Now on to food. We chose to eat counter service in the parks a few times. All of the open counter service restaurants are doing online ordering through the My Disney Experience app. You place and pay for your order on the application and then when you arrive in the area of the restaurant (during your pick up time), they begin to prepare your order. Once it is ready, the app lets you know and you can go into the restaurant to pick it up. This allows you to do other things for a bit until it’s time for your order pick up and allows Disney to minimize the crowds inside the restaurant and increase social distancing. While the menus are a bit more limited it’s not that inconvenient once you get the hang of it and seating wasn’t hard to come by as the traffic is metered well by the staff. We felt the visitors did a good job with social distancing and the table set up by Disney was mostly appropriate and felt safe. The one restaurant that felt a bit crowded was Pecos Bills in Magic Kingdom.
We also ate at a few sit down restaurants for lunch, specifically Via Napoli in Italy (Epcot) and The Yak & Yeti in Animal Kingdom. Both had their normal wonderful food and great service that we have come to expect. A quick aside. If you aren’t a Landry’s Select Club member, become one. It is a one-time, $25 fee and is totally worth it as the restaurant recognizes you as a VIP and you can get a table when you show up at the Yak & Yeti without a reservation. You basically jump to the front of the line and earn rewards you can use on future meals. The rewards are good not only at Yak & Yeti but also other Landry’s restaurants around the country.
Our best meal was at Capa, which can be found rooftop at the Four Seasons. For those that don’t know, the Four Seasons is nestled back in the new Golden Oaks neighborhood on Disney property. The food has a Spanish focus and many of the appetizers are served tapas style. You can make a meal on the appetizers/small plates alone – and we did! It’s a great way to have your teens try new foods as well without wasting money on an entire entrée. The food and wine are absolutely tremendous. The service is as one would expect from the Four Seasons – top notch. You are treated like royalty. They even had Ziploc bags for each of us at our table to place our masks in. This is a treasure and one that for those looking for a luxurious meal in a prime location cannot be matched anywhere on property except maybe Victoria and Alberts. To top it all off our waiter, a fellow Penn State alumni, made us a special dessert.
A few tips:
- Plan ahead as reservations go quickly. This applies event absent Covid, but now that you have to choose your park early and capacity is limited at the restaurants, if you don’t plan you will likely not get anything but counter service.
- Many of the restaurants (sit-down as well) are doing take out. Some of the sit-down restaurants even let you order ahead through the app. If they don’t, just call guest services and have them put you through directly to the restaurant. Trattoria al Forno did not advertise take out on their website, but when we called, they were more than happy to have you show up to the hostess desk, place an order, and take it to go.
- The Yak & Yeti is a gem and not to be missed in Animal Kingdom. If they are crowded, the bar will allow sit-down and food service so it’s another way to grab a bite. Its first come first serve and kids may sit at the bar. Our teens enjoy sitting at the bar and getting one of their non-alcoholic fruit smoothies.
- Sanaa in Kidani Village at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is also a hidden gem and does great take out as well as eat in. If you are a fan of wine, pick up a bottle of the South African Black Pearl red wine in the shop upstairs. It pairs excellently with the African cuisine, or if eating in the restaurant, order the South African wine flight. The bread service is simply amazing — it will not disappoint and all the entrees can be shared family style.
Finally, the parks. We spent 2 days each in Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios and a day a piece in Animal Kingdom and Epcot.
At Hollywood Studios, Star Wars Land is crazy and is the most crowded area in all the parks right now which is not unexpected. The land is spectacular, and the rides are amazing. Smugglers Run is incredibly immersive and lets you and your “crew” drive the Millennium Falcon while battling the Empire. On top of that, each time you ride it is different because your actions determine the outcome. Even the queue is fully immersive, so you don’t mind waiting. Rise of the Resistance, however, takes theme park attractions to another level as you literally feel like you are in a movie. We won’t spoil anything, but it’s the closest thing to being in the Star Wars universe you can get. We managed to get in the virtual queue twice. The virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance “sells out” literally in 1 second so being on time to sign up is important. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is a fun and immersive ride with amazing new technology as well and is especially good for those who love the cartoons and families with kids of all ages. This was our first time riding and even our teen boys enjoyed it enough to ride it twice. As sad as we were to see the Great Movie Ride go, this was a great replacement. The characters are not out at specific times but they do come around randomly to add to the magic of the parks. We were lucky enough to catch Buzz and Edna in Hollywood Studios and Pooh in Epcot.
Epcot, typically our favorite park, was celebrating the Festival of the Arts while we were there. This is a smaller version of Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival and Flower and Garden Festival with the addition of both local and famous artist kiosks. While we love the kiosks with small bites and interesting drinks, the mask rules prohibit you from eating or drinking when not stationary, so it was a slightly different experience.
It rained briefly the day we were in Animal Kingdom, but Flight of Passage was as amazing as always and stands the test even with the new Star Wars rides. The Kilimanjaro Safari impressed as usual also and a trip out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch was worth it as the animals were out and interactive. And if you are a fan of the Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Disney+, you will recognize the veterinary observation area. Cast members told us if you want to try and catch an actual procedure, it is better to try early in the morning near park opening. Kali River Rapids was closed but the line for Expedition Everest was the shortest we have ever seen it (absent Early Magic Hours).
Magic Kingdom was the most manageable of the four parks as it has so many attractions the crowds were more spread out. There is a lot of construction going on in Magic Kingdom in advance of this year’s 50th Anniversary Celebration but we never felt it hindered the experience. The new Tron coaster scaffolding is all up and that is the one ride we are really looking forward to experiencing when it opens. The new paint job on Cinderella’s Castle was truly breath-taking and really makes it stand out against the clear blue Florida skies.
A few points about the parks:
- There are no Fast Passes, so expect to wait for all the rides. The lines look long due to 6 feet of social distancing and an attempt to keep as much of the line outside as possible, but don’t be scared off by the line. We found most wait times to be an overestimate with many lines being 10-20 minutes shorter than posted.
- Get to the parks 30 minutes before opening as they are not making people wait at the turnstiles to avoid crowding because of the pandemic. You will have your temperature taken when getting off the bus or onto the ferry or monorail. When you get to the park go to whatever ride you most want to ride first as that will likely be the shortest line most of the day. If you get there later than opening or at park opening, consider doing other rides first as everyone is likely in line for the most popular attractions.
- Plan on taking some time in the middle of the day to enjoy the resorts or expect to wait a long time for many rides – not peak summer wait times, but longer than you might want to wait. The rides are not able to fill up due to Covid capacity and distancing restrictions.
Overall, our trip to Disney was enjoyable but different. We put more focus on riding only the rides we really wanted to go on most, but retreated to the room and resort in the afternoon to relax and avoid the crowds. We went back in later in the evening a few nights when crowds were a bit smaller, especially on the less popular attractions. If you have teens or tweens who are not as interested in pictures with the characters or the parades and shows, now is a great time to go. For first-timers, though, we would recommend waiting until the parks are back to normal so you can really enjoy the true Disney experience.