Walt Disney World (FL)

What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to the Magic Kingdom

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Adventure is out there
A fine day for a drive to the Magic Kingdom.

As Spring and Summer are just around the corner, that means Spring Break and Summer Vacation and many guests making pilgrimages to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Actually, many will be visiting for the first time ever! If you are planning your very first visit to the park, and you’re like me, you’ve probably been doing your Disney World homework to avoid those rookie mistakes and hopefully maximize that precious vacation time. Still, oftentimes, they are a few things that aren’t mention in guidebooks which could’ve made your park time run more smoothly. So please glean from my first-hand experience Disney World Rookies and discover what I wish I knew before my trip to the Magic Kingdom.

Character Line
Meeting Rapunzel at Princess Fairytale Hall

Characters Can Be Found at the End of a Line

While I love Disney commercials, they aren’t exactly a realistic representation of what it’s like in the parks. First of all, there are almost always people pretty much everywhere. Those shots in the commercial where the happy people seem to have the parks all to themselves? Not real. This is also true of how you meet Disney Characters. Very rarely does a character suddenly appear and surprise you with a hug. You see, at Walt Disney World, characters are escorted by a Cast Member to a designed spot and then guests wait in line for a little conversation, an autograph, and a picture or two. Now that doesn’t mean that meeting characters isn’t fun or memorable. It absolutely is! But it’s just not as spontaneous as it appears on those promos.

Always Ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight First

The Magic Kingdom has the most attractions of any other Disney World Park and many of them are extremely popular and absolute must-dos for first timers. However, something you definitely will wish you knew is that two Magic Kingdom attractions in particular are notorious for ridiculously long lines and they are the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight. Of course, the solution for anyone who has done their Disney World homework is to book a FastPass+ reservation for these attractions. But if none are available, or you just want to experience them again, you should definitely ride them first. Now I don’t mean you should ride them first whenever you happen to arrive at the park. No, I’m saying you need to ride them as soon as the park opens.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the park’s newest attraction and a hybrid between a tame coaster and a dark ride. The ride vehicles also sway slightly when going around corners, just like an actual mine car. All of the detail, technology, and just the fact that it’s a large, new attraction mean that the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train queue is filled from the first half hour of the day until fireworks at night; and so, I strongly encourage first timers to head here first thing when the park opens.

After Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, guests should most definitely make tracks to the other side of Fantasyland to experience Peter Pan’s Flight. This attraction was an opening day attraction back in 1971, and was inspired by Disneyland’s version which was also an opening day attraction there in 1955. Basically, Peter Pan’s Flight is timeless and will fill up the lines until the end of time. Personally, I don’t even think of getting in line for Peter Pan’s Flight once the park has been open for more than an hour, so definitely plan to ride it when the park opens.

Ft. Wilderness Boat Launch
Taking a boat to the Magic Kingdom

You Can’t Drive There

It’s true. You can’t exactly drive to the Magic Kingdom. There’s no way you can drop off your family near the gate and go find a parking spot and there’s no tram. Actually, if you’re planning on driving around Walt Disney World and want to go to the Magic Kingdom, you will have to park your vehicle at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). It’s located next door to the Polynesian Village Resort and is all the way across the lake from the Magic Kingdom. It’s basically the transportation hub of the Walt Disney World Resort. Here, guests have the choice to take a boat or Monorail to the Magic Kingdom entrance. Tip: If you are planning on taking a Monorail, choose the Express Monorail to the Magic Kingdom to bypass stops at the resorts.

The only exception to the no-traffic access in front of the Magic Kingdom is Disney Buses. Disney Buses are the only form of Disney Transportation that can drive Disney World Resort guests to the Magic Kingdom and drop them off near the entrance at designated bus stops. This is why many Disney World Resort guests who have a car or rental car choose to use the Disney Buses or Resort Monorails when heading to the Magic Kingdom for the day. So yeah, this is something you will want to know before your first trip to the Magic Kingdom.

