Reported this week at Walt Disney World, characters are signing autographs again! Additionally, autograph books are for sale once more in gift shops around WDW.
Keep in mind that it’s only been confirmed that characters are signing autographs again in Walt Disney World, Florida. No news on the other Parks, and as of this writing, there are still no autographs on Disney Cruise Line (character meets are still distanced there).
I’ve been on just two cruises before, both Disney, in 2013 and 2016. Because I’m prone to something called mal de debarquement syndrome (which basically means you still feel like you’re on the boat after the cruise, sometimes for months) I stopped cruising. Then there was COVID, of course, and we all stopped cruising. Now, I decided (under advice of my awesome ENT) to give a Disney cruise another try. We cruised for four nights on the Disney Dream out of Port Canaveral, with stops at Castaway Cay and Nassau, in the Bahamas.
I researched the heck out of my previous cruises and I prepared the same way for this one. There were a few surprises, though, and almost none of them having to do with the pandemic.
While the rest is in no particular order, this is the most vital piece of information I need to pass on to any potential Disney cruisers out there: they DO NOT sell Pepto Bismol on the ship. Nope, not in any of the stores. So if you get a jumpy tummy and you’re thinking that cool pink liquid would settle things down? Better bring it with you.
In happier news for me, but probably not as useful for others, it turns out a shorter cruise (4 nights vs 7 nights) made my post-cruise dizziness/balance issues much lighter and easier to deal with. There’s still a little bit of woozy, but not much. Manageable.
There’s a bit of a dining dilemma imo. So, there are two seatings in the MDR (Main Dining Room) each evening, Main or first Seating and Second Seating. These vary a little by ship but they’re at about 5:45 PM and 8:00 PM. We used to do the Second Seating. We’re two adults, no kids, and by nature of the timing there’s fewer kids in the later slot. That’s true, but we’re older now, and honestly, I just can’t eat a huge meal after 8 PM anymore (keeping in mind it’s close to 9 before you’re done). So we tried the early Main Seating, and it was a bit of a disaster. I expected there to be more kids, and there really, really were. So it’s basically constant shrieking. More to the point, your serving team has very little time to spend with you because they’re running from the second dinner starts to get food into little ones’ mouths right away to keep them from melting down, then the adults, and then back to kids again. When we did Second Seating on our earlier cruises, we really got to know our serving team (Note: With Disney’s rotational system, you have the same servers every night as you move through the rotation of dining rooms.) to the extent that I practically cried saying goodbye to the first crew — Sasha and Gedde, we still talk about how amazing you were. They told us about their jobs, the ship, their lives; we were on our honeymoon and Sasha had just gotten married and his wife worked at Palo. She came to say hi when we ate there. They were friendly and attentive and knew our drink orders after the first night and had them waiting for us when we got there each following night. We took pictures with them at our last dinner, and honestly, who am I kidding, I did cry a little. At Main Seating, this time? Our servers were very nice and all, but way too busy to do any of those things. So, it’s a bit of a rock and a hard place, if you’re like me. Second Seating is too late for us to eat, and Main Seating is a madhouse. Honestly, we would have skipped the MDRs after the first night and gone to Cabana’s for dinner, but it hasn’t reopened since COVID. In the future, assuming it comes back, that’s what we’d do. Or book Palo, or even just room service.
We didn’t get to know our servers very well, but our stateroom attendant, Windy, was just amazing. We kept telling him he made our cruise. He just took such great care of us and got us everything we needed. He also did great towel animals
Our cruise was from May 2 to May 6, therefore May the 4th happened while we were onboard. However, Disney didn’t have a single Star Wars event/character meet/merchandise/movie showings/mention. Some cruisers dressed up in Star Wars gear and outfits, and many of us wished each other May the 4th Be With You, but that was it. I have to be honest, folks were a little disappointed there wasn’t SOMETHING to acknowledge it. My guess it that Disney feels that Cruises = No Star Wars except for the specialty Star Wars Days at Sea Cruises. Which this should have been, but wasn’t.
Speaking of movies, we’ve gone to the movie theater before on other cruises. It’s nice, and there’s free popcorn. We saw The Force Awakens there, for example, in 2016, with a great crowd. But this cruise all they were showing was Encanto and Frozen, alternating. They’re both great, but they’re both available on demand in your stateroom. There was a late night showing of the premiere of Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness at 11 PM on our last night, but this was never announced and only put on the schedule a few hours before it was shown. I’m guessing most people didn’t even know about it.
