When the COVID pandemic hit and after canceling all upcoming trips, I wrote up Why Walt Disney World may be my first trip post quarantine. As a scheduled trip in July got closer and more details about the opening were released … along with the crazy COVID numbers, I followed up my original post with Why Walt Disney World will no longer be my first trip post quarantine.
Well, it is now October and after a series of events, including venturing out on domestic adventures to bring some travel back to 2020, we decided to revisit the idea of Disney. I had been following the situation in Walt Disney World very closely and overall, was very pleased with the reports I was hearing regarding cleaning, distancing, and mask policies. After many conversations, we decided to give it a go.
For an overview of the trip and high level COVID measures, read Walt Disney World in October 2020: COVID Pandemic Edition. Disclaimer that the information and observations in this post are from the first week in October – things are changing constantly so please check Disney’s website for the most up to date information if you are planning a trip.
After an uneventful (yay!) plane ride, we landed easily at Orlando International Airport and made our way to the ground level for the Magical Express transportation and checked into one of our favorite resorts, the Boardwalk. The room was ready early and sparkling clean. We dropped our bags, changed, and geared up for our first park.
Parks visits are different than they were before – there was no park hopping permitted (ie more than one park per day) and reservations had to be made in advance for the visit with the purchase of a theme park ticket. Picking the park you visit on a specific day is important.
Why we chose EPCOT for our first park on Thursday:
- The park hours were adjusted due to the limited capacity so EPCOT was open the Thursday we visited from 11AM – 7PM and since we arrived to the resort at 10:30AM, we did not lose park time on our arrival day
- EPCOT was showcasing a modified version of the Food and Wine Festival, which is a fan favorite every year and draws big crowds from locals on the weekends – we felt it best to avoid EPCOT on a weekend day
- It is walking distance from the Boardwalk so we did not need to wait for transportation to cut into the park hours
Walking through the International Gateway – the back entrance to EPOCT in between the UK and France pavilion – was and is always magical. More times than not, we start our journey around the world by turning right to France. And we were starving so we could not wait to start trying food at the Food and Wine Festival booths.
Mask rules at Disney as of this post – must wear masks at all times and if eating or drinking, need to find a spot away from people and be stationary. There are also hand sanitizer and hand washing stations throughout the park. We noticed that the Chefs de France restaurant was still closed so we grabbed a bench in front of the entrance.
To start, we ordered the following from the France booth:
- Feuilleté d’Escargot à la Crème d’Ail et Persil: Escargot in Puff Pastry with Garlic and Parsley Cream Sauce
- Canard Confit à l’Orange: Braised Duck Confit à l’Orange with Mashed Sweet Potatoes
- Glass of Chardonnay
Everything was delicious! There is always an escargot dish and they always knock it out of the park – can never go wrong with puff pastry – and the duck was very tasty.
Before moving away from France, we walked around the pavilion. All of the merchandise stores were closed but the food vendors were open, such as Les Halles (so yummy!). Around the back, we were able to see where the entrance of the new Ratatouille ride will be someday in the future.
As we continued counterclockwise, we stopped at Brazil for their popular Pão de Queijo: Brazilian Cheese Bread. We had never had this before and boy we get the hype. Yes, it is a ball of goey cheese but its so tasty.
We love walking through the Morocco pavilion – it is so detailed and typically it is pretty empty and today was no exception. The park was still quiet as we made our way to the America pavilion. We grabbed a Freshly Baked Carrot Cake and Cream Cheese Icing from the Hops and Barely – the cake was moist and the cream cheese icing was not overly sweet.
Then, our first “magical” experience occurred as we sat at the picnic table – the Jamminators (band that played around Future World) appeared stage across the way for an impromptu concert while we ate our carrot cake.
We pass through Italy, again amazed at how empty the pavilion was as the pizza spot, Via Napoli, was the only thing open. We opted to skip food here for now as it was getting hot and pasta would weigh us down too much.
As we got in line for the Germany booth, the music went from a calm background noise to a blasting melody. Nothing obvious changed looking around but a few minutes later, a character cavalcade with Anna and Elsa from Frozen appeared – another unexpected “magical” moment!
We ordered the Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce and a German beer from the booth and found a table to enjoy. The strudel was so good, warm in the middle filled with apples and spices with the vanilla sauce on top it was delicious.
