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Daily updates from my August 2020 trip – PREP255

Daily updates from my August 2020 trip – PREP255

Shannon went over daily updates from her August 2020 visit to Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. This trip was originally scheduled for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Even though the event was canceled, she still kept her trip.

These are notes from this episode. There’s much more info included in the audio so be sure to listen to the episode for a better explanation.

The Basics

In August 2020, Shannon visited both Universal Studios and Walt Disney World.

At Universal, she went over her park days, offered some tips, and gave comparisons to Disney World for those who are more familiar with the latter theme parks. She also talked about compliance with the health and safety protocols.

While visiting Disney World with Heather, they stayed in a Garden Wing Room at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. They visited Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Disney Springs, and did some Disney’s Fort Wilderness exploring.

The two even tried the character breakfast offered at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort.

Arrival Day (August 11)

Shannon recorded at 7:56 a.m. while in flight to Orlando. She wanted to leave early and on a weekday to avoid crowds. Only 29 people were on her flight.

Upon her arrival, she was one of the last to deplane as she sat near the back of the plane. Her bags were ready by the time she got to baggage claim and she picked up her rental car from the Alamo lot, which was seamless thanks in part to pre-registering online.

Shannon got a Costco membership just so she could book the reasonable car rental rates. She also pre-purchased a SunPass and bought the toll tags that are portable on the SunPass website.

This makes it easy to transport between vehicles and she can use the SunPass every trip now when she rents a car without having to worry about cash for tolls.

At 12:47 p.m, Shannon had lunch at Jake’s American Bar at the Loews Royal Pacific Hotel in Universal Studios, where she stayed for part of her trip.

loews royal pacific hotel at universal

When arriving at the hotel, her temperature was taken and she was given a wristband to show that she had passed the temperature screening for that particular day. She didn’t have to do another temperature check for the rest of the day and Team Members could look at her wristband.

While eating at Jake’s American, she said service was a little slow, but she assumed it was due to low staffing thanks to the current pandemic situation. She also received a text that her room was ready.

At 3:10 p.m., Shannon recorded herself from Islands of Adventures, where she hoped to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

She also rode Skull Island: Reign of Kong, which Shannon described as a much more “terrifying” version of Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom. She also had a Universal Express Pass (kind of like FastPass), which allowed her to bypass the standby line that had a posted wait time of 45 minutes.

skull island reign of kong

At 4:09 p.m., she waited in line to ride Hagrid’s, but it had shut down due to lightning. She was close to the front and chose not to exit, since she’d rather be inside than out in the rain.

However, the downside to waiting is that she had to use Universal’s locker system to store her belongings while riding. Her phone was also about to die and she didn’t have her external battery.

One of the reason’s she chose to visit Islands of Adventure on her arrival day was in case Hagrid’s went down and then she’d have another chance to ride it again later on during her trip.

At 5:18 p.m., Shannon reported from the Three Broomsticks that she got on Hagrid’s and it was “amazing” and “so worth it.”

voodoo doughnut at citywalk

While eating at Three Broomsticks, she Mobile Ordered, which is a little different than Disney World’s system. She had to sit down at a table, click a prepare order button in the Universal app, and then her food would be delivered to her table. It was like a hybrid between Quick and Table service.

Shannon recorded from the hotel at 6:55 p.m. Before heading back, she went to Voodoo Doughnut at CityWalk (along the same lines as Disney Springs) and brought doughnuts back to her room.

She took a boat near Voodoo Doughnut back to her hotel. It would’ve been a 7-minute walk.

Overall, Shannon’s main disappointment for the day was the “horrible” guest behavior at the parks. She said, “I’ve never seen so many noses above masks my life.”

She didn’t fault the Team Members, because they tried to enforce masks and social distancing, but guests were being “jerks.”

Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure (August 12)

Shannon started her day early at Universal Studios. Since she stayed at an on-site premiere hotel, she was able to take advantage of early park access.

They let guests in a little before 8 a.m. (before the 9 a.m. park opening) and she was able to get on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts right away.

She recommended taking advantage of early park access, especially to be able to enjoy a much less crowded Wizarding World of Harry Potter and to take photos without too many people.