Character meets in general are still slightly distanced, but no masks, and there are tons of them all day long. The Navigator app (which is the only place to see the day’s schedule now, no more paper version) had them all listed, but not by name. We asked for more information on which characters were meeting when, but were told Disney purposely leaves that information out because they don’t want people to start lining up in advance. Instead you’ve just got to show up (most happened in the Atrium) and see who’s there. I will tell you that by doing that in the afternoon on our Nassau port day, I got to see Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Daisy, Stitch, and Captain Hook & Smee, all in pirate costumes, all with no waiting.
We came very close to not being able to have our day at Castaway Cay because the winds were too strong for our first attempt to dock. We were soooo close to the island and then had to back away, it was gut wrenching. Luckily things cleared up a bit and the captain made a second attempt later, and we ended up with a beautiful day on the island. Disney tries their best and I was told that in some cases, if the entire day is a wash, they can attempt to use a scheduled sea day to visit CC instead. I’m sure it’s rare, but it does happen that weather can prevent a safe docking, so keep that in the back of your mind. We rented a cabana on Serenity Bay, the adult-only beach, and enjoyed it immensely. I recommend water shoes for going in the ocean and to watch out for ocean life. I’ll never forget the woman on our second cruise who was up in arms because she “hadn’t been told” there would be fish in the water. “This is Disney! Couldn’t they keep the fish out?!” Personally, I love the little guys that are everywhere right near the shore.
Back on the ship, I saw a number of cruisers using ECVs (scooters) without too much difficulty. The elevators, though, were rather tight. I also didn’t see any accessibility for the pools, and personally would have dreaded navigating one around any of the dining rooms.
One of my favorite things on previous cruises were the hot tubs in the adult-only section, which have glass bottoms and look out over the ocean. But the jacuzzi jets were on the lowest possible setting, barely stirring the water at all, so that it was basically just sitting in very hot still water with other people, which is weird. Several of us asked the pool attendants if they were malfunctioning, but we were assured they were working just fine. It so happens that we were staying Concierge on this cruise, and up on the Concierge-only deck, the hot tub was working just fine, with jets at full blast. No idea what that was about.
I haven’t said much about staying Concierge because I honestly couldn’t say if we’ll ever be able to do it again — it’s pricey. But for what it’s worth, we did enjoy it very much. The lounge is a nice home base and the staff all very helpful. We stayed in a one-bedroom suite and it was an insane amount of space. Including a whirlpool bath tub. Which I used several times. I mean, a tub on a cruise? Crazy.
Even in our fancy schmancy room, though, there were hardly any electrical outlets. One near each side of the bed, but the one on my side was being used by the phone. One in the bathroom. Two in the living room area. And then a couple more near the floor in hallways, I’m assuming to facilitate cleaning and housekeeping. We had a rough time getting everything we needed powered up. You’re not allowed to bring power strips on board, but you are allowed to bring a USB hub. If we’d done that, it would’ve been no problem.
Going on a cruise is a lot of fun, but does require some planning — you’re out in the middle of the ocean and you can’t run to Walgreens for anything you forgot. Hopefully some of these tips help you plan your trip.
The tour has a maximum of 12 persons (over the age of eight), which means it’s bound to be a small, intimate group. Amazingly, our first time through back in 2019, we were the only two people on the tour! These days, though, now that enchanting extra experiences are up and running again at Disney, that’s very unlikely to happen. Our second tour was full, but I will tell you it made for a fun-loving and congenial group. We loved getting to know everyone on our tour, as well as the excellent Cast Members who guided us.
Our tour began at 4:30 in the afternoon (times may shift depending on the time of year). We were asked to check in at least 15 minutes before that time at this booth just outside the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safari.
There was a quick form to read and sign and we were ready to go. Entering through the safari ride area, we got onto a special vehicle that would take us out onto the savanna, utilizing slightly different paths than the regular ride vehicles. The Savor the Savanna bus has seats in a u-shape around the perimeter. There is a little jostling around to be aware of. I have a less than perfect back, so I made sure to sit in a corner where I could better brace myself. Meg, our guide, was seated next to me.
The adventure begins with a drive through the west savanna where we saw plenty of animals — wildebeests, rhinos, and of course giraffes.
