Disney World 2021
My experience and recommendations for the Happiest Place on Earth
We just got back from an 8-day trip to Florida. My wife has been to Disney World when she was a child with her family. Other than that, this was our family's first trip to Florida.
You could say this was a spontaneous trip. In my opinion, February is the worst month of the year. I'm tired of the cold and the inversion that settles over Utah. The excitement of the Holidays has ended, and the inherent motivation that comes with a new year starts to wane.
Last fall we had two vacations cancelled to due the "pandemic". One was to Disneyland, the other was our 20th anniversary to Hawaii.
As I started seeming pictures of friends in Disney World, I started getting a hankering to be there. My wife talked me out of the idea when I brought it up, so I laid it to rest. Then I reach out to my friend who owns a car dealership to ask him about a car. As we are catching up he tells me how they just got back from Florida.
"It’s was amazing. No fast pass. 30% capacity. Only open 9 to 7 so you don’t have to kill yourselves... I don’t know how long it will last ?!?"
That was the trigger! I was back online pricing everything out.
I calculated for our family of 7 traveling from Utah, we would pay around \$10K for the flights, boarding, car rental, and park passes (6 days at Disney, 1 day at Universal).
The best flight I found was through Jet Blue. The base price was $1700 with no layovers. As I went to check out, the price went up to $2700. 😡
I could move the date out a week or two for the same price, but that would put is into March with is Spring Break time frame and put our kids missing school at the end of the trimester or start of the new trimester.
I was able to find a flight on Delta with a layover in Atlanta for around \$2k which still kept us in budget.
That basically gave us two weeks to plan and organize.
Luckily we have a number of friends who have been ther recently. Our neighbors had been there in December and were going to be there again around the same time from as us. We also went to dinner with our friends that had just gotten back. They gave us all their best tips on which rides are a must, when to be at the parks, how to get a pass on Rise of the Resistence, etc.
I also watched a number of videos on YouTube, but bar far, our friends were the most helpful resource.
Based on all the information I got this is how I planned the trip. We did 1-park-at-a-time tickets, because I've heard it can take up to 90 minutes to leave and get into another park. Also, with the COVID rules and the shortened hours, there is more to plan that way.
1✅ Get up at 2 AM2✅ Leave home by 3 AM3✅ Flight departs at 6 AM4✅ Land in Florida at 2:25 PM5✅ Pick up car rental6✅ Find Airbnb rental - check in around 4 pm7✅ Purchase groceries for the week8✅ Pack treats for Disney9✅ Get some rest
1✅ Wake up at 6:302✅ Get boarding pass for Rise of the Resistence ride at 7 AM3✅ Disney Hollywood Studios
We basically wanted to spend 1 day at Universal - mainly for our daughter who graduates this year. It is hear dream to visit Hogwarts.
1✅ Universal Studios Day
1✅ Disney Magic Kingdom
1✅ Disney Epcot
1❌ Disney Animal Kingdom2✅ Watch church online at 1:30
1❌ Disney Magic Kingdom2✅ Pack
1✅ Load car and check out2❌ Disney Hollywood Studios3✅ Leave park at 4 pm4✅ Flight at 7:15 pm5✅ Land at 12:15 AM6✅ Home around 2 AM
So here are how things actually played out.
All went according to our itinerary getting there.
We did have to upgrade our vehicle. We got a Ford Expedition but upgraded to the Expedition Max so we could fit our luggage in. It was basically the same car we drive at home, only it was a couple of years newer with some "limited" features that were nice. But it was great to comfortable and familiar with the rental car.
We did follow a tip from our neighbors and ordered our groceries from Walmart and had them ready to pick up that night when we got there so we didn't have to spend time shopping for them. We use that service every week but hadn't thought to do it there. That was a great tip!
Since we had some extra time that night, we went to Disney Springs and picked up our park tickets so that we would be ready to go in the morning. That was also a great time saver.
While we were in Disney Springs, we ate dinner at Planet Hollywood. That was a fun start to the trip.
I got a great tip from my friend on how to get on the Rise of the Resistence ride. These virtual borading passes are gone in 15 seconds, so if you don't do it right, or you have any hiccups, you don't ride. My brother-in-law was there at the same time and he had failed to get on 3 times and he was getting pretty frustrated. I found a YouTube video with essentially the same steps as my friend showed me, but it walks you thought it carefully. It worked like a charm for mand for my brother-in-law.
Our friends told us they open the parking lots 1 hour before the posted opening time and that you can get right into the park once you have parked. This was true, so this was our plan every morning.
Once we walked in, cast members were directing us to Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railroad, which was only 15 minutes wait. I'm glad we did that first. We were done with our first ride before the park was scheduled to open. The rest of the day, the line for that ride was insane, so I'm glad we hit that first.
