chips shops. Plus it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
These four can go together:
6. Westminster Abbey
Historic, beautiful, and amazing, then they have the best scavenger hunt for the kids. Even the big kids love it. When the kids hand in the completed form in the gift shop they are rewarded with a very large gold chocolate “coin” of Westminster. It was a lovely surprise.
7. The London Eye
It seems little cheesy, but its so cool. You will get some fantastic views and photos of the city. The lines can be long, so you may want to buy your tickets online, or by them or another time and return.
8. Tower Bridge
After the London Eye, walk along the Embankment towards Tower Bridge. The Tour at Tower Bridge is totally worth it, as are the street musicians and artists along the way.
9. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
You can easily walk here via the Millennium Footbridge – it is just a short distance from the end of the bridge on the same side of the river as the London Eye. This replica of the original is super cool for theatre nerds like me. The tours are great, and you can book tickets ahead of time for shows if the schedule works for you. Afterwards, you can take the short walk to the Tate Museum, another favorite.
10. Liberty London
I love tea. My favorites are the Royal Blend and the Jubilee Blend from Fortnum and Mason, and the Assam Tea from Harrods. But the one souvenir I try to get is teapots, and they are hard to find, Liberty has the best selection, and the building is gorgeous. The main entrance is on Marlborough.
11. Portobello Road Market
On Saturday mornings It opens at 9am with over 1,000 vendors. It is so much cooler now than when we went back in college. It goes on and on…it’s like a living museum for the kids. We’ve bought a bunch of antique prints and maps here – all vintage and early 1700s. As our little ones says, they are cool because they are older than our country.
12. St. Irmin's Hotel
Located near Buckhingham Palace, this hotel has a storied history all its own, full of spies and history. I think it may be my favorite hotel in the city. They have a great scavenger hunt for the kids. It kept them busy and taught them (!) some history along the way while we enjoyed a couple of gin and tonics in the beautifully decorated lobby bar. In fact, I was so inspired by the decor that I replicated some of it at home.
13. A Premier League Football (Soccer) Game
Our family are West Ham fans since my father in law is from there, and when we last went to London, West Ham was playing away at Fulham Football Club. We got tickets to the game, and sat in the Fulham section. And while we disappointed not to experience London Stadium, we fell in love with the history of Craven Cottage. And it was the authentic experience, complete with pouring rain. We met the loveliest people who told us we had to try the pies from the concessions, as each stadium has an unofficial competition to see who has the best ones, and Fulham's were the best. I have no point of comparison but they were awesome. he rain stopped as the match ended, and the stroll along the Thames as we wandered back to the bus stop after the game was beautiful and gave us a glimpse of old London. We loved it.
14. London Pass
Since you’ll be traveling to some of the touristy spots (an especially if you travel over the summer or the holidays), I highly recommend buying the London Pass before you go. It gives you discounted admissions, and you get to cut the line (“Fast track”) since you’ve already paid. This will absolutely save you a ton of time during the high seasons. And you can buy it with or without travel. I recommend buying it with travel, then you will already have your underground (Oyster Cards) and bus passes taken care of. Easy peasy. We usually do the 3 day pass since we tend to leave London after a few days. But you MUST purchase this before you go… you cannot buy it once you arrive.
New York, I Miss You
I grew up in New York, and miss the beauty of Long Island and the hum of the city . We've taken the kids back quite a bit, but our littlest was too little to remember. And he desperately wants to go see it. For his 10th birthday I had planned a trip to NYC with his best friend (also just turned 10) and his mom (one of my best friends). And they had not been to New York, either.
As to pandemic got worse, it became clear that our trip would need to be cancelled. I hate it that we don't know when we can reschedule it. But I'm documenting the outline of our plans here so we can implement a version of it when we can make it back.
This itinerary is very different than the ones I had when traveling there with our daughter and we went to tea at the Plaza (a family tradition), shopped in SoHo and saw at least one Broadway show (the last trip it was Dear Evan Hansen). So here we go:
Five Days in New York with 10 year old Boys:
Day 1: Times Square, Rockefeller Center and 5th Avenue
These days I recommend flying into Newark and take the train in. So much easier than dealing with the construction at LaGuardia. When will that be done again?
I had booked us at the New York Hilton. It’s so convenient and close to everything. And we booked it super early so we got a great rate.