We also got a chance to speak with one of the savanna’s zookeepers, where we were encouraged to ask any and every question we had about the savanna and the animals that live on it. We definitely had a lot of questions! We also got to get a lot closer to those giraffes by taking a different road than the one regular safari vehicles follow.
Then it was time to head to our boma right there on the savanna — if you’ve taken the regular safari tour you’ve surely seen it in the distance.
Here, cast members treated us to a yummy tapas-style meal, with a sampling of African-inspired cuisine, paired with a selection of regional beer and wine offerings. And there was also a never-ending supply of POG juice, aka Jungle Juice, the most delicious fruit drink every Disney fan knows and loves.
We were welcome to as much as we cared to eat, though with a full tour we did run out! There was dessert offered as well. Our guides were on-hand to answer any questions we might still have. There is also a restroom available at the boma, which was a welcome amenity.
Soon it was time for the second part of our tour, traveling through the east savanna and getting a chance to see elephants, cheetahs, and the safari’s famous three lions. We caught the male waking up from a nap:
The second half of the tour went by quicker, and I should tell you that it was quite a bit more boisterous — there was wine and beer available with dinner, and many of our companions imbibed joyfully. It made for a lively and fun bunch. We enjoyed meeting everyone and were very glad we’d done this tour again. I doubt it will be our last time Savoring the Savanna.
Savor the Savanna is $174 per guest and should be booked in advance. Guests must be at least eight years of age and if under 18, need to be accompanied by an adult. All guests on this tour should be in good health and free from high blood pressure; heart, back or neck problems; motion sickness or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not participate. Guests in ECVs need to be able to transfer to an available wheelchair. Theme park admission (as well as a park reservation) is required and not included in the price of this tour.
A few years ago I published an article in two parts on how to use an ECV, also known as a scooter, as Walt Disney World. These can be foundhere (part 1, the basics) and here (part 2, don’t stress and here’s why). There are some updates to WDW policy and recommendations I’d like to share with you. And remember, if you have any hesitancy about using a scooter, maybe because you feel funny or a little embarrassed (and you shouldn’t, but we all know how it is), please make sure to read part 2 because I give a great pep talk. 🙂
You can still rent ECVs from Disney right at the Parks, each day. The current cost (as of 1/2022) is $50 per day, plus a refundable $20 deposit. You can also rent them at Disney’s Water Parks and at Disney Springs, but the refundable deposit there is $100. Park-owned scooters are fine and a good choice if you drove there, just need a scooter for the day, or don’t want to have a scooter on Disney transportation. You cannot prebook or reserve the WDW scooters. They do sell out early at Magic Kingdom in particular, however, so keep that in mind. Also, they aren’t the newest of machines, have some wear and tear, aren’t as comfortable as some others, and go a bit slower. Still, it’s a good, solid choice if you need it, and very simple to do.
You can also rent an ECV from a third-party vendor and there are many to choose from. I’m going to talk about the three I have the most experience with here. The biggest change to be aware of, though, is that as of 2020, the only third-party vendor that can drop off your ECV at your onsite resort so that it is waiting for you when you get there (and likewise, you can return it to Bell Services any time before you go) is ScooterBug. ScooterBug is Disney’s Featured Provider, which means they have an exclusive contract with Disney for delivering ECVs directly to the resort. You can learn more, and make a pre-order, here.
I have rented from ScooterBug a number of times. It is convenient to have the scooter waiting for you at Bell Services, that’s for sure. We drive to the Parks, and aren’t always exactly sure what time we’re arriving, or departing. They have several different models available, as well as a variety of accessories. If there’s a problem, Disney can work with you to remedy it. Once, for example, the wrong model scooter was delivered (more on scooter selection in another post coming soon), and Disney was able to arrange for ScooterBug to drop off the correct one later, while we made do with the other and headed straight to the Parks. We made the tradeoff later. Their scooters are in decent shape, but not shiny and new. I had problems with a battery dying on me in EPCOT once, and they were able to meet me in the Park with a new scooter. Their basic seat backs aren’t adjustable, and their ECVs do show some wear and tear.
Another third-party company I’ve rented from is Buena Vista Scooter Rentals. They also have various models and accessories, but I feel they’re less than top tier when it comes to quality. I noticed a lot of wear, as well as had issues with the scooter stalling out unexpectedly — once in the middle of Rise of the Resistance, and I was humiliated to be delaying the ride for everyone. The cup holder attached to the arm and kept tilting over to the side, and ended up being unusable. Another issue is pickup and delivery. Buena Vista can’t leave the scooter at Bell Services like ScooterBug can; none of the other third-party providers can. But Buena Vista has a very set schedule of times they will bring you your scooter or pick it up. These times weren’t always especially convenient for us and we had to change our plans more than once to work around them.
