Disney – December 2020

Before I start, let me pat myself on the back and say how nice it is to write a trip report only a month removed from the trip.  Hooray for remembering details!


Let’s start with a refresher.  We’ve done some extravagant travel.  Look no farther than my previous report where our 8 nights in hotels would have cost nearly $25,000.  And that’s cheap compared to some of the first class flights we’ve taken.

The key missing detail is we paid $0 for that.  Nothing.  Additionally, I think we are extremely efficient with our day to day travel expenses.  They matter, and I track them excessively – I’m sure I can find the cost of a cab ride from Thailand nearly a decade ago in my master travel excel book.  That’s how we pull it off.

Disney on the other hand is legit expensive.  And there are really no workarounds to it. 

Point being, I can go to Europe for 3 weeks for what it costs to spend a week at Disney on a monorail resort with the mealplan.  That’s always been a holdup for me.  Still, I said I had one trip in me.  The question was when to take it.

Decemberish 2019, our good friends informed us of their plans to do Disney the week after Thanksgiving 2020.  That week is supposed to be one of the best to go.  It would also be great to have friends (both ours and James) there as well.  James would be at a good age – old enough to ride the rides, but young enough to still experience some of the Disney magic.  We didn’t make any firm plans, but Alyce blocked the week for vacation.

Meanwhile…Covid and all that.  First thought: no way we’re going to Disney World in a pandemic.  However, reports seemed to be nothing but positive from Disney – manageable crowds, shorter than usual lines, and no widespread reports of Covid spreading.  As the time got closer, we made the decision to go for it.

To be clear, we ended up staying off site (a Hyatt on points that included breakfast), skipped lunch everyday, ate nice (but not obscene) dinners, and generally did Disney about as frugally as you could.  It still was one of the more expensive trips on a per day basis we have done.  A major, unescapable cost is park tickets.

Still, I’m glad we did the one trip.  This was a good time for James.

Day 1

We hit the road early from home but not absurdly so.  The flight there was Southwest non-stop.  We left December 1, which was the day they started filling planes again.  Still, we had no trouble getting a good boarding group and seats next to each other.

It’s about as easy of a trip as you can have.  Direct 1 hour flight.  Neither airport is overly crowded.  Easy.

We got to the hotel before lunch, and they had a room ready for us.  We stayed at the Hyatt Grand Cypress, which was a really nice property at a fraction of the cost of an onsite Disney property – not to mention we were able to use points.  I also had reserved us a suite with an upgrade certificate.  The “suite” was two adjoining rooms, one standard with a bed and one with more of a living area and sofa-bed.  Nothing spectacular by any means, but far superior to not a suite.

Our first day plans were Animal Kingdom park.  We’d rented a car and planned on paying for parking each day, which worked out fine.  Our friends were also at Animal Kingdom, but we were not able to catch up.

James wanted to do the Yeti ride first (the mount Everest roller coaster).  In his usual style, James did not lack for confidence.  But, this would also be his first real roller coaster experience.  We weren’t sure what to expect.

He got off and claimed to like it and want to go again, despite body language maybe saying otherwise.  Our line the first time through was ~25 minutes…apparently pretty short.  The second time was slightly longer.

Alyce and I enjoyed ourselves again.  James was maybe having second thoughts.

From there we shifted gears and got him a cheeseburger for lunch and did the Bug’s Life 3d show, which James enjoyed.  At this point, he was ready for some more action, so we made our way to the avatar ride.

We did it once and waited about 45 minutes.  James absolutely loved it.  Walking out he explained to us how most of the stuff in Disney was fake, but they really transported you in this ride.  He wanted to immediately do it again.  We did and only waited about 30 minutes, which is apparently pretty good.  He loved it again.

Following our second ride, the park was closing, and we had reservations at Raglan Road in Disney Springs.  Raglan Road is an Irish themed restaurant with singing and dancing performances.

Alyce and I really enjoyed the performances.  James was tired (and being a bit of a grouch).  The food was very enjoyable in a homely style as well.  Good experience overall and not ridiculously priced.

Back at the hotel, we all crashed after day 1.

Day 2

As mentioned, breakfast at the hotel restaurant was included, so we made use of that.  The food was good overall and exceeded expectations.  James loved that he could get 3 boxes of Cheerios each day. 