Later in the morning, Shannon rode Revenge of the Mummy, which is one of her favorites. She said it’s similar to Space Mountain, but more thrilling with fire and other special effects.

She also rode Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon for the first time and compared it to Star Tours at Hollywood Studios.

Shannon also highly recommended E.T. Adventure, which is “fabulous” and like Peter Pan’s Flight at Magic Kingdom, but more of a thrill. She said it’s underrated.

After enjoying some of the socially-distanced character interactions, Shannon hopped over to Islands of Adventure via the Hogwarts Express.

Shannon said riding the Hogwarts Express is a “fantastic attraction,” but it costs a lot because guests need park-to-park passes in order to board.

Unfortunately, Hagrid’s was down for the day due to a fire backstage that caused an outage.

But, Shannon rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which she said is beautifully done, but a “beast.” The ride flips you over 90 degrees repeatedly. It even challenged Shannon, who doesn’t normally get motion sick.

After completing her “must-do” list, Shannon had lunch at Mythos in Islands of Adventure. She said it’s great Table Service. She got a grilled cheese in tomato soup meal for only $20.

Generally, she doesn’t think families with little ones would get their money’s worth at Universal, but for those who do visit, she said Seuss Landing is a “cute” area. There’s even a mini-People Mover ride called The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!

The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!

She left the park later in the afternoon and said there was much better guest behavior and mask compliance.

For dinner, she walked over to CityWalk and sat at an outdoor bar area that had views of the water. CityWalk was busy and mainly due to the parks closing early between 5 and 6 p.m.

If you want visuals of everything Shannon’s discussed, there are vlogs on WDW Prep School’s YouTube channel.

Magic Kingdom & Contemporary Check-In (August 13)

On this day, Shannon picked up Heather from the airport and they checked into a Garden Wing Room at the Contemporary.

When looking at the Contemporary, the Garden Wing is to the right of the main building. The good thing about staying in this section is you can park close to your room, similar to a moderate or value hotel on Disney property.

Shannon and Heather had a view of Bay Lake and a Juliet balcony. It offers great views, including one of the Electrical Water Pageant.

Mickey statue at Contemporary

They walked over from the Contemporary to Magic Kingdom later in the day, where they spent time taking photos and took advantage of the low crowds after the park closed.

You don’t have to leave the park right at closing, but if you want to ride an attraction, you have to be in line before the clock strikes the official closing hour. You can stay later to take pictures and to shop.

They also ate at the Plaza Restaurant, where they had dinner, sundaes, and the perfect view of Cinderella Castle.

Back at the hotel around 8:30 p.m., Shannon and Heather sat in the lobby to upload video clips for the day, because it had better Wi-Fi compared to their room.

Four Seasons & Epcot (August 14)

Shannon and Heather started their day at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort. They booked a breakfast at Ravello’s thinking it was character dining, but the hotel moved the character breakfast to Saturdays.

That said, both the service and food were good. There are also nice shops and valet parking is validated if you eat at the resort.

Later in the afternoon, they visited Fort Wilderness. They parked in the parking lot and took the in-resort bus.

fort wilderness welcome sign

There are gift stores, dining, and even a new barn to explore. This is also where the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and Trail’s End Restaurant are located, but they weren’t open during Shannon and Heather’s visit.

After taking a break at the Contemporary following Fort Wilderness, they drove to Epcot. Shannon said the downside to driving later in the day is parking sometimes isn’t super close to the entrance.

They walked on a bunch of rides, including Spaceship Earth and Test Track. They also saw the new pylons in the entrance plaza, which were still surrounded by construction walls.

Four Seasons & Hollywood Studios (August 15)

Shannon and Heather returned to Ravello’s so they could try the character breakfast (Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy & His Pals) they missed out on the day prior.

Shannon said they had a PhotoPass photo taken at the entrance and weren’t given a character signature card like at other Disney character meals, but a generic one.

Ravello PhotoPass

They sat in the outdoor patio area and the characters buzzed by very fast. A lot of Shannon’s photos were blurry, they moved so fast.

They paid $48 per person for the character breakfast, but only $19 per person the day before when they had just breakfast. The only difference between the two were the Goofy breakfast had characters, a pastry basket, and fruit.

