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Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Article by Marc Dean

Way back in the day, when I took my first trip to Orlando, Florida’s Disneyworld, you didn’t have to bother yourself with multi-park passes, resort, names, and whatnot. There was just Disneyworld.

Of course, this was also the time when you actually used tickets for rides, so we’re talking a bit of history here. Anyway, this past Christmas was our turn to take our kids to revel in the splendor and fantasy that is Disneyworld to a kid (and the crowds, commotion, and expense that is Disneyworld to a parent.but I digress). The Disney World stop was only one leg of our vacation since we were headed for a Disney cruise as well (see the related article for an in depth review of the Disney Cruise), but as we don’t live very close to Florida, we were determined to make the most of our day at the Magic Kingdom.Timing

OK-let me simply say that you should never, ever, under any circumstance even for one moment consider traveling to Disney World-Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom, or otherwise-over the Christmas holidays. If you find yourself even contemplating such a trip, save yourself some expense and just go camp out at the local DMV for the day. You’ll get all the joys of waiting in line without having to fork out several hundred dollars for the privilege.

The best time to visit Disney World is February. You’re hitting between Christmas and Spring Break, and the weather isn’t intolerably hot. I’ve also been in May and found the crowds tolerable and the weather also not too bad. Having been in Orlando (but not Disney itself) in August, I can only imagine how miserable a day full of crowds and lines would be in the humidity. I’d avoid visiting in the height of summer at all cost. But not as much as I’d avoid Christmas time. Have I mentioned that it was crowded?

Nevertheless, my mother was arranging and paying for this trip as sort of a family reunion with all her grandchildren, and she wanted to take the Disney cruise over New Years, so I couldn’t quibble too much about the timing. And for the cruise, the timing was fine. A ship doesn’t get any more crowded than full, and they do a great job of making sure you’re never really waiting in line for anything. At the Magic Kingdom.not so much. I can honestly say it was the most crowded place I’ve even been-and that includes some 80,000 spectator sporting events and concerts.Tickets

The whole insane crowd thing wouldn’t have bothered me quite so much if the park weren’t quite so expensive. Ok-I’m lying-but it might not bother other people so much if it wasn’t so expensive. At $ 63 for anyone 10 and older and $ 52 for kids 3-9 (under 3 is free!!!), the Disney experience is not really one of the budget stretchers.

That said, if you go during a non-peak crowd period, you do get quite an experience, especially for the kids. There are also discounts available if you plan to stay for several days and buy multi-day passes. If you plan to stay a for a week (God help you) then your cost per day is less than half of the one day price. I’m being a little unfair, here, of course. There are 4 theme parks at Disney World: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and MGM. There’s also Downtown Disney, two water parks, and a Wide World of Sports complex to keep you busy. So if you wanted to stay for a week there is plenty to do, especially for the younger (read kid) set. Personally, I find Disney a bit sanitized to justify staying for a week, but to each his own.

For any length of stay, you can buy what Disney calls the “Park Hopper” plan for your tickets. This lets you-amazingly enough-go from park to park during the course of a given day. Otherwise, you are limited to one park per day, no matter what length of ticket you purchase. While this might seem like a smart idea at first-spend a few hours at Magic Kingdom.pop over to Animal Kingdom.catch the nightlife at Epcot-realistically, that’s not going to happen. First of all, you’ve got to take a bus between resorts, so chalk up at least half an hour for walking to and from bus terminals, waiting for said bus, and riding that bus to the other park.

Even more realistically, if you’re traveling with young kids, they simply won’t be up to making the trek around two or more parks in one day (at least I know I wouldn’t be up for putting up with the whining and carrying on that would come along with trying to walk around two parks in one day). Practically speaking as well, you won’t get much out of a second park-especially if it’s the Magic Kingdom. The crowds are bigger later in the day, and the Fast Pass tickets (more on these below) are gone by early afternoon (at least if the Christmas experience is any benchmark at all. You are far better served getting to your park of choice early, cramming in as much fun as the kids can comfortably tolerate, then calling it a day. I would especially recommend this if you are planning on a multi-day visit. One park a day is more than enough excitement for young kids.Rides

OK-I’m sure you’ve heard enough grousing about the crowds, and as much as I like to pretend I’m too hip for all things Disney, once you get inside and start talking rides you can’t help but get a little excited. Now-if you’re a big roller coaster fan, you’re going to be a little disappointed, but you should know that going in. This is a park built around little kids, so the rides tend to aim in that direction. That’s not to say there aren’t exciting rides. Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are fun roller coaster type rides that anyone will enjoy. Just know going in that the Magic Kingdom is a theme park, not an amusement park.

Before I dive into the rides and attractions, I do have to voice one more complaint. I know, but humor me-this is important. Somehow in their misguided attempt to gauge the sensibilities of today’s youth, the folks at Disney scuttled Captain Nemo’s submarine (pardon the pun.couldn’t resist) and replaced it with Ariel’s Grotto (Ariel of Little Mermaid fame). Yes, yes-no one watches 20,000 leagues under the sea any more, but that ride in the submarine was the coolest thing about the place for me when I was a kid. I even made the mistake of talking it up to my son before we got there, so he was disappointed, too. So if you happen to be reading this-Hey Disney: we want Captain Nemo back!

