There’s one port of entry to the Magic Kingdom, and you can arrive via boat or monorail or shuttle. Enter on Main Street, to an escort of music, where Clydesdales and trolleys provide a touring loop of local transport and haberdasheries still display spats and bumbershoots—along with the finest of Disney merchandise and assorted sundries and sweets. For traveling to distant lands the railroad is a useful alternative to “hoofing it,” and will reveal vistas you wouldn’t otherwise see.
What you can see without boarding a train is Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, standing like a lighthouse, where Main Street meets the royal moat, a beacon to all travelers far and wide. Before that is the hub, where Walt and Mickey stand hand in hand, the crossroad to all destinations.
A note to the Disneyland regular…
If you’re questioning whether the Magic Kingdom is worth the visit, there are two answers: 1) yes, if for no other reason than to join the ongoing debate about which park is the better park, and 2) yes, because the Magic Kingdom is not a carbon copy or pale replica of the original. What it offers the Disneyland afficianodo of yore is a tasty bit of Disneyland’s past: the Country Bear Jamboree, the People Mover, and The Carousel of Progress are alive and well-preserved only at the Magic Kingdom.
The Magic Kingdom is vast. So vast, it dwarfs Disneyland, its older sibling. If you set out in the Magic Kingdom, sure-footed for assuming your familiarity with Disneyland will carry you far and effortlessly, be forewarned. The maps are not identical and your feet will know the difference far sooner than you may be willing to admit—at first.
What isn’t different are key attractions, like “Space Mountain,” “Thunder Mountain,” “Splash Mountain,” and “The Haunted Mansion.” And yet, the attractions themselves are very different, but that’s another—and ongoing—discussion. If you’re a get to that first “E-ticket” ride and go from there kind of person (which we are), you’ve got options:
Fast and Focused
1) “Splash” and “Thunder” are next door neighbors in Frontierland—get a Fastpass at one and queue up at the other, and best in that order.
2) “Space Mountain” is in Tomorrowland, Frontierland’s polar opposite on the map. If you need to while away some time before your Fastpass or Magic Plus reservation window opens, the “PeopleMover” is a perfect way to see all that Tomorrowland has to offer—and more—and at a pretty nice clip.
There is of course a third option: Head straight to Fantasyland. You may want to grab a Fastpass for “Winnie the Pooh,” whose queue is almost always longer than shorter, and begin the day with “Mickey’s PhilharMagic,” which exists nowhere other than in the Magic Kingdom and is no ordinary show. Not that any Disney show is ordinary, but “PhilharMagic” is a unique, 3D cinematic experience that follows Donald Duck through some of Disney’s greatest animated movies and musical highlights as he desperately tries to correct a catastrophic error in judgment. Put this on the must-see list and see it!
Wander with Wonder
Once you’re in Fantasyland, there’s plenty to explore, particularly if you haven’t seen all the newest additions: “Winnie the Pooh” is one of them, “The Little Mermaid” is another. At the time of this writing, “Goofy’s Rollercoaster” was still under construction. The newest destination restaurant, “Be Our Guest,” is an impressive recreation of the Beast’s castle—but you’ll need a reservation to see the dining room. “Gaston’s Tavern” is clearly the place for the townsfolk, but isn’t quite big enough to comfortably seat all of them, so consider getting your pork shank off-hour.
Come around on Liberty Square for a healthy dose of centennial America, to see the Liberty Bell up close, the flags of the original 13 colonies, and to pay a visit to the “Haunted Mansion,” where 999 happy haunts await.
Hug the River of America and you’ll find yourself in Frontierland, a vast territory with seemingly little going on—until something is going on, like the Notorious Banjo Brothers and Bob, a Country Bear rave, Donald Duck signing autographs, or the subtle interaction between the great white egret and Bob. On rainy days, watch the egrets enjoy a buffet of abandoned turkey legs along the bank of the river (We don’t know why people abandon their turkey legs when it rains.).
The afternoon light is particularly nice in Adventureland, where tropical Tahiti and the sands of Agrabah manage to combine into a refreshingly wet and colorful experience, which is generally very appreciated in the Florida climate.
Sometimes, the desire to see everything can blind you to all the other things worth seeing: the Mary Poppins-y umbrellas outlining the picturesque river and winding walkways that wrap around the hub of the Kingdom; the perfectly choreographed landscapes that present one picture postcard view after another, the unscripted choreography of ducks and butterflies; the desert terrain surrounding “Thunder Mountain,” the cosmopolitan oasis of aluminum Palm trees beneath the monorail track in Tomorrowland; the vintage baseball footage that plays endlessly to the bleachers at “Casey’s Corner” on Main Street; the Victorian-style, stained-glass domed ceiling in the neighboring Emporium; and the visual domino effect of authenticity at the Main Street Railroad Station.
But Tomorrowland at night… if only Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café was a real piano bar.