My mom, sister, and I went to Disney back in August for the first time in 20 years. It’s truly a crazy whirlwind of a story that you can read here, but as soon as we got back we began immediately planning our next trip. We decided that since we were all off of work in between Christmas and New Year’s and since my sister’s birthday is on New Year’s Day it would be the perfect time to go.
Disney World December 2020 Trip Recap
We decided to do 4 nights at the Art of Animation and 3 park days. I joined a few Disney Facebook groups and heard that Magic Kingdom was by far the most crowded park. Since we had just gone to Magic Kingdom we decided to skip it altogether and opt for Hollywood Studios. None of us has been to Hollywood Studios so we were really excited.
Immediately after booking our trip and reserving our parks for the days, I got to planning. I believe scheduled fun is the best type of fun. My mom and sister were making fun of me because I had a 38-page spiral-bound itinerary printed for each one of us. I actually really enjoyed putting it together. I started with this template from Etsy and added one from there with things like photo inspiration pages, maps, etc.
60 days before your trip you are allowed to book your dining reservations which is crucial if you want to have any sit-down or character meals. It’s pretty much known that unless you have dining reservations (especially around Christmas time) you won’t be able to get in anywhere. I woke up bright and early at 5:45 AM CT to get online and grab my dining reservations when they opened at 7 AM ET/6 AM CT. Top of my list was Hollywood and Vine which was a character experience, next was Garden Grill also a character experience, then Chef Mickey’s Breakfast also a character meal, Yak and Yeti at Animal Kingdom and anywhere at Disney Springs the day we arrived.
I was able to get almost everything, the only thing I wasn’t quick enough on was Chef Mickey’s but 4 out of 5 is really good. I found that I was able to do it way quicker on my phone than on my desktop if you are looking to book yours.
So the day finally came to go to Disney, I had been quarantining and be extra cautious leading up ot the trip because I didn’t want anything getting in the way. I was pretty nervous about flying. I thought “What if I do all this work and then get infected on the flight”. Back in August restrictions were still pretty tight but it seemed like things were almost back to normal which is definitely stressful. I flew United and I received an email the day before I left letting me know that my flight was going to be a full one and had the opportunity to change flights if I chose. However, all the flights following mine were also full so the choice to change flights wasn’t really an option.
Unfortunately, I for some reason didn’t have a seat assignment which of course when I got to the gate got me on the very last row in none other than a middle seat. It was very stressful, to say the least. I did bring a full bottle of Lysol wipes in my carry on and didn’t take my mask off once. My mom and sister flew Southwest and said they had plenty of space with no issues.
Coming back was also stressful luckily I wasn’t in the middle but the Orlando airport was a madhouse. Everyone stayed pretty distant but the lines were insane. When I walked up to TSA I thought I am going to be here forever. Luckily, I did and I survived.
Last time we went to Disney we stayed at Pop Century which is like the cheapest of the cheap hotels on Disney property. This time we went one step up to Art of Animation because Pop Century was booked. To be honest, the way I plan Disney we aren’t in the rooms that much so it wasn’t important to us to have a nice luxurious hotel.
We actually got upgraded rooms though at Art of Animation which was a nice surprise. We were supposed to be in a Little Mermaid room but upgraded to a family suite in Cars Land. This had a little living room and kitchenette area with 1 King bed, 1 Queen Murphy bed and 1 Queen Pull Out Sofa bed with two bathrooms. The perfect amount of space for everyone!
Something I do really like about Pop Century and Art of Animation is they are accessible to the Skylink which is similar to a ski lift and it takes you directly from the hotel to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. I loved accessing this because it was family per gondola which was much better than being on a bus with a lot of people.
We also ate at the hotel one night because Animal Kingdom closed earlier than the other parks and enjoyed some drinks at the bar and had lovely experiences all around.
My mom and sister’s flight got in early to Orlando and I got in at about 2 PM so we went to Disney Springs that evening to get a little Dinsey Magic. If you aren’t familiar with Disney Springs it’s an outdoor shopping area on Disney property. They have Disney stores along with name brands stores.
We had dinner reservations at City Works at 5 so we got there a little early to do some shopping. We popped in Vera Bradley and Lilly Pulitzer. These are like normal stores but also have Disney exclusive collections which is really fun. We also popped in the World of Disney and the pin trading station.
