The Best of Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdom

by Steve Russo, staff writer
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Since writing my first column for MousePlanet, way back in February 2008 (Wow! Has it really been that long?), I've tried hard to make each column an opinion piece. Some of my opinions elicit general agreement from my readers while others generate some, shall we say "spirited," discussion on the MousePad forum. To be honest, I can usually predict which end of that spectrum a column will fall as soon as I've written it.

For this column, and the next several, I've decided to meld my propensity for giving my opinion with my love of lists. It's well documented that I'm a sucker for lists of all types: top 10 films of last year; top three snacks for under $5.00; best center fielders not named Mickey. Again, this is no surprise but I especially enjoy lists involving Walt Disney World. While I certainly have my favorites, it's always fun to compare one's own likes and dislikes with someone else's. I've made more than a few Advance Dining Reservations after reading why someone else loves the (fill in the name) restaurant and ranks it ahead of one of my own favorites.

While choosing my favorites in each category, I've decided there should be no rules except attractions, shows and restaurants should appeal across the spectrum of Walt Disney World guests—generally ages five to 75. If we go much younger or older, we'll risk being a tad too restrictive. If I happen to select something that's slanted toward a specific category of guest, I'll try to mention that and the reasons why. Ready? Here we go.

Top Seven Magic Kingdom Attractions

Top seven? OK, why seven? No particular reason except I thought there are so many attractions in the Magic Kingdom that three or five wouldn't be enough and ten was too many.

1. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad


Hold on to your hats and glasses! Photo by Steve Russo.

As roller coasters go, it's neither the biggest nor the baddest, but this "wildest ride in the wilderness" never fails to produce smiles from young and old alike. It's not wild enough to aggravate my sciatica nor scary enough to keep the average 6-year-old from enjoying it. Its quick dips and turns through caverns and avalanches have provided family fun almost since the park opened.

Big Thunder also sports one of the best-themed queues in the World complete with music that is reminiscent of the Old Eest. Its queue was also recently improved with additional artifacts and a few interactive elements as well.

2. Mickey's Philharmagic


Maestro Mickey and his Philharmagic. Photo by Steve Russo.

I know that not everyone will agree with me on this choice, especially at #2, but it's been a favorite of mine since it first appeared in 2003. It features Donald Duck, long one of my favorite Disney characters, who can make me laugh just by being on screen. I'm also a fan of many of the songs from Disney films and this attraction boasts the best, from "Part of Your World" to "Be Our Guest" to "A Whole New World." I'm now waiting for an update so they can get "Let It Go" from Frozen in there.

3. Jungle Cruise


Yes, it's the back side of water. Photo by Steve Russo.

So much depends on the skill—and the mood—of your skipper,  but this ride through the world's most exotic rivers is always fun. I believe one of the keys for ride enjoyment is its repeatability and the Jungle Cruise has that in spades. I can't begin to count the number of times I've ridden this but I seem to hear something new on each trip—a pun I haven't heard previously or a Skipper's ad lib. Most importantly, I'm still not tired of seeing the "back side of water" or having our Skipper "point out some of my favorite foliage."

4. Pirates of the Caribbean


Captain Jack Sparrow. Photo by Steve Russo.

The repeatability factor is also at work here. I can't tell you why this is a favorite—I'm really not sure; but I ride it whenever we're in the Magic Kingdom. There have been a number of updates over the past several years (the inclusion of Captain Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, mermaids) but it's essentially the same ride that was built in the 1970s. Nevertheless, it remains a favorite of mine today.

5. Splash Mountain

This is likely #1 on many lists. It would be a great ride even without the drop at the end, but it does have that drop at the end. It's so well themed—the music is fun and the ride offers some of the best audio animatronics at the World.

6. Haunted Mansion


The home of 999 ghosts. Photo by Steve Russo.

This attraction has been there since park opening in 1971 and epitomizes the "classic Disney attraction." It's fun and not too scary for the little ones. I've heard so much about how much better some of the other versions are, most notably Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland, and I'd love to make the comparisons someday. For today, however, this home to 999 haunts remains a favorite. I'd also offer kudos to the Imagineers for the most recent updates to the interactive queue, the ride itself (I love the Escher staircase) and the tremendous effects with the hitchhiking ghosts at the ride's end.

7. Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover

Once (still, for me) called the WEDWay, this 10-minute trip through and around Tomorrowland provides aerial views of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Space Mountain, the Tomorrowland Speedway and the Astro Orbiter. It's a fun way to see those attractions, while at the same time giving your tired aching feet a deserved rest. And there's almost never a line for this attraction.