After dropping off the bags, we were going to head to Times Square (the boys had only ever seen it on TV) and the TKTS booth and then grab some lunch. After loading up on lunch, we were going to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. That would take most of the afternoon. When we were done there, I was going to have us grab a cab back to the hotel and take the boys exploring around Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then grab dinner at the Burger Joint, made famous by Anthony Bourdain. If there’s room, we’d head to Serendipity for dessert.
Day 2: Central Park, the Museum of Natural History, Central Park Zoo, the MET
The plan was to start the day at the Museum of Natural History (Night at the Museum is still in heavy rotation in our house), then head to the Central Park Zoo at lunchtime, and end the day with the highlights of the MET. For dinner we had reservations had NINJA New York which sounded perfect for the boys, and I am so sad to hear that after 15 years it is now permanently closed..
Day 3: The Highline Park, Chelsea, the Village, and Brooklyn
The plan was to start at the Vessel and Hudson Yards and then walk down the Highline. After wandering through Chelsea and the Village (and stopping at the Jackie Robinson Museum) we would have lunch at Jekyll and Hyde. After some shopping and gelato in Little Italy we were going to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and check out DUMBO before heading to the Nets game that evening.
Day 4: Lower Manhattan, Statue of Liberty, One World Trade, and the Seaport
Today we were planning to start at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, then exploring One World Trade and Calatrava's Oculus. After exploring the Seaport for lunch, and maybe getting gelato at Little Italy we were headed to the Bronx to see the Yankees that night.
Day 5: Midtown, Empire State Building
This was our last day. We had planned to start at the Empire State Building (weather and view permitting), and lunch at Wagamama (a favorite of the kids when in London) before heading back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head back to the airport for a late flight home.
If you have older kids and are looking for unusual things to do, this is list of 689 Cool and Unusual Things to Do in New York from Atlas Obscura.
I Miss Travel
I know I am not alone in missing the ability to travel this past year. I have always craved travel, but now it feels like I need it to breathe. So to make myself feel a little bit better, I am going to share a few photos from some of our favorite recent, pre-covid trips.
The photo with the pink umbrellas? That was from Puerto Rico. We went there for a second time and loved it more than the first time. I don't know what took us so long to go there. Both trips were amazing, but I loved this piece of street art in the middle of Old San Juan.
Next to that is me on a rainy, cold December day in London. For me, London is always a good idea, too. I had never been there during the holidays, so I was pleasantly surprised by all of the Christmas Markets and the mulled wine. We went out to the Cotswolds for a few days, and that was such a romantic excursion for that time of year. It was a fabulous trip.
To the right of that is my favorite photo from Paris. Which is always a good idea. And I have gone on my own little photo safaris throughout the city and have tons of photos. But this is the best - My little one, dressed as Spiderman, throwing webs and keeping us safe. And if you need a Parisian fix like I do, I highly recommend following @raphaelmetivet on Instagram for a bird's eye view of the city.
The next two photos are from Munich. We did a Munich and Innsbruck, Austria ski trip that was better than any ski trip we've done out to Colorado. It was incredibly more affordable, the food was fantastic (my son could not get enough currywursts), and our side trips to Bregenz and and Lindau were beautiful. Plus, we had mango gelato on the street in Munich as it started to snow. For my southern babies who don't get a lot of snow, that was super cool.
The last four photos are from the big island of Hawaii. One is of the black sand beach, and the other is of us killing time while we waited for our table at the "totally-worth the wait" Lava Lava Beach Club. The third is of my kids next to the crater that is now erupting, and the last is a turtle that came to sleep on the rocks next to the Lava Lava Beach Club each night that we were there. While most people go to Oahu and or Maui, we wanted to share the beauty of the big island and it's 5 climates in the middle of the Pacific with our kids. This was my fourth trip to Hawaii and I can't get enough. We snorkeled with the Manta Rays at night, visited Volcanoes National Park, rode horses on one of the largest ranches in the US (in the middle of the Pacific!), visited green and black sand beaches, and ate a lot of poke.
I cannot wait to travel again. But in the meantime, I'll start working on some new itineraries so I can be ready. What's on my list? A camping trip out west with the fam to go to Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef and the Grand Canyon. Maybe with a quick stop in Vegas. And an African Safari. And Japan. How many vacation days do I have again?
Kris Delaney is a marketing executive, foodie, travel enthusiast, and book nerd based in Atlanta, GA.