We were almost done eating when the music began to blare again – could it be another character cavalcade so soon? Indeed it was and this time, it was Mickey and friends! I cannot recall the last time it was this easy to get a perfect photo with the characters without a wait! We never do characters so these character cavalcades were a fun treat.
Stuffed, it was time to digest and check out the ride situation. Checking the My Disney Experience App, wait times were not terrible so we headed over to Soaring.
There were two theaters open, the posted wait time was 40 minutes and we made it to the pre-show within 15 minutes. For those that know the lines and set up, the queue was full of six foot distance markers on the floor, hand sanitizer stations throughout the queue, the pre-show area had plexiglass between the rows and generous distancing between the seated groups. We ended up with “perfect” seating – second row in the middle – and had a lovely ride.
Since it was lunch time, the pavilion was a bit messy so we skipped Living with the Land (a favorite!) and headed to the classic Spaceship Earth. The front of the part was completely under construction so the iconic view of “the ball” was a bit difficult to capture given all the construction walls.
This ride was supposed to be closed for a big refurbishment in May but remained as is for the July park opening. This was probably the last time we had to ride this attraction before all the changes, assuming they are still on the table. We entered into the queue just as they closed the ride for their deep cleaning that is done routinely on the rides – I was happy to wait for that! Once done, it was basically a walk on. Groups were spaced with an empty vehicle between.
With not much else to see at the front of the park, we wrapped around back to World Showcase and found the most talked about booths of the festival – Flavors from Fire. We were hungry? Not really, but we were here and it was calling.
- The Corned Beef Corner Route: Smoked Corned Beef with Crispy Potatoes, Cheese Curds, Pickled Onions, and Beer Cheese Fondue
- The S’mores Whoopie Pie-lon: Smoked Chocolate Cake, Graham Cracker, Marshmallow, Chocolate Ganache, and Candied Bacon
What a beautiful spread – it was obvious why these were such a hit! The chips were so delicious – variety of flavors and textures of the melted cheese, the crunchy cheese, the salty corned beef – works so well. And the s’mores? Just stop! It is a s’more stuffed in a chocolate cake. Having this sweet and salty combo together was perfect. Love this booth! Still drooling.
I was on the hunt for a nitro cake pop I had seen throughout social media and knew it was in an indoor location so we checked into the space behind Mexico. No cake pop, but we did find the EPCOT Experience that is a short demonstration of the transformation EPCOT is undergoing and what the future will look like.
We ventured to the second half of World Showcase and did not get very far before we hit yet another booth – Hawaii for one of Kevin’s festival favorites Teriyaki-glazed SPAM® Hash with Potatoes, Peppers, Onions and Spicy Mayonnaise.
With most indoor locations under construction, I was quickly running out of ideas on where to find that darn nitro cake pop. Since I was struggling with the My Disney Experience App, I asked a Cast Member who pointed me in the right direction. A building that is “backstage” and typically used for exclusive events was open for extra booths.
This building was enormous! We were kind of in awe walking in – blast of ice cold air conditioning, low lighting, fall decor, piano playing (thank you Carol!), and several booths including Mac and Cheese, Desserts and Champagne, and Festival Favorites. We did a quick lap and jumped in line for the nitro cake pops, made on demand and for no additional cost can add a candy crumble.
Oh man, a thick layer of chocolate on the outside, a brownie cake on the inside, and we picked crumbled Twix. While I regretted us splitting one, we were so full! It is very hard to control eating at the festival which is why I am grateful to share the items with Kevin. I wanted to try a Mac and Cheese so bad but I just could not have that cheese and pasta – though after I read the lobster version was very tasty – regret!
Emerging from the dark, cold cave and back into the Florida sun, we took the opportunity to visit a Relaxation Station (mask free) in the UK pavilion. If you are ever looking for seating away from people or a great spot for fireworks on the lake, there is a bunch of seating behind the UK pavilion to take advantage of.
Kevin loves the beer offerings at the Rose and Crown and luckily they were open so he grabbed a beer as we sat down at the base of the seating area. We had the entire level to ourselves and it was a lovely spot to relax.
We continued on to our second lap past France and stopped at Morocco for the Chocolate Baklava: Rolled Phyllo Dough with Toasted Almonds and Dark Chocolate Sauce – not my favorite but Kevin enjoyed this one.
