New Year’s Mousin’ Eve

Happy 2021! It felt so nice to ring in the new year, snuggled with my family in our room at Disney’s Coronado Springs resort. We had never visited Disney over New Year’s before, as that is typically the most crowded time of the year to be there. We’re talking deep lines to wait for every single thing and that’s just not our jam. However, the capacity limits on the parks made the decision to visit over New Year’s a pretty easy one for us. Hopping on a plane again, we flew south to get away for a few days and celebrate 2021, Disney style.

We’ve stayed at Coronado Springs several times in the past, but this was our first stay in the new Gran Destino Tower at that resort. Let me just say — swanky! Loved the deluxe feel of this moderate level resort. The lobby here is stunning and ultra-modern. I can’t wait to visit again!

Looking down to the lower level of the lobby of Disney’s Coronado Springs resort’s Gran Destino Tower

Coronado is a fairly large moderate level resort, with four Disney bus stops providing bus transportation to the four theme parks and Disney Springs. Staying at Coronado in the past though, I knew that the buses were usually not that busy, so I had no worries on the transportation front. In fact, we had the bus to ourselves several times during this trip, coming or going from one place or another. All transportation is still socially distanced or divided, as I mentioned in my last trip report from November, and I am absolutely loving not having to worry about standing up on a bus when heading home after a long day in the parks!

Park hopping came back as of January 1st and I had the chance to hop between Hollywood Studios and Epcot one day during this visit. Hopping never was for everyone, and that remains true now more than ever. You must have a Park Pass reservation for the park that you will start the day in and you must actually enter that park before attempting to hop. After 2pm, you are allowed to hop to the second park of the day, based on that park’s availability. That seems to be where lots of questions lie. How do you know if the other park is at capacity? What about a dining reservation at the second park if you can’t get in? Why do I want to hop after 2pm if the park I’m trying to get to closes at 5pm (if you’re not asking yourself that, you should be)? Some of these are easy answers, like being mindful of the hours of the parks so you’re not wasting time and money to hop somewhere that will only give you two or three hours of park time. Others are harder, like knowing if the other park will be at capacity. Hopping gives you flexibility but it can also take it away. Since it isn’t free and can be a bit of a hassle with transportation at times, I’d probably leave it to those who really feel their trip won’t be complete without it.

Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom was shining in her new colors. I really like these and how much they remind me of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.

Cinderella Castle, welcoming 2021 with open gates

Have I mentioned capacity limits in the parks? So, to be clear, that in no way means that the parks are empty and that you’ll be walking on and riding everything you want without waiting. Never going to happen. However, it does mean that the crowd density is way down and the lines you see are much smaller than normal. Now, some of those lines are going to look like they are miles long. Thank social distancing for that. Many of the ride queues weren’t made for people needing to be in a six-foot bubble. The line for Frozen Ever After in Epcot was wrapped all around Norway and clear into China! But the wait was only like an hour. That’s less than you’d normally wait for Frozen on a pre-COVID day at the busiest time of the year (it would have been hours!) and the line was constantly moving. Anyone who says the lines are ‘so long’ right now don’t have much park experience, especially at busy times of the year. Peter Pan’s Flight in Magic Kingdom was like 25 minutes! I mean really folks. That line is always 75 minutes+ every day of the year.

Another cool thing? When the density is down, you can see things in the parks that you might normally squeeze on by. Since there are no fireworks and Castle stage shows, you can walk through the middle of Cinderella Castle all day! I don’t know when the last time that happened was. This gives you so much time to be able to stop to admire the incredible tile murals in the Castle and the detail that they contain. Highly recommend taking a peek at these! Another thing you’re likely to have missed in the past are these cute little bronze statues in Magic Kingdom near the hub area in front of Cinderella Castle. Bet you’ve never even realized they are there before!

Donald Duck, feeling fancy!

