What do you think of when you think of Disney World? Castles? Princesses? Pirates? I sure do! But just like everyone else, I can also think of less magical things such as crowds, long lines, and wait times. Fortunately, Touring Plans can help cut down those long lines and wait times; but one thing that can’t be done is to remove the throngs of people entirely. That is, until now. Yes, in this post, I will explain how to experience an empty Magic Kingdom before the park opens up to the droves of guests. Read on!
The Magic Kingdom opens most mornings at 9:00 AM, but the secret is that two park restaurants open even earlier, such as The Crystal Palace and Cinderella’s Royal Table. (Note: Cinderella’s Royal Table is currently closed for refurbishment but is expected to reopen in spring of 2015.) If you are able to book an advance dining reservation before park opening, you will be able to walk through the empty park in order to check-in for your breakfast!
Now, before you get too excited, let me clarify a few things. For one, the shows and attractions at the Magic Kingdom do not open for anyone until the park opens, and many of the surrounding lands are roped off to guests who do have early morning reservations. Still, getting in early was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had at Disney World.
When I first heard about this Disney World secret, I immediately booked an advance dining reservation at The Crystal Palace for my upcoming vacation dates. It took some checking and re-checking for several days, but I finally was able to grab a reservation at 8:20 AM on a day when the park opened at 9:00 AM. Score!
The morning of our reservation, my family and I were up extra early to make sure we had enough time to get from our resort at Port Orleans Riverside to the Magic Kingdom. Disney buses begin transporting guests an hour before park opening, but it’s always wise to carve out enough time just in case you have to wait longer than planned or if there is a traffic delay.
When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, I was a little nervous about how we were to get in. There was already a considerable crowd outside the gates. We asked a nearby Cast Member about how to enter the park for an early reservation, and he directed us to a designated line for early diners like ourselves. A few moments later, we were in!
Once we passed under Main Street Station, we were on Main Street, U.S.A., and there was no one around, except for maybe a small handful of guests taking pictures while waiting for their own reservation. I had to resist the urge to skip and dance, especially when we rounded the corner and saw Cinderella Castle at the end of an empty street, just like you would see in a Disney Commercial or a post card but never in reality.
My family and I instantly began taking pictures. How could you not? We also realized that we were walking down Main Street and not dodging strollers are weaving through people. Do you know how rare that is? We also took the opportunity to really appreciate the details on Main Street that we usually miss in the rush.
We arrived earlier than expected and still had about a few minutes before we needed to check-in; and so instead of heading straight to The Crystal Palace, we set our sights on the hub, the center of the park and where the famous Partners statue of Walt and Mickey stands.
If you’ve been to Disney World before, you know that this area of the park is almost always crowded with people and cameras; but now, I had a chance to get that iconic shot of the statue and the castle without any strangers in it. My family and I also noticed that the PhotoPass photographers were already at work, happily taking photos for guests like us even though the park hadn’t opened.
We also took a minute to really look at the statuettes surrounding the hub. Usually guests pass them right by or it’s too crowded to reach them, but that wasn’t true today!
So at this point, we really needed to go check-in at The Crystal Palace; but on the way, we went to the Liberty Square bridge and got a view of the land from the ropes completely empty and ready for the day, as well as Adventureland.
The Crystal Palace is one of my Dad’s favorite restaurants, and a breakfast here is somewhat of a family tradition. The restaurant offers a buffet of American-fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with characters from Winnie the Pooh.
The restaurant, itself, is absolutely gorgeous and truly lives up to its name. It’s white with tons of windows and glass panes overhead, letting in lots of sunlight and adorned with Victorian-style touches. If you can, get a table next to the windows for a view of Cinderella Castle while you dine. Also, at the entrance, be sure to note the sweet topiaries of Winnie the Pooh and the gang.
Now my brother and I had a plan for today’s breakfast. Since our reservation was at 8:20 AM, we thought that if we could eat quickly, we could finish and be first in line when the park opened at 9:00 AM while our parents enjoyed a more leisurely pace at the restaurant. But more on that in a minute…
Besides Crystal Palace, Cinderella’s Royal Table was our other option for an early entry into the park. This restaurant also serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but with an array of Disney Princesses and inside Cinderella Castle. It’s one of my favorite dining experiences at Disney World, especially with a table overlooking Fantasyland. Although, if you’re on a budget, keep in mind that Cinderella’s Royal Table is more expensive than The Crystal Palace.
Since The Crystal Palace is a buffet, we didn’t have to wait to order or to get our food. In fact, our waitress arrived as soon as we sat down, asked what we would like to drink and explained the character rotation, and then told us that we were free to attack the buffet!
After we had loaded our plates with Mickey Waffles and scrambled eggs and delicious fresh fruit and returned to our table, we only had to wait a minute or two before Piglet arrived to meet us. We always enjoy interacting with Tigger, Eeyore, and Pooh. After all, no one is too old for Winnie the Pooh, right? Still, my brother and I were keeping an eye on the time; and by the time 8:50 rolled around, and our plates scraped clean, our parents were more than willing to hang behind and make sure the waitress got the bill while he and I headed out the door and straight to Cinderella Castle.
When I was little, my favorite thing to do at the Magic Kingdom was to walk through the castle. Just knowing that I was inside of Cinderella’s home was truly magical for me; but since there are usually heavy stream of people going in and out whenever the breezeway is open, it’s hard to ever get a really good look.
But this morning, with the castle to ourselves, I had my chance! Did you know that the decorative columns inside the breezeway contain the birds and other animals from the film? It was also fun to study the mosaic, scene by scene, as it tells the story of Cinderella.
After a few more photos, we walked on through and were met by a rope being held by the Cast Members. A small crowd of guests, who apparently had the same idea as we did, were there too. Suddenly, the door to Castle Couture opened and out came Peter Pan and Wendy!
They waved hello to us, grabbed hands, and then took off running and skipping towards New Fantasyland! As they were leaving, I realized I needed a picture and snapped one quick.
Our parents met up with us, just before the crowds came pouring down Main Street, and a few moments later the Cast Members calmly walked guests into Fantasyland. This is somewhat standard as to prevent a stampede; but once we reached the New Fantasyland turrets, guests were free to hurry towards their favorite attractions, which these days is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
So this is where my empty Magic Kingdom morning comes to an end, as the park certainly wasn’t empty anymore; but I wouldn’t say it was full either. The first hour of the day at the Magic Kingdom means short lines and nearly empty streets. I can easily do more in that first hour than most other times of the day. But here’s one more little secret, if you start at the rear of the park, it’s often still empty a little longer than others when the park opens!
Have you ever booked an early reservation at The Crystal Palace or Cinderella’s Royal Table? Did you enjoy your empty Magic Kingdom experience?