Trip Report A Dragon leaps into the 'fire' - WDW observations from Sept 21st thru 28th 2020

Hello fellow World Travelers, and welcome to a overview of a recent unexpected visit i made to Walt Disney World recently.

Returned a few days ago after a week long stay, and i have to say it was a unusual experience.
Very 'different' , and interesting to observe this 'alternative' version of operations.
I have been visiting the Florida Properties since the late 1970s, and each visit has been unique in it's own way.
This most recent excursion also fits that's description, for sure.

All thanks to those pesky lil' microbes that want to get inside of you and hug your lungs....

WDW - COVID Ears.jpg


So let us begin the overview.

I honestly has NO plans to visit Florida or WDW this year.
With all the chaos that was happening with the world pandemic issues , travel restrictions, general uncertainties, and rise in cases in the places i wanted to travel to, it looked like this year was going to not include a trip somewhere.
It finally reached a point where i basically said 'fluff it...i'm going anyway...' and held out for California.
Love it out there.

Several people i knew were planning on visiting WDW with their families earlier this year , but once the COVID Apocalypse hit it understandably changed their plans.
While they were thinking of rescheduling, i was strongly advising them to NOT visit this year and wait until next Autumn.
They took my advice, and i still recommend anyone thinking about visiting WDW at this time reconsider.
That is not because i had a negative experience, but more to do with the greatly diminished offerings most of us here are familiar with.
The overall Guest Experience can be impacted quite a bit depending on what your primary focus is.

So how ironic that the one so strongly recommending people don't go now...ends up going herself.
Yes, irony.
But there is a difference between a First Timer or a family group who have not visited in several years when compared to a regular who knows the ropes and the Property like the back of their hand.
As a solo traveler who has experienced many of Shows and services over the years multiple times that are now temporarily not operating at WDW, i did'nt feel like i am 'missing out' on anything.
It was a slightly 'lesser' experience due to not everything being operational, but it was still a full adventure with a lot of nice moments.
However, most of those said 'missing' experiences i would not want a 'Newbie' or a family to miss out on as they are a crucial element to a truly Magical WDW Experience.
So i still strongly recommend that those who fit into those perimeters seriously consider waiting until next year or beyond to visit.


My solo venture was a good experience, and i am glad i did it.
It was a last minute decision to go after watching airfare rates for the past month, but i was feeling the urge to travel somewhere this Autumn.

Originally i was targeting CA, as i do so enjoy it out there.
However, since Disneyland in CA was still closed i considered a possible re-visit to WDW.
Taking at look at the then current Resort rates it was still 'too expensive' to me for the choices i was looking over and the limited choices were a turn off to my wallet.
Only one 'Value Resort' option.
Mickey however knew i was peeking into rates, and in early September sent me a PIN Code offer that made me rethink things.
I've figured out what sets off the algorithm to get those discount offers, and have recived many over the years but rarely use them as they typically are the same as the publicly offered deals.
This time however was different....and i qualified despite living in a State they at the time were targeting specific discounts to.
So i went for it.

Time was running out to commit to booking a flight as well as requesting the time off from work, so the first week of September i booked for a trip that took place two weeks later.
So 'Pop' was really the only option ....so i went with it.

What was priced $178 a night was now $117.
Although that is still a bit pricey for a 'Value Resort' in my mind , when i considered the included Magical Express and Skyliner transportation options it didn't seem all that bad.
Typically, i stay at my long time 'apartment' at All Star Music.
Been doing that ages...but alas, those Resorts are all still closed.
So 'Pop Century' it was, and i was actually looking forward to staying somewhere new after all these years.

Travel papers in hand, it was time to set off on this excursion into Central Florida once again -

WDW - Travel Papers.jpg
 
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Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Time to fly....literally.

JetBlue was my choice this visit, even though i ended up paying a lot more then usual for the flight.
During a time when most flights to Florida have been very reasonable to downright super cheap, my choices were slim due to the last minute booking.
Typically i book months in advance, but this was a 'one off' so i had to take what was available.