After breakfast, we set off for our first of two back to back days at Magic Kingdom.  Parking and catching the monorail to the park was easy enough.  James enjoyed the monorail ride.  Of course, there were covid restrictions/limitations in place, but they were not overly burdensome.

James got to make the call on the first ride; he chose space mountain (again, never lacking confidence).  We went straight to it and never stopped walking until we got on the roller coaster – maybe 15 minutes.  He was not thrilled with the fact that he couldn’t sit next to Alyce or me…or the dark.  Once of this one was enough for him.

We did the Buzz light year ride and Tomorrowland speedways next.  Neither was to stressing.  Following those, the Snow White mine train ride had a (relatively) reasonable wait of an hour, and we decided to wait it out. 

James was staring to be wary of roller coasters.  Waiting in line, he was constantly checking the ride out and asking why people were screaming.  He was also very concerned about loopty-loops.

This wait was one of the longer ones at a little over an hour.  The roller coaster was fun; James seemed to tolerate it.

After the mine train, we were able to catch up with our friends in Disney.  We hung out and rode the Buzz Lightyear rides and Splash Mountain with them.  James also made a new friend, who was probably anxious to find another dude after being surrounded by girls.

It was great to catch up with that crew, but they had to head out for dinner plans, and we still had time to do thunder mountain and the haunted mansion.

We made our way to Jaleo in Disney Springs straight from the Magic Kingdom.  Everyone enjoyed this meal it was mostly a variety of Spanish style small plates.

Day 3

Schedule dictated back to back days at Magic Kingdom.  One of the covid peculiarities was that you had to reserve your park.  Hollywood studios was only available on Saturday when we fully committed, so that was what we had to work with.

It worked out fine, and we’d be taking it a little easier this day.

To start, we knocked out some of the classics – Peter Pan, it’s a small world Pirates of the Caribbean.  After knocking those out, we grabbed James a hot dog lunch and let him buy the buzz claw souvenir he had been talking about non-stop.

Alyce wanted to do the carousel of progress after lunch, which was ok.  We wrapped things up with Mickey’s Philharmonic and decided to head back to the hotel for some time to catch our breath.

Dinner reservations were at Sanaa in Animal Kingdom Resort.  It’s an African based menu, and we all really enjoyed it – especially James who went at the Naan (bread service) like he had not eaten in days.  Our boy likes some bread.  We made our way back to the hotel and called it a day afterward.

Day 4

Epcot was on the schedule for the day following breakfast.  We started off with the Nasa space rides.  First the green, easy one – which James loved.  He can’t get enough of the team aspect. 

So, we got right back in line for the more challenging mission to Mars orange ride.  The main difference is that they spin you and make you feel the g-forces…which is actually pretty cool.  James got a kick out of both of these.

Our friends were also doing Epcot today, and we were able to meet up with them at this point.  We walked and rode Soarin, which was similar to Avatar but probably not as neat.  After, the kids got some lunch and regrouped.  We then did the finding Nemo ride, which did not have much of a line.

Next up was walking through some of the different “countries” in the area.  Positive, we got some drinks; negative, they were outrageously priced.  Despite the long line, we gave the frozen ride a go.  The line ended up not being too bad, and it was a fine ride.

We decided to wrap up the day at the Test Track.  The line seemed to drag on forever, but the ride was on of the better ones.  Everyone enjoyed it.

We said our good byes and made our way back to Disney Springs.  Wine Bar George was the destination, and it was very good – probably the best meal of the trip.  That concluded another successful day.

Day 5

Last park day and only day at Hollywood Studios.  I woke up early and was refreshing my phone as the new Star Wars ride queue opened up.  We did not get it, as it has to be a luck thing.  Turns out the ride would be broken down all day, so it did not matter either way.

After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we made our way over to the park.  James was excited about the Star Wars stuff – even though he is not a huge Star Wars kid.  I think he gets it from some nerd he saw on Youtube (that he was not supposed to be watching).

With that in mind, we set off straight for the millennium falcon ride.  The wait was ok, but James loved the ride.  It had the same team aspect as the Nasa ride from Epcot, but this one actually responded to some of your commands.  James – the commander – gave me the business for not shooting the enemy ships fast enough.  I decided to give him a pass for his poor driving of the Falcon…but it was clearly not forgotten.

