My Disney Top 5 - Magic Kingdom Tipsby Chris Barry, contributing writer
I'm thrilled to say that I'm in the ecstatic throes of planning my upcoming Walt Disney World vacation. Twelve of us are eagerly preparing to spend a summer week soaking up all of the Disney magic together for six days at The Yacht Club. Our package is booked. Our flights are booked. Our advance dining reservations are booked. It's all happening, the countdown has begun and it goes without saying that it's all that I can think about.
This time around when we land at the Orlando airport we will once again be arriving with our favorite Disney traveling companions by our side. It will be our third consecutive trip together with this family and we can't wait to be there with them again. A third family will also be joining us for all the fun this time. They've done their fair share of Disney, just not with us and we're more than happy to welcome them aboard. The more the merrier, right? In that vein one of my daughter's oldest and dearest friends will also be tagging along. This will be his very first Walt Disney World experience and as hard as this may be to comprehend given the years of Disney experience between all involved, out of all of us, he just might be the most excited. He can't wait to see what all the fuss is about.
It's been a long time since I've taken a first-timer along on a Disney adventure and truth be told, I'm eager to watch the magic infect someone new. If there's one thing that we Disney fans love, it's sharing our Disney experiences with other like-minded fans. And even more than that, I think something that we really love is sharing our knowledge, history and passion for Disney with a newbie and waiting for that moment when their eyes light up and they "get it."
There is a darker flip-side to all of this though. I suppose there's always the chance that he'll reject the whole experience. For all we know, the crowds, the heat, the lines and all that other extraneous stuff that we devotees cast aside, in order to be fully enveloped in the magic, might get the best of him. I have to concede that that possibility does exist. He could hate it and never want to go back again. Perhaps it's my optimistic dreamer side taking over here, but I don't think that's going to be the outcome with this particular individual. I think he's yearning for the magic. He seems to be ingesting all of our stories and memories and letting them overtake him. He's definitely primed and ready to go.
However, it's our job to guide him through this first experience. It's our job to set him on the right path to the magic. We could just turn him loose and hope for the best, but we have a deeper responsibility here to this particular friend. He's more like family and let's face it; we'd love it if he were on our team.
For my next series of Top 5 articles I will paint with a broader stroke than I typically do. I tend to zero in on very particular lists and avoid the more general picture. So this time, considering that we're breaking in someone new I thought I would hone in on the four biggest reasons we're all down there, the four theme parks. Sure, we diehards are there for more than just the parks. We're there for the magic of the hotels, the restaurants, the shops, the monorails, boats and busses, and so much more. We can't wait to just pass through those arches and spot the first purple street sign and realize with a big heavy and happy sigh, that we've arrived in our favorite place.
Let's go back to basics and explore my favorite tips for each of the four Walt Disney World theme parks. These are the things that I always tell the first-timers that seek me out for advice and these are some of the things that I have been telling our particular first-timer on this trip, Sydney.
When most people think of Walt Disney World, they think of one place, The Magic Kingdom. It's only natural to start where it all began. So, let's take a look at my Top 5 Magic Kingdom Tips.
5 – See the Cinderella Castle mosaics.
What really hooked me on my first trip was the famous attention to detail that exists around every corner in Walt Disney World. Just inside the arches of Cinderella Castle exist five huge mosaics telling the story of Cinderella in absolutely stunning Italian glass and tile. At the same time that I was getting lost in the intricacy of these murals, it was downright disappointing to see so many guests buzzing by on their harried way to the next attraction barely giving these true masterpieces a second look.
There's no line or Fastpass needed to marvel in this amazing work of art. All you need is a keen eye to spot them or you know where to find them. Then you need the ability to slow down and take in what nearly one million pieces of tile placed together so beautifully actually looks like. Stop and soak it in. If you do that in this one spot, chances are you'll realize that the Disney parks are positively bursting with detail and hopefully, you'll pause and appreciate those details everywhere else you go on your visit. The details are everywhere. You just need to stop and look.
4 – Visit Tom Sawyer Island
There's so much to do at The Magic Kingdom and so many headlining attractions to see. It's not really a trip unless you experience classics like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, or Peter Pan's Flight and that's only scratching the surface. However, there is an oasis back in Frontierland out there in the middle of The Rivers of America that I think sometimes goes unnoticed. Tom Sawyer Island is almost like a park within a park. It's the ultimate place to either be a kid or just feel like one again as you explore the caves, paths, bridges, hills, and structures so beautifully laid out in front of you. It's a wonderful place to spend some time, especially in the heat of the day.