Honorable Mentions

Wishes

I have a hard time referring to a fireworks show as an attraction but I guess it is.


Wishes. Photo by Steve Russo.

Space Mountain

I've always liked this ride but I have to admit that the sharp turns and dips, in the darkness, now prove to be an obstacle for these old bones and joints. It's a shame but I probably haven't ridden in four or five years.

Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin

It's still a fun ride but, in my opinion, is beginning to show signs of wear. A refurbishment may be in order but the ride itself has been eclipsed by the technology at work in Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It wouldn't upset me if this attraction returned to its roots with a variation on If We Could Fly or Dreamflight.


Still fun but showing its age? Photo by Steve Russo.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

I have a suspicion that it will be a fixture on future lists of this type.

Top Three Magic Kingdom Restaurants

Selecting restaurants is always difficult because individual tastes are so different. One man's filet mignon is another's turkey leg if you catch my drift. Nevertheless, I'll put forth opinions here for the top three in both the table service and counter service categories.

Table Service

1. Be Our Guest Restaurant


Try the grey stuff. Photo by Steve Russo.

It's only been around a short time but continues to deliver above average food at reasonable prices. By the way, whenever I use the term "reasonable prices," please assume there's a "for Disney World" following it.

2. Liberty Tree Tavern

It's so well themed, boasting a Colonial feel with six dining rooms commemorating figures from U.S. history. There's nothing glamorous about the menu, but it's comfort food at its best.

3. Tony's Town Square


Tony's. Photo by Steve Russo.

Its menu is Italian and it's admittedly more Olive Garden than your neighborhood, go-to Italian restaurant, but the food is good and the Lady and the Tramp theming is a very nice touch.

Counter Service

1. Columbia Harbor House

It's a rare counter service establishment that doesn't offer burgers, which may be why I like it so much. The feel is nautical New England, the menu leans toward seafood (well, tuna, battered fish and a lobster roll, anyway) and you can usually find a table. For a quieter dining experience, and some great people-watching vantages, head upstairs with your food.

2. Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café

It's counter service food in every sense but I enjoy the variety of separate stations for burgers, salads and chicken. And who doesn't appreciate the song stylings of the resident Audio-Animatronic alien "lounge lizard," Sonny Eclipse?

3. Casey's Corner

Yeah, I'm a sucker for sodium and nitrates so an all-American hot dog is high on my list. I do enjoy the baseball-themed venu,e but a recent refurbishment has removed the bleachers and cartoons in favor of more tables. The place needed more tables but I, for one, will miss the Goofy sports-related films. They're among the best.

Honorable Mention

While it's not a favorite of mine, I know there's a large fan base for the Crystal Palace so it needs mentioning.

OK, folks… have at it. Let me know where I'm right and where I'm… not so right. As always, thanks for reading.

Comments

  1. By mkelm44

    First off Steve, I always like your Opinion columns- agree or disagree, it's wonderful to have a "conversation" about a mutual passion.

    I think my #1 attraction is Philharmagic, because it does such a wonderful job of reminding us of all of those great emotions we had watching those movies- it's one of the best pure Disney Magic shows in the parks. A lot of the classics follow, but I also want to agree with you on Toy Story- I'm a big fan of interactive experiences and the Space Ranger Spin is a great active experience as opposed to many of the other rides which are more of sit back and enjoy type of rides.

    But what I really want to write is what I think the biggest thing that you're missing here- the monorail. The monorail from the transportation and ticket center around to the gates is as much of an attraction as any ride inside the parks. From the moment the doors close and you hear the spiel welcoming you on board the Walt Disney World express monorail for the first time on a trip is the focal point of all of the excitement you have felt in the months since you booked the trip, that built when you boarded the plane or got in your car to start your trip, when you arrived in Orlando and saw your first Disney billboard, since you passed through the arch over the road and started seeing Disney signs. Like waking up on Christmas morning, you know that you are only minutes away from a wonderful experience. To me that is as much Disney magic as any ride or show in the parks, for as many other places that monorails are- various zoos the Las Vegas Strip, airports- there is none quite like the one in Disney. In many ways up until that point your experiences have been ordinary- driving a car, flying on a plane, riding a bus- but the Monorail is the very first experience that travelers have that is unique to Disney. Our "Highway in the Sky" definitely deserves some love on the best of Disney list.