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, we can proceed with the business at hand and talk about the rides. The first thing to know is that Disney has put into place a Fast Pass system. This means you can get reserved tickets for a ride and come back later to bypass the line. This can turn a 2 and one half hour wait (I kid you not) into a 10-minute wait and make the experience quite a bit more palatable. There is a catch, of course. You can only get one Fast Pass per person at a time. Basically, you insert your plastic credit card-like ticket into the Fast Pass machine, and it issues you a timed ticket, but also records your ticket number so you can’t get another ticket until the time of your first ticket has passed. At really crowded rides, however, once in a while a Disney employee will pass out Fast Passes without making you insert your card. If you happen upon one of these, grab as many tickets as you can. That’s pretty much the only way you can manage to avoid lines more than one at a time.

With the combination of crowds and Fast Passes, you will want to plan out a strategy in advance for tackling the rides and hitting the most attractions as possible. I would suggest the following. First get there early. If you are staying at a Disney hotel, you can get into the park an hour before general admission opens up. Take advantage of this hour. Figure out which ride your kids most want to ride, and get a Fast Pass for it as soon as you get into the park. If I had to do it again, I’d send the wife and kids over to the Pirates of the Caribbean while I sprinted over to Space Mountain for some Fast Passes. Then, after hitting Space Mountain, I’d make my way over to Frontierland and get a Fast Pass for either Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I’d keep up this sort of plan, hitting a few of the less crowded rides while waiting for the Fast Pass Times.

As for the rides themselves, I’d try to hit Space Mountain. It’s an indoor rollercoaster with lots of high speed twists and turns that are all the more fun and exhilarating in the dark and the strobe lights that Space Mountain throws at you. Just a bit more about timing, by the way. When my wife and I visited the Magic Kingdom back on our honeymoon in late May-just for the day.our primary destination was St. Petersburg Beach, thank you-we rode Space Mountain then got right off and walked straight back on without waiting. Last month the wait for Space Mountain was 2 and a half hours and the Fast Passes were all distributed for the day when we walked by around 4. So don’t go at Christmas.

Anyway, the other major rides I’d try to hit are Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Splash Mountain is your typical flume ride but with the added interlude of a leisurely tour through the animatronic world of Uncle Remus in between steep plunges down the waterways. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a mini roller coaster that jerks and zips you through a simulated Yellowstone National Park. Having recently been to Yellowstone for the second time, I’m not too impressed with the simulated hot springs, but the coaster is still fun, and not too intense for young kids. Other rides that we enjoyed were the Haunted Mansion-a little scary, but my 5 year-old nephew and 1 and a half year-old niece were fine; Pirates of the Caribbean-always a fun ride; The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House-neat to walk through and a little less crowded; Tom Sawyer’s Island-a fun area to walk around and explore, and a welcome respite from the crowds. Finally, I have to recommend the good old carousel. Even when we went, the line was nonexistent. People nearby were too bust waiting two hours for It’s a Small World or Peter Pan, but all the kids in our group had the great fun that carousels deliver. It’s not always about the flash-even at Disney.Characters

The other main attractions for the under 10 set, of course, are the Disney characters. When I went to the magic Kingdom as a kid, seeing characters was hit or miss. The best we did on one trip was like Chip and Dale. And yes-if you don’t know who they are that’s the point. These days, Disney has organized the character appearances to make it much easier for you to find them. On the day we visited, Minnie was posing for pictures right inside the entrance (with the attendant line, of course), and each area of the park has a character meeting area with times available so you plot out who you want to see when. Mickey even has his own dedicated area in the Mickey’s Toontown Fair area so the days of leaving without seeing any of the main stars are well past.Eating in the Park

First caveat-(surprise, surprise) everything in the place is insanely expensive. It’s like eating at a stadium or rock concert. Expect $ 5.75, $ 3 for pop or bottled water.etc. You can essentially eat one of two ways-fast food stand or sit down restaurants. Given the lines and the fact that you eat a lot more often than you can take the kids on the rides, I recommend avoiding the longer sit down type meals. The wait times when were there were almost 2 hours in any case. Go for the hot dogs and such at lunch, and plan on a better meal after the kids have petered out and you’ve left the park. There are plenty of dining options throughout the resort and elsewhere in Orlando-but make sure you have reservations.Souvenirs

No trip to the Magic Kingdom is complete with the obligatory “Can I get this? Can I get this?” Conveniently, just about every major ride spills you out into a gift shop that focuses on that attraction. Ahem. Do whatever it takes to resist the choruses of “I’ve just got to have that,” until you are ready to leave. The main gift shop on Main Street USA stocks pretty much all the souvenirs you can get elsewhere in the park, and buying them on the way out saves you a lot of lugging, aggravation, and losing. Again, expect to pay a premium for being in the park, but at least there is a pretty decent selection of stuff. We walked out with a couple shirts, a hat, and a pirate sword, and the kids were quite happy.

Marc Dean is a freelance writer who writes for Preferred Consumer. He has done significant research online on traveling, how to vacation and find a time share.

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