This year Disney World is celebrating its 50th anniversary and I knew I had to make it during the celebration, so since I had a few extra vacation days I needed to use by the end of the year it felt like a perfect time to go with my sister! I know it’s really common for people to spend 5-7 days in Disney World to really experience the full magic, however, I really like to pack my days full and optimize my fun in about a 3-day trip.
Now that Disney World is getting back to normal-ish I thought I’d share a full recap of my trip including what I ate, our itinerary, Genie +/Lighting Lanes, and some tips I learned along the way.
Disney World November 2021 Trip Recap
I am the designated planner of Disney trips when comes to traveling with my family. I may or may not have made a 38-page printed itinerary last time (read more about that here). Since we had just gone about a year ago I had a really good idea of the must-do’s on my list. Plus with park hoppers now available you can really pack a lot in a 3-day trip.
We stayed at Pop Century resort, which is like the cheapest of the cheap for all Disney resorts. In my opinion, we only sleep there so we don’t need it to be fancy. These rooms are small and great for 2-3 people, but anything more is a tight squeeze. There’s typically one queen bed with a murphy bed that folds down.
I would say the biggest downside to staying at the value resorts is that since it’s the most affordable the bus lines at opening and closing are ALWAYS the longest. Additionally, because the rooms are smaller and people tend to squeeze as many as possible into a room they can be quite loud with people above and beside you, as well as it’s motel style so you can hear other guests in the courtyards, however, it’s nothing a white noise app won’t fix.
For about $200 per night, it’s definitely worth it, plus you get all of the perks of being a resort guest like early entry into the parks as well as transportation to the parks and access to the Skyliner. I do prefer Art of Animation over Pop Century if available for about the same price. I find the rooms are slightly bigger, plus I think the theme is a lot more fun.
Genie +/Lighting Lanes
Before diving into the nitty-gritty details of everything we did I do want to caveat this by saying we did purchase Genie + as well as Lightning Lane + for select rides. Genie + is essentially the new fast pass but for $15 per day per person. This allows you to reserve times for attractions and bypass the line. However, two-ish rides at every park are not included in the basic Genie + program and are an additional price to join the Lightning Lane (formerly Fast Pass line). These prices range from $9-14 per ride per person.
These are essentially the main two attractions at each park such as Flight of Passage, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen, Space Mountain, etc. Since it was just my sister and I and we were paying separately as well as only there for three days we thought Genie + was worth it and we did pay the additional price for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen, Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway, and Flight of Passage. For a family of 4+, this would get expensive REALLY quickly!
It gets really complicated quickly and I definitely recommend doing your own research on Genie+ if it’s something you are interested in. I recommend this article for all the details.
Because we did have Genie+ as well as upgraded for individual rides we were able to squeeze a lot in per day so keep that in mind when looking at our days. In the below breakdown, I will indicate if we booked the ride with (G+) for reference. Genie+ does work for park hopping so that’s a major bonus.
Everything We Did at Disney World and When
This was a travel day for us with early morning flights. I arrived in Orlando at about 10 AM, but the Disney Magical Express, AKA airport transportation (which will no longer be complimentary starting in 2022) took much longer than expected. From waiting in line to get on the bus to driving about 30 minutes to the resort and finding my room it took about 2 hours. An Uber from the airport to the resort is about $60 so worth the money saver if you don’t have anywhere to be quick. Once I got to the resort I grabbed some food from the resort restaurant and took a nap while I waited for my sister to arrive.
Once she arrived we headed to Disney Springs for dinner and shopping. I recommend hitting the highlights but you really want to conserve your feet this day (trust me you’ll thank me later on). We ate dinner at TREX which was super fun and great food. This would be great if you have little kids who love dinosaurs.
Pro Tip: If you can’t get a reservation early, I recommend joining the Landry’s Select Club to get priority seating and skip the wait! There is a one-time, non-refundable $25 Membership Fee, but you will also receive a $25 Welcome Reward for joining the Landry’s Select Club within 24 hours of registering your account online so you basically make your money back and can use that for dining. (Disclaimer I do work for Landry’s Inc but it’s a great tip.)
Our must-shop places in Dinsey Springs are…
World of Disney
Marketplace Snacks for that first Dole Whip!
We tried to get a cookie a Gideons but it was a 5-hour wait. They did have a virtual queue so try to get on the list right when you get there if you want to get in.
This might have been our busiest days because we managed to squeeze in 3 parks in one day! We started at Animal Kingdom which opened at 8 AM to the public and 7:30 for resort guests. (Remember resort guests are allowed into the parks 30 minutes earlier than the public, this is valuable time). We “rope-dropped”, which means got there right at opening to be first in line, Expedition Everest, and actually rode this back to back before the park even opened. From there we rode Dinosaur, which we walked on to, and then headed over to Pandora because it was our allotted time for Flight of Passage. If I could only purchase one ride in all of the parks it would probably be Flight of Passage because it’s truly a standout right unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before and the line can get pretty crazy.