Aside from the adventures to be had on the island and in Fort Langhorn, there's no better place to relax, chill out for a while and escape the potential madness of the park at its peak. If you're looking for a tranquil place to sit and while your time away in a rocking chair for a spell, look no further than the landing overlooking the river across from Big Thunder Mountain on Tom Sawyer Island. It's one of my all time favorite spots in all of Walt Disney World and I think it's tragically overlooked.
3 – Book a late breakfast with Pooh and Friends
Meeting and taking photos with the Disney characters is a major Walt Disney World deal. It's part of the fun for grown-ups and a total must do for the kiddies. That's not a guy in a suit. That's Winnie the Pooh and he's coming to your table to meet you. Go with it. Believe it. It's remarkable just how much fun it is for people of any age.
There are ways to meet the characters and there are ways to meet the characters. The beauty of character meals are that they give you more special and much more relaxed time with your favorite Disney friends. I'd rather sit in an air-conditioned restaurant and have a great meal while simultaneously meeting some characters than stand in a hot long line to meet them elsewhere in the park
Our favorite tip was to book the latest breakfast possible, around 10:30 or 10:45 a.m. at the Crystal Palace. That way, you can get to the park at opening, bang out some of the big rides and attractions in, say, Fantasyland before the lines get long, then head over to your breakfast. Our experience has been that most people don't eat breakfast that late. The Crystal Palace is typically already involved in the change over to lunch, and the place is half empty. The staff is always wonderful, no matter what time of day and most crucial of all, because of the diminished crowd, the quality character time you get is almost doubled. We've done this many times over the years and it's never failed. It's hard to tell in the photo above, but all of the tables behind Tigger and my then little girl are empty.
2 – The Opening Ceremony
Considering just how organized Walt Disney World is, it always amazes me that something as wonderful and charming as the Magic Kingdom Opening Ceremony doesn't exist in any of Disney's official literature about the park. It's not on the map and it's not in the Times Guide and yet, it's almost an attraction unto itself.
If you thought you were already bursting with excitement about the day ahead of you in the most magical place on Earth, try this little ceremony on for size. Get to The Magic Kingdom about 30 minutes before opening, scope out a central spot in front of the Main Street U.S.A. train station, and wait for the fun to begin. When the whistle blows on the Walt Disney World Railroad locomotive and it pulls into the station loaded with Disney characters, it's an awesome moment.
If you haven't seen it, make sure you do and trust me when I say this, you'll be ten times more excited to start your day in the Magic Kingdom than you would've been without seeing it, and that's saying a lot.
1 – Linger after Wishes fireworks
This tip happened to us almost by accident. We were set up in our favorite Wishes spot, right in the Magic Kingdom rose garden in front of Cinderella Castle. The incredible and emotional fireworks had just ended and for some reason, we didn't get up to head to the exit with the crowd. We didn't really consciously stay put. We didn't discuss it. We were just thoroughly enjoying the moment and didn't want to leave. So we stayed right where we were. As the throngs and throngs of guests made their way to Main Street to exit the park, we stayed and this is when the place began to take on a whole new light.
I went over to Auntie Gravity's in Tomorrowland and got two dishes of ice cream. We sat in the rose garden, cooled off after a hot August day with some tasty ice cream, and when we got up, we realized that we were practically alone. We made our way out slowly, enjoying the glow of the castle and the pretty lights of Main Street U.S.A. We still had time for a last minute trinket at The Emporium and when we ultimately and casually made it out of the park, we were greeted to a near empty bus ride home to Port Orleans.
It was a perfect ending to a perfect day. There's no need to rush out. You aren't going anywhere quickly with the thousands of other guests that insist on all leaving at the same time. Slow down, savor the place at night in all its sparkling glory. The extra 30 minutes in the park after fireworks is worth its weight in gold.
The Magic Kingdom is indeed a remarkable place. It's incredibly special. It's the heart of Walt Disney World and deservedly so. Just approaching the front entrance makes me happy. My inner child is bursting to come out on any given day and this place enables that child to proudly surface and happily take over this 47-year-old man.
There are dozens of tips I could give you about what to eat, when to ride, and where to walk. Certainly after eight years of writing Disney Stuff articles, I could tell you where to shop. But these are my all around five favorite tips. I think they give you a broad appreciation for such a spectacular place.
These tips encourage you to slow down and appreciate the details. They advise you to think and plan and to not follow the crowds rushing from ride to ride. Perhaps, most importantly, they endorse the notion that a place like Walt Disney World is clearly not just for kids. That's what I hope to impart on Syd, my teenage daughter's newbie friend that will be joining us this summer. If I can do that and he walks away as happy as I will after a week in the magic, then I'l have done my job.