Shannon said this is a great option if you’re staying at the Four Season, but she wouldn’t make a special trip.

Goofy Ravello

They got to Hollywood Studios before 2 p.m. so they could try for a Rise of the Resistance boarding group, which they got. (This was before park hopping returned and the new Rise of the Resistance virtual queue rules went into effect.)

They chilled on Hollywood Boulevard to watch the character cavalcades before having a mid-afternoon lunch at The Hollywood Brown Derby.

Later on, they took time to hang out at BaseLine Tap House, one of Shannon’s favorite places that has great atmosphere and music.

As for Rise of the Resistance, depending where you’re at in the queue, it can become congested, especially if the ride breaks down. But they were able to get on after waiting about 40 minutes.

They ended their day by staying after park closing to take photos and whatnot.

Hotel Day & BoardWalk (August 16)

There was bad weather all day, so they just stayed at the Contemporary until heading to the BoardWalk in the evening for Patron meetup.

Before going to the Boardwalk, Shannon and Heather also ordered food from the Contempo Café. In general, Shannon said the food is really good at the Contemporary.

Magic Kingdom (August 17)

They rope dropped Magic Kingdom and were able to get on multiple rides before official park opening at 9 a.m.

After walking from the Contemporary to Magic Kingdom, they were inside the park at 8:30 a.m. and rode Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan, and Haunted Mansion.

They also ended up walking onto both Big Thunder Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean. Around 10:43 a.m., they rode Jungle Cruise, which was only a 15-minute wait with a 30-minute posted wait time. Shannon also did the Swiss Family Treehouse for the first time.

Shannon said weekdays are definitely better than weekends and not as busy, depending, of course.

Castle turrets

At 12:54 p.m., they hopped on Space Mountain, which had a posted wait time of 10 minutes. They even caught three cavalcades in Frontierland in the matter of 20 minutes.

For lunch, they ate at Liberty Tree Tavern and had great seating inside the Diamond Horseshoe that is right next door.

Later in the evening after taking a break and showering, they had dinner at California Grill, which Shannon recommend for both food and the views.

Final Day (August 18)

On their last day, Shannon and Heather tried breakfast at Chef Mickey’s at 8:30 a.m. This time, it wasn’t a character breakfast, but family-style.

Shannon said for $25 per person it wasn’t bad, especially if you’re staying at the Contemporary or are pairing it with a Magic Kingdom park day.

Chef Mickey's sign

It’s not much of a destination without characters. (Chef Mickey’s once again has characters for both breakfast and dinner).

They got to the Epcot parking plaza at 10:30 a.m. and rode Soarin’ almost immediately. They even got B1, which is the best view.

They hopped on Living with the Land after, but Shannon felt they boarded too close together and needed to space out more guests.

After, they caught Joy and Winnie the Pooh between the Land and Imagination pavilions. They were also able to ride Journey into Imagination with Figment without a wait.

They also had good luck later in the day saying hello to characters they hadn’t seen yet, including Alice and Mary Poppins in the U.K. pavilion.

At night, they went to Disney Springs to have dinner at one of their favorite spots, Paddlefish. They grabbed dessert at Vivoli il Gelato and rode the massive balloon, the Aerophile, for the first time. It cost $20 per person.

Key Takeaways

  • Purchase a SunPass beforehand if you’re renting a car to make it easier on yourself
  • You can get reasonable car rental rates with a Costco membership
  • Universal Express Pass is like FastPass and allows you to bypass the standby line
  • Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is worth the wait (and avoid spoilers, if possible)
  • Be prepared to use Universal’s locker system, which can be an inconvenience
  • If you have access, take advantage of early park access at Universal
  • You can only ride Hogwarts Express if you have park-to-park passes
  • Seuss Landing is a great area for guests visiting with small kids
  • You can stay after park closing at Disney World to take pictures and shop
  • Disney Resort hotels common areas, like the lobby, sometimes have better Wi-Fi than the rooms
  • The character breakfast at Four Seasons is only on Saturdays
  • Rope drop Disney World theme parks for the chance to ride attractions before official park opening

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