Another thing that comes up a lot is the characters. Very few character meals are happening right now and the ones that are have no autographs because the characters can’t come directly to the tables, just walk by at a distance. There are no character meet and greets or scheduled parades in the parks either. What was Disney’s solution? Character cavalcades! These are great. Like unscheduled mini-parades, these pop-up all day long in all four parks. You never know who you might see going by on a float or a car. And the best thing? You don’t need to stake out a prime spot to watch the parade 30, 45, 60 minutes before it is scheduled to start! In fact, I was standing in line at a gift shop, heard the parade music start, hopped out of line and stood right at the parade going by. Literally nobody in front of me, around us, characters right there driving by. Took just a few minutes, got lots of pictures and waves, and back in the gift shop line I went. How.crazy.easy! In Magic Kingdom in particular, there were three sets of cavalcades happening. One had Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and the gang riding on a large float. Another had Pooh, Alice, Peter Pan, Aladdin, Mary Poppins, and Tigger The third was a huge float of princesses including all the main ladies plus Elena and the Fairy Godmother. We saw each one of these cavalcades at least three times one day! In Epcot, out of the blue appeared a horse-drawn carriage with Sleeping Beauty, Belle, and Snow White onboard. In fact, we had no idea the carriage was even coming, it was just there all of the sudden. Then, as it passed, we jumped right behind it and followed it all the way to the Mexico Pavilion, where it went backstage at the end of its route. It was like we were part of the parade too!

Aurora, Belle, and Snow White, greeting their fans in Epcot

Of course, being huge Star Wars fans, we spent time one morning in Hollywood Studios, enjoying Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Going back to Batuu is always a trip highlight for us. This time, we were over the moon to have been able to finally be able to purchase a lightsaber set from Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities. The Ahsoka Tano Clone Wars lightsaber set came out in late October or early November and basically immediately sold out. We tried to find them at Thanksgiving, but no luck. Ebay has quite the collection of them for purchase at double, triple, quadruple, etc. their value, which just irks me to no end. However, we were able to score a set this time, after an apparent restock that had just happened that morning. Should’ve bought a lottery ticket to go with those lightsabers. For those that aren’t familiar with Ahsoka – you need to watch one of the Star Wars animated series called ‘The Clone Wars’. Besides being an incredible show, you get to meet Ahsoka, a great Star Wars heroine who has more recently appeared in the hit live action Star Wars show on Disney+, ‘The Mandalorian’. While in Hollywood Studios, we slide into a theater and watched the new ‘Vacation Fun’ show of Mickey shorts cartoons. These are on Disney+ too and so cute, the same Mickey cartoon style that is featured on the new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride at Hollywood Studios. This show just started right before COVID hit and is a definitely stop you should make on your next visit to the park. Adorable!

Oh no! Mickey’s still packing for vacation and it’s time to leave! Sound familiar?

During this trip, we also had another non-Disney mission. From November 13th through January 3rd, Give Kids the World in Kissimmee, about 15 minutes from Disney World, had a stunning display of holiday lights. For those of you that remember the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights show that used to be setup annually at Hollywood Studios, this will look familiar. Disney actually donated over three million of those lights to Give Kids the World for this event. We are huge Osborne Lights fans and I’ve always been curious about Give Kids the World, so I grabbed tickets for the event held on New Years Eve. What an incredible experience! Give Kids the World is a non-profit organization that sits on 89-acres, a ‘storybook’ village resort, where children with critical illnesses and their families are treated to a week-long vacation at no cost to them. Due to COVID, the organization hasn’t been able to grant the ‘wish’ of any families to visit the village for months and they are suffering financially from not being able to fundraise like they would in a typical year. The Night of a Million Lights even was born and sold out most every night of the event, which I am so happy to report. This village isn’t normally open to the public and being able to see it up-close and so beautifully decorated was something I’ll never forget. It has almost 300 villas, basically duplexes, where the families stay for a week during their visit. Like a subdivision, it was quite sprawling to walk through. A huge pool with waterplay area, a spa/salon, mini-golf, an arcade, mini-train set (so cool, you could activate certain features of the town the train runs through), a carousel, a small train for children to ride on, other amusement park attractions, restaurants, and so much more. I was in awe. If you want to support an organization that truly brings smiles to families when they are most desperately needed, this is it.