We also, of course, got a Dole Whip for dessert. We ended up leaving at about 8 PM because it started to get really crowded and we didn’t feel safe. Although it’s Disney property and you have to get your temperature checked the capacity is a lot larger and you don’t have to have a Disney park ticket or anything to get in.
Our Animal Kingdom Itinerary:
Pic with the Tree
Lunch at Yak & Yeti
I didn’t plan it out by the hour but I did have a general plan of which areas we were going to go and in what order. I feel like this provides a lot more flexibility and allows for easy changes without being too stressed out. I tried to plan around our must do’s and any lunch plans we had so we would be in the general area when we needed to be at lunch instead of having to backtrack.
- Pandora Banshee Ride
- Pandora Drink
- A picture with the tree
Initially, I had Pandora first but then when we saw everyone running there we decided to change plans on the fly and go to the areas that weren’t as popular because Pandora would have a long line no matter what, which was a really good plan.
Animal Kingdom was probably our calmest day but it was a good way to start the trip. I feel like Animal Kingdom was the most empty of the parks likely because most of the crowds and congestion was around Pandora and the rest of the park was pretty empty.
We waited in line for the Pandora Banshee ride for a little over two hours but it was 100% worth the wait. It is such an immersive cool ride like nothing I’d done before. Disney really outdid themselves on this ride.
Food at Animal Kingdom
I had low expectations for the food at Animal Kingdom but ended up I think eating the best out of any park. Lunch at Yak & Yeti was SO good! My mom, sister, and I are all really picky eaters so I didn’t really let them look at the menu before we went because I knew they’d chicken out. Yak & Yeti is an Asian style restaurant and we all ended up LOVING it! We split the fried green beans as an appetizer, my sister and I split the house fried rice and we all nibbled on the teriyaki chicken. The house fried rice truly was the best, it had chicken, beef, sausage, and shrimp in it.
I also got Mr. Kamals’ fries and dipping sauce as a snack and it was probably the best thing I ate all trip. It seems so lame but the fries were so good and the dipping sauces weren’t like anything I had ever tasted.
The Night Blossom Drink in Pandora was very unique. It was a tart slushie with boba. Normally I’m not one for boba but these weren’t jelly they were filled with liquid and burst in your mouth. They also had alcoholic versions which also looked really good!
We also popped into a Starbucks and grabbed Mickey cinnamon rolls to take back to the hotel for a late snack and they were so cute and so yummy.
Our Hollywood Studios Itinerary:
Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway
Toy Story Land
Minnie’s Seasonal Dine Lunch at Hollywood and Vine
- Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway
- Tower of Terror
- Toy Story Land + Photo
Hollywood Studios was by far my favorite park but it was also the most crowded. I think it was so crowded because at other parks you had to wait in long lines for the popular rides but at Hollywood Studios the main attraction is Star Wars and there is a virtual line for that so there was more people doing other rides while they were waiting.
We actually opted not to do Star Wars because we aren’t big Star Wars people and to be honest the whole virtual queue was too intimidating for me, so we decided to pass.
I think Hollywood Studios is great for big kids and adults because there are a lot more thrill rides like Tower of Terror, Rock N’ Roller Coaster, and Slinky Dog Dash. Whereat Magic Kingdom it’s a lot of kid-friendly rides like the teacups, Dumbo, etc.
My all-time favorite ride was Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway. It was so stinking cute and very immersive. We rode this first because from my research I knew my mom would love it. We all loved it so much we ended up riding it again right before we left.
Of course, I loved the thrill rides but I also really liked Toy Story Mania. This ride is really similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride in Magic Kingdom where you have a virtual gun and are shooting things to gain points. A little friendly sister sister competition makes everything more fun. PS: I won!
Overall, I just really liked the vibe and energy of this park. It reminded me of California Adventure a little. It’s probably the most technologically advanced park since it’s the newest one but I really liked it and will be a staple park next we’re back.
Food at Hollywood Studios:
We had lunch at Hollywood and Vine and it was hands down the best character dining experience. It was modified for COVID but all of the characters came to our table and stopped for pictures and interactions.
They also came around about every 20-30 minutes and did pictures and danced. This was a set menu where you chose one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert. My mom and sister each got the prime rib and I got the salmon. It was really delicious but we were stuffed for the rest of the day.