I primarily chose JetBlue this time because they are one of the few airlines that are still blocking the middle row of seats to keep passengers apart for physical distancing.
Originally, i was looking at a much more reasonably priced flight through American Airlines.
Upon looking over the flight seats it was quite clear however that they were packing the plane with no distancing at all.
Just didn't think that was a good idea....as was the fact this flight had a stop over, which i find kind of pointless for a two hour flight.
So JetBlue was it....and i'm glad i decided to go with them.
Always have a good experience and this time was no exception.


The other reason i dig JetBlue is i love their snacks.
'Blue Chips' rock my world, and although sadly they had suspended their usual snack service this time around they still managed to surprise me with these delights.
When i was passed a bag of these, i IMMEDIATELY thought of someone i think of often....

WDW - JetBlue cookie stash.jpg




As most folks here on the Forum know, i am a major fan of DIsney Legend and Imagineer Extrodinare Tony Baxter.
I've posted quite a bit about his amazing history and my various adventures related to him over the years, and i admit fully that i was immediately reminded of him when i saw these 'mustache' cookies.

YES KIDS ....
Tony Baxter inspired cookies !!


JetBlue is now the 'Official Airline of the Tony Baxter Fan Club'...!

WDW - Tony Baxter inspired cookies.jpg




After being highly amused by these cookies, before i knew it i was arriving in the place where it all began for me all those years ago in Central Florida - MCO.

You know it's a MCO a-go-go when you see that sexy air control tower on the horizon -


WDW- JetBlue arrival.jpg





And speaking of sexiness at MCO, who can say such a word without thinking of the famous floral patterned carpet located airside...?

Bask in it's glory....along with a equally sexy matching seat !


WDW- MCO Carpeting and chair.jpg


Yes, pure sexiness.

:cool:


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Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
After arriving at MCO, it was time to grab some food to take back to the Resort with me.
One of the biggest differences for me during this visit was being able to eat or acquire food.
Being a non-digital gadget dragon, i had learned prior to arrival that most of the counter service locations on Property were 'mobile order only'.
That is a feature i cannot use, so i instead brought some snacks with me and also booked one table service meal most of the days i was in town.
Despite this, there were times when the food options became tricky....so once i landed i immediately picked up a sandwich to bring back to the Resort.

The next stop was Magical Express, which was empty on the lower level.
Having flown in around 7pm, i had the place pretty much to myself.
Cast checked me in immediately, and within five minutes i was on a motorcoach and headed to the Resort.

Although the waiting area at Magical Express had only three other Guests waiting for the bus, once one the bus that is when the 'crowd' showed up.
The bus was pretty full, but this was expected since it was scheduled for two stops ( 'Pop Century' and 'Caribbean Beach' ).
What surprised me however was that ALL of the people on the bus got off at the SAME stop...'Pop Century'.
I have never seen that happen before...everyone on the bus was staying at the same Resort.

No big 'welcome' this time....no red carpet.
Typically Cast will greet and sometimes even applaud Guests as they step off of the Magical Express motorcoachs, but not this time.
We were 'unloaded' and on our own.

Check in was smooth as usual...most Guest who were apparently on the bus had followed Disney's suggestion to do mobile check in.
I however, not being a digital device dragon, did it the 'old fashioned way' and stood in a very short line to converse with Cast in the lobby.

WDW  - Pop Century lobby.jpg




Checking in at the Resort in person also has a added perk for me -
I enables me to do something i truly do enjoy.......decline the Magic Band that Disney 'insists' i should take as their Resort Guest.
What puzzles me is this -
There is NO WAY to decline this Magic Band offering in advance which seems odd to me.
This is my third visit where i have tried to decline in advance prior to arrival to no avail, as i am not a fan of Magic Bands or what the represent to me personally.
I have tried online, no option to say 'no thanks'.
I have tried calling the Resort directly...and they just tell me there is no way to do so.
The only way is to do so in person when you check in.

Boy, Mickey sure does want you to wear that band on your wrist...but i say NO THANKS and still do.
Love those 'Key To The World' cards.
I realize this won't be a problem in the near future since Disney is discountining the 'free' Magic Bands for Resort Guests.
And i say 'YAY'...!

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Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
But getting back to the lobby of 'Pop Century'....as regulars who stay there probably already know, it features some fun displays of vintage memorabilia related to the various decades represented at the Resort.
Staying at 'Pop' is like a trip back in time, with various sections of the Resort themed to different decades.