Taking the Main Street Trolley to Cinderella Castle

The Main Street Vehicles Don’t Run All Day

The Main Street Vehicles are one of my favorite things about Main Street, U.S.A. These old-fashioned vehicles take guests on one-way trips to and from the Town Square and Cinderella Castle and consist of a Jitney, Fire Engine, Horse-Drawn Street Car, and an Omnibus. My personal favorites are the trolley and the Omnibus. I love seeing the horses pulling the street car and when the Dapper Dans hop aboard for a ride, and riding on the top level of the Omnibus on the seat facing forward. However, for those of you, like myself, who love a ride on the Main Street Vehicles, you should know that they usually only operate in the morning and even stop for a time for the Trolley Show. Oftentimes, they only run for a little over an hour and so if you want to ride the Main Street Vehicles, be prepared to visit first thing in the morning. If you would like to know the operating hours of the Main Street Vehicles during your visit, feel free to ask Guest Services or check your MyDisneyExperience App.

Don’t Use FastPass+ for Shows

When it comes to making those FastPass+ reservations, what you’re going to wish you knew before your trip to the Magic Kingdom is not to waste them on shows such as Mickey’s Philharmagic or the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. Why? Well, Mickey’s Philharmagic and the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor have large theaters which can handle huge crowds. Most of the time, although there are exceptions on especially busy days, the only waiting you will have to do is waiting for the show ahead of you to end in order to go into theater which makes your FastPass+ reservation obsolete. So don’t waste those FastPass+ reservations and instead use them for attractions where you really can skip the lines.

Festival of Fantasy
Tinkerbell in the Festival of Fantasy Parade

The Festival of Fantasy Parade Begins in Frontierland

The most popular location to watch the afternoon parade is Main Street, U.S.A. But what most guests don’t know is that the parade doesn’t begin for those lined up on Main Street when your times guide says it’s going to. In fact, if you’re crowded on a curb in front of the Emporium or Main Street Confectionary, you won’t be seeing floats for nearly twenty more minutes. Why? This is because the daytime parades start in Frontierland and end on Main Street, U.S.A. It’s certainly something I wish I had known as it would’ve prevented a lot of confusion. It’s also something that I think others should note, especially if they have time restraints during their day at the park.

Cosmic Ray's
Sonny Eclipse at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe

Don’t Just Eat Anywhere

One of the biggest mistakes you can make on your first visit to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is eating wherever you happen to end up. Following the hungry herds at lunch hour is how people develop the misconception that Disney World has only overpriced cheeseburgers, bad pizza, and French Fries as there a few less than spectacular dining destinations that totally misrepresent what the park has to offer in regards to dining. For instance, consider Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café with its show tune-singing alien and numerous stations offering mostly standard theme park fare and compare it to the Be Our Guest Restaurant with its three themed dining rooms, cupcakes, and the best potato leek soup you’ve ever had. One is outdated and just kind of weird while the other is an attraction in itself. But yet, first time guests still continue to empty their wallets at the park’s lesser restaurants instead of searching out for a meal that lives up to the Disney standard. I would suggestion, along with Be Our Guest, Columbia Harbour House, Cinderella’sRoyal Table, Liberty Tree Tavern, the new Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, and the Crystal Palace.

Be Our Guest
Be Our Guest Restaurant in New Fantasyland

The Park Opens Earlier Than Scheduled

Something I certainly wished that I known before previous visits is that the park sometimes opens earlier than what it’s scheduled. I remember arriving several minutes before park opening several years ago with plans to squeeze in a few of the park’s popular attractions before the crowds arrived, only to find that the Magic Kingdom had already been open for nearly 20 minutes! From what I now know, an early opening might take place on an especially busy day but there’s no guarantee. If you want to be at the Magic Kingdom for rope drop or to catch the morning Welcome Show, I would recommend being at the gates at least 30 minutes before the park is scheduled to open and even earlier if you can manage it.