Toy Story Land was our second stop of the day and I really wanted the iconic pop tart from Woody’s Lunch Box. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to schedule a mobile pick-up order until about 4 PM so we had to set alarms on our phone so we wouldn’t forget. If you are planning to go definitely schedule your food early in the day if you can. However, the pop tart was not only beautiful but also super yummy. It was a blueberry and lemon pop tart. It wasn’t too sweet at all and totally hit the spot.
I also grabbed a Mickey ice cream while we were waiting in line for Slinky Dog Dash because it was HOT that morning and the line was right in the sun.
My sister got the cutest alien popcorn bucket that was refillable so we all snacked on popcorn all day long.
And then after we rode the Tower of Terror and were waiting in line for the Rockin Roller Coaster I grabbed a Mickey pretzel with cheese which is an absolute must-have!
Picture with the Ball
Dinner at Garden Grill
- Celebrate Melissa’s Birthday
- Get a good picture with the ball
- Frozen Ride
- Frozen Bakery
Epcot has only a few rides and everything else is centered around eating and drinking around the world. I knew that I didn’t want to fully drink around the world because I didn’t think I could handle that but I hit some of the main spots.
We immediately ran into Soarin’ because that is one of my favorite rides and we knew the line would get crazy. We came in from the Skylink and international gateway so it was a little bit of a trek and I was for sure sweating by the time we got there. We ended up only waiting about 20 minutes but when we got out the line was over a 2-hour wait, so we definitely made the smart move.
After that Figment’s Imagination was right next to it with no line at all so we hopped on that. We then started making our way to the ball for pictures and then to go around the world. On the way, we stopped at the Finding Nemo ride which had about a 45 min wait.
My sister really wanted to ride the Frozen ride but it had been down all day we finally made it to Norway and stopped in the bakery. We decided to just take our time and maybe it would open up. Well, a true birthday miracle happened and as soon as we were about to move on it opened and we only had to wait about 10 minutes which again was over a 2-hour wait when we left the ride.
And we got to see Anna and grab a quick picture which is very rare since princess sightings aren’t really happening.
Unfortunately, because of COVID and New Year’s Day, the Epcot had limited hours so we weren’t able to do some of the thrill rides like Mission Space or Test Track but I was more focused on going to all the countries so it was worth it!
Food and Drink at Epcot:
After pictures with the ball, we needed lunch so we stopped and got the most delicious empanadas which I scarfed down before I could take a picture.
As I mentioned we stopped in the Frozen bakery for a treat. My sister and I got Lefse which is a classic Norweigan pastry and my mom got some other type of pastry. They also had the cutest Sven cup which my sister needed for her birthday.
From there I got the Kung Fu punch in China which was so refreshing. Germany we skipped because I’m not a beer drinker.
We then, of course, had to Prosecco in Italy and then skipped America because duh boring!
Next up I skipped the drink in Japan because the link was way too long but I did go crazy in the gift shop and stocked up on Hello Kitty and Japanese candy.
We also walked around Morrocco but didn’t buy anything.
I rounded out the drinks with champagne in France which was perfect.
We then made our way to the Garden Grill for dinner which enjoyed a family-style Turkey dinner. My mom and sister said this was their favorite meal. We were joined by Chip N Dale along with Mickey and Pluto. This restaurant is supposed to rotate but was broken that day however the characters were also so friendly and stopped at each table for photos and interactions.
Since we had already been during the pandemic we knew what to expect as far as safety protocols and temperature checks at entrances. However, the safety measures were definitely stricter this time than back in August. There were people at main photo spots with signs that said if you take your masks off for a photo you will be removed from the park. They also had announcements come over the speakers once an hour or so announcing safety protocols. If you did take your masks off during a ride your photos would not be put on your Magic Band and a cast member would say something to you after you got out of the ride.
They also had people just walking around asking people to cover their nose or pull their masks up if they weren’t eating or drinking.
You were not allowed to walk and eat or drink you must be stationary to take your mask off.
There were markers in all of the lines making sure people stood 6 feet apart with sanitization happening frequently on all rides. For most rides there was only one party per coaster or seat, if there was more there was plastic or plexiglass dividing people.
Overall, I felt safer at Disney than going to Walmart. Everyone was very mindful of following the rules and being respectful. You could just tell people were grateful to be there and grateful to have the cast members there helping everyone.
To be honest, I don’t know if I can go back to Disney when things go back to normal because imagining how crowded it used to be stresses me out.