As I’m still recovering from my open heart surgery I had in September, and Steve (DOS) and I are walking daily, I thought it would be a good time to once again purchase an annual pass to Disney World as it’s a great place to walk around.
No, I can’t do the rides right now (with few exceptions like the People Mover at Magic Kingdom, It’s a Small World etc), but we enjoy walking thru the parks, the entertainment, fireworks etc, and it’s great exercise for me. Just what the Doctor ordered – walking that is! Of course Space Mountain is a big no-no-no!!!
Like everything, the Disney ticket prices have really gone up since we last had our annual passes a couple years ago. Due to COVID, they’ve also made several changes (not good ones either) to their entrance policies. You now need not only a valid ticket for the day of your theme park choice, but also need a ‘reservation’ for that theme park, which you reserve online. I guess the idea is to limit the capacity now that they are re-opened from
COVID. Disney still requires masks to be worn on indoor attractions and transportation such as the buses and monorails, but not boats such as the one we took from the parking lot area to Magic Kingdom.
We opted for the “Pixie Dust” annual pass, which is available to Florida residents on weekdays (Monday thru Friday) as we are both now retired, and really don’t want or need to go on the more crowded weekends anymore. It’s considerably cheaper ($300 less than the next pass), but it still includes parking ($25 a day) and park hopping privileges, although there are summer and holiday black-out dates, which again we wouldn’t want to go then anyway due to the crowds. Now instead of showing your annual pass at the gate, it’s electronically encoded on your Disney risk band, and together with the biometric fingerprint you use at the gate, you don’t have to worry about losing or forgetting your pass. Of course you could forget the wristband, but we leave that in the car glove compartment until needed.
We made a mini-staycation of a couple nights at Disney World even though we live only a 45 minutes drive from there, staying at the Hyatt Regency next to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney). We love this hotel and have stayed here many times. We had a nice suite with views overlooking the on-property lake.
The first day on our stay-cation, we drove from the hotel to the Transportation and Ticket Center TTC), where we parked our car.
We were a bit surprised that Disney is no longer operating the parking lot trams (at least temporarily during COVID), as it was quite a long walk from the parking lot to the entrance-way. Tip: Always remember to take a photo of where you parked, noting the aisle number so you’ll remember when you return!
Once thru the security check at the TTC, we opted for the River Boat ride over to the actual entrance to Magic Kingdom. It was a beautiful fall day as we sailed past the new over-water bungalows at the Polynesian resort, Grand Floridian Hotel, and ultimately the top of Cinderella’s Castle as got closer to the entrance.
On arrival to Magic Kingdom, we immediately noticed it was decorated for Halloween as well as the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. While the theme park was busy, it was not nearly as crowded as the former times we went over weekends when it was jam-packed.
Inside the entrance, we were welcomed back by Winnie the Pooh and friends, who were waving at everyone from atop the train station (which is temporarily closed due to park renovation).
We then strolled along Main Street towards Cinderella’s Castle, taking a couple photos along the way.
As we were walking up Main Street, we saw a “Minnie” Parade passing us by, so we stopped for a quick look.
And finally after our walk up Main Street we got our photo taken by Cinderella’s Castle.
After our pics by the Castle, we headed over to Tomorrowland, my favorite part of Magic Kingdom as a kid, and still to this day. While I can no longer ride Space Mountain and other roller coasters, it’s always an iconic photo, as well as the Star Jets which sits high atop the People Mover attraction station.
We did ride the WED-WAY People Mover, which is a relaxing tram ride on an elevated track all over Tomorrowland. Great when your legs need a rest, and also good for photos.
We had our late lunch at 2pm at Be Our Guest Restaurant, themed after the Disney movie and Broadway show “Beauty and the Beast”.
We had eaten here before, but now it’s a price fix meal (with an appetizer, entree, and dessert) for $62 a person. The concept is you are eating on the main level in the Beast’s Castle, while the Beast’s Castle facade is sitting high up on the mountain, which you can see from the entrance, but not tour.
Once inside the lobby of Be Our Guest Restaurant, we took a few photos of some of the exhibits on display, including the armored guards with flags, parlor room with fireplace, and the tile mural showing the Prince and Belle with a rose prominently featured.
I also took a photo of the Grand Ballroom with it’s beautiful painted ceiling and elegant chandelier, while waiting for our table to be called.
Once our table was called, we proceeded thru the Grand Ballroom, (where we’ve eaten twice before), to the East wing room (1 of 3 dining rooms including the Ballroom and the West Wing), where we were seated in front of the revolving Beast and Belle, which were the elevated centerpiece of the room.
We had a “magical” three course lunch with a starter each of a charcuterie board, followed by a main of filet mignon, and a dessert trio. (Several options are posted you can choose from in each course section.). Since we were having a nice cheese and charcuterie board, as well as filet for our main, we also got a bottle of wine.
When Be our Guest Restaurant opened a few years ago, it was the first, and still one of the few places in Magic Kingdom (along with the other advance reservation sit down restaurants) where you can be served an alcoholic beverage, (unlike the other parks where alcohol is plentiful throughout the parks.) We shared a bottle of Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon, which is actually a winery owned by a member of the Disney family. We had visited Silverado Winery a few years back when we were in Napa Valley, and the scenery there and of course the wines are very good.
For dessert. we had the dessert trio, and especially “the grey stuff – it’s delicious”, and according to the Beauty and Beast song, “if you don’t believe me ask the dishes!” Everything on the dessert tray was edible, including the cup and miniature wording!
