Since reopening in July, many guests have made their way back to Walt Disney World to a new kind of magic. I had a trip planned for April 2020, which was canceled due to the closure, so I was very excited to get back to the action myself! Since I’m a Florida resident (for the next few months anyway), it was easy to plan a quick 3-night trip back down to Orlando at the end of September. I wanted to share my review of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, new safety policies and procedures at the parks and resorts, dining procedures, and character experiences.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Originally I was booked at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort but received a call 5 weeks before my trip alerting me that the Polynesian would not be reopening as anticipated and that I would be moved over to Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Prior to this trip, I had never stayed at the Contemporary. I’m a creature of habit and tend to stay at the same places over and over, so it was nice to be pushed out of my comfort zone and to give another resort a try! Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed.
You can’t go to Walt Disney World and not notice the Contemporary sitting outside of Magic Kingdom. It is made up of the Main Tower, Garden Wing, and Bay Lake Tower with beautiful lake views from some rooms and theme park views in others. I was given a Main Tower – Lake View room, and it was quite wonderful. With two queen beds and a pull-out sofa, this room can sleep 5. While fitting 5 may be a little tight, this was more than enough room for me. I especially loved the desk area since this was a working/research trip, after all. The balcony was amazing and provided a nice place to relax after long days in the parks. I was even able to see the Movies Under the Stars set up by the pool area. If you are like me and pack pretty much every toiletry/makeup/haircare product you own, the bathroom may not be your favorite of the deluxe resorts. Extra-large double sinks are great until you don’t have room to lay out everything you need. Otherwise, the room was fantastic!
Disney has been asking guests to complete online check-in prior to their visit via My Disney Experience to ensure safety measures can be followed. Online check-in was a breeze, and I received a notification about an hour before my arrival that my room was ready, and I could head straight there. If you choose not to use MagicBands, the My Disney Experience app will even unlock your door for you.
There are signs all over the resort giving guests information regarding the policies and procedures surrounding COVID-19, and there are hand sanitizer stations throughout the resort, including outside the elevators, next to the escalators, and randomly throughout the common area. Face coverings are also required everywhere outside of your room.
Since my trip was planned last minute than usual, I decided to only book 1 dining reservation (Chef Mickey’s) and rely on quick service and the walk-up waitlist for my other meals. The walk-up waitlist is a new feature on the My Disney Experience app that allows you to check for current wait times at table service locations throughout the parks and resorts. In addition to the check-in process, guests are asked to utilize their My Disney Experience app for dining as well.
During my trip, I mobile ordered from multiple quick-service locations, including the Contempo Café at my resort and Ronto Roasters in Hollywood Studios. Mobile ordering is so easy! It was nice to put in my order and check-in on the app when I arrived at the quick service location. When your order is ready, you get a notification that tells you which window/desk to visit to pick up your order. For table service restaurants, you will check-in on the app and scan a QR code, which brings up the menu.
As I mentioned, I only reserved one meal at a table service restaurant, and it was mainly to see how former character dining was being handled. Some of the character meals are offering modified character experiences where the characters will walk through the restaurant but not stop at any of the tables. Chef Mickey’s has completely removed characters from their breakfast and shifted from buffet to family-style dining. The food was fantastic, but way more than I could eat. The price has been altered to reflect the change in the dining experience. While $25 per person isn’t terrible, especially considering how much food is served, this isn’t really a meal I would go out of my way for without the characters. Now, if you are staying at the Contemporary, it is a great option for breakfast before heading into Magic Kingdom for the day! UPDATE: It was announced that the characters would return to breakfast at Chef Mickey’s on December 16!
As far as the walk-up waitlist, my biggest recommendation is that if you have a restaurant that you just HAVE to visit during a trip that is a popular location, you need to go ahead and make a reservation prior to your trip. I attempted to get on the waitlist for California Grill every night of my visit and was unsuccessful. With that being said, I got lucky and found a 5 min wait for Be Our Guest for lunch when I was in Magic Kingdom! Fun fact about me: I’ve eaten at Be Our Guest every single trip I’ve ever taken to WDW. Glad I was able to keep that tradition going thanks to the walk-up waitlist.
