Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdom, Orlando
No trip with children would be complete without a trip to The Magic Kingdom, and making sure your there for the Dreams Come True fireworks display is a must. The show is amazing, with all kinds of things going on.
Dreams Come True is arguably Disneyland's most lavish nightly fireworks display. It's also the longest, clocking in at almost 20 minutes long, and costing over $33,000 per showing.
One of Disney World's most popular attractions, with waits to match, is based on the 1946 Disney movie Song of the South and recounts the adventures of B'rer Rabbit and his search for the 'laughing place". Passengers are transported in groups of eight in logs presumably carved out by beavers, along a water course holding 950000 gallons of water, an eleven minute trip of approximately a half mile.
The antagonists are B'rer Fox and B'rer Bear who envision only dinner in the wandering rabbit. The journey evokes a wandering stream through the Deep South, with excellent scenes and Audio-animatronic figures, set to impeccable bluegrass versions of songs from the film, most famously Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah. The highlight is a 52 foot plunge into a pool in the briar patch at speeds of up to 40 mph, one of the fastest in Disney World. This is a no-miss feature of Disney World, for the children and the adults.
Another older classic, opening in 1971, the Jungle Cruise is a far more complex ride than presumably all visitors including ourselves appreciate. Ostensibly set in the 1930's, the carefully designed boats appear rundown and a bit grungy by design ( think the African Queen and Bogart/Hepburn ). At a stately 2 mph pace, most visitors see a succession of animals, ruins, camps, and audio-anatromic beasts both human and animal. But the story is far more complex - the ride begins on the Amazon River and morphs into first the Congo and then the Nile Rivers. After passing Schweitzer Falls ( named after the intrepid explorer Albert Falls, according the the narration ), one ends on the Mekong River in southeast Asia where the impressive ruins of ancient cities are a highlight.
Listen carefully to the narration - by plan filled with jokes, asides, and double entendre. Some of this is funny.
The water at WDW. like everything else, is carefully conceived and executed. Water throughout the park is part of a continuously circulating stream from one end of the park to the other. Clarity - called turbidity - is controlled to obscure boat tracks and the bases on which animals in the water, such as the famed hippo, are attached. Among other stops, the castle moat is on the stream. Nothing left to chance here.
The ride is about nine minutes long, the waits are long, but this is a fun attraction made better by the obvious hokey milieu and the narrations along the way.
The most disappointing attraction we found at WDW was the speedway. The original conception of the speedway as an autopia ( AUTOmobile utoPIA ) was revolutionary at its inception, a multilane expressway predating the Interstate Highway system signed into law several years later by President Eisenhower. Today riders are packed into brightly colored race cars for a 0.4 cm circuit of a little parkland. The ride has had several sponsors although apparently none currently, and remains of the sponsorship of the Indianapolis 500 race include the walkway over the loading zone and pictures and memorablia in the crowded waiting area.
The cars feature steering wheels that work, but since the path of the car is tightly controlled by the rods beneath the vehicle allowing only a few inches of latitude, the steering is more a hindrance than a blessing. Similarly the gas pedal allows one to reach maximum speed as desired, but the vehicle is limited to 10 km/hr maximum which is far from exciting. The speedway ride may be nice for children ( over 4'6" ) but is basically boring for most everyone.
Looks good, tastes not so good.
A junior size steel roller coaster is a good way to introduce children to the roller coaster concept, a short one minute ride with 16 passengers in each of two cars. It celebrates Goofy as a barnstorming pilot in his homemade airplane, with guests on board. The line is relatively short for this lesser attraction.
The car is elevated by a chain lift to 30 feet for a fast downhill through the side of a wall ( originally a barn, now purported to be a circus )then twists and turns to the brake run. Top speed is 40 km/hr, but it does seem a bit faster for those not accustomed to even little roller coasters.
An old favorite, Peter Pan's Flight is one of the oldest and least altered rides at WDW, having been one of the original attractions on opening day. Based on the story by JM Barrie from 1904 and the classic Disney movie of 1953. One of the dark rides, photos inside are not possible. The ride is short, less than 3 minutes, yet features some of the longest waits - outisde, must be beastly in the summer.
From a moving walkway, seating is in little ships which are suspended from the ceiling by rods. The carriers swoop up down and sideways following the famous story. Out through the window, over the doghouse, and to Neverland. The flight over London is great with lights twinkling in the buildings, Big Ben, London Bridge. Captain Hook's ship is 48 feet long and well appointed. The ride ends with Peter Pan and Wendy sailing back to London as Captain Hook auditions for Dancing with the Stars with the crocodile. Technology is a bit limited in this older ride - there are some audio-aminatronic figures, but much is simply painted with day-glo paint Musical background is from the movie. This is a great ride - the kids love it.
BTW, the name Wendy was invented for the original story by JM Barrie.