Next up was a stop at the souvenir shop.  There are absurdly expensive light sabers for nerds enthusiasts to buy and bring home.  I wouldn’t pay for it, but James’s grandparents had sent him with a treasure trove of money to buy souvenirs.  It wouldn’t cover a custom nerd saber, but we were willing to make up the difference if he was really excited about it. 

Knowing James, he really just wanted to sword fight with his friends.  So having two light sabers was exponentially more important than the quality of said saber.  He bought two of the ridiculously overpriced plastic swords and was happy as could be.  I ran them out to the car while James grabbed a snack with his mom.

Afterwards, we did the star tours “VR” ride, which was ok and seemed to be showing its age compared to the newer rides.

Next up were the thrill rides.  James..not that wild about the roller coasters at this point.  I don’t recall what we said, but we convinced him to give the rock and roller coaster a try.  Maybe it was the two day leading up to this that we were telling him we were going to do it?  Maybe it was James’s trademark confidence?  Don’t know, but he was on board until we reached the front of the line.

At that point, he switched between which of myself and Alyce he wanted to ride with 3 times.  I was fairly positive, he was backing out.  But, he surprised us all and decided to ride next to his mom.  Some legit screams (and possibly tear) later, we were done.  To lift his spirits, we got some drum stick souvenirs.  And now we have drums at the house.  Karma…

James was feeling a little brave afterwards and said to bring on the tower of terror.  Ok.

We walked to it and had a not bad line.  We enjoyed it.  James will now tell you it was the “Tower of Calm” because of how not scary it was.  What he won’t mention is the part of the ride he screamed “is this over yet.” 

We still had time for one more ride (which James was sure to confirm contained no loopty-loops) – Mickey an Minnie’s train ride.  This was a newer trackless ride that everyone enjoyed.  It was a good end to the rides for the trip.

Our last dinner was again in Disney Springs.  Unbeknownst to us, Disney Springs had reached capacity at some point.  The 10 minute ride turned into an hour 10 minute ride.  On top of that, they released our reservation at Frontera because we were late (despite our calling the restaurant).  Alyce and James were not happy campers at this point.

The food was good, but not as good as the real Frontera in Chicago.  Had I known of the wait to come, we would have just done something else.  Fortunately, the ride home was brief and without issue.

Travel Day

Our flight was originally scheduled to leave at 10:00 a.m., but it was cancelled and we were pushed to a 7:00 p.m. flight.  My first thought was to do another day in the Disney, as the marginal ticket cost was negligible at this point.  We were going to do that, but decided against it that day (which was a good decision).

Instead, we took advantage of our 4:00 p.m. late checkout and let James hit the pool and water slide.  As per James usual, he made many friends over the course of the day and did not want to leave, but we had to pack and head to the airport.  We did fit in some putt-putt on site, but that was it. 

Also, James was excited to tell the hotel parrot, Merlot, good bye.

The trip to the airport and flight back on Spirit were without issue.  Though we were close to one…We had to combine our family powers to sneak James’s two plastic swords on the plane.  By the strict letter of the law, they should have cost like $120 to bring home, which was absurd.  So we did our best to obfuscate them – and it worked.  One other minor (though not at the same time) issue is that a passenger passed out on the plane on the way home.  For some reason his wife went straight to “does anyone know CPR!!!!” when it was not necessary.  I guess better safe than sorry, but they likely had an hour of questioning/paperwork to do once they got off the plane – forced wheelchair and all.

Concluding Thoughts

So…Disney trip.  In the books.  I’m sure there were some negatives to doing it during Covid.  But parks were capped at 35% capacity.  That still was borderline too much for me.  I can’t imagine what full capacity look like.  Don’t want to know really.  The only downside was the masks, which was a trade I would make 8 days a week.

As mentioned previously, it was a good age for James.  Having some friends there was a definite extra benefit. 

We decided against staying on property and doing a meal plan.  We were fine with that.  The magic kingdom is obviously more convenient when staying at a monorail resort.  The rest of the parks…not really.  Cost wise, we came out far head – even if you disregard the fact that we used points.  Whether or not staying on site and a meal plan is worth it will be a personal call.  It was not for us.  I have no regrets post-trip.

Whatever disgruntled feelings I have to the cost overall, I’m glad we did it.  I won’t even categorically rule out another trip (though smart money is on “no” for at least the next decade).

The important thing was that we got to complete a family trip in a year when most trips were canceled.  That’s a win.

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