That’s all for now… happy 2021!

xoxo, Amber

Sunny days at the beach before Santa’s big visit

You know me, I have to gaze longingly at the ocean and breathe in the salty air to keep my soul in balance. The month doesn’t matter, I’ve dipped my toes in the ocean every month of the year at some point or another. The fam and I headed to Disney’s Hilton Head Island resort in South Carolina for a few days before Christmas rolled into town. It was such a fantastic time to get away from the holiday madness and reconnect with each other.

Disney has resorts all over the world (and no, they don’t all involve a theme park) but their property at Hilton Head remains as one of my favorites. It is so relaxing to sit in a rocker on your private balcony, staring out at the live oak trees, moss dangling from their branches. Watching the tide go in and out of the sound that the resort sits alongside. In warmer weather, spending time in the pool at the main resort or over at the Beach House makes for a great day. Since we visited in December and the weather was pleasant but not really great for swimming, we spent some time poolside but not in the water itself. The Beach House is a fantastic place to just sit in a chair and relax in the sun; it is located oceanfront and a short distance from the main resort (via shuttle, your own car, walking, or biking).

Something we always do while on resort is enjoy a Mickey tie-dye session. We were wondering how that would unfold in COVID times and, I have to say, it was super! The Cast Members had skillfully prepared the tie-dye area for maximum safety from cross-contamination and social distancing. The shirts were already rubber-banded for us in the traditional Mickey head tie-dye pattern (SO GREAT! This is always a challenge.) and all of the dye was clearly labeled. Each tie-dye participant had a good bit of space to create their art and the entire process felt less hectic than usual. Kudos to the team and I hope this process stays the same post-COVID!

We all love to collect seashells and explore the beach and we found an incredible new spot on the island, tucked away from the usual scene, full of so many things to observe. There were actual oyster reefs, a hidden river (that made the shells the water ran over become so smooth!), so many horseshoe crabs (only the shells though), shells like crazy (a bit unusual for Hilton Head), and a lot of peace and quiet. I’d love to share the location but — not gonna happen! I had to do some digging to find it and don’t want to spread the word on this one and have it lose its charm. All I can say is, do your research and you might find the joy that we did at this quiet spot. We found several shark teeth this time too and now I’m hooked on looking for those!

Dinner at the Salty Dog Cafe in Sea Pines was delish as always plus they offer outdoor seating if you’re not comfortable indoors during COVID. Their indoor seating was very distanced though and I didn’t have any concerns with safety. We were so happy to be able to try the Salty Dog Ice Cream Factory, which is never open when we visit Hilton Head, and enjoy some of their tasty offerings — pumpkin cheesecake, sweet potato casserole, gingerbread, eggnog, and so many more festive and standard flavors. Some fun times were spent at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store too, a blast from the past and full of Piggly Wiggly merch!

Let’s see, what else? Lots of Mickey waffles were consumed during our stay plus bunches of pin trading took place over at the Broad Creek Mercantile store. This resort is always one of the best for pin trading. The Cast Members here are so very friendly, management gets engaged and comes out to talk to the guests and help out the staff when needed, plus you have the typical Disney quality and cleanliness. We see some of the same Cast Members visit after visit and that’s so much fun for us to see ‘old friends’.

The hubs, kid, and I brought along my stepdad, two nieces, and my sister on this journey. My mom decided to stay back and prep for Christmas (boo!) so she missed all the fun. Other than some ridiculously loud neighbors (bless their hearts), we had a blast. We walked my poor stepdad for miles and miles but I think he enjoyed hanging out with the craziness. Another bright spot in the trip was the reconnecting. Sometimes when you travel with family, you have your moments when you want to lock each other out of the room, and we had some of those. But I have to say, I spent a lot of time with my sister and I think we both came away with a great experience. There was a lot of bonding going on, bent over picking up shells, and hoping that next find would be a shark tooth or some other super cool shell. Goofy moments in the car, food quirks, shell identifying, and sharing that pumpkin cheesecake ice cream made for some great memories. Thanks Leslie.

xoxo,

Amber