Another corny classic done Disney style - two minutes of old fashioned pleasure for the kids and us old folks too. One of only 30 classic carrousels left in the United States, this antique was built in 1917 by Italian craftsmen at the Philadelphia Toboggan Co for use at the Detroit Palace Garden. Disney liberated it from Maplewood Olympic Park in 1967 for a total restoration.
Each of the 90 horses is different, hand painted, and covered in gold, silver, and bronze decorations. They are valued at $20000 for an inner ring horse up to $100000 for those on the outside. All are white - Disney planners did not want time wasted by people choosing between horses to get their favorite color. Organ renditions of Disney classics serenade the riders.
With 90 riders, the long line moves quickly. Actually it is even quicker to sneak in the exit gate around the back.
The most iconic structure in Disney World is probably also the most widely known logo for the entire Disney Empire. Located at the apex of the Plaza and Park, it is visible from the entrance on Main Street and most everywhere else including the most upscale hotels along the Monorail. The height is 189 feet but appears even taller through the use of forced perspective. The castle was designed by Herbert Ryman, the chief Disney architect, and took 18 months to construct, opening on October 1, 1971. The design was drawn from castles all over the world ranging from Versailles and Neuschwanstein to the Alcazar. Originally grey, blue and gold, a repainting in 2006 featured off white, brown, and pink, with dark blue turrets.
Had we more time, we might have visited the interior which includes mosaic murals of 14k gold and over 1 million glass tiles in 500 colors. There is also apparently an upscale restaurant and the corridors feature regular visits from Disney characters.
The tallest structure in the Magic Kingdom is built to withstand hurricane force winds. No bricks were used. The inner structure is steel with reinforced concrete in the outer walls covered with fiber-reinforced gypsum plaster and fibreglass. The 27 towers are bolted to the remainder of the building. The castle is surrounded by a moat holding over 3 million gallons of water.
For those flush enough to afford making their little girls into Cinderella, a specialized boutique is the only store inside the castle.
Emerging from the tunnel under the railway station at the entrance, the first attraction is Main Street, two carefully constructed blocks of buildings recreating early American circa 1900 with varied architectures from that period. At the main central intersection, each of the four buildings on the corners have a different architectural appearance. The buildings are said to look larger than they really are by use of "forced perspective" - the second stories are shorter than the first, and the third even shorter. Check out the windows on the second levels - the names include individuals important to the development of the complex and names of the bogus companies created by Disney to buy up land covertly, keeping prices low. In picture 1, if one looks at the featured 3 story building, the forced perspective is obvious.
Walt Disney maintained an apartment on Main Street, over the firehouse, which remains fully furnished and unchanged, but it is not open for visitors. More accessible buildings include the City Hall where the information bureau is located, as well as a host of stores featuring Disney merchandise, a working barber shop, and several food places. Main Street ends at the Plaza, the center of the Magic Kingdom, fronting the Cinderella Castle.
Worry not about uncomfortable pavements or litter and insects. The Main Street as well as other paved walkways throughout are of so-called resilient asphalt and are steam cleaned and sprayed every night of the year.
For the kids - the Magic Kingdom was the place to be. So much so that even in a slightly off-season visit, we couldn't pack everything they wanted to see into one day, and had to spill into a second.
Mission number one was to meet Rapunzel. In 2012, she had moved from her normal home to just inside the park gates. So, as we walked up, we were informed a minimum of an hour wait, and it would be like that all day. What's good though is that this is right next to the train station, so we were able to ride around the park while my wife and daughter awaited the magical meeting.
The park is divided into six main sections: Main Street, Adventureland, Fronteirland, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, and Tomorrowland. Each section of the park seems to have something iconic, so you really need to plan out a good plan of attack. We went straight up Main Street, then covered Fantasyland, Liberty Square, Adventureland, Fronteirland, and caught the train back over to Fantasyland where we ran out of steam. Day two went for Tomorrowland, then revisited some of the highlights.
If you're using the fast pass, you need to make sure that you'll be in the vicinity when the pass comes up, or it isn't worth it. Perhaps the longest lines in the park are at Peter Pan in Fantasyland. I should have grabbed passes there immediately, but we did a few rides first. By the time we got our passes, they were for 90 minutes out - and we had seen almost everything in the area already - which meant a hike out and back. Not good planning.
I would also recommend the passes for the Jungle Cruise - the line is shaded, but brutally hot and cramped. Better to just cut to the front.
Most of the name rides are easy to get onto and fun for all - It's a Small World is better than I remember, and Pirates of the Caribbean is a lot of fun. We did both of these multiple times. I did learn that Stitch's Great Escape in Tomorrowland freaks out a 4 year old, based on my sample size of one.
Remember, the weekend lines are much worse than weekdays, so on a multiple day trip, I would recommend Magic Kingdom off the weekend.
Characters are around, but a great option for the princesses and Mickey/Minnie is at Town Hall - you can get the fast pass here and get in and out very quickly - this was a great time saver.