  2. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by mkelm44 View Post
    First off Steve, I always like your Opinion columns- agree or disagree, it's wonderful to have a "conversation" about a mutual passion.

    I think my #1 attraction is Philharmagic, because it does such a wonderful job of reminding us of all of those great emotions we had watching those movies- it's one of the best pure Disney Magic shows in the parks. A lot of the classics follow, but I also want to agree with you on Toy Story- I'm a big fan of interactive experiences and the Space Ranger Spin is a great active experience as opposed to many of the other rides which are more of sit back and enjoy type of rides.

    But what I really want to write is what I think the biggest thing that you're missing here- the monorail. The monorail from the transportation and ticket center around to the gates is as much of an attraction as any ride inside the parks. From the moment the doors close and you hear the spiel welcoming you on board the Walt Disney World express monorail for the first time on a trip is the focal point of all of the excitement you have felt in the months since you booked the trip, that built when you boarded the plane or got in your car to start your trip, when you arrived in Orlando and saw your first Disney billboard, since you passed through the arch over the road and started seeing Disney signs. Like waking up on Christmas morning, you know that you are only minutes away from a wonderful experience. To me that is as much Disney magic as any ride or show in the parks, for as many other places that monorails are- various zoos the Las Vegas Strip, airports- there is none quite like the one in Disney. In many ways up until that point your experiences have been ordinary- driving a car, flying on a plane, riding a bus- but the Monorail is the very first experience that travelers have that is unique to Disney. Our "Highway in the Sky" definitely deserves some love on the best of Disney list.

    First, let me say, "Thanks." Then, I'll say, "Dammit! You're jumping ahead!" ;-)

    Actually, I've been toying with an "Outside the Parks" column to finish off this series and the monorail would have been on that list. I couldn't justify it for the MK only because it's such a big part of the MK resorts and Epcot - I love the loop inside the park there.

    At any rate, thanks for endorsing what I'll probably say in a few months... :-)

  3. By Lovethemouse

    Hi Steve.
    On the attraction front - I'd put Space Mountain in place of the People Mover. There are so many great attractions at the Magic Kingdom that it's hard to really rate them - for me the list will change depending on my mood. However I am very much in agreement with most of your list.

    On another note, I just got back from a trip to Hong Kong last week. Mystic Manor is a great attraction, but it is not a Haunted Mansion. There are no happy haunts there! There's only inanimate objects coming to life in a very cool and very entertaining way. I rode the Mystic Manor attraction more than any other in Hong Kong Disneyland.

    Thanks for another thought provoking article.

  4. By mkelm44

    Quote Originally Posted by srusso100 View Post
    First, let me say, "Thanks." Then, I'll say, "Dammit! You're jumping ahead!" ;-)

    Actually, I've been toying with an "Outside the Parks" column to finish off this series and the monorail would have been on that list. I couldn't justify it for the MK only because it's such a big part of the MK resorts and Epcot - I love the loop inside the park there.

    At any rate, thanks for endorsing what I'll probably say in a few months... :-)

    Okay, I'll wait a few months for the Monorail section. Feel free to give me a co-author credit for it

  5. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by Lovethemouse View Post
    There are so many great attractions at the Magic Kingdom that it's hard to really rate them -

    Yep.

  6. By DisneyGator

    Hey, great article! Being "stuck" going to Disneyland last year and for at least the next two years, it makes me miss MY Magic Kingdom. When I'm at DL, I certainly miss what's probably my #2 at MK as well, Philharmagic. If there's a "Disney" attraction, that is the one. I took my 65yo dad to WDW two years ago and he flew home saying that was his favorite attraction.

    As for food, I've never done Be Our Guest for Table Service, but the lunch there is great as is the theming. But your other two, Liberty Tree and Tony's.... I don't consider it a WDW trip without eating at these places. The eggplant parm at Tony's is probably my favorite dish at WDW.

    As for Space MT not making the list, I certainly get that. The WDW version can be brutal - I can usually ride it once and then no more. The DL version is much faster and smoother that it leaves much to be desired when we make a trip to FL.

  7. By jms1969

    I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series...I usually find myself agreeing with your opinions, and this article was no exception. I could quibble a little bit about the exact ranking order of the attractions, but I generally agree with the list. I was glad to see the People Mover (TTA) get some love...while it certainly isn't the wildest ride in the park, there's something about riding it and being able to relax and just take in the scenery that is probably my favorite part of being at WDW. The fact it never has a line is also great - it was always the perfect ride to relax for a bit while you were waiting for your Fastpass for one of the nearby rides. While that part is gone, the ride is still a simple Disney classic that can be enjoyed by all ages.

