Memorial Day Weekend at Disney (2021)

With the pandemic starting to get under control and things heading back towards “normal” we decided to try a mini (Minnie?) family vacation to kick off the summer and head over to Disney World for Memorial Day Weekend. The last time we did this was 2018. Normally our annual trip to Disney is Labor Day weekend, but with my daughter now in college there are fewer times we can actually go as a family and Labor Day isn’t one of them. We also still don’t have our annual passes so this was just a single day, single park trip.

We drove over early Saturday afternoon and went straight to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We weren’t staying there, but we wanted to try Sanaa for lunch (the guard at the gate was nice enough to let us in after I explained we were just coming for lunch before checking into our hotel). We wanted to sit in the bar anyway, since we didn’t have reservations, and that worked out perfectly as we didn’t have to wait and were the only people in that general area. All of the Disney cast members were wearing masks and face shields, which made us comfortable to actually eat, indoors, at a restaurant!

After lunch (the bread service is great, I recommend it!) we drove over to the Swan & Dolphin to check into our room at the Dolphin. Most people don’t realize that the Swan & Dolphin are not Disney-owned hotels. The Swan is a Westin property and the Dolphin is Sheraton, but both are now owned by Marriott so I get points! 🙂 They can also typically be cheaper than Disney properties, especially on holiday weekend. You still get some Disney benefits, like free parking at the parks, Early Magic Hours (when they have them), and use of the transportation system. We like them, too, because they’re walking distance to the back gate of Epcot (along with the Boardwalk). Our room faced Epcot … too bad there are still no evening firework shows! After getting settled in (and waiting out a typical Florida afternoon rain shower), we took a walk around the loop from the hotel, to the Boardwalk, around through the Beach Club and Yacht Club resorts, and then back to the Boardwalk for some ice cream. After sunset, we drove over to Disney Springs to have a drink and grab a snack (pizza from Pizza Ponte). As expected, it was pretty crowded, but again it was fun to be spending an evening out.

Sunday was when we had our park reservation for Epcot to see our second-favorite (after Food & Wine!) festival, the Flower & Garden Festival. No more early hours for the parks, so since Epcot didn’t open until 11am, we got to sleep in. My wife and I don’t sleep in as much as a college student though, so we slipped out for a morning walk and grabbed breakfast at the Beach Club and ate in the Solarium (a little side room we’d always seen but never gone into, and it’s really nice!). Back at the Dolphin, we woke up my daughter, everyone got cleaned up and dressed for the day, and we walked over to Epcot arriving shortly after the back gate opened (no more fingerprint scanners, touchless entry!). FastPasses are another thing that hasn’t come back yet, so we immediately walked over to Test Track to wait in line. You don’t get to design your car anymore (again, no more touching stuff!) which actually made the line move remarkably quickly (it’s amazing how more efficient things seem when you eliminate all the extra waiting areas). We decided to skip Frozen, but did ride Soarin’ and went through the greenhouses in Living with the Land (always a favorite during the festival). We spent the rest of the day walking around the park, sampling the food and beverages from festival stalls, checking out the garden displays, and also looking at the progress of all the construction going on. All of the parks are not open as late anymore (and again, no fireworks) so we walked back to our hotel shortly before Epcot closed at 9am. We thought we might walk over and play some mini-golf, but the course was also closing soon so we decided to just go to Kimonos over in the Swan where we sat at the bar and had a nice little late dinner of sushi and sake.

Monday morning my wife and I got up early to head to Disney Springs to get donuts from Everglazed. My daughter had seen it Friday night while we were walking around and we thought starting the day off with surprise donuts couldn’t be a bad idea. The parking lots don’t actually open until 9am, though, so we ended up driving to Starbucks over on Apopka Vineland to get drinks and kill some time. We made it back, pulled into a basically empty parking lot, and were in line for security not too far from the front. Who knew we’d end up at “rope drop” at Disney Springs? 😉 It looked like most folks were heading straight for Gideon’s, but we hung a left out of the garage and were the first ones at Everglazed. 15 minutes later we were driving back to our hotel with the donuts. We wanted to be over at the Fantasia Gardens and Fairways miniature golf course right when it opened at 10am, so after eating (mmmm … maple bacon donut) we walked over to the course. There was already a line, but most families were there for the Gardens course which we had done in the past and wanted to try the more challenging Fairways course. One we got through the initial line, however, there were already a few parties ahead of us so we still had to wait before playing each hole. Even with out late checkout at noon, we had to skip ahead a few holes and then rush back to the room, freshen up, pack up, and check out. We drove back to Disney Springs to do some shopping and my daughter got us into the virtual queue for Gideon’s Bakehouse. While we were having a late lunch/early dinner at Jaleo, our place in the virtual queue came up so after we were done eating we headed back to the bakery. My daughter loved this place … it’s like a Harry Potter themed bakery with huge cookies and cakes. It was good, but I don’t understand why people show up at 9am to stand in line (it doesn’t open until 10am). Anyway, at least we did it once.

That was the end of our mini vacation and we hit the road to get back home. It was definitely nice to be out and about and see some semblance of normalcy returning to the world. Now I’m looking forward to our hopeful return in September for Labor Day Weekend and the Food & Wine Festival!

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