Here are some of the 1980s themed displays in the lobby, which i enjoyed seeing since i own most of the things shown in these cases still.
Yes, i am a 'old school' kind of 80s dragon!

Particularity nice to see this vintage Atari Computer System on display -

WDW - Pop Century lobby Atari display.jpg


Or perhaps you prefer some vintage electronics...?

Oh yes...

WDW - Pop Century lobby 80s tech display.jpg


And what's a stay in the 1980s without some related printed media, record albums, and cassette tapes...?
I play cassettes and records daily, no joke.

I think i am going to fit in here rather well.

It's too bad they didn't use UV protective glass on some of these shadowbox displays as a lot of the memorabilia is pretty faded from light exposure.
A shame, as some of this stuff was originally very colorful.


WDW- Pop Century 80s memoribilia.jpg




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Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
So how did i like 'Pop Century' as a first timer..?

I liked it quite a bit, as it was a refreshing change from the norm.
Although it was not all that different from the All Star Resorts which i am very familiar with, it had some 'plusses' i enjoyed.
The layout is very similar, but i like the 'decade' themes to all the buildings spread around the property.
And the related music played in each decade section was also a nice touch.
I also liked the addition of the Hourglass Lake feature...made for those morning walks rather nice with the placid view.
The Skyliner is also of course appealing, which i had experienced during my last visit on it's first day of operation.
I would definitely stay here again if the price was right.


I had requested in advance a stay in the 1980s building, which was granted.
A fun spot right up my alley....really liked the spot.
Being a Pac-Man and Roger Rabbit fan made this choice the only one for me.....and it was a fun novelty.

A overview of my view every morning upon leaving my room and heading out for the day -


WDW - Pop Resort 80s Building.jpg


I love that rabbit !

Do people today even still know who he is...?
Sure hope so.


WDW- Roger statue at Pop.jpg



Despite what these photo shows, the Resort was not empty.
The place was jumping and seemed packed with people.
I noticed the full looking parking lot immediately when i first arrived on Magical Express.
Part of me had kind of braced for the onslaught of people since this was the only 'Value Resort' option currently operating, so i had expected a lot of folks to be rooming there.
This was my first clue that this was NOT going to be the 'empty ghost town' that i had been led to believe by reading recent reviews of fellow visitors to the Parks.
The days of 'little to no people' that were happening earlier this month and this Summer were over.
That was probably the only real 'disappointment' of this visit - expecting little to no people and the reality being many were in town.
It was a combination of many factors that have already been discussed in other threads, so i won't go over it.
But know full well people were here...and in great numbers.

Observe -
The gigantic long line waiting for buses to the Magic Kingdom the next morning, a Tuesday morning -

WDW - Pop Century bus line to MK.jpg



Now before anyone panics that may be visiting soon :

The main reason for the very long lines is the physical distancing restrictions making it impossible for Cast to completely fill the transportation buses.
So instead of a large chunk of Guests being packed onto a bus at a time, only six small groups ( or sometimes less ) are allowed on at a time.
Thus the line becoming so long.
I will say that the Transportation Cast did a very good job keeping things moving and keeping everyone separated in a appropriate way at 'Pop Century'.
Multiple buses were literally lined up one after the other, so as soon as the small amount of Guests filled up one bus the next one would pull up and start loading.
Many times i saw two buses doing this simultaneously.
So the long line DID move quite steadily....but seeing such a long line does lead one into thinking this might not have been a good decision to come.
Rest assured however that such long lines are slightly misleading and in reality move along pretty quickly in most cases.
I know when i first saw my first couple of these i was a bit taken aback...but it all went pretty smoothly after the initial visual 'shock factor' wore off.
Cast were doing a great job moving people around....until my final night on Property.
But i will get into that later.....


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PacNWTigger

Well-Known Member
Definitely following along. I am interested on your take on how things were on your trip. I've always loved your attention to details and the Tony Baxter history lessons.
 

Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Another photo i must include before i move on to my Park experiences -

It is a long standing tradition of mine to decorate the window of my Resort room.
I've been doing this for years....since 2000 or so at the All Star Resorts.
I have made several different displays sized specifically for the window and window ledge, and one of the first things i typically do once in my room is crank the Resort TV Music and put up the decor.
Items fit neatly folded in my carry on suitcase, and i even bring certain 'toys' to enhance the display.
Always nice to add a little unexpected Magic for fellow Resort Guests if they happen to walk by and see this!