Be Sure to See the Magic Kingdom Exclusives

What you will wish you knew before your trip to the Magic Kingdom is that the park has a number of exclusives; and by exclusives I mean attractions and locations that can only be found there. For example, the Magic Kingdom is the only Disney Park that has a Liberty Square. It’s something first timers should note in order to really appreciate the attention to detail and historical accuracy Imagineers put into this unique land. The Magic Kingdom also has a number of attractions that can’t be found anywhere else and should be experienced, such as The Hall of Presidents, Mickey’s Philharmagic, the Carousel of Progress, and PeopleMover. Finally, the Magic Kingdom is the only to boast a New Fantasyland, which is probably my favorite section of the park these days. So Magic Kingdom Newbies, be sure to put these attractions and areas on your park to-do list because you won’t see them anywhere else.

My fave way to get around Walt Disney World

Always Take the Monorail

When choosing how to get to and from the Magic Kingdom, I have learned through trial and error that the Monorail should be your number one choice of transportation. While I love a gentle cruise over the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, waiting for a boat and even the process of getting from one destination to the other can eat up time. The Monorail, however, doesn’t have to deal with the traffic and stoplights of Disney Buses and arrives and departs at a much faster rate that the boats. It’s also air conditioned and offers that incredible, elevated view of the Walt Disney World Resort!

You Need a Plan

Tackling the Magic Kingdom can be an intimidating prospect, as it’s literally packed full of things to see and do and taste and just to notice. What I wish I knew before my visit to the Magic Kingdom is that I needed a plan. Walking into the park with no plan resulted in a lot of wandering, wasted time, and even stress and frustration. On the other hand, thinking you can see it all in one day can mean much of the same when things go wrong, attractions break down, bad weather blows up, or when you’re just tired. What I’ve learned is to have a plan, but not a strict plan. Basically, you need to have a reasonable agenda of what attractions and entertainment you want to experience with plenty of flexibility built in for just exploring and those unforeseen delays.

Are you planning your first visit to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom? If so, be sure to note a few of these tips to maximize your experience at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park. Also, as always, fellow Disney World Experts are encouraged to share their park wisdom with readers in the comments!

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Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

19 thoughts on “What I Wish I Knew Before My Trip to the Magic Kingdom

  • I really like reading Touring Plans blog articles, but … you guys (all of you) really need a proof reader for your articles. These are typical.
    “… searching out for a meal …”
    ” I would suggestion …”

    • – I’m pretty sure they prefer TouringPlans.com, not Touring Plans
      – Proofreader, not proof reader
      – “blog articles” is redundant and would never make it past a competent editor

      See, anyone can nitpick. Maybe just enjoy all the free and informative content they’re supplying.

      • Indeed. But I’m not writing for what is supposed to be a professional blog.

    • Very helpful and beneficial post sir-thank you for all you do keeping the internet safe from somewhat-less-than-perfect grammar. You really added a lot to the content of this article and made my already-sunny-day that much brighter. I thank you, the Disney community thanks you, now go stick your head in a toilet.

  • Shannon

    Great article, and excellent points! We ALWAYS make a beeline for Peter Pan’s Flight our first day at Disney World. That way, our first Disney World experience is hearing Peter Pan announce “Hear we go!” and off we are on our wonderful Disney vacation! 😀 While I, too, MUCH prefer the monorail over the ferry due to the monorail’s efficiency, I would warn folks that if they want to be onsite for rope-drop, they should expect to have to take the ferry because the TTC monorail stop is often closed early in the morning. If driving, folks should give themselves at least an hour (if you’re fast walkers) through the parking gates to give time for the ferry ride and bag search before rope-drop. Want to make sure you (nearly) always have close parking? Buy your tickets from AAA and get the AAA Diamond Parking pass free with your tickets! (Note: We haven’t been to Disney World in two years so if my information is outdated, please indicate so in the comments!)

    • I used to do the same thing by getting AAA tickets. The room discounts and Diamond parking were great benefits. BUT, around the beginning of 2015, Disney and AAA dissolved their relationship. The discounts no longer exist, nor does Diamond parking 🙁

      • Shannon

        Thanks for the update. What a bummer! 🙁

    • AAA and Disney ended their relationship last year, so sadly they do not offer the Diamond Passes any more.

