I have a confession: Magic Kingdom is my least favorite Walt Disney World theme park. Well…it was, but things have changed…maybe. Once upon a time Magic Kingdom was my favorite, then about ten years ago I went to Disneyland for the first time. I returned to the Magic Kingdom disappointed and longing for the charm and beauty found inside the park that started it all.
Unfortunately, a major change in my life will now make it difficult for me to return to Disneyland, so I returned to Magic Kingdom for the first time in a while with open eyes and a renewed sense of rediscovery. Despite some frustrating turn of events later in the day, I earned a new appreciation for Walt Disney World’s original theme park.
The original plan for the day was to start off in the Most Magical Place on Earth then journey to the land of rolling hills and new residential developments, Clermont, to pick up a friend and cap off the night with Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando. What a day to wake up to!
Since I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to make it to Magic Kingdom initially, I had not made any FastPass+ reservations in advance. So, while I sipped my morning coffee I pulled up the MyDisneyExperience app to see what I could get. Not surprisingly, the most desirable FastPass+ options were limited at best.
I arrived to the parking plaza at about 10:00 AM. During my time as a Cast Member the lanes to the right were used to get to the Cast parking lots, and these lanes still usually move very quickly. To make sure I kept the pace going I had my ID and passholder card out and ready for the Cast Member to see. As I drove through the parking area it took a moment to get used to the grassy knoll that is in place of the Walt Disney World Raceway. I also observed a few cars head to the preferred parking area ($35).
Throughout my arrival experience I encountered multiple operations Cast Members with microphone packs attached to their hip. At the parking tram a Cast Member on the mic directed guests to spread out where guests were lining up for the next tram. At the Ticket and Transportation Center a Cast Member pointed out the entrance for the monorail and the ferryboat. Finally at the Magic Kingdom main entrance a Security Cast Member on the mic directed guests with bags to the right for security check and those without bags to the left.
After a chilly ride on the Admiral Joe Fowler ferry boat, I arrived. Main Street USA provides the most classic arrival of any theme park. Alive with the comings and goings of guests, characters, and vehicles it feels both busy and yet relaxing with its bygone era theme. Turning the corner and gazing upon Cinderella Castle is the most awe inspiring reveal of all theme park design.
The spectacular weather stayed in the 70’s with but a pinch of clouds in the sky. What a delightful day to be in the Magic Kingdom! April really is wonderful sometimes.
Strolling right down the middle of Main Street USA I beamed with happiness. Sure I was in the park solo, but all around me there were families and friends gathered, enjoying the magic around them. A merchandise Cast Member greeted guests and handed out celebration buttons. The Main Street Bakery Starbucks tempted me, however the line out the door persuaded me to continue toward the castle hub.
I’m one of those people still getting used to the new castle hub. The open spaces, the gardens, and the fountains feel so different and yet add a sense of refinement to a space that once felt cold and concrete in certain places. And now that there isn’t the Dream Along with Mickey castle show guests can freely walk through Cinderella Castle.
It felt like a privilege to walk up the ramp and through the castle’s archway. Before passing through I turned around to look at the exposed castle stage. It felt like “bad show to me” then again I am not sure how they could tastefully cover up the deconstruction.
My eyes were ready to take in a prettier sight. Turning back around I headed through the archway and gazed upon the glittering Cinderella story mosaic that gracefully covers the walkway’s walls. I love that this piece of art isn’t simply a recreation of Disney’s animated classic, but rather has a different visual design, quite medieval in fact.
Fantasyland, with its cheerful colors and storybook style, always brings a smile to my face. I decided to do a quick stroll through the shops. I especially love Sir Mickey’s, despite it being the exit for Princess Fairy Tale Hall. This store has a few whimsical details including the giant from the movie “Fun and Fancy Free” which features a segment in which Mickey plays Jack in Jack and the Bean Stalk.
It was close to 12 noon and my FastPass+ window for Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid had opened, but first I looked around at some of the wait times in the area. The castle may be Cinderella’s but the ladies from Arendelle still reign supreme with a 70 minute wait time for Anna & Elsa compared to 40 at Rapunzel & Cinderella. Guests continue to dig the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with a 90 minute wait (get it dig? That’s a little mine humor for ‘ya). And of course the one Fantasyland attraction I decided to get a FastPass+ for, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, was only a 25 minute wait.
Flipping your fins you don’t get too far, but with a FastPass+ I was on my very own clamshell in 3 minutes from the time I placed my MagicBand on the FastPass+ touch point. Ariel’s Undersea Adventure may not be the most ground breaking attraction to swim onto the scene, but I love that a classic dark ride style attraction is given a modern twist with impressive audio animatronics and projection technology. Plus, when I was growing up I wanted to be Ariel–I watched The Little Mermaid like it was my job (that little VHS didn’t stand a chance). The ride stalled out once, while in the “Under the Sea” room, but resumed after about one minute.
After spending some time with under water characters it was time to rehydrate. Across from Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is a snack stand with fresh fruit and other healthy snacks. I noticed that Dasani sparkling water was available and decided to give it a try. They offered lemon or lime flavors; it’s nice to have some flavor even if there are only two options. The price tag though was a little shocking at $2.98 once tax was added.
Surrounded by lots of yummy food choices in Fantasyland and nearby Liberty Square, my tummy started to growl. I popped into Gaston’s Tavern to see if any new snacks were offered. I was surprised to see that on this sunny April day LeFou’s Winter Brrrrrrew was still being offered.
I halfway considered a visit to Pinocchio’s Village Haus, but then again the menu here isn’t all that impressive. I struggled through the always bottlenecked and congested walkway from Fantasyland to Liberty Square. Hmmmm to dine at Columbia Harbor House or…. Wait, what time is my FastPass+ for Haunted Mansion? Wouldn’t you know it, the MyDisneyExperience app wouldn’t load My Plans so I decided to visit some happy haunts.