Here is a photo of a long term display of mine i have done many times....of vintage Walt Disney World.
And yes, of course my boy Tony is a part of it.
How could he not be...?

WDW- Pop Room Decor.jpg



This trip i was happy to see the tradition of decorating the window is still alive and well with other Guests.
For a while it seemed a common accourance to see decorated room windows when i stayed at the All Star Resorts, but over the last 15 years or so it seems to have pretty much disappeared until recently.
For a while i was starting to think i was the only one still doing this, but last week i saw several windows with obvious custom displays at 'Pop' that even included string lights.
Really nice to see that again.
Always nice to see that when walking around the Resort in the morning or late evening.

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Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Definitely following along. I am interested on your take on how things were on your trip. I've always loved your attention to details and the Tony Baxter history lessons.

Thank you my friend!
I have quite a few bits of commentary to make regarding my overall experience.
And yes, i even have some newly discovered 'Tony Baxter Tidbits' to share !

:)

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MickeyCB

Well-Known Member
Following along, and as we will be there (probably) in 3 weeks, very anxious to hear about the crowds.
With all of the cut backs, low crowds and wait times were really my only reason for still going.
 

Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Following along, and as we will be there (probably) in 3 weeks, very anxious to hear about the crowds.
With all of the cut backs, low crowds and wait times were really my only reason for still going.

I'll cut right to it and tell you right now that their were definitely a lot more people there then I was expecting to see when I was there last week.
The large amount of people at 'Pop Century' alone surprised me.
So it wasn't just locals filling the Parks apparently.

I quickly learned that the best time to be in any Park of choice was the last three to two hours it was open.
I'm not a early riser so don't typically do 'rope drop' , but for those who can and insist on it will find the first hour or two is also a good time to be in the Park of choice.
The last two hours of the day however I found in particular to be very enjoyable as many of the Guests who arrived early for opening had by that point in the day had done what they wanted and left.
Animal Kingdom and Epcot were both wonderful during those periods.
Magic Kingdom as well in some areas.

There were far more people there at both the Resort hotel I stayed in and at all the Parks then I had been conditioned to expect due to following all the recent information from fellow visitors and locals.
It honestly did not feel that much different crowd wise to me then other visits I have made during this same time of year for most of the days I was there.
There were exceptions of course, but I was expecting far less people.


Lines were long for almost everything, from rides to shops to the few dining options available.
However, the long lines for the most part were caused primarily by the limited capacity and physical distancing measures being implemented at the Attractions right now.
So seeing a giant line can be misleading...as in most cases you didn't have to wait too long.
It was also often worth the wait, exspecially for certain popular or favorite Attractions.
Having a ride vehicle all to yourself was great!
:)

The only time I felt like I was getting to experience things at a slower pace with lesser people around was the last two to three hours of the Park being open.
It was during those times I could 'walk on' a Attraction, or wait a short period of time.
Both DAK and Epcot had a lot of moments like this.
'Soarin' was a 5 to sometimes 10 minute wait, other times a literal walk on.
'Kilimanjaro Safaris' was a walk on...as was 'Dinosaur'.
So there were opportunities to enjoy things at a relaxed pace.


I too decided to take this last minute trip due to the reports of low attendence and 'deserted' Theme Parks.
Neither of those things happened in my case, but I did have some nice moments where I was indeed pretty much by myself and had the place to myself.
Those moments were for the most part the best experiences of the visit this time around.

Wait times were posted for the most part far more then the actual wait, but this has been happening prior to the Covid Apocolyse.
Several times while I was standing in line for a Attraction I would glance at my watch as I entered and then checked it again once reaching the ride vehicle.
Almost every time, except in one case ( 'Runaway Railway' ) the wait time was less then the posted time.
Attractions listed as a '40 minute wait' were in reality 15.
Others listed as '15 minute wait' were walk on after traversing a long queue.

The only two Attractions I waited a actual long period of time for were 'Runaway Railway ' ( 60 minutes ) and 'Flight of Passage' ( 50 mins ).
'Flight of Passage' I experienced two other times later on the same day with lesser wait times.
'Railway' remained 60 minutes during the two times I experienced it.
I did not try for 'Seven Dwarfs Mine Train' this visit as I assumed it had a 60 or more wait time as well.