After finished of our heavy lunch, we headed back to the hotel. We didn’t stay for the new Magic Kingdom fireworks, as I was getting tired, so we went back to the hotel and rested a bit. On our return trip to the TTC, we took the express monorail back instead of the boat, also passing the Grand Floridian, this time from an overhead vantage point.
We later had a light dinner at the Lakeside Restaurant at the hotel. A couple of the servers remembered us from our last visit which had been quite a while due to COVID, and they had formerly worked in the other hotel restaurant (Hemmingway’s) which had closed due to COVID.
The next day we slept in a bit and had a late breakfast at the Hyatt, also in the Lakeside Restaurant.
We relaxed a bit in the afternoon and took a walk around the expanse property before Uber’ing over to EPCOT in the late afternoon. EPCOT had the Food and Wine Festival going on, and as it was a week day and still with COVID going on, it was not overly crowded. It was a nice change from we used to go on weekends during the Food and Wine Festival and it was packed with long food and drink lines. It and sometimes a drunk-fest too with weekend groups of friends making it a “drink around the World” event throughout the park (present party excluded of course!)
Future World was being completely renovated, and with the exception of the “Golf Ball” icon Spaceship Earth, almost everything in the front section of the park was boarded up for whatever Disney is going to do next. This created detours a bit getting to World Showcase, but fortunately the park was not real crowded the day we went.
We did do the Spaceship Earth attraction which is always enjoyable, and took a couple photos of our spaceship photo at the end of the ride.
We then took a leisurely stroll half way around World Showcase, starting on the Canadian side. We were thrilled to see Canada had added a band back at the Canadian Pavilion. It had previously hosted the band “Off Kilter” for years (think rock and bagpipes!) but was replaced a few years ago with a log cutting demonstration; not at all similar or exciting compared to live music. One of the things we love about EPCOT is the lively entertainment throughout the park, so we stopped to hear the band playing at Canada before wondering along.
We then continued on our walk towards Great Britain, France, Morocco, Japan, America, Germany, and Italy before heading for our dinner reservation on the Boardwalk. We usually got all the way around the World at Epcot, but as we were only there for part of the day and had to get to dinner, we skipped the rest of the countries (Germany, Africa, China, Norway, and Mexico), and saved them for another day.
At the Food and Wine Festival you are sampling food and wine at many different venues, (prices are ala carte and have risen a lot from what they previously were, although the quality of the food samples was better) and it’s easy to get carried away a bit if you’re not careful, especially with a group of people (i.e. previous years from yours truly!). As this was just DOS and myself, and we had dinner reservations at 6:45pm, we just sampled a few things in Canada, France, and Italy.
We took note of the equipment in the middle of the lake, which at first glance looked like a looped roller coaster ride! The equipment we would later find out was used for the new firework display we would see later on that evening. This replaced the giant movable “Earth Ball” that slowly moved across the lake during the firework show. More further down on the fireworks.
For dinner we exited EPCOT for a couple hours and walked back over the bridge, out the back (France) exit, to the Boardwalk area of Disney. Just outside the rear World Showcase exit, we saw the now operational Skyliner that was being built on our last visit there. This gondola-like sky ride connects to several places including Hollywood Studios, and several of the Disney Hotels including Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, Art of Animation and the new Disney Riviera Hotel. We didn’t have time to ride it, but will try it on our next visit – looks like fun!
Once past the Skyliner, we walked around the Boardwalk area a bit (which also circles another lake) before heading to the Trattoria Restaurant there. We love walking around the Boardwalk area. While it has several Disney luxury hotels, there is also the Starwood owned Swan and Dolphin Hotels, and lots of restaurants outdoor entertainment, in a carnival “boardwalk” type atmosphere. It is very quiet in the daytime, but becomes lively (but not overwhelming like the theme parks) in the evening, and is a fun place to walk around, have a drink, or dinner. For us, it’s a nice break from the busy theme parks when you want to get away from the crowds.
We had reservations for 6:45pm at a new Italian Restaurant Trattoria on the Boardwalk, which is housed in the former restaurant of TV food chef Cat Cora. The food and atmosphere were wonderful, and it’s nice stepping out of the park for awhile for a meal. Disney has their own restaurant in the EPCOT Italian Pavilion, but we couldn’t get reservations on short notice. Also Disney’s Italian restaurant (and others) are comparatively overpriced and filled with families and kids, unlike the Boardwalk area which is less hectic and rushed, with fewer kids, and much better value and quality in our opinion.
After wonderful dinner at Trattoria, we walked back to EPCOT via the Boardwalk. It was now dark outside, but the lights were glowing and it was quite a bit more lively than when we came over for dinner.
As we had an hour or so before the fireworks, we walked back towards Spaceship Earth (the giant golf ball) and took a few photos of it now lit up in continuously changing colors.
For the firework show, we headed back over towards the Japan pavilion, as that was one of our favorite viewing areas of the old fireworks shows. The old show, “Illuminations” had been running nightly at 9pm for over 21 years, starting with the millennium celebration starting in 2000. The new show, “Harmonious”, was quite different than Illuminations, but like Illuminations, it will take us a few visits to EPCOT to find our favorite viewing area for the new fireworks show. The Fireworks show now starts at 10pm, leaving the park open an hour later than previously. Fireworks are generally hard for me to photograph and film, but these came out fairly well using my iPhone 12.
Finally, we had a fun couple of days staycation at Disney, and it was also therapeutic for me getting extra walking in around the parks. As it’s the 50th year celebration of Disney World and we now have annual passes, we hope to be going much more often. I’ll end this post with a short 40 second clip of some of the fireworks. Enjoy, and have a Magical Day!