The Best of Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdomby Steve Russo, staff writer
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
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
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
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
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
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.
I have a hard time referring to a fireworks show as an attraction but I guess it is.
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.
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.
1. Be Our Guest Restaurant
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
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.
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.
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.