After Flight of Passage, we grabbed breakfast at Pongu Pongu. I got the breakfast sandwich and Melissa (my sister) got the french toast sticks and we both got the Night Blossom drink. Since we were in Pandora, we rode the Na’vi River Journey (G+).
From Pandora, we headed over to Africa to get the Harambe Market Street Corn available at the Harambe Market Fruit Stand. This was by far the BEST things I ate at Disney.
Pro Tip: Ask for extra spice! It makes it amazing!
After enjoying a little appetizer of corn we had lunch reservations at Yak & Yeti. This is also a Landry’s property so if you join LSC you can skip the wait here as well if you don’t have a dining reservation. This is probably my favorite sit-down restaurant. We split the potstickers and house-fried rice. The fried rice is AMAZING!
We walked into a few shops and ended with one last thing to eat at Animal Kingdom, which was Mr. Kamal’s seasoned fries. Personally, I think Animal Kingdom has the best food out of all the parks, so we really had to squeeze in a lot of snacks!
From there we took the bus back to our hotel and freshened up a little bit to go to Magic Kingdom. We headed to Magic Kingdom to take pictures in front of the 50th-anniversary castle. We didn’t plan to spend a lot of time here because we bought tickets to the Very Merriest After Hours which we planned to get all the rides in, however, since it would be dark we wanted to get the classic castle photo.
Pro Tip: The three best photo spots for the castle are the archways to the right and left of the castle. Great to avoid squinting eyes when it’s sunny. The second spot is the walkway to the right and left of the castle toward the backside. You won’t get the front of the castle, but you won’t have anyone in your photo. Lastly, the dead center of the castle. My best tip to get it pretty close to empty is to grab photos while a parade/cavalcade is happening. Everyone’s watching the characters so you can get it pretty clear.
We grabbed a Dole Whip and then headed to Epcot because we were able to snag a Genie+ time (that we paid for) to ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Because there was a time available and no guarantee we would get it on our designated Epcot day we decided to park hop over there. We jumped on the monorail to get directly from Magic Kingdom to Epcot.
Once we arrived at Epcot, we had a little bit of time before our Ratatouille reservation so we hopped on Finding Nemo (G+) and Soarin’ (G+) then walked over to France. Ratatouille was honestly so much better than I expected. It’s so cute and reminds of Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway! From there I wanted to get a crepe for dinner. There was a walk-up window or you can sit down at La Crêperie de Paris. There was no wait and the cast member at the door was basically begging people to come inside. I am SO glad I asked what the difference is, because it looked too good to be true but I think they aren’t doing dining reservations just yet because they just opened so I think people just didn’t realize you could go right in. Melissa and I both got the Classique crepe and I got a glass of champagne…because when in France!
Then we took a bus back to the resort and crashed for the night!
This day was pretty calm in comparison to the previous day. We spent all day at Hollywood Studios because it’s probably my favorite park. If you like thrill rides, this is the park for you! We woke up at 7 AM to get our lightning lanes for the day and decided to purchase to Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway first then book our first free lightning lane. I would NOT recommend doing this! If you want to ride Slinky Dog Dash at 7 AM book your Genie + pass for Slinky Dog Dash. The reservations immediately were booked for the WHOLE day!
We ended up rope dropping Slinky Dog Dash so it was fine but this goes QUICK! We still ended up waiting for Slinky Dog Dash for about 45 minutes in line. After that, we stayed in Toy Story Land and rode Toy Story Mania then it was time for our Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway reservation time. This is definitely one of my top 5 favorite rides.
From there, we walked around took pictures, got popcorn, and strolled over to Tower of Terror (G+). After Tower of Terror, we popped in the creation of Disney exhibit and watched Vacation Fun (an exclusive short film). We had scheduled our mobile order for lunch at Woody’s Lunch Box so we ate lunch. I got the iconic Totchos and pop tart and melissa got the Turkey sandwich as well as a pop tart.
We caught a parade with the Pixar characters and then went to Star Tours because it had a short line. We then decided to go explore the Star Wars area. We aren’t Star Wars people so we didn’t stay long and didn’t ride anything there. I know people love Rise of the Resistance but with our limited time, it wasn’t a priority to ride it or pay for it.
We then watched Muppets 3D which is honestly boring (lol) but it’s nice break on your feet. I may or may not have dozed off while we were in there. We headed to Rockin Roller Coaster after that (which I believe is in the middle of a rebrand due to the licensing with Aerosmith being expired).
From there, we had ridden all of the major attractions and it was about 4 PM, so we grabbed a pretzel and cocktail at Baseline Tap House. GREAT place for adults! They have pretzels and cheeseboards as well as beers and cocktails with little to no kids on the patio.
We grabbed a seat to watch the Beauty and the Beast show, which was pretty entertaining because the cast had to stay 6 feet apart which made for some interesting choreography. We then hit up Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway again because the line was only 40 minutes and then finished the day at Toy Story Mania one more and yes, Melissa did beat me.
We called in a night about 7 PM and crashed early!