Overall it was a great first day. We were able to go on all the rides we wanted to and we found some great treats. My favorite treat there was Jack Jack Num Nums - which they also have in California Adventure. What would make that treat even better would be to put it on a plate and cover it with soft-serve ice cream!
After dinner, we met up with Rachel's sister and their family. We didn't plan it, but their vacation happened to overlap ours. This happened a few years ago in Disneyland as well. We met them for dinner at Giodano's. Their pizza was basically like lasagna in the form of pizza. It was delicious!
We planned Universal on a weekday hoping it wouldn't be too crowded. I'm learning there is no such thing as not-crowded in a theme park.
Unfortunately I didn't spend any researching Universal and I was pretty lost when we got there. It made for a terrible experience. I followed the crowd and everyone was entering the Island of Adventure entrance. I saw some people looking confused and looking at the signs when a staff member yelled, "Everyone can enter this entrance!" So that is what we did. We got in line.
The experience was not as smooth as Disney. They record everyone's fingerprint. That takes a while because it didn't work very well. Once we got everyone through that, we got stopped and told they need to scan our tickets again. They then proceeded to ask a bunch of unimportant questions and I realized I was taking a survey. They asked for my email and said no thanks.
Our main goal at Universal was to ride Hagrid's. So we headed in that direction. A girl was walking alone and said she was going that way, so we followed her. Unfortunately, halfway through the park we got stopped because we didn't have a season pass and we were not staying at a Universal property. They said we would have to wait another 30 minutes for the park to open to us. So we had to backtrack and leave IOA and go to the Universal entrance and wait in line again.
Getting in wasn't an easy task since my fingerprint was not recognized. Once we got everyone through again we got stopped yet again and told they need to scan our tickets again. I told them we to bugger off because we just did their stupid survey.
Our main reason for being at Universal, was Harry Potter land. But since it was there we decided to ride the Minions ride. It said the wait time was 30 minutes. We waited in line for 45 minutes and barely moved at all. I was pretty frustrated with everything we had experienced so far so I went and complained to customer service. That took another 30 minutes, but I got 3 express passes for each of us out of it. I came back to find my family still had not made it on that ride so we left. It was 11 AM already and we wanted to get something fun in before the day was over! We headed back towards Harry Potter land.
Finding this land was not as easy as one would think. I remember my mom telling me that she went there a couple years ago and whe was at the back of the park and saw someone walk through an unmarked entrance. It opened up into the Harry Potter land. She was right. There is not much there pointing you where to go. I was staring at map on my phone and still confused as to where exactly the entrance was.
Once we got in we decided to use our first express pass to ride Gringot's Bank. They stopped us on our way in because we had backpacks and hip packs. If it wasn't clear by now, this is not Disney! You can't take bags on most rides. They pointed us to the locker room so we went that direction. They stopped us again and said only one person could enter. So I collected all the bags and went in myself. The employee told me I would need to pay for a big locker since I had so much stuff. So I went that direction. It took me another 20 minutes trying to figure out their locker system! Talk about terrible UX! I had to pay for two lockers because 7 backpacks would not fit in one.
The ride was fun. I learned that here they squirt hand sanitizer in your hands before getting on any ride. That sound nice right? Well, it's not. It was the most foul-smelling hand sanitizer ever and they put way too much on. It was normal to see people shake as much off their hands as they could before rubbing it in.
Once we got off the ride, I went back to retrieve all our bags. The lockers would not open when I scanned my tickets so I had to find an employee to come open them manually. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember for sure which locker they were in! So I had to describe the contents and open a few lockers until we found the right stuff.
We spent some time hanging out in Diagon Alley, eating ice cream and drinking butter beer. We then used another express pass to ride the Hogwarts Express over to IOA.
Then we got in line for Hagrid's. This was the longest line in the park. It moved pretty quickly though and we seemed to hit it around the right time of day - lunchtime. Here we learned that we could get all our bags in 4 small lockers for free! Griffey had to use the bathroom as we got pretty close to the castle so I had to exit and take him back down. They let us get try to find our family though and we were lucky enough to find them right as they were about to get on the ride.
Hagrid's made the whole Universal experience worth it. It was everyone's favorite ride of the whole trip!
The rest of the day was downhill from there. Many of the rides at Universal utilize 3d glasses and it gets old after a while. I was content to spend a lot of time sitting in a mask-free area of Seuss land while Griffey and Murphy went on the rides in that area.
As I said, Universal is no Disney. If I were to do it again, I would probably have a trip where I just went there instead of Disney. Doing both gets really expensive. The more days you spend in each park, the cheaper each day is. I would say you need at least two days for Universal to experience everything and not feel rushed - especially when they have limited park hours due to covid. I would also get the express passes - but buying those for one day would have been an extra \$1000 when I booked and even more expensive when I got there. The price goes up the more they sell I guess.