The third-party company I most highly recommend is Gold Mobility. And to be honest, I doubt I’ll ever rent from anywhere else again. Using their ECV (and I rented the Pride VICTORY 10 3-Wheel Mobility Scooter) after renting other third-party scooters felt like going from a Yugo to a Cadillac. They replace their scooters every nine months, so you’re always in the newest product.
All Gold Mobility scooters come with a fan, front basket, cell phone holder, drink holder (more on that in a second), and a USB port by default, as well as all the usual features such as a battery, rain cover, ponchos, etc. I didn’t think I’d use the cell phone holder but I did, a few times — just remember not to park your scooter and leave your phone behind. You can add a cane, walker or oxygen holder or a rear basket at no cost. Victory 10 scooters can add a sunshade. The scooters are so well cared for it feels like they just came off the factory line. New, clean, and very comfortable.
The seat on the Gold Mobility scooter is fully adjustable. This was a huge plus for me. Other scooters I’d rented did not allow me to change the tilt of the seat back. The Pride Victory 10’s seat could lean quite far back or be more than upright. As a person who absolutely needs back support, this was vital for me. I’ve finished scooter days in agony because there was no support from a non-adjustable seat that was set at too much of a recline. Not the case at all with Gold Mobility’s scooters.
And the cup holder! I know this seems like a small thing to be excited about, but it’s so conveniently placed below the steering wheel, roomy but snug enough that you don’t have to worry about your drink being jostled.
Gold Mobility can’t leave your scooter with Bell Services, but they do offer “white-gloved personalized delivery.” This means *you* get to pick your delivery and pick up time, no need to work around their schedule. A very polite employee of the company brings it right to your resort at whatever time you specify, and answers any questions you might have.
Now, one caveat. Gold Mobility only rents their scooters by the week, not by the day. If you only need the scooter for four or five days, for example, they’ll come pick it up at that time, but you’re still paying the one-week rate. That gave me some pause at first, but truth be told, the cost difference isn’t much. All the ECV rental companies work on a sliding scale so that the first day is the most expensive, and the last the least. In other words, the difference between paying for five days and seven isn’t much no matter where you go.
These are only three of the third-party ECV rental companies out there, and there are quite a few more (Walker Mobility, Apple Scooters, etc.) Look around for reviews on those or try one of the companies mentioned above to find what suits you the best.
COMING SOON: Part 4, how to choose the right ECV for you.
We had a chance to ride EPCOT’s newest attraction a little bit early at a Passholder Preview for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, which opens to the public on October 1, 2021. It was a lot of fun! Here’s a largely spoiler-free (no ride pics, but a few helpful bits of information) review.
After being lucky enough to get a spot at the preview (Passholders, always check your emails!), we headed to EPCOT last week. The new Remy ride is on the right-hand side of the France pavilion, towards the back. The entire area is Remy-themed and full of delightful details.
Also in this section of the France Pavilion you’ll find La Crêperie de Paris, a new restaurant that offers both sweet and savory crêpes. There is a sit-down section as well as a to go window. If you want to check out the menu, visit the Disney Parks Blog for all the details. Lines at all of the previews were long, so this new dining offering is sure to be a hit.
After a short wait in line, we were able to ride!
The ride car and indeed much of the experience of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is very similar to another relatively new ride, this one in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Minnie & Mickey’s Runaway Railway. Both feature trackless cars and digital screens. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is suitable for guests of any height.
The ride car, which looks like a friendly rat, has two rows with three seats each in a bench with small dividers. I am tall and not small, and I fit comfortably in the middle seat of the back row (a Cast Member told me the back row has a little more legroom than the front). The door to get into the vehicle is a bit small and up a step; it helps to turn a bit sideways and shimmy in. Once seated, you lower a lap bar yourself to a comfortable point and then you’re off!
In Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, your point of view is that of a rat scampering around Remy’s kitchen. A combination of force perspective and 3D screens (yes, there are glasses) create an immersive illusion, with a few surprises I won’t ruin for you here. I will say, though, for those concerned about motion sickness: while I was fine for 90% of the ride, there was one particular segment that had me feeling a little too dizzy. I closed my eyes for maybe ten seconds until the scene calmed down and then was fine.
