When our family spent Christmas 2020 at Disney World, masks were required at all times unless seated for a meal, lines had markers for social distancing, Fast Pass lines were completely gone in order to use that space for extra distancing, and restaurant capacity was very limited with tables spread out. Ordering a meal at quick service restaurants was done almost exclusively by using the Disney World app.
So we were anxious to see how things had changed when David and I went by ourselves at the end of August 2021. During Christmas, we had stayed in a 3-bedroom villa off-site that could accommodate our whole family with a kitchen, living area and separate bathrooms. However, we stayed on site this time, since it was only the two of us.
I chose the Caribbean Beach resort, which is a moderate Disney resort. We had stayed there about 30 years ago, so I was anxious to see how Disney has kept up the resort. But more than that, the Caribbean Beach resort is the hub of the new Disney Skyliner and I wanted to see what it was like using that as transportation. We were very happy to be placed in the Jamaica section, which has the most direct access to the Skyliner.
While the rooms don’t stand out in any way, they’re quiet, clean and comfortable. It’s nice to have a refrigerator available in the room and the lay-out with the toilet and tub/shower separated from the double sinks, makes it easier to share the room with family members, if necessary. The large main pool was often busy with lots of energetic children playing, but each section of the resort has its own separate pool with lounge chairs. Those were much quieter and there were always plenty of lounge chairs and towels available.
We were never able to get a reservation at the main table service restaurant at the Caribbean Beach, called Sebastian’s Bistro, but we had no trouble with walk-up service at the outdoor café and bar called Banana Cabana. Restaurant reservations are the hardest thing to get when making last-minute plans at Disney World!
As expected, the best part of staying at the Caribbean Beach resort was easy access to the Skyliner! We’re not big fans of using the motorcoaches. The Skyliner gave direct access to both Hollywood Studios and Epcot with a very pleasant ride sailing above the roads and buildings. The breeze was wonderful and the views were fascinating. It gave us a whole new feel for the lay-out of the parks. We loved not only the ease of using the Skyliner, but also the separate entry into Epcot, which is near France, rather than at the front of the park. We enjoyed it so much that on most days, we used our park hopper access to go from one park to the next using the monorail and Skyliner combination. This required walking from the World Showcase in Epcot, through the front of the park, to access the monorail. It’s definitely more walking than going directly on a bus, but that didn’t bother us. The only park that had to be accessed by motorcoach transportation or by driving our own car was Animal Kingdom. We were happy to leave our car parked in the resort lot and use the bus, which does have the advantage of dropping you off and picking you up with a very short walk to the park entrance.
We managed to snag a last-minute reservation in Topolino’s Terrace, on the top floor of the new Riviera Resort. The Riviera Resort is located right on the same lake as the Caribbean Beach resort, along the walking/jogging trail that circles the lake, joining the two resorts. It’s also possible to take the Skyliner from the Caribbean Beach station to the Riviera Resort station. Although it’s a pricey meal, we enjoyed Topolino’s for its relaxed, but refined service and tasty menu. I always struggle to find good food with my gluten and dairy allergies. I didn’t have a bunch of choices, but they worked with me nicely. We shared a warm olive appetizer that was amazing, especially alongside the fresh gluten free bread. We would definitely splurge on another meal there in the future.
Another restaurant we tried for the first time was the Jungle Navigation Co LTD Skipper Canteen. It’s located in Magic Kingdom, pretty much across from the newly renovated and re-imagined Jungle Cruise. The restaurant carries on with some of the same goofy humor used in the Jungle Cruise ride, but our waitress focused more on good service than being funny. We very much appreciated that. We were surprised and excited to find a Stellenbosch wine available on the menu, which was one of the wines we had enjoyed during our recent trip to Cape Town, South Africa. It was as delicious as we remembered and greatly enhanced our enjoyment of the restaurant, which is otherwise just so-so, in our opinion. They were very careful about my allergies and I enjoyed a fried chicken dish that is seldom something available to me. So the good service, nice wine selection and decent options on the allergy menu, made up for what we considered a so-so atmosphere.
While we were there, masks were required indoors only. As long as the lines were outdoors, most people didn’t wear a mask. Then we’d all put them on as soon as we reached an indoor section of the line or the ride. The distancing markers in the lines that we saw in December were no longer there for the majority of the rides, and it looked like they were preparing to use the Fast Pass lanes again soon. We didn’t really need the fast passes in late August since crowds were low most days. Between school starting up and the lack of foreigners arriving in the U.S., the wait times weren’t bad at all. Often, we found the wait times were lower than advertised.
As in December, we enjoyed the pop-up mini parades, or cavalcades. They’re quick and fun and help avoid the back-ups of crowds along the parade routes. Also, characters were often found in little staged areas all over the parks. There’s no personal contact, but they interact with the crowd and pose for pictures.
There’s a lot of construction in Epcot right now, as Disney prepares for its 50th Anniversary celebration starting October 1st. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will open on the same date. Hopefully, fast passes and meal plans will be available again soon!