Epcot opened at 9:30 AM for resort guests so we planned to get to the Skyliner at 8:45 giving us 45 minutes to get to the park. This was not nearly enough time! We ended up getting inside Epcot at 9:50 AM.
Pro Tip: Arrive at the Skyliner 1 hour and 15 minutes+ if you are staying at Pop or Art of Animation and want to make rope drop!
Once we got into the park I hustled in to get in line for Frozen. I made it from the Canada entrance to Frozen in 6 minutes (honestly, it could be a record lol). The line for Frozen was already at a 45-minute wait! We were cutting it super close because we had a reservation from 10-11 AM for Ratatouille. We ended up making it but it was a CLOSE CALL!
Pro Tip: Frozen is known to break down a lot throughout the day so I’d recommend riding this as early as possible.
After Ratatouille, we kind of popped around a lot. We rode Test Track and then had lunch in Mexico. We then went back to Frozen because in a state of panic where we thought we were going to have to get out of line that morning we paid for the upgrade, which was nice because we got to ride it twice. It is a really cute ride so it’s worth it!
We then rode Soarin’ and had the best seats! Then we went back to Mexico at about 4 PM to walk the full showcase. It was the end of the Food and Wine Festival so I really wanted to stop and try as much as my stomach would let me. Here’s what we ate:
Empanada Con Queso in Mexico for lunch
Prosecco in Italy
Lemon Drop in Japan
Griddled Cheese with honey in Greece
Cheese Bread in Brazel
Cheddar Bacon Soup and Pretzel Bread as well as Filet Mignon with Truffle Sauce in Canada
After the World Showcase, we rode Spaceship Earth and Mission Space. We ended our time at Epcot with Club Cool trying all the unique sodas from around the country and picked up some souvenirs in the Creations Shop.
No, we did not ride Figment lol – I rode him last time and that’s enough for me!
We left Epcot around 6 and headed back to our hotel before the Very Merriest Hours starting at 9 PM and ending at 1 AM. We needed a nap and to freshen up before an additional 4 hours in Magic Kingdom.
Disney Very Merriest After Hours
This event is something Melissa and I had never done before and I am SO glad we did it this time. It’s not cheap at $169 to $249 per adult, but honestly, it was worth every penny for us. I actually thought wow 4 hours is going to be more than enough time and it really wasn’t! It flew by so fast.
Check out this video for a comprehensive look at the Very Merriest After Hours.
We left the resort at 8:30 PM and arrived at Magic Kingdom at about 9 PM, it was perfect to miss the fireworks crowd.
Pro Tip: Decide what your goal of the Disney Very Merriest After Hours is for you to best optimize your time. Are you wanting to catch the holiday shows, parades, and fireworks, are you there for the character meet and greets, are you there for short wait times on rides, or maybe to try to specialty snacks? This will help you plan and use your time wisely.
We had a few must-ride things and then wanted to watch the parade and fireworks. We started the night off at Starbucks (duh) then went to Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and Little Mermaid. We stopped in the Fairytale Princess Hall and saw Rapunzel and Tiana and then rode the Carousel. The carousel isn’t something I would typically ride but there was no wait so why not!
We then waited in line for about 30 minutes for Peter Pan, this was one of the longer wait times but I hadn’t ridden it before. After Peter Pan, we grabbed some free popcorn and drinks and watched the fireworks show.
We had been on the hunt for the 50th reusable bags the entire trip and had heard a tip that the stores in Tomorrowland had them so we went on the hunt and found them! All three of the Tomorrowland stores had them, but the store after Buzz Lightyear was STOCKED with them!
Pro Tip: When looking for reusable bags go to the smaller shops with less foot traffic like Buzz Lightyear or the store after Toy Story Mania.
After snagging the bags we made our way back to the castle to see Mickey and Friends on stage and then got a spot for the parade.
Pro Tip: The parade starts in Frontier Land for the After Hours so get a spot over there and then head to rides!
We thought the parade started on Main Street so we ended up spending from about 11:50-12:40 on the parade. This was way longer than we thought so we ended the night at Jungle Cruise.
Overall, I was really impressed with the After Hours. Our night was completely sold out and it was still very manageable and empty. See wait time for the rides while we were there.
The night also included free popcorn, Mickey bars, Mickey Ice Cream Sandwiches as well as bottled drinks and cookies, and hot chocolate.
I was really curious about how they would get all of the regular guests out while still letting the After Hours guests in and man, did Disney have it down! They put a wristband on your right arm and then wouldn’t let you enter any stores or rides without showing the wristband. They also had a wall of cast members essentially sweeping Main Street not letting anyone pass without a wristband. We definitely saw some upset guests but I felt like a real VIP!
We slept in after being exhausted and then headed to the airport!
Overall, it was a super quick trip and Disney is pretty much back to normal with full capacity. I did miss the wait times of rides during COVID but it felt like the magic was back with a majority of the cast members back as well as all the festivities. It was also really fun experiencing all of the 50th-anniversary festivities. One of my favorite things was seeing all of the gold 50th characters around the parks.
I can’t wait to go back, but I think I’ve convinced Jared to go with me next time!