Overall, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is a delightful ride that is a terrific addition to the World Showcase. Remy has long been the Food & Wine Festival’s mascot and he deserves a little love! What this ride isn’t is a game-changer or a thrill ride of any kind. Anyone expecting the an awe-inspiring experience like Flight of Passage is going to be disappointed; anyone looking for a fun update on the much-loved dark rides of Fantasyland (Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh) will enjoy it a great deal.
Having said that, be prepared: when the ride opens on October 1, Disney plans to use a virtual queue similar to that being used on Rise of the Resistance. From the Disney World site:
“When Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure initially opens, in order to experience the attraction, Guests will be required to join the virtual queue. A standby queue will not be available at opening. The virtual queue will be limited and subject to availability. Each Guest can enter the virtual queue no more than once per day.”
Of course, when the new Genie+ and Lightning Lane system comes online this fall, there may be other options for securing a spot on this new attraction. Stay tuned for more details!
Disneyland has announced today a new program to replace annual passes, called Magic Key.
“When you’re a Magic Key holder, Disneyland is your land—you’re a townsperson on Main Street, U.S.A., a galactic citizen of Batuu, a hero at Avengers Campus, a local at Pixar Pier and beyond. You belong to the community of core Disneyland fans who all share a passion and love for the parks.”
The Dream Key has no blockout dates. Blockout calendars for the other Keys can be seen here:
“Vacationers have more options to choose from than ever for transportation, including ride-share services that save time and offer more flexibility to go where they want, when they want. In light of this shift, when Disney Resort hotel bookings open for stays in 2022, we will no longer offer Disney’s Magical Express service for airport transportation, starting with arrivals Jan. 1, 2022. We will continue to operate the service for new and existing reservations made at Disney Resort hotels for arrivals throughout 2021.”
Disney went on to reassure guests that other complimentary transportation options such as buses, monorails and Disney Skyliner will continue to be available within Walt Disney World Resort for Disney Resort hotel guests, including to and from all four theme parks.
As locals to the area, the Magical Express wasn’t something that we used, but I know it’s a huge favorite service for many guests. While expected, this news is probably a disappointment for many.
Pixar Animation Studios announced today that its next feature film release will be “Luca.” Directed by Academy Award® nominee Enrico Casarosa (“La Luna”) and produced by Andrea Warren (“Lava,” “Cars 3”), “Luca” is set to open in U.S. theaters June 18, 2021. The voice cast has yet to be announced.
Set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, the original animated feature is a coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta, and endless scooter rides. Luca shares these adventures with his newfound best friend, but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: he is a sea monster from another world just below the water’s surface.
This movie sounds like a beautiful love story to Italy, friendship, and growing up. I can’t wait to see it.
BURBANK, Calif. (March 20, 2020) –The Walt Disney Studios announced today that Disney and Pixar’s “Onward” will be available to buy digitally and on Movies Anywhere beginning today at 5:00PM PST/ 8:00PM EST and on Disney+ on April 3 in the U.S.
The film premiered in theaters on March 6 and earned rave reviews from audiences, including a 95% Verified Audience Score on RottenTomatoes. With cinemas currently impacted by closures due to the global health crisis, Disney will offer the film ahead of schedule to purchase on digital platforms in the U.S. beginning today at 5:00PM PST /8:00PM EST for $19.99.
“While we’re looking forward to audiences enjoying our films on the big screen again soon, given the current circumstances, we are pleased to release this fun, adventurous film to digital platforms early for audiences to enjoy from the comfort of their homes,” said Dan Scanlon (Director, “Onward”) and Kori Rae (Producer, “Onward”).
In “Onward,” teenage elf brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot (voices of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) get an unexpected opportunity to spend one more day with their late dad, embarking on an extraordinary quest aboard Barley’s epic van Guinevere. Like any good quest, their journey is filled with magic spells, cryptic maps, impossible obstacles and unimaginable discoveries. But when the boys’ fearless mom Laurel (voice of Julia Louis-Dreyfus) realizes her sons are missing, she teams up with a part-lion, part-bat, part-scorpion, former warrior – aka The Manticore (voice of Octavia Spencer) – and heads off to find them. Perilous curses aside, this one magical day could mean more than any of them ever dreamed.