      • Shannon

        That is too bad! AAA had some great Disney perks, such as Storytime at Epcot!

  • Good article. Minor note about your tip: “Tip: If you are planning on taking a Monorail, choose the Express Monorail to the Magic Kingdom to bypass stops at the resorts.” I’ve found that on extremely busy days, it is sometimes best to take the Resort Monorail. The line for Express can be such that you may need to wait for 3 trains, but the Resort Monorail might allow you to walk on to the first train. I think it’s something you have to play by ear, but don’t discount the Resort Monorail as, sometimes, the faster option.

    • You can also walk from the TTC to the Polynesian and catch the monorail there. Pretty walk too.

  • Another tip: Complain to Disney that if they are going to keep raising their prices, STOP making so many cuts!

    Cuts started the week of February 21st and more have been added weekly. Some are obvious or otherwise well-reported – Enchanted Tales with Belle closing an hour before the rest of Magic Kingdom, an elimination of half of the Friendship Boats at Epcot as the docks in Mexico and Germany close, a third of Streetmosphere getting the boot, characters getting split up or cut, Kilimanjaro Safaris only loading from one of two bays among about 30 others with similar procedures, turning off the second touchpoint in FastPass+ queues, stopping Agent P Adventure distribution at 6:15pm, eliminating curb side welcomes at resorts, turning off half the FastPass+ kiosks in Fantasyland, or what have you. Others are less obvious and I hesitate to discuss a lot of it.
    (copied from easywdw)

  • Marie Rossiter

    It’s hard to compare restaurants like Be Our Guest and Cosmic Rays. It’s like apples and oranges. That being said, our family enjoys Cosmic Rays. The portions are good, the quality is decent for theme park standard fare and Sonny Eclipse is fun nostalgia. The room could use a facelift and the lines need some efficiency upgrades, but I would recommend it to anyone looking for a family friendly meal at a decent price.

    • Agree! We like the selection at Cosmic Ray’s! They should have picked a different QS example! But this article is excellent for newbies!

  • Danielle Lipkvich

    So helpful! Thank you

  • The biggest gap in the article:
    The experience on LEAVING!!!!
    When you leave the park with EVERYONE ELSE after a parade or fireworks then you’ll have to wait for a VERY long time for the bus, monorail, ferry, or boat.
    You think it’s frustrating getting into the park because you take a parking lot tram and monorail or bus etc…? It’s 10 times more frustrating when you’re tired, cranky, and done.

    Solution: 1) Find a way to park within walking distance (all I’ll say here)
    2) Stay at the Contemporary Hotel and use the walking path (not the monorail).
    3) Don’t plan to leave after fireworks or parades. (It’s about a 30 minute period where there’s a huge surge). For the 30 minutes following a parade/fireworks you may as well spend that time doing an attraction or shopping or ice cream or anything other than trying to leave.

  • On your way down Disney – if you are driving on the 75 through Atlanta – can you please please please please only drive in the fast lane if you are passing another car. It is the law that slower traffic is to keep to the right — and just because you are driving the speed limit doesn’t mean you are justified in staying in the fast lane. It really messes up traffic for the rest of us that are just trying to get to work or home. And it 1000 times worse during Spring Break. Move over!

  • It seems every time I get to the TC early, say 30-45 minutes prior to rope drop, the express monorail is not opened and we’re herded to the ferry. Is this typical or have I just had bad luck? I have noticed the hotel monorail is up, but I haven’t tried accessing it from TC. I also can’t emphasize enough about getting there prior to rope drop. It’s the only way to get on some of the rides without a FP+ without waiting 40 min or more.

  • Good article, if not a bit long. It could have been been written in one short paragraph:

    ”What I wish I knew before my trip to the Magic Kingdom is that I should have read “The Unofficial Guide to Disney World”. That could have stopped me from making so many mistakes!

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