Friday was the last day Rachel's sister's family was there, so we agreed to meet up at Magic Kindom that day. Magic Kingdom is the most like Disneyland - which I know well by now. There are some very interesting differences though.
First, once you think you are close to the park entrance, you are not. You have to ride the monorail or a ferry to get to the entrance because there is a big lake between the parking lot and the park.
The lands are laid out similarly but, there are different rides. Our favorite ride in Magic Kingdom is 7 Dwarfs Minecart. There was never less than a 60-minute wait there.
The Peter Pan ride seems to be the first ride everyone runs to in Disneyland. They had it here. The line was nicer because you get to see more of their bedroom and stuff. The ride itself is a little different, and I have to say, I prefer Disneyland. The biggest thing I found I missed on that ride was the floating stars you pass through.
All it all it was a fun day and it was fun spending half of it with cousins before they had to leave to catch their flight home.
It seems Disney World has the luxury of not having to tear rides down to make room for new ones. They can simply find some open space to add new rides and leave the old ones around. This is not the case in Disneyland. It is sad to see old rides go or get changed.
Epcot is probably the most iconic park in Disneyworld so we had to go, but I planned it on a Saturday, thinking Saturdays would be the busiest day for any park. There are not as many good rides here and one absolutely terrible ride (if you want to even call it a ride). Our first stop was Soarin' - which is pretty much like the California Adventure version. We then went on Test track - which was like Radiator Springs Racers - without all the fun cool theme of Cars land.
After that, we spent the day walking to each of the country themed areas that make Epcot what it is. Our main goal was to try food in every land.
Hands down, everyone's favorite land was Norway! They had a bakery there with the most delicious food. We went back for seconds on the school bread. They also had one of the best rides in the park - Frozen. And they had the best rest area - a restaurant that was just used as a sitting area where you could take off your masks and sit and enjoy your food.
In second place, I would put France. They had some good crapes there and a delicious ice cream store where you could get a giant ice cream sandwich made with macaroons. Once they complete and open the Ratatouille ride, I think it will compete with Norway as the best "country" in Epcot.
It looks like they were also adding two more attraction besides Ratatouille, so in a couple of years, Epcot will be more than just adults walking around looking for their next alcohol.
In our original plans, I had planned on going to Animal Kingdom on Sunday. I wanted to get the most out of every day of our trip. But after purchasing all the tickets and talking with Rachel, we just didn't feel good about spending the Sabbath in a theme park. So we decided to relax this day. We slept in later than usual and drove to Cocoa beach. It was over an hour drive from our condo.
Once we got there we found a parking lot and turned watched our sacrament meeting back home from within our car. We then ate lunch at a nearby gazebo and picnic table, then walked over to the beach.
The beach was way more crowded than expected. I realized that this was the relaxing sabbath activity I had pictured in my head. The boys just wanted to play in the ocean. So they did, but we didn't pack swimming suits, so they drove home in wet shorts.
If I were to do this again, I would spend 4 days at Disney - one in each park, and spend a day at Cocoa beach where we could spend some time enjoying the beach more.
Of all the Disney parks, I would say I was least excited for Animal Kingdom. I guess in my head I pictured spending all our time on "fake" safaris. Having been to real game parks in South Africa, I figured this would be like driving safely through a zoo. In a way, it was, but the safari was better than I thought it would be. I'm just not a big animal lover, so it is not my thing.
I would say the best two rides there are Everest and Flight of Passage. We went straight to Flight of Passage and got right on. That was good because the line was a mile long the rest of the day. It is basically Soarin', but on a more uncomfortable seat. 😂 It wasn't as great as I anticipated.
Everest was a lot more thrilling than I anticipated, unfortunately it made me sick. I've found as I have gotten older I tend to get motion sickness where I never have in the past. Younger me would have gone on it 5 times because there was practically no line!
The Dinosaur ride was pretty much all the mechanics of the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland, but with with a really lame story line. It is not engaging at all and just makes for an uncomfortably bumpy ride.
We were pretty much done with everyone in Animal Kingdom, so we left around 3 pm. No one really had any desire to stay. So, we went back to the condo and spent some time at the pool that night.
We held a vote as to which park to visit again for our last day. I voted for Hollywood Studios, but the majority of the family picked Magic Kingdom. I was ok with that though because I really wanted another kakamora float! That was the best treat of the trip! It was sold at the Dole whip booth. It had coconut soft serve ice cream with pinapple juice and a cake pop.
We went on our favorite rides there again and left around 3 pm to catch our flight home.
I must say at this point I was pretty much Disneyed out. I was feeling broke and exhausted. Family trip success!?