Can you believe I forgot, for just a moment, about the audio effects that were added to the stretching room nearly nine years ago! That’s how rare a visit to Magic Kingdom had become for me. Just as I got ready to board by doombuggy ride vehicle, the tour was stopped dead (get it? Stopped dead?).
The two rides I did on my visit to Magic Kingdom are omnimover style attractions. These style attractions keep the ride vehicles moving at a continual pace causing you to enter and exit on moving walkways. These walkways can be slowed or stopped for anyone that needs assistance or a slower pace in order to board the vehicles. Nine times out of ten when an omnimover attraction slows or stops momentarily, it happens because of this reason.
As I exited the domain of 999 spirited spooks I heard the growl of a beast. My stomach could no longer tolerate the hunger. Dare I embark on an adventure and find out what kind of wait time awaited at the Skipper Canteen? Adventure is out there! I braved the congested walkways of Liberty Square, onward to the Frontierland /Adventureland breezeway.
I arrived around 12:45 PM, a party of one and after providing my full name to the host I was seated within five minutes. Though I hoped to be seated in the S.E.A Room (The Society of Explorers and Adventurers) or The Jungle Room, I was seated in the Mess Hall. I have a feeling most walk up diners are seated here. The music delighted my ears, I just adore jazz and big band music from the late 1920’s to early 1940’s. The décor is fun and full of Easter eggs and tributes to Adventureland.
The menu is somewhat overwhelming for someone like me who loves to explore exotic tastes – I wanted it all! Torn between starting with soup or salad, the opportunity to try the Hot and Sour Soup ($7.50) proved impossible to pass up.
I found Skipper Canteen’s version of this soup to be as close to authentic as you can get in a theme park. My one gripe is it was not served with bread and about halfway through my bowl I ached a little for some. I sent Skipper Jason on the hunt for some. Sadly, I did not receive it until I was just a few spoonfuls away from being done. The bread and fragrant honey dipping sauce is wonderful, so make sure you get some if you visit.
For the entrée I was tempted to go light, perhaps with the Curry Vegetable Stew ($17). Instead I asked Skipper Jason for his thoughts on the Skip’s Mac and Cheese ($19). He steered me in that direction (get it? steered? A little boat humor for you). This dish proved way too heavy for my liking. The cheese is white and creamy, after a few bites it starts to weigh on you. In the middle of the pot, covered in noodles is a scoop of simmered, seasoned ground beef. The sauce and spices are African inspired, with a robust tang. Though it is a good dish, I personally would prefer something lighter. But that has not dissuaded me from a return visit. I did enjoy my experience and I feel the Canteen is a welcome addition to the Magic Kingdom dining scene. At the time of publishing no discounts of any kind are currently accepted at Skipper Canteen.
I did inquire with my skipper about the anticipated return of souvenir cups. When the Canteen first opened a copper souvenir cup was all the rage. Sadly supplies of the cup were quickly exhausted and never replenished. Skipper Jason indicated that a new supplier had been located and a new style cup has been developed and will hopefully be available soon. He described as being something you’d find on a camp site, made of tin rather than copper.
I resisted the call of dessert because I needed to disembark the Magic Kingdom to head to the land of orange groves and the Citrus Tower to retrieve my friend. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how long it can take to get from Main Street USA back to your car (oh the advantages of staying on property – sigh). I grabbed the monorail for the trip back, walked right on. The real delay came when waiting on the Heroes tram. It was nearly 7 minutes sitting on the tram before it left the TTC and headed to the parking lot, and of course I was parked in Mulan, the last stop. The dash of pixie dust and renewed enjoymeny of Magic Kingdom could easily be fizzled out by the arduous journey from MK to TTC to car to parking lot exit.
I enjoyed the drive through the rolling hills of Clermont. But it makes me feel old. Back in my day, Clermont really wasn’t much, lots and lots of orange groves, hence the beauty of the observation tower, the Citrus Tower. Now there are housing developments and businesses everywhere. On the rare occasion that I find myself driving in this part of Central Florida I like to picture myself back in the early 1970’s when Walt Disney World had just come into being, when seeing a citrus grove was a novel thing and something tourists would often make a part of their trip to Florida.
Through a very unfortunate miscommunication, my plans to pick up my friend and head to Universal Orlando for Mardi Gras and the Jessie J concert fell through. But being a fan of both planning ahead as well as being spontaneous I seized the opportunity to connect with another friend in the area and head back to the Vacation Kingdom for a little more pixie dust – Polynesian style!
What better way to cap off my long awaited visit to the Magic Kingdom than with a drink at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. As is pretty much standard procedure the Grog Grotto had about a 45 minute wait, seeing as it was 8:30 PM on a Saturday night. To the Tiki Terrace while we waited!
We ordered a Hippopotamaitai (one of my favorite drinks at the Trader Sam’s) and a Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum (which is very similar to a Painkiller). Sadly, we waited longer than normal for the drinks and when they arrived their normal garnish was missing, and the flavors were definitely not quite right. As we brought this to our skipper’s attention, our buzzer went off, so we merely returned the drinks and headed inside, except once inside no real space for two people could be found. The tiki gods must not have been pleased with us for some reason.
The evening concluded with beachside viewing of the Electrical Water Pageant and Wishes fireworks. This is one of the best ever ways to cap off a visit to the Magic Kingdom area. And as I sat there, my toes in the sand, waves lapping onto the shore, light and color reflecting in the water, I felt a glimmer of hope that my love for Magic Kingdom may soon find its way back into my heart.