Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA
“You won’t be alone…”
It’s hard not to think about Magic Kingdom when talking about Walt Disney World. Just like Orlando is known as the world’s theme park capital, Magic Kingdom could easily be described as the king of theme parks. With over 20 million visitors annually, this place is ranked first when it comes to theme park attendance. On average, more than 55,000 guests pass through the park’s turnstiles every day and they’re all searching for something that’s called magic.
Magic Kingdom is currently building its own version of the TRON coaster, that has proven to be a smash hit at Shanghai Disneyland. Until the day TRON opens, the park is home to 4 roller coasters. The biggest thrill is Space Mountain, the first of its kind to be build at any Disney park, by the way. Because it opened back in 1975, Space Mountain obviously isn’t extremely modern or comfortable. However, I do appreciate the ride experience. Despite its considerable age, Space Mountain turns out to be a surprisingly thrilling experience. Don’t expect it to be the smoothest or best themed ride, but I was kind of surprised by Space Mountain’s powerful twists and turns.
Another classic Disney mountain can be found at the opposite side of the park. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was inaugurated in 1980 and it was the slightly larger version of Disneyland Anaheim’s runaway mine train. The ride is more or less similar to the west coast version and it creates just as much fun. Big Thunder Mountain remains one of the world’s best family coasters and the theming is awesome.
Magic Kingdom doesn’t feature one, but two mine trains. When Fantasyland was being revamped in the early 2010’s, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was added as the area’s focal point. It’s right in the middle of Fantasyland and it delivers a great dynamic. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train isn’t only beautiful to look at; it’s also a pleasure to ride. Despite its rather tame roller coaster experience, the ride managed to convince me with its swinging gondolas and the stunning dark ride section. I’m certainly not the only guest with this opinion. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is actually so popular that a wait time of less than 60 minutes is rare. By the way… Magic Kingdom’s 4th and last coaster can also be found at Fantasyland, but it’s not that interesting. Standard Vekoma Junior Coasters don’t belong in a Disney theme park, if you ask me.
Roller coasters may be popular, but Disney usually shows its greatest strength in dark rides. And although there aren’t as many dark rides as in Disneyland Anaheim, Magic Kingdom offers all the classics a Disney theme park needs. Fantasyland, for example, is home to It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Under The Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. Especially Under The Sea, which was added in 2012, never fails to amaze me with its intimate atmosphere, its catchy music and its incredible audio-animatronics. The exterior of the ride is at least as stunning, so this definitely is an A+ attraction.
If you’re talking about classic Disney dark rides, you’re actually talking about The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. These two oldies both premiered in California, but their popularity was so huge that they just had be rebuilt in Florida. The Haunted Mansion was one of Magic Kingdom’s opening day attractions in 1971 and it’s just as good (maybe even better) than its namesake at the west coast. Magic Kingdom’s version of Pirates of the Caribbean is a little less impressive, though. The ride is considerably shorter and it misses the distinctive atmosphere which makes the Californian version so awesome.
Splash Mountain is often purely considered as a water ride, but this doesn’t do the ride justice. That’s because Splash Mountain also features a world-class dark ride part. The ride was inspired by Disney’s animated film Song of the South (I’m sure most Europeans have never heard of it) and it heavily relies on the corresponding music. The result is breathtaking. Of course that 15-metre descent is fantastic, but I mainly adore Splash Mountain because of those cute animatronics singing How Do You Do and Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. The current theme will be removed soon, though. In 2020, the American Disney parks announced that they would transform Splash Mountain into a Princess and the Frog-themed attraction.
Everybody’s got a laughing place… and mine is Main Street USA. Main Street is the place to be for admiring the majestic Cinderella Castle and this is also an ideal viewing spot for parades and nighttime entertainment. Magic Kingdom’s current parade is called Festival of Fantasy and I like it a lot. In the evening, Magic Kingdom presents its new nighttime spectacular Disney Enchantment. This is one of the unique offerings for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary and it’s everything you’d expect from it. It features projection mapping, lasers, famous Disney songs and a whole lot of fireworks. Overall, I enjoyed the show and its catchy theme song. However, Enchantment just isn’t as good as its predecessor Happily Ever After. Personally, I’d love to see Happily Ever After returning after the 50th anniversary festivities. Fingers crossed.
Many Magic Kingdom rides can be defined as classics, since they can be found at several other Disney theme parks across the globe. However, some attractions only exist in Florida and that makes them even more interesting. I’m thinking about The Hall of Presidents (a patriotic show with animatronics of all former US presidents), Enchanted Tales with Belle (an interactive experience inspired by Beauty and the Beast, mostly interesting for young girls), Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress (a nostalgic animatronic show that has played at New York’s 1964 World’s Fair and at Disneyland Anaheim, before moving to Florida) and last but not least… Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. This unique ‘highway in the sky’ travels through Tomorrowland and it gives an overview of most rides in the area. PeopleMover hardly ever has a long line and the ride lasts pretty long, which makes it an ideal attraction for escaping the crowds. PeopleMover is one of my favourite Magic Kingdom rides and I guess that many Disney fans have the same opinion.
BEAT THE CROWDS
Since we’re talking about the world’s most visited theme park, this shouldn’t come as a surprise: Magic Kingdom is busy year-round. Of course there’s a difference between busy and horribly packed days, but in general you should anticipate large crowds. Fortunately, Magic Kingdom is designed for these huge numbers of visitors and attractions have a huge capacity. Still, being prepared can make your day considerably more enjoyable. This should speak for itself, but guests who arrive early undoubtedly have the best Magic Kingdom day. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain tend to get long lines, so it’s a good idea to visit these rides as early (or late) as possible. The new Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes also help you to avoid the longest queues, but not that these services aren’t free of charge.
Making restaurant reservations is another valuable step while planning Walt Disney World vacations. All meals at table service and buffet restaurants should be planned in advance, because it may be nearly impossible to get a table on the spot. In fact, it might even be challenging to obtain dining reservations for high-demand places like Skipper Canteen (cosy restaurant in Adventureland) or Be Our Guest (in all honesty… the Grey Stuff is indeed delicious, but I found this restaurant overrated). If you don’t mind having dinner outside of the park, it might be a good idea to make reservations in one of the nearby resort hotels. We’ve already had wonderful experiences at Kona Café (at the Polynesian) and The Wave (at the Contemporary) and the atmosphere in these restaurants is a lot more relaxing than inside the park. By the way: time slots around 6 PM are ideal, because these allow you to get back to the park before Happily Ever After starts.
WORTH A VISIT?
Magic Kingdom is a brilliant theme park and it’s easy to see why it attracts so many people. Thanks to its great variety of rides, shows and entertainment, a day at Magic Kingdom is the centerpiece of every stay at Walt Disney World. However, if you easily get agitated by large numbers of people, this might not be the holiday you need. The park is always full of strollers, everyone’s loud and there are lines for literally everything. But once you get used to these queues and crowds, Magic Kingdom will provide a truly magical day.
RESORT & MAIN STREET U.S.A.
Are you Team Orlando or Team Anaheim? Has your day at Magic Kingdom ever been negatively affected by large crowds? And what’s your favourite nighttime show? Share your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this page.