Making our way to Norway, Kevin was super disappointed that one of his favorite spots – the bakery in this pavilion (Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe) – was not open. While a cart outside of the shop was serving some of the favorites, his beloved Lefse – Soft Flatbread rolled with Cinnamon, Sugar and Butter. We noticed the line for Frozen Ever After was Frozen ride did not seem to extend out of the pavilion has it was earlier in the day. Since we have not done this ride yet – as it is constantly impossible to get on – we hopped in line and waited the 30 minutes to ride. And it was actually way better of an attraction that I expected!
The crowd in this area of the park certainly increased from earlier in the day and more people meant more opportunity for mask issues. While it was still very few occurrences, most of the non-mask wearing we observed were people walking and eating/drinking. We did see Cast Members actively correcting poor mask behavior but Cast Members are not everywhere. The challenge is not the eating part – it is easier to pull aside and eat the small dish, and does not consume a ton of time. The challenge is the drinking – getting poured a large beverage and being told you have to drink it all at once while stationary when people are used to drinking and walking, not to mention to knock back a margarita or large beer can take a considerable amount more time – you want to enjoy it after all.
As we rounded the Africa booth, I noticed Kevin did a slow roll past the menu. While neither of us were particularly hungry and I certainly would not be able to help him eat any of the dishes (spicy alert), the dishes were definitely intriguing to him. I egged him on to get something since we never eat this type of food so he ordered the Spicy Kenyan Vegan Corn and White Beans with Pigeon Peas, Quinoa & Ancient Grains Medley and Kachumbari Slaw (Plant-based). Kevin really loved this dish – it was perfectly seasoned and the spice kept a nice medium-low heat throughout the dish.
There were a few booths, such as The Alps, Waffles, and Donut Hole Stand, that were only open on weekends so we were bummed to miss out of some of the festival offerings – but coming during the weekday still outweighed the COVID stress of coming on a weekend for us.
Passing Mexico, we grabbed a Mango Margarita to share before hitting our final food booth station at Citrus Blossom for Crispy Citrus Chicken with Orange Aïoli and Baby Greens, another festival fan favorite. While our cut of chicken could have been better, the chicken was well cooked and we both really enjoyed the breading and dressing. Coincidentally, the margarita and the chicken complemented each other very well!
It was just about 6PM and the park closed at 7PM – we wanted to avoid a “rush” of people out of the park so we decided to hit one more ride before we left. The Test Track line had been above 30 minutes all day but we gave it a go. The wait was actually more towards 15 minutes and we got an entire ride vehicle to ourselves. This was our first ride experience with individual ride vehicles and it certainly peaked our interest to what the rest of the rides would have to come. Maybe it was because we were by ourselves and could be goofy, but it was definitely one of our best Test Track rides to date. Perfect way to end what I thought was a great park day!
Before making our way back to the Boardwalk, we made a few detours. First, we really wanted to try the Skyliner. After confirming the operating times with a Cast Member to make sure we did not get stuck somewhere, we embarked on our first Skyliner trip from EPCOT to the newest DVC property, Rivera Resort.
Every party gets their own Skyliner vehicle so that was a lovely COVID benefit – spoiler, but of all the Disney Transportation options we experienced, this was by far the one we felt most comfortable on.
The ride itself was so fun! It was a bit quicker pace than I expected but it did grant a lovely breeze in the cabin. The view on the ride was really cool – we even snagged a peek of all the France expansion which is looks amazing.
We walked the grounds at the Rivera Resort and while it was too late in the day to get a look into one of the showroom villas, we enjoyed the brief visit admiring the details before hopping back onto the Skyliner.
When we returned to the International Gateway at EPCOT, the Skyliner line was crazy! Pleased with our timing, we treated ourselves to the loop around the lake with a stop at Beaches and Creams. Their new renovation expanded the area inside which while it was needed for the demand, it definitely took away some of the charm. The renovation also gave a much needed large and accessible take out window where we ordered our favorite No Way Jose with all chocolate ice cream.
While many people congregate outside Beaches and Creams and at Stormalong Bay, there are tons of rocking chairs around the other side of the Beach Club where it is always empty. We sat and enjoyed our enormous bowl of ice cream, still a bit in disbelief we made it to Disney during this crazy time.
We finished our lap around the lake, our absolute favorite part about this part of Disney Property, and turned into our room at the Boardwalk excited to what tomorrow’s adventure would bring!
Continue reading about our trip to Hollywood Studies here!
Continue reading about our trip to Magic Kingdom here!