Lots of food options, but really pay attention to reservation issues. We were on Main Street and didn't realize so many places were reservation only... we ended up at a hot dog place.
You can get here via monorail, bus, and ferry (from some places).
Have fun (but it's kind of hard not to!)
The original Walt Disney Theme Park near Orlando was the Magic Kingdom which opened its doors in 1971. There are now 4 Disney theme parks, near Orlando, but the Magic Kingdom is the most popular with 17 million visitors in a year making it the most visited in the world. To reach the Magic Kingdom you have to park some distance away and a land train takes you closer to the park. You now have to choose between a boat or the monorail to reach your final destination. The park is 107 acres in size with Cinderella’s Castle in the centre and paths leading to the six different themed lands. My favourite ride is the haunted mansion, which was one of the original rides when the park first opened, and never ceases to amaze me how it works with the ghostly figures.. There is an old fashioned railroad that travels around the perimeter with a number of stations, which can save your feet. This is a real family orientated theme park but one of the downsides is the cost of parking, not only here but at all the other parks.
The Magic Kingdom is the original theme park in the Walt Disney World Resort complex. This park is a favorite of small children and, for some reason, honeymooning couples.
The Magic Kingdom is divided into 7 sections: Main Street USA, the main shopping thoroughfare and parade route; Adventureland, home of pirates, tiki birds and the Jungle Cruise; Frontierland, with its Wild West shootouts, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain; Liberty Square, featuring the Hall of Presidents and the very popular Haunted Mansion; Fantasyland, a child's dream with flying Dumbos and the chorus of voices in Its a Small World; Mickey's village, a walk through tour of the mouse's house; and Tomorrowland, a somewhat futuristic area with flying rockets and the roller coaster, Space Mountain.
I've been going to Disney almost since it opened when I was very small and the city of Orlando was little more than the one theme park. I have to confess that this is my favorite park as well. Something about the colorful displays, cheery songs and exuberantly cheerful staff makes this place truly magical.
If you only have one evening to spend at Walt Disney World, then you should definitely try to catch Magic Kingdom's two night shows: the Spectromagic night parade and "Wishes", the fireworks show. Even though there's not a whole lot I could remember from my first two visits at Walt Disney World (I was only 3 and 6 years old), I still had some memory flashes from the Main Street Electrical Parade. It has now been updated and has a new name, Spectromagic, but some elements from the previous version have not been changed and most importantly, it is still just as magical as it used to be. The same goes for "Wishes", a fantastic fireworks show that uses Cinderella's Castle as a backdrop (it can therefore best be seen from Main Street, U.S.A.). I love fireworks and I love to attend fireworks competition, but nothing quite comes close to those of Magic Kingdom. My cheeks were hurting after the show from smiling so much!!
This is the place to go when you're travelling with teenagers: they will love Frontierland's and Liberty Square's attractions, especially Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Haunted Mansion. The very first thing we did when we got to Magic Kingdom was to head over to Frontierland, get a fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and then go wait in line for Splash Mountain - and trust me, it was worth the wait! The flume ride through the mountain is a lot of fun, even though it's hard not to think about the 50 foot drop that's coming up! We enjoyed it so much that we managed to do it twice during the day :o) The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is also really cool, it's not hardcore enough to scare children away, but it still goes pretty fast. We were lucky because it started pouring just as we were getting ready to go on it - as a result, most people who were waiting in line disappeared and we were able to ride it 4 times in a row! The other Frontierland attractions, Country Bear Jamboree and Tom Sawyer's Island, are pretty tame by comparison but there's hardly ever any wait and both are good spots to cool off when it gets hot during the day.
The Haunted Mansion at Liberty Square is more beautiful and funny than it is scary, which is why we all enjoyed it so much. The ballroom scene in particular looked like something you'd see in a Harry Potter movie! We also went for a boat ride on the Liberty Belle Riverboat, which was quite relaxing. It offers great views of Tom Sawyer's Island, and we also enjoyed watching the steam engines work.
Adventureland and Tomorrowland are great because they include many rides that are fun for the entire family. Our three favourite attractions at Adventureland were "Pirates of the Caribbean", which has been updated to include some elements from the popular movies it inspired, "Jungle Cruise", which is not as impressive now that you can go on a "real" safari at Animal Kingdom but your tour guide's silly jokes totally make up for it, and "Swiss Family Treehouse", another Disney classic (and there's hardly ever any wait for it).
At Tomorrowland we all loved the "Indy Speedway", especially Alex who got to drive her very own race car (not bad when you're too young to have your driver's license!). The other two rides we went on, "Stitch's Great Escape" and "Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin", weren't quite as fun, but we did have a good laugh when I somehow managed to beat my nephew 232,000 to 27,300 points in the Buzz Lightyear attraction. Don't ask me how I did it, we went on it twice and I still don't understand how it works!