Since it was a quick trip, my park time was limited. I visited Epcot on my arrival day and Animal Kingdom on my departure day, with full days at Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. During my last visit in November 2019, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Hollywood Studios, so that was a major focus for me on this trip. With the modified park hours, I was a little concerned about being able to get everything accomplished on this trip, but I was pleasantly surprised.
After checking into the resort, I made my way to the bus stop for Epcot. In non-Covid times, there is a monorail from the Contemporary over to Epcot, but operations have been suspended for the time being. I had no issue getting a bus, where I was the only passenger, and getting scanned into the park by 3:30pm for a 7:00pm closing. Quick side note about the buses: each bus is now sectioned off with partitions and limited capacity. I would be 100% ok with this staying in place forever. It was so nice to take a bus and not be on top of someone else! A Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is taking place instead of the traditional Food and Wine Festival. It did not disappoint. Very rarely do I make a dining reservation in Epcot during this festival because I love to snack as much as I can from all the countries. The wait times were pretty low for almost all of the attractions in the park. I have a standard rule that I won’t wait for an attraction for more than 30-40 mins unless it is brand new or one of my favorites. Even then, I try and FastPass everything I can. Since FastPasses aren’t currently an option, I decided to wait the 50-minute posted time at Frozen Ever After. Full disclosure: I’ve actually never gone through the entire queue because I have always used a FastPass. It was fantastic, and even better that I only waited 30 mins and not the full 50. We’ve been hearing rumors about inflated wait times, but you really never know. As I was waiting in line, a princess cavalcade made its way along with the World Showcase! I was able to do eat all the snacks, and ride everything I wanted to in this park in the 3.5 hours with the low capacity.
Hollywood Studios was the plan for my first full day in the parks. I had two main goals: get a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance and ride Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. It has been reported that the Disney transportation system to Hollywood Studios has been a little rough since the reopening. Since boarding groups become available at exactly 10:00am, which is also the official park opening time, guests are flocking to the park early. Anticipating a wait, I made it down to the bus stop at 8:40am and was greeted with a line. Buses typically start running an hour before park opening. The first bus arrived at the Contemporary at 8:55am. I ended up boarding the 3rd bus of the day and was on my way to the park at 9:16am. While I was boarding the bus, a line of Hollywood Studio’s reinforcement buses pulled up, so the crowd was excited. I was scanned into the park at 9:36am and headed to Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Some of the attractions begin running before the official park opening, which has included MMRR and Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios. At 9:45am the line was closed for MMRR because they had already reached a 90-minute wait. I decided to find a quiet spot to focus on getting a boarding group. This is going to sound completely crazy, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that at 9:58am, a hush made its way through the park while everyone was focused intently on their phones waiting to refresh. As my phone hit 10:00am, I hit refresh and was ecstatic to see that I got a boarding group – boarding group 5 to be exact! If you ever have the chance to ride Rise of the Resistance, do it. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan, but that ride is AMAZING. The park was noticeably more full than Epcot was the previous night, but I never felt unsafe in regards to the COVID procedures. Bonus: since they are social distancing on attractions, I had my own car on Rise of the Resistance. I utilized mobile ordering for lunch at Ronto Roasters and enjoyed a Ronto Wrap while people-watching in Galaxy’s Edge. The wait times for MMRR were still pretty high throughout the day, so I decided to take a break from the afternoon heat and head back to the resort. No issues getting a bus back and was the only traveler again. When I returned to the park around 4:00pm, it seemed a little quieter than earlier in the day. Many people leave after the 2:00pm boarding groups are released, so I recommend taking a break and going back for park closing if you can. When the posted wait dipped to 65 minutes, I hopped in line for MMRR. I did have to wait the full 65 minutes, but Cast Members let us know that the ride went down for deep cleaning at one point, so I was completely ok with waiting. It is a very cute attraction, but not one of my favorites. I’m not a huge fan of the new style of Mickey cartoons, but this was fun. My biggest recommendation for this attraction is to go first thing in the morning or the afternoon/evening as most of the queue is outside, so you are in direct sunlight for your wait. It may not be as bad outside of the summer months, but it was brutal in September.