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MickeyCB

Well-Known Member
I'll cut right to it and tell you right now that their were definitely a lot more people there then I was expecting to see when I was there last week.
The large amount of people at 'Pop Century' alone surprised me.
So it wasn't just locals filling the Parks apparently.

I quickly learned that the best time to be in any Park of choice was the last three to two hours it was open.
I'm not a early riser so don't typically do 'rope drop' , but for those who can and insist on it will find the first hour or two is also a good time to be in the Park of choice.
The last two hours of the day however I found in particular to be very enjoyable as many of the Guests who arrived early for opening had by that point in the day had done what they wanted and left.
Animal Kingdom and Epcot were both wonderful during those periods.
Magic Kingdom as well in some areas.

There were far more people there at both the Resort hotel I stayed in and at all the Parks then I had been conditioned to expect due to following all the recent information from fellow visitors and locals.
It honestly did not feel any different crowd wise to me then other visits I have made during this same time of year for most of the days I was there.
There were exceptions of course, but I was expecting far less people.

Lines were long for everything but that was mostly becuase of the limited capacity many Attractions are operating at now.
The only time I felt like I was getting to experience things at a slower pace with lesser people around was the last two to three hours of the Park being open.
It was during those times I could 'walk on' a Attraction, or wait a short period of time.

I too decided to take this last minute trip due to the reports of low attendence and 'deserted' Theme Parks.
Neither of those things happened in my case, but I did have some nice moments where I was indeed pretty much by myself and had the place to myself.
Those moments were for the most part the best experiences of the visit this time around.

Wait times were posted for the most part far more then the actual wait, but this has been happening prior to the Covid Apocolyse.
Several times while I was standing in line for a Attraction I would glance at my watch as I entered and then checked it again once reaching the ride vehicle.
Almost every time, except in one case ( 'Runaway Railway' ) the wait time was less then the posted time.
Attractions listed as a '40 minute wait' were in reality 15.
Others listed as '15 minute wait' were walk on after traversing a long queue.

The only two Attractions I waited a actual long period of time for were 'Runaway Railway ' ( 60 minutes ) and 'Flight of Passage' ( 50 mins ).
'Flight of Passage' I experience two other times on the same day with lesser wait times.
'Railway' remained 60 minutes during the two times I experienced it.
I did not try for 'Seven Dwarfs Mine Train' this visit as I assumed it had a 60 or more wait time as well.

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Thank you so much for that thorough eval. We can do rope drop for sure, and while the park hours are shortened, maybe it's time to go back to our old ways, and hitting the resorts, shopping etc. midday, and head out again the last few hours. We might get just as much accomplished with less frustration.
 

Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Thank you so much for that thorough eval. We can do rope drop for sure, and while the park hours are shortened, maybe it's time to go back to our old ways, and hitting the resorts, shopping etc. midday, and head out again the last few hours. We might get just as much accomplished with less frustration.

My advice would be to have a short list of priorities ...or 'must dos'.....for whichever Park you plan to visit.
Don't 'over plan', and try to avoid going the 'Commando Touring' route.
Without FastPass operating, and no real 'schedule' to be enticed to follow due to the lack of Shows and night time spectacles, this is actually a nice opportunity to experience WDW in a more improvised manner.

A large part of why I love Disneyland Park in California is the fact you can just show up at the gate, walk in, and do whatever you feel like doing on a whim.
None of this overlay (and unnecessarily ) complicated 'planning FastPass options and Dining Reservations' months in advance nonsense that has sucked a lot of the sporatic joy out of visiting WDW.
Today however, one can experience WDW similar to Disneyland....which for me was another plus that enticed me to come for a visit.

So go in with a idea of what you would like to do or see this time around, but don't bog yourself down with 'over planning".
This is the one time period in probably the last 15 years or so one doesn't have to do that.
Just go and have some fun for the day....and be ready for things to be a little bit 'different'.
There are still many things to enjoy despite all the 'missing' elements due to how they are operating at the moment.

Remember kids -
It's not about trying to 'do it all'....it's about enjoying what you DO end up doing.
Quality over quantity.
Savor the moment.
:)

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