    I probably also am a little more positive towards Buzz Lightyear than I sense you are. While a technical upgrade would be nice, the current tech works well, and competing with the family for high score is always one of the high points of the trip. It would definitely be in my top 7.

    I'd probably also add Pecos Bill's to the list instead of Casey's Corner, which dropped off my list for the reasons you mentioned. The loss of the bleachers and cartoons, in the interest of adding more seating, was not a positive change in my mind. Pecos Bill's is very well themed, and the toppings bar (which is also one of the reasons we love Cosmic Ray's) gives a lot of opportunities to build a burger just the way you like it, and cheese fries are always a huge hit for the family. Sure...it's "bulk loader" food, but we're on vacation, right???

  8. By carolinakid

    Great list, but for me I'd put Philharmagic as #1 and add Space Mt instead of the TTA Peoplemover. I'm not a big fan of the Pirates additions but the ride still deserves to be on the list. I love BOG and have enjoyed LTT and Tony's but seeing them as the top 3 TS restaurants only makes it clearer that the MK defintiely needs more TS venues that aren't character meals. BOG was a start in the right direction. Too bad there's no room in the castle (I presume) for a dining experience that would be more upscale, perhaps a French/Continental cuisine place akin to Monsieur Paul or a steakhouse. In my perfect Disney MK, each land would have a nice TS restaurant.

  9. By yedliw

    My top three (in no particular order) are Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise and Pirates.. On my last trip, the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor jumped up on my list.. not sure it is a top 7.. but it is definitely an honorable mention.. It is up there with the most re-doability (is that a word? ) since much of the material is pulled from the crowd.

    I haven't had a chance to get int BOG for dinner.. but have had lunch there. I love Liberty Tree. The food is great, and I love the decor.

    I look forward to the rest of the parts of this series while I dream about our next trip which is still a ways off..

  10. By baylakebeliever

    Hi Steve,
    Yes, Big Thunder Mountain is such a great ride for the whole family, especially at night when you get a totally different perspective! POtC is a great attraction; the AA’s are just superb not to mention that all of it is in shade/ dark ride which makes it nice and cool during the summer months. My personal favorite is Peter Pan, flying over London is just fantastic! Liberty Tree has one of the best sit down meals however the Crystal Palace is one of my family’s favorites. It’s a tradition on our first day at WDW to have supper here. Also there is a great photo op of the castle without other guests behind you in the shot. We will be dining at Be Our Guest for the first time this August, and can hardly wait! Thanks again for sending some pixie dust our way and I am looking forward to the other articles over the next few months!
    Gail

  11. By tshoster

    Great article as always. I myself have always like the people Mover from when I was a kid in the 70s to now. It is always a must do for me. But I thought I was one of the few that like Philarmagic. Same reason as you Donald is my favorite Disney Character. I don't know if they still sell the Donald Duck butt hats but I bought one when I was there last with my kids and still wear it sometimes outside of WDW.

  12. By FortWilderness IsHome

    Steve,

    As always a wonderful column you have written! I share many of your favorites. However, I would have to knock Jungle Cruise off the list and add Space Mountain. I do love Jungle Cruise though, especially at night, so I would put that on the Honorable Mention list!

    The TTA will ALWAYS be the Wedway for me too! Our whole family LOVES that ride!

    Sadly, I can't even put Buzz on the Honorable Mention list. I could happily live out the rest of my days never setting foot on that ride again! lol!! If it was set up like the one at Disneyland where you can actually hold the gun in your hand to aim and can tell much easier if you have actually hit a target, then it would make the list for me! I view that ride as a place to sit and rest in the air conditioning and nothing more.

    I have never eaten at Tony's before. Totally agree about the Columbia Harbor House. I love, love, love that!

    Thanks for sharing Steve! I always love to read your opinion pieces.

    Heidi

  13. By DwarfPlanet

    I agree Space Mountain does not rate a best of list until they actually do a decent refurb like they did on DLR's. Even my sons who are 20 years younger agree the MK version beats the crap out of you and where's the fun in that.

  14. By Goodnplenty

    I tend to agree with the picks from Chris Barry's article from 3 weeks ago, "My Disney Top 5, Things to Love About the Magic Kingdom." I noticed that you both picked Wishes.

    GnP

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