My second full day was reserved for Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom is my absolute favorite park. I love the attractions, the characters, the food, and I also feel like it provides the BEST people watching out of all of the parks. My main goal for this visit was to see as many cavalcades as possible. In all honesty, I was pretty bummed when Disney announced that character meet and greets, parades, and fireworks were suspended for the time being. I really thought it would be less magical. I was wrong. I reserved an early breakfast at Chef Mickey’s that morning so I had more than enough time to get into the park before the official opening at 9:00am. One of my favorite perks to staying at the Contemporary is the walkway to Magic Kingdom. The walkway also includes temperature screenings, and security so you don’t have to go to the main lines! I was scanned into the park at 8:25am, and it was the most empty I have ever seen Magic Kingdom in all my trips. I never thought I would be able to have empty photos in front of Cinderella Castle. It was amazing! After a few photo stops along Main Street USA, and Cinderella Castle, I made my wait with the other guests to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. As with the other parks, select attractions begin operating before the official park opening, and guests are taking full advantage of that, and I was no exception. By 10:00am, I had ridden Seven Dwarfs, Peter Pan’s Flight, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Jungle Cruise! Easily the most productive morning I have ever had in Magic Kingdom. The longest wait was for Starbucks on Main Street, USA. As I enjoyed my Cinderella Latte in a shaded portion of the hub grass, I heard the music for a cavalcade and made my way over to Main Street USA. In the span of 40 mins, I saw 4 cavalcades: Goofy’s Cavalcade, the Cadaver Dans (Dapper Dans when not Halloween season), Boo to You, and the Villains Cavalcade. Each of the cavalcades originates in Frontierland and then makes its way through Main Street USA, where the characters will hang out on the train platform to interact with guests. If you want to see characters, you will have absolutely no problem doing so with the new format. You pretty much have to go out of your way, not to see a cavalcade. After Villains, I decided to give the walk-up waitlist a try for lunch and was pleasantly surprised to find a 5 min wait at Be Our Guest! While dining, Beast made his way through the castle. While not a traditional meet and greet, still fun to see! It’s a very heavy meal, so I decided to take a little break and head back to my resort for a few hours in the afternoon. Normally, I would be in Magic Kingdom from park open to park close, but with such low capacity and wait times, I didn’t feel as if I was missing out while taking a break. When I returned later in the afternoon, it only took a few minutes before I found the Princess Cavalcade in front of Cinderella Castle! The Fairy Godmother even called to me from the float and told me she liked my shirt. DAY. MADE. After a wonderful evening of attractions and people watching, I made my way back to the resort an hour after park closing. Keep in mind that you just have to be in line at an attraction at closing time, not out of the park. If you want to wait out the other guests, this is a great time to get those empty photos!
My final stop was at Animal Kingdom before I got on the road to head home after checking out of the Contemporary. I took the bus, again alone, and was scanned into the park 20 mins before opening. Pretty much everyone flocks to Pandora, so when I arrived, there was already a 30 mins wait posted for Flight of Avatar. I grabbed my Starbucks and found a nice, shaded spot to scout out the flotillas (AK’s version of cavalcades). It didn’t take long until I saw Timon and Rafiki, followed by Goofy, along with Chip N Dale, a few minutes later! The music comes solely from the flotillas, instead of being piped in, but as long as you are along the water, you shouldn’t have any problems finding them! Accomplishing my mission of seeing the flotillas, I head back to the resort so I could go home to my family.
Overall, I have to say this was one of the most enjoyable visits to Walt Disney World that I have ever had. The magic is still there, albeit a little different. Mask compliance was amazing during my visit! I did see a few people that had their masks under their noses, but the Cast Members were quick to correct them. I was shocked to see so many people following the rules. When I say there is hand sanitizer and handwashing stations everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE – before you board an attraction, at the end of the attraction, and randomly scattered throughout the parks and even the resorts.
If you are ready to head back to the magic, email me at Stacy@TravelWithTheMagic.com to get started. I’d love to